November 15, 2014

Khoi Turns Infocards into Wildcard

This past week one of my favorite designers, Khoi Vinh released a product for iOS that is a great play on information card UI called Wildcard. Khoi has a really good write-up of the journey launching Wildcard.

Wildcard is Best When Used

The real joy is in using Wildcard. Khoi created a wonderfully usable and quite intuitive UI and interaction model all based on information cards, which work wonderfully on mobile and other constrained UI devices. Wildcard is a mix of news summary and scrolling service and product finding service.

Information cards are often mis-used and misunderstood. Both Google and Twitter started in with adding infocards to their design and information structuring a few years back. Both did this as a means to surface well chunked and structured content into small chunks for mobile and other UI constrained interfaces, but also for information scanning and lite representation interfaces and interaction models, like Google Now and the Twitter stream. The model does not work as well on fuller information and content sites, as it constrains in ways that are not moving things forwards, but instead setting false arbitrary constraints.

An Interconnected Service

One of the great pleasures in Wildcard is it not only has its own hold onto for later interaction and service, but it has fully integrated sharing with others and into your own services where you track, store, and manage your information nuggets. It does a really good job of integrating into one’s own personal knowledge flows and capture services.

Far too many services (see (unfortunately) Medium as example of current balkanization from other services) have been shifting to make it difficult for the reader and user of their content to work with the content as they wish and need in their information flows. This fracturing means it is more difficult to share and attribute content (and send people to the site) when blogging or other write-ups.

Khoi has long understood the value of information relationships and information flows for use and reuse, which shows brightly here in Wildcard.

Moved Wildcard to the Front Row

After spending about 15 minutes with Wildcard in my first use of it, it moved to the front row of my “News” folder in my iOS devices. It may become one of my first go to apps to see what is happening in the world around me.

A Model Interaction App

One of the things that struck me in my first use was the intuitive interaction model and information model for moving into a collection and around and deeper in the collection and then back out. Wildcard is really well done on this front. It is one of those things where when I am done using it the ease of use (for the most part - there are one or so “wha?” moment, but for a just launched product that is great) really stands out and I start working through how it works and functions. I’m likely going to have a sit down with it not to use it, but to map out what it is doing, because for me its interaction design is really good and fluid.

It is always a joy to find an app or service that not only does its job well and seems to get out of the way, but works to augment your workflows and existing resources for use and reuse. But, when it stands out as a really easy to use service on first use and good for discovery and exploring, it is worth sitting and better understanding the how and why it does that so I can better think through options and paths for things I am working on or advising.

Kudos Khoi!

November 13, 2014

Finding Voice and Freeing my Mind

The effort to return to a habit of regular blogging has been really helpful. But, it has also not solved some inner conflict I thought was going to be a breeze to push past. In my initial push the Refinement can be a Hinderance post really is a tough speed bump to clear. I have a long list of blogfodder queued up for my more formal and work focussed blog, Personal InfoCloud, but now I’m noticing a queue here on this blog as well.

Part of this effort on this blog is to just get things out of my head and shared. I’m realizing time is a hurdle (more correctly lack of time), but getting things framed well and not making a fool (there is a huge part of my inner self that loves to play the jester) of myself. In blogging I’m trying to work writing as an easy sprint again. I am trying to not pay attention to voice, nor what sorts of things I am finding of interest to share. I have been hoping it would evolve, has it did in the very beginning and again with a few other reboots. In this I am finding I am noting things of interest, but not fleshing them out quickly and marking them as to do later, which was my counter intent. Part of this shifting ideas to blogfodder lists rather than knocking it out is there are other things that get my attention as I sit to write.

I am ending up with a few new category terms to add to my pick list. I am also wanting to use this blog to frame and shape ideas and maps forward for the Personal InfoCloud blog. I’m likely going to list out all of the 14 or 15 Shift Happened posts that are brewing as a post here in the near future. I’m also thinking of listing all the social lenses as an outline - downside to this is I want to point to all the existing posts over the years that have become part of the social lenses.

