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:

Quora - win or fail? A User Experience study

I recently was asked to check out Quora again. This time from a UX standpoint. I found a lot of strange design decisions and an almost crazy implementation of "Gamification" so I thought I had to share it: Quora logo

First Impression

What does this do? Quora is a mess of questions. That's a good thing. But it's also a mess of features. There is no real overview to how the service is supposed to be used nor how the features fit together to create a whole. It feel like a mess of somewhat related features that have been randomly added to a wiki.

User feedback loops

All services and products intended to be used more than once work because their is a loop in user interaction. After we've done what we came for we're back at the start and can do it again.

Feedback loops is a way to look at how feedback is introduced in the loop to keep users going forward and using the product. Quora does this really strangely.

There are two ways to understand what happens in a loop, one is to look at emotional impact or internal steps in the process from the point of view of the user. This is called the intrinsic loop. The other is to look at the service's constructed steps from the point of the user. This is called the extrinsic loop.

Intrinsic

The value in looking at both of these is to see where they meet and reinforce each other. So how does the intrinsic loop look?

answer questions -> gain social proof in form of replies, votes and followers -> answer ranks higher on lists of answers -> return

This loop works well. Interacting with the site gives you a sense of communicating with other users. Though notifications are bad and it's hard to really understand what is happening, there is a definite sense of activity spawned from other users interacting with your content.

Extrinsic

So how does the extrinsic feedback loop look?

Add information (unidentified) -> earn points -> use points to request answers -> no return

Basically it adds points but not to obvious steps in the loop. In fact, Quora only seems to add points for adding information. But Quora doesn't tell us why, how much or for what we earn these points.

This is an extrinsic loop set up to give users rewards for interacting that doesn't reward user for interacting. What went wrong here? Quora is giving out points for interacting with Quora, but not with other users.

The problem is humans don't think of services as independent entities and don't expect to interact with services, humans expect to interact through services. Another problem is that these rewards aren't reinforcing the intrinsic loop but instead starts rewarding an entirely different behavior. And last but not least, there is no clear end or way to start again from when you receive rewards. Rewards are doled out in the middle of the intrinsic feedback loop.

Gamification or What Bumblebees feel about Bicycles

Points. Just add points and it's a game. Just add points and the weird statistical exercise has miraculously turned into "fun"! Right? No. That's not how it works, you can read all about how to add the fun here. But Quora doesn't care about that, you get points for adding content but aren't told when or how much. There doesn't seem to be a differentiation between how you add content, you simply receive an arbitrary amount of points.

There's only one way to use points. You can pay others to answer questions. That's it. You can't even compare your points to another users.

Quora app icon

Summing up

Quora is awesome. What makes it awesome is the high level of interest from other users. The problem is, Quora does little of anything to enhance this. More often it gets in the way.

The service quickly became famous for supplying answers from high level CEOs and business savvy high performers. Sadly though, it took me hours to find any such answer. It took me hours just to find some interesting questions.

The random points thrown in just increases perception of randomness. Quora is a great idea, close to a good product. Over designed and under thought. It's confusing as hell and weird to use. But if you're lucky you can at least get some answers. Just don't expect the question to be the same one you had in mind from the start...

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.

The Gamification of SIME

Orginially posted on the official SIME blog SIME is a Swedish Conference on web, tech and startups. Where great speakers entertain for two days and investors and entrepreneurs mingle over coffee and champagne.

SIME 2011 was a flurry of great speaker on a wide area of subjects. While the set theme for SIME was "Passion Wins" another theme running through the conference was going mobile. Gamification was subtly introduced to the SIME audience in a panel on Gamification and marketing. Possibly to set the stage for a larger presence next year.

But what exactly is Gamification and how does it tie in with SIME 2011? Gamification is the process of using game mechanics in non-game products and services. I am not talking about  3D characters or scoring points here however. Games have matured in relative obscurity thought the years to become one of the worlds largest entertainment forms, aimed mostly at adults. The foundations ofwhat makes a good game are similar and equally complex as what makes a great brand. The psychology or rewards have been used in training and products over the years, but only games have really delved deep and explored the territory. Pacing and storytelling in a product where there is no story is also only really explored in the games industry. Science and design based on concepts like these are migrating from games into "normal" products.

This is Gamification. And oddly, ties in excellently to SIMEs central theme.

The Passion of Gamification Passion Wins. That theme was presented by Ola in his welcoming speech and it was central to almost all the talks at SIME. From presentations from promising startups, among them iZettle - the mobile payment solution, to using brain scans for better marketing there was not a presenter on stage that lacked passion. But how do we reach passion in our users or customers? While every panel spoke of the importance to engage users and inspire passion there was only one that talked about how thats done.

