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February 04 2014

Four short links: 4 February 2014

  1. UX Fundamentals, Crash Course — 31 posts introducing the fundamental practices and mindsets of UX.
  2. Why We Love Persona And You Should Too — Mozilla’s identity system is an interesting offering. Fancy that, you might have single-sign on without Single Pwn-On.
  3. Raspberry Pi As Test Harness — Pi accessory maker uses Pis to automate the testing of his … it’s Pis all the way down.
  4. The Holodeck Begins to Take Shape — displays, computation, and interesting input devices, are coming together in various guises.

August 08 2013

Investigating the state of UX and UI design in tech

The last major shift in design arguably occurred in the 90s as print design gave way to web design, and designers suddenly had to deal with web safe colors, alias fonts, and the information design challenges of a non-sequential medium. Two decades later, design is approaching a similarly monumental shift as designers move from designing for the web to designing for systems.

Software developers and hardware engineers are starting to face difficult — and atypically similar — questions in terms of user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design as web and industrial design begin to collide. Software developers must now think about designing for hardware interfaces, and hardware engineers must now design with UX and UI in mind. This collision presents an opportunity for a tectonic shift in the design space, with the potential to spread across industries on a larger — and more personal — scale than design has experienced before. That’s why, beginning today, we’re kicking off an exploration of the companies and people experimenting with and innovating in UX and UI design.

We can already see the beginnings of this shift as wearable interfaces, such as Google Glass, Fitbit, and Jawbone, become more and more mainstream. But what about designing for a wearable computing system for assistance dogs that allows an animal to alert or even command its human? Or for a sensor system for your teeth that could monitor what you eat and drink?

Beyond wearables, how will developers and engineers adapt to ingestibles? How do you design around a locking mechanism on a car that engages based upon a pill the car’s owner has swallowed? Or, how do you design user experiences around passwords that are stored and engaged by ingestibles? And what happens when the human becomes the interface — how do you design around a medical alert system, for instance, that can download data from a patient’s tattoo, or when that tattoo can wirelessly transmit vital signs or other data in real time? And taking it a little further, what possibilities arise when users become the power sources for devices or interfaces? Or when objects themselves become the device or interface?

These questions are just the tip of the iceberg of what’s facing not only software developers, but hardware and systems engineers as well. In the coming months we’ll be looking for the narratives that illuminate the changing landscape design is experiencing and that point toward innovations to come. If you know of a person, company or research program making strides in the field of UX/UI design, please drop a note in the comments section, send me an email, or reach out on Twitter.

July 24 2013

Four short links: 24 July 2013

  1. What to Look For in Software Dev (Pamela Fox) — It’s important to find a job where you get to work on a product you love or problems that challenge you, but it’s also important to find a job where you will be happy inside their codebase – where you won’t be afraid to make changes and where there’s a clear process for those changes.
  2. The Slippery Slope to Dark Patterns — demonstrates and deconstructs determinedly user-hostile pieces of software which deliberately break Nielsen’s usability heuristics to make users agree to things they rationally wouldn’t.
  3. Victory Lap for Ask Patents (Joel Spolsky) — story of how a StackExchange board on patents helped bust a bogus patent. It’s crowdsourcing the prior art, and Joel shows how easy it is.
  4. The World as Fire-Free Zone (MIT Technology Review) — data analysis to identify “signature” of terrorist behaviour, civilian deaths from strikes in territories the US has not declared war on, empty restrictions on use. Again, it’s a test that, by design, cannot be failed. Good history of UAVs in warfare and the blowback from their lax use. Quoting retired General Stanley McChrystal: The resentment caused by American use of unmanned strikes … is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one.

