Author Archives: Jun Nie

How to improve the safety of ride sharing by design

Jun Nie

Abstract

According to the principle of modular design, this paper divides lifting process into six different parts. By comparing the safety measures used by Chinese ride hailing software Didi Chuxing and American Uber in different modules, some suggestions for Didi’s re-launch ride sharing products will be provided.

Key words

Safety Female Sexual-assault Design Social responsibility

Introduction

As ride-hailing applications become more and more popular, the safety problems of passengers, especially the personal safety of female, have become more and more serious with the repeated exposure of sexual assault cases. Didi in China even had to suspend its hitch service when two women were brutally murdered by drivers after sexual assaulting within three months. Recently, Didi hitch, which added a number of security measures and technologies, resumed trial operations. Faced with these security measures closely related to people’s travel safety, we cannot help wondering how much safe protection these special designs can provide for passengers? And what are the gaps that are not fully covered or connected closely enough? This article will help users have a deeper understanding of the travel products they use every day by sorting out the design principles and safety technologies behind the simple interface, hoping that users can make a better use of them to protect themselves during the ride sharing.

  • Background information

The emergence of ride-hailing software has brought a lot of convenience to our lives, and the emergence of ride-sharing mode has reduced people’s travel costs through resource sharing. Didi is the most popular car-hailing app in China, like Uber in the U.S.

As a largest ride-hailing platform in China, Didi has cornered more than 90 percent of the Chinese market. However, Didi’s rapid rise has also exposed problems and flaws in its product design and business logics, and the lack of safety guarantees for passengers, especially for female, is the most notably. In 2018, an airline stewardess in Zhengzhou was brutally killed while riding a Didi hitch, and within three months, another Wenzhou woman was raped and killed by the driver after repeatedly asking for help in vain on the way. The tragedies made Didi have to suspend the hitch service and reform on the safety issues in its product design and service systems. Meanwhile, Uber Technologies Inc. said it received 5,981 reports of sexual assault during 2017 and 2018, which underscores the risk that has been a chief criticism of ride-hailing companies around the world.

  • Existing problems and practical significance

By analyzing the rape and murder of a girl in Yueqing, Wenzhou, on August 24, 2018, we can find that the flaws in Didi’s product design and service made the perpetrators’ plot easier to succeed. Didi failed to respond to a passenger’s complaint about the driver the day before, so the victim was tortured the next day. The driver’s information was not available to the family until four hours after the incident, because “the information involves the user’s privacy and the front-line customer service staff does not have rights to access”. After the police intervention, they were required to provide an introduction and a police officer’s id for identity verification before they received the license plate number and driver’s information, which delayed the rescue time. These problems exposed huge defects in Didi’s user evaluation and feedback system, customer service system, and the conflicts between user privacy, information security and emergency management system were intensified in an unprecedented way in the emergency. Although the design cannot fundamentally prevent the occurrence of similar tragedies, the optimization of design and a closer connection between each module can greatly improve the safety factor of passengers and decrease the using risks. Therefore, the discussion on this issue is of practical significance.

On Nov 20, 2019, Didi hitch began trial operations in seven Chinese cities after a long and multi-faceted adjustment. This time, Didi provides multiple security measures, such as real-name authentication and face recognition before the formal use of lift service, looking through the new features for safety, authorizing the automatic recording function, learning the basic safety knowledge and completing six safety quiz. Besides, everyone needs to read and check the “Didi hitch travel initiative”, “Lift platform privacy policy”, “Lift information platform user agreement”, etc., and has a free casualty insurance provided by the platform.

These cumbersome procedures seem to temporarily calm users’ anxiety, showing great sincerity in demonstrating Didi’s efforts to ensure passengers’ safety. However, from the user’s perspective, the design principles and technologies behind these security measures remain “black boxes.” Without a deeper understanding of the safety measures used in every part of the ride, it will be difficult for users to fully trust Didi’s hitch service again. Therefore, the whole process of issuing an order to the driver, picking up the passengers and driving according to the course, sending the passengers to their destination, getting payment and evaluation should be divided into different modules supported by various safety methods. What technologies and design principles have been used to ensure the safety of the passengers need more detailed interpretation to the users.

In addition, except for the cumbersome use procedures that have caused some users’ dissatisfaction, the newly launched Didi hitch is controversial because it limits women’s access to rides from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Critics say Didi’s adjustment is misplaced, because they know the bad guys cannot be eradicated, getting rid of female users will be more simple. Banning women from using hitch rides late at night and early in the morning seems to reduce the likelihood of female victimization, but it is suspected of discriminating against female and violating the rights of female groups. It is absurd not to provide lift service for women at some period of time for the purpose of safety protection. Its essence is an avoidance of this kind of problem and a helpless action in the trial operation stage. In order to carry out long-term operation smoothly, a more reasonable solution must be found.

Therefore, this article divides the safety problems during the lift into six different modules and makes a specific analysis on the safety measures and technical support required by each part. By comparing the security measures used by Didi and Uber in each section, we can better understand the design logic and practical effect behind these black boxes. Finding the differences between can help them have further improvement and learn from each other. We know that the modular design made it possible to partial optimization, even if some modules are still insufficient, we can improve the whole system performance through targeted adjustment. Besides, effective interaction and connection between modular interface can make using experience become more fluent, and then passengers will gain a more comprehensive security guarantee as well.

  • Safety measures during the process
  1. Driver access qualification screening and review

The first step to effectively ensure passenger’s safety is to verify the identity of registered hitch drivers. The issue concerns what personal information is collected about drivers during the review and how much that information can ensure that drivers meet safety standards.

