Category Archives: New Media

Design and values

I got an email (and he blogged it too) from Erik Stolteman, the director of the HCI/Design Program here at IU,

I want to recommend you to look at this video from the TED conference by Pattie Maes, maybe some of you have seen this before, it is quite fun and interesting.

When you have looked at it, you can read this highly critical review of the demonstration

The demonstration and the review together presents what in many ways can be seen as core issues of interaction design, for instance, what designs are good, what designs are needed, are there designs we should not strive for.

Look, read, and think…

My reaction is:

I find it interesting (actually I’d like to just say I wish that he would open it, but perhaps he doesn’t feel like he has the time to devote to such an endeavor) that Andy Rutledge doesn’t open his blog to comments, thereby giving him a place to critique others and not for others to be able to engage with him on that critique.

The critique that he makes seems to be rooted in the fact that he beleives that augmented reality is distracting from our own human senses and will lull us into relying on things outside of our control instead of our own senses and instincts.
This is a fairly sound argument as this is certainly how most users will end up using it.  The implicit assumption and judgement is that this is a bad thing.  While I absolutely agree that “no person is their word cloud” If one is used to interacting with people largely online, some people may actually feel more comfortable having some of those same affordances with them during face to face interaction.  I make no judgement on whether this is a good or a bad thing.

Where I do have an issue with this though is for the non-social uses of the technology.  It seems that the mantra of “bringing the answers to where the questions are” makes a fair amount of sense.  I absolutely agree with Andy when he says that you probably have already done your research on what brands to buy and if you haven’t then you probably don’t really care that much, but there are other issues to be considered.  So often our choices are based on old information, or simply habit.  What if new values have come into our lives?  Sustainability was already mentioned and it’s a good topic.  10 years ago as a working professional I had a very different set of priorities in terms of affordability as well as awareness of what goes into many of our products today.  I had only the vaguest sense of buying natural cleaning products  or environmentally friendly products, for example I avoided things that contained CFCs.  Today the constraints are different as are my sensibilities, and I may not have thought about those choices as I approach the mega aisle in my local giant-mart.  If it strikes me that perhaps I may want to rethink my choice there, then I have a hard time saying that would be a bad thing should I want to do so.

The bottom line is always the same though.  When a designer makes a choice they embed values.  So often these values are hidden, and not obvious.  On the other hand our designs, as soon as we let them out of our hands, are no longer ours and will be changed and co-opted by others, and in doing so they will tend to align with the values and interests of those who are doing so.  What I encourage all of us to do is to be thoughtful and intentional with our choices.

As for this particular case, I agree with Routledge for the most part, we need not get so wrapped up in techno-fetishism that we neglect the human and trust the five senses and incredible power of our own minds.

The power of “25 facts” phenom on facebook

I think that many of us remember chain letters, actual letters one would receive in the mail. I’ve gotten a few, never written any.  Many more of us have had chain email letters, you know you’ll be cursed if you don’t send it to ___ people within 2 days, but if you do then something good will happen to you.

Out of that concept came an email chain letter where you receive an email from a friend with answers to a list of questions and they sent it to you and a bunch of people and then you were supposed to write them back with your answers and send it to a bunch of other people too.

Now with facebook we have a similar phenom, but there are several reasons why it works better, and I’m guessing will be more popular than any of those other methods were.  Here’s how it works: 1) You write a note, you include 25 facts about you, usually things that are kind of obscure that many people wouldn’t know. 2) You tag 25 people in your note.

Why it works

It’s viral by nature: This isn’t really new, the point of chain letters is they are viral, but by tagging you are are much more likely to read it.  In facebook, if someone tags you, it will show up not just in your timeline, but in the timeline of your friends, even if the person who originally posted it isn’t your friend.  When the comments start goign it attracts more attention too, and this in turn prompts more virality.

It’s semi-public: This is one of the big changes from email or chain letters.  Notes in facebook are much like individual entries in a blog (and in fact you can import your blog automatically as notes in facebook) in that at least your friends, if not everyone can see your posts.  This pique’s people’s interest, and it’s not just you responding and sendig it to one person or a few people, but ALL of your friends, and possibly many others can too.

Discussion is possible: This is also something that changes online.  Facebook now allows you to comment on just about anything, a status, a photo, and notes.  In general people enjoy discussion, and even they don’t participate, they lurk (or observe). This means that it’s not just a one to one interaction, but a many to many interaction.

People are curious: People enjoy getting to know each other, hence all the profiles we fill out online, but this kind of exercise allows you to get to know things about people that perhaps you would never find out.

Thanks to @mmeller for reminding me of this: It’s free form.  This is a big point. One of the biggest previous incarnations of this had a list of questions you had to answer, many of which were silly or didn’t apply or I simply didn’t care about.  With 25 fact you can choose what to talk about and for how long.

Social Media is here to stay

Some cynics think social media is just a fad, something that will come and go, but I think that as long as people have the opportunity to enhance or make social connections online, then social media will be around.

Oh and here’s a copy of my twitter message that links to the note that I wrote:

“Couldn’t resist writing my 25 facts about me on facebook.”


Inside Facebook got a little bit of the statistics showing how big this has gotten.

Google to get it’s cut of music and video game sales- but what about UX?

While doing some youth research earlier this year I was surprised to see many teenagers on YouTube, but not really to watch, but to listen to music.  A free way to listen to a ton of interesting music.  I hadn’t really thought about doing that, but here they were all doing it. I’m not sure if the fine people at Google knew about that kind of emergent user behavior, but they are sure going to profit from it.

