SIME Stockholm day 1

A week ago I was contacted by Bloggbyrån to be a theme blogger for SIME, Sweden's largest web/tech conference. I would write about how the conference talked about and around gamification. I've been talking gamification since I started studying game design, long before it became a buzzword, so how could I refuse? My first day here and I'm amazed Normally the Swedish conferences are timid and partly boring events as the swedes are quite reserved and the production values are quite low. Not so at SIME. The production values are through the roof and people are talking fast to get around the room. None of them make it.

The topics are wide but the theme is central The speakers here at SIME are varied and well drilled, no slow moments for the audience. From representatives of the BBC to new web startups to multinational investors playing the piano somehow it all ties in neatly with our moderator Ola Ahlvarsson's set theme: "Passion Wins!".

My head is buzzing Not from the champagne but from the pace. The comedian wrapping up spotted my tweet and made me a bit and none of us can move more than 3 feet without talking to someone. This is not the usual environment for a Swede and for anyone interested in entrepreneurship it's amazing.

Tomorrow is another day Of SIME and with the schedule ahead of me it seems to be even more packed than today. Right now this rundown is the best I can do. Now I'm off to the bar to find out if there is more champagne and anyone interested in discussing gamification.

One more thing I was apparently the most active twitterer today, even after the comedian made fun of me, and my tweets were picked up by a Swedish newspaper and retweeted widely. Dagens media - de leder SIME twittrandet

The awesome new Google Mobile site - Google Mobile goes Local

When I roam around a city (which rarely happens I promise think) I often find myself wishing there was a good way to search for local services (coffee shops, bars, restaurants). This unicorn has never appeared though. Local seemed to be impossible with current tech.

Then I was on the subway this morning. And a tweet lead me to Google Mobile, below the search bar I found something odd...

Google Mobile Start page

It said log in. And it asked for my location (sorry about the Swedish btw, I'm in Sweden so Google assumes I prefer the deprecated language over English).

Now I've used Google Places before and I was not impressed. There simply isn't enough aggregated data in Stockholm for it to work. Well that's what I thought.

I logged in and pressed the icon marked "Cafe's". Lo and behold! Google quickly returned Coffee shops close to my location, on a map even!

Google Mobile Local Results

Now this is impressive. But what is a lot more impressive is what happened next. I scroll down the list and instead of just finding aggregated information, which I come to expect from Google, I'm shown an impressive interface of detailed information and functions for each location.

Google Mobile Location results list 1Google Mobile Location results list 2

Not only can I call the location directly from the app, I can also find reviews directly. But this is the most impressive part: the item on top of the list is shown on the map (which stays at the top as you scroll) and an overlay button appears letting me find Directions to the location...

This post is quite probably the worst I've ever written, and that is because I'm completely blown away by the UX of this SERP.

Google has really understood what I want out of a local search and given me the tools I need to use the information they present me with. A level of user experience I've never seen from Google and would only expect from the very best Apple products.

Google, I salute you. Keep this up!

 

What is HTML5? A short explanation

Everyone seems to know everything about HTML5. But there is just so much information out there I thought I'd make a shorthand for everyone not already up to speed. HTML5 is a common term for the upgrade of all the basic web technologies. That tech that let's you build web sites (HTML, CSS and JS to be exact).

HTML5 logo

HTML5 can be used live today, but it won't become really wide spread until Internet Explorer 9 takes over the leading browser marketshare from IE 8. All modern browsers, including IE 9, handle almost everything that makes HTML5 so cool.

HTML5 was created to take the internet to the next level. Basically from Information sites to Functional Services more like apps. Basically people don't just want information these days but they want simple functions that give them access to the rightinformation. This is what apps do; give users the function and the bite sized chunk of information needed to use that function. In the same easy to use interface.

