Author Rob

Efficency vs. Happenstance

I don’t often read the news paper, you know the one actually made out of paper? I generally read my news online through feeds or links from the people I follow on Twitter and Google+. Though these are great ways to keep up with things I’m interested in, they often lack the random find or articles off my self-beaten path. I found the change of topics inspirational and puts my usual thoughts into a new context. Ironically, or just happenstance, the night before I was reading an article (online) regarding online discovery methods (search, recommendations and hierarchical) and how they limit the discovery process.

There’s got to be another way to filter through the noise while allowing the chance for random discovery. The efficiency of the current models slowly limit our chances of happenstance by only showing us things of known interest. They never would have provided me with the diversity of information I received by flipping through the Sunday paper. On the other hand, I don’t always have the luxury of time that I did today. Things like this only fuel my quest to find that something in-between.

A few buddies and I have been looking into ways to filter the noise even when it’s within our own bookmarks. I know we’re not the only ones that bookmarked something with the plan of going back sometime and then slowly forget what we’ve bookmarked or how we tagged it. Sooner or later the bookmark collection becomes a graveyard of links and a new system gets adopted. So we’re looking for a way to efficiently find what you’re looking for while providing the juxtaposition of other potential items of interest so the Sunday paper experience can continue in this digital age.

What do you use for discovery? Bookmarking, tags, existing services?

Could Netflix be looking for a suitor?

Read a great article by Larry Dignan suggesting Netflix’s recent divide and concur approach may be fueled by a different vision then what’s been suggested by Reed and their multiple announcements.

“Netflix CEO Reed Hastings may have a trick up his sleeve as he separates the streaming and DVD-by-mail businesses: a sale to Amazon.” – Larry Dignan

So…could Netflix be splitting their business so they’d be more attractive to acquisition?

If so it’s a brilliant move, the space is full of competitors and as the competition is growing so are the size of wallets ready to compete with Netflix offerings. There’s talk of a bidding war for Hulu with Google being the heavy hitter there. Currently, despite Netflix’s reputation they are a small fish among their competitors (Google, Amazon, cable companies, and content owners)…so maybe a merger is their best way to survive the coming consolidation.

 

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Netflix split to set up Amazon streaming merger?

Response to “Why Facebook is the New Yahoo”

Mike Elgan wrote a nice controversial article called Why Facebook is the New Yahoo where he states:

“Sure, Facebook looks massively successful. With a mind-boggling 750 million users, the social site can do no wrong, right?

Wrong.

Look closer, and it looks like Facebook can do nothing right. The company has tried and failed to launch or integrate new services that might thrill users. But users aren’t thrilled. And now its strategy appears to be: Just copy Google+.

Don’t look now, but Facebook is quickly becoming the new Yahoo.”

Well written and catchy but if we all took a time machine back to when Google was announcing that they were killing Google Wave or when they launched Buzz the comments from the tech press focused on how Google lost it’s edge, or was confused as to where it wanted to go or simply Google doesn’t understand social.

Now that Google+ is public (beta) and making waves it seems that Google either learned from their mistakes, gained a sense of vision, everyone forgot all the shit talking that took place last year, or some combination of the three. So now it’s Facebook’s turn to feel the wrath of the tech fueled fads that are nearly as cliquish as what we see in high schools across the country. Let’s face it the popular kid can’t remain popular forever and right now Facebook is feeling the heat regardless of Google+.

With that in mind Mike Elgan makes some solid points regarding Facebook’s recent history. Their fumbled attempts to catch on to the latest trends. Their popularity shift from the wanted élite to being everything to everybody. Their struggle with the weight of their own existence. All of it dead on. Including the remarks regarding Yahoo’s struggle to find its place in the new world order. Still I wouldn’t count Facebook out of the race just yet. Google and Apple are two good examples of companies that were down but clearly not out.

