Massimo Vignelli on focus groups

It is one thing to believe something, and an entirely different animal to put that belief into an articulate argument for that belief. This quote by Vignelli explains the true issues of trusting focus groups and market testing.

"I don’t believe in market research. I don’t believe in marketing the way it’s done in America. The American way of marketing is to answer to the wants of the customer instead of answering to the needs of the customer. The purpose of marketing should be to find needs — not to find wants.

People do not know what they want. They barely know what they need, but they definitely do not know what they want. They’re conditioned by the limited imagination of what is possible. … Most of the time, focus groups are built on the pressure of ignorance." via BrainPickings

Whenever someone asks me to do a focus group, I usually begin with asking that person what they want the focus group to answer. It is usually quite easy to guess the normal responses. Especially if the product or service is entirely new.

It's not that the focus group isn't observant or brilliant, they quite often are. The problem stems from them not having enough time with the product or service to really give us the important information. And sadly we can't observe a tester for weeks.

Don't confused with testing for quality assurance purposes, I've never seen a project without a few rough corners left, and that sort of testing is essential.

The continuing decline of Twitter

As I've written about before I love Twitter, the service, but I'm not very impressed by Twitter the company. Twitter wants to change that, Twitters claims they have changed. This time things will be different. The problem is that Twitter seems to have become even less likeable. A few days ago Twitter launched Digits, a service completely unrelated to their core product. Possibly because they don't like the whole micro-blogging thing. Digits is a service to help people log in without emails or passwords (in detail over on the Verge).

The interesting part, to me, is how Twitter deals with developers.

Twitter now wants to reach out to developers, to tell us they've changed, by inviting us to a conference about what sounds like dev tools:

As a peace offering, Twitter on Wednesday is expected to announce a suite of tools that aim to make it easier for programmers to build apps, according to people familiar with the matter. - WSJ

But Twitter already burned developers severely a few years ago by closing down APIs. They burned developers so much that Marco Arment just wrote a scathing blog post arguing that we can't trust them. And I think he's right.

Responding to Marcos comments a Kevin Weil ("vice president of product for revenue") tells the Verge:

He (Weil) named a few companies that have made millions of dollars developing on Twitter’s platform, including TweetDeck, Hootsuite, and the social-media monitoring company Radian6, which sold to Salesforce for $340 million. The changes in 2012 were intended only to ensure Twitter had control over its core service, he says. "Our API was so open that we allowed people to compete with us, and so there were changes we had to make."

Wait. What is Weil saying here? That Twitter as a platform should only be available to companies who don't make money? Or just the companies Twitter would like to make money? Or is Twitter NOT a platform at all, but a closed service that has an API just to taunt developers?

None of the services mentioned compete with Twitter as a platform or service. One could argue they had competitive UIs though. But shouldn't all that traffic made it easy for Twitter to monetize? Perhaps sell higher volumes of API access? It's hard to understand just what Weil intends to say with this strange answer. My only possible takeaway is that Twitter prefers its partners to not actually succeed.

I think this proves Marco's point wonderfully. Twitter doesn't want developers. Twitter is not a platform. And they want those meddling coder kids to stay off their lawn.

Building web apps with WordPress and BackBone.js

Gave a talk today at WordCamp Norrköping on how to build web apps using WordPress, JetPacks REST API and BackBone.js. A short presentation on the why and how to use BackBone.js and WordPress to build interactive web, apps or otherwise. My slides are available below and you can find the demo app on GitHub.

http://www.slideshare.net/raelmiu/wordcamp-2014-norrkping

How to plan UX, the right way

The most common gripe I hear from UX designers is that they're not invited into the process early enough. This is absolutely a problem. If you get on board when the code is done and time is running out, there's only so much you can do. But there's another common problem, rarely talked about. Getting on board too early. Subtle project fail

Many companies I talk to today want to plan their UX in advance. Basically they want sketches of how the end user will interact with the finished project. Several things can go wrong with this approach:

  • You get locked into what the project was supposed to be and you can no longer change it for the better.
  • The sketches might not be technically sound. Small details can often be the largest technical hurdles.
  • There might not be enough time to realize the planned UX, but it's just so tasty that your iterative process becomes a linear project doomed to miss the deadline.
  • The designer(s) fall in love with an ideal, and are less open to change.