Panel on Gamificiation A panel consisting of Elísabet GrétarsdóttirEve OnlineJohan Sjöberg, founder Starstable, and Robin TeiglandStockholm School of Economics, joined Ola on stage to discuss the most popular buzzword of the day.

The panel wasn't that impressed with the term Gamification for starters. Elisabet described it as working with motivation in marketing to engage the audience, hopefully getting them to participate. Johan joined in saying that the term might be a misnomer, that the term Playification might be more appropriate. Since the focus is on engagement but not at all games.

"we are playful creatures" - Elísabet Grétarsdóttir, SIME 2011

The panel was in agreement that playfulness was important for humans, adding fun to anything should be possible. The panel highlighted experiments with gamification in education and Elisabet even made a pitch to add creative interaction in the fashion industry.

If we are playful creatures, play should be a great way to engage our users. Right?

Going mobile with gamification As I mentioned earlier another trend runnings through the entire conference was going mobile. Google spoke of being a mobile first company, Ericsson spoke about communicating in a world where every device is interconnected. But what does this have to do with gamification?

Throughout SIME we heard speakers talk about new paradigms and the web/app divide. Essentially mobile web is taking over and has a different set or boundaries than the desktop web. So how to we make sure our mobile interfaces are good enough and engaging users? You know where I'm going with this aren't you?

Mobile interfaces is a perfect place to start adding the fun.

Summing up gamification at SIME 2011 The passion at SIME was amazing. The energy was great. The game we played at the conference, bad. Basically we're all looking into how to engage and interact with people through digital mediums. The only industry that has really done it is the games industry. Moving their knowledge to the rest of the web is gamification. Elisabet doesn't think it's through external motivation. Ola thinks it might have something to do with horses.

The only thing we know is: however it's done, it's going mobile.

 

Jesper Bylund is a Game Designer / Interaction Designer who blogs about Gamification on Adding the Fun.com

UPDATE: Added a short explanation of what SIME is, thanks to @kenneth_aa for making me realize it was needed.

Path 2.0 UX review

Path was a weird app when it launched about a year ago. It was a photo sharing app with checkins, directly competing with Instagram and Foursquare but without the simplicity. It also had the really weird USP that you could "only share with 50 of your closest friends!"... Now, most people don't have more close friends than that. Hell, most people don't come close to that. But the early adopter crowd that usually takes these new apps for a spin were appalled. But Path was beautiful.

Path 1.0

It didn't work.

But Path is back! Path 2.0 is better, faster, turbo, everything you could possibly want. But is it good enough?

Path first impressions

Path is incredibly beautiful. No other mobile experience comes close. Seriously, it's not just pretty graphics, all the animations and interactions, the structure of information, the loading bars and even the damned typing experience is just plain better than in other apps. It's amazing.

Path 2.0

So what is Path?

Path is a digital diary for your life. Everyone on Path has a feed. And at any time you can add stuff to your own: where you are, a piture, who you're with, music you're listening to or when you go to sleep.

Using Path

Is lonely. Sure it launched today but that's not the main issue. Path is clearly going for the same feature set as Facebook Timeline (which is tied up in court and has yet to launch) but there's no way you'll get all your friends to come over. I'm an early adopter. I talk to a lot of other early adopters. And I'm still lonely on Path.

Still, it's an amazing experience. Enough to make me want to use it. Maybe that's enought? I'll update in a few days and let you know.

Nokia N9 slogan - Just Swipe, dumbass!

Nokia N9 marketing

All screen No home button Just swipe Nokia N9 No way to know how to use it without reading a manual or being taught how Just swipe, DUMBASS!

Nokia must really love being different. Or at least love patenting interaction models, so they can differentiate from iPhone.

To bad different isn't the same as good.

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.

Elisabet Grétarsdóttir explains Gamification at SIME 2011

The last day at SIME, Sweden's largest digital/web conference in Stockholm, a panel of guests took to the stage to have a panel discussion about gamification. Gamification is the latest and greatest buzz word in a long line of hype from digital marketing companies. But gamification is different because unlike social media and the like the Gamification concept is loaned from the hugely profitable games industry.

At SIME this year the panel consisted of representatives from World of Horses Online, CCP games and an associate professor from the Stockholm School of Economics. The topic was gamification and was simply introduced as the concept of using mechanics and design from the games industry to market products and services in non entertainment industries.