RE: Why Facebook is the New Yahoo

490,00 PlayBook owners can’t be wrong

Mashable reported that RIM Has Sold Just 490,000 PlayBooks in the device’s first quarter compared to 9.25 million iPads sold over the same period. It’s a shame because as a UX designer I love the PlayBook, still a lack apps is a user experience that will trump the user interface every time. Which is why I have an iPad not a PlayBook myself. This is the same problem Microsoft is having with WP7. Both platforms made great strides in out doing Apple but not enough to lure people from the real draw of iOS…the apps. Ironically despite all the press about Apple’s great designs it’s the millions of apps not built by Apple that people really want.

All this reminds me of the QWERTY keyboard. When it came out it was well designed (to not jam up your typewriter), it became the de facto standard and when designs that improved typing speed were released they gained no traction despite the better design. QWERTY already won the numbers game. It had the critical mass required to steam roll over better designs and with each success competing with it became that much harder.

For that reason alone I hope these sales numbers doesn’t have RIM running for the hill to drop the PlayBook like HP did a few weeks ago. If they do, at least Android or iOS 6 can incorporate some of the better features into their platforms as imitation is the greatest form of flattery and an industry standard.

 

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RIM Has Sold Just 490,000 PlayBooks

 

Google Adds Multi-Channel Funnels

Last week Google announced analytical support for multi-channel funnels. This means that you can now see the how users actually get to your product beyond the last click.

It’s long been known in the advertising industry that it takes more than a single exposure to an ad for it to be effective. The same is true online but until now there wasn’t a good place to see how a user came to click on your ad, just that they did. As such all the credit for a successful banner went to the one that led directly to the conversion.

Back when I was designing ads for clients it was hard to back them away from a direct response mentality because direct response was the only way they could prove a campaign was successful. So ads explaining the product or why product X was better, were tossed aside for their “buy now” counterparts.

Gladly, I no longer work on banners but the need to know how and why users are doing what they do is just as important to a website/app as it is for a banner. Data on user activity is essential and data like this is priceless for both sides of the ad industry (merchants and content distributors. If you’re making, designing, or selling ads online this is worth looking into.

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Google’s blog post: Introducing Multi-Channel Funnels: discover untapped opportunities in your conversion path

Want to discover more music on Spotify?


If so, you’ll want to check out Spotibot.com, which uses the data of Last.fm to generate a playlist for you. Or tap into you own Last.fm account for more. After giving this a few tries I’m pretty impressed. This will definitely get me to use Spotify more.

Scams, Chain Letters and Other Pests

Every few months I get an email forward (of a forward) from family members warning me about this, that or the other thing. At times it’s just to me other times I’m CC’ed along with their entire address book. On the plus side these occurrences are happening less and less, though I hope that’s because they’re getting wise to the mass of scams out there. Non-the-less, they still happen and it makes me wonder how big of an issue this really is outside of my bubble of tech savvy friends.

Though those of you reading this are more than likely more tech savvy than world at large I’m sure you have family and friends sending you similar stuff. How do you explain to them they can Google the claims or usually even the email’s subject line to find out this scam has run for years? How often are you pointing them to Snopes or other debunking sites so it’s not your word versus the hype of a well crafted scam?

I know it’s a game of cat and mouse, once you educate the masses to verify sender & reply to email address, URL names and other tell-tale signs the scam artists add a little twist re-ensnaring the less informed. For example, the one featured above struck me as well crafted to skirt past the slightly informed as it has “bankofamerica.com” in the URL, but rather than being followed up with a “/” it’s just part of a long list of sub-domains. (I’ve removed a few characters for when some smart-ass wants to follow the link and mark the receiver’s email as valid and the receiver as gullible to scams).

If it sounds too good to be true or sounds like something that should have been on the nightly news but hasn’t it’s probably a scam. This is no different when online as it would be face-to-face though some seem to forget their sense of “street smarts” once they’re online. As a User Experience Designer I wonder what causes this difference of reaction between online and the physical world. Is it the feeling of being overwhelmed by technology? That it must be true as so many others are sharing it as truth? Any thoughts?

Ok, now send this to 5+ friends in the next 24-hours to save a young Nigerian prince in need of a new career.