All of these issues, and all the ones I did not list, can be summed up in this sentence:

Premature UX is like masturbating before sex

No one is satisfied, it doesn't help you with the actual project and worst of all: The people involved in the pre-production process feel they've done some real work. Worst case they might feel that their job is already done. Just as the real work starts.

When and how to plan UX

Instead of trying to plan out a theoretical product of a project, find the parameters:

  • Define a problem that the project is trying to solve, without actually proposing the solution.
  • LIst the key issues and responsibilities the project must adhere to.
  • Set measurable targets for the project, then divide by half.

This way the problem solving is a part of the project, and the project may run more smoothly. It also forces UX to be a part of the project process instead of just something to check off before the project starts.

As always, the key to great UX and design is iteration. Having UX as a part of the development process, without the limitations of a set goal, makes a vast difference.

The definitive guide to value creation

In my youth I dabbled with dark arts. I thought experimenting wouldn't hurt, so I tried a little, but little became a lot. My addiction took up all my spare time and heavily impacted my social life. I became alienated by friends and had a hard time talking to people close to me.That's how I spent six years studying economics.

Creating value is tossed around these days as the way for startups and freelancers to contribute to the marketplace. So why is no one talking about what that really means, or how to do it? The short answer is because they don't know. The long answer is that the ones that do know think it's so obvious they don't the need to explain it.

What is value, and how do we get it

I'll just touch upon the economics of Value first, but don't worry, it'll be short and painless: All value is derived from trade. That's what value IS.

The idea works like this; if I have a ton of gold, but no one wants it, it is worth nothing. Literally nothing. Because I can't get anything for it. If someone would give me a loaf of bread for it, it'd be worth a loaf of bread.

Thank god we have money (an abstract form of value, think of it as shares in the work you've done) so we don't need to slog around with all that stuff all the time.

The interesting thing about this idea is that it implies that everyone gets richer all the time. You wouldn't trade for something you didn't want would you? We all trade what we think is worthy, which makes us better off. So in every trade there are two winners. Not one. Everyone is better off. If they aren't, the trade has been forced or is certainly the last trade between them.

How do startups and freelancers get value? They trade with their customers (and everyone you trade with is a customer). If the customers are better off after the trade they are likely to keep being customers.

Seems abstract? Let's get all practical with examples.

How to Create Value

The question of how to create value is now a lot easier to answer; we need to create stuff to trade. By stuff I mean anything that people are willing to trade for. It can be a product, or a service, but whatever we create we must have a clear definition of what it is before we trade. Otherwise customers might get impossible expectations or simple refuse the trade.

But the main point here is create. We must be constantly creating to add value, and to show our customers what we can create.

Defining a product

A product is anything that can stand alone is a product. A book, a play, and a website are all products.

Defining a service

A service is anything that can not stand alone, anything that only exists while you do it. Cleaning, making a website, and acting in a play are all services. Seem of them create products, others just create value either by saving the customer time or lending them expertise.

The good sale and the bad sale.

Good salesmen focus on adding value to their customers, which is why they often have good relationships with their customers.

Poor salesmen are just trying to sell whatever is the flavor of the week, which is why poor salesmen often have high spikes in sales but rarely recurring customers.

Summary

The only way to create value is to trade something. Making your product or your service easier to understand by defining, simply, what the customer gets is a great way to increase your trade.

Creating stuff is the only to add value. So never stop creating.

What makes a product good

Sit up straight, I'm about to explain the secret sauce behind exceptional products. There is a difference between products that perform poorly and products that perform well that is hard to put your finger on. Designers have been struggling to tell you about it for years. But it turns out it's not the answer that is the problem, it's the question. The question is: Is it enjoyable? It's the difference between functional and great.

For a long time now the tech industry has been struggling with paradigms. Is your product technology driven or design driven? Are your most important people engineers or designers? The pendulum swings every five years or so.

