In an earlier post I talked about latching onto activities that people already engage in, to help improve their experience or end result in those endeavors. For some, building on what people are already doing (perhaps disruptively), rather than creating new processes that you want people to come use, is a basic business tenet.

In the context of the post referenced above, on how the semantic web comes to be, the approach suggested was intended, in part, to describe a philosophy for enabling people to achieve their own ends better, more easily, more efficiently, even perhaps to an extent beyond their own expectations. The contribution to the semantic web, in that process, is the elicitation, contextualization, and leveraging of details to further a user’s activity and the activities of others – and with proper storage, the enhancement of other activities.

How this is done is a bit like Aikido, the Japanese martial art – not so much in a defensive way, but as an interaction strategy. Aiki is the harmonization and leveraging of energy and movement. So if someone is intent on moving in a particular direction, helping her along in that direction is one of the easiest ways to become part of the knitting of an engagement to propel it along its way. Get to the heart of what people are after by helping them to understand what and where that is.

Three talks that I attended over the past week each touched on just this point – each in its own way:

  • At this month’s Usability Professionals’ Association gathering in Morristown, NJ, Gavin Lew, of User Centric, talked about their iPhone studies. While the primary focus was on the effectiveness of a particular capability of the device, one of the reasons for their having done several iterations was the need to segment the user base, highlighting the value of targeting the specific objectives of individual segments.
  • Dr. Bill Gribbons, Director of Human Factors and Information Design programs at Bentley College, spoke last week in New York to the Society for Technical Communications. In addition to emphasizing market segmentation and simplicity in design, the key differentiator to “win” in business is the user experience. Becoming more and more important in this experience differentiation will be embedded support – or what he refers to as “cognitive scaffolding”. In short, this is the elicitation and contextualization I’ve referred to as enabling users to achieve their objectives.
  • Frank Gens, in his presentation yesterday on IDC’s predictions for 2008, talked about where their research shows enterprises focusing over the next year. The same key point emerged here – that energy is being directed towards companies getting closer to the end customer to engage them in what they’re doing, via small business, social platform as business environment (for facebookers coming into business age), or gadgets – in some cases to gaining some control of mobile markets (e.g. Apple, for example, took hold of wireless customer sign-up for the iPhone, as is the case with the Amazon Kindle).

In all of these examples, it is the user base that is driving the future. Opportunities will be found in identifying networks of interaction, where there are satisfaction deficiencies, or where hiding some technology can get users past legacy system limitations they’ve come to live with.