Istanbul from the Bosphurus. See the whole set on my photography site.

The Social Graph Is Neither

Nov 10 | Comments (0)

Pinboard creator, Maciej Ceglowski, has written a blog post, The Social Graph Is Neither, that perfectly articulates what I've been feeling about social. Two thing in particular. First, the problems of creating, maintaining and compartmentalizing relationships online, especially in an era that has seen such a rapid development of "must participate" experiences such as Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn, etc. And second, the frustration I've felt as a user experience designer and digital marketer with the ways in which we interact (and exploit) users of these sites.

I'm busy. Or perhaps, lazy. Or both. (There's a future blog post coming on this topic if I can find the time to get off my butt and write it.)

As a busy/lazy person, the care and feeding required for all of these social networks is tiresome. And, it's complicated. Privacy settings are either non-existent (Twitter) or complicated and inadequate (Facebook). Something as simple as being "friends" with someone on Facebook and not having that information be available to my other friends is impossible. Which forces me to choose in a way that isn't required IRL (in real life). Say my best friend gets married and I become friends with his spouse. Then suppose they get divorced but I remain friends with both of them. I could easily find myself in a situation where publicly being friends with both of them could jeopardize my relationship with both of them. IRL, a little "don't ask, don't tell" with each of them and I can preserve at least a semblance of the relationship I had with each of them before the divorce. On Facebook, that's simply not possible. (You can easily expand this to a multitude of other situations with even more dire consequences. Worst of all, even the privacy settings that are available are complicated and time consuming to learn and implement, especially when multiplied across many different networks. I'm a user experience professional, computer programmer and a generally internet sophisticated guy. Imagine how much more difficult it might be for my grandmother. Or yours.

Which brings me to the second point Maciej so eloquently addresses in his post — the underlying use of these networks to sell stuff. I'll start with a caveat. Until recently I led the interactive group for an advertising agency. Our job was to market things and ideas through a variety of methods, and I was particularly interested in digital or online marketing. For one client we explored how you might connect all of the touchpoints they had with their customers — websites, events, point of purchase, etc — with social networks to form a complete picture of each customer. There is immense opportunity and power in that kind of data and our clients were unabashed in their desire to use that information to sell you more of their products or ideas. 

For many people, this kind of data mining for marketing purposes represents a kind of evil empire exploitation of innocent consumers. A moral/ethical quagmire that is the hallmark of twenty-first century capitalism. Others are concerned with the proliferation of vapid and tedious marketing ploys cluttering the purity of their interpersonal relationships online.  Personally, I believe that there is an small but interesting place where these two ideas intersect with a third concept I call usefulness. 

For many marketers this third concept is relevance — the idea that by providing advertising or marketing that is interesting or relevant to a particular consumer, based on their profile or relationships or whatever, we solve the first two problems. No longer will I think you are exploiting me with useless drivel, but rather welcome your message with open arms because it is a topic/brand/etc. that I am interested in. Bravo, dear marketer for engaging me on a personal level. There is some merit to this idea and it is certainly fundamental to a successful engagement between consumer and marketer, but for me, it falls short. I may explicitly (opt-in) or implicitly (like, +1, keyword) express my interest in your brand or subject area, but that doesn't mean that your ad, contest, tweet, post, etc is more then marginally better then a completely unsolicited and random ad, contest, tweet or post.

The idea of usefulness takes relevance to a new level by asking marketers to deliver their message through something I will find useful. In some cases useful is a tool and in others it can be entertainment, but in all cases the only criteria is whether the consumer looks at your message and says, "Yes, I'm better and happier for having received this thing today." A lofty goal you say? Yes. Difficult to measure you say? Certainly. Varies from person to person or even moment to moment? Quite possibly. No one ever said it would be easy. 

What do you think? Have you seen any good examples of this recently? Or particularly bad examples?



Apr 19 | Comments (0)

After ten years and a half years I am moving on from Paradowski. I've had an amazing time, worked hard, made lifelong friends and learned more then I ever could have imagined when I started.