Potentially Adding Linkblogging Back Again

I am also thinking of doing quick link blog posts, which fall into a longer Pinboard or Delicious social bookmark and add more narrative. I keep thinking I want a slightly different input form for those (I had one for Quick Links years back before Delicious started, but it doesn’t quite fit the bill these days). I also have a love / hate for blogger’s link blogging as the header link goes way from their blog and not to a permalink page with a little more info. The user interface is not differentiated in any way, or done incredibly poorly on most sites. But, I am trying not to let the short comings of other’s sites deter my own use of link blogging, but I would keep the header link consistent and link it locally to a node page and have a proper link out to the site or object in the text.

No More Meta - Maybe

With each of these meta posts about this blog as post in this blog, I swear it is my last one.

I also realized my new hosting server (sat in New York I believe) is not using local time, but GMT instead. This is better than the time stamping of blog posts on my old server / host in Sydney (yes, I know I can fix this with a simple conversion, but that requires writing the conversion). One day I may fix that. One day.

November 12, 2014

New Adoption Points

One of those things where, yet again, realize you have a really quick personal adoption threshold when a new device fills in and you start wondering why everything can’t be logged into with a fingerprint. Then there is the, “why are you calling me on my payment device?”

It has been over 30 years of having new devices arrive at semi-regular pace and quickly disrupting things for workflows around devices and interactions, which is followed often by relatively quick adoption and getting used to a new mental model that makes things a little easier. This is really true for software that is buggy and never really fixed and where I (as well as other humans are the human affordance system).

The Software Counter Model to Quick Change Adoption

As much as new physical hardware and software interaction model shifts largely causes little difficulty with changing for more ease of use, the counter to this with software with a lot of human need for grasping mental models. It is particularly difficult when structuring mental models and organization structure before using software is something required.

There have been some good discounts on Tinderbox across podcasts I listen to or websites around Mac productivity I read, so I nabbed a copy. I have had long discussion around Tinderbox for over a decade and it has been on my want list for large writing and research projects. I have had quite a few friends who have been long time users (longer than I have been a DevonThink user), but I don’t seem to have one in my current circle of colleagues (I you are one and would love to chat, please reach out).

I have a few projects that I think would make great sense to put into Tinderbox, but not really grokking the structure and mental model and flows - particularly around what I wish I would know when I have a lot of content in it. It is feeling a lot like trying to read Japanese and not having learned the characters. I also wish I had kept better notes a few years back when I was deeply sold on a need for Tinderbox, but didn’t capture a detailed why and how I thought it would work into workflow.

Some Tools are Nearly There as a Continual State

I have some software and services that I use a fair amount with hope that they will get much much better with a few relatively small things. Evernote is nearly always in this category. Evernote is a good product, but never gets beyond just good. The search always falls apart at scale (it was around 2,000 objects and had about doubled that scaling threshold pain point) and I can’t sort out how to script things easily or remotely drop content into the correct notebook from email or other easy entry model. There are a lot of things I wish Evernote would become with a few minor tweaks to support a scalable solid no (or very few faults tool), but it never quite takes those steps.

Their business tool offering is good for a few use cases, which are basic, but getting some smart and intelligence uses with better search (search always seems to be a pain point and something that DevonThink has nailed for 10 years) would go a really long way. Evernote’s Context is getting closer, but is lacking up front fuzzy, synonym, and narrowing search with options (either the “did you mean” or narrowing / disambiguation hints / helps).

We will get there some day, but I just wish the quick adoption changes with simple hardware interaction design and OS changes would become as normal as quickly with new other knowledge and information tools for personal use (always better than) or business.

November 10, 2014

Manufacturing Time

In addition to trying to hack a habit into existence around blogging every day (here but also counting the larger posts over at Personal InfoCloud, which is mostly working-ish), I am trying to hack my sleep cycles.

For a few years I have been running Sleep Cycle app to optimize my sleep wake up times so I am feeling more rested (read, “a lot less cranky”) by waking in the optimum sleep pattern. This has been a great tool and has really helped.

While all things are lovely on this front, I have been trying to sort out how to better optimize time or create more productive time. I haven’t been getting optimal output, which I was used to over many years. Part of the shift was slipping out of good habits, but on a recent work travel stint (I’m always a lot more productive when traveling, even though I’m lacking some resources (physical books) on the road).

