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Amid Bullying & Threats Of Violence, Anonymous Social App Yik Yak Shuts Off Access To U.S. Middle & High School Students

Anonymous communication platforms and the pre-teen-to-teenage brain are two things that don’t mix all that well. Just look at Ask.fm, for example, the social Q&A platform whose shield of anonymity led to cyberbullying that was later cited as a contributing factor in well over half a dozen suicides. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The founders of an up-and-coming anonymous messaging app called Yik Yak, that began to take off among the middle school and high school crowd where it has been linked to both bullying and threats, have taken the unprecedented step of actually blocking younger users from accessing its application while on school grounds.

What’s A Yik Yak?

Yik Yak was launched by two Furman University students, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, as something of a hyperlocal Twitter aimed at college students. Students could post about campus happenings and events, voice complaints, share news, and, at least in one case, update fellow classmates about weather-related closings when an official alert system had failed.

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The platform, which connects nearby users automatically, doesn’t require that people identify themselves by name, but instead allows users to post anonymously or use an alias.

Initially, the company introduced the app at South Eastern college campuses in the U.S., but it later spread through word-of-mouth to other universities across the country, and then down to both high schools and middle schools.

Yik Yak Becomes Home To Threats, Vicious Bullying

Though the nature of anonymous sharing leaves room for the unwanted element of cyberbullying, the issue worsened in the hands of these younger users. Soon, Yik Yak was causing trouble in schools, leading to vicious bullying that some students equated to, according to an article by CNN, “a virtual bathroom wall where users post vitriol and hate.”

I’d say it was far worse than that, with posts that, for example, actually saw some students bullying a girl for getting raped. In another case, an Alabama teen was arrested after threatening to shoot someone via a post on Yik Yak. And then there were the anonymous bomb threats , which saw schools going on lockdown.

The company began to realize the severity of the problem as the app was banned at a number schools, and even became the subject of police investigations.

yikyak-bomb-threats

“In a small handful of cases – probably three or four – we dealt with local authorities in terms of threats that have been issued on Yik Yak…A few of them actually resulted in arrests,” Buffington tells us. “Anonymity is a great thing – the whole reason why we made it is because when you’re anonymous, no one can judge you. But you can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. There’s a line to be drawn,” he says.

Buffington claims the company hadn’t been keeping exact track of how many times Yik Yak was referenced in terms of being the cause of bullying, threats or other complaints. But the startup was well aware of the general problem, if caught a little off-guard. “We definitely didn’t expect it to take off on high school campuses like it has,” he says, noting that the app already had a 17-plus rating on the App Store, so parents could easily block it on kids’ phones.

But user ratings are not enough, says Anna Mendez, Executive Director at the National Association of People Against Bullying, explaining that Apple’s system requires parental involvement, and is difficult to use. Her organization reached out to Yik Yak following the bomb threat at San Clemente High School, asking the company to disable the app at middle and high schools, where anonymous applications are likely to be abused.

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“Certain things should always be kept out of children’s hands,” Mendez tells TechCrunch. “Kids are at a different developmental level than adults. Physically, the frontal lobes of their brains aren’t fully developed. That’s the part of their brain that helps them recognize future consequences from current actions. At the same time, their hormone levels are escalating. Middle school and high school are some of the toughest years where kids begin having self doubts and bullying starts becoming more violent,” she says.

Yik Yak, she adds, became “a weapon for them to use freely, a huge platform for horrific bullying and serious threats that we as an adult community need to get control of for everyone’s sake.”

Yik Yak Blocks Access To Students Across The U.S.

For a number of startups, rapid user growth within a young demographic would be considered a great problem to have. After all, Yik Yak was swiftly climbing up the App Store charts, where it’s was ranked #63 Overall in free applications, and #12 in Social as of yesterday. (Today, it’s #98 and #13, respectively.)

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But Yik Yak didn’t want its community to turn into another Ask.fm, where kids bullied each other to such levels that many students even took their own life. (More cynically, one could also point out that being associated with such a community would be a big risk in terms of growing its company – outside investors could be hesitant to fund Yik Yak if it became known as the “most popular” mobile bullying platform, and the subject of school bans.)

So the team at Yik Yak came up with a technological, and rather creative, solution: block younger students from using the application by way of geo-fencing. Initially, these were handled on a one-off basis, as was the case in Chicago, where the app was blocked at area schools.

