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March 30 2011

On a small screen, user experience is everything

gmail_mobileScreenshot.pngUntil someone comes up with a way to mind meld with mobile devices, the size limitations will largely define the overall experience. That's why a focus on interaction — not just look and feel — is an important part of any mobile project.

In a recent interview, Madhava Enros, mobile user experience lead at Mozilla and a speaker at the Web 2.0 Expo 2011 in San Francisco, discussed three mobile applications that he believes handle user experience quite well.

One that is very dear to my heart — at Mozilla we're really into the whole open web app concept using web technologies — is the Gmail web app for the iPhone. It's arguably a better mail client than the native one on the iPhone, and they're using a lot of really cool open web technologies to do it.

Another that I really like is the Kindle. I love the hardware itself, but Amazon really seems to have understood that mobile usage is about a constellation of devices. It's not just about the one phone you have. It's being able to read at home on your ereader, but then read on your Android phone when you're on the train, or pick up your iPad when you're elsewhere. That kind of consistency of getting at your stuff across a bunch of devices is a really great insight.

And there's Flipboard, where they understand how people are using some of these emerging technologies, like Twitter, as a protocol more than a service. It's the insight that people aren't using Twitter as an email replacement — though some people are — but as a way of reading a newspaper.

Where 2.0: 2011, being held April 19-21 in Santa Clara, Calif., will explore the intersection of location technologies and trends in software development, business strategies, and marketing.

Save 25% on registration with the code WHR11RAD

Enros also talked about the trend toward voice activation technology. While typing on mobile devices likely won't prevail in the long term — he said no mobile device does it really well and he described the spectrum as "OK to terrible" — he also doesn't think talking to devices will be the default:

You just have to watch that person on the bus who's yelling into their cell phone to know that talking to a device is not always the answer. Sometimes you need a little bit — or should have a little bit — of privacy.

For more of Enros' thoughts on mobile design and interaction, check out the full interview in the following video:



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March 24 2011

UI is becoming an "embodied" model

The digital use case used to focus on a single person huddled over a keyboard, but now designers must understand how different interfaces and technologies influence a variety of user experiences. A single set of wireframes just won't cut it anymore.

In the following interview, Christian Crumlish (@mediajunkie), director of consumer experience at AOL and a speaker at the upcoming Web 2.0 Expo, discusses the unique challenges and opportunities designers now face.


What are the most important aspects of current UI research?

Christian CrumlishChristian Crumlish: The most interesting area right now is the intersection of the mobile, social, and real-time aspects with the physical, gestural, kinetic, and haptic interfaces. User interface is moving from the periphery of our senses — aside from a heavy reliance on the visual — to a much more embodied model where we will be able to use the full somatic sensory apparatus of our bodies to interact with systems and networks.

When you combine that with ubiquity, location-awareness, and a portable social graph, you're starting to meld the virtual and the physical. That should lead to all kinds of breakthroughs that are hard to picture in detail from our vantage today.

What challenges does cloud computing create for UI?

Christian Crumlish: The challenges largely go beyond the UI level and tend to be most interesting when talking about the broader user experience. Working with the cloud raises challenges around syncing, caching, and continuity across multiple modes and entry points. More and more, designers in this space need to look at the holistic experience and then explore how best to express it in various contexts, with different mediating devices.

Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco 2011, being held March 28-31, will examine key pieces of the digital economy and the ways you can use important ideas for your own success.

Save 20% on registration with the code WEBSF11RAD



Your Web 2.0 Expo session has an unusual title: "Start Using UX as a Weapon." How can a
"weaponized" user experience be put to work?


Christian Crumlish: UX can be used as a weapon in several ways:

  • Differentiating a product from its commodified, ho-hum competitors.
  • Allow the design/development team to maintain focus on the experiences of real people using the product.
  • Incorporating the problem-solving, ideation, visualizing, communication, and innovation techniques of the design tradition.
  • Integrating disparate aspects of a complex experience.



What sites, apps or platforms do you find to have the most impressive or effective interfaces?


Christian Crumlish: I think the wider realm of UX writ large offers much more potential for breakthrough experiences than a focus on the details of specific user interfaces. That's not to say that an elegant design and a well laid out screen aren't still a huge part of making a great experience.

That said, some of the sites, apps, and platforms we love that have distinguished themselves by providing for great user experiences include Dropbox, Hipmunk, Mint, Tumblr, Feedly, Etsy, and Zappos.