June 17 2013

Four short links: 17 June 2013

  1. Weekend Reads on Deep Learning (Alex Dong) — an article and two videos unpacking “deep learning” such as multilayer neural networks.
  2. The Internet of Actual Things“I have 10 reliable activations remaining,” your bulb will report via some ridiculous light-bulbs app on your phone. “Now just nine. Remember me when I’m gone.” (via Andy Baio)
  3. Announcing the Mozilla Science Lab (Kaitlin Thaney) — We also want to find ways of supporting and innovating with the research community – building bridges between projects, running experiments of our own, and building community. We have an initial idea of where to start, but want to start an open dialogue to figure out together how to best do that, and where we can be of most value..
  4. NAND to TetrisThe site contains all the software tools and project materials necessary to build a general-purpose computer system from the ground up. We also provide a set of lectures designed to support a typical course on the subject. (via Hacker News)

December 20 2012

Four short links: 20 December 2012

  1. Use The Index, Luke — free ebook on tuning SQL database access.
  2. CamanJS — Instagram-like filters in Javascript, permissively-licensed open source. (via VentureBeat)
  3. Don’t Stick That There — USB device pretending to be a keyboard. The benefit of this is that even with USB auto-run disabled, our exploit will still work as it emulates a keyboard. No one ever blocks USB keyboards! (via David Sklar)
  4. Best Practices: Designing Touch Tablet Experiences for Preschoolers (Sesame Workshop) — the good people at Sesame Street Workshop tell what works and what doesn’t when you make tablet touch UIs for kids. Double Tap: Children expect immediate feedback from their touch and tend to think the app is unresponsive when a double tap is required. We suggest only using double tap to prevent a child from accidental navigation (e.g., leaving an activity, accessing parent content).

December 10 2012

Four short links: 10 December 2012

  1. RE2: A Principled Approach to Regular Expressions — a regular expression engine without backtracking, so without the potential for exponential pathological runtimes.
  2. Mobile is Entertainment (Luke Wroblewski) — 79% of mobile app time is spent on fun, even as desktop web use is declining.
  3. Five UX Research Pitfalls (Elaine Wherry) — I live this every day: Sometimes someone will propose an idea that doesn’t seem to make sense. While your initial reaction may be to be defensive or to point out the flaws in the proposed A/B study, you should consider that your buddy is responding to something outside your view and that you don’t have all of the data.
  4. Building a Keyboard: Part 1 (Jesse Vincent) — and Part 2 and general musings on the topic of keyboards. Jesse built his own. Yeah, he’s that badass.

June 21 2012

Commerce Weekly: Streamlining Facebook's ads

Here are a few of the stories that caught my eye in the commerce space this week.

Facebook's ad future is looking up

FB_logo.pngThere was a flurry of commerce news in the Facebook camp this week. Payvment, the largest ecommerce platform on Facebook, launched an ad building service, allowing merchants to build auto-targeted Facebook ad campaigns. Focused on smaller merchants, the service is designed to create ads with a single click; the ads are automatically targeted toward customers based on their Facebook shopping and browsing histories.

"Merchants select a product they want to advertise, and Payvment grabs one of the already-uploaded photos, the product description, and ... creates a Facebook ad complete with image, headline, and copy," writes Josh Constine at TechCrunch. "It analyzes the merchant's store and who have Liked, bought, browsed that product, finds people who've interacted with similar products on its other stores, and shows them the ad."

The official press release points to a recent survey of Payvment's merchant customers that found 60% hadn't bought a Facebook ad, of which 25% stated "they haven't tried them because they don't understand how to use them." In his post, Constine highlights the bottom line of streamlining Facebook ad building and buying:

"While hundreds of big brands spend millions on ad campaigns, hundreds of thousands of small businesses buying thousand-dollar campaigns can add up. Facebook needs the sum to grow its revenue and satisfy investors ..."

There was news this week on Facebook's mobile advertising front as well. Carolyn Everson, Facebook's VP of global marketing solutions, indicated to AdAge that Facebook's newly launched mobile advertising product may soon be expanded to offer location-based advertising. The AdAge post notes that advertisers already can target ads by ZIP code, but using location-specific data from mobile phones will allow advertisers to better target ads using real-time data.

And the timing looks to be ripe — AdAge also reported this week on an early survey of Facebook's new mobile-only ads that points to a promising future: "The click-through rate for mobile ads amounted to 0.79%, compared to the 0.148% average across all five placements studied ... The click-through rate for desktop-only news-feed ads falls roughly in the middle at 0.327%."

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

PayPal improves its UI, UX

PayPal gave itself a face lift this week, overhauling its website to improve its user interface and the user experience. The PayPal blog says the new design cuts down on the number of site pages and simplifies menus and labels.