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Yik Yak applied geo-fences around middle schools and high schools using their GPS coordinates, that would actually prevent the app from working while students were on school grounds. Of course, students could still use the app at home and elsewhere outside of school, but it puts an immediate damper on all the so-called “fun.”

To implement these same sort of bans nationwide, the team approached third-party data provider Maponics in order to license GPS data for a total of 100,599 public schools across the U.S. as well as 28,111 private schools.

“They have 85% of the GPS coordinates for American high schools and middle schools,” says Buffington. “The message [to students where the app is blocked] is something along the lines of, ‘it looks like you’re trying to use Yik Yak on a middle school or high school grounds. Yik Yak is intended for people college-aged and above. The app is disabled in this area.’”

Maponics tells us this is the first time their data has ever been used to help a company exclude traffic across such a wide scope. Typically, their GPS data is used for targeting purposes, not blocking.

As of early this morning, Yik Yak has applied the Maponics-based geo-fences across the U.S., and says that now the app is inaccessible on a large majority of U.S. high school and middle school campuses. ”If for some reason the app is still accessible on a school’s grounds, all they need do is email us at yikyakapp@gmail.com and we’ll look into is ASAP,” notes Buffington.

As for how the blocks will affect Yik Yak’s user growth, the company isn’t concerned, saying that the app is still doing “very well” at colleges and the publicly cited user numbers have been grossly under-reported. (When TechCrunch first covered Yik Yak in February, the app had 100,000 monthly actives, for reference’s sake.)

Growth At All Costs Not Worth It

At the end of the day, the company says the goal is making a sustainable product. “We want to make sure that, two years down the line, Yik Yak is what you use when you’re in a new location – it’s what you pull up to see what’s going on around you,” says Buffington.

Though it’s fair to say that Yik Yak should have considered the ramifications of releasing an anonymous, social application into the wild in a post-Ask.fm era, it’s also good to see they’ve fairly quickly addressed the problem, even if it cuts off the second-largest group of users on its service. (College students are the largest, of course).

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 3.41.28 PM

“Most [startups] are concerned about grow, grow, grow, grow. We want to grow and we want to be huge, but we also want to make sure that we’re creating sustainable, good communities, too. That’s number one our list. We didn’t create Yik Yak so that people could target other individuals,” says Buffington.

USA Today

Now it’s time to see how addicted, or fickle, Yik Yak’s newly blocked students are, and whether or not they’ll turn to the next soon-to-be launched anonymous social application to fill the void.

Image credits: Fox10tv; ABC (WLS-TV); Yik Yak

Originally posted here: Amid Bullying & Threats Of Violence, Anonymous Social App Yik Yak Shuts Off Access To U.S. Middle & High School Students

iOS Update Reportedly Includes New Capability For iAd Attribution

As part of iOS 7.1, the recent update to its mobile operating system, Apple appears to have added a new feature to its iAd program. This should allow the company to take credit for the app downloads driven by its ads, and allow advertisers to get a better sense of whether campaigns are paying off.

In a company blog post, mobile ad attribution startup HasOffers says there’s no mention of these changes in Apple’s documentation, but there is API code that seems to indicate a change. Here’s how HasOffers interprets the code:

Based on our interpretation, we believe this method will provide insight into whether a user engaged (impression or click) with an ad from iAd, in specific, prior to installing the app. If the user did engage with an ad specifically from iAd, then the “determine App Installation Attribution with Completion Handler” method will return a value of 1 for yes. If the user didn’t engage with an ad from iAd (perhaps the user engaged with an ad from another channel like Google Adwords or didn’t even engage with any ads at all), then the function will return a value of 0 for no.

I’ll spare you my attempt to squint at the code and tell you whether HasOffers’ interpretation is plausible. Instead, let me point out that through its MobileAppTracking product, HasOffers is a leader in mobile ad attribution (though it has also run afoul of Facebook), so this is an area where I’d trust their interpretation.

I’ve reached out to Apple and other companies that work on mobile attribution, and I’ll update this post if any of them get back to me.

ios screen shot

Following iAd’s announcement in 2010, the program seemed to fall off the radar, and pitching advertisers supposedly remains a “tough slog” for Apple.

However, recent reports suggest that Apple is looking to revamp iAd, with an ad exchange (focused on monetizing iTunes Radio) and full-screen ads reportedly in the works. Together with ad attribution, these developments suggest that Apple is expanding beyond the high-end brand advertisers that it initially targeted with iAd, and it’s catching up with the ways in which the mobile ad landscape has evolved.

