Posts Tagged ‘webdesign’

The Point: Making Things Happen

The Point: Making Something Happen

The Point: Making Something Happen

The Point is a simple website with a clear purpose: making things happen. The way they do it is helping users formulate a campaign statement for action with a clear goal. Users can then choose to participate in the campaign. When the goal is met (or “the point” is tipped), an email is sent to the participants to act. For example:

Stop Zippy Oil from polluting Lake Apache
Zippy Oil must stop dumping waske into Lake Apache or else we will boycott ZippyPump when 100,000 people join

The campaigns can be serious or silly, which is a nice twist:

Bow-tie Tuesday
Andrew Mason will wear a bow tie every Tuesday if 8 people do the same.

The site has a collaboration section for brainstorming ways to approach a problem and also a social networking component to connect people with similar interest.

The Other Web2.0: Not Business As Usual

Aside from a few companies such as Amazon, Google or Facebook, the value of Web2.0 for the business world is still unclear, and return on investment still seems murky at best. However for the non-profit world, the value of Web2.0 is clear – the more the users are empowered and congregate around interest that they share, the better the opportunities for action.

In Korea, where I work, there is a lot of businesses coming online based on Web2.0 models, and a lot of talk around using Web2.0 to enhance service offerings and user experience, but little talk about the social impact that Web2.0, which to me is missing the whole point of Web2.0.

Tim O’Reilly said back in 2005, Web is a platform. A platform to do what? We should at least consider the potential of it becoming an agent for change and the betterment of society as a whole.

What is encouraging is that there are already many services by the big players in the Korean online space that make online donation easy and fun. Korea’s leading social networking site, Cyworld has its online volunteer matching and giving site called Cytogether where you can donate your time or “acorns” to a cause. Naver, the Korean search engine / online portal behemoth has a service called Happy Bean where you collect “beans” worth about 10 cents for every email you sent through their email service. You can donate these you causes and donations are matched by corporate sponsors. CJ Foundation (CJ is part of the Samsung conglomerate) has its own version of the US site DonorsChoose.org called DonorsCamp.

A culture of donation doesn’t spring up overnight, but if you look at the numbers, citizens who are online (or “netizens” as they are called here) are beginning to donate generously.

But these services are only limited in their scope and potential and only scratch at the surface of serious change. In one of the most wired places on earth, shouldn’t we expect more innovative services that enable and empower people to think differently.

When I was recently asked to give a 1 hour presentation at OpenTide China, in Beijing, on a subject of my choice, I chose to put together a presentation highlighting some of the work that I was involved in while I was working at Forum One Communications (my previous place of employment), that involved innovative use of Web2.0 for social action. I ended up giving the same presentation again to staff at VINYL, Seoul, where I currently work. The presentation outline Web2.0 principles and then introduces 4 “stories” or projects I was directly or indirectly involved in. The projects are CARMA, Changemakers, Ask Your Lawmaker and DonorsChoose (I didn’t have direct involvement but know the project well because I good friend worked on the Korean counterpart DonorsCamp).

Here’s the presentation I gave:

Ask Your Lawmaker, Web2.0 Style

CNCNews Ask Your Lawmaker website

CNCNews Ask Your Lawmaker website

As the elections in US heats up, I checked back on one of my last projects at Forum One, Ask Your Lawmaker (I was the lead information architect). It went live last November and it’s good to see it is finally gathering some steam.

Ask Your Lawmaker is a site created by Capitol News Connection (CNCNews) which supplies news of the goings-on in the US Congress to NPR news stations. As the instructions for the site suggests, the idea for the site is simple:

  • You Ask. (Users submit questions to ask congresspersons and senators)
  • You Vote. (Users collectively vote of which questions are worthy)
  • We Get Answers. (CNCNews reporters track down the lawmakers and record answers, then post to the site)

It uses a Digg-like interface to encourage visitors to vote and filter which questions submitted by users, effectively using the wisdom of crowds to be the arbiter of quality.

What differentiates this site from the Digg’s of the online world is that this site has a physical component. The CNCNews reporters actually go out and accost lawmakers in the corridors of the US Capitol, waiting for them in various strategic locations, where they know they will be passing through. Armed with intimate knowledge of the architecture and how the lawmakers must be present in certain locations at certain times or events, the reporters are supreme hackers the Capitol for their single-minded purpose.

During a guided tour of the Capitol by one of CNCNews veteran reporters, I saw him spring into action interviewing a senator during a trip on the underground monorail that connects the Capitol with the adjacent administration buildings.

