May 13, 2006
Consumer Trends for Libraries to Consider When Designing Services and Web Sites
offers a monthly briefing focusing on a major consumer trend. The trends are gathered from a network of 8000 spotters around the world. The briefings published by this independent and opinionated trend firm focus on trends that have staying power and often grow and become stronger over time.

I've pulled out a couple of older trends that are gathering strength over time and then touch on their latest briefing from May 2006.


1. Oldbies - Not that long ago when libraries designed web site and web services, they were targeted at "newbies" - people who were in their first year or two of using the Internet. This was the group that would never use their credit card online or were reluctant to sign up for accounts online.

Forecast report coverThis wave of newbies has morphed in oldbies. "According to NUA, there are now 335 million global consumers who have been online more than 3 years. Nearly 120 million have more than 5 years of online experience."

But have libraries taken oldbies into account enough when we're designing our services? When the majority of users were newbies, we definitely adjusted our sites and services to cater this cohort. Are we designing for new majority, the oldbies, now? Oldbies expect sophisticated sites and suite of services that lets them get the job done. If you're not keeping up, they're wondering why not and many are going elsewhere to sites that offer them services the way they want it when they want it.

I often think the mantra for access to library services today is:
what I want,
when I want it,
where I want it,
how I want it

This certainly presents a challenge and most of us can't address all of these points at once but are we identifying and tracking what our users want in terms of access? Are we sharing what we're finding out with our programmers and web developers and library vendors?

The shift in attention from "newbies" to "oldbies" doesn't mean we should ignore "newbies". Most libraries probably don't need to put the energy into designing sites and services for newbies in the same way as we once did. Rather, we need to address the needs of large audience segment, the oldbies, in an appropriate way. Offering extra help/info in a discrete fashion like subscript after a label or hyperlink such as "what is this" can let the more experienced user get on with their task without excess verbiage or steps, while providing the unfamiliar newbie a chance to find out more.

2. "GENERATION C" phenomenon

"C" stands for content created by users and posted online. Some of this content is useful and very creative. Other content is trivial and will only interest family and friends.

According to a Pew Internet and Life report, "44% of U.S. Internet users have contributed their thoughts and their files to the online world". (February 29, 2004)

We can spot a thousand sites in full bloom on the web today that offer tools to create personal showrooms for the content we create. We're all busy adding terabytes and petabytes of photos, videos, songs, poems, stories, novels, blog posts, playlists, ...

Several other "C's" are strongly related to Content - personal creativity, control -- as in co-production or customization, and celebrity factor where an individual is recognized for their contribution.

How have libraries responded to this wave of user created content? How are we engaging this new content creating and sharing user community? Are we accepting contributions from our users? Are we providing community show rooms? Do we let users comment on our site? Tag our content? Create a personal page or area? Are we actively collecting the "local history" published today online for tomorrow's researchers? Are we experimenting and trying things and learning as we go?

A handful of libraries definitely come to mind as early movers in tapping into the creativity and content creation activities by their communities. Are most libraries taking note of this important trend and taking action? A brief on the "Generation C" trend was posted on the on February 2004, nearly the same time Pew Internet and Life released its report.

Are we talking about this trend and others with our colleagues? And if we're not talking about new consumer trends and technology trends, why not? What are some of the exciting and challenging opportunities that this trend creates for libraries?

When the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end [of a business] is near.

Jack Welch, General Electric's past CEO

3. Customer-made - Time to Tap into the Global Brain

The briefing on this trend was posted May 2006. It definitely has its roots in Generation C. This trend focuses on customer-created products - where customers design what they want whether it's a new service, a new ad, or a new product. brief includes dozens of examples of companies and organizations that have invited people to design new services or products.

Design of a wristband phoneWe've probably noticed announcements like the BBC inviting people to submit new design for the BBC homepage or Nokia's "design a new cell phone" content won by a Turkish designer, Tamer Nakisci's with an entry that featured a wristband phone. Or perhaps we heard about Chevy's make your own Tahoe commercial?

"And as innovation CUSTOMER-MADE style implies the end of traditional producer/consumer relationships, implies letting go of control, and realising that the entire world could be your advisor, it also implies re-innovating innovation itself. also includes organizations that are actively asking and responding to customer feedback to design better products and services as part of this new trend.

"From April to October 2005, Itaù, Brazil's largest bank, launched a campaign titled ""Itaù quer ouvir voca" , which means (how refreshing!) "Itaù wants to listen to you". Through a massive ad campaign, and by using channels such as dedicated 0800 numbers, e-mail, and online chats, employees at their banks, and actual telephones at ATMs, Itaù went far beyond the usual concept of suggestion boxes. They even promised to get back to participants in five working days, commenting on suggestions made. First results: an average of 7.200 requests, complaints, and suggestions per month."

Just in case you're thinking that "customer as designer" is only a trend for the corporate world, think again. Here's an example from the briefing that focuses on the public sector and also points out what a mobile and connected community can do:

"Meanwhile, in Lewisham, UK, residents are helping to keep the southeast borough of London clean in CUSTOMER-MADE/LOCAL BRAIN style: after installing special software on their cameraphone, observant townspeople can snap a picture of graffiti or overflowing litter bins, enter location details, and send it to the local council. The picture is then posted on the council's website, and cleaning crews are sent to resolve the issue. Read more on this initiative on our sister-site Springwise New Business Ideas. And yes, this comes close to citizen journalism as well!"

The next time you're in planning meeting designing new services or programs, ask yourself, where are our customers? What ideas would they bring? Can we ask them? Can we invite them to be designers or co-designers? Why not?

So should libraries dive in? The brief writers say yes and point out that "if fear of a deluge of complaints and requests is holding you back: remember the deluge is already happening behind your back, and that if YOU aren't listening to your smart, able customers, someone else definitely is!"

The next time you're on a committee designing anything, ask yourself, is their a role our customers could play in this? How could we tap into their ideas and advice? How could we partner with our users to create a better library experience?

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