So I’m not sure how I didn’t notice this when it came out last week (oh yah I was sick in bed) but you should read this: Official Google Blog: I clicked to buy and I liked it.

Essentially viewers on YouTube will soon be able to click over to Amazon and the dreaded itunes store and buy music used in a video, or if the video is of a video game, you can buy the game (presumably from Amazon).  No word yet on how much they will get from this, and if they will share with the video creator (not likely).

Many have wondered how Google would monetize it’s massive purchase price of YouTube, aside from a relatively small attempt at ads in the videos in a non-obtrusive way, they haven’t done a lot.  Here it goes, but how will it affect the experience of YouTube?  Let’s wait and see..

Usability Challenge 2008 Solution

It’s true, today is the Usability Challenge 2008.  I have chosen this page:

Higher Education Resources

This is part of an ongoing project I am working on with the Lumina Foundation for education.  This page is a new way of visualizing and finding a large amount of information.

Lumina has amassed a large amount of publications over the last several years that all are related to their mission which is helping people achieve their potential though education.  People who work in this area directly with youth and adults who want to go back to college are called college access professionals, and my hat is off to these hard working people.  Of course there are plenty of researchers who also work in this are, usually in education departments.  I have met many in both groups.  What all these people including Lumina’s staff members rely on is high quality resources like the ones that have been gathered, but how does one search through these?

Instead of search all of the resources have been tagged (with multiple tags for each item, usually including the year of publication).  These tags have been presented in a tag cloud, where larger text means more things with that tag.  The really new thing is that if you click on one item, it shows you how many things are in that tag, and you may keep on clicking on tags to narrow your results.  The total number is shown at the top on view results tab.  When you are ready you can click on that tab and see all the items.  It is a very cool way of browsing, and the reaction of people once they understand how to use it is very positive.  The problem here is that it is a new convention, with very few affordances.  There is a “view demo” but most users don’t see it, and many users often have the volume down on their computer even when the video comes up.

The solution I am proposing for this particular page is a short lightbox popup that shows the user to click on a tag, then a second and then click view results, showing it graphically, textually and then quickly fading to a point on the screen with a question mark on it.  Clicking on the question mark will replay it slower and have the option for sound as well as givign a link for an even lengthier explanation (which would be around the length of the current demo).

It will be important to use cookies so that once a user has successfully clicked on the view results tab the lightboxed pop-up will no longer show, and that the whole strategy be evaluated regularly to see if it can be improved and when people understand it well enough we can eliminate the lightbox, but keep a pulsing question mark or something like that.

I am also emailing the results of this to Lumina so that it can be implemented. Usability Challenge 2008 is in the can.

Why Dr. Horrible is horribly important

When I was at WorkshopONE and talking to a fellow participant about the evolution of media and how old media are often driving new media.  This is what I’m talking about: in our house we don’t watch TV but we watch House, Lost, and Smallville online.  While these are old media, we watch them via new media.  In addition each show has it’s own website and of course Lost has a great wikipedia site, and many other fan sites and facebook pages, Smallville has countless sites, and I assume House has a bunch as well, but haven’t sought them out personally.  All these websites and Facebook pages, and blogs are driven by the old media artifact.  Much of the action that happens online is about old media stuff.  Those that own old media have diligently tried (and often failed, but often they are getting better) to increase viewer’s engagement with their shows and brand online, but usually the most engaging things are what the fans themselves are creating.

Then came Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, a three act miniseries, a creation of Joss Whedon and his brother.  It debuted online first, with a really transparent marketing plan and integrated social media efforts that seemed very genuine (or Authentic as Gilmore & Pine would say).  Why is this important? This is new media driving new media, and the real proof of concept and tipping point for what will become an explosion of already established and aspiring content creators going online first or online only.

I’m not saying that Dr. Horrible is the first, but I believe that it has been the most successful to date to start online and make some real money.  How much exactly remains to be seen, but being in the top purchases since it became available on iTunes means some major cash, and DVD sales haven’t even started yet. A cursory search online reveals that there are many people creating a ton of content online like getting lyrics online.  The lyrics phenomenon on that link deserve their own post, if you look a fan simply  posted them as best he or she could, and then as people got on and saw errors they commented, and he responded by taking all the edits.  Great group collaboration, and probably at a faster rate than you would imagine.

I have been interested that  BitTorrent downloads are super fast of Dr. Horrible, both of the videos and the songs.  I think this is because fans love it so much they want to share it.  While this may be at odds with a content creators need to at least pay for costs and ultimately make money, I believe though that if people like it they will pay for it in some form (I fully intend on buying the DVD).

So what will happen from here? We will see more things starting online and and moving to old media, and even better, we will see more high quality online only productions.

I must disclose that I’m now what may be called a fanboy of Dr. Horrible, and that there is a dearth of hard numbers (though you can see some guesses on revenues here and here) on viewership and purchases so at least some of this is speculative and educated guesses. That aside I couldn’t resist writing about this today, haven’t seen it yet? Download it today!

PS The above link is NOT an endorsement of using iTunes store, which I personally detest and have NEVER personally purchased from, though I have benefited from using my wife’s account.  I believe that the manner in which they lock down content is unfriendly at best, and the quality of sounds files is, well… it leaves something to be desired.