Can Presence Make the Heart Grow Fonder?
Sunday, June 7, 2009
There has been much talk lately of data overload. Of marketing noise and the struggle to attract and maintain consumer attention. A weekend outdoors with my toddler reminded me this isn’t a new problem, nor is our selective attention a new response. My daughter still notices every soaring airplane. Every buzzing hedge trimmer. Every distant siren. The sights and sounds I have learned, over time, to tune out as irrelevant. When faced with data glut in the marketplace, most consumers respond like me. That is to say, they don’t respond. So how do brands help consumers see their information through the eyes of a child?
We’ve covered on UE some of the latest visualizations that show amazing patterns in the downpour, empowering business and brand managers to channel the deluge into usable streams. But for the consumer, some of the most effective visualizations show the invisible and silent stimuli they never knew were around them.
The Red Interactive company website, Red Universe, is one such example.
Red Universe generates a dynamic, customizable avatar for every guest. While this Second Life approach to site navigation is interesting in its own right, the most significant element is that guests can see the typically anonymous "presence" of their fellow surfers around them. This fundamentally changes the way one experiences the site. Visitors explore the site together, transforming browsing into a social activity. And by adding special avatar codes, Red granted regular visitors (and agency friends) a visible currency to share (or withhold) from new visitors. In a sea of corporate sites that are all about the agency, Red flips the focus.
Of course, Red's content doesn't really lend itself to reading and discussing as a group. But couldn’t an art museum website learn from such an approach, designing a virtual gallery through which visitors move, pausing at favorites to discuss and debate with each other? With the curator? With the artist?
How might visually representing “presence” change the experience of a news website or blog, whose content is often read and commented upon, but not discussed or debated through realtime dialog with others currently on the site? If as you read these words, five other UE visitors were sitting beside you at a virtual table, would you be more willing to offer your thoughts, or respond to theirs? What if the same five were here again tomorrow?
Avatars and virtual worlds are certainly nothing new. Nor would every visitor welcome a social interaction while skimming morning headlines at NYTimes.com. But introducing dynamic presence (outside of established worlds like Second Life) and realtime dialog to websites can enhance user experience for those seeking a greater interaction and a sense of community. And they can reveal once hidden sights and sounds, bringing renewed attention to what we might otherwise tune out.