Google is a company driven by engineers, they solve problems. Apple is a company driven by designers, they make experiences. Which company makes the better product? Android or iPhone? For years, journalists and salesmen have been asking the wrong questions, and coming to all the wrong conclusions.

Customers buy products for their features. But they keep them for the experience.

No one doubts that features are important. Every retail box is crammed with specs and every review seems to compare products on feature lists. But features are not what makes customers buy. When you buy a kitchen knife, you probably just grab a cheap one to get the job done, right? But the next time you buy one, you'll be more likely to invest in quality because it feels better to use, the old one became dull quickly or chipped. Your enjoyment of the product starts to make an impact in your purchase.

What is that enjoyment worth? If your first knife cost $5, would you buy a better one for $50?

Android phones were crappy when Android was first released. Mostly because Android was crap. Google spent millions making sure Android had every feature that the iPhone had. Every function was matched. Every look that could be copied was copied. Samsung even went so far as to make extremely similar phones and UI-skins. But oddly, the consumers were not using Android phones like they did iPhones. App sales were low, internet usage was non-existant.

Only then did the engineers at Google realize that the secret sauce in the iPhone wasn't so much features, but the experience. Still they couldn't put their finger on what they lacked. They had to hire a new manager, a designer, to tell them what to do. Now Android is becoming enjoyable to use, app sales are skyrocketing and internet usage is on the rise. People are using their Android phones for the first times.

Enjoyment is hard to bottle. It can't be checked off on a scrum board or a todo list. It's the sum of all the parts. And even worse, it costs money. You can't just finish a feature, you have to iterate on all the parts until they fit together. (To read more about enjoyment or fun, visit my blog on Gamification: Adding the Fun.)

The sooner we start asking the right question the better. What if startups focused on making their features enjoyable instead of just functional? It'd cost more, but their churn would be less and they would get more interest.

Right now the market is focusing on design. Designers are in high regard and design is the measuring stick of the tech industry. But because most companies and organisations still don't understand this crucial piece of secret sauce, designers will become another checklist on the project management chart. Is it designed? Yes. Tick the box.

If the question had been: is it enjoyable? The answer would have been different. The product would end up different and the market reaction would as well. Next time you read a review, don't look at the feature list or the score. Find the sentence where the author says if he/she liked it or not.

It's time to make sure we start asking the right questions and stop looking at features or design as checkboxes.

This list of questions can help you start:

  1. Does the feature work?
  2. Does it work every time and in every circumstance?
  3. Is it enjoyable?
  4. Is it enjoyable even when you're in a hurry?

If the answer to any of the questions is no, you need to start over.

Like Steve Jobs so eloquently put it "Design is how it works". Sadly, he didn't stick around to explain how anyone could check for that emotion.

Ask the question: Is it enjoyable?

The mobile revolution at sime

The first day of SIME, the European tech/startup conference, was a vivid circus of great speakers with great production values. This time in Stockholm. Sime is a special sort of conference because it is focused on marketing entrepreneurship and creating a forum for entrepreneurs and investors. While similar conferences might slog through technical details while zombie hordes of coffee ingesting listeners try to stay awake, SIME is more about showmanship. Almost every session is 20 minutes or less, even for the big players, and our host, Ola Ahlvarsson, is always on stage pushing things along.

The first day was a back to back parade of speakers from the tech business, talking about where we are and where we're going as a business. The message was unanimous: > The customer is already mobile. Where is your business? - Facebook, Microsoft, Google, etc

It's an important lesson that really can't be repeated enough. I Sweden, around 40 percent of all Internet connections are through a mobile network. Some are computers but most are other sorts of devices. Around the world there is s landslide increase in mobile use, smartphones are almost half the world market of phones, there are over 100 million tablets sold, and everyone is expecting information to be ubiquitous. But companies are holding out.

Companies everywhere are waiting for others to lead, they hope to see hard numbers on why they should move to mobile before they take the plunge. There are of course a lot of really bad agencies out there, simply not able to deliver responsive web, but for the most part statistics are holding us back.