In the August 2018 incident, an investigation showed that the driver had a number of bad loans. Many tragedies might have been avoided if access to drivers had been strictly monitored at the beginning. In addition to requiring all drivers to upload their id cards, driving licenses and registered vehicle information for re-registration, the newly launched Didi hitch tried to cooperate with third-party credit products, such as the public security organs and list of dishonest persons to conduct comprehensive background checks on registered car owners. All users, including passengers, are required to submit id cards for real-name authentication and face recognition to ensure the authenticity of registration information. At the same time, Didi took the lead in the industry in launching a “video verification function”, which requires that identity information must be collected dynamically in the form of video, in order to prevent identity information fraud and other black industry chain cheating.

“In 2017, Uber kicked off a comprehensive effort across the company to focus on safety.”  When it comes to “strengthen background screenings for drivers”, the background-check process of Uber is very rigorous, and on an ongoing basis. “Although the criteria for background check varies by state, Uber mostly conducts digital background checks via a startup called Checkr.” Checkr screens applicants by using Social Security numbers to identify associated addresses and then reviews driving and criminal histories in national, state and local databases. Every US prospective driver must undergo an annual Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) review and a thorough background check for issues including, but no limited to, driving violations, impaired driving, and violent crime before their first trip. Uber will disqualify individuals with any felony convictions—including sexual assault, sex crimes against children, murder/homicide, terrorism, and kidnapping—at any time in the person’s last 7 years, the potential driver will be disqualified according to Uber’s standards.

Before performing annual background check, Uber was the first US ridesharing company to implement continuous driver screening technology, which monitors and flags new criminal offenses through a number of data sources to make sure that every driver meets the high standard continuously. Both its real-time tracking of crimes and its annual review of driving qualifications have helped Uber screen out a large number of drivers who do not meet the standards because of their criminal records. “During 2017 and 2018, more than one million prospective drive did not make it through Uber’s screening process, and more than 40,000 drivers have been removed from the app due to continuous screening. Therefore, strict access rules and a high-standard elimination system ensure that Uber has a team of reliable and credible qualified drivers to provide safe driving services for passengers.

Therefore, judging from the screening of drivers’ qualification, Didi still needs to carry out specific implementation in many aspects. With a large population and incomplete credit investigation system in China, it is difficult to find a reliable third party for personal information review. In addition, the real-time monitoring of crime data and timely elimination can effectively avoid the loophole between the annual qualification review, and a more detailed screening system can strictly guard against the fluke mentality and criminal behavior. Uber’s dynamic monitoring and continuous examination design are very worthy of Didi’s reference. Regular report of the number of eliminated drivers who do not meet the standard not only make a guarantee of users’ right to know, but also give an effective feedback to the public on driver background check and screenings.

  1. Order delivery and demand matching

Didi hitch is different from taxis and ride-hailing (operating vehicles). The private nature of the vehicles determines the regulatory difficulty. The ride-sharing model based on private cars is different from Uber’s ride sharing service as well. As a non-profit product that aims to make full use of private cars that regularly commute to and from a fixed location to provide convenience for others with the same travel needs. Therefore, whether a driver’s own scheduled trip and a passenger’s destination are on the same way has become an important measure of order delivery.

In the safety overhaul, Didi hitch’s “nearby pickup function” provides four commonly used locations for each car owner, such as the company, home, parents’ home, etc., which can be modified twice every 14 days. Car owners can only pick up passengers between these permanent locations. The setting of common sites can effectively avoid aimless or intentional behavior of choosing orders, reduce security risks to a certain extent. In addition, Didi limits the number of orders one driver could receive every day and sets up a dual confirmation mechanism between passengers and drivers according to local conditions and relevant regulations on private minibus sharing—“the driver is not allowed to choose the passenger while the passenger can choose the driver.” This design principle allows the car owner to invite multiple passengers whose destinations are on the way for ride sharing, and then the passenger can accept one of them or refuse. Passengers can judge whether they are traveling together or not according to the destination, the owner’s trust value and the number of trips. In order to solve the problem of delayed passenger confirmation, Didi has also designed a variety of reminder mechanisms to ensure that passengers deal with the invitation timely.

In addition, in order to provide more security for women who take late-night cars, Didi’s delivery system has made “safety” a precondition since last year, adding “safe order” steps to the previous “global optimal principle”. At present, according to the actual situation of drivers and passengers, the order system of Didi can calculate from passengers’ gender, travel habits, order distance, starting and ending positions, driver’s gender, driving habits, historical order information, complaint records and other more than 200 angles to determine whether the driver and the passenger are suitable.

If female passengers are not familiar with the design principle, they will complain that they have to wait longer than adult men when ordering a car in the middle of the night, because the good drivers with good service quality and low complaint rate may be far away from her. Although this design principle will prolong the waiting time, it can ensure the safety of female late-night travel to some extent. After the company started implementing the “safe order” in September 2018, the number of sex-related crimes committed by Didi in the first half of 2019 dropped by 70 percent compared with the same period last year.

However, the accuracy of “safe order” is limited by the detailed characteristics of both drivers and passengers, and it is difficult for some passengers without real-name registration, new registration or a small number of orders to accurately match the right driver, which will affect the travel safety. In addition, if adult men do not use the “call for other” function when they order car for their female or underage relatives, the system cannot identify the occupant accurately, and therefore the passengers will miss the protection of the “safe order”.

3. Identity verification, monitor and path tracking

When passengers wait for the driver to go to the corresponding location after making the order, the display of personal information and the communication interface of drivers and passengers should be designed specially. At present, both passenger’s and driver’s versions of Didi no longer display specific profile picture and name. The passenger’s mobile phone number will be encrypted, so the driver only can be contacted through a virtual middle number which will expire 30 minutes after the order is paid, and then they will not be able to contact each other again.

