8.22.2004

Captology

Is both interesting and flaky. For those not in the know, captology is the study of computers as persuasive technology. This includes the design, research, and analysis of interactive computing products such as (the Web, desktop software, specialized devices, etc.) created for the purpose of changing people's attitudes or behaviors.

I've actually taken a class with BJ Fogg, the director of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, and he and his course are pretty interesting. We focused in on how websites like Amazon persuade people to buy products and manipulate us to conform to their target behavior. For the most part, his examples seem pretty credible.

However, the Captology Notebook, also hosted by the Lab, often posts dubious examples. Most ridiculous are the examples posted by Adam Wright, author of the "Top Web Behaviors." He always claims to present a "Top Web Behavior" and aims to show what the companies gain and what we, the consumer lose. However, sometimes he gets so lost in explaining the target behavior that it's unclear how we lose!

For instance, this post outlines how the entering of ZIP codes benefits companies. This is supposedly "Top Web Behavior #4." Basically, it allows companies to gather valuable demographic information, which helps them sell geographically targeted advertising. My response is, well, that's true, but how do I lose? I gave them my ZIP code, not my personal address. If the company gains more information about its customers that isn't too invasive, is that really a bad thing? If it can use that information to sell advertising and thereby financially support itself better, is it horrible that a company I may like gains?

What's also conveniently dropped is the notion that I may gain by giving away such unimportant personal info. All his examples are from sites that offer to give you weather, city, or local movie guides. A ZIP code is an easy way to get that information. Sure, maybe offering such a service is a ploy to get that information, but as I said, it's not that vital, and you are getting something useful for it.

The problem, however, is not that Captology Notebook keeps track of these issues, but that they seem unresponsive to feedback. Someone left a comment on this particular post, asking the same questions I did, but no response yet. I mean, it's an honest question, guys. There are some decent counterpoints to what I stated, but nobody's stepping up to bat.

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