While the large players show us statistics on mobile usage. Companies have become affected by tracking blindness and can't act before the users are mobile on their sites. The problem of course, is a classic chicken and egg problem. If the site doesn't work on mobile, customers will just use other sites, and since the companies can't see mobile usage increasing they won't rebuild their sites.

SIME is all focused on pushing the message of where tech is to everyone, making sure that the users, developers and companies are all looking in the same direction. And I hope that this years focus on mobile hit the spot. Because I really don't want to be tied to my laptop.

An example of interactive UI design, the future of web design

HTML5 is a name we give the next level of web technology, it's just simpler to remember. All the web is built using HTML, CSS and Javascript and with HTML5 new and better ways of using these languages are being made available everywhere.

The revolution started with the iPhone.

With the launch of their breakthrough device they didn't intend for developers to be making Apps. Apple instead believed that developers would make web apps using HTML5 and save the web app as an icon of their phone. Surprisingly open by Apple's standards the strategy soon changed to native apps because web apps simply didn't feel quick enough.

Web technology is getting better

However, as HTML5 becomes a standard on PCs everywhere web apps are approaching the same sophistication as native applications. The hardest step now is for developers to take the plunge and create these great new interfaces and not get stuck in the old way of thinking and just pushing out another blog.

One of my favorite designers, Dustin Curtis, is leading the way with this new UI element on his site; the Kudos button.

It looks great. It's fun to use and it's a really simple way to add some life to a site. It doesn't work on touch interfaces for obvious reasons. Sadly Dustin hasn't made the code available yet, but most programmers could probably copy the concept. It's that easy. We just have to make sure we starting thinking less about static web and more about user interaction.

Defining A Principle of Quality that works

Quality was what set the good craftsmen apart form the bad ones. It was why some brands became more revered than others. The illusive idea is why Apple sells so well, why some artists are better than others. But what the hell is quality? Does it change from artist to artist? Does it mean something different for cars than for software? No. I don't think so. I think there's a common feature for all types of good quality.

Using Cognitive Psychology to reveal quality

In academic circles scholars of cognitive psychology  have been debating and hacking the human perception for a very long time. One of my favorite tidbits of knowledge from my student days is that negatives are worth twice as much as positives. That means if I give you $100 and then take it back, you'll feel as if you've lost more money than you felt you gained in at first. Put another way: if you spend $50 and earn $100 dollars you'll feel you made about even. Losing something is negative, and is therefore twice as important to you perception.

This gives us valuable clue to Quality. Let's see how far that can bring us.

If negative values, and negative experiences, create stronger reactions in users we should look at minimizing these as much as possible. If we get close to no negative values we'll have a  really solid product experience regardless of the products positive values.

For example, if you create an app where every action gives clear feedback it will feel great. Even if the UX design isn't all that great from the start.

Getting the values right

But wait, let's back up a bit. What is a negative value? And what is a positive value? We're talking about products here! What is a negative in a web app?

Happily, another branch of cognitive psychology has dealt with what value is. This is the theory: there is no "real" value. Only subjective, or perceived,  value. That is to say: water to a man dying of thirst has a lot of value, while water to a man at a cocktail bar in NY is worth very little. This sounds really basic right? But if all value is relative to experience that also means that we determine reasonable prices from prices around us. We distinguish beauty not by their own beauty but by how much less beautiful the other people around us are. Dan Ariely has some great examples of this in his book Predictably Irrational.

The good part starts 12 minutes in.

So all value is interpreted relative to similar experiences by each individual. How does that help us? That means every experience is valued compared to other, similar, experiences.

So?

Well if people experience negative values much stronger than positive ones, we need to focus harder on making our apps perform at least as well as other apps the users are using instead of trying to one-up our competitors. This will make out UX more positive than focusing on making the positive experiences better. Most Human Computer Interaction studies are actually based on this. They're often studies to define how consistency works. And consistency is exactly what I'm talking about here. But not internal consistency, while that to is extremely important, but experience consistance for the user. No matter what that use might look like, spanning over machines, apps, platforms and use cases.