Since Didi hitch needs to be booked in advance, the time interval between booking and setting out is long. In order to avoid the change of driver, Didi requires them to conduct face recognition multiple times when they invite passengers with them and when they arrive at the passenger’s starting point. After boarding the car, drivers and passengers can choose whether to use the APP’s recording function to record the journey. These recordings will be uploaded to the platform through real-time encryption, and the recordings without travel disputes will be automatically deleted after 7 days. If someone needs to listen to the recording and restore the scene later, Didi will also request user’s authorization and listen to it in a secure and confidential environment. Similarly, Uber use “Phone number anonymization” and “Real-time identification” to keep passengers’ number private and ensuring the right driver is behind the wheel.

Another safety issue is fatigue driving. While Uber uses “Driving-hours tool” to prevent drowsy driving, which requires drivers to rest for 6 straight hours after a total of 12 hours’ driving, Didi designed a special “Orange video dashcam” to monitor the driver’s driving status at all times. If the driver blinks frequently and slowly in a short period of time, closes his eyes for a long time and opens his mouth to yawn, the recorder will send voice alerts in time and report the situation to Didi’s safety response center via 4G network if necessary.

Besides, all Uber rides are tracked by GPS from start to finish. The “RideCheck” uses sensor and GPS data to detect if a trip goes unusually off-course or a possible crash has occurred. When a potential crash or suspicious trip issue is detected, both the rider and the driver will receive a notification asking if everything is OK. Passengers can share their trip with designated loved ones who can follow their trip on a map in real time and know when they’ve arrived as well. These kinds of real-time monitoring and close connection can bring passengers a sense of security and quickly locate the passengers and vehicles in case of an accident.

4. Emergency rescue

Although both Didi and Uber have adopted a variety of technologies and measures to ensure the safety of passengers, emergency situations are inevitable. How to quickly intervene in the scene to help passengers or drivers, or to quickly locate the vehicle to rescue them after the crime becomes the key to the safety design. Didi requires passengers to set up emergency contacts before use. Once the passenger turns on the “escort mode”, the driving routes of the vehicles will be automatically shared with the emergency contact, and the platform will also pay attention to the track in real time and intervene in case of abnormalities.

In the most urgent situation, Didi’s passengers can choose to call 110 or send a text message to the police. The information of the vehicle, driver and current location will be displayed on the page to facilitate passengers to communicate with the police. Meanwhile, all emergency contacts set up in advance will also receive a text message asking for help. Uber also has a “In-App Emergency Button” in the Safety Toolkit, which can connect riders and drivers directly to 911 with a simple swipe, and the customer support team is specially trained to respond to urgent safety issues, which can provide 24/7 incident support to the passengers and drivers.

Didi outsourced customer service to an unprofessional third-party service platform before, and the front-line customer service had little authority, so they could only give feedback to the superior, which wasted a lot of rescue time in passing information from layer to layer and waiting for feedback. Since last September, Didi has upgraded its customer service capabilities. In order to ensure the professional handling of security incidents, Didi’s customer service system is divided into security system and service system. All complaints related to safety will be immediately transferred to the corresponding security team, a more professional security customer service to deal with. To better assist the police in retrieving evidence in emergency situations, Didi has also set up a 24/7 special docking team. In order to balance the need between protecting personal privacy and police evidence collection, Didi divided user information into three security levels with different retrieval processes, ensuring that 98% of the primary and secondary information could be obtained within 10 minutes. Hoping that these lessons learned from the bitter experience can help Didi make targeted adjustments and improvements, providing reliable assistance and timely rescue to passengers in times of emergency.

5.Passenger feedback and rating system

Since 2016, Didi has evaluated the scores of passengers and car owners through the “trust value”, hoping to encourage users to abide by the rules of the platform and travel in harmony by establishing a credit mechanism similar to the score system for illegal behaviors accumulated by traffic management departments. The “trust value” is designed for both vehicle owners and passengers. It is 12 points initial to measure the reliability of users on the platform. 2, 3 or 5 points will be deducted for the car owner’s lateness, malicious comments, harassment and other behaviors that result in complaints from passengers. For passengers, 2 or 3 points will also be deducted if a driver complains about tardiness and malicious comments. When the “trust value” is lower than 7 points, it will receive a platform warning; when the value is lower than 5 points, user will be banned for a certain period of time; when it encounters a major complaint or the score value is lower than zero twice, the user will be permanently banned.

The recently launched Didi hitch upgraded the “trust value” to a “behavior score” based on a micrometer scale. More behavior, evaluation and complaint data are included in the score, and comprehensive evaluation is conducted from four dimensions: performance, compliance, friendliness and cleanliness. Only those who abide by the agreement, do not cancel the order or be late, obey the rules of the platform, keep vehicle interior clean and tidy, communicate with passengers friendly during the journey can get a higher “behavior score”. Users with high scores will be entitled to the priority of passenger travel display, the priority of driving orders, the priority of new product functions and other rights and interests. Users with lower scores will be subject to stricter restrictions, such as delayed delivery of orders, cancellation of double compensation, and restrictions on receiving orders for special situations. Both drivers and passengers with behavior scores below 400 will no longer be able to use the hitch service.

Uber uses a 2-way rating system to keep both the rider and driver experience safe, comfortable, and enjoyable. Compared with Didi, its scoring system is characterized by screening effective scores among all the ratings with a certain tolerance rate, while passengers’ riding behavior is restricted by the evaluation of drivers. According to the drivers, the overall partner rating is an average of individual rating (from 1-5 stars) provided by riders from 500 or fewer most recent trips. Cancelled trips and unaccepted trip requests will not count toward the overall rating, and those unrelated individual ratings will be automatically removed when applicable. In order to avoid a low rating, the drivers should keep both the inside and outside of the car clean, try not to call riders excessively or right away, wait to begin the trip until asking the rider’s name, ask riders if they have a preferred route and avoid asking for 5 stars. Sometimes things may go wrong, drivers who face the unlucky situations are encouraged to hold a good attitude and focus on the things that can control.