When I first joined Paradowski it was the culmination of years of moving from job to job and learning everything that I could about being a designer. After I started I realized just how little I knew and just how lucky I was to have been given the opportunity to learn and contribute in one of the most creative, collaborative and challenging firms in St. Louis. More importantly, I have had the opportunity to reinvent myself more then once during my time at Paradowski and for that I am grateful.

This new chapter is an opportunity to pursue new kinds of projects on a different scale. I am joining the UXCC team at Perficient as a Lead User Experience Business Consultant where I will have the opportunity to work with a wide variety of technology including "big iron" systems like IBM's Websphere and to help the team explore new technologies and bring in new business. There's even some travel, which I'm very excited about, but mostly I'm excited to try something new.

Like many things in life, tenure has its pros and cons. On the upside, the longer you are with a company, the more you know and the better you understand the team, the culture and how to navigate "the system." You also gain in reputation which, if managed well, becomes the currency with which you get things done. It's what provides you with the freedom to operate without intense scrutiny of every action making it easier to get things done.

On the other hand, tenure tends to make us jaded and sometimes a little lazy. Not that you're not getting your job done, but there is a certain amount of apathy and "coasting" that can creep in and keep you from doing the things that established your reputation. Sometimes you just know too much and you're no longer able to see the possibilities, only the obstacles.

For now, I'm looking forward to getting back on the edge and experiencing the fear that comes from getting dropped into the deep end of the unknown. I'm ready to reboot.


Being Geek

Aug 09 | Comments (5)

I've been a big fan of Michael Lopp's blog, Rands in Repose for a long time as well as his previous book, Managing Humans. I just finished his new book, Being Geek, cleverly available as an iPad friendly ebook. Being Geek collects some of my favorite Rands in Repose entries with new material, resulting in the perfect handbook for the working nerd. Lopp covers everything from finding your next gig to navigating the people and situations you'll find in the average corporate ecosystem. Lopp's delivery is friendly — like an older brother dispensing the wisdom gained over years of learning the hard way — and the material is insightful and introspective without resorting to weepy-eyed navel gazing. If you're a geek or have a friend or significant other who is a geek, then Being Geek is worth a look.

Axure RP Wishlist

Feb 20 | Comments (1)

I've been using Axure RP for a while now and I'm constantly amazed by how much fun it is and how many cool features it has. I'm really excited about the Mac version. After using Axure on a number of projects, some of them pretty involved, I've started compiling my wishlist of features.

  • Dynamic menus. Axure provides menu widgets for both horizontal and vertical menus with dropdowns and flyouts as well as tree navigation widgets. It would be awesome if I could populate these dynamically from the Sitemap. This is a feature that competitor Protoshare already has.
  • Better sizing options on tree menus. The tree menus are really cool, but there isn't very much control over the size and I can't make a menu item break into two lines. So if I have a long page title (not recommended, but I'm not in charge of everything!), then the tree width stretches to accomodate the long title. Text wrap combined with a way to control the width of the tree would solve this problem.
  • Inline links. Currently the only way to make something a link is to make the entire object a link. If you're creating a typical "footer" navigation with all text links separated by pipes you can't make each item a working link unless you manually break them apart. Very tedious.
  • Dynamic breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs are a very common navigation aid. It's possible to simulate dynamic breadcrumbs using variables, but it's fairly tedious and painful. Breadcrumbs based on the sitemap structure of the page would be awesome!
  • Universal stacking order. Masters are a wonderful feature that makes it possible to make rapid changes across an entire site without having to touch every page. However, a master placed on a page follows the stacking order of that page. Typically this works out just fine, but occasionally it can be a problem. Case in point, I recently worked on a project with a common header. I put that header in a master. In a subsequent round of changes I added a modal dialog activated by a link in the common header. I put the dynamic panel for the modal in the header master so it would be automatically added to all pages. Unfortunately, the header wasn't always the top item in the page stack. On most pages there was other page content that was added later. This content didn't occupy the same x,y space as the header so the stack order wasn't important. It became important when I added the modal which did occupy the same x,y space as the page content. I was forced to touch every page containing the header to bring it to the top of the stack which partially defeated the purpose of the master. If there were some way to give masters a universal stacking order, maybe this problem could be resolved. Something similar to the z-index, perhaps.
  • Open link in new window. Currently a link can be set to open in current window, popup window or parent window. It would be great if it could be set to open in a new window. This is a common behaviour (which can be annotated in the specification fields), but client's are literal.
  • Auto Labeling. It would be great if menu items would be automatically labeled with the text of the link (which could then be overridden. This would save alot of tedious work.
  • Interactions between masters. Suppose you have a dynamic panel on one master. If you place that master on a page, you can manipulate the state of the panel from a link/object on the same master or on the page on which the master is placed. You cannot, however, change the state of the panel from a link/object on another master.

