Mapping the unfindable: who is not online? – or who doesn’t exist on the internet?

As most things today, it all started with a Google search.

This year it will make 10 years that my Grandpa passed away. And I guess that, as everyone that have lost a close relative and friend does, sometimes I like to imagine what would he be doing now and what would he think about the person I became. We were very very close, and I miss him. And, probably because of that, one day while daydreaming about him during class I randomly realized that I had never searched for his name online.

Would I find his name? Probably, he sent me a few e-mails so he did voluntarily put his name – or at least his username – on the internet. Still, it was 2008, and smartphones weren’t a thing yet and neither was social media. So yes as I laid my hands on the keyboard and typed it, I did find him, along with other 3 people that shared his same name: a businessman from Germany,  a young boy from Italy, and, lastly one other person that I could not really identify the nationality but did have some interesting birds pictures on Flickr. I couldn’t find any pictures of my Grandpa though. As I looked over the only 2 Google pages as now I used the query: ‘ “Roberto+Pecis” porto alegre’, I only identified some documents from legal processes and two newspaper articles that were related to him. And that was it.

Even though the result was probably kind of obvious, it was somehow mind-blowing: his limited digital presence was such a clear representation of how much  information access and  production  has changed in the past 10 years.

And so I started questioning myself: who can’t we find online today on the internet? what does that represent? Is it good or bad not to be online? What is the difference of voluntarily joining a social media website and having stuff online about you? What would be an actual visual representation of how much data collection increased in the past 10-20 years? Could I afford not to be online as a secular ocidental living under a capitalist system? What about people that have very common names? How hard is it to find them? What about next generations and when a lot of people starts having the same name… will we have to create maybe a global ID number to search for people online? I remember looking for friends telephones in phone books when i was a kid… but how did we actually use to find people before the internet? Does internet accessibility relates to internet ‘findability’ of people and representation?

The ITP Assistant

During my Hello Computer class, I developed a bunch of experiments such as the emoji story creator, invisible map and the dada poem reciter. Those were more fun and simple weekly assignments projects, where I learned a lot and helped me explore the use of voice interfaces.

Therefore, for my final for this class I decided to create a bot using dialogflow in order to create a functional voice interface tool to help people complete a specific task. My idea was to user test and also think about the UX behind voice interfaces as well as develop a platform that could eventually be used in parallel (or even more used, who knows!?) than the webpage designed to fulfill the same functionality.

So what do I – really – need help with?

My main inspiration for this project was the current Google Assistant and that amazing – but also scary – video released in this years Google I/O where the digital assistant calls a hairdresser to book a hair saloon appointment for you.

As most impressive as that is, still,  for my daily tasks the best use that i make of my Google Home/Assistant is mostly to ask for the temperature, to play a song, and eventually to help decide what should I wear according to the weather. Which is nice, but I would imagine that this tool should have way more potential to be functional in my life. So what is something that I make often and would like to get done by voice command in at least a weekly basis?

Differently from the Persona in the Google’s I/O example, that wants have her haircut done and need to book hours for it, as a student something that I schedule often is Office Hours with Residents and Professors. And ITP has a website for that.

 

 

The website collects all links from the residents/professors calendars and display their Bookable Events, which you can click and book as Office Hours. Despite some professors that do a double check with an internal NYU account, as long as you have any google @gmail account you are enabled to do that.

The website does its job, but  it can be annoying as you have to go back to check if the person with the skill you want is available for the day you are also available. If the person is not, you have to go to the home and to the steps again to find another resident or teacher that could help you… and so on.

So, what if I could create a voice assistant that could book ITP office hours for you?

Would I succeed on developing it? If I did, would it indeed be useful? Would people be willing to switch from using only the website and find a voice interface actually more helpful?

 

Setting up DialogFlow and Firebase for a first prototype

I followed Nicole’s instructions in class and set up a simple working prototype from the DialogFlow/Firebase side for creating the ITP Assistant.

My idea for now was to make the simplest UX possible that could fulfill the task of booking office hours, even if that woudn’t be good enough for the final interface, but could work as a proof of concept and then grow from there. This is the interface I aimed to create:

So that part was working,  as you can check in the video below.

My code at this point was very simple.

I added a JSON file with the names of the residents (office hours with teachers too would have to wait a bit!), with their skills, and, once i had received the string inside my skills Intent, I would parse it and try to match it with the existing skills on the JSON. If it found a matching skill I would push the Resident’s name into an array, than then would be randomized, and one of the matching resident’s selected. Once selected, while the DialogFlow would be saying to ‘hold for a sec while I book office hours”, the code would run a function to  get that Resident’s URL and actually book the office hours. – that then would be said back by the Dialogflow with the date and time scheduled. You can check the code here.