A good rating system can fully mobilize the enthusiasm of drivers, even in adverse circumstances, drivers will not worry too much about the damage to the score, so that the driving service can always maintain a consistent quality. Nevertheless, “Respect is a two-way street, and so is accountability,” Kate Parker, Uber’s head of safety brand and initiatives said. Therefore, drivers have option to give riders a low rating anonymous if they habitually leave their trash behind and disrespect the drivers. On May 28, 2019, Uber announced that “riders with ratings that are ‘significantly below average’ may lose access to the app, part of a rollout of the company’s updated community guidelines, which riders must abide by to continue using the service.”

6. Safety awareness and social responsibility

It is relatively easy to design products or procedures to keep passengers safe, but it is harder to “design” in people’s mind and heart. In order to make passengers more aware of self-protection, build safer communities and create a more harmonious social atmosphere, Didi and Uber need to assume more social responsibilities in terms of safety awareness.

For Didi, the new security quiz and pre-use safe training are a good start, but Uber has already accumulated a lot of experience in this area through its own practices. Firstly, Uber has formulated clear and universally applicable Community Guidelines, which provides drivers and riders with prevention information and education materials. Secondly, Uber offers a number of safety tips to reduce travel risk for passengers. For example, passengers should take a second to double-check the App for driver’s information. Only when the license plate number, the car make and model, the driver’s photo are matched can the passengers hop in.  If everyone can form such a habit before every trip, keep alert at all times, and have a certain self-help common sense, with the help of various technical support and safety measures provided by the APP, the possibility of accidents in the car will be greatly reduced. Besides, Uber is committed to help stop incidents before they happen by partnering with and learning from women’s safety groups, building tools and policies, promoting safety. In specifically, Uber pledged $5 million to women’s safety organization, such as “Futures Without Violence”, “RAINN”, “A Call to Men” through 2022, partnered with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and the Uber Institute to create a taxonomy which can categorize misconduct and sexual assault incidents, invited law enforcement and 100+ women’s safety and advocacy organizations to help develop the processes and technology.

These measures show that Uber is taking the social responsibility of the enterprise and making contributions to build a safer community by connecting various organizations. As mentioned above, the best product design and thorough security measures cannot eradicate evil. However, the improvement of passengers’ safety awareness, zero tolerance of sexual assault and violence in the society, and the sound post-incident judicial processing process and psychological counseling system can greatly increase the cost of violation, reduce the motivation for crime, and fundamentally avoid the recurrence of the Didi tragedy.

  • Limitations and suggestions

According to the user feedback collected by Didi, many of the complaints come from cumbersome safety measures, excessive restrictions on the car owners of hitch rides and inadequate regulations on passenger behavior. Didi still has a lot to do in the trial operation and nationwide promotion phase, and it is constantly soliciting design schemes and rectification opinions from the public, such as “whether men need the guarantee of relatives and opposite sex friends to drive a hitch”.

Although Didi has used some videos and articles to explain new online security measures and technologies, the interpretation of the design principles is not detailed and transparent enough to reassure people who have been shocked by the incidents before. Tim Berners-Lee, who proposed the Contract for the Web, considers that “we need platforms to open their black boxes and clearly explain how they are minimizing or eliminating risks their products pose to society.” Therefore, Didi still needs to put some efforts in explaining the design principles and operation logics behind the user interface. And “releasing reports” to demonstrate the progress they have made and taking more social responsibilities are good ways to build a good corporate image and restore consumers’ confidence.

In addition, Didi restricts the using time of female passengers during the pilot period from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., which is contrary to the spirit of the contract and the development trend of the future enterprise, because “Companies must understand that long-term success means building products that are good for society and that people can trust them.” The stopgap measure not only cannot fundamentally solve the problem, but also expose the ubiquitous security concerns still remain. Thus, Didi needs to “tackle the negative (even if unintended) consequences of platform design and explore some better solutions in the coming days.

Conclusion

The tragedy on Didi in 2018 caused widespread concern because of its bad influence, but there are also a lot of incidents and disputes that people don’t know about, which may derive from the design of the platform, the lack of safety measures, and the sinister human nature when there is no outside supervision. This paper disassembles the ride hailing process into different modules, from passengers ordering on the APP to drivers delivering passengers safely, sorting out the security issues involved in each section and the technical support needed to solve the problems, finding out the aspects worth learning from each other and further improving by comparing Didi Chuxing, a Chinese ride-hailing app, with Uber in the U.S.

According to the modular analysis of lifting process mentioned above, we find that there are many similarities between Didi and Uber’s security measures, which also means that the technologies used to increase safety are nothing new. The most different point is how these modules interact with each other, and how to combine them in a more efficient way so that we can provide a comprehensive security protection to every user by design.

References

Martin Irvine, Introduction to Modularity and Abstraction Layers

Lidwell, William, Kritina Holden, and Jill ButlerUniversal Principles of Design. Revised. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2010. 

Richard N. Langlois, “Modularity in Technology and Organization.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 49, no. 1 (September 2002): 19-37.

Carliss Y. Baldwin and Kim B. Clark, Design Rules, Vol. 1: The Power of Modularity. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000. 