There is a huge difference between this paradigm and the earlier paradigm of the web. The change won't be very fast but it will come. The reason is that Mobile Web use is on the rise and the old paradigm of information heavy sites is simply really bad for that use. Already HTML5 is the norm for Mobile Devices, PCs are actually lagging behind.

I've listed some of my favorite examples of HTML5 apps below, please be aware that you'll need Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or at least IE 9 to use them:

http://www.html5rocks.com/

http://www.chromeexperiments.com/

http://www.apple.com/html5/

http://mugtug.com/sketchpad/

http://www.web3mantra.com/2011/04/20/best-html5-applications/

http://data-arts.appspot.com/globe-search

 

Google+ review: Why Google+ will fail

Google+ is the new social network launched by Google. Despite having a track record of broken dreams and train wrecks in the social space, Google has actually managed to put together a quite compelling product. A lot of the tech industry is claiming it really is a Facebook killer.

Here's why it's not

Google+ is basically a clone of Facebook. So much of the service is nearly identical that it would be silly to claim otherwise. Now this might be because Google is lazy, or it might be that Facebook has found a good way to view social information. I'm more inclined to the latter.

But similarity won't get new users, they'll understand Google+ easier (an important argument) but they won't stay for that. So what stands out?

Circles, Sparks, Huddles and Hangouts

Circles are central to the Google+ experience. To share or follow anyone you have to assign them to a circle or group. The idea is that if all your friends are in groups from the start, having more control of what you share to whom is a lot simpler.

Google Plus Circles

That's a great idea. Sadly it's really annoying and adds work for the users. Every time you post something you have to choose which circles to share with. The ones you shared with last are offered as a default. I'll bet that most people will add most if not all their circles and then never change. The reason for this is that we don't share if sharing is to much work. That's why social networking took off in the first place, they made it easier to share stuff we liked. Google+ is making it harder than on Facebook. Not a compelling argument for most people.

Sparks

Sparks are topics of interest that you can follow and get all the new information on right inside Google+. This is a great idea. Having content in the social network, ready to be shared.

Google+ Sparks

There is a problem. It's basically just a Google search. So there's very little filtration of content and hardly ever anything new. Google+ is still a beta so this could evolve to a killer feature. But for Google to invent a new type of search just for content in Google+... I don't think that'll happen.

Huddles

Huddles are group messaging. Yeah. Another one... And for some reason it only works on mobile devices, they don't show up in the web interface. So basically a bit less useable than Facebook chat.

Google+ Huddle

Hangout

Hangouts are amazing. Hangouts are video chatroom that you can start at any time and than jump in and out of and just talk to people. Amazing tech.

Google+ Hangout

But a stupid idea. Why? I don't understand why companies keep dragging the video-calling, video-chatting ideas out every time they get more tech. The trend in general is moving from voice to text because it is less intrusive.

Intrusive is basically the definition of having friends looking at you while you work.

"But chat roulette was a hit!?"  I hear you desperately cry. Yes it was. Because it's for fun it was quick to just spend a half hour jumping in and out of conversations or charades with dicks random people. But do you want to do that with just your friends? Probably not.

It is however an even simpler way to have video conferencing, which inside Google must seem like the thing everyone wants to do. I've never met someone who would like that. But I'm sure those people will be thrilled. I'll use it to have drinking nights with my buddies in the UK no doubt.

Summing up

So far Google+ looks like a great, clean, new social network. With absolutely nothing to make it more useable than Facebook.

The only reason people loves this product is because it says Google right there on the logo.

But we should give it the benefit of a doubt, it's still just a beta, it might be missing features or showing us features that are far from finished.

Don't get me wrong, I'll still be on it. It's just that I don't use it at all.

The future of the Internet: The Internet of Things

It's easy to make thousands of predictions about what will happen with the internet over the next few years. But some predictions can be made with a degree of certainty. None are so certain as the arrival of the Internet of things.

In the 90's tech evangelists started selling us this idea when they touted the imminent arrival of fridges that know when you're out of milk and automatically add it to your grocery list. This was just before the bubble burst and they all went away to eventually become social media strategists.

