Starting something new

It’s almost a year since I closed down BlankPage, the writing service I ran for several years as a side project, and I think it’s finally time to start something new. Picking what to work on, has turned out to be a surprisingly hard problem.

When I started BlankPage is was just one of those excited moments when something life changing felt within reach, and I set about making it a reality immediately. This time I have more experience, and I know how important it is to work on things that are achievable.

That sounds a bit dark, but what I mean to say is that I have some idea of how much time, energy, and money I can spend on a project. So there’s no reason for me to pick a project that is far beyond those limitations in scope. I can’t build a new type of nuclear power plant by myself, with my savings. Understanding that and picking something a bit more viable is actually a freeing and exciting idea. Because it makes my next project so much more real, even in the idea stage.

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Derrick Reimer wrote about finding product founder fit a while back, and I like the idea of picking a project that suits you as the creator. That should increase the likelihood of success.
So which are my criteria?
These are my thoughts, off the top of my head while writing this post:

  • The project needs to be small enough that a single full stack dev can easily build it.
    An MVP can’t take more than a few days to implement. Otherwise I won’t iterate fast enough.

  • The project cannot be production critical for the customers.
    I simply cannot guarantee seven 9’s uptime.

  • The Project’s competitive advantage should be based on a clear understanding of the users needs and wants.
    Not technology. It doesn’t have to be unique, it would be ok to just be different.

  • The Project should “give back” to the free and open web some how. The internet is important, and I think it’s up to all of us to strive to keep it open.
    So whatever I build, it should take cues from the IndieWeb movement somehow.

  • The Project shouldn’t aim to become a “scale-up”.
    If I end up taking on VC money, it will consume my life.

Alright, that’s enough for today I think. Back to work.

I wonder if engagement killed social media?

There’s no way to miss the frustration about social media all around us. Algorithmic feeds, allegations of Facebook manipulating the media. It never seems to end.

in the middle of this storm Andy Baio, the former CTO at Kickstarter, put up a link that shows you what your twitter feed was like ten years ago. It went viral.

Today were bombarded by snide comments and jokes at everyone’s expense, but ten years ago people mostly observed and shared things. 

I wonder why?

What happened that made the social landscape change this drastically? Was is the influx of new people that swamped the established culture? Possible, but I believe in humanity way more than that. was is the hardening social climate all around us? Doubtful, the only place it seems to get rougher is in the the media.

I think there’s a piece of evidence right there in what social posts look like today.

It’s a megaphone.

All these posts are broadcasts. They’re mostly snide, satirical or cynical posts at someone’s expense. 

There’s  another sort of content that’s experiencing the same development in parallel. News is growing worse and more snide by the minute in the race for faster and cheaper clickbait. 

Can it be that social media turned bad because we all strive for short term engagement? We know that measuring engagement shortsightedly has left Facebook with the massive undertaking to redesign their feed. So it’s not a big leap of the imagination to think that perhaps social media was killed by the like button. And twitter by the heart icon.

An entire form of media. Possibly killed because of a bad design choice. 

…or am I reading to much into this? 

What TV executives believe about their audience

A few years back I was involved in redesigning a website for a TV channel in Sweden. What they told me gave me a profound insight into the minds of the networks. To bait your click, you won’t believe what they believe.
We met in a conference room in the networks main building. He was in charge of communications for several channels that belonged to the network. I was a junior employee at a highly regarded marketing agency.

We sat down, three of us from the firm, and the TV exec, to discuss what we would be doing. We began by offering a series of ideas about how they could communicate their unique brands and shows, but the exec stopped us half way though.

“No, no. You’ve got it all wrong.” he said “this isn’t why people watch our channel at all”.

We all leaned in. The exec launched into a vague pitch about what made them truly unique, summing it up in a phrase that is forever etched in my mind:

“People stay with our channel, for our programming

I was confused. I didn’t think he meant any coding was going on, but didn’t understand the term, thankfully he explained it. In the view of the network, people tuned into to a channel, and stayed with that channel, because of their unique arrangement of shows and commercials. The programming, is their term for the schedule of material broadcast. Each show, each commercial break and even the ads themselves, are scheduled to reflect the overall feel of the TV channel. This is, according to him, why people like one channel over another.

I was stunned by this. Not the information itself, I’ve always expected every media form to think like this to some degree, but by the thought that these executives actually believed that in the age of the internet.