iPad Fever

Jan 30 | Comments (41)

Apple has finally announced their new tablet device, the iPad. With it comes the Apple apologists and the Apple haters, each with their take on why the iPad will be the greatest thing since, well, the iPhone, or why it will be an epic FAIL.

It's difficult to gauge at this point what the ultimate impact of this device will be, and frankly, I think it will take a year and a second generation version before the verdict is in. As I watched Steve Jobs on stage with the iPad I was continuously reminded of the PADD devices used by the crew of the Enterprise in Star Trek. It might not be the first version, but I believe this device will find significant inroads into how we work in a way that was promised by Tablet PCs, but never delivered because of weight, a clumsy OS, etc.

As with any Apple device, the debut of the iPad has been marked by the things that are absent: a camera, Flash support, etc. This should come as no surprise to anyone since Jobs has been eliminating things from his creations since the iMac launched without a floppy drive. I remember the hue and cry about how the lack of a floppy drive made the iMac a joke. I guess Apple had the last laugh.

VIrtually every device that Apple has launched since then has left pundits gasping at what was missing. And almost without fail the devices have been a resounding success. I fully anticipate that the iPad will eventually get a camera, but it won't be the same as a camera phone. Apple will add some twist that makes sense with the new device. It might even be something they wanted to launch with this version but left out so they could reach one their most important goals: a $499 pricetag for the base model. As the cost of the hardware decreases, Apple will include more features -- but features designed specifically for the iPad.

Perhaps the biggest missing item on the list, though, is Flash support. My initial reaction was disappointment. As I've thought about it more, however, my disappointment is tempered by a few thoughts. There are primarily three uses for Flash: video, games and ads. I'm certainly not disappointed by the lack of ads and most, if not all Flash games, as John Gruber points out, are designed for a mouse and keyboard and wouldn't translate well to the multi-touch interface. This is not to say that some enterprising Flash developers wouldn't create games specifically for the iPad, but personally, I can live without the games.

The most significant issue related to Flash and web browsing is video. Currently much of the video published on the web uses a Flash video player and this will present some problems, especially on a device that Jobs touted as the best device for using the web. However, as more developers begin utilizing the video capabilities of HTML 5 -- as both Vimeo and YouTube are already starting to do -- this problem will quickly go away. While we as developers may be forced to support multiple video formats for many years to ensure that all of our visitors can watch our video content (I'm looking at you, Microsoft), I predict that by the end of 2010, this problem will be substantially diminished for iPad users. Like the iMac and the floppy drive, the iPhone and iPad will drive continued adoption of HTML5 standards and non-Flash video as an option. 

It's interesting that some bloggers (John Gruber, Gina Tripanni, Andy Baio) have been sharing their Flash visitor stats to show that Flash enabled browsers are on the decline. While this does appear to be true, I don't believe the numbers are quite as compelling as they might appear. The Lifehacker numbers show a 300% increase in Flash-less browsing, but that still only equals ~6% total. Gruber's numbers are around 32%, but likely only about 7% are actually completely Flash-less -- the rest are using Flash blockers that allow you to click to view Flash. I suspect that many users of these plugins are more interested in blocking Flash ads then surfing in a Flash-less world. In fact, I would suggest that this is a far more significant statistic for media buyers and ad agencies then it is for Apple.

I don't know if the iPad is significant inflection point for the industry the way the iPhone was. I do know that I am looking forward to a device that fits better for reading, video and casual web surfing. Hopefully the iPad fulfills my wishes, and even if it doesn't, it still feels like one step closer to Star Trek.

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