Computer use in general is turning more and more toward mobile, and the PayPal's site design seems to be keeping this firmly in mind as well. As Ingrid Lunden notes at TechCrunch, the "redesign also happens to look a lot more touch-friendly, perhaps a sign of how much tablets, smartphones and the mobile web figure today in the company's strategy." As you can see in the screenshot below, the personal site page now has just three tabs — Buy, Sell and Transfer — and an Explore button that takes visitors to the company's new offerings.

PayPal Redesign

The new site is rolling out in the U.S. over the next couple of weeks and will launch globally at a later date.

If you want to scale, you have to educate the masses

With all the talk of strategies to battle showrooming and ideas whirling about on tying mobile into brick-and-mortar retail to better engage — and sell to — customers, it was interesting to read how some of those techniques are playing out in practice. Mobile Commerce Daily reported this week on a panel at the 2012 MMA Forum called "How Mobile Can Bridge the Gap in the Multi-Channel Commerce Landscape," during which Don Wortley, the senior digital marketing manager at Best Buy, commented on the company's strategies to integrate mobile into the physical shopping experience.

Wortley said during the panel that the mobile pilot programs do very well, but problems arise as they try to scale them. He attributes the issues mainly to customers not knowing how to use — or simply not using — their smartphone features. Mobile Commerce Daily reports:

"'When we think of all these super streamlined experiences, we still have to educate the masses,' Mr. Wortley said. ... 'We have not done a good job educating consumers on the tools we have ... We've had a beta culture where we stick stuff out there and haven't wanted to advertise until it is polished, but that is never going to happen. We are currently making plans to drive usage of tools, to put some resources behind that.'"

You can read more of Wortley's comments as well as comments from other panel members regarding the effect corporate silos are having on the success of in-store mobile here.

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News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.

Related:

April 26 2012

Design your website for a graceful fail

Websites go down. It happens. But in many cases it might be possible to deal with and explain a failure while keeping user frustration to a minimum.

Mike Brittain (@mikebrittain), director of engineering at Etsy, addressed the resilient user experience in our recent interview. Among his insights from the full interview (below):

  • Designing an experience that can adapt to individual service failures and partial degradations requires an intermingling between software engineers, operations teams and product and design teams.
  • Previous experience designing for cable-connected devices may skew our connectivity expectations when it comes to more fragile mobile networks.

Brittain will expand on these ideas and more in his keynote address "Building Resilient User Experiences" at Velocity 2012 in June.

Our full interview follows.

What is a "resilient" user experience — and what are a few of the main practices involved in ensuring an acceptable UX during an outage?

MikeBrittain_headshot.pngMike Brittain: Resilient user experiences are adaptable to individual failure modes within the system — allowing users to continue to use the service even in a partially degraded scenario.

Large-scale websites are driven by numerous databases, APIs, and other back-end services. Without thoughtful application design, any failure in an individual service might bubble up as a generic "Server Error." This sort of response completely blocks the user from any further experience and has the potential to degrade the user's confidence in your website, software or brand.

Consider an article page on the New York Times' website. There is the primary content of the page: the body of the article itself. And then there are all sorts of ancillary content and modules, such as social sharing tools, personalization details if you're signed-in, comments, articles recommended for you, most emailed articles, advertisements, etc. If something were to go wrong while retrieving the primary content for the page — the article body — you might not be able to provide anything meaningful to the reader. But if one or more services failed for generating any of those ancillary modules, it's likely to have a much lower impact on the reader. So, a resilient design would allow for any of those individual modules to fail gracefully without blocking the reader from completing the primary action on the site — reading news.

Here's another example closer to my own heart: The primary action for visitors to Etsy is to find, review, and purchase handcrafted goods. A product page on Etsy.com includes all sorts of ancillary information and tools, including a mechanism for marking a product as a "favorite." If the Favorites system goes down, we wouldn't want to return an error page to the visitor. Instead, we would hide the tool altogether. Meanwhile, visitors can continue to find and purchase products during this degradation. In fact, many of them may be blissfully unaware that the feature even exists while it is unavailable.

In the DevOps culture, we see increasing intermingling of experience and knowledge between software engineers and operations teams. Engineers who understand well how their software is operated, and the interplay between various services and back-ends, often understand failure modes and can adapt. Their software and hardware architecture may take advantage of patterns like redundant services, failover services, or retry attempts after failures.

