Thursday, December 29, 2005

Starbucks should have hired me... do ethnography for their product development/marketing division. While I like to think of the big academic ideas... I like thinking about and influencing the products we use in our everyday lives as well.

One of the blogs I keep up with is called "Starbucks Gossip: somebody has to monitor America's favorite drug dealer." Most recently, it talked about the demise of its rich chocolate drink, Chantico. While Starbucks is learning from this and apparently launching new chocolate drinks in February, the narratives are the same: millions of dollars have seemingly been wasted on the positioning of a product not suited for its sociocultural context. Back in May, some of the comments on Chantico's popularity drive home my assertion that they needed someone to look at the particular situation of where they were deciding to implement this product:

Posted by: Doppio | May 16, 2005 6:42:50 PM
Yes. I have noticed that Chantico isn't as popular as most people would've thought. First of all, Starbucks has to realize that decadence isn't the right way to go. In Boston, people are very health conscious, more than most people in other regions. Therefore, the idea of 390 calories is quite impossible for them to think of, never mind stomach. I think the highest day we get Chantico is on Saturday because of all the tourist and what not. I usually make an extra 1 so we have 3 pitchers on hand.

Posted by: chris | May 17, 2005 11:29:25 AM
Yeah, up here in Vancouver it's kinda died off...but then it's also become unseasonably warm up here, frappucinos are going like crazy...along with the new Mint Mocha chip (All the stores in my district and a neighbouring one are currently out of chips)...even though I think the syrup smells like varnish.

That said, one has to realize that as people move towards summer (even if the weather isn't showing it), they're going to want to 'warm up' less. Chantico is the ultimate in a winter drink. I think Starbucks may put it on hiatus for the summer but I definitely see it coming back next fall.

I think the most insightful comment comes from a barista in Seattle who says:

Posted by: rich | May 17, 2005 11:09:35 PM regards to Chanticos here in Seattle? I've probably made a mere hand full since it was launched beginning of this year. We use to make 3 pitchers per day because we're one of the highest volume stores in Seattle, but now we only make one and it doesn't seem like we've tapped into that pitcher at the end of the day. Anyways, Chantico was a bad idea here in the US because everyone is always on the go, unlike the European Cafes where people actually sit down to enjoy the people watching and the "cafe experience." This lack of "cafe experience" here in the US should've been noticed during the developmental phase of the Chantico...I'm sure someone (or someones) is going to get fired for this, because *$ spent way too much $$$ advertising it (just look at those giant billboards here in Seattle and Vancouver).

Clearly, this initiative required local knowledge. What I would have done if I coordinated a study for this:
1. First, observe the circumstances of the district/city of the Starbucks though observation, interviewing the baristas (who know a lot more about what works for the store than they seem to be given credit for) and customers. Providing ethnographic reports on the particular store.
2. See if the product will take flight at all.
3. In cities where it might be successful, channel the dollars and energies there, launching a beta limited-time-offer release of the product.
4. Monitor its reception and sales in each location.
5. Interview the same parties pre-release in the stores the product where the product was introduced.
6. Make changes to the product and postioning according to input. Maybe some focus groups for increased collaboration, providing incentives for people to participate.
7. Ditch the implementation altogether, or implement it only in select areas.

In any case, doing this study would have been cheaper than the $$ lost in the full all-out launch of this product. I know that from spending time in North America, Europe, and Asia in and around various Starbucks, that the "coffee cultures" in each store, and each place are quite different. Big companies with big global reach need to look at these local knowledges and micro cultures in much greater detail.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

For the Horde. Evil? A debate

One post at TerraNova about has created some lively and lengthy debate: Read the post

The author (Castronova) is asserting that the Horde in World of Warcraft is inherently evil and that rolling one of those characters does indeed say something about the person... though you should really read the post to get its full flavour.

My own experience is markedly different and goes against the grain of what he is saying, based on his experience. I talk about some of them here.

