Things I Learned in an English Village


Due to an unforeseen event, I am staying in a village in the heart of England for an extended period of time. For someone who has lived in big cities primarily, the village life is new to me. The buzzing streets and rush hour traffic jams are replaced by endless green fields, horses on the road, and farm/wild animals. A different way of life, and plenty of lessons for the technology-obsessed me: 

  • Location-based social network: everybody knows everybody, and there's no secret in the village. News of the accident (see first link above) spread from the local pub to everyone in the village. Word-of-mouth in its truest form. The benefit of knowing everyone is that there's a built-in reputation system as well - you know who to trust to be a genuine news source, and who are the gossipers. The close-knit hyper-personal network is one that's hard to emulate - the more local it is, the more personal it gets, a challenge all location-based mobile social networks have to overcome.  
  • Farmville in the garden: real-life trees and flowers have a calming effect. I didn't get to click on icons to pick up rewards or coins, but the benefits are immediate and obvious to my senses - something one day biometric devices will probably be able to measure, and eventually come to the same result that we are better off spending time close to nature (and we all enjoy gardening - a creative activity of putting in efforts, growing a product, and seeing the blossoming results.) The social game aspect is also in place. You invite neighbors to your garden, which gives you a spirit booster. When you leave home for a vacation, the neighbors come around and help you water the flowers - keep ing them from withering. The game session is a lot longer - months/years as opposed to seconds, but you get to play a lot longer without constantly inserting coins. Can social games be designed to strengthen friendship and player loyalty via longer play sessions? 
  • UX at charity shops: used goods are donated to charity shops, where they are cleaned up, categorized, and sold, with proceeds going to charity. The practice exists elsewhere, but the charity shops in the English countryside are nicely decorated and present themselves as boutique stores - which helps with the public's perception of these shops, and there's no taboo in buying used clothes and goods. Instead of feeling cheap when shopping at a used good store, you are proud to support local charities and the UX reenforces that with a nice decor and information about the charities you are supporting. A good UX can dramatically change consumer perception and behavior. 
  • To create and to gift: People make chutney, cordial, pies, cakes…etc. (and often give fruit and veg from each other's gardens), to gift to each other. They don't do it for money, they do it for fun - the joy is in the making and the learning. Give your users ways to express themselves creatively, to gift their work, and to learn to get better at making things. Additionally, the gifting culture contributes to building a strong local social network (see first point). User-generated-content systems can benefit from focusing on both creative tools and a positive gifting culture to encourage more creative activities.
  • Remember life: A baby pigeon fell out of a tree in the garden last week, and injured its wing. We tried feeding it food and water, but the inevitable still happened. On the day it died, an adult pigeon sat on the lawn near the body for an entire day, as if it were mourning. Seeing the adult pigeon sitting there made my heart sink. No amount of technical advancement should stop you from remembering life - friends, family, love. Treat users as humans and remember at the end of the day what matters most.

And it's time to water the neighbor's garden again. I might try picking some tomatoes while I'm there, and learn to make ketchup.