Tim Berners-Lee (24 November 2019). “I Invented the World Wide Web. Here’s How We Can Fix It”. The New York Times. Retrieved 15 December 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/24/opinion/world-wide-web.html?auth=link-dismiss-google1tap

Morgan Winsor (6 December 2019). “Uber reveals nearly 6,000 incidents of sexual assaults in new safety report”. ABC News. Retrieved 15 December 2019.

https://abcnews.go.com/Business/uber-reveals-6000-incidents-sexual-assaults-safety-report/story?id=67538499

Hamza Shaban (29 May 2019). “Uber will ban passengers with low ratings”. The Washington Post. Retrieved 15 December 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/05/29/uber-will-ban-passengers-with-low-ratings/

Sara Ashley O’ Brien and Kaya Yurieff (3 November 2017). “What we know (and don’t know) about Uber background checks”. CNN Business. Retrieved 15 December 2019. https://money.cnn.com/2017/11/03/technology/uber-lyft-background-checks-new-york-terror-attack-suspect/index.html?iid=EL

Heather Somerville (5 December 2019). “Uber Safety Report Details Sexual Assaults in U.S. Over Two Years”. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 16 December 2019. https://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-issues-report-detailing-safety-incidents-on-ride-hailing-platform-11575591071

Ahiza Garcia, Sara O’Brien (6 December 20219). “Uber releases safety report revealing 5,981 incidents of sexual assault”. CNN Business. Retrieved 15 December 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/05/tech/uber-safety-report/index.html

Lora Kolodny (5 December 2019). “Here’s what Uber is doing to solve its sexual assault problem after reporting more than 3,000 incidents last year”. CNBC. Retrieved 16 December 2019. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/12/05/uber-re.html

Uber Technology, Inc (5 December 2019) “US Safety Report”. Uber. Retrieved 16 December 2019. https://www.uberassets.com/image/upload/v1575580686/Documents/Safety/UberUSSafetyReport_201718_FullReport.pdf?mod=article_inline

“Star ratings-A closer look at the ratings system”. Uber. Retrieved 16 December 2019. https://www.uber.com/zh-US/drive/san-francisco/resources/star-ratings/

“Driver Safety-Is Uber Safe for Drivers”. Uber. Retrieved 16 December 2019.

https://www.uber.com/us/en/drive/safety/

“How Driver Screenings work”. Uber. Retrieved 16 December 2019.

https://www.uber.com/us/en/ride/safety/driver-screening/

Sachin Kansal (17 September 2019). “RideCheck: Connecting you with help when you need it”. Retrieved 16 December 2019. https://www.uber.com/newsroom/ridecheck/

 

A case study of buying tickets on LiveNation

Jun Nie

My friend wanted to see a ballet performance on December in D.C. and she asked me to buy the tickets. The information I know was limited, and I am not familiar with any specific ticket platform of U.S. So I just type “Ballet in D.C” in the Google search box, and then a hyperlink of LiveNation appeared on the top of the searching results.
In the blink of my eye, my query was sent to Google’s web server, and the web server forwarded it to Google’s index servers. Based on the Google PageRank or other secret sauce, the index servers determined the results of my search, sending a query to Google’s doc servers and the web server which sent the result to me.

The texts, graphics, videos and sound files displayed in the page were stored on the server in the form of HTML text file. When my browser requested, the document was sent to my PC through the fastest routes by the server. In that page, the ballets of different theatre and different time are listed in sequence, and a prompt box of the pop-up page after a random click indicates that the ticket price can be changed in real time according to the demand. For a ticket website, the rapid updating of user interaction information is an important prerequisite for maintaining the normal operation. After entering a specific page, the simulation diagram of the theater space clearly distinguishes the positions that have been selected and still can be purchased through the color, and different prices of the corresponding seats can be synchronously displayed on the right side by clicking. Besides, some buttons used to filter the seat preferences greatly ease the users’ operation, user can increase or decrease the amount of tickets by clicking the button, and the price range is adjusted with the left and right sliding.

After selecting the seat, I clicked the “Next” button, and a feedback page said “We are securing your verified tickets” appears to make sure my action was valid. And then it jumped to the price details page, and a countdown about four minutes appeared in the upper right-hand corner. When the countdown is over, the previously paid page will fail and all operations have to be repeated, which is designed to ensure the fairness of the ticket and the security of the transaction.
According to the guidance of the web page process, the purchaser will fill a lot of information, such as the country, the ticket receiving methods, the email address and the payment ways. When all the required information is completed, pressing the button of “Place Order”, the ticket will be successfully purchased. Of course, the system will send a confirmation message to the purchaser’s mailbox, and the purchaser of selecting “Go mobile” will also get the process guide to view the electronic ticket.
In my first process of buying ticket, it had to return to the seat selection page because of my operation error (the countdown was over and the page was stuck). At that time, I found that the position checked before was in the gray state, which means that once the payment process is entered, the selected seat will be automatically locked in order to avoid the repeated operation of different clients and colliding with each other. When I finished the process successfully, I came back to check the seat table, the original page did not change. Only after refreshing the page, the position color I selected became gray, and the position where the operation had not completed changed back to the optional blue.
Through the real-time updating of the information, the ticket purchaser can easily obtain accurate ticket information and order the performance ticket immediately.

References:
Martin Irvine, Intro to the Web: Extensible Design Principles and “Appification”
Ron White, “How the World Wide Web Works.” From: How Computers Work. 9th ed. Que Publishing, 2007.
Janna Anderson, and Lee Rainie. “The Future of Apps and Web.” Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, March 23, 2012.

Computer interaction augments mentalities

Jun Nie

Nowadays, a majority of the mass play a role in passive user, taking the graphical user interface for granted because of the endeavor of decreasing the learning cost while increase capability levels of computers. As the biggest beneficiaries, users can master the methods of manipulating based on the using experience derived from a physical world as quick as possible, and create contents in a democratized environment, guiding the innovation to develop in multiple dimensions. However, the intellectual origins of GUI have been forgotten under the commercially successful paradigm.

