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Eran's blog

Your UI should on My side

There’s been much hoopla over Facebook’s latest redesign. Personally, I kinda of like it, although many do not. I consider that to be a matter of taste and preference and maybe being used to how things used to be. In a few months this will be so far gone you won’t even remember it was a problem.

What I do not like is some of the recent changes they’ve made where pieces of the UI that used to contain recommendations for new friends (based, I’m guessing, on factors like common friends and location) now contain what appear to be random endorsements for public pages Facebook thinks I should be a Fan of for no apparent reason (at least to me).

katy perry
I don’t even know who Katy Perry is and I’m sure as hell am not becoming her fan.

My point is, if Facebook wants me to find their UI useful they should keep it consistent. Not just in the basic UI sense where things should be where I expect them to be but also in the content sense. Placing paid content where I expect real content will only fool me for a very short time. As soon as I realize the truth, I’ll start treating that entire space as an ad and completely ignore it. This makes it a lose-lose for both me and Facebook.

I lose because that space used to contain somewhat useful information that I wont see anymore but more importantly, Facebook loses because the information that was there used to make me create new connections with people, therefore making the social network more rich, therefore making Facebook more valuable.

I understand that Facebook is trying to appear more valuable to brands but hijacking my interface is not the way to do it. It is, on the other hand, the way to make me look for another interface or another network altogether.

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Filed under: General, Social Software, , , , ,

How NOT to build your brand

Here’s why my friends at Get Satisfaction say that Customer service is the new marketing.

AT&T has completely dropped the ball here at SXSW’09. All those geeks running around with their iPhones have brought the network to its knees. You can barely get basic cell service anywhere around the convention center and around any large party. Here, Google will tell you all about it.

On the other hand, SXSW organizers and the Austin Convention Center completely rocked the Wifi setup. For the most part we’ve been getting great service for all the Wifi enabled smart phone and laptops running around the convention center. iPhones included! Twitter will tell you all about that.

The lesson here: Giving bad service to a couple thousand of hyper-connected technology influentials is not how you build your brand.

Filed under: General, Mobile, , , , , , , , ,

First Impressions – Kindle 2

I decided to give in to my gadget lust and bought the Kindle 2
as soon as I heard about it. It came in today and here are my first impressions of the device so far:

  • The device itself feels very nice to hold: solid yet light (but not too light). The screen looks pretty good as well.
  • The screen flashes when you scroll through pages. I guess that’s how the e-ink works. Slightly annoying but I’m already getting used to it.
  • The layout of the control buttons is pretty good. It would’ve been nice to have a left side and right side buttons for scrolling back and forward but the current setup is good enough. The 5 way scroll button feels somewhat cheaply made and not as accurate as one would hope but definitely is usable.
  • The keys on the keyboard are nice enough to use but the layout could use some help. My fingers are use to the different rows being slightly offset from each other and the boxy design for the kindle keyboard will take some getting used to.
  • The basic web browser renders websites pretty well but I don’t think I’d be using it for anything complicated. Sticking to mobile versions of google apps and other websites for now. Gmail, reader, calendar all have mobile versions that work pretty well on the kindle 2.
  • Downloading books is fun and easy. Got some Doctorow from manybooks.net (use mnybks.net on the kindle), downloads run in the background while you keep on browsing and the books end up on your Home screen.
  • Reading books is also fun. Brings me back to the days of reading eBooks on my Palm Vx. The kindle remembers exactly where you were and will drop right back there when you turn it back on or return to the same book.
  • Immediate access to the dictionary when you point at a word is a very cool feature. A little window pops up at the bottom of the screen with the definition and a click lets you focus on that and switch to the full definition in the pre-installed dictionary.
  • The annotation mechanism looks pretty nice but I haven’t played around with it much. You can add annotations to specific text sections, you can highlight text and you can collect text-clippings. All seem very useful for research oriented tasks. It would’ve been nice if the clippings file actually contained links to the source text instead of just a textual reference. I’ll have to see how much of a pain that is when I start using this more.

