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Soothing Those Pain Points

Matt Jones has picked up on a Robert Scoble post on User-centred RSS. And he's asked a couple of questions I'm spending a lot of time thinking about at the moment.

Has there been any serious user-research and investigation of RSS from a user-experience or information science point-of-view?

Or has anyone looked further outside that to 'pain-points' in people's everyday lives where an rss-type delivery of information or services might bring benefit?

Well, a) not that I know of, but b) they're great questions. Really great questions. And ones which, albeit at one remove, I've been thinking about a lot for this research project I'm involved with.

This is slightly management-speaky, but what excited me was this view of knowledge as service. I'm mid-writing a research paper on this - which I'll post probably mid-June, but the broad brush-strokes are these:

1) People want information to do something
2) How do you provide an information service that is of benefit to them? (i.e. RSS might help, but how do you go about working out whether it will)
4) It's a service - so the user is your yardstick for success
5) There are two possible metrics for measuring successful service: the benefits the user gets from valuable information, and the costs dumped on the user for getting that information.
6) Defining what's valuable is really very hard - what is someone going to pay attention to and be pleased they did?
7) Defining what's costly might be easier, and reducing the costs will still get you a better service.
8) What are those costs, and is there a framework for reducing them?
9) Can we make that framework practicable (e.g. customizing content provision to a personal level takes a lot of time - is there an 80-20 pay-off somewhere?)

The general idea is to come up with a methodology that helps locate and then minimize what Matt calls the "pain-points" for different styles of work. [And the pain-point domains we're looking at are: executives making strategic decisions, educational publishing, and clinical trials]

Ideas are still being bounced around, but a few of the ones so far are:

- different people prefer different media - you can write the pithiest, most cogent report, but if you give it to your boss to read and he's a phone/meeting man, then it's a waste of your time, and he's missing out.
- different domains have tighter or looser constraints depending on the decisions that need to be made. An executive looking to decide strategy will need a different type of service to a lawyer researching precedent. Some may be more amenable to
- information design needs teams - very few people have the skills to format content in the way that will reduce the cognitive load to the user.
- We may well be able to infer user-preferences by viewing them as social actors (i.e. constrained by groups) rather than unique individuals. Would obviously want to make the service an, erm, open prison so to speak.
- The service may need to be tailorable to different size groups. There are some different skills needed giving a presentation to 10 people to giving one to 300.

Anyway, just thought I'd flag it up. Head (obviously) still not quite round the problem, but will post the first draft paper as soon as I can, and would love to hear any comments.

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