Special Issue: ICT Development and Use in Europe

Abstract - The Information Society 16(4)

User As Currency: Technology and Marketing Trials as Naturalistic Environments

Derek William Nicoll

It is obvious that business and technical innovation are now closely linked and to a large extent they share a common destiny. Technology facilitates business, as business incorporates technology. However what business can learn through and with technology, and what technologists can learn from the implementation of their products in business is limited, somewhat of a closed system unless there is the possibility of feedback from end-users. This is especially true in cases of technologies aimed at the wider consumer market. The opportunity to learn reduces severely if business and technologists cannot learn about their offerings via the perceptions and experiences of those who are intended to consume and use them. With this in mind, the 1990s have witnessed a succession of technologies, which after attracting significant funding for development, failed to reach their intended destinations the mass consumer market. Perhaps the most significant of these is interactive television.

This paper aims to present the notion of technology and marketing trials as a kind of sociotechnical 'biosphere' where learning is effected in comparative 'safety'. However, efforts to contrive the social and technical environments of trials, to make them realistic, is a difficult task. Firms wishing to create the right conditions whilst simultaneously learning of the technology themselves, and also seeking to extract as much data as possible from trialists often creates complexities which hinder or prevent proper learning, and in the long run, proper prospects of commercialisation. Trials can take on something of a life of their own, losing their attributes of being a set of highly controlled conditions, becoming instead a preoccupation and severe drain on resources. The paper suggests that problems may begin early in projects, where there is a lack of clear-cut knowledge objectives and where the reification of 'users' represents little more than collateral for winning support for projects. Later, 'users' come to be viewed as intelligent parts of the system. Here they are 'designed' to provide various kinds of feedback regarding technology, interface and service characteristics. This suggests a narrow, unnatural and flawed view of use and users, detracting from the key relevancy they play in providing learning on trials.

View Full Text | Subscribe Online


Back | TIS Home