Continued here: iOS Update Reportedly Includes New Capability For iAd Attribution

Google Adds Full Restaurant Menus To Its Search Results Pages

Here is a small but nifty update to Google Search: if you ask it to find a restaurant menu for you, it will now often just show you the menu right on the search results page. Try this for a search like “show me the menu for fogo de chao” and the menu will be right there.

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As far as I can see, this doesn’t work for every restaurant yet and it’s unclear where Google is getting this data from. Right now, the number of supported restaurants also seems to be limited. Most of my attempts to trigger the menu listings were actually unsuccessful, so your mileage may vary. The searches that did work tended to be for restaurants that are also listed on AllMenus.com, so chances are this is where Google is getting its data from.

The only way to trigger this feature right now is to type (or speak) “show me the menu for [restaurant name].” Just typing “menu [restaurant name]” doesn’t seem to do anything right now.

This feature was first spotted earlier by Search Engine Land earlier this month, which also suspects AllMenus.com as the source for the data. At the time, Google said it was just one of its many tests. Today, however, it made it official with a post on its Google+ page.

Given that restaurant websites are often quite antiquated (and many still have an annoying Flash intro), having the information you need right on the search results page is pretty cool (when it works). I don’t know how sites that specialize in showing you restaurant menus feel about this addition, but once Google adds more restaurants, I’m pretty sure I’ll use this feature pretty regularly.

Read the original: Google Adds Full Restaurant Menus To Its Search Results Pages

TSA Reportedly Demands To Inspect Man’s Luggage For Bitcoin [Updated]

Davi Baker wasn’t quite sure how to comply with the TSA’s demands to inspect his bags for Bitcoin. Baker had found himself in a testy exchange with airport security personnel during an enhanced screening, and they wanted an additional search of his belongings.

“We saw Bitcoin in your bag and need to check,” he recalls the TSA agent saying in a lengthy blog post about the ordeal.

The problem is, of course, Bitcoin is a completely digital currency; it’s like if Delta banned you from traveling with your Facebook profile. Baker was admittedly snarky in response, asking “What did the Bitcoin look like?”, thinking it would be impossible to describe a nonexistent physical object.

The agents had a response: the alleged Bitcoins looked like tokens and since they told him it was illegal to travel with more than $10,000 in cash, the probe was warranted. It might be easy to mistake this request for simple ignorance, but one of the security agents, according to Baker actually had a grasp on some Bitcoin facts.

When Baker asked how much he thought his alleged tokens were worth, the agent responded, “It fluctuates all the time.”

That’s very true: the digital currency has become notorious for wild swings in value, on top of being a tool for purchasing illicit goods.

Whatever the legality or contorted logic of the added inspection, it appears there’s a knee-jerk negative reaction to the notorious currency.

The TSA was not immediately available for comment on this story. You can read the full blog post here.

Update: A TSA spokesman says they have been unable to find the agents in question or verify the incident. I’m told Baker’s story is complicated by the fact that protocol would be to contact law enforcement if someone was taking large amounts of cash for a suspected purpose, rather than request additional screening.

[Image Credit: Flickr user PerfectHue]

Go here to see the original: TSA Reportedly Demands To Inspect Man’s Luggage For Bitcoin [Updated]

Facebook tweaks News Feed to show Page posts tagged with other Pages you like or follow, just like for friends

Facebook today announced a change to the News Feed algorithm that will treat Pages even more like people. If one Page tags a second Page you like or follow, you may see that post in your News Feed even if you don’t like or follow the first Page.

Facebook offers an example: this post below by the Bleacher Report might be shown in the News Feed to people who follow or like Dwight Howard, in addition to people who follow or like the Bleacher Report.

4 Facebook tweaks News Feed to show Page posts tagged with other Pages you like or follow, just like for friends

As you can see, Dwight Horward and James Harden are both tagged in the above post. If you haven’t liked or followed either, and you also don’t like or follow the Bleacher Report, the algorithm won’t consider showing you this Page post. This is exactly how updates from friends work: if a friend tags you in a photo, your friends may see the photo in their News Feed even if they’re not friends with the person who tagged you. If you’re not tagged, your friends won’t see it unless they are friends with the person who posted the photo in the first place.