Summing up

A principle of quality, a rule of thumb that works for all products and services, is not making something really well. It's minimizing the negative impact of shortcomings.

So how do we use this principle?

  • Don't show the user experiences that aren't finished. Release early release often as much as you want, but don't release half baked.
  • Polish one feature instead of making two features.
  • Make sure other apps aren't making your experience feel broken by creating an experience gap that will feel negative for example the pull-down-to-refresh UI of iPhone apps.
  • Look at the platform. Look at the most popular uses. Look at the environment it will be used in. Then try to be consistent.
  • Make your marketing consistant with your experience, or you might end up making your product feel worse than it is

The perfect example of not understanding quality is the Nokia N97, enjoy!

Another great example of achieving quality, not by adding features, but by managing your negatives is the iPhone and iPad operating system. Just compare these transition effects from iOS to the Android counter parts:

Facebook Messenger for iPhone and poor user experience

facebook messenger logoSome time ago Facebook launched it's cross platform messaging app: Facebook Messenger; the mobile stand alone app that fully integrates Facebook messaging with your cell phone. Sounds awesome right? Sadly, it's badly broken. I recently tweeted a designer at Facebook to ask why the UX of the app is so bad, in turn he asked me to describe what's wrong so they can fix it. So are you listening Facebook? Great. Here's what's wrong with the iOS version:

Starting the app Takes time. A lot of time. Why? There is no large graphics in use. Why does it start slower than some third party messaging or twitter apps? Short messaging on mobile devices is supposed to be fast. Loading the app for over a full second is bad user experience.

If I'd have to guess what's wrong I'd say Facebook Messenger is loading the entire message database at startup when all the user really needs is something like the last 5 messages.

Loading and responsiveness So the app is now loaded. Let's start messaging! No? Unresponsive?! But why? Why is there a second load time?

This second load becomes even weirder when I start the app from a notification. The app should be loading the message I was notified about but instead it seems to load for several full seconds. Even on WiFi.

If I'd have to guess what's wrong I'd say you're syncing ALL the messaging data with the server...

Don't, do, that. Ever.

Always smart load, download only the essential information to start using the app. Then download the rest in the background while the user is happily messaging away. This is critical on mobile devices.

Feedback If even Apple, that clearly doesn't get social at all, get's the importance of user feedback in short messaging. And the Facebook web interface clearly shows when the other party is writing something to you... Why do you not show this information in the Messenger app? If someone starts typing, send that information. Show an indication of this in the app.

And please, don't make my phone vibrate with every new messages when the thread is open on the screen.

Notifications  Notifications on iOS  are a bit strange. They don't sync between iPhone and iPad and the app can't receive any data from the notification. So some odd behavior is simply inescapable. However, most of the odd behavior with notifications from Facebook's Messenger app have nothing to do with that.

The main problem is that notifications aren't consistent between mobile app and web. As a matter of fact I haven't even been able to understand what triggers mobile notifications. In my tests some messenges have triggered notifications on both web and mobile while other, identical tests, have triggered only one of them. Once I even received a mobile notification while typing a response in that very thread on the web.

Notifications are hard. Really hard. But a few simple basics should at least get you of out this mess:

  • If the thread open on web and the page is active (focused some time the last minute or so) - don't send a notification at all.
  • If the thread not open and the page is not active - send a notification.
  • If the thread minimized in the web browser but the page is active - send only a web notification.

Facebook Messenger

Do I realize that these features are more complex than I have described them here? Yes. But they're not very complex for a product team such as the one behind Facebook.

Do I realize that Facebook usually releases features and then iterates on them to improve the user experience? Yes. But this is a web strategy. A mobile app is often, like in this case, just a good interface on top of a web service. If the interface is bad, the service is bad. Iterate all you want on the service. But "release early, release often"  is not a viable strategy for a mobile interface.

So why am I taking time to complain write all this? Because Facebook Messages, and Facebook Messenger, is a great product. It will help me organize my communication even better and have faster communications with my friends. No longer will discussions be spread through WhatsApp, iMessages, SMS, Email etc etc.

