Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mechanical Turk demographics

Today I presented our work on using Amazon's Mechanical Turk service as a user testing method to PARC's Computing Science Lab (CSL). Several of the researchers in the audience asked "what does the demographic of Mechanical Turk users look like, and whether it is a reasonable sample of the real demographic" that one might want for user testing of HCI systems. I thought that was a great question.

Luckily, our very own intern Brynn Evans recently found a great blog post about the demographics of Mechanical Turk. For example, some have surmised that since MT pays so little, perhaps many of the turkers are from third world countries with lower minimum wages. This turned out not to be the case. About 82% of the users are from either the US, Canada, or UK.

What about income distributions? Perhaps people with lower wages or salaries are more willing to participate. Well, the self-reported income distribution looks remarkably like the income distribution of general online users.

As one might have suspected, the answer is that turkers participate not just for money, but for fun and for a sense of game. Bringing mechanical turk really in line with ESP games.

For more details, see: A Computer Scientist in a Business School: Mechanical Turk: The Demographics

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Shopping and Web2.0: What CellarTracker teaches us?

As I head into Napa Valley for a July 4th wine country excursion, my mind wonders about what CellarTracker teaches us (see last post). What it teaches us is how shopping for products is no longer just a transaction; it is a social experience.

The new norm on shopping websites is that shoppers expect not just good prices and good usability, but also great recommendation, a community of other like-minded shoppers. And in 'niche' markets such as wine geeks, users want social recommendations and to interact with other people's opinions. Of course, expert opinions like Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate are still taken seriously, but community opinions are aggregated and reported. For example, CellarTracker shows what are the most popular wine producers in the community by bottle holding, as well as all of the wine tasting notes that are made public (for example, on this amazing producer Domaine Tempier).

As mentioned in WebGuild, a report by Guidance and Synovate showed that online shoppers are drawn to social web features on shopping sites. "online commerce is now a two-way street - and retailers need to embrace that reality. Online consumers and merchants are in dialogue as never before, and consumers are counting on each other for insights in making purchase decisions." I think these observations and experiences point to new ways forward in online commerce.