Today though the tables have turned. We might be entering a second internet bubble but no one debates whether the internet is important or financially sound anymore. With the recent arrival of mobile devices that people really want to use, the iPhone and iPad still forerunners in the field, we're seeing the beginnings of the internet of things.

Things that just a few years ago only made calls now measure how many steps we take, what route we walk and how close to the screen we are. Sensors are invading our lives at an ever increasing pace to fill our information hunger. So far this is happening to our high tech gear. But since tech is still improving exponentially, according to Moore's law, in just a few years there will be no point in having electronics that don't have processors, sensors and wifi connections. With budding technologies waiting to take over such as IPv6 and NFC all these devices will be able to come online and stay online for basically no cost.

And that is just the start. When every lamp, machine and key in your house has sensors the prices will drop even further. Making sensors even more ubiquitous. There's a tag on the apples you buy, why not add a sensor and check how ripe it is? There's a stamp on that envelope, the sensors on it can make sure it hasn't been shaken about to much.

Of course there will be issues with who controls all this data and not least what to do with it. But like all new technology the positive effects outweigh the negative as soon as we get over the fart-app stage.

The possibilities of this vast network of smart sensors are endless.

Left the door unlocked? Lock it from your phone. Did your son eat the last of the cheese? You will always know. The lamps will turn off when you step away from them to save electricity and you'll never forget your keys again. Ever.

But all these are only just from the tip of the iceberg, the real magic happens when these everyday objects start communicating with each other. We're not talking about intelligent conversation here, just mere cooperation between systems. No risk of sentient toasters attacking us just yet.

Let's say you're at work planning a dinner with your spouse. You agree on a certain meal over the phone, video call, messaging service or whatever. Immediately your things at home spring into action. Your house butler service, a server the size of a doorbell, sees your conversation and finds the recipe. The fridge checks what you have at home and orders the missing ingredients. The ingredients arrive and your cleaning robot, vacuum and arm for moving things, lays out the ingredients on your kitchen counter. The oven heats itself. As you open the door the butler starts playing the appropriate music based on your preferences and earlier conversation. The bottle of wine is open. You only need to wash your hands and cut those cheeseburgers in half.

Every single one of these services exist today. Some are expensive. Some still a bit rudimentary. But the essential differences today is that they lack information from sensors and the processing power to do something with it. And they can't communicate without you acting as a translator.

The internet of things is almost upon us, and while we can't say exactly what it will be like. Two things are certain: it will truly change everything forever, much like the internet already has. And it will be awesome!

Orginially guest blogged for www.saraohman.com

Twitter is censuring Wikileaks

With the storm of debate sparked by Wikileaks Twitter has been forced to publicly speak out defending Trending Topics. This Thursday Twitter spokeswoman Carolyn Penner claimed that "Twitter favors novelty over popularity,". The trending topics are set algorithmically and aren't affected by human intervention.

There is however a huge flaw in this statement. We can clearly measure, using Google RealTime search, that the discussion about Wikileaks has increased in with the same frequency as Apple events usually do.  And Apple events DO show up in Trending Topics...

So the question remains, why is Twitter censuring Wikileaks?

Twitter censorship

UX Perception is key

As in all things the truth is very rarely important. The perception something is much more important. In UX design this boils down to what the user feels and thinks about what they are using.

(Talking about the Gamecube controller) the greatest videogame controller ever designed, mainly because it had a really big button on it. - the RexBox blog

Simplicity was created, not by actually removing buttons, but by showing the user a primary button. Subsequently most design focused on that big green button. How we perceive an object, function or service is a lot more important than how that object, function or service actually works. Most companies get this wrong again and again.