This interview was edited and condensed.



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March 23 2011

In the future we'll be talking, not typing

Search algorithms thus far have relied on links to serve up relevant results, but as research in artificial intelligence (AI), natural language processing (NLP), and input methods continue to progress, search algorithms and techniques likely will adapt.

In the following interview, Stephan Spencer (@sspencer), co-author of "The Art of SEO" and a speaker at the upcoming Web 2.0 Expo, discusses how next-generation advancements will influence search and computing (hint: your keyboard may soon be obsolete).

What role will artificial intelligence play in the future of search?

Stephan SpencerStephan Spencer: I think more and more, it'll be an autonomous intelligence — and I say "autonomous intelligence" instead of "artificial intelligence" because it will no longer be artificial. Eventually, it will be just another life form. You won't be able to tell the difference between AI and a human being.

So, artificial intelligence will become autonomous intelligence, and it will transform the way that the search algorithms determine what is considered relevant and important. A human being can eyeball a web page and say: "This doesn't really look like a quality piece of content. There are things about it that just don't feel right." An AI would be able to make those kinds of determinations with much greater sophistication than a human being. When that happens, I think it will be transformative.

What does the future of search look like to you?

Stephan Spencer: I think we'll be talking to our computers more than typing on them. If you can ask questions and have a conversation with your computer — with the Internet, with Google — that's a much more efficient way of extracting information and learning.

The advent of the Linguistic User Interface (LUI) will be as transformative for humanity as the Graphical User Interface (GUI) was. Remember the days of typing in MS-DOS commands? That was horrible. We're going to think the same about typing on our computers in — who knows — five years' time?


Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco 2011, being held March 28-31, will examine key pieces of the digital economy and the ways you can use important ideas for your own success.

Save 20% on registration with the code WEBSF11RAD

In a "future of search" blog post you mentioned "Utility Fog." What is that?

Stephan Spencer: Utility Fog is theoretical at this point. It's a nanotechnology that will be feasible once we reach the phase of molecular nanotechnology — where nano machines can self-replicate. That changes the game completely.

Nano machines could swarm like bees and take any shape, color, or luminosity. They could, in effect, create a three-dimensional representation of an object, of a person, of an animal — you name it. That shape would be able to respond and react.

Specific to how this would affect search engines and use of the internet, I see it as the next stage: You would have a visual three-dimensional representation of the computer that you can interact with.




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March 18 2011

Social media design should start with human behavior

Businesses are under pressure to crack the social media code. There's all those tools and platforms to harness, and all those best practices to adopt. Staying on top of it is exhausting. Staying ahead of it is almost impossible.

Fortunately, there's a better way.

In the following interview, Paul Adams (@Padday), global brand experience manager at Facebook and a speaker at the upcoming Web 2.0 Expo, explains how a simple commitment to value can unravel the complications of social media. The key, Adams says, is to understand and serve basic human behavior.


How is social media design lacking? How can it be improved?

Paul AdamsPaul Adams: I'm not sure we should even start with the concept of "social media design." Social behavior in humans is as old as our species, so the emergence of an Internet based on social behavior is simply our rudimentary technology catching up with offline life. Thinking about "social design" should be embedded in everything we do, and not thought of in isolation. We should think about it the same way designers of electronic appliances think of electricity — it's just there, it's the hub, powering other things.

It's problematic that many businesses focus on existing and emerging technology, and not on social behavior. Thinking about platform integration first, like Twitter or Facebook, or technologies first, like what could be enabled by "mobile location" or "real-time updates," is the wrong place to start. Often, businesses need to step back and consider what will motivate people to use what they are developing, above and beyond what exists today. Something that I've been saying for a while is that human behavior changes slowly, much slower than technology. By focusing on human behavior, not only are you much more likely to create something that people value and use, but you're more likely to protect yourself from sudden changes in technology.

Interestingly, even this may not be enough. When it comes to designing around social behavior, it's not just about meeting a need that people currently struggle with, it's about understanding why people would change their current behavior. When things don't work well, people develop workarounds and form habits. These habits are hard to shift. Why try something new, even if it looks a little better, when what you currently use works fine? This is why basic technologies such as SMS remain popular with people, and advanced technologies like Google Wave didn't catch on. SMS works, so why try something else?