And the reason I can't do that today is the Facebook Messenger interface. With god damn enourmous amounts of some luck this post might help Facebook create a really good Messenger app faster. Fingers crossed. Also, I'm available for hire.

Thanks to @MagnusEngdal and Sara Öhman for helping me with the testing.

Update: Ben from the Facebook Messenger team replies with some information about the upcoming version 1.5 of the app. Early the next morning I had it and started using it. And I must say it's a big improvement. I'll write a follow up shortly about this new version.

Twitter is the Twitter-killer

Twitter, the micro blogging service, has taken the world by storm. While there are only a few hundred million users compared to Facebook's massive near Billion, the service has become the place to share real time updates and is often used to gauge peoples reactions by news and analytic firms because the platform is open. But Twitter is about to face it's doom While Google struggle to reproduce the viral effect of micro blogging services Facebook's grab for the real time feed was hampered by the need to privacy. Twitter has already gained wide acceptance and was never intended for private information in the first place. But a series of ominous events are slowly hollowing out the foundations of Twitter.

Twitter is being killed by... Twitter has never been the most stable of tech startups. The service used to be plagued by downtime which became so frequent the Fail Whale error page became as famous as the service. The company itself is also changing management again, and again. Not a great trend this early in a one product company. The lack of leadership is clear to see.

Twitter UX Twitter (the company) is constantly changing and evolving it's product. Which is a great way to organically fit the needs of their users. But Twitter (the company) is doing this in a somewhat odd way. It started when Retweeting (passing on another users tweet as a sign of encouragement while marking it with their name and RT) was made a part of the product, after it's wide adoption by users, Twitter (the company) decided to implement it differently than the usual Retweets. This lead to better statistics, but also a fractured UX as apps now had to implement both ways to RT because users didn't like the new one. Eventually Twitter (the company) incorporated the old style Retweets but called the function Quote Tweet instead. And the problems were just getting started.

Twitter app insanity Twitter apps were almost a category on their own in the beginning of the Appstore. Twitter has become so important to mobile phone manufacturers they always showcase a twitter app with their new flagship phones. But Twitter wanted to control the experience, like Apple. Maybe a good idea. But really bad execution. They bought Atebits, the developers behind the most popular Twitter apps for iOS and Mac. Have you ever pulled down a list to refresh? Atebits invented that. So why was this a problem? Sounds great, right?

Tweetie and Twitter

After being purchased by Twitter (the company), the newly renamed Twitter for Mac and Twitter for iPhone started being updated less frequently... Let me make that clear, having the developer of the apps work closer with the Twitter development team made them update the apps less often.

Then shit really hit the fan. Twitter (the company) redesigned all their interfaces to be similar across platforms. Starting with a roll out on iPad, then web then the rest, Twitter (the company) streamlined their interface development.. in theory. What really happened? The interfaces now looked the same, but they didn't work the same. In fact, certain features only exist on certain platforms even though the interfaces look the same. Which makes it really hard as a user to remember what you can do where.

Later on the developers behind Atebits have left Twitter (the company), possibly in raging despair. And Twitter (the service) is fracturing into a mess. Not just between interfaces but functions as well. For example with the roll out of the activity tab you can follow some of the things people are doing through Twitter, following, unfollowing, making lists and so on. These features, which btw totally contradict the extreme simplicity of the core product, are weirdly integrated into the web interface as the afterthought they are. And it's only available on the web.

Summery Twitter (the company) is destroying Twitter (the services) with some sort of odd design-by-committee culture.  No matter if you like or dislike these new features, the case is clear that teams behind Twitter (the service) definitely aren't working towards the same goal.

This is sad. Because I love Twitter (the service). And I don't like that it's being killed by Twitter (the company). Please RT this if you agree.

Update:

Apparently the sentiment is echoed by people leaving Twitter (the company).

Update 2:

In December 2011 Twitter updated their entire line of interfaces. The design changes were clearly aimed at making Twitter a lot more interesting for new users.

Twitter divided itself into different parts, seemingly with different uses:

Twitter areas of interest

Sounds great right? What could possibly be the problem!