Unlike on social networks like Twitter, where you see every update, there is still no guarantee you will see all such posts in your News Feed. Facebook still uses an algorithm that attempts to show you the best posts:

We look at many factors to make sure the most relevant stories appear in News Feed, including which posts are getting the most engagement (such as likes, comments, shares and clicks) across all of Facebook. We also consider which posts are getting the most engagement from people who like both the Page that posted and the Page that was tagged.

For example, if many people who like Dwight Howard also like the Bleacher Report, it suggests that these two Pages are connected. If we see that people who like both the Bleacher Report and Dwight Howard are liking the post above, that’s an indication that it may be relevant for people who only like Dwight Howard.

Facebook says it tested this feature for Pages and found that people liked seeing this type of content in their News Feeds. The company ran surveys and found these stories received “high scores.” Now the social network will undoubtedly be looking to see how the rest of its 1.23 billion users react.

Top Image Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/GettyImages

Read more from the original source: Facebook tweaks News Feed to show Page posts tagged with other Pages you like or follow, just like for friends

Microsoft releases Office 2013 Service Pack 1, improves compatibility with Windows 8.1 and Server 2012 R2

Microsoft has released Office 2013 Service Pack 1, which includes new updates that improve security, performance, and stability of the company’s flagship productivity suite and also rolls together all previously released updates. You can download SP1 for Office 2013, SharePoint 2013, and Exchange Server 2013 now directly from the Microsoft Download Center: 32-bit (643.6MB) and 64-bit (774.0MB).

The download links were first noticed by WinFuture; back in November, we heard the company was planning to release the service pack “early next year.” Microsoft has yet to post an official announcement on its Office Blogs, though the download links were apparently published on February 18. We have contacted Microsoft for more information and will update this post as we learn more.

Update: Microsoft has now officially announced the service pack. The company says Office 2013 customers will be notified to download SP1 through Windows Update within the next 30 days.

Here’s the Office 2013 SP1changelog (full list of SP1 fixes):

  • Compatibility fixes for Windows 8.1 and Internet Explorer 11.
  • Better support for modern hardware, such as high DPI devices and the precision touchpad.
  • New apps for Office capabilities and APIs for developers.
  • Power Map for Excel, a 3D visualization tool for mapping, exploring, and interacting with geographical and temporal data in Excel, is now available to Office 365 ProPlus subscription customers.
  • Improvements to the Click-to-Run virtualization technology that installs and updates Office 365 desktop applications.
  • SkyDrive Pro is now OneDrive for Business.

If you’re running Office 2013, you’ll want to install SP1 as soon as possible. For more details, check out the two engineering blog posts linked below.

Announcing the release of Service Pack 1 for Office 2013 and SharePoint 2013 and Released: Exchange Server 2013 Service Pack 1

See also – Microsoft announces general availability of business intelligence tool Power BI for Excel and Office 365 and Microsoft: Office 365 passed 1m subscribers in just over 100 days, making it the best-selling Office yet

Top Image Credit: Robert Scoble

See more here: Microsoft releases Office 2013 Service Pack 1, improves compatibility with Windows 8.1 and Server 2012 R2

Steve Jobs Is Getting A Postage Stamp

stampThere are few canvases harder to find yourself portrayed upon than the US postage stamp. Unless you’re a state bird, a beautiful wild flower, or a historic/cultural icon, it’s pretty unlikely that your mug will ever act as proof-of-payment on a piece of mail.

Joining the ranks in 2015: the late Steve Jobs.

According to a list of upcoming subjects obtained by The Washington Post, Steve Jobs is set to get a limited release stamp in 2015 alongside the likes of Johnny Carson, Elvis Presley, James Brown, and an as-of-yet unnamed group of Science Fiction writers.

The Steve Jobs stamp is listed as “In Design” — so there’s no image of what the actual stamp will look like just yet. The one pictured above is, of course, just a quick mockup.

Update: I’m intentionally leaving this post sans commentary. Except for this:

Read the original: Steve Jobs Is Getting A Postage Stamp

Facebook Buying WhatsApp For $19B, Will Keep The Messaging Service Independent

Facebook is purchasing messaging giant WhatsApp for $16 billion in cash and stock, according to a regulatory filing. The deal is being cut for $12 billion in Facebook shares, $4 billion in cash and an additional $3 billion in RSUs for employee retention.

A termination fee is attached to the deal that would cost Facebook $1 billion in cash and $1 billion in shares if the deal fails to pass regulatory muster.