At the beginning, the designers intended to boost mankind’s capability by dealing with complex problems and augment the human intellect during the process of interaction with computers. As a metamedium simulating various media’s functions and adding new properties, computer integrates different ways of interacting, which can help the users exercise their mentalities by thinking through symbols, actions and images. Besides, computer provides a platform for experiments and innovation, as an open-ended machine, its potential for future development is endless because of the modular design principles. When the physical substances limit the interaction, simply changing existing or writing new software can help the computer modify itself to satisfy complicated working demand. These design principles should be reclaimed and implemented in our current system, especially should be stressed among the users.

Except for using the computer as a tool to produce content, everyone is encouraged to understand the media language and make contributions of creating new structures and technologies. The free-software movement and the open-source software movement give an opportunity for users to use, copy, study, and change the software freely. Whether we make good use of the resources and opportunities provided by computers depends on the will and personal orientation of the users. We can choose to follow the lead of the experts and be a passive user, or we can try to use the media properties of the computer in the process of interaction to exercise our mentalities and promote technological innovation to the greatest extent, but I think maybe the latter is the original intention of GUI designers.

References:
Martin Irvine, Introduction to Symbolic-Cognitive Interfaces for Computer Systems: History of Design Principles
Lev Manovich, Software Takes Command, pp. 55-106
Bill Moggridge, ed., Designing Interactions. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2007.

New insights from computational thinking

Jun Nie

After working through the Code Academic tutorial and this week’s readings, I realize that human and computers are best partners because of the complementarity in thinking ways. The creativity and innovation of human mind can optimize the programming and system of computers, and the powerful computing capacity handle tons of complicated and tedious works for human as well. While computers improve by continuous machine learning, human beings should have a further understanding of computational thinking, which means that “thinking at multiple levels of abstraction”, because it’s an essential way to participate the world around us.

In my opinion, computational thinking requires us to get rid of the limitations of thinking as a consumer. Even though the users can find some shortcomings of products based on using experience, they always intend to complain or put forward some fuzzy expectations, which can be considered as “Should Questions”. Only the programmers or designers seem to have the ability of answering the “How Questions”, but sometimes they may ignore details in logical connection during the interaction. In order to fill the cognitive gap between consumers and designers, everyone needs to master the fundamental skill of computational thinking. As the core principles of computer system, programming teaches us to decompose the tasks into multiple small steps in our mental process, and coding helps us to transform the instructions into written language that a computer can understand. Computer science informs us that patterns emerging from the mundane, small change brought by subtle step can create opportunities for great optimization and improvement.

Previously, I longed the innovation of new business models and admired their success, but owing the creation of blue ocean to a flash of inspiration which might come out by accident. However, if all the applications can be split up into different modules comprised by meticulous procedure codes which serve diverse functions respectively, it will be easier for us to identify the entry point of optimization, increasing the efficiency of resource utilization and providing more considerate service to users.

Besides, I am confused about the specific function of four main languages of web development (HTML, CSS, JavaScript and SQL). Especially in the context of Web 2.0, in which everyone can post personal content on the Internet and interact with others immediately, but we never think that how has the website design developed from static browse to the present dynamic interaction? What kind of Internet technology gives the support? How can we use JavaScript to add interactivity to website and combine the front-end interface with back-end servers?

References:
Jeannette Wing, “Computational Thinking.” Communications of the ACM 49, no. 3 (March 2006): 33–35.
David Evans, Introduction to Computing: Explorations in Language, Logic, and Machines. 2011 edition.

Information transmission and creation

Jun Nie
In computer networks, information is transmitted in the form of 0 and 1. Meaningful information is encoded by the modulator and transmitted quickly through channels. Upon arrival, it is decoded by the demodulator into information that can be interpreted by the receiver. In order to resist the interruption of the noise, designers have created various methods to identify the data that may be lost or garbled in the process so that it can minimize the negative impact and guarantee the accuracy. The information theory model is essential, because it helps us to understand the process of information transmission clearly. But we need to known that the meaning carried by the information is meaningless to the transducer during the transduction. Like the content of letter  is meaningless to the postman, the address on the envelope is the only message they need to know when they deliver it. Besides,  different delivers responsible for  interpreting the messages at respective level, which means that they even don’t need to read the whole long address, passing it to the next person in charge,  then he will deliver it to the next transfer station or the destination.

Similarly, encoded bytes, like the contents of a letter, make sense only to the recipient of the data, and different people may interpret the same information differently. I think the human brain is an advanced decoding machine with more flexibility and unpredictability. If we use the content – the container transport/conduit metaphors to describe the communication, we will confuse about where new information come from? This model simplifies the information transmission process, which seems to indicate that the information will never increase and  keep flowing in its original form. However,  the amount of information is enriched in the process of spatial transmission and intergenerational transmission constantly. That’s why we have rich culture. So where and how does new information be created? There are two answers. One is that the computer itself can give new output through programming, and the other is that people can generate new associations and build new connections according to their own experience and knowledge accumulation in the process of interpreting information. It reminds me that when I look through the wikipedia and clicking on some hyperlinks to find more illustrations, the information transmitted always help me to make more association for a paper with new content.

References:
Martin Irvine, Introduction to the Technical Theory of Information.