Why native apps wont go away

With the release of the iPhone even Apple itself claimed that Apps we're not important because the web would take over. Since then I hear this same argument regurgitated from time to time. Web apps are the future. Native apps will never be flexible enough. Well, this argument is correct. But most of the people using it are really wrong and they don't always understand the argument itself.

Web applications will, for the foreseeable future, be the most cutting edge and flexible way to develop functionality. They will surpass anything native clients do very soon. This is because cloud computing will make computing a lot more flexible and less reliant on hardware.

But these web apps will only be functionality. User interfaces in the web will lag behind tremendously. With HTML 5 and faster browsers UI's will become more responsive and more complex. But user interfaces online, just like native app user interfaces, must be disconnected from the functions themselves so that errors or problems do not interfere with the users experience of the application. In other words, if your Internet connection times out the user interface can't just stop. That would be similar to a Windows 95 blue screen and user would never be able to rely on the applications.

The solution, which is commonly used today, is to separate the user interface from the functions and simply run them asynchronously with user interfaces providing feedback while waiting for the servers to respond. No matter the issue with functions the user interface can keep users in the loop and provide them with the feeling of control.

Why is this different from native apps? It's not. Native apps on devices such as the iPhone are quite often just interfaces for online services. And as such they are not different from online user interfaces. This is why native apps will not go away. native interfaces will continue to be much more responsive for years to come, providing the user the sense of control we all want from our apps.

The desktop metaphor is being replaced

"The desktop metaphor was invented because ... you had to manage your own storage" - Steve Jobs, 1996

He was right.

The desktop metaphor was great because you had all your files and needed to be able to navigate and store them. Today with standards for different types of data this metaphor is becoming obsolete. Most things can and are stored on the web.

Stored in accounts, used and read by apps that handle those file types.

How much more intuitive will general computing be when people no longer need to handle the management and storage of files?

Official Twitter client for OS X

Some time ago the amazing developer(s?) at Atebits launched Tweetie. It quickly became the defacto standard of quality for twitter apps, both on the iPhone and on desktop OS X. Since then Atebits have been purchased by Twitter and Tweetie2 for iPhone has been rebranded and rereleased as the official Twitter app for iPhone.

Well that's great. But before that happened I was waiting for the OS X update for Tweetie that Atebits had been working on for some time. Twitter might be more interested in the mobile market but I hate to see good design wasted, and I really want to keep using Tweetie on my mac. So please Twitter, release the official Twitter client for OS X, the app formerly known as Tweetie2 for mac.

Why I tweet

Tired of telling people why you are active on Twitter? So am I. So we've started a little project, me @heidi and @dcarlbom is aggregating tweets about why we tweet and will be using them to make the definitive explanation to why Twitter is so great. Help us out! Just add #whyItweet to your tweet and explain why you tweet. We'll be posting more about the project and following up on the results.

Terms for Interaction Design

To work effectively with other people we need terms that define abstract things so we don't get stuck on them, such as Grok and User Interface. Let's define two more: Object and Model.

Any interaction consists of a one or more systems of thought. In cognitive psychology such systems (or representational models of the real world) are called cognitive models.

When we interact with something we use a lot of these models. But the term isn't fleshed out enough for daily use in interaction design.

An Interaction Object is the entire interaction process with a thing or a process. Using a pair of scissors (holding them correctly, using them to cut and understanding in what way they cut) consists of many cognitive models but only one Interaction Object. But every process or new function is a new object. A Swiss army knife has as many objects as it has tools.

A Interaction Model is one set of possible interaction methods. Much like the cognitive model a Interaction Model consists of only a single thought process about something. A pair of scissors can be held by the handles, one model. A pair of scissors has cutting surfaces that are sharp, another model. Etc etc.

Using these terms we can discuss interaction design for abstract products such as games and web apps with much greater efficiency.

Example 1: A menu on a web page is an Interaction Object. And if it has more than one or two Interaction Models you're making it to complicated.

Example 2: A game avatar has several Interaction Objects. To be able to understand them they must have very few Interaction Models.