First Look at Adobe Edge


On Monday, Adobe opened up their beta trial of Adobe Edge, their latest tool for creating animations for the web. Being that they are getting hammered on all sides about Flash, instead Edge uses HTML5/CSS/JavaScript as it animation engine. HTML based animation has gotten dramatically better, my test animation ran surprisingly well across browsers and mobile devices. Whether this is Adobe’s little white flag on the end of Flash is yet to be seen but for now we options.

At first glance Edge seems closer in structure to After Effects then to Flash which could be a nod to where Adobe is heading or a way to separate the apps, again we’ll have to wait and see. The application is laid out in four sections: Properties, Timeline, Elements, and the editor window, which is Webkit based. The basic premise application is the simple, add items to a stage and then animate them via keyframes along a timeline. There are no interactions or ability to add scripts with this version of the application. Nor can you create new objects/shapes outside of rectangles, so all your assets will need to be created externally.

The timeline offers auto-keyframing and each attribute can be animated separately. Edge supports the standard set of easing which can be applied individually or to a group via multi-select. Each object/layer is a different color and their attribute list can be contracted/expanded to maximize work space. Attribute values are displayed both in the properties panel and inline within the timeline. Similar to After Effects, you can filter the timeline by typing within the timeline’s search field. Another nice AE style feature is the ability to scale the timeline and manipulate your existing keyframes in bulk.

Since the main editor is Webkit based text is true HTML text as are the CSS styles connected to it. Adobe’s handling of object positioning within the stage has a few quirks. The biggest being an object’s Zero Point being based on where it was initially introduced to the stage and not to top-left or other standard. This make is difficult to quickly create animations or layouts based on numerical coordinates from either external applications (Fireworks) or from object-to-object. For now you’ll need a PNG/JPG to create your gradients. I’m not sure if this is due to the complicated CSS to support gradients between browsers or just something missing from this release. There’s also a few glitches revolving around scaling images but text and divs work as expected.

Code wise, Adobe hides most of the magic in pre-minimized JavaScript files with the external CSS file only defining the initial elements. As long as you keep the stage and associate includes untouched you can edit the rest of the page at will. Which will only help Adobe gain support of this among larger web shops. Despite this flexibility HTML based animations still lack the self-contained nature of Flash’s SWF, which means to view my sample animation you’ll need to click to a page outside of WordPress’s CMS.

Overall, I think this is a great example of where I think web content creation apps need to go. Live HTML in the editor means there is no guessing on how things will look when it hits a browser. I hope they follow this thinking with the next version of Fireworks allowing less web savvy designers to get a better feel for what how their designs will really look outside the false perfection of the current design tools present.

Though Edge is only in its first beta release it’s pretty solid app and could easily be used to create complex animations for websites, banners and other strongholds of Flash. You can view the my test animation I created for this review. Future versions promise support for increased support SVG and the Canvas tag which will only make this more powerful tool for web animators. Will HTML5 really be the death of Flash? If so, Edge is a smart bet for Adobe to keep relevant in this new world.

All is Not Lost – OK Go’s Viral Tribute to Japan

Once again OK Go has created a great viral video experience. This time they’ve teamed up with Google Japan, director Trish Sie and Pilobolus (a modern dance troupe) to create All Is Not Lost a tribute/message to post tsunami Japan.

The entire video is shot from below making for some interesting visuals all on it’s own, but add the multi-window tiling of video and you get a crazy kaleidoscope effect. If that wasn’t enough there is the viral/personalization feature where you type a message and OK Go and Pilobolus will write it out with their bodies. Simple concept, great execution.

Technically speaking, the use of HTML for syncing multiple videos is still pretty impressive. Be forewarned that this may be taxing on older computers as I know last year’s video/experience for The Arcade Fire’s The Wilderness Downtown gave my laptop a bit of a work out. For more about how they made the video check out Google’s blog. Regardless of the technology used the most impressive thing is how this all came about as a tribute to a post tsunami Japan.

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Links:
All Is Not Lost (video)
OK Go
Pilobolus
Google’s blog
The Arcade Fire’s The Wilderness Downtown

Quick Take on Spotify

Last week Spotify launched in the United States, though It’s been available abroad for years. If that wasn’t enough buzz, invites were hard to come by so congrats if you were lucky enough to get an invite, find a loophole or paid your way in. For those that haven’t had a chance to check it out here’s a quick rundown of the service.