Resilient user experiences require further intermingling with product and design teams. Product design is focused almost entirely on user experience when the system is assumed to be working properly. So, we need to have product designers commingling with engineers to better understand individual failure modes and to plan for them.

Do these interface practices vary for desktops/laptops versus mobile or tablets?

Mike Brittain: These principles apply to any user interface. But as we move into using more mobile devices and networks, we need to consider the relative fragility of the network that connects our software (e.g. a smartphone app) to servers on the Internet.

Our design process may be hampered by our prior experiences in which computers and web browsers connected to the Internet by physical cables suffered relatively low network failure rates. As such, our expectations may be that the network is seldom a failure point. We're moving rapidly into a world where mobile software connects to back-end services over cellular data networks — not to mention that the handset may be moving at high speed by car or train. So, we need to design resilience into our UIs anywhere we depend on network availability for data.

Velocity 2012: Web Operations & Performance — The smartest minds in web operations and performance are coming together for the Velocity Conference, being held June 25-27 in Santa Clara, Calif.

Save 20% on registration with the code RADAR20

How do you set up a front-end to fail gracefully?

Mike Brittain: Front-end could mean client-side, or it could refer to the forward-most server-side script in the request flow, which talks to other back-end services to generate the HTML for a web page. Both situations are valid for resilient design.

In designing resilient UIs, you expect failures in each and every back-end service. Examples might include connection failures, connection timeouts, response timeouts, or corrupted/incomplete data in a response. A resilient UI traps these failures at a low level and provides a usable response, rather than throwing a general exception that causes the entire page to fail.

On the client side, this could mean detecting failures in Ajax responses and allowing the user experience to continue unblocked, or by retrying after a given amount of time. This could be during page render, or maybe during a user interaction. Those familiar with Gmail may recognize that during periods of network congestion or back-end failures, the small status message that reads, "sending," when you send an email sometimes changes to "still trying …" or "offline." This is preferred over a general "failed to send email" after a single attempt.

Some general patterns for resilient UI include:

  • Disable or hide features that are failing.
  • Provide fallback (default) content in place of dynamic content or feature that cannot be reached or displayed.
  • Avoid behaviors that block UI display or interaction.
  • Detect service failures and allow for retries.
  • Failover to redundant services.

Systems engineers may recognize these patterns in low-level services or protocols. But these patterns are not as familiar to front-end engineers, product developers, and designers — who plan more around success than around failure. I don't mean for that statement to be divisive, but I do think it's true of the current state of how we build software and how we build the web.

How do you make your community aware of a failure?

Mike Brittain: In the case of small failures, the idea is to obscure the failure in a way that it does not block the primary use case for the site (e.g. we don't shut down product pages because the Favorites service is failing). Your community may not need much communication around this.

When things really go wrong, you want to be upfront and clear about failures. Use specific terms, rather than general. Provide context of time and estimated time to resolution whenever possible. If you have a service that fails and will be unavailable until you restore data over a period of, say, three hours, it's better to tell your visitors to check back in three hours than to have them hammering the refresh button on their browser for 20 minutes as they build up frustration.

You want to make sure this information is within reach for your users. I actually think at Etsy we have some pretty good patterns for this. We start with a status blog that is hosted outside of our primary network and should be available even if our data center is unreachable. Most service warnings or error messages on Etsy.com will provide a link to this blog. And anytime we have a service outage posted to this blog, a service warning is automatically posted at the top of any pages within our community forums and anywhere else that members would go looking for help on our site.

In your Velocity 2012 keynote summary, you mention "validating failure scenarios with 'game days'." What's a game day and how does it work?

Mike Brittain: The term game day" describes an exercise that tests some failure scenario in production. These drills are used to test hypotheses about how our systems will react to specific failures. They also surface any surprises about how the system reacts while we are actively observing.

We do this in production because development, testing, and staging environments are seldom 100% symmetric with production. You may have different numbers of machines, different volumes of data, or simulated versus live traffic. The downside is that these drills will impact real visitors. The upside is that you build real confidence within your team and exercise your abilities to cope with real failures.