1. I joined a PvP (player versus player) server, which pits the factions of Alliance and Horde against one another. Not only can you be killed by the usual NPCs (Non-Player Characters) but also other players of the other faction. As one of my friends has said, this makes it "A different story, and a different struggle. The other servers are CAREBEAR."

2. While I have Alliance alts on other CAREBEAR servers, my main is on a PvP server, where my offline friends spend most of their time as well. I ended up rolling a Horde character and was compelled to spend the most time on this server. There are fewer girls who are Horde, allegedly because the characters are uglier (possibly true). I just took it as a necessary ugliness if I wanted to join the same guild as my friends. There are also fewer Horde in general, and Alliance are perceived as "kids" and "pansies" whom Blizzard favours and gives quest/item/everything advantages to. Horde is good for people who like playing the underdog, because it is.

3. Even though I am in the Horde faction, I do not think of myself as "evil" or acting out "evil" tendencies. This is especially true, because as people familiar with the WarCraft storyline will know, the Horde in WoW is comprised of Orcs, Trolls, Tauren, and Undead (yeah I know they like biological warfare) who broke away from the Burning Legion and are trying to lead an honourable existence.

4. As mentioned before, Alliance are perceived as "cheap-assed pansies" because on a PvP server, you learn to sympathize with the other side. This has always been something WarCraft has done, because even in the RTS games, you could play the different factions, go with their storylines, and sympathize. There was no "this is evil, that is evil" as such... but you had to have opposing light/dark because that's just cool and Lord of the Rings-ish. Amongst Horde, Alliance members (even though they're 'good) are thought to have less honour (they gank lowbies without necessity), and exhibit dishonourable behaviour more frequently.

So, in sum, I don't think that the post was quite on the mark and would tend to agree with more of the comments subsequently posted there.


Friday, December 23, 2005

Quoted in the San Antonio Current

Seeing one's research contribution used in another's work is one of the reasons I love writing. Popular culture and associated mass media is where much of public opinion is negotiated and determined. In Communication, I get to study the way this happens, and participate in the dialogue. You can have your own soapbox, but if others are giving you a megaphone it's even better.

In a recent article on World of Warcraft as an MMORPG emerging from the fringe of culture into mainstream, Richard and I are quoted:

However, before we grab the torches and gather in the town square to march on game developers, we should step back and ask what it means to say that something is intrinsically “addictive.” Researchers Florence Chee and Richard Smith argue that the term “addiction” is often used to stigmatize pleasurable behaviors that seem unacceptable to mainstream society. “Why do we need to label everything potentially likable as addictive?” they ask. In our pathologized culture, the discourse of addiction surrounds such behaviors as work, love, gambling, sex, shopping, therapy, and even reading.

You can read the whole article here: "If you can't beat 'em..." from the San Antonio Current.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Online gaming syndrome

I wanted to share an interesting post by Edward Castronova on Terranova on "Online gaming syndrome." It reports on a Korean doctor who links online gaming with deep-vein thrombosis. The comments following the post are interesting too, because they include input from MDs on the validity of the research. I posted my thoughts in the comments as an addendum to what was presented as well. Check it out.
A Diagnosis For Online Gaming Syndrome

Friday, December 16, 2005

Let the games begin...and thesis how-tos

At long last, I am done the semester. Yay^3.
In order to give back to the community of Masters students in the process of finishing, I write this entry so that you may learn from the administrative hurdles one is likely to face while thinking of the "big ideas." Hopefully this helps some of you!

The other day, an MSc student in another department asked me, based on my experience, how long he should allow for thesis writing if he wants to defend by August 2006. WELL, I answered... depending on how advanced you are in your research and allowing for NO fudge time or mental blocks (ha), get that portion done, then allow 2 additional semesters--one for compiling/finishing writing/associated crises/collaboration/blah blah blah, and another one for the administration. While other departments and schools may vary, the recommended timeline to be done by the end of Summer would likely be:

If he wants to defend by (shoot for the end of JULY latest, because the library deadline is around the 2nd week of August), it is important to submit a thesis draft to the committee by APRIL, allowing for 1 month reading time. By then, it would be MAY-ish when you receive approval to schedule a defense. The department needs a FORM which schedules your defense, and the deadline for that is mid-JUNE. Then... some voodoo is done, they find a chair and an external for the defense... while you work on the "big ideas" and become very neurotic (if all works out). Hopefully during that time you find out when your defense is, because you need to distribute a FINAL DEFENSE COPY of your thesis to your committee at least 2 weeks prior to your defense (even more for PhDs). That deadline is pretty bang on... because professors need time to read your stuff.