Elisabet, from CCP games, really gave a show with clear and consice ideas about gamification. She started off by describing the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. An extrinsic motivator, which are mostly used in gamification today, are external rewards given to the player for achieving certain tasks. Such as points to shoot a bird accurately or a badge to check in at a location An intrinsic motivator is an internal reward the player experiences because he/she achieves something in the context of the game. Internal rewards are feelings based on. Social recognition or completing a challenge.

One of her most memorable quotes was saying she'd like to Gamify the games industry by moving from extrinsic to intrinsic motivators.

Another one was a sharp critique to enforced seriousness while stating a point about humans being playful creatures:

why can we hug at a soccer game but not in the board room?

Elisabet also rocked the end of the panel by giving an example of how she would revolutionize boutique shopping by gamifying a H&M shop into a "minecraft retail experience" to, in her own words, "create a platform for creativity and self expression".

The audience and the panel alike seemed almost shocked by the simple truths laid out by Elisabet on gamification. I bet that if she has any say, gamification will be less of a buzz word and more of a business strategy from now on. One can only hope.

PS I'm writing this on an iPad balanced on my knee while I'm eating so if this post is in shambles, please check back in an hour or so and I'll try to polish the turd.

Update 1 Robin from the Stockholm School of Economics mailed me an update, apparently I got both her school and her title wrong.. Sorry Robin, keep up the great work!

Gamification at SIME 2011

Second day of SIME 2011 coming up and today, finally, we'll get into the nitty and gritty of gamification with a talk from CCP's Elísabet Grétarsdóttiroi, global strategist for marketing. Hopefully this will be awesome. I'll be live tweeting the event all day and half the night and writing about what she and the other speakers had to say as soon as possible.

So visit again soon for updates.

update CCP link works now! Sorry about that.

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

What to use the iPad for

When the iPad was announced a lot of people wondered what it was for. Why carry a giant iPod touch with you instead of a small laptop? When Apple later unveiled the updated MacBook Air a lot of people asked the same thing. But the iPad is still flying off the shelves and people love the machine.

But if you're still wondering why the iPad is good I did some snooping. Actually I've asked non-leading, weird, questions to every iPad user near me for close to two years just to understand the behavior. And I think I've solved it.

Why the iPad feels wrong for real work Some people will tell you the iPad does multitasking and that it works great. That's just not true. It does uni-tasking and great app switching.

The difference is it really forces you to focus on one thing at a time. I have no problem switching between apps to get stuff I need to send or reply to that email with facts from simplenote etc. But you can't have all that on the screen at the same time like you are used to.

This makes people believe it's hard to use for work. Simply because they have to relearn their entire workflow. The desktop experience simply doesn't translate to the tablet and it makes people feel less efficient.

using iPad for work

Why the iPad is awesomee The iPad actually makes you more effective. Not efficient. You won't be doing things at the same speed as you do on a desktop, and that might frustrate you. But it'll also force you to think about what is most important. Usually, in both my experience and my sneaky interviews, making the end result better.

The iPad really does almost everything a desktop computer does. So far I've found two things it doesn't do as well as a desktop:

  • Create graphics, the iPad simply cannot compete with Adobe Photoshop and a mouse.
  • Formatting text. Yes I'm serious. You can do it. But it takes forever.

The second thing the iPad doesn't to really do highlights the efficiency vs effectiveness problem. It doesn't format text well. But is that really what you should be doing? Yes a well formated document looks a lot more professional than a poorly formatted one. But the content is really the important thing, right? And seriously, you could've made a template for those visual documents years ago.

Don't worry though, there's probably an app for that.

 

The ending was intended as sarcasm and not rampant fanboyism. Though I probably am a rampant fanboy of Apple's take on design.

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.

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.

Writing a Children's Novel - part 1 writing

I've had plans on writing a book since... forever. And right now I have 30 days of vacation so I thought it was about time to do something about it.

Over the next few weeks I'll be trying to write, layout and publish my own kindle book. Of course I'll share everything about the process right here.

First off: Writing I decided to try to tackle Ayn Rand's Objectivism as a moral for the story. That set the stakes high enough. Over the next few days I'll flesh out a plot and write a first draft.

Of course you can follow me actually writing the document LIVE right here.

 

A new iOS notification design

Something I don't get about most current design is that designers adding features always add layers of complexity. Never add things unnecessarily.

This is my design for a new Notification system. The notification counter on top will ping in color and sound/vibration when new notifications drop in. The user can set which service does what in settings.

The entire notification list is under the spotlight window. If you use spotlight, it'll disappear until you remove your search.

 

UPDATE:

iOS5 has been unveiled and while I'm not shocked to find I wasn't spot on, I am a bit shocked by their adding another menu just for notifications. If you have no idea what I'm talking about check em out here.