Product Research, Hypertext Cycles, and Decision Making

Peter Merholz muses on users seeking products and comes up with some intersting thoughts about hypertext patterns. Rather than getting the "lay of the land" first, users move to an actual product and then start to compare.

He ends with a foray into decision making, and looking for useful resources. While I have more thoughts on the matter, I think it boils down to Return on Experience - everyone has an intrinsic level of effort they'll invest to achieve some expected value.

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Return on Experience

I'd like you to elaborate on that, if you would.

It sounds similar-ish to the information foraging (IF) model, where people stick with a resource until the benefits derived from that resource are low enough that the cost of moving to another resource is considered acceptable.

In my original post, I nearly added a paragraph about how I think the behavior I'm witness refutes IF, because I don't see IF accounting for all these repeat visits. In foraging, once I eat all the fruit off the bush, there is no benefit in returning to that bush, at least not for some time.

In this decision-making and exploration process, there is a lot of benefit in returning to some nodes, because of their power to re-orient you and help you develop a context based on how this node relates to other ones.

Re: Return on Experience

Not a lot of time at the moment, so this is rambly, but will elaborate and focus more soon.

Fundamentally I see the user's experience measured in terms of expectation and fulfillment. My experience gap ppt slides show some additional info from a couple years ago that are relevant to this post.

The actual experience is triggered by a specific goal fueling a cycle of Expectation >> Action >> Result. Results are compared to expectations, expectations are modified, and new action taken to satisfy the modified expectation.

Return on Experience is ratio of effort expended to how well expectations are met (value). Expected effort compared to actual effort, and expected value vs. actual value also figure into a more complete ROE picture.

Contributors to expectation include User Goals (internal / external goals, urgency), Environment (physical & social environment), Past Experience (use of similar apps, other ways of meeting same or similar goals, word of mouth - ie others' past experience), and most importantly for this discussion Current Experience.

The initial expectation in the Current Experience is often based primarily on need, rather than a known solution. The behavior you're talking about - where someone immediately finds a product - reflects the user's requirement to express their need in concrete terms - to have a vocabulary to describe the need or goal (you might think of it as identifying the relevant facets). The quickest way to do that is to find a concrete instance of the class of things (shoes, cameras, bullion) the person expects to meet their need. People want to have informed expectations, and have strategies for getting there. UX should work to help create accurate expectations along the way.

ROE (or ROX if you're so inclined ;) is indeed based on a game theory expected utility model (like IF) but is really my own take on value in what I consider simpler terms (much easier for me to discuss with business folks). Basically, I needed something to balance ROI in my value-centered design model.

Since I'm into making models accessible to business decision makers, I end up with expectation instead of mental model, cue instead of perceived affordance, return on experience instead of expected utility, value-centered design instead of user-centered design.

However, while I think this is simpler, it lacks the rigour of IF or other more formal approaches.

Jess McMullin