Facebook has posted on its blog, detailing the reasoning behind the acquisition, as well. The post notes that WhatsApp will continue to operate independently and retain its brand. In addition, WhatsApp co-founder and CEO Jan Koum will join Facebook’s board.

Facebook notes that WhatsApp has over 450 million MAUs, with 70 percent of those active each day. In a staggering comparison, Facebook also notes that the messaging volume of WhatsApp approaches the SMS volume of the entire global telecom industry — and that it’s adding 1 million users a day.

“WhatsApp is on a path to connect 1 billion people. The services that reach that milestone are all incredibly valuable,” said Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO in a statement.

“WhatsApp had every option in the world,” Zuckerberg continued in a post to his Facebook page, “so I’m thrilled that they chose to work with us. I’m looking forward to what Facebook and WhatsApp can do together, and to developing great new mobile services that give people even more options for connecting. I’ve also known Jan for a long time, and I know that we both share the vision of making the world more open and connected. I’m particularly happy that Jan has agreed to join the Facebook board and partner with me to shape Facebook’s future as well as WhatsApp’s.”

Jan Koum, WhatsApp co-founder and CEO, said, “WhatsApp’s extremely high user engagement and rapid growth are driven by the simple, powerful and instantaneous messaging capabilities we provide.”

Facebook specifically calls out its deal with Instagram as a template for how it will deal with WhatsApp:

Facebook fosters an environment where independent-minded entrepreneurs can build companies, set their own direction and focus on growth while also benefiting from Facebook’s expertise, resources and scale. This approach is working well with Instagram, and WhatsApp will operate in this manner. WhatsApp’s brand will be maintained; its headquarters will remain in Mountain View, CA; Jan Koum will join Facebook’s Board of Directors; and WhatsApp’s core messaging product and Facebook’s existing Messenger app will continue to operate as standalone applications.

In a post on the WhatsApp blog, Koum elaborates on that:

Here’s what will change for you, our users: nothing.

WhatsApp will remain autonomous and operate independently. You can continue to enjoy the service for a nominal fee. You can continue to use WhatsApp no matter where in the world you are, or what smartphone you’re using. And you can still count on absolutely no ads interrupting your communication. There would have been no partnership between our two companies if we had to compromise on the core principles that will always define our company, our vision and our product.

The note about no advertising is interesting, as that’s obviously Facebook’s primary method of monetization on its main platform — and now Instagram. WhatsApp will also keep its subscription fees, which amount to $1 per user after the first year of use.

WhatsApp investor Sequoia has also posted some information about the acquisition, specifically its very large valuation. The company notes that it only has 32 engineers — making the ratio 1 engineer to every 14 million users. It processes 50 billion messages a day across seven platforms.

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The image above is a note that Koum keeps on his desk, outlining the focus of the company on building a ‘focused messaging experience’. Sequioa’s Jim Goetz says that founder Koum’s time growing up in a communist country shaped how he developed WhatsApp.

“Jan’s childhood made him appreciate communication that was not bugged or taped. When he arrived in the U.S. as a 16-year-old immigrant living on food stamps, he had the extra incentive of wanting to stay in touch with his family in Russia and the Ukraine,” says Goetz. “All of this was top of mind for Jan when, after years of working together with his mentor Brian at Yahoo, he began to build WhatsApp.”

Goetz also calls out the 450M user number and the fact that it has spent exactly $0 on marketing and doesn’t even employ a PR person or marketer; its growth all coming from users.

WhatsApp only employs around 50 people total. At 32 engineers, that’s $500 million per engineer.

Facebook currently boasts 556 million mobile daily active users, and WhatsApp alone already has over half of that at 350 million. One particular reason Facebook could be purchasing WhatsApp is to bolster its International footprint — as exemplified by one very telling chart. TechCrunch had previously heard about some abortive acquisition talks between Facebook and WhatsApp in late 2012.

Facebook is currently down in after hours trading.

View original post here: Facebook Buying WhatsApp For $19B, Will Keep The Messaging Service Independent

BlackBerry CEO is ‘outraged’ at T-Mobile’s efforts to switch customers to the iPhone 5s

Last week, T-Mobile began new campaign targeting customers that own BlackBerry devices with an offer to upgrade to the iPhone 5s with no down payment. Word of the deal got to BlackBerry, and new CEO John Chen isn’t happy, in fact he says he’s “outraged” and he posted his thoughts to the company blog.