People also take the path of least resistance, and trying something new involves change. This is compounded by the fact that many of these opportunities for design are latent needs. In other words, people can't see the problems they have because they have developed workarounds. So simply saying that what you developed is better won't cut it.

Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco 2011, being held March 28-31, will examine key pieces of the digital economy and the ways you can use important ideas for your own success.

Save 20% on registration with the code WEBSF11RAD

Search engines are integrating social media into their products. How do you see this area evolving over the next few years?

Paul Adams: Integrating content created on social media platforms into search engines raises big questions around data usage and privacy. How this evolves will be very interesting because it highlights the difference between being public and being publicized.

At SXSW last year, danah boyd spoke articulately about this — her talk is worth checking out. My take, heavily influenced by the work of danah and others, is that when most people think of the public, they think of the public as they have experienced it offline in the past, usually being outside and being bounded by space and time. The most public setting for many would be something like a large music festival, where many thousands of people are gathered, and at least hundreds can observe your behavior. But only those people who are there, at that time, can observe what you say and do. Search and discovery platforms online, however, are very different. They are bounded by neither space nor time.

The problem is that many people don't realize or understand that. They have no idea what it means to "index the web." They act in the moment, in a specific context, and don't think about how that content might look in the future, in a different context. Some technology pundits say that people should be more careful with what they post, but I strongly disagree with that. It's up to us — the people designing and building the technology — to design the right thing in the first place. Our tools should respect the context in which the content was first created.

This raises a really important question: Does the fact that a post or update was public on a blog, social media site, or review site make it permissible for anyone to take that content and publish it wherever they choose? I don't think it does. Yet, that's what search engines are starting to do. It's interesting to me to see billboard ads with tweets on them. Do those people know that what they said is plastered across town? Is that what they expected when they created the content? The unfortunate fact is that many people will probably come to understand what it means to post publicly online by exposure of something they thought had a limited audience. And I don't think that's a good thing for anybody.

How important is reputation in social media interactions?

Paul Adams: Reputation, or the broader concept of "Identity," is the cornerstone for all other interactions. People need to know who they are interacting with in order to act appropriately, and they constantly scan for cues. As with influence, this is really complex. For example, it's possible to take the view that no one has a single reputation. We are uniquely viewed by every single person, based on our previous interactions and their previous experiences. In this light, the current trend in representing reputation online with people being assigned a single score, makes no sense.

We're also undervaluing the influence of strong ties. The people closest to us are often the ones who influence us most. To heavily generalize, people are influenced by five different groups in the following descending order: closest friends and family, groups of people they have a strong affiliation with, groups of people who are similar to them, very large groups of people, and finally, by random individuals they don't recognize.

Is there too much focus on the total number of followers or "likes"?

Paul Adams: We're still seeing the fans and followers arms race — businesses trying to gather as many fans as possible. But I think that's fundamentally wrong. It's more important to focus on quality, not quantity, of connections.

For example, many brands run competitions on social media platforms. You have to "Like" or "Follow" that business to enter. So the question is whether they are making connections with advocates of their brand, or with people who simply love competitions. If it's the latter, then they're filling their social media interactions and data with noise.

As I mentioned earlier, people are often most influenced by their closest friends. So only make connections with true advocates of your brand, and market to the friends of those fans.

Will we get to a point where "social media" is not an online thing, but a bridge between the digital and real worlds?

QR codePaul Adams: I think we're already seeing it happening. We see Facebook, Twitter and Google Maps stickers on business windows all over town. I do think this is where it's headed. As I mentioned earlier, social media should be like electricity. It's there, powering everything, but we don't really think about it.

Our phone, or whatever we carry around with us, will probably be our primary source and producer of social media data, so it's important that when we use it, we're not burdened by its place in the ecosystem — for example, by seeing constant privacy controls or too many invasive alerts.

Fundamentally, the phone collects a number of datasets that other devices don't. It knows who we communicate with the most, who we care about the most — because it knows who we call and text most often — and it also knows where we are, where we've been, and probably where we're going. And in the near future, it will know the things we buy.

Mobile is going to be a very disruptive space, and I'm not sure how it will evolve. Rather than try and predict which technologies will be dominant, I think the safer bet for businesses is to understand how these technologies will support human behavior and how they will help people do things they are struggling to do today.

Photo: QR code by Projeto Sticker Map on Flickr



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March 08 2011

Location data could let retailers entice customers in new ways

locate.pngLocation-based data is an important part of social networking platforms, smartphone navigation tools, and augmented reality apps, to name just a few areas. Now, as more retailers dive into the app market, maximizing the use of location-based data could maximize sales potential as well.