Peter Denning and Tim Bell, “The Information Paradox.” From American scientist, 100,Nov-Dec.2012

A new understanding of design

Jun Nie

This week’s readings lead me thinking about what design is exactly. I have learned a Graphic
Design lesson last year, and I modified my draft eight times under the guidance of teacher so that it would have a better visual effect. At that time I was so confused about whether design had a correct answer, why the images and texts must be put in the certain position with specific matching of color and size. Now I realize that some regulations, the design rules underneath play an important role in the process. All the elements should match our aesthetic judgement, fitting with conventions that have accumulated for many years.
Even though the content of a specific book may not change while its material carrier has
experienced great evolution along with the technology development, we can not ignore the
variations of interactive design based on its different forms, which affects the way we think, act
and communication profoundly. When the printed book transferred into a computational, digital media displays, some features had to be preserved, because the interactive design was constrained culturally by users’ habitual expectations which are slow to change. Such as the way we slide the pages, use a bookmark to remind and take some notes with different strokes. Some electronic reading devices even mimic the texture of paper in order to provide a more familiar reading experience to users. At the same time, a considerable interactive design provides more convenience for users to change the size of the words and images, solving the problems of screen adaptation within different devices. Besides, more and more details of design have been added, satisfying multiple needs by observing users’ interaction in a real world. Such as the function of exploring the first few chapters before buying, looking up the meaning of new words by long press and a share button showing noticeably.
Good design leaves enough clues for users to perceive during interaction, because they respect the affordance continuities and keep improving under different technical conditions. However, there are not universal design principles as necessary properties of software or interfaces, because different physical constraints and service functions will stimulate disparate interaction intuitively, which should be considered specifically under multiple contexts and connotations and make some particular design choices.

References:
Janet Murray, Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.
Kaptelinin, Victor. “Affordances.” The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction, 2nd Ed., 2013.
Donald A. Norman, “Affordance, Conventions, and Design.” Interactions 6, no. 3 (May 1999): 38-43.

Refuting the “technology vs. society/culture” dualism

Jun Nie

The separation of technology and social/culture is not conducive to their development, because a wrong category and evaluation will lead to nothing. In my opinion, only by placing technology and social/culture in the same interconnected and coordinated system can we clarify the relationship between them better.

In a system view, a task is made up of people and the tools they use. People will improve their cognitive abilities constantly in the process of using tools to complete the task, and a complex relation among people, tools and task will be built. Therefore, it’s unreasonable to blame the killing on people or guns separately, because there is a complex system among people, guns and shooting. At the moment when a person holds a gun, his essence, personalities and competences are fundamentally changed because of the tools or technology in his hands. However, as a weapon that can be used for shooting, which is held in the hand of a person, the gun turns into an internal relationship of the system from an pure object. The will and connotation of people and the gun affect each other, which constitutes the important meaning of “mediation”.

The formation of culture or social phenomenon is not directly caused by a person or a certain kind of technology, because the responsibility should be shared by countless subjects with motivation and consciousness, under the help of technology & device that combined with several modules and components. Ocean university of China, for example, has set up a “maker space” in recent years (similar to our maker hub), introducing advanced equipment such as 3D printers and laser engraving machines. If these machines are just placed in a space, nothing will change, but with the aid of the equipment, students can practise their ideas, and the school can invite technical staves to lecture. As a result, the interaction between teachers, students and technology will build up a strong creative atmosphere for the whole campus. Specifically, students’ innovative consciousness will be stimulated, teachers can also pay more attention to quality education, and the school will intend to update the academic assessments. These achievements are all due to the intervention of technology, which forms a new system among different actors. Therefore, the dualism of technology and social/culture is arbitrary, because it ignores the internal connections and essence of them.

When we look at a technology product, we should visualize multiple dimensions within the relationship. On the one hand, we should analyze the modules and implemented design principles inside a black box. On the other hand, the device serves as an interface that leads us to an invisible socio-technical system, where co-operating agencies, networks and structures provide great technical support. In other words, every visible and tangible black box is supported by an invisible network. Technological products should be understood from the past, now and the future. Their modern existence derive from multiple histories of innovation, and they are epitomes of different media evolutions. Nowadays, it works as a “interface”, revealing the complexity of an invisible socio-technical system. Besides, it will become an important part of the new technology and new system as a whole in the future. Only by thinking in this way can we uncover the clock of the black box, transforming from a passive and even fooled consumer to a technology master who can have an independent voice in the design process.

Reference:
Martin Irvine, “Understanding Media, Mediation, and Sociotechnical Systems: Developing a De-Blackboxing Method”
Bruno Latour, “A Collective of Humans and Nonhumans — Following Daedalus’s Labyrinth,” Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999, pp. 174-217.
Donald A. Norman, “Cognitive Artifacts.” In Designing Interaction, edited by John M. Carroll, 17-38. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Read pp. 17-23.

The extension of cognitive function

Jun Nie

Before the development of cameras and mobile phones, people could only rely on their senses and cognitive abilities when they traveled abroad. Saw with the eyes, touched with the hands, listened with the ears and stored all the collected information in the brain as memories. In order to improve the accuracy and efficiency of memorizing, people would repeatedly reproduce what they have seen in their travels by writing diaries, drawing pictures, or communicating with others. By contrast, nowadays, travelers have more reliable cognitive tools. The camera can accurately restore the details of the scene, the massive storage of the mobile phone expands the capacity of the human brain. When we can’t help taking lots of photos during the journey, these devices work as externalization and extension of our senses, fundamentally changing the nature and meaning of “travel”. Before, people only could share stories with families in oral after going home, but the social applications within cellphone provide us diverse channels to communicate with others instantly. During the process, language can help us to embody perceptions in the form of symbols, then organize into concrete texts which can be understood by others exactly.

The film is a collection of multiple cognitive faculties, such as language, space, music and image. Take animated films as an example, the protagonist of “Paddington Bear” is a virtual image constructed by multiple symbols. In order to create a typical “British gentleman image”, the designer extracts symbolic features from the local culture and carries out an organic combination of visual elements. During the process of watching, people interpret these symbolic elements and gradually build a symbolic impression of British characteristics in their mind. In the social range, a universal recognition or cultural consensus will be established. It can be said that symbols generally exist in every period of our cognitive process. The interpretation of natural and social phenomena, the storage of concepts, the extraction of memories and the retelling of contents cannot be separated from the participation of symbols. In essence, “culture” is a symbol system that has accumulated and enriched in the long history.

