The Magic Marker Exercise


See the Pattern

In this article I reference the the socialNet beBee:
  1. I’d already done an informal content inventory over the course of several months.
  2. I’d outlined the behavioral structure of primary actors and contributors.

It became clear that there was a conscious synergy at work.

The Magic Marker Exercise is a colorful exercise in mapping the causality and agency of activity on a socialNet.

Want to get a sense of Who-does-What on a socialNet feed?

Here’s what you need:

How does ‘priming the pump’ work?

Note:  These examples focus on behaviors and content which are particularly germane to the target socialNet beBee (as noted above).

Who’s agenda?


How much – and what – is actual original material?

What’s the proportion of “Personal Insights” material?

And how much content is Marketing-related?

The patterns appear pretty quickly.  Combinations of color notations often result in new aHah! moments.

You see how it works.  In this example I’ve selected to identify those attributes which I believe to be most relevant and indicative of behaviors and trends that I’ve identified on the socialNet beBee. — based on observations in theMirror and other analytical posts

Show me

I’d love to show a visual representation of what I’m talking about here, but the presentation mode on beBee’s ‘home’ dashboard doesn’t really lend itself easily to capturing that kind of info for annotation.  beBee’s (mandatory) featured images make for a sexy UI in the swipeWorld, but they don’t lend themselves to all-at-once comprehension of the info environment.

BTW: Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a ‘lean’ or ‘skeletal’ alternative presentation mode for the beBee dashboard?  (i.e. No huge ‘featured image’ pics.  Just title, author, comments, shares, etc.)  Then we could view a bunch of beBee traffic info at the same time and perhaps see some patterns.  As you strip away the delightfully distracting surface styling glitz, you reveal raw information, which is often not obvious. — It’s Semantic

Stripping the info-stream down to its basics often results in … a data table.


Data in a table is info intensive, but it’s also often dry, obscure, and inaccessible.  Besides, it takes a bunch of effort to reproduce information in a table format.  But it’s entirely worth it.  If you have the resources to invest.

The Magic Marker Exercise really works in that environment.   The informative-but-dull data suddenly pops with meaning.

Relationships … and context

I’d love to show you an example of The Magic Marker Exercise applied to beBee, but I honestly don’t feel like making that amount of effort in an environment where the effort is not really valued.  (I’m in the process of stepping away from beBee as a primary publishing platform.  It’s the whole ‘value proposition’ thing.  But that’s another rant).

Suffice to say, I already know what the punchline is (and so do you).

There’s just a whole lot of orange (beBee) contributors and content and orange Comments and Shares (context) — Priming the Pump is a slam-dunk

Other patterns (several are identified above) also become inescapable – who creates original material and personal insights, the overwhelming presence of marketing, etc.

Do your own Magic Marker Exercise

Net/Net:  “A picture is worth a thousand words”, so here are a few examples of how-The-Magic-Marker-Exercise-works:

for Example


The challenge was to reconcile information, presentation, and services across a large international corporate portal.

This is a very simple, targeted iteration of the Magic Marker Exercise, which was intended to draw attention to content gaps across the enterprise.

It worked pretty well in the presentation to their executive panel.

United Healthcare

There was lots of inconsistency and redundancy.

In this case, the Magic Marker Exercise was much more fully-featured.  The info-coding on the table is much more complex and colorful as a result.

In this case, we were dealing with a B2B/intranet environment that was very confused.  The organization had grown by acquisition – and management wanted to move more functionality into ‘self service’.

These colorful markups also provide clues as to “who’s doing what”.

Tufte vs PowerPoint

In the September 2003 issue of Wired Magazine renowned graphing/data guru Edwin Tufte blasted popular presentation product PowerPoint as being “easy to abuse”.

To make his point, Tufte applied PowerPoint graphing templates to a table of complex medical data.  His exercise seemed to underscore his point that the graphics only distorted the information.

The punchline:  Tufte applied the PowerPoint graphing templates willy-nilly, without regard as to whether they were actually appropriate to the data that was being analyzed.

Basically, it was a variation of

Vaughan’s Law: Anything – anything at all – can be done badly.

The Disclaimer

Am I out to get beBee?  Not necessarily.  I apply this same thought/insight technique to my analysis of any ‘user experience’ environment.

The Magic Maker Exercise is helpful for identifying patterns  – and is particularly relevant to socialNets, where content is often assembled and presented randomly.

Try it.  It’s colorful.  And insightful.

posted on beBee : 12/16/2016; 0.5K Views, 6 Likes

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