We regularly test configuration flags across our site to ensure that we haven't unwired configuration logic for features we have been patching or improving. We also want to confirm that the user experience degrades gracefully when the flag is turned off. For example, when we disable the Favorites service on our site, we expect reads and writes to the data store to stop and we would expect various parts of the UI to hide the Favorites tools. Our game day would allow us to prove these out.

We would be surprised to find that disabling Favorites causes entire pages on the site to fail, rather than to degrade gracefully. We would be surprised if some processes continued to read from or write to the service while the config flag was disabled. And we would be further surprised to find unrelated services failing outright when the Favorites service was disabled. These are scenarios that might not be observed by simulated testing outside of production.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Associated photo on home and category pages: 404 error message something went wrong by IvanWalsh.com, on Flickr

Related:

April 19 2012

Four short links: 19 April 2012

  1. Superfastmatch -- open source text comparison tool, used to locate plagiarism/churnalism in online news sites. You can pull out the text engine and use it for your own "find where this text is used elsewhere" applications (e.g., what's being forwarded out in email, how much of this RFP is copy and paste, what's NOT boilerplate in this contract, etc.). (via Pete Warden)
  2. Ten Design Principles for Engaging Math Tasks (Dan Meyer) -- education gold, engagement gold, and some serious ideas you can use in your own apps.
  3. Clustering Related Stories (Jenny Finkel) -- description of how to cluster related stories, talks about some of the tricks. Interesting without being too scary.
  4. Prince of Persia (GitHub) -- I have waited to see if the novelty wore off, but I still find this cool: 1980s source code on GitHub.

April 12 2012

Christopher Schmitt and Simon St. Laurent discuss HTML5


Are we entering a new revolution on the web? HTML5 author and conference organizer Christopher Schmitt sat down to talk with O'Reilly editor Simon St. Laurent about why it's a great time to be a web developer. The new HTML5 spec has brought back the conversation about the web. Developers have been hacking the web for the last several years, and now those techniques have been pulled out of the hands of the developers and into the browser for better, faster websites. Let's hope we see continued innovation in the coming years to strengthen the ecosystem and personal connections.

Highlights from the full video interview include:

  • HTML5 and friends. HTML5 is often thought of a collection of technologies released at the same time, even though they aren't all technically "HTML5". [Discussed at the 0:39 mark]
  • The open web has won. Frameworks have given developers a way to create and share advances across browsers. [Discussed at the 03:29 mark]
  • Relieving your headaches. Native video and audio reduce the number of tasks needed to get media content on the web. [Discussed at the 05:20 mark]
  • Hybrid skills. Web developers need to understand code, design, and UI/UX to thrive in this evolving world. [Discussed at the 11:50 mark]
  • Design friendly CSS. Despite all the focus on HTML5 and JavaScript, CSS is growing ever more powerful and important. [Discussed at the 14:23 mark]
  • Accessible PDFs. PDFs are part of the mix, even if they follow a different track. [Discussed at the 23:46 mark]

Fluent Conference: JavaScript & Beyond — Explore the changing worlds of JavaScript & HTML5 at the O'Reilly Fluent Conference (May 29 - 31 in San Francisco, Calif.).

Save 20% on registration with the code RADAR20

March 09 2012

Four short links: 9 March 2012

  1. Why The Symphony Needs A Progress Bar (Elaine Wherry) -- an excellent interaction designer tackles the real world.
  2. Biologic -- view your social network as though looking at cells through a microscope. Gorgeous and different.
  3. The Cost of Cracking -- analysis of used phone listings to see what improves and decreases price yields some really interesting results. Phones described as “decent” are typically priced 23% below the median. Who would describe something they’re selling as "decent" and price it below market value unless something fishy was going on? [...] On average, cracking your phone destroys 30-50% of its value instantly. Particularly interesting to me since Ms 10 just brought home her phone with *cough* a new starburst screensaver.
  4. OpenStreetMap Welcomes Apple -- this is the classy way to deal with the world's richest company quietly and badly using your work without acknowledgement.