“As we were never told of their plans in advance, I can only guess that T-Mobile thought its ‘great offer for BlackBerry customers’ would be well received. T-Mobile could not have been more wrong,” Chen wrote, urging BlackBerry fans to show their discontent through phone calls, emails, tweets and more to T-Mobile.

Directing his comments to the US operator, Chen said “our long-standing partnership was once productive and profitable for both BlackBerry and T-Mobile” and “I hope we can find a way forward that allows us to serve our shared customers once again.”

t mobile iphone switch 520x801 BlackBerry CEO is outraged at T Mobiles efforts to switch customers to the iPhone 5s

Chen, who took over after a $1 billion dollar funding deal for the Canadian company last November, did offer some positives to BlackBerry addicts on T-Mobile, hinting that there is “an offer in the works” specifically tailored to them, though he provided no further details.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere already responded to the complaints of BlackBerry fans over the weekend — before Chen’s post — stressing that the operator aims to provide choice and that customers do not have to give up their BlackBerry.

However, the operator went beyond that and released a further statement in the aftermath of Chen’s comments, telling the LA Times that “we are happy to be a BlackBerry partner and apologize for any confusion.”

On the face of it, Chen appears to have overreacted to the situation, given that Legere had already responded in public. It isn’t clear whether the BlackBerry chief has actually spoken to T-Mobile privately about the issue, but his post looks suspiciously like a shot from the hip aimed at generating publicity around BlackBerry.

Chen is trying to build a comeback from the struggling firm, by the fact remains that its shipment numbers are tiny in the US — Kantar pegs it at 0.4 percent in the final quarter of 2013 — so operators are fully justified in pursuing campaigns that encourage users to switch to other devices. If BlackBerry can turn things around with new phones, then the situation might reverse, but shouting about it only highlights how irrelevant BlackBerry has become in the US.

Headline image via berrytokyo / Flickr, screenshot via CrackBerry

More: BlackBerry CEO is ‘outraged’ at T-Mobile’s efforts to switch customers to the iPhone 5s

How To Run Live User Testing, Part 1: Setup

Editor’s Note: Brenden Mulligan is a co-founder and designer at Cluster, and previously created Onesheet, MorningPics, ArtistData, and others. Find him on Twitter @mulligan.

At Cluster, we’re big fans of iteration and experimentation. Since we launched publicly in February 2013, we have rapidly iterated the product on both iOS and Android. In the first eight weeks of being live in the Apple App Store, we launched 10 updates. On Android, there was a week that we pushed out five releases in five days while we did some heavy A/B testing.

While rapid iteration is wonderful, at times we also slow down and make more deliberate decisions about larger changes. When this happens, we tend to make rapid prototypes and then test them in front of different groups. Most of these tests are fairly informal, but occasionally (admittedly not often enough) we run full-blown user testing where we recruit and bring in potential users to walk through the app and give us feedback.

We are working on a big update, so we recently ran multiple sessions for different prototypes. When talking about it with fellow entrepreneurs, they asked us for details. Here is our ever-evolving playbook.

Because this is fairly lengthy, this will be the first of three parts:

  1. Setup
  2. Running the Tests
  3. Debriefing

Before getting started, I want to give a huge amount of thanks to Michael Margolis and the Google Ventures design team, who taught us most of these techniques.

User tests are extremely valuable and require a lot of work to get set up. It takes a significant amount of one person’s time over the course of a week to set up the tests and run them well. So make time to do it correctly.

The setup process is divided into the following sections:

  1. Decide on a specific thing to test
  2. Decide when and where to do the user study
  3. Decide what type of users to study
  4. Recruit users with Craigslist
  5. Trim the candidates list
  6. Prioritize and schedule
  7. Get the right equipment

Decide on a specific thing to test

We were recently lucky enough to do a sprint with the exceptionally talented design team from Google Ventures (entire post on that coming soon). Over the course of five days, we identified core opportunities with Cluster, brainstormed improvements, built several simple prototypes, and tested the prototypes with potential users. The result of this process was a clear idea of what new concepts were working and which weren’t.

With the list of successful ideas, the team then rapidly built a single functional prototype based off our current app. With this working prototype completed, it was time to show it to users and see if all the insights gathered from the design sprint worked in the context of our actual app.

Decide when and where to do the user study

I was scheduled to be spending a week in Nashville, which gave us a great opportunity to run our test outside of the Bay Area. This is incredibly valuable because the Bay Area tends to be filled with tech-savvy, early adopters. Nashville has its fair share of them, but technology isn’t as core to the community there, so we felt like this would give us an opportunity to meet more “real” users.