In working through this productivity difference, it starting coming down to the revelation that home cycles include family time and driving my son to practices and games (I love doing this), but by the time I return in the late evening I am not as ready nor willing to sit down and work again.

While there are tasks that will engage my mind and I will get a lot of focus and crank things out (this is largely coding projects) but the late evening turns into night and then middle of the night quite easily, the evening is rather out. So, if I am trying to manufacture more time for productivity during the day the morning is the other option (in science fiction cracking open as slice in the middle of the day to add time would be a possibility, but I’m still living in my version of the now).

I am hoping to shift my 8am wake time, which ties to a midnight to 1am sleep time, back about two hours. I chipped back about 45 minutes today and hoping by week’s end to have this down.

November 8, 2014

KM World 2014 Wrap

I spent much of this week at KM World 2014 in Washington, DC and the past few days I was working on notes and blog posts for here, but time to get them in readable form and posted wasn’t quite there, so today they became a Personal InfoCloud post, KM World 2014 is a Real Gem.

I had a great time with fantastic people whom I’ve known and people new to me. I spent a lot of time talking about work projects and being back on the consulting side again, but also getting content out and what makes sense with prioritization. I had a lot of great meetings and less formal chats about the state of things as well as trying out some metaphors for framing some things to gage how well they hold up.

I have a lot of snippets to explore and post that have come out of this past week, but I’m digging out of email, notes, snippets, and other things tucked away from this past week.

November 5, 2014

More Short Blog Pushs

It seems like this small blogging exercise is catching, as Colin Devroe brings it up in his “Twitter is not a replacement for blogs” post, which brings in Marco Arment’s “Short Form Blogging” post. While a few well placed web digerati are back trying to put traction to their emphasis of blogging on their sites, the drop in blogging is more than Twitter and other social platforms, but they really ate a chunk of the great minds sharing.

I look at my 64,000+ tweets since I started using the service in June or July 2006 and I see a lot of ideas and a large collection of conversations. Those 64,000+ tweets quite often have near the maximum characters of 140 characters (something that just sort of magically happened). But, that is roughly a decent size book of content - no the whole of the tweets is not book worthy.

Twitter didn’t eat my blog posts, life did. Putting focus on a kid and a five year stretch of life getting quite challenging with a whole lot of personal challenges put my elsewhere. I did blog a few of the things that ate my focus - my dad having a year long battle with stomach cancer then moving on to the other side, followed by my mom 11 months later. But, shift in work patterns ate posts and many for Personal InfoCloud just sat on hard drives and cloud services to be picked up and honed. Part of them sitting was the lack of good like minds with depth to help give sanity checks, but also it was a battle of what and why to share.

Getting back in to a blogging mindset where sharing comes first helps fix my just sitting on things. But, getting back to regular blogging is also getting the practice of knocking out ideas in a format that provides the means to set, frame, flesh out, and express. While tweeting a lot pushed a lot of my longer thought into a short series of 140 character tweets, it shrunk and shifted how I thought about things and formed them. I lost some of the rathole diving, but I lost the habit of medium form of 300 to 800 words. But, I’m not working at not writing to word counts, but sharing things out.

This morning I woke from a night of the crazy dream farm working overtime. I lacked the time to get it out. While it is good, if not great blog fodder, it is rathole worthy of easily drifting in to 1200 to 3000 words. The time and practice needed to get that sucker out in a 300 to 800 word framing was going to take a lot of work. Today I gave a couple short synopsis of the dreams rather briefly (under 2 to 3 minutes). It was then the lightbulb went on where my mid-length content went.

It wasn’t Twitter that killed my blogging, it was me having the time to really knock it out succinctly without editing. I’ll get there and it is working its way there.

November 4, 2014

Car Talk Down One

Life eventually gets to a point where things just start going way, in bulk. I’ve missed Car Talk new episodes for a while. For a long long stretch of years, spaning both coasts, I spent Saturday running errands listening to Car Talk. I’m not sure if I stopped running errands Saturdays or Car Talk stopped new episodes first, but I long hoped to have new Magliozzi brothers jabbering in my ears again.