Example 3: Facebook has a lot of Interaction Objects, but most Objects only has a single Interaction Model. Does this make Facebook easy to use or harder to Grok?

Can you use these terms or are they still to complicated or undefined? Let me know what you think.

What is a user interface?

A lot of people I talk to are confused about design. Not least when they hear about abstract design such as web design, UX design, game design etc. I can't blame them. As designers we really tag ourselves with the word most appropriate for the task at hand. Even though our main work is always to solve problems by design. But let's make things easier For most designers working with abstract design the term user interface is crucial. But exactly what is a UI? Sure, it's the thing the user interacts with. But where does it start and where does it end?

User Interface Interface is a proxy layer between a human being and a function.

But what does that mean? For a pair of scissors, the scissors themselves are the user interface between a human hand and the function of cutting.

A computer has two layers of user interfaces between the human and most functions. The keyboard/mouse or physical UI, and the graphical or text based abstract UI.

But what if the user interface is a part of the function? The iPhone for instance doesn't really have a physical UI. There is nothing physical to interact with (excepting the home button, volume and mute controls but lets not digress from the example). But it does have a graphical abstract UI.

Why is this definition important? Because now we can all say user interface and know what we're referring to. No more wordplay to guess what the other person is talking about.

UI is important, learn to know what good or bad

UI is the second most important part of any application or service.The service or function is more important, but it's not important at all if users can't use it.

How to know whats good or bad? Thankfully, our old friend Cognitive Psychology provides us with the key. Just record a user using your UI (or use it yourself and make notes).

  • Every time they try to do something that requires testing or a moments thought counts as negative.
  • Every time they do something that doesn't require thought and was intended counts as a positive.

Every negative counts twice, that's how humans perceive negative impact.

The higher the score, the better it is.

Of course, this is only generally true, performing 200 actions to change a song on your MP3 player is not a good UI. Even if every step was intuitive.

The iPad - short and simple

The most over hyped machine ever has been unveiled and a torrent of fanboyism and hatred has echoed over the blogosphere. So now should be a good time to talk about what the iPad really is.

It's just a larger iPod touch!

Yes. Yes that's exactly what it is. Well ok not exactly, it's a lot faster. But basically just a large iPhone without the phone. Not sure why people are complaining about this though since I've heard tens or possibly hundreds say they wanted a larger iPhone when it was first launched.

Why isn't it wide screen? Because it's a doubled iPod touch screen, this way apps will work with very little fuss and developers don't have put too much effort into designing specific apps for the iPad and iPhone.

So, will it be awesome? Probably yes, your iPhone is pretty awesome right? Imagine not having to squint at the screen to surf and you're there already. Also we know Apple will release a software update for the device before launch. It probably won't mean too much but we're likely to see at least one more feature that we'll like. Just because Apple likes to push positive.

So it will sell a billions units? Apples track record says yes. But they have failed before. and all tablets so far have died a gruesome death. Mind you, smart phones weren't exactly a super hot market before the iPhone launched. They certainly didn't cause the amount of hype and development that Apple created in the marketplace.

That's it. The iPad. We haven't seen all it can do, but this is what it is. A larger iPhone, just like millions of users have been clamoring for.

Just because it doesn't cure cancer and live up to the pre unveiling hype doesn't mean it won't be awesome. It's to early to tell if the iPad will be a hit or a miss. But regardless it will push general computing further towards touch UI. Which is really the innovation Apple is bringing to the table. Not a new UI. But a new use for their most successful one.

User Experience Design terms - Resistance

All fields of technology and design needs terms to define complex meaning regarding their subject. This is my attempt to create a few such terms for user experience design. Please help out through the comments or DM me on twitter! Resistance refers to the resistance of experiencing the design. This can encompass the macro experience of, for example, music:

  • Find a song you like (resistance)
  • Purchase the song (resistance)
  • Listen to the song

But resistance can also mean the micro experience of the music:

  • BPM might not match the listeners mood (resistance)
  • Singers voice might hit strange notes (ever listened to death metal or opera and hated it despite a catchy tune? resistance)

So resistance can build both from the users cognitive or psychological experience of the product as well as the practical obstacles the user has in order to experience the intended design.

