With The future of persuasion is mobile, BJ Fogg opened the first Mobile Persuasion conference last Friday. In a blizzard of 9 1/2 minute presentations, over 250 of us heard from 25 speakers the breath of mobile technologies already being applied for behavior and social change. I’m not going to try and capture each presentation, but give you some overall perspectives on what I experienced during the meeting.
A consistent theme across the presentations was the emphasis on thinking about mobile devices in the context of their unique properties and not just ‘shrink down’ PC applications or extend traditional broadcast communication methods. Mobile devices are one the few things with most people, in most places, most of the time, and offer instantaneous interactions with others. Marion Zabinski of Sensei captured the goal of using mobile technologies for behavior change as delivering just-in-time actionable messaging. That is, when the information will be most relevant and valuable to the person, not just a distraction – or worse, a nuisance.
The second theme that emerged for me was the symbolic and cultural power of mobile phones as a signifier of personal identity, a way to build common ground or connectedness with others, and a method of social participation. Other relationships between people and their phones included ideas of ‘friend’ and ‘personal coach’ – the latter especially in self-improvement and health promotion applications.
The approaches to using mobile technologies for behavior change included games, story-telling (through video and picture sharing as well as by text and voice) and adaptations of behavior change tactics (on-going assessments against standards and personal goals, tailoring of information, self-monitoring, prompts or cues for action, immediate feedback, enhanced social support and reinforcement and rewards). Though not explicitly mentioned by any of the presenters, the question of how to better continuously engage people in the long-term process of sustained behavior change seemed to define current explorations and perhaps the future potential of mobile technologies.
It was also good to hear that an audience or user focus lay at the heart of most development and application projects. Eric Holmen from SmartReply summed it up as trying to address the consumer need (demand?): Help me do what I do now, better and faster.
My takeaways from the meeting included:
- User interactions with mobile screens is measured in seconds, not minutes.
- Many health apps have been developed over the years for many different operating systems and platforms – the problem now as then will be adoption!
- SMS is a key connector of the mobile medium, and the lowest common denominator for developing applications for mobile phones.
- The lack of any standardization across handsets, applications, interfaces and carriers makes testing and research protocols very difficult to implement.
The meeting also left me with questions such as:
- How can mobile phones be effectively harnessed as p2p or PeerSuasion tools - for what issues and behaviors?
- Would mobile devices as primary or adjunctive treatment aids increase participants’ engagement, or level of involvement, in behavior change programs, improve adherence with complex treatment protocols and ultimately increase positive health outcomes?
- Can they be used to move beyond the ‘tyranny of the single data point’ in clinical decision-making, patient monitoring and the management of chronic diseases?
The following day we convened a MobilePersuasion BarCamp. Notes from those sessions as they were created in real-time are available at the wiki.
For those of you interested in more on the subject, The Second International Conference on Persuasive Technology will be held at Stanford University 27-28 April 2007. BJ Fogg has also scheduled two mobile captology forums that are open to all:
Finally, a couple of us from the DC area are also considering a local exchange to continue our exploration of mobile topics with like-minded people. Drop me a line if you might be interested.