Twitter didn't actually change. And Twitter (the service) does not actually have these different areas of interest. So any user checking them out will quickly get confounded. What is the difference between "Home" and "Me"? I have no idea. But to make this obvious, Twitter (the company) has removed Me and Tweet from the web interface which basically means they have these left: Home (My feed), Connect (replies, RTs and follows) and Discover (search damnit, it's just search!).

To make things better worse, the UI is even more fragmented. Twitter no longer has updated clients for iPad and Mac. Apparently the job previously done by one single guy is just to much for an organization of 300 or so.

But it get's even better worse. The UI of the web and iPhone version, while both being updated simultaneously for this new paradigm, still do not follow the same UI standards and are structured differently. Don't ask about Android. Twitter (the company) must really, really, hate Android.

Anyone want to build a Twitter killer, possibly built upon the API of Twitter to simplify the transfer of users? I'm available right now.

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.

How to change scrolling direction in Lion; and why you shouldn't

Trackpad Settings from Lion To change back from Lion's default natural scrolling open Settings -> Trackpad -> Scroll & Zoom and uncheck the natural scrolling checkbox. All done.

Why shouldn't you?

It's annoying right? Why should you have to relearn how scrolling works?

Because it makes no sense in Lion, and I'll bet you anything it'll make less and less sense going forward. This is the new paradigm, learn it now or later.

But why?

In the beginning of Graphic User Interfaces scrolling was done by clicking the scrollbars on the side of an application window.

Scrollbars

Since this wasn't a very efficient way to do it many weird solutions for simpler scrolling popped up here and there. It soon became standard for Mice to have scroll wheels on them. Making the entire representation of scroll bars a bit redundant. They take up a lot of screen real estate just to show you where in a window you are looking at any one time. It's not like you didn't scroll there in the first place right?

A Mouse with a Scroll Wheel

When touch pads started becoming standard, this design thought was transplanted over from mice and scroll bars. Nothing wrong with that, reinventing the wheel isn't always a good thing.

Except when it is.

In this case it made no sense. The mouse and it's scroll wheel use two different controls to achieve two different things. You move the mouse to point. And you scroll the wheel to.. eh.. scroll.

But on a touch pad you use the same control. Your poking the touchpad to move the pointer and then poking the touchpad in the opposite direction to scroll. The only reason this feels "natural" is because we, as the ingrained PC users we are, are so used to scrollbars. We know that what we're scrolling isn't the content but the scrollbar. Which in turn scrolls the content...

See where the design falls apart?

The metaphor is broken. The scrollbar no longer makes sense when you scroll using the pointing device to move the content, instead of the scrollbar.

Alright. That makes sense, but why relearn? Why fix what ain't broken?

In two words: Cognitive load.

Lion's natural scrolling (directly scrolling the content instead of the scroll bar) will become the standard, like it or not, because the average PC user doesn't change default settings and certainly don't understand why scrolling should be inverse to the screen. The cognitive load of thinking about how to scroll will simply become to much as more computers are delivered with touch pads and more of our PCs become touch based (as tablets become more widely spread).

To clarify; on a mouse the scrolling direction won't change. Because the scroll wheel isn't directly linked to the content anyway. But a touch pad is directly linked. Update: For some reason, Apple has changed the scrolling direction on the mouse wheel for non-apple mice. This is weird. Thanks to Dan in the comments for reporting!

It takes a little time to get used to, though less than you might think, but it will be worth it. And you won't have to relearn later on which will get increasingly frustrating.

Not convinced? Check out MG Siegler's excellent pre-lion post The iPad Has Broken My Brain; OS X Lion Will Help Fix It.

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

Engineers not smart enough to make decisions at Nokia

Directly quoted from Daring Fireball: Adam Greenfield on his tenure at Nokia:

As it happens, the value-engineering mindset that’s so crucial to profitability as a commodity trader is fatal as a purveyor of experiences. Of course you still want to produce your offering for the lowest achievable cost — but that cost is bound up in intangible, nondeterministic dimensions of design, in ways that are only partially-at-best quantifiable. It’s just not particularly wise to allow engineers to make decisions about things like product and service nomenclature, interface typography and the graphic design of icons: they’re, I daresay, not even neurocognitively equipped to do so. And yet this is what happened when I was at Nokia and, I would imagine, is happening still.

