Last week I was out on the street, stopping people and asking them to look at a printed mock up of a website and tell me their views. It’s taught me three things.

1) I should spend more time away from my laptop

To avoid carrying round a heavy laptop while accosting people on the street, for a day and half all I had with me were a notebook and pen. A friend joked that I could have a look at their netbook to prevent me from clucking. Actually through, I was pleased to kick the habit. I drew tables, wrote, unleashed rounds of bullet points – all the stuff you can do on a computer, you can do that on paper too! The cognitive process if writing on a notepad is totally different from a computer – much more lucid. (I know, I know, everyone else already does this, but I’ve never made the effort to not use my computer.) Also, there is no distraction, and no temptation to start coding something until you have thought about it properly. Perhaps it isn’t enough to use a notebook, you actually have to be somewhere you cannot get to a computer.

2) People are getting social network fatigue

I spoke to 14 students about the website I was evaluating (they are by far the easiest people to talk to). Of those, 2 said they were connected to no social networks – they had decided delete their accounts. 3 said that while they were on social networks but almost never used them. If predicting the future is about looking at what students do (which seems plausible) then the future is one where Facebook is an uncool place to be. The more carefully dressed the person I spoke to was, the less likely they were to be on Facebook.

Some time ago in a focus group we asked people “would you use our app?”, and then “do you use Facebook?”. People who said yes to both, we asked (obviously, I’m paraphrasing) “would you like it to be a Facebook app?”. They all said no, for two reasons. One was that they were simply fed up with spending time on Facebook, and didn’t want _another_ reason to be there. The other was that the app in question was for use by semi-pro consumers, and they felt that Facebook simply wasn’t the place for it. Facebook is not for serious stuff. This points up something interesting: that Facebook provides a digital identity, not your unique¬†online identity. Most people like to present themselves in different ways depending on what they are doing.¬† Ergo, Facebook is never going to be the single sign on that people have sometimes thought.

Given the way Pintrest recently spread faster than bird flu I think it’s fair to say the concept of social networking is here to stay. It makes sense to me that people dislike Facebook though. I know I do.

It’s both a testament to the success of Facebook and a portent of a less successful future that people can define themselves by not having an account. As I’ve said, Facebook is not my idea of fun, but I think this goes beyond a personal prejudice.

3) Older people are ruder, generally

Trying to stop someone below the age of 30 to ask them questions is easy. They might not answer them, but they will stop and be civil. By the time you get to people over 50 you’ll be lucky if they tell you to bugger off.

 

 

 

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