January 31 2012

Four short links: 31 January 2012

  1. The Sky is Rising -- TechDirt's Mike Masnick has written (and made available for free download) an excellent report on the entertainment industry's numbers and business models. Must read if you have an opinion on SOPA et al.
  2. Tennis Australia Exposes Match Analytics -- Served from IBM's US-based private cloud, the updated SlamTracker web application pulls together 39 million points of data collated from all four Grand Slam tournaments over the past seven years to provide insights into a player's style of play and progress. The analytics application also provides a player's likelihood of beating their opponent through each round of the two-week tournament and the 'key to the match' required for them to win. "We gave our data to IBM, said, 'Here we go, that's 10 years of scores and stats, matches and players'," said Samir Mahir, CIO at Tennis Australia. Data as way to engage fans. (via Steve O'Grady)
  3. Data Monday: Logins and Passwords (Luke Wroblewski) -- Password recovery is the number one request to help desks for intranets that don’t have single sign-on portal capabilities.
  4. QR Codes: Bad Idea or Terrible Idea? (Kevin Marks) -- People have a problem finding your URL. You post a QR Code. Now they have 2 problems. I prefer to think of QR codes as a prototype of what Matt Jones calls "the robot-readable world"--not so much the technology we really imagine we will be deploying when we build our science fictiony future.

January 17 2012

Mobile interfaces: Mistakes to avoid and trends to watch


Drawing on a tabletIn the following interview, "Designing Mobile Interfaces" co-author Steven Hoober discusses common mobile interface mistakes, and he examines the latest mobile device trends — including why the addition of more gestures and sensors isn't wholly positive.

What are the most common mobile UI mistakes?

Steven Hoober: The biggest issues are common to everyone, and they're strategic. Specifically, don't make a decision on what or how you are going to develop for mobile without some good thinking and some research. For example, your product might be best on the web, or as an SMS service, or 60% of your customers are on BlackBerry. Developing an iPhone app will not get the benefits you'd expect in these cases.

Related to this is making sure you have the right data. I see lots of people who suddenly reveal that 90% of their desktop web clicks are coming from, for example, iPad. Much of the time, shocking numbers like this are simply wrong, and the analytics tool is being tricked. Or, there is some other driver, such as that the site works poorly on Firefox, and it's redirected to a dumbed-down version on most handsets, so no one uses it.

Mobile must never be a dumbed-down, limited experience. Sure, it can be different from the desktop, but users expect all information everywhere they go now. Don't make them go to the desktop site or use their desktop for some parts of your product. If you do, they will probably find a competitor that doesn't make them do this.

Lastly, make sure that you are addressing the whole mobile experience — from the way an app is sold in the store or market to the password-reset email. Each of these elements can break the customer's experience enough that they might just stop using your product.

What recent mobile UI and mobile trends — good or bad — have caught your attention?

Steven Hoober: I fear that gesture is getting out of hand. More and more gestures are being added, and far too many are at the operating-system (OS) level. At first, I liked this for consistency, but now I'm seeing that it risks interfering with getting work done. OS-level gestures supersede good ideas at the app level, or they will prevent app developers from coming up with interesting gestural interfaces that fit their specific needs.

Additionally, I fear that using gesture alone is making the discovery of functions and features even more difficult. Basic functions are becoming "Easter eggs." The trend away from menus means that sometimes it's impossible to find a feature you just know is in there. We need buttons and lists and controls, at least as secondary functions.

Also, for good and bad, we're getting more sensors in devices. Near-field communication (NFC) is a good example. But theses sensors are all too often being used as deliberate, direct technology in the way GPS is tied to driving directions. Mobile sensors — and radios — can and should be used for lots of other purposes.

What do you see as the core UI difference between smartphones and tablets?

Steven Hoober: Larger screens should mean more collaboration and sharing. Tablets, used hand held or as kiosks, seem to encourage joint usage, but they are often designed as individual platforms. Even in the book, we conflated all mobiles as personal, but that's partly because the operating systems are set up this way now. I'd like to see more exploration of simultaneous, multi-user interfaces to exploit the platform.

Designing Mobile Interfaces — With hundreds of thousands of mobile applications available today, your app has to capture users immediately. This book provides practical techniques to help you catch — and keep — their attention. You'll learn core principles for designing effective user interfaces, along with a set of common patterns for interaction design on all types of mobile devices.

