Today, the world has become incredibly small thanks to the invention of the internet. Communications which once took months can now be done in seconds thanks to the massively interconnected world of today. Even more, the technology allows video chat where people can hear and see each other at approximately real time. Great potential exists in this space for communities and cultures to become vastly interconnected. However, many issues exist in the current day-to-day video chatting experience of users, inhibiting the potential that is sure to exist. We at Team Tropical Storm have made Expanding Exchanges to reinvent the interactions within video chatting by making an environment free of the issues prevalent in the space.
Discovering the Potential of Video Chat:
Through interviews with users we learned that there is a desire to learn about different cultures. While the best way to do this is to travel, many are blocked by the high cost of traveling or do not have the time. Under the aforementioned barriers, the alternative to learn about different cultures is living in a diverse area with many different cultures. Since many people cannot afford to travel or are not fortunate enough to live in a diverse area, we saw video chat as something with the potential to facilitate cultural experiences. By connecting people from different cultures, we would allow users to have a cultural experience.
Because of the internet’s ability to connect anyone across the world for free, we saw the potential for people to interact with different cultures without ever leaving their house. Using video chat, people can connect in a way where they are able to get varied perspectives on topics from new cultures and new places. Until recently video chatting on the internet often cost additional money, but since the advent of Skype people can chat across the world for free. Video chat has the advantage over traditional messaging in that allowing face to face contact creates a more personal feeling that is beneficial to creating meaningful conversations. The face to face interaction also helps to discourage exceptionally rude behavior, because the interaction is less anonymous and more personal.
The Problems with Video Chat Today
As with all services that rely on all parties to cooperate, video chatting has its share of non-complying users. One of the video chat websites we visited in the inspirational design phase had a sign that said, “Video is monitored, keep it clean.” It is consistent with what we found by using services such as Omegle and interviewing potential users. After we tried some of these services, we quickly realized that inappropriate videos and comments are prevalent on video chat sites today.
We believe that the problem of people acting inappropriately on these websites is due to anonymity of the internet, which allows the users to misbehave without consequences. There are no consequences for their actions. Another factor that makes people act in this way is that video chat websites today have very low barriers to entry. Anyone can go to these sites and start talking to anyone. There are no standards in place that would make it difficult for a user to stop using the service. Even when they are banned from the website, there are no systems in place to keep these unwanted users from using the site again.
The majority of the misbehaving male users act inappropriately in a sexual manner. They ask you whether you are a girl, and they often times show up on cameras nude, displaying their sexual organs. Another group of users that we do not want are users that advertise products on these sites to try to get people to buy what they are selling. Lastly, we also do not want users that try to convert others to their religion, since that is not the focus of these sites.
Designing a Persona:
Throughout this process we designed for one primary user: Worldly Winston. Winston is interested in experiencing the world, and learning about all of its cultures. Winston feels that he can have a great conversation about anything, he just wants to find interesting people to talk to. While he loves talking he does get upset when people are exceptionally aggressive or lewd during conversations.
Our Solution to keep out unwanted users:
Our final design consists of the many features that we have developed, iterated on, and refined throughout the semester. Starting from the first time the user logs on, the user is asked to log on with Google Plus and then taken to give basic information about themselves.
After that, the user can immediately start to find conversation partners by selecting which areas of the world and what topic they are interested in.
After they have been matched with another user, they are given a brief bio about their new partner and given the chance to indicate which conversation prompts they are interested in discussing.
After they have a lovely and engaging conversation, they are given the chance to friend, report, or thumbs down their partner. Since their conversation was meaningful to the them, both users friend one another and are added to one another’s friends list. They can keep in touch for more interesting conversations as long as they are on.
Meeting Video Chat’s Potential:
In order to allow users to interact with cultures they want, we allow them to select which country they wish to talk to. This makes sure that users will have an interest in who they are talking to. Like traveling, they can choose to only select regions they are interested in experiencing. We also offer the ability to narrow discussions by general topics, further insuring that the discussion that occurs is one that is desired. This combined with the context provided by biographies and non-anonymity of our services allows users to have culturally stimulating conversations in a way that does not make them feel threatened.
There is a world of potential in the field of video chatting. We had to find ways to encourage and allow these exchanges to occur more naturally. When looking at the flow of video chatting, we found two major areas to improve interactions between users: the time before the conversation and the time after the conversation. By making small additions to both of these periods of time, we found a way to enhance the actual conversation.
Promoting Meaningful Conversations:
Recall that our primary persona that we are designing for is Worldly Winston. Winston seeks to learn about other cultures, to have deep conversations with others, and to expand his own worldview. In Expanding Exchanges, all users post their own short biography to be displayed to their conversational partner before the talk begins. Winston, in particular, enjoys this feature because it gives him some context and insight into the other person. The added insight can inform Winston of what topics or questions he might have to begin.
Winston also has a strong desire to delve into topics with the other person as well. We wanted both Winston and his partner to find a topic they both cared about, so the solution was to give both users about five randomly generated prompts to choose from. Once they both chose three topics, they would begin the conversation with one of the overlapping topics. From within the exchange, if there is ever a lull, Winston or his partner may be able to generate a new random topic to continue.
Once Winston’s talk has ended, he is presented with two options that would help improve future conversations. The first option would be to friend the other user. Friending is a capability that we believe to promote long term conversations with the same person, thereby increasing the depth of conversation that they can have as well. People like Winston do not believe that a twenty minute talk can reveal all the nuances of a person, much less a culture.
The other option that Winston sees is the ability to give a thumbs down to his partner. We believe that all of our users want to have good conversations, and as such, all of our users also need to be good conversationalists. The thumbs down feature is only seen by the backend as a way to give constructive criticism to users if they receive more than fifty percent thumbs downs from their partners over their last ten conversations. When this happens, the user will be alerted with a message and suggestions on how to improve for future conversations. This option is meant as a positive influence on the community as a whole to help everyone have better conversations. Note that there is no way for the user or any other user to see the state of thumbs downs.
We have arrived at this final design by extensive discussion with users and creation of several other designs. Specifically, we created 3 very different designs, each of which highlighted a different approach to video chatting. We internally and externally discussed and reflected on each designs and took lesson from each that we applied to our final version.
Our first design was one that emphasized the randomness of matching, making the whole process almost entirely random and easy. From this we learned the importance of using randomness to keep the selection process simple. Our second design emphasized selecting partners based on common interests and explored how conversations with more than two partners can function. From this we learned the importance of allowing users to give indication on topics of interest, and, though 2+ conversations can be interesting, one on one conversations produce more meaningful discussions. Our third and final idea emphasized the removal of randomness and allowing users to view every profile in detail and choosing whom to engage in conversation. From this we learned that many users still feel apprehension towards letting others view their personal detail. All of these lessons were immensely important in our design of our final revision and gives us confidence that our design creates the optimal experience for our users.
In summary, we believe that we will be able to solve the problems of video chat today with our design. We will be able to keep out the unwanted users by verifying their accounts to keep them accountable, and make video chat more interesting and relevant for its users by allowing them to select countries and conversation topics. Our design choices will create an environment without distractions, and allow users to have meaningful conversations with people of different cultural backgrounds.