The one thing that would make this a truly awesome device? A touch screen. Scroll using motions, mark text with your finger or a stylus, click through to annotations, etc. Make e-paper feel more like paper.

Filed under: General, , , ,

Creativity 2.0

A few days ago I came across a couple of interesting articles about creativity. Both are somewhat focused on design and user experience but I think they’re worth reading even if you’re not in those fields (I know I’m not).

Both posts were written by David Armano of Logic+ Emotion. The first post, Are You a Synthesizer talks about those people who can look through the noise and see the pattern. The second was linked from that first one, an article on UX Magazine called Creativity 2.E talks about the evolution of creativity today. Pretty good stuff.

Filed under: General,

And I’m Back in the Game!

After a long forced hiatus, HellOnline is back! I finally own my own domain so no more annoying DNS related outages (until the next annoying DNS related outage at least).

Some updates:

  • I’ve been working at DigitalChocolate for just over a year now. I’ve been working on several projects some of which you can check out (like Dchoc Cafe or the Facebook version of Towerbloxx) and some others that are not quite ready.
  • I’ve been doing a lot of load testing and performance optimization lately so expect to see some gripes about MySql and Java garbage collection.
  • I’m planning to get started on the next version of WhereAreYouCamping.com soon so if you’ve got any ideas or requests, please send’em my way.

For now, I’m off to celebrate this miraculous resurrection. Soon, a new design and new posts.

Filed under: General

MobileActive: Mobilizing the Masses With Mobile Technology

Sadly, this is the first mobile related panel I made it to. For some reason they keep scheduling them too early. I’ll try to be a good mobizen and take notes. More details on the panel and speakers on the SXSW site.

General panel description: Using cellphone for political non-profit and generally mobilizing people. A podcast of the panel will be posted later.

First task for the audience: switch phones with the person next to you and try to send a text message to yourself in less than 20 seconds. Only one person in the crowd managed to do this. Yes, phones are fragmented and barely useable.

Doug Busk – Singlepoint connects developers and mobile operators for sending premium messages.

The youth vote is an untapped power in American politics. Text messaging is not enough reach young people yet. Web presence works better.

Almost everyone has a mobile phone now. The result is that everybody wants to tap into that power.

http://www.ravewireless.com/ mobile applications for higher education.

Party tonite 8pm at Karma Lounge Ltd text karma to 10812.
http://www.karmaaustin.com
119 W 8th St
Austin, TX 78701

Very strong examples of mobilizing people outside the US (Philippines, S. Korea). Big difference in cultures.

SMS here is seen as an extension of Email. Used to send information to people.

Text message technology is still unfamiliar to many people. Misunderstanding the importance of keywords.

Messages that call for immediate action work better than ones that contain information for later.

Mobile devices are close and personal; people get very upset when they get irrelevant messages on their phone.

Need a very clear call to action that’s immediate and relevant. Example: nationwide sweepstakes on reality TV shows.

Consumer best practices for mobile marketing applications defines the rules on sending messages to mobile consumers. http://www.mmaglobal.com/bestpractices.pdf

Premium messaging is getting closer to be widely available. Sending a text message that will charge the sender $x. Red Cross used a SMS short code to raise funds for Katrina relief. You can have people contribute from anywhere and anytime.

Carriers charge a fee between %30-%50 from the amount charged to the consumer.

The phone is mainly a communication tool. Mostly used to communicate with people you know. How do we expand that to communicate with people you don’t know?

The phone is good for organizing group functionality at the moment. Again, call to immediate action.

Using text as vertical search can be very helpful. The phone is always with you and the interface is very simple. WAP is useful for delivering more complex information than can be included in an SMS message.

Mobile also empowers people on the street to immediately send pics and messages out.

Rave is giving out phones to freshmen on campus through the university and install their own apps on the phone. Create their own deck.

The iPhone might be a sign of change in the way operators treat device makers and selling devices outside of the operator in the US.