So that’s when my problems begun…

Finding out that Google’s Calendsr API couldn’t work for me

(I’ll finish writing by tomorrow Oct 26th)

Working with puppeteer (fun!)  and Booking office hours through my server

(I’ll finish writing by tomorrow Oct 26th)

Trying to make firebase and pupeteer work together (not successful)

(I’ll finish writing by tomorrow Oct 26th)

Next Steps

(I’ll finish writing by tomorrow Oct 26th)

My SuperFoods Field Guide

So a couple of weeks ago I finished and presented my Superfoods Field Guide in the Temporary Expert class.

Check the result here in e-book format.

 

As I hope it was noticed, I went for an ironic approach, imitating the look and feel of a Fashion Magazine. I decided to inform about this purely Marketing superfood term that emerged from the insight of using foods as a trend, spotting a light on how superficial that can be rather than an actual nutritional need.

My goal is to attract people that are the heavy users of those foods, who from my research are also highly interested in fashion and social media, and help them realize how superfoods are labeled and the problems around it, in order to rethink their behavior as consumers.

 

 

The feedback was very positive. Users at first were attracted to it because of the beautiful imagery and editorial design and as they quickly scraped through the copy and saw the headlines, would immediately understand the irony and comment it was a smart and funny approach. Therefore I am happy with the result.

This was the page users liked the most.

 

Besides being happy with the result I am also happy about the way I handled the process. The research part took me a while. It was important to read articles on the subject, but i the most important part was my ‘field trip’ to Whole Foods, where, after reading all articles and papers, I could analyze how the food was marketed to the public, interact with Supermarket employees and informally interview consumers themselves while purchasing the superfood products. What took me a while though was to have the insight of the idea and nail down the voice that I wanted to use.  Once I figured that out,  designing it was pretty fast.

I understand that I moved the idea to work in a comfort zone of mine, which is branding and design, and maybe in next project I should try to avoid that in order to experiment and learn using different languages. Still, considering we were required to develop a field guide for this issue and to have a printed version of that, it made sense to use that skill as a tool to conceive my message.

So what would be the next steps?

One of the feedbacks I had was to work better with the copy to push it to the next level. I totally agree with that, keeping in mind that english is not my first language, if I would look forward to publishing that this would definitely be a requirement.

Also, a lot of classmates suggested to “shop drop” this field guide in the Whole Foods magazine shelf near the cashiers. I would love to see people’s reactions! – It is a bit expensive to print that though, but if there are any interested sponsors out there just shout out and I’ll be happy to print and make the Superfoods Field guide available all around New York!

Adjacent Issue 4 Accessibility Audit

For the Open Source Studio Class, we were assigned to make the accessibility audit of a website.  Since Itay and I are currently working in UX and QA for the next Adjacent issue (Adjacent is the online journal of emerging media published by ITP) and making it accessible is mandatory for us, I decided to audit it.

It is important to note that the page is not officially published yet, as we do have some design features to review, images to add and links to set. As we will be doing do in the next few days, this review could guide us on what’s missing regarding accessibility so we can launch it next Monday when it’s ready – and accessible!

The methodology was a complementary use of the WAVE – Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool and the Mac screen reader Voice Over.

The WAVE tool analyzes the writing code and the design issues related to the accessibility guidelines defined by the W3C in the WCAG. We can see we have several errors. I noted the absence of a header, which should be fixed. The other errors though are mainly regarding the use of the same links that is being used now as a placeholder for when all articles and pages are published.

Regarding colors, everything seems to be ok and accessible!

The website was also audited by using Mac VoiceOver. This was proven to be very hard, since there is no final content on in, and the repeated placeholders made everything confusing. I will definitely need to get back and redo this accessibility audit once we have the final version of the website.

Talking Robots and DialogFlow

The idea of having an Artificial Intelligence capable of resembling perfectly, both speech-like and physically like, a human being is a very romanticized idea throughout our culture. Ironically, as we move more and more towards the ability of creating machines that – even if not yet perfect ones –  and somewhat succeed in this matter, User Experience shows us that maybe it was not the way to go after all.

Both episode 1 and episode 2 of the Podcast Sandra and the reading on Upending the Uncanny Valley  explore this irony and question the validity of investing in such resemblance. The Uncanny Valley theory, that describes the common unsettling feeling people experience when androids (humanoid robots) and audio/visual simulations closely resemble humans in many respects but are not quite convincingly realistic, was an interesting term to discover and that I could relate a lot to.

I think this is an interesting paradox and ironic in a way. I would be interested in exploring this discomfort further and playing with it as well as exploring and experimenting with its boundaries as an UX designer.