In a recent post about sales in brick-and-mortar bookstores, Joe Wikert touched on the potential of location-based data:

When I open your app and you've detected I'm in-store, offer me special deals which are only good for the next hour. Make sure all the deals are fully redeemable using only my smartphone app. Don't email me coupons. Push them into the app so I can just flash my iPhone at the checkout counter and be on my way without fumbling through my email inbox.

As Wikert notes in the post, the merger of location data, sensor technology, and customer information could lead to hyper-targeted retail windows:

Take a page out of Groupon's play book. Use your nifty new app to track how many customers with common interests are currently standing in your stores. Push a message like this to all of them: "You're a history buff but you've never bought this great ebook about FDR. If at least 100 of you commit to buying it in the next 10 minutes we'll give you all a special discount of x%. Stop by the Biography section to browse the book and see why we think it's perfect for you."

Where 2.0: 2011, being held April 19-21 in Santa Clara, Calif., will explore the intersection of location technologies and trends in software development, business strategies, and marketing.

Save 25% on registration with the code WHR11RAD


Such technology isn't far off, if not already here. Apps exist to help users locate each other, find a bar nearby, and even push location-based coupons at consumers. Google recently licensed data from new media advertising and consulting agency The Aura Group to provide location-based movie ads and theater listings, linked through so users can buy tickets.

There's also an app called Shopkick that uses a device's microphone (once the app is launched) to detect a customer entering a store. Customers earn "kickbucks" for visiting a store and then redeem them later for things like gift cards, vouchers and movie tickets. There are issues with ease of use, fraudulent activity, and data acquisition, but Shopkick appears to be headed in the right direction (for retailers ... consumers might have a different perspective about these sorts of applications).

These current tools represent just the first wave of location data applications. In a recent interview here on Radar, RunKeeper CEO Jason Jacobs considered future possibilities:

There are interesting potential applications as well. For example, if the application knows that running shoes should be changed every 500 miles, and it sees a user has logged 450 miles, a coupon could be offered for their next pair of shoes. And wouldn't it be great if that coupon is from a retailer that's three blocks from their house?

The pace of innovation in sensors parallels the pace of innovation in smartphones. But what if there was a way to take location functionality and streaming data capabilities beyond a phone; to shrink them down and lower the cost? The potential applications increase and adoption would increase. A larger community and richer set of aggregate data also creates opportunities to do some really interesting things.

As location technology becomes more powerful, and as the transmission of location data becomes frictionless and fully integrated into applications that weren't location-aware in the past, the ramifications are massive. Companies can be so much more thoughtful about the way they deliver services and person-specific functionality. That could apply to fitness, travel, logistics, shipping — there's so many different applications for this technology.

(Disclosure: OATV is an investor in RunKeeper.)

Photo: Locate, Locate, Locate by Gary Bridgman, on Flickr



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March 23 2010

Web 2.0 Expo NYC CFP is Open Plus Webcast For Submission Tips This Week

web 2.0 expo nyc

The Web 2.0 Expo is returning to NYC this fall for a third year. The Call For Proposals (CFP) opens today and will remain so until 4/12/10. We are accepting talk proposals aimed at developers, designers, marketers and business folks. We are looking for

Sarah Milstein and I will be returning as co-Chairs. After the CFP closes we will spend several weeks working with our East Coast-based program committee examining and rating the proposals. We will announce the schedule in the early summer/end of spring timeframe.

Every year we get hundreds of proposals for just over a hundred slots. With that many proposals it is hard to stand out. We want to make sure that you know how to best describe your awesome ideas and put your best foot forward. To aid you Sarah and I are hosting a free webcast on writing a good proposal this Thursday at 1PM PST (9am - London | 4pm - New York | 8pm - Sydney | 6pm - Tokyo | 5pm - Beijing | 1:30pm - Mumbai).

We'll talk for about 20 minutes through a variety of do's (tell us what attendees will learn) and don'ts (submit the proposal yourself and don't pitch your product). We'll remain online afterwards to answer questions. We think that the advice will be applicable to any conference (either O'Reilly or another event producers) - so feel free to attend even if you don't want to speak in NYC. A recording of the webcast will be made available at a later date.

Tags: web20 web2expo
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