Related:

Reposted byRK RK

March 08 2011

Four short links: 8 March 2011

  1. Facebook and Open Source -- David Recordon interview. HipHop really embodies how we create at Facebook. It started as a hackathon project by Haiping Zhao, who was later joined by Iain Proctor and Minghui Yang. Haiping noticed a number of similarities between the syntax of PHP and C++, and wondered if you could programmatically rewrite one into another. Two-and-half years and a few other engineers later, HipHop was serving the vast majority of Facebook's production traffic. It takes our PHP source code, transforms it into C++, and compiles it into a self-contained binary that we deploy on production web servers.
  2. Patterns -- UI patterns for mobile devices. (via Josh Clark)
  3. d3 -- a small Javascript library for manipulating documents based on data. You use CSS and HTML5 candy to style marked-up data into visualizations. (via Mike Olson)
  4. Crowdsourced is Not Open-Sourced (Simon Phipps) -- they are very different, most importantly in the ownership of the outcome. An important point, one worth chewing over for a while.

February 22 2011

Four short links: 22 February 2011

  1. Cluster (github) -- Node.JS multi-core server manager with plugins support. Hot restarts, and other goodness. (via The Change Log via Javascript Weekly)
  2. Nokia Culture Will Out (Adam Greenfield) -- Except that, as realized by Nokia, this is precisely what failed to happen. I experienced, in fact, neither a frisson of elegant futurism nor a blasé presentiment of everyday life at midcentury. I was given an NFC phone, and told to tap it against the item I wanted from the vending machine. This is what happened next: the vending machine teeped, and the phone teeped, and six or seven seconds later a notification popped up on its screen. It was an incoming text message, which had been sent by the vending machine at the moment I tapped my phone against it. I had to respond “Y” to this text to complete the transaction. The experience was clumsy and joyless and not in any conceivable way an improvement over pumping coins into the soda machine just the way I did quarters into Defender at the age of twelve.
  3. NextGen Education and Research Robotics -- virtual conference on robotics in education.
  4. Homemade Arduino Printer (Instructables) -- made with an Arduino, two dead CD/DVD drives and a marker pen. Clever hack! (via MindKits on Twitter)

January 07 2011

Four short links: 7 January 2011

  1. Users Can Self-Report Problems -- users self-report 50% of the problems that professional usability testing uncovers, and they find problems that usability testers don't. (The other way to look at this is: self-reporting only finds half the actual problems in a site)
  2. The Learning Behind Gmail Priority Inbox (PDF) -- challenges faced by Gmail Priority Inbox and how they beat them. Priority Inbox ranks mail at a rate far exceeding the capacity of a single machine. It is also difficult to predict the data center that will handle a user’s Gmail account, so we must be able to score any user from any data center, without delaying mail delivery(via Hacker News)
  3. DimDim Acquired by Salesforce -- congrats to the founder, who was an OSCON speaker, and his team. The open source remains, but will not be contributed to by Salesforce. DD Ganguly, the founder, is a good smart chap and I look forward to his next project.
  4. WWIC -- As Tim said when he forwarded this around: This is absolutely brilliant. Think deeply on it. Act on it. (via Alex Howard in email)

August 31 2010

Four short links: 31 August 2010

  1. Rules for Revolutionaries -- Carl Malamud's talk to the WWW2010 Conference. Video, slides, and text available.
  2. Self-Improving Bayesian Sentiment Analysis for Twitter -- a how-I-did-it for a homegrown project to do sentiment analysis on Twitter.
  3. LUXR -- the Lean User Experience Residency program. LUXr brings user experience and design services to early stage teams in a lower cost, more efficient way than traditional project-based consulting. The latest from Adaptive Path's Janice Fraser.
  4. My Top Ten Assertions About Data Warehouses (CACM) -- Michael Stonebraker's take on the data warehouse world, and his predictions cut across a lot of our O'Reilly trends. Assertion 5: "No knobs" is the only thing that makes any sense. It is pretty clear that human operational costs dominate the cost of running a data warehouse. [...] Almost all DBMSs have 100 or more complicated tuning "knobs." This requires DBAs to be "4-star wizards" and drives up operating costs. Obviously, the only thing that makes sense is to have a program that adjusts these knobs automatically. In other words, look for "no knobs" as the only way to cut down DBA costs. (via mikeolson on Twitter)

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