During the 2 weeks your committee has your thesis, they're reading it, annotating it, and working on questions to ask you at your defense. You are most likely working on your defense presentation, which is either completely oral, read off a paper for 15-20 mins, or powerpoint. What worked for me was composing a 15-20 minute speech, and using powerpoint for visual aids. Having the document there is helpful, and keeps one from blanking during the defense, which happens quite often.

The actual defense, if everything to date has gone pretty smoothly, should be viewed as a 'celebration'. They grill you, but the most important thing is to be honest about what you wrote about, what you know, and what you don't know (but hope to take up in the future). Then, they kick you and the audience out of the room and talk about all sorts of things, including your revisions if you have any. They bring you back in, discuss the terms, and get you to sign the paperwork saying you passed (hopefully).

Then, the revisions begin. You may be completely wiped, but try to get over it ASAP. Work with the thesis librarian early in the process, and make sure your template/copy edits are still good. DO your revisions, get them into whoever needs to OK them (usually Senior Supervisor), and then get at 4-6 copies made of it for binding (library copy and personal copy are 'free'). Get the file with all your forms and particulars from your department, and bring everything to the thesis librarian before that deadline in August....allow about a DAY more than you anticipated for this. Then you're done. Like I am.

Now for the holidays, which include working on some journal manuscripts, but mostly seeing people I haven't seen in a long time, hanging out with minimal guilt, and saving up enough gold for my EPIC MOUNT in World of Warcraft. :)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Amusing revisions

A reason why revisions could be important, even if you can't stand reading it anymore: When you're writing lots, you miss silly things because you're going cross-eyed.

You start saying stuff like "I appled something to my data," when you meant APPLIED. I can't even claim I'm writing on a Mac. How embarassing.

When I used to be an Instructional Designer (a more pedagogical version of a tech writer) we used to have a whole department to do different edits (seek out tech edits, content edits, copy edits, and so on). That cycle of events gave the writer (me) a much needed break from the material so that when the copy came back with the markup, I fixed those issues as well as added some of my own improvements. Amazing what distance from writing does for clarity.

I need to find more ways to compartmentalize the one-ness of the academic experience. As a grad student, you're dealing with the 'big ideas,' but it doesn't end there. You're also facking around with document/referencing applications, acting as a project manager, dealing with administration, and a whole host of other resource ills that come around thesis finishing time--all on one clock, which is ultimately your own.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Revisions, rest, and reflection

Before the final library version of my thesis is due on December 14th, I'm taking the opportunity to revise, edit, and flesh out a few more things in the document. As much as I'd like to just send it off and pursue PhD land full throttle, there is that niggling little voice in the back of my head that goes "come on Flo, you've been working on this thing... it's going to be in the library FOREVER.... including any typos!" So... fine toothed comb.
This was also partly inspired by the experience in Richard Smith's Communication Technologies class yesterday. Instead of looking outward as most courses do, this week we looked inward at theses that our own students in the School of Communication have produced. Students in the class were responsible for selecting a thesis and talking about what the author did, how they did it, and their treatment of technology. So, if you ever think that people won't read your thesis, think again.
After this is done with, I hope to get in some much needed rest. I don't know any other way I could have done this crazy semester if I had to do it over again.... but I might not have chosen to take PhD courses in the same semester as defending an MA thesis... say.
Over the winter break (I'm fantasizing that two weeks will feel like two years) I hope to get snowed in and be forced to reflect on things both personal and professional. I also hope to get in much celebration that I didn't really have the chance to, including thanksgiving, my freakin birthday, and other such revelry (the 4th "R").