Today the Tom Mgliozzi obit at Car Talk had that wish put to rest. I wish Ray and all who knew Tom condolances and peace.

Life doesn’t repeat itself, even if you are going around the block a few extra times to listen to the rest of Car Talk. Things just change and things that were arent’ and new things are.

November 1, 2014

Zeldman and Jason Sanata Maria Hit on Design Truth

I have a small set of podcasts I really enjoy, but a couple weeks back Jeffrey Zeldman’s The Big Web Show, On Web Typography with Jason Santa Maria was a stand out. It was not only great on the subject of typography and reflected a lot of early web design, but got into the reputation of design.

Design doesn’t have a great reputation in the business world and it is seen as superficial, which is a reason I stay away from using design or user experience as a label. Jason and Jeffrey did a great job talking through this. This got huge head nods in agreement and wanted to shout to the world around (that I was driving through) “this is IT”. It was a real moment of truth and best explained by listening to their conversation.

Deep thanks Jeffrey for not only this podcast, but all your work. Keep it rocking!

Being Makers

Oh, there is so much great fodder in Dan Hon’s most recent Tiny Letter, but today’s dosage meted out Episode One Hundred and Eighty One: It’s Too Hot; Monitor This is a gem. The piece that really got me going is midway through section “2.0 Monitor This”, as follows:

I’ve been in meetings like this.

I don’t know what the brief would've been. But given that it went to Jam in the first place, I’m sure it was something to do with “let’s do something on social or mobile”. And it's exciting to think, as a creative team, that you've come up with an “app” that can “solve a problem”.

Well, part of the f*cking problem is this: those creative teams have most commonly *never shipped* an “app” or a “service” before. And the skills required in actually making a good application or service are vastly different from those involved in creating compelling creative communications. Because, you know, one of these things is used and the other one isn’t. That’s not to say that good apps and services *can’t* be informed by the kind of taste and direction that informs well-performing advertising creative communications work. But the two things are different!

This is why, for example, good producers try to find people who’ve actually done something in the relevant area before, so you’re not playing a f*cking crap shoot.

Pants on Fire

This scenario is not only creative agencies, but most any non-serious product organization. I see this a ton where people are just guessing the way forward. It doesn’t matter if they are in UX and don’t understand the medium they are working in with any depth (they don’t prototype and can’t build), they are analysts who have never built nor managed a scaled environment and been responsible for it, or are a consultant that never stuck around to be responsible for what they delivered so never learn how to do anything close to properly.

Largely it comes down to depth and experience dealing with things for a long haul. The best experience is not only doing, but being with it long term and responsible for things after they are delivered. The best experience in this set is being the person, or one of the people, whose pants catch on fire when things don’t go well.

These “pants catch on fire” folks are most often gems, particularly if they are keep building and working to innovate and iterate (with all the research and digging for more depth) so to understand it better and get it right. These people are also the ones who can break things down to the “it depends” elements and walk through the questions needed and know what to do with the answers. Far too many want the answers without knowing how to think it through or go through the questions but not understand what the answers mean.

SXSW Started with Makers

A lot of this reminds me of the progressions of South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive. I first went in 2001 to not only listen and learn, but to meet and thank some of the people who helped me deeply by the lessons they learned and shared themselves and by others on shared in the service they offered. I learned much of what I knew in the early web years (1994 to 2001) from people sharing what worked, but also what didnt work (and what they did that didn≱t work in a situation) [I also had relied heavily on my formal learning as a communication major undergrad and public policy (econ and social quant) from grad school]. I wanted to say hello to Jeffrey Zeldman for A List Apart, Jeffrey Veen for Webmonkey and HotWire, and Nathan Shedroff for sharing all they did at Vivid Studio (one of the first web design shops that predated UX, but took all the methods I learned in designing communications and applied it to the web and digital matter and connected the long used methods to new terms for the same things).

That 2001 SXSW was a lot of people who were building, making, and working deeply to understand what worked, what didn≱t work, to improve what they were making so it could be used by others who needed it to work. It was a sea of design and developer hybrid explorers.

