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Stefani Relles

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Ethnography? There’s an App for That!

Who’d have thought your phone could become a tool for thick description. While it’s debatable whether or not this app would receive Geertz’ blessing, it’s certainly a product worth discussing in the context of Thursday is TechDay.

The app is not new. It debuted in 2009 by a UK-based research agency called EverydayLives, but the release is now managed by a company entitled Ethos, which is short for “ethnographic observation system.” Ethos primarily caters to the marketing industry as evidenced by the following catchy tagline: “Intimate, in-the-moment, happenings, priorities and realities captured effortlessly on mobile devices and sent through to you to conduct analysis, add meaning and change the way you understand your consumers, competitors and brands.”

The current spin is less affected than the original 2009 announcement that proclaimed the app to be “a sophisticated research tool designed by ethnographic researchers for ethnographic researchers, field anthropologists, agency planners, marketers and research respondents.” It would appear that (over the past four years) its consumer growth has been more marketers and less field anthropologists. That said, the app has found an audience, and is available for iOS and Blackberry systems, while the Android version is in Beta.

What is it you ask? The app is simply an organizational tool that consolidates the videos, photos, text and audio captured by your phone into different project files that you access through the app. In essence, it talks to the other apps already on your phone: voice recorder, photo albums, note pad (for example), and places the files created separately by these apps into a graphic interface that proxies a project folder. It’s not exactly earth-shattering, but the word “neat” comes to mind.

Like all technology tools, Ethos is not going to do the research for you, but it can help you organize your data in ways that are helpful. Note this is not an analytical tool like Atlas.ti. It’s just a storage container, but it’s free to try, so why not take it for a spin. At the very least, it’s a conversation starter at ASHE next month: “Have you tried the ethnography app yet?” Tell them you read it here, but if you’re too shy to test drive before the conference, watch the walk-thru demo video here.

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