In recent years, product development in the tech sector has centered on the question of “what do people need.” In response, experts trained in social sciences and design have provided techniques and methodologies to access and understand “real” people in “real” places, a perceived complement to traditional market research to uncover unmet needs.While what do people need is a fine question for short-term product development, and a necessary question for market research, it is the wrong question for R&D. It’s time to move the user experience conversation beyond “user needs” and “usage models” and all the other terms and phrases companies have invented to try to dissect human desire and transform into a site for development. R&D can lead the way by investing in social research and design to set a more ambitious agenda focused on systemic understanding of social phenomena, focused on the development of points of view about computing and how it is changing the social world. A case in point is the topic of social media, an important area of applied research. Three years ago, with the launch of MySpace, technology companies began to come to terms, slowly, with the onset of social networking and the ways in which on-line social applications suggested a new direction for everyday needs. Usage models, still diligently focused on topics like entertainment and productivity, didn’t budge; rather strategic planning groups assimilated social networking as yet another usage model alongside the others. Social networking isn’t simply more of the same on topic of how people do their social lives; rather, it’s the beginning of a fundamental shift in how people form communities, how identity is presented and morphed and for what purpose, how we experience privacy and develop skills to communicate, create and participate in the world. As part of Future Technologies Research inside Intel Labs, People and Practices Research is pursuing exactly this direction. By looking systemically at how phenomenon like MySpace and Facebook become everyday practices, we work to identify areas of meaningful invention and innovation in R&D. The urgency here isn’t simply for R&D to continue to innovate, but to ensure that R&D has something to say to the business units about what matters in the world and where product groups need to head from a social point of view. Our research agenda extends well beyond social networking to topics that include media, collectives, consumers and how conditions for consumption are orchestrated, the environment and natural resource management. Stay tuned to this blog for more discussion from members of the team on topics that are on our minds today.
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