This is really interesting, not neurocognitively equipped? This is of course a bold and non-scientific statement but basically this would mean that engineers aren't biologically capable of understanding a users experience.

That would explain a lot. ;)

Why in-house development never works

So your company is starting a new project and you need a piece of software. There are similar third party apps out there but they don't do exactly what you need. Custom Software Development

So what do you do? Develop a new one in-house right? DON'T!

All software needs to develop over time, much like business or science, not only because the demands on them change but because the users change. As the world moves forward people learn new things and develop, if your app, tool, function or software does not it will become less usable even if it still performs the necessary function.

Third party developers work full time to make sure their software is good. Your in-house team does not. If you're lucky or experienced enough to know that everything has to be updated from time to time you'll schedule development time from time to time to update your app. But it's still lagging behind the third party version. It might do exactly what you need, but that need will probably change faster than your app is updated.

Many companies grow into this problem and than takes it to it's logical extreme. Make the team a dedicated department of your company.

But now you've basically created a company. And this team will get more and more out of touch with the goals and difficulties of the original company. Not to mention that to grow they'll need to meet demands from outside the parent company.

There is another way to do it. Use third party apps. If the software takes over a function in your company, so that you can't change it, you were in a lot of trouble before the software fails you anyway.

UPDATE: After some constructive criticism from  Christopher McCann I'm forced to admit that the post is rather Utopian since it depends on not having to replace legacy systems that already lock you in to a certain way to handle data. I still prefer the idea that data should be more important than system, but it is Utopian, anyway thanks Christopher!

UPDATE2: After even more criticism, this time from Magnus Engdal, I must concede the point that while my slightly Utopian post might be true for LAMP software it doesn't really work for MS systems because of the size of the community and availability of solutions.

Apple eases up on iOS developers

Apple logo carved into red Apples Apple has just released a statement that they are easing up restrictions for developers of the iOS platform. More specifically in sections 3.3.1, 3.3.2 and 3.3.9. Exact information is scarce so far but Gizmodo is digging hard right now and Engadget has found out that this means Apple will allow "any and all" third party development apps including Flash CS5!

Apple also says they'll the App Store Review Guidelines to "help developers understand how we review submitted apps".

Great day for iOS developers!

How do you make time to play games?

Great news! Both Torchlight and Ratchet & Clank are both going coop! Torchlight 2

A lot of games are opting for cooperative or immersive multiplayer modes to allow players to be more social and have even more fun with their products.

But there's a problem. Sorry to be the grouch, but the first step of getting out of a trap is noticing it's there. Cooperative and multiplayer games are mostly synchronous. Which means you have to play them at the same time. In fact minimizing gameplay lag is on of the largest problems game developers have today.

But is that really a good thing? It's great for action. But it's terrible for pick up and play gaming. Which is already the dominant form of play if we compare online games and casual platforms such as the Nintendo Wii, DS and the iPhone with more core audience devices such as the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360.

The problem with multiplayer is the same as with loading times. If we, as developers, are trying to convince our players to spent $60 and 20 hours to play our game, the game really needs to be fun and easy to get into. Loading times subtract from the experience, but not nearly enough as waiting for friends, not having friends or worst of all; having friends that all need to cash out $60 for the game. This kind of tribal synchronisation is very probably not that usual.

We need to open up to the fact that games are a part of life and start designing for finding new friends or, if possible, playing with friends asynchronously.

The slow death of Business

various business peopleWhen an organization grows so large that people working for it loose contact with the intended result of the organization is begins to die.

This situation leads to the belief that the organization itself is of importance, even though it was just created to solve a specific issue. And the people working in the organization loose focus of the organizations function and the organization starts growing in areas without return, administration and administration of administration.

The way to make sure this does not happen is to keep organizations small. Create another organization to solve a new problem, do not grow the old one.

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.