Ask Your Lawmaker supplies a valuable service that empowers the users (citizens of a democratic society) to supply the questions / question authority. We have seen citizens use YouTube to provide questions to presidential candidates. But what is often overlooked is that gathering quality information often takes a lot of effort.

Even in a digital world, we are still very much at the mercy of the physical world.

The news we read on BBC News or The New York Times are supplied by reporters who must go out and gather the information often risking their lives in the process.

We place orders on flower delivery sites, scanning numerous arrangements, comparing pricing and quality, finding that perfect bouquet of flowers for that special occasion and sweating over how to edit the delicate message down to the 200 letter limit as required by the site. But at the end of the day we still have to depend of underpaid part-timers for the final-yard delivery of our most intimate expressions of love.

Innovative Web Technologies: P2P Philanthropy

Here’s a re-posting of an article originally posted April 11, 2007, on the Forum One UX&D blog for the benefit of my Korean readers.

* * *

During the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise 2007 conference I went to a session with Charles Best of Donors Choose, which is a site that allows individual donors to fund small projects proposed by public school teachers. Lately I have been coming across a quite few of these, where a site links private donations with those who need financial support. I had lacked a term to call these types of sites, but of course the smart people I met at NTEN already had a term for these. Some of the terms that were discussed were eBay philanthropies, philanthropic marketplace… but my favorite was one that David Weinberger blogged following his plenary at NTEN: P2P philanthropy where P2P can mean peer to peer or better yet person to person (whether or not he coined it I don’t know).

Here’s a round up of some Person to Person Philanthropies I have come across lately:

  • DonorsChoose: As mentioned above.
  • DonorsCamp: Attesting to the fact that good social entrepreneurial ideas are contagious and subject to replication, CJ Foundation (CJ is one of many Samsung affiliates) in Korea lifted (interestingly, with willing consultation from DonorsChoose) the DonorsChoose model and transplanted it in Korea. The twist is that DonorsCamp actually matches one-for-one every donation that comes through the site.
  • Kiva.org: Kiva links facilitates micro-loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries, “empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty.” The payback rate to date on the loans are apparently 100% according to their FAQs.
  • GlobalGiving: According to their site: “GlobalGiving connects you with grassroots charity projects around the world. We ensure that 85-90% of your donation gets to local project leaders within 60 days. It’s a direct connection.”
  • Modest Needs: I heard Charles from DonorsChoose mention this site at the NTEN conference. According to the site, “Modest Needs is a registered charity that works to stop the cycle of poverty before it starts for low-income workers struggling to afford emergency expenses like those we’ve all encountered before: the unexpected auto repair, the unanticipated trip to the doctor, the unusually large winter heating bill.”
  • Propser.com: Where there are philanthropic and non-profit needs, there will also be for-profit needs. Prosper.com is where you can submit a business proposal and have you loan funded in whole or in part by many private lenders, which end up being a lower interest rate and/or larger amount than you would typically get from a bank.
  • Cytogether: Cyworld is a wildly successful social networking site in Korea. It has a philanthropic counterpart where you can donate Cyworld’s currency, “acorns”, to your favorite philanthropic organization. The site is a little more than a P2P philanthropy in that it also is a community and links volunteer needs and opportunties. From what I can tell, most of the prominent non-profits operating in Korea seem to have a profile page on the site.

Interestingly (or maybe obviously) DonorsChoose, Global Giving, Modest Needs and Prosper.com all have investments from eBay founder Pierre Omidya‘s foundation – Omidya Network. Their portfolio page is a very interesting list, more like a who’s who in web/technology innovation, which include many organization I have a personal interest in – Ashoka, KaBOOM! and Linden Labs (aka makers of Second Life).

Strategies for Globalizing Korean Websites

I wrote an article for my company’s December email newsletter sent to clients. The intended audience of the article was upper-management types and web managers in Korea corporations, who intend their websites to reach out to a global audience.

Due to some internal restructuring at my company which resulted in the company splitting into three independent corporate units, the newsletter never made it out. Which, in my mind, if for the better. It was my first article of any substance in Korean. If you want to torture yourself with my awful Korean penmanship, you can download the Korean PDF at your own peril. Here I present the translated English version:

* * *

The World is Not Flat: Guidelines for planning websites that serve overseas audiences

In his 2005 book, The World is Flat, New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman argues that the Internet and Netscape contributed to the leveling of the global market playing field. The technology enabled industrialized countries and developing nations compete for the same markets. This allows us to order from Amazon.com from Korea, and find out the latest news about the recent unrest in Burma through our internet browsers.