Since all negative values are experienced as twice as important compared to a positive value, resistance is important to reduce.

Reducing resistance as much as possible is in fact the process of making something accessible but the term is a lot more exact. Defining what we're really intending to do.

Reduce resistance of user experience, make the user experience flow in using your experience!

Law of Design - redefined for today

The most basic law of design, for the 20th century at least, has been form follows function. The idea that objects should be created based on the action they are used for. With the digital world today, the law is a bit broken. But I claim that the law still works, with just a slight tweak. I just saw Objectified, the fantastic documentary about industrial design. One of the designers calims that the original law of design form follows function doesn't apply anymore because design today has become more and more digital, more abstract. With objects like the iPhone, with all its functions, form cannot represent what it does. It is too complex.

But the law is still sound. If we abstract the purpose of the law a bit, it means that any product should really become its function, a pair of scissors is really nothing but the function for cutting. For two reasons this is a good thing: An object that objectifies its function is effective. An object that objectifies its function is simple to understand for the user. Scissors are rarely used inefficiently or misunderstood but it's users.

When we go digital, we remove the analogue function of the object. It can no longer have a shape based on that function because the function does not exist in the real world. Now, a certain element of the object will always be part of the real world, the interaction with the object.

And this is where the law comes into play again. If we think about the function of and object, not as a physical movement or action, but as an interface for a human being to perform a function, the interaction itself becomes the function of the object.

Some may argue that the abstract function of the object, e.g. gaming or texting on an iPhone, is the main function of an object. But that function also has an abstract layer of interface, the GUI, for that action. This is form and function for an abstract object or function.

So deconstructed, the law of design transformed for today world would read: Form follows interaction.

The Aggregated web

What is the next step for web? Where will we be in 3 to 5 years time? What will the new web look like? Let me share a theory with you. The semantic web is often talked about as the next big shift online. Information marked in smarter ways so things will be infinitely easier to search for. Will the next step for web be the semantic web? Probably not since there is no real technical platform for this. Nothing that has been widely accepted by developers at least. And in web that is really what matters.

No instead we're already seeing the next step in web but only through the corner of our eye.

The next step in web will be the Aggregated web. Yes, that simple. While we are seeing more and more sites that aggregate feeds about the site or news about the common topic on the site these are really only precursors for the aggregated web. As mobile devices improve and more and more services offer APIs we'll see a shift from surfing the web to using services and information in real-time in the real world. A huge leap in integration between the real world and the web. In fact, we're already seeing this trend with the iPhone and stream of Android phones on the market.

Information is simple to find through search today. As more and more services offer open APIs to support different interfaces and devices we'll see a trend for information to become less tied to design also. Eventually most services and information on the web will be data streams with replaceable layers of interfaces.

So finding information about a topic on your cellphone, tv or laptop will be equally simple and fast. But the visual display of that information will probably differ, both in complexity and according to the users taste.

This will eventually spawn the trend for interesting interfaces aggregating the information you're looking for, real-time or otherwise, wherever you are. This is why I think the next step for web is the Aggregated web. Services are already popping up in a wide variety of styles and devices, just look at Twitter. When enough interesting services, and enough interesting information, has migrated to this sort of technology the interfaces on the web today will just not matter.

To finish with a situated example; your pen might feed information regarding grammar as you write while your fridge might aggregate special offers from stores near you. Sound like a poor 1950's vision of the future? Wait, I just got an offer from my local store via Twitter on my iPhone. All these devices really need is upgrade to Android and these examples can be used today.

Welcome to the aggregated web, you heard it here first. ;)