Global communications leader Motorola enables advanced personalized services through its mobile communications technologies. Its in-house anthropologist, in collaboration with PARC, designed an ethnography-style study to investigate sharing practices among family and friends. Motorola’s goal for this study was to develop communications applications for the U.S. market that helped people maintain, and enhance, their social bonds.
“PARC ethnographer expertise in conversation analysis is something we do not have training in. My colleagues and I sought to understand the method, especially as it could be applied to what we cared about: contributions to communication technology innovation. The findings were persuasive and the process was efficient for our needs – we would gladly work with PARC again.” -- Crysta Metcalf, Ph.D.; Anthropologist & Manager of Experience Research, Motorola Applied Research Center
Specializing in conversation analysis, PARC wanted to make people’s relationships to one another visible by analyzing the way talk is organized and produced. Understanding that communication technologies are blurring the boundaries between face-to-face and remote interaction, the ethnographer identified interactional patterns (including "intimacy maps") for how people – especially those at the "hub" of the social group – were staying connected and managing their social relationships through telephone communication.
Using a combination of observation, photo and video diaries, in-depth semi-structured interviews, and recorded mobile phone calls over 3 weeks, the Motorola with PARC team gathered data among 5 social groups of varied demographics and geographic locations. The team applied “grounded theory affinity analysis” to understand social network maintenance patterns such as: what kinds of information, experiences, and content are shared; processes of sharing; and how contexts affect sharing.
PARC also conducted conversation analyses across all the recorded phone calls, honing in on openings and turns-at-talk. For example, the ethnographer identified tone and singsong voice differences in more familiar relationships as opposed to the qualifying conversation tactics (“I know you must be sick of hearing from me, but…”) used with less familiar acquaintances.
If technology could identify who people were to each other – going beyond mere quantitative data and mechanics of communications – then one could better tailor communication services to users. As a result of the study, Motorola's team identified a number of opportunities that shifted commonly practiced engineering principles to human-centered design. These included moving from: designing for the sender to designing for the receiver; designing for the mechanics to designing for the message; and designing for sending facts to designing for sharing a story.
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