This may be an oversimplification. It is true that the internet affords us many new market opportunities that had not existed. But simply because we have the same tools, that does not a level-playing field make. The internet is the new kid on the block when it come to communications tools, but it is still subject to the same cultural forces that have shaped regions for thousands of years.

To say that cultures are different is to state the obvious. Language alone acts as a barrier. A short trip to the States also reveals deeper differences in communication, cuisine, and culture. The internet with all its power will not be flattening these differences any time soon.

Parties in America are open

Parties in America are open

Parties in Korea are private

Parties in Korea are private

Let’s take the example of party culture. In the US, the host invites her friends and colleagues to her home, and people stand around in small groups sipping wine or beer, meandering from one group to another looking for more interesting people or topics of conversation. A big purpose of a party is to meet new people.

In Korea, on the other hand, a party usually consists of people who already know each other. They sit around a table and talk about topics that they already have some history sharing. No one switches seats. The purpose of the gathering is to reinforce already existing ties. Outsiders often feel left out.

This type of social behavior is evident also in social networks sites on the internet. The US has the gigantic MySpace which is a virtual space to meet new people. The ties are weak and often it’s about the quantity of friends than the quality. On Cyworld, the massively popular Korean social networking phenomenon, you create “il-cheon” or family ties with people you already know, reinforcing already strong ties, granting them deep access to your content.

google.com

Google

naver.com

Naver

Cultural differences are also evident when you look at browser start pages. Koreans usually have portal sites, such as Naver or Daum as their start pages, whereas many in the US have Google. This reveals that Americans tend to be more task-oriented in their approach to the internet.

It’s not a stretch to say that Korea has one of the most extreme internet cultures in the world. Internet experts marvel at the internet services and communications infrastructure available in Korea and see it as a test bed for the future internet landscape. However they also understand and caution that specific conditions that only exist in Korea that allow for these services to exist at all. These special conditions include exorbitantly fast internet access, heavy penetration of mobile communications, heavy concentration of the population to Seoul and other major cities, early adoption of technology, convergence of mobile and internet services, and the monopoly of internet traffic to a handful of portal sites.

Living in Korea, it’s easy to take these conditions for granted but any Korea company, who is planning to create a site outside Korea, should keep in mind that these conditions cannot be generalized to other place around the world.

So, as a Korea company, how does one approach creating a site for global market? How can it overcome preconceptions and plan a strategy that takes into account conditions outside Korea?

First off, it’s important to understand who you are targeting the site for. You have to conduct user research to get a general sense of the user culture and the user preferences in the region the site is intended for. Armed with this research, you can then start to define a user experience that is appropriate to the local conditions. Without knowledge of who the user is, it is easy to fall prey to designing a site that meets your average Korean’s needs but not the needs or the expectations of the actual users.

In addition to some basic user research, it is also important to understand the web environment of the region the site is intended for. As an example I list below some of the factors that need to be researched to build a successful site. I use the US as a comparator but the checklist applies to any country or region.

Issue Korea US Observations
Web User Behavior Portal-oriented #1 site: Naver Search-oriented #1 site: Google US users tend to be more goal-oriented when using the web.
High tolerance for dense information Example: Naver Prefer simple layout Example: Google US users are used to Google’s simple design, and prefer homepage designs that have focus and follow the KISS rule (Keep it simple, stupid)
Tolerance for animated elements on web pages Intolerant towards unsolicited animated elements US users react sensitively towards animated elements. In general they associate animations with advertising.
Prefer sophisticated, “cute” designs Example: Cyworld Korea Prefer simple, clean designs Example: Facebook As an extreme example, Cyworld failed in gaining greater acceptance in the US due to a lack for user research. User’s first impressions were that the site was targeting teen girls, when it was actually targeting college students.
Browser Environment Internet Explorer 6.0+ (Win) Internet Explorer 5.5+(Win), Safari 1.0+ (Mac), Firefox 1.0+ (Win / Mac) Users in the US use a whole variety of browsers and OS environments which need to be taken into consideration during design and testing.
Wide adoption of ActiveX ActiveX not used ActiveX is not a standard environment in the US.
Wide adoption of Flash Web Standards movement: HTML 4.0, XHTML1.0, CSS AJAX There is a strong movement to make browsers web standards compliant in the US. Flash has limited usage, with CSS and AJAX usage becoming more prevalent.
Internet Access Environment High penetration of super high-speed internet access Limited penetration of broadband access. What in the US is referred to as “broadband” internet is less than 10% of the speeds users in Korea are generally used to.

The key to success in building a website intended for an audience outside Korea is performing some simple research about the culture, users and web environment, and reflecting these in the site’s design.