Sometimes Business Designers are referring to a “Wizard of Oz Experiment” for testing new services or business ideas.

What the f*ck is this?

In a nutshell:

In the field of human-computer interaction, a Wizard of Oz experiment is a research experiment in which subjects interact with a computer system that subjects believe to be autonomous, but which is actually being operated or partially operated by an unseen human being.

Where does it come from?

The term comes from a scene of The Wizard Wizard of Oz story, in which an ordinary man hides behind a curtain and pretends, through the use of “amplifying” technology, to be a powerful wizard.

When should I use this technique?

If you’re building a “smart” computer algorithm or AI-system, validating the need of it can be done via a Wizard of Oz experiment. For the best result, the user indeed is not aware they’re interacting with a human. Often this is rather difficult. A solution to this small problem could be to tell the user the system will analyse his answers and the result/report will be automatically mailed to him (which in reality is done by a human).

But also for not-so-smart computer systems you can use this method. You don’t need to build a full-fledged product to prove that customers are willing to pay for it. In many cases, there is a way to get round it by simulating features manually. The zappos case (see below) is a good example of it.


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