It’s also important to pick a quiet, private, and neutral place. As tempting as it might be to use your company’s conference room, I’d recommend not bringing users into the corporate office. Use a friend’s office or co-working space. All advice we’ve been given is the more neutral the location, the better.

The privacy and quietness is important because you’ll be recording the session, so you don’t want to do it in a coffee shop where there’s a lot of distraction and background noise.

When I was in Nashville, I rented a conference room from the Entrepreneur Center. It worked out perfectly.

Nashville Entrepreneur Center

Decide what type of users to study

This is a very important part of the process. Before recruiting users, you need to decide what type of people you want to meet with. We had done this during the Google sprint, and because our app involves sharing photos, we asked these types of questions:

  • What type of phone should they have?
  • How involved with social media should they be?
  • What apps should they use (and not use)?
  • How many photos should they take per week?
  • How old are they?
  • How do they share photos currently?

With these questions in mind, we created a Google Forms survey that would help us clearly identify whether the potential tester fit our target profile. It’s not worth user testing if you’re not testing the right type of user, so take some time and do this step properly.

The actual screener we used for our Nashville study

The actual screener we used for our Nashville study (click to enlarge)

Since the user is going to have to physically be somewhere, it’s also useful to get their availability. We did that by starting with the question saying “Which of the following times are you available on Thursday February 6 to come to downtown Nashville?” with five options for time slots.

Recruit users with Craigslist

About a week before we planned to do the user testing, we posted a job opportunity to the jobs/et-cetera section of Craigslist. In this relatively short post, we give very little information, except that we were looking for people to participate in a usability study, they’ll need to be okay signing an NDA and being filmed, and we were willing to pay them for their time (in this case, a $75 Amazon gift card for a 60-minute meeting).

Craigslist post driving people to the screener

Craigslist post driving people to the screener

The post did not let users email-reply. Instead, there was a link to a Google form we built above. That made it super easy for us to consolidate and organize everyone’s responses.

Trim the candidates list

Usually, we’ll get between 60-200 applicants within a few days. We try to pare that down to five. This happens over several rounds of editing.

For this study, the first big cuts happened with device type. Because of the small amount of time we had to build the prototype, we only could test with iPhone users that had iOS 7 installed, and ideally one of the iPhone 5 models because we didn’t have time to optimize for all screen sizes. Although this skewed the users a bit, we were able to rebalance it by looking at the other info.

Example responses from the Nashville screener, with all personal information removed

Example responses from the Nashville screener, with all personal information removed (click to enlarge)

We then eliminated anyone who didn’t take photos with their phones. Although it might be interesting to talk to these users eventually, we were looking for people who would have an immediate reason to use our app. If they didn’t take photos, it was unlikely they’d be the type of user we wanted anyway.

Prioritize and schedule

With the remaining candidates, we looked at their age, occupation, and a couple other data points and put together a prioritized list of the people we were most interested in talking to. At this point it became a scheduling exercise, slotting our top pick for each time slot and choosing a backup if that person couldn’t make it.

Each candidate was emailed saying they’d been selected for a time slot and they needed to write back within a certain time frame to confirm, or their slot would be given away. The backup list was emailed saying they were on the backup list and to let us know if they no longer could make it if picked, otherwise they would hear by a certain time if they were needed.

Moving candidates around while scheduling

Moving candidates around while scheduling

As a warning, people are very flaky. Out of the five top candidates, only three confirmed, and one of them cancelled the day of. It wasn’t a problem because we were able to fill in the slots with our backups, but it’s a bigger pain that you’d expect. It’s even wise to have multiple backups just in case.

Get the right equipment and software

We were testing a mobile app, so it was important to record the user actually using the app. Although you can do this by plugging the app in and watching a screencast on the computer, it’s much better to actually see them touching their phone. We purchased a $100 camera for this, and it’s well worth the investment.

IPEVO Ziggi-HD High-Definition USB Document Camera

The only other thing you’ll need is a way to record the audio and video of the session to your computer. For this, I recommend an excellent app called Screenflow.

Now it’s time to test

You’ve got the goals, the users, and the equipment. Now it’s time to show up and run the tests! The next post will cover setting up the room and running the tests with live users.

Please feel free to reach out to me at @mulligan on Twitter and ask any other questions in the meantime.

Read this article: How To Run Live User Testing, Part 1: Setup