Notes on Software & Design

I’ve been reading a lot about social media recently, and just found an excellent presentation by Paul Adams, a Sr. User Experience researcher at Google, that takes a look at real life social networks and compares them to online social networks. It highlights just how much the current online social networking experience falls short of what we expect based on our real world interactions.

His main point is that current social networks mistakenly dump everyone you know into a giant bucket, called “friends”, and that this is completely unlike anyone’s social network in the real world. Not only is this as ill-advised as inviting everyone you know (work friends, drinking buddies, girlfriends and ex-girlfriends) to a single party, but it’s also wrong in that most people in most people’s networks would not even be described by them as friends – many are co-workers, alumni of the same high school etc. Nevertheless this is where we are today. The workaround for this situation is to take on the onerous work of maintaining separate identities online. The non-workaround is to say the-hell-with-it, and realize after you’ve spent a year fruitlessly looking for work that you still have an album of photos in your Facebook account of you throwing up on other people at parties.

There are of course a lot of cantankerous old people and conspiracy theorists (I’m looking at you Maya) who realize this model is pretty messed up, which is why four NYU students were able to raise $200,000 in funding on KickStarter to start building a new social network that would give users control of their own personal information rather than hosting it on a 3rd party like Facebook, or broadcasting it to the entire world like Twitter.

But I think businesses should be equally concerned with rushing into advertising and marketing in the messy and relatively untargeted world of current social networks and on the Internet at large, and should also be throwing some of their weight behind a better alternative. Companies may have the same or greater difficulties maintaining separate identities for their products online, especially if they appeal to different and perhaps conflicting market segments.

And, as Paul points out in his presentation, recommendations from “strong ties” are an order of magnitude more effective than those from people who are further removed. Marketing via social networks today is perhaps closer to leveraging the circle of trust, but there is a whole new level to take it to which will benefit both consumers and businesses. Everyone down from the Unilevers and P&G’s of the world should be considering (and possibly investing in) new models that protect individual privacy and support real relationships over click-to-friend relationships. The days of 10,000 “friends” are numbered.

I highly recommend reading the entire Paul Adams presentation if you have any interest in such things (which is likely if you’ve read this far):

Both of the images below are from the presentation.


The (broken) model of current social networking sites


The real-world model of relationships proposed by Adams

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Maintaining more than one acct is probably an edge case for the Twitter designers, but whenever it IS a priority, here are a couple problems I wish they’d address.

1. When I am logged in to Twitter (website) I can’t tell which user I’m logged in as without going back to the home page

2. When I want to follow someone, there is no easy way to choose which account I am following from. This goes for all the clients I have seen as well as the site. Instead you need to log in as the user, and then follow. If you’re using the website, this means go to Twitter, then go home to see which user I’m currently logged in as ( due to issue above ) and THEN follow

That said I hardly consider myself an advanced user. Anyone have suggestions to resolve these issues? Or additional issues to post?

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Ok. First off, I have no intention of replacing my laptop with my iPad. It just turns out my ( brand new! ) Macbook pro is DOA with what looks like a bad hard drive, which has left me no choice but to try to use the iPad for my everyday work. Here are the things that make that difficult, if not impossible. Some are certainly addressable, some not so much, at least not obviously.

1. Email filters don’t work, or don’t migrate at least. All the filters I have set up to separate mailing list messages from messages I NEED to read don’t function, or haven’t come over via .Mac (trial) so everything ends up in the inbox

2. Email search doesn’t work beyond a certain point. If it’s not in the first 50 messages then you can click “search on the server” aka wait, wait, wait…

3. I can’t see two things at the at same time. Want to take information from a spreadsheet and put it into a web application, or reference a document to write an email? Not going to happen.

4. Typing on screen works, but, for me at least, there are too many errors to not make it somewhat grueling. There’s an evident solution for this one – get a keyboard.

5. The obvious – some applications aren’t all that useable for what you need to do or don’t exist. I do a lot of my work in Fireworks designing mockups or final software graphics. Can’t easily do this with the existing software and not sure I’ll ever be able to do it with my fingers.

All in all, I have been pleasantly surprised by how useful the iPad is in a pinch, and that some of my biggest issues could probably be resolved by Apple without too much difficulty. The portability is great – definitely preferable to carrying a laptop everywhere. If your job consists of a lot of email, meetings, and document writing and review, it’s a pretty serviceable alternative. Once you need to do some more complicated work, like programming or graphic design, it’s not so much of a solution, at least not now, for my work ( software design ).

So the good news is it can do work in a bind. I wouldn’t buy it for this purpose, but it’s a plus. For me, the killer app is Instapaper, if you have a commute where you can read, but having a laptop backup is gravy.

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