By 2005 SXSW had shifted from purely makers to include those talking about things made and how to use what has been made, while not really understanding what goes into making it. These were the “Clickers”.

In 2006 and 2007, we had shifted from the Makers, to the Clickers, to many talking about the Clickers, but not really understanding the Clickers as they weren’t really using things, but talking at an abstraction layer about what the Clickers said. There was some nascent value in these “Talking about Clickers” folks, but a lot of it was off target as they didn’t understand the underlying elements that were being used, not the mindset and the needs of the Clickers all that deeply - the exceptions to these are deep researchers who actually could and did make and spent time in with the Makers and Clickers.

By 2008 the abstraction at SXSW got really crazy. It had a huge number of talks by people “Talking about those Talking about Clickers” otherwise known as social media gurus. It was an utter mess. There was a severe lack of depth and nobody had a clue about much of what they were talking about. Their understandings were based on mis-understandings. There was a small contingent of Makers still speaking and some Clickers who had good depth of understanding by this point, but most of what was on the program was horrid blather. Much of the draw that had makers drop into Austin to see friends and colleagues and share and work through understandings to hone the way forward stopped going. At 2008 I had enough of it and stopped going as the value derived is next to nothing.

SXSW in about eight years went from being Makers, to Clickers, to Talking about Clickers, and to Talking about those Talking about Clickers. It became a gathering of nothingness. It became a conference of what Dan is talking about, people trying to do something without having any interest in understanding what they are doing. They want answers without understanding the question.

For the Love of Makers

I love the Makers and making. The mindset and drive to understand how to build things better for the Clickers and to make things more usable and needed. Working with other Makers and people with Makers’ mindset in the development, design, and product side is fantastic. There is a whole lot of “we don’t understand this well enough” mindset. As nothing is perfect and everything has gaps (products and humans) we need Makers to understand and build a way forward.

October 31, 2014

Deconstructing for Fun

There are two video gems I have fallen into really liking in the last year Every Frame a Painting and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Every Frame is a Painting

Every Frame is a Painting tickles the film nerd in me. This takes me straight back to a great class in media criticism by Father Mike Russo in undergrad. We not only learned how to watch film, but how to deconstruct it, which turned into how to make film for many in that class.

Tony Zhou who creates Every Frame is a Painting provides great insight into film direction and cinematography, by breaking down scenes and the make-up of a shot to convey a story through film. Film and its genres as well as directorial influences not only help see film with a new eye of appreciation, but the world beyond film. A lot of interaction design in technology heavily references film and the ability to direct attention and create an enjoyable experience.

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

I’ve wasn’t a fan of the Jerry Seinfeld show. I saw a decent amount out of inertia (was watching the show on same channel prior) or it was a lead-in to something I wanted to watch. But, while there were some gems, most was listening to people whine, which lead to that same whining tone coming from myself the following day.

But, Seinfeld’s stand-up was something I had appreciation for and enjoyed. But, he has a web video series with the construct of him driving a historic car to pick-up another comedian to go get coffee. Most of the episodes are 15 to 20 minutes of he and his fellow comedian talking craft and sharing stories.

Much like Every Frame… Comedians in Cars… puts the focus on deconstruction of the craft, background of the artist, and breaking things down. There is often quite a bit of humor, which also helps.

In college and the years when I lived in San Francisco I loved going to stand-up shows. There were a lot of really good comedians working through their craft in SF in the mid–80s to mid–90s. The best times were often at open mic nights where comics would try out new material and often spill out into the parking lot or streets for an hour or few of riffing and stories.

Deconstruction is Essential for Understanding

A lot of undergrad for me seemed to be about not only learning (building a corpus of knowledge), but learning to deconstruct and understand the world and craft around me. Comedy and film (media in general got this treatment) were two of many of the disciplines I learned to breakdown to understand at more atomic levels, so to understand how to build more than capably as well as much better.

Learning the craft of deconstruction through something fun like film and comedy is a great place to start. Warning - this will change how you not only watch and consume things and may change the enjoyment and mindless nature that is desired, but it does give enjoyment on many other levels.

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