Filed under: General

Live Blogging: Keynote conversation Limor Fried & Phil Torrone

This might not be the wisest thing I’ve ever done but maybe it’s time to buy a new laptop anyway. I’ll try to keep up with some of the the craziness that Limor and Phil and very likely to create. I’m sitting front row and center thanks to a little help from Scott Beale so look out for some awesome photos too.

So far, the crow’d slowly gathering, the room is filling up. The techno music stopped, Phil and Limor are on stage, are we finally getting started?

14:15 Here we go! Phil and Limor are displaying a slide show of some crazy things people build.

  • Bacon alarm clock! Oh yeah!!
  • A vest made of old PC fans, wow, i’m getting one for Burning Man this year.
  • A Gummy bear chandlier? ewww!
  • Oh…. a device to measure when dogs have seizures. Poor princess!
  • Home made laptop, pretty cool though not as pretty as your average powerbook
  • Plants that call you when they need water. Finally someone thought about me!
  • Last but not least the death-star(tm) sub woofer. Bass!

Talking about open source hardware now. Limor is talking about the tinkerer community and how this might evolve into something similar to the OS software movement. A definition:

There are different levels of hardware.
Physical measurements and models of hardware released in open formats. Open Source CAD design
Open source circuit board design. Releasing schematics and the like under open licenses (like CC).
Firmware – The Software that’s running your hardware, but this is close to OS software.
Parts lists are also important, what parts to get and where can you get some components.
And finally whatever software is running on top of the firmware.

BTW, Limor’s OK with you taking her OS projects and using for commercial purposes.

Talking about modding linux based routers, sounds like a few people in the crowd have done this.

The Roomba (I just got one too!) has an open API that lets you connect to the robot and control it. iRobot also just released a platform that people can just use for their own projects.

Phil: Getting your robot to move is hard, many people find that’s enough of a problem to solve. iRobot solved that problem for you so you can focus about making the robot do other clever things.

GreenPhone: a phone that’s running linux with other open software that you can mod to your heart’s delight. Getting apps on phones is possible but you’re limited with the API that’s exposed. On the linux phone you have access all the way down to the device drivers so you can do whatever you want. Example: visual voice mail.

Talking about the ambient glowing orb that can display information. The company released their schematics and are encouraging users to go build their own.

The iPod linux project. Analyzing the sounds the iPod makes to figure out how it boots up. Crazy reverse engineering stuff. Wouldn’t it be nice if apple let you just do all that? Would have save a lot of effort to everyone involved. Similar to the ongoing war between Sony and people trying to mod their PSPs or the disposable camera that was reverse engineered and led to interesting projects like taking photos from an amateur rocket.

14:33 Limor is taling about the relationship between the web and hardware hacking. She uses the web to publish the information related to her projects.

Phil is talking about an exciting new way to void your warranty. They have a $20k laser and they’ll etch things on your various gadgets. They also have a wiki with information about every piece of equipment and they’ll publish templates and everything related to start your own laser business.

14:39 Podcasting. Limor is showing off one of her OS projects a midi synth that’s based on the Roland 303. And it also makes funky electronic music! The podcast includes tracks that people created, mods and pictures. Building a community of users.

Talking about some projects on Make and Craft (?). A spud gun and some knitting templates. Weekend projects from Bre and Phil on make. Make also sells complete kits. Maybe I should get one… 🙂

Moving on to cool blinky related projects. Instructables is a pretty useful site for publishing this kind of information. Photos with notes on them, etc.

14:50 We’re moving on the the cellphone jammer part of the show, will my wifi connection survive? Showing the jammer hidden inside an innocent looking cigarette box. Limor is explaining how her spectrum analyzer works. Phil gets a call that magically gets dropped. Apparently there’s been all sorts of stories about what happens when you use one of those in a busy cafe. I’m sure Phil never did this himself.