Computer and media technology are not the inspiration of a genius, but the externalization and extension of people’s cognitive ability, which is constantly modified, reorganized and integrated in the process of historical development, providing us with more powerful tools to interpret, process and transmit symbols. I want to have a further discussion about the “degeneration” of human sensory after delegating cognitive function to cognitive artifacts. For example, if we take a lot of photos during the trip, the memory stored in our mind will become blurred, and we can’t even contact our closest friends without our mobile phone address book. What are the disadvantages of relying too much on cognitive technologies?

Reference:
Michael Cole, On Cognitive Artifacts, From Cultural Psychology: A Once and Future Discipline. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.
Andy Clark, Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, USA, 2008)

Modularity and Innovation

JUN NIE

After reading this week, I know that a simple interface hides complex modules and the intricate communication ways between them. The information asymmetry revealed by mental models will create a lot of problems between designers and users, which will interfere the progress of technology and innovative development of products.

The recent launch of the iPhone11 series confronted more skepticism than appreciation in China. Except for the dissatisfaction with the appearance design, most of the negative comments derive from lacking a thorough understanding of its innovative modules. While the product designers are well-versed in the updated parts of the system and technological breakthroughs, many laymen are left with a rough understanding given by social media. Generally speaking, there are two ways for most people to get information about technology products: one is the official advertisement, and the second is the personal interactive experience. The advertising video of iPhone11 highlights the ultra wide Angle dual cameras, water resistance, slofies, face ID, night mode and battery life, using adjectives such as “new”, “ultra”, “highest”, “faster” to distinguish its outstanding properties, but in fact these words can not quantify the difficulties of optimizing modules, developing technology and improving architecture during the innovation process. That’s why consumers felt difficult to differentiate the distinction of the iteration products. However, without buying new products, most people can not get direct  and deep using experience.

A good product is often based on a standard mental model, tested in the laboratory and observed in the field before launch. In this process, the user’s familiarity and dependence on the old product may restrict the optimization and innovation of the module. Although fixed and stable design rules create a good condition for upgrade, explicitness of the rules will also weaken the motivation for innovation. The promotion of a product may depend on the technological development of a certain module, but it is also driven by consumers’ demand. However, the current dilemma faced by Apple’s mobile phone is that consumers are satisfied with the service provided by the old modules and do not subjectively put forward higher expectation. Besides, although designers perfect some modules and interactive experience, the latest phone has been criticized because the combination of all modules have not brought a subversive experience to consumers so far.

Therefore, are modular design principles really conducive to innovation? Modularity allows designers to focus more on modules which have innovative potentials and avoid wasting time. Strong third-party competition can also promote the independent development of modules and  increase the overall efficiency. However, Apple’s performance in recent years seems to indicate that module innovation has not had enough momentum. Classic components and standardized design principles often make it difficult for products to make great changes, but the repair and improvement of details often fail to meet the elusive psychological expectations of consumers. Of course, it takes a long time to build up the technical competitiveness or recombine the modules, and it is not easy to soak in scientific experiments under the strong attack of competitors.

I want to have a further discussion about: What is the difference between “remodularization” and “recombination”? What kind of relationship they have with “innovation”?

Reference:
Lidwell, William, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler. Universal Principles of Design. Revised. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2010.
Richard N. Langlois, “Modularity in Technology and Organization.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 49, no. 1 (September 2002): 19-37.

Combinations of modules and design principes

Jun Nie

First, we need to shift our thinking to break down the technology products we take for granted. They are all made up of multiple modules, connected by design principles and internal language, serving a specific purpose. The nesting of modules, interaction, cooperation and mutual restriction create a suitable working environment for the whole and increase the efficiency of the technology.

From the perspective of historical development, technology originated from the direct use and observation of natural phenomena, accumulating experience in multiple practices, which provides conditions for functional restructuring of modules and technological innovation. New combinations of old components can often promote technological innovation, but they are also constrained by the material conditions of the society at that time, so the development of technology needs to be iterated through continuous accumulation. As a larger module, the emergence of new technologies will become an important component of future technologies as well.

Second, the understanding of some technical terms involved in the design principles is helpful for us to disassemble the internal structure of the technology, explore the reasons behind the combination, and further explore the method of optimal design. The term “affordance” reveals an important design principle — the simulation of physical reality. Good design maximizes the effectiveness of the product and provides a subconscious guidance to the user. For example, the naming of cognitive technologies tends to draw on the attributes of natural entities — there is something in common between the attributes of “cloud” and “cloud technology”. Besides, technology acts in a way that people behave in their daily lives, like clicking on a computer icon and “pressing” a button in the real world, and the left-right sliding screen of an e-book matches the page turning of a physical book as well. Technology seems to build a virtual reality mirroring the physical world. Good design can always minimize the obstacles in the operation process and increase the convenience and fluency as much as possible.

If different technologies are essentially functional reorganizations of different modules, they tend to have more in common than difference, and many people can deepen their understanding of design principles through continuous use. As time goes by, people can often quickly perceive the clues retained in the design, and grasp the rules of manipulating new products as soon as possible based on the previous using experience. On the one hand, these clues come from the simulation of the physical world and the adoption of human behaviors. On the other hand, they rely on universal symbols and design languages.

I am curious about the symbols retained on the interface, which often presented to users in the most concise and practical appearance. How do they come to the end in the debugging process step by step? What are the criteria for judging the effectiveness of information transfer? To what extent can they give users functional guidance? How much does the updating of icons and symbols in technical products affect the using experience. In addition, I don’t fully understand the terms “recursiveness” and “domain”. The examples given in the readings are obscure, so I hope to discuss with classmates and the professor.

References:

Brian Arthur, The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves. Excerpts from chapters 1, 2, 4 .

William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler. Universal Principles of Design. Revised. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2010.