Spotify is a subscription/free streaming music service boasting over 15 million songs in its catalog and offline listening (subscription only). According to Spotify’s promos “Spotify is any song, any album, any time”. I tested out a few of the more obscure bands from my college years and it found most of them that had more than one major label release. Song wise there were more gaps but overall pretty impressive. Their catalog also loaded with new releases, not just forgotten tracks from yesteryear.

The Spotify application is pretty simple and it layout is reminiscent of iTunes and other music apps. Rather then having the play controls front and center, they’re located across the bottom of the app, similar to Grooveshark, which took some getting used to. The search box is located at the top left, hinting that it’s a primary tool for getting around Spotify’s offerings. When using search it returns a list of potential artist, albums and in the main window all the songs that are a potential match. This allows you to go from search to playing pretty quickly.

Despite the top placement of Search the UI seems focused on playlists. To help you get jump started you can import you music and playlists from iTunes. Though beyond the jump-start I don’t see much value with this feature unless you pony up for the premium subscription giving you at-will offline access to your music on your phone. Additionally, located above the playlists is a “What’s new” and “inbox” where you’d find the latest pop hits and music friends shared with you (respectively). Overall it’s a solid service with a large catalog of music that is worth checking out but it does have some issues.

I know Spotify isn’t alone in their pricing model treating mobile as a premium feature. Regardless it still tops my list of issues. Though the app on both Android and iOS are nicely designed they do little more than offer access to music you already have on the device. Streaming and offline access to Spotify’s music are $5 and $10 a month. On the plus side it does offer the ability to sync via WiFi. Who knows this could change as popularity of free services similar to Amazon’s Cloud Player and Google Music gain more traction.

Another issue is how focused the app is on playlists and albums. Honestly I don’t always have time to create playlists and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. They need to add a “genius” feature, basic stations or any sort of lazy mode if only to showcase the vastness of their catalog. Currently, despite having 15 million songs if I can’t think of it, I don’t know they have it or I’m stuck listening to albums which isn’t always what I’m looking for. If you love Pandora’s ability to create an instant playlist based on a single song/artist I’d say stick with Pandora for now.

My last big issue with Spotify is their advertisements. I know they have bills to pay so I’m not complaining that there are adverts in general but they are either three in a row, feature samples from songs I have zero interest in or worse yet fail completely and not time out forcing me to restart the app to continue to the next song. Their ads also bounce around the user interface, great for advertisers, horrible for the user. With advertising it’s all a game of balance and it wouldn’t take much to fix that balance.

There are a few things smaller things they could fix and be easy wins for the service. An iPad version of the app would be welcomed a welcomed addition, especially since the service is so playlist focused the added screen real-estate would be a blessing. The share feature is a nice addition but the method to do so is a bit retro and more obscured than it needs to be.

Though the big issues aren’t enough for me to stop using the service immediately they also don’t drive me to becoming a paid subscriber. The ironic reality is even though two out of three of my issues would be alleviated by subscribing their existence keeps me from wanting to subscribe. I’ve been in the industry long enough to know I’m not alone in this either. Overall, Spotify isn’t dramatically different than other services available (Rdio, Napster, Rhapsody, Grooveshark or even Amazon and
Google’s new music offerings), it does work well and has a huge catalog. Will that be enough for Spotify to convert people into subscribers?

Pros:

  • Huge catalog (15+ million songs)
  • Connection with social networks
  • Quality search results
  • Off-line access (paid)

Cons:

  • No streaming to mobile without subscription
  • Off-line access additional
  • Playlist/album/search focused
  • Obnoxious commercials
  • No error detection

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Ways to get a Spotify invite:
Don’t Have A Free Spotify Invite? Use Your Klout Perks
Get a quick and easy invitation to Spotify
Spotify Invite Fever Strikes: How to Get In Now

Links:
Spotify
Rdio
Napster
Rhapsody
Grooveshark
Amazon Cloud Player
Google Music