Tag Archives: research

Hiding in plain sight: Social Steganography

I know its quite old (all of a year) but I’m really intriguing…

Privacy in a public age

Carmen is engaging in social steganography. She’s hiding information in plain sight, creating a message that can be read in one way by those who aren’t in the know and read differently by those who are. She’s communicating to different audiences simultaneously, relying on specific cultural awareness to provide the right interpretive lens. While she’s focused primarily on separating her mother from her friends, her message is also meaningless to broader audiences who have no idea that she had just broken up with her boyfriend. As far as they’re concerned, Carmen just posted an interesting lyric.

Social steganography is one privacy tactic teens take when engaging in semi-public forums like Facebook. While adults have worked diligently to exclude people through privacy settings, many teenagers have been unable to exclude certain classes of adults – namely their parents – for quite some time. For this reason, they’ve had to develop new techniques to speak to their friends fully aware that their parents are overhearing. Social steganography is one of the most common techniques that teens employ. They do this because they care about privacy, they care about misinterpretation, they care about segmented communications strategies. And they know that technical tools for restricting access don’t trump parental demands to gain access. So they find new ways of getting around limitations. And, in doing so, reconstruct age-old practices.

I would also add the suggestion that deep down they also know that technical methods are seriously no good for privacy. So they deploy there own privacy by adding steganography to there imprint on the web. Its also not just teenagers…

What TV needs now…

Television

This is the kind of thing I think about a lot in my job at the BBC. I’m very lucky to be stationed with a fantastic group of like minded people and a hierarchy upwards which I do respect. (Not many people can say that).

So when I explain to people what I do, I tend to make some reference to researching trends and watching the hackers scratch there own itches. It doesn’t sound that exciting to the general public or potential dates but you all know how excited I get about it. Anyway the point of this un-scientific test is I’m hoping to do more stuff like this. In actual fact I actually threw this idea around as a project a while ago. Its great to know we’re not the only one thinking about this stuff.

During a panel at our TVnext summit yesterday, we showed a video with highlights from a recent experiment. For this experiment, we had invited several families to give up their cable and instead use a “connected TV” device for one week following last Christmas.

The results might sound surprising but to be honest, I could have guessed most of them from the time I’ve spent with the hackers.

Nicely Iiya broke it down the learning into some nice digestible pieces, something I certainly need to learn to do much better.

While our sample was by no means representative, the results of our experiment point us toward some real issues that one should consider when thinking about the future of the “connected TV” technologies.

One finding that is probably obvious in retrospect is that TV is invisible until it’s shut off. It’s a bit like walking: you are aware of the direction in which you are headed but you don’t really focus on the individual steps until you come across an unusual terrain. The exclusively on-demand nature of the devices we tested is just such an unusual terrain that makes you think not only about “where” but also about the specifics of “how”.

The devices demand a lean-forward involvement with what has been traditionally considered a lean-back medium, and this requirement proved disconcerting to many when it lasted longer than the usual bursts of involvement with their DVRs or video-on-demand channels.

The Paradox Of Choice

Constantly having to pick what to watch next was daunting not only because it interrupted the usual flow of TV-time activities in the house or required interacting with unfamiliar interfaces but also because of the cognitive load involved in considering all of the numerous content alternatives. “I don’t want to have to think about it” was one of the strongest sentiments we’ve captured in our interviews. As with “the paradox of choice” phenomenon that describes how broadening the range of options leads to a decrease in overall consumption, we saw how families gave up on watching TV altogether when they couldn’t decide what it is that they wanted to watch. This problem is serious enough for Netflix to award a million-dollar prize for a better way to tell people what they should watch next; it didn’t seem the problem was sufficiently addressed by any of the devices.

The paradox of choice gets stronger and stronger the more options there are. Even in my own behavior, I tend to end up watching films which are on TV although I got the HD version with Dolby Digital or DTS surround sound on my home server within 1 minutes reach.

In actual fact, i’m going to from now on make the choice to move over to my own version when I see a duplicate on TV which has me interested.

Expectations

People have well-formed expectations about how a TV should work, and the devices didn’t seem to confirm well to these mental models. Surfing TV channels is seamless; “tasting” unfamiliar on-demand shows includes picking them from different menu categories and waiting for them to buffer first (and often paying for them up-front). This latency is tolerated in exchange for high-consideration longer-form content but it becomes too much of a friction when all one wants is the “in-n-out” material.

Agreed, the interface on most of the on-demand devices are either hideous or non-intuitive. But there are those which take a risk and try new things. The world of hardware moves very slowly and so we won’t see much change from most of the set top makers. However there has been more development in the space. Some of the forward looking makers are buying or partnering with creative software developers who are creating the rich and intuitive interfaces using just software.

Usability

The lack of search spanning multiple video services on a single box was a usability flaw that stood out among other complaints that could be attributed to our users’ brief experience with unfamiliar technology. From the users’ perspective, there is no reason why they had to search the Netflix, Amazon On Demand and other services individually while looking for a particular piece of content on a single device.

Agreed, its all a bit of a mess at the moment. different guides and different structures. Even if there was a global search it would be one heck of a job trying to communicate the different options available to the audience.

Its a fantastic challenge and to be honest, one of the many reasons why I love my job.