Phil’s phone’s gone all wonky (go windows mobile!). Luckily the jammer they’re using has only a 5′ range, lets you build a small bubble of quiet around you. Samsung wanted to include the device in their phone to only block phones made by the competition. Now on to the evils of city-wide wifi. The bubble will let you disable wifi where you don’t want it go.

Phil: If people really want to do things with their technology and “bend” it, you can’t stop them. It will happen anyway. Like trying to stop a video on YouTube.

Q: Sears has craftsman CNC for wood
A: Make will have (or already has) reviews. Print your own 3d objects.

Q: Limor, are you planning on selling out any time soon?
A: Limor’s making enough money, selling kits on her store and is making a living selling open source hardware. More people are creating businesses around open source.

Q: Any movement toward OS in other science? Chmistry, biology, etc.
A: Limor’s focusing on electronics mostly but it’s happening already. Example: a dr. who created a simple way to create a baby warmer. From the crowd: MIT is doing OS bio-engineering (scary!).

Phil pulls out the $100 laptop. One child per laptop or somesuch… very fisher price looking piece of hardware running a cool linux based OS.

Q: A history lesson from the crowd. Companies used to publish schematics for their devices (stereos, TVs, etc.)
A: Companies are now more scared of being ripped off and people more prone to buy new stuff instead of fixing. Phil: I blame the Eighties (applause!)

Q: Can developers get their hands on the $100 laptop?
A: There’s a wiki for developers but it’s not easy to get one. Phil: I had to beg for one. Didn’t mention i was planning on taking it apart…

Q: Something about education and kids.
A: There’s a lot of hand-on-learning going on and kits are a big help. Also maker fair.

And we’re done! Finally Limor’s turning off the jammer. Thanks!

Filed under: General

RIP RAW

I’m not even gonna try to put words to this. Robert Anton Wilson is dead.

Filed under: General

What I Learned at School

Tomorrow is my last final exam and soon I will get my Master degree in Computer Science (Internet Engineering). After some 7 odd years of schooling and about double that programming in all manner of languages I feel that I finally understand the difference between Computer Science and the Art of Programming:

Programming is about doing what Computer Science tells you is impossible.

Filed under: General

A Purple What??

So I know I’m a little late but I just watched Seth Godin talking at Google on Google Video (found the link on Presentation Zen). The video itself is pretty interesting, Seth has a lot to say and his delivery is great. What follows are some thoughts I jotted down:

  1. Seth Godin looks disturbingly like a young Lex Luthor.
  2. It is hard to ignore the irony of watching Seth Godin praise Googlers for delivering a great experience while cursing at the horrible performance and low quality of Google Video.
  3. Seth Godin is a great salesman. No doubt about it. He’s especially skilled at selling himself and that’s what he’s doing throughout the video. He starts out, though, by selling the audience themselves:

    “You guys have built something for the ages… I’m quite intimidated to be talking to you at all… I have no business telling you anything…â€?

    When talking about the simple design of Google’s homepage in ’99, He talks about the decisions You’ve made. Remember, this talk was recorded in Feb. 2006, how many were present in Seth’s audience who had any effect on those decisions? One person? Two people? Maybe five, yet Seth keeps saying You, A brilliant thing that You did. You, my audience. You, the guy sitting at the 3rd row, employee number who-even-counts-anymore… The capital Y is palpable, he’s almost pointing at the audience when he says it.

    Before presenting his ideas, Seth buys his audience’s agreement: The two giant marketing wins I want to outline, You know what they are but I wanna describe them. This simple statement – you already know what I’m about to tell you, it’s not news to you, and so, of course, it’s true.

    Then he goes on. He goes on to describe the major ideas of almost each one of his books. Free Prize Inside, Purple Cow, IdeaVirus, Permission Marketing… they’re all there. He may have skipped the Red Fez but I’m sure that’s an oversight. The only thing missing is the Amazon link with the embedded affiliate ID. In a talk dubbed “All Marketers are Liars,â€? Seth Godin definitely proves he’s one of the best. Marketers, of course.

Filed under: General