This was prior to Netflix launch in Sweden, but anyone who had seen any statistics about video usage online, or seen anyone using youtube or torrenting a movie knew that this was completely false. Not just ignorant, but incorrect almost to the point of lunacy. People find and watch specific content because they like that content. They might endure everything else, only if there’s no easier way. But they do not choose their content by association.

I walked away from that meeting in a stunned silence.

Recently I think I have realized how this idea took shape. TV usage is measured by putting a box near your TV that records audio cues from the programs and commercials. This recorded data is later collected and aggregated to find statistically interesting patterns.

The problem, like with most statistics, is of course that this collection method cannot measure intent. So if you were to turn on your TV while you do the dishes, and talk on the phone, and then see one program before you go to bed, you will be measured as staying with one channel for quite some time before jumping to a specific show and then turning off.

Even though your intent was background noise while you do something else, the measurement is easily interpreted as you enjoying the channel and sticking to the programming.

For that network, or at least that executive, the numbers were clear. Their unique programming was what kept people glued to the TV screen five hours every night.

This is not a jab at TV, though they are aging rather badly, but a warning to all of us not to get caught forcing what we want users to think onto statistics, just because we believe our work to be important. Let’s never become so arrogant we start believing our brand is more important than our product. In the end, every business is about creating value for your customer.

(If anyone has similar insights into the TV industry, I’d LOVE to hear it. Please post in the comments below.)

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.

Medium’s new embed feature

Medium.com is quickly shaping up to a great reading and writing experience. A recent surprise feature is their story/collection/user embeds which let you bring medium with you anywhere.
https://static.medium.com/embed.jsJesperBylund

Odd to see what is basically an iFrame experience from such a design focused company. One can only conclude that they see some great experience behind this. Can’t wait to find out what it could be.

What’s keeping the Apple TV


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A fully fledged Television or a very updated Apple TV box, the rumors about Apples entry into the living room has been growing steadily since the introduction of the iPad.
I recently saw a concept for a user interface of the Apple TV, and to me it clearly showed just why Apple is not in this market yet. Apple is missing a core piece of technology.

The missing piece

Apple clearly puts a lot of thought into their User Interfaces. The iPod, the iPhone and the iPad all changed how we interact with these types of devices. The same has been true for OS X, their PC operating system. But in classic Apple fashion, one of the hardest problems to solve has been delegated to the future by working around it. User Management on all of Apples devices is still pretty poor.

login screen OS X

On the Mac it works fine, log out of your account and log into another. But sharing apps and files across accounts is a nightmare. Accounts work almost as completely separate repositories. Which might be good from a security perspective, but is crazy for usability.

On iOS accounts simply are not available. The machines are made to be so personal you can’t really hand around an iPad for fear of people messing up your settings.

A lot of families work around this issue by simply sharing an account. But this makes iMessages and many other Apple features difficult or impossible to use. Clearly there’s something missing here.

On the concept at the top of this post the Apple TV is shown receiving a notification. Who for? The person that set up the Apple TV probably. But that would cause no end of problems for most users. A TV simply is not a single user device.

Apple won’t chance an entire new market without some solution to this problem. But this means their entire infrastructure needs to be upgraded to support group accounts.

Think about the problem of making a family login for iTunes. How will the rights be managed for a shared account? How will movie execs be sure we’re not all sharing a single iTunes accounts?

Today, rentals are locked to the device they are rented on. This might be a short time solution, but with AirPlay and the increasing amount of TVs in a single home it becomes restrictive and hard to manage.

Apple needs an entirely new way to manage users and material rights. And they need it in place before they can launch a full living room device.

Personally, I can’t wait. My Netflix account on my Apple TV is overrun by my partners odd choice of shows to watch.

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.

Everything you want to know about Facebook Graph Search


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A week ago Mark Zuckerberg was on stage talking about the future of Facebook and unveiling Facebook Graph Search. Since then thousands upon thousands of articles have been written on the subject, so why write another one?
Every single piece I’ve read, seem to either misunderstand, or not care about what makes Graph Search different. So here I go, trying to explain what Graph Search really is.

Continue reading “Everything you want to know about Facebook Graph Search”

How to design rules that work

Rules are ever present in our daily lives. We follow social rules, company rules, and laws. We create organizations by making sets of rules, we create deals and contracts all defined by rules. But very few people learn how to create rules. Most rules, don’t work. As a former game designer, I’ve studied rules academically and tried and tested rules by the thousands. This is what I’ve learnt so far about creating rules that work.
Continue reading “How to design rules that work”