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    Entries Tagged 'iPhone' ↓

    Real Innovation Takes Time

    Combinatorial Innovation

    There are so many new technologies today: tablets, geolocation, video chat, great app frameworks. It is easy to cherry-pick off “combinatorial” innovations that seem compelling, and can maybe even be monetized readily.

    But all those innovations are inevitable. If our technologies afford a certain possibility, they will occur. “That’s not a company, that’s a feature,” is one criticism I’ve heard of many “startups.”

    These combinatorial, feature-oriented “X for Y” endeavors are often attractive because they can often be built quickly.

    Startup Weekend events send an implicit message that a meaningful business can be fleshed out in just a couple of days. And I argue that is not true. That might be a good forum to get practice with building a quick combinatorial technology and working with others, but a real innovation, much less a meaningful business, takes real time.

    I think people are often looking in the wrong places for innovation, often because they don’t really take the time to do the homework, observation, and deep reflection necessary to arrive at a true insight. We want things to be quick and easy.

    Changing Minds, and Behaviors

    The biggest innovations require asking people to change their beliefs, habits, and behaviors.

    iPhone: “why would I want a smartphone without a physical keyboard? It’s too expensive. I can’t install apps.”

    Twitter: “what is this for? Why would anyone do this? Who cares what I had for breakfast?”

    iPad: “an expensive toy. Could never replace a real laptop. Can’t run real office applications. The enterprise will never adopt it.”

    Foursquare: “only hipsters and bar hoppers would ever do this. They are letting people know when to rob them. I don’t want people to know where I am.”

    And these innovations have taken years of constant attention to bring to their current state. And they are not done.

    One Innovator’s Story

    Dennis Crowley, founder of Foursquare, was in the room at Wherecamp in 2007 where I was giving a talk about location check-in habits via Twitter (a subject I knew well because of my Twittervision service, which allowed this.)

    Dennis, of course, also founded the precursor to Foursquare, Dodgeball, which he sold to Google in 2004 (they promptly killed it.)

    But Dennis wanted to see his vision come to pass, and he knew it would someday be possible — though at that point the iPhone had not been released and it would be nearly two years before it supported GPS location technology.

    But there Dennis was, doing his homework in 2007, studying user behavior to figure out exactly what behaviors he would have to encourage to make Foursquare work.

    He asked me, “so, people are really putting their home and work locations formatted inside tweets in order to update their location?”

    “Yep, a few thousand times a day,” I replied.

    “That’s cool. That’s really cool stuff,” he said. And from that, and years of similar evidence-gathering and study, Foursquare would be born.

    So, creating Foursquare took about five years. (I could have “stolen” the idea and built Foursquare myself. But I didn’t execute on that; it was his vision to pursue.) Dennis did his homework. He was prepared. And his vision preceded the technology that enabled it.

    Why, not How

    Real innovation doesn’t come from a weekend. It comes from passion, years of study, understanding deep insights and the “why,” and persistence in seeing something new to market, along with the marketing and cheerleading that will make it successful.

    The iPad owes much to Steve Jobs’ love of calligraphy. He cultivated a sense of aesthetics because of that initial interest. He didn’t set out to “make money” but rather dedicated himself to changing the world for the better using the entirety of his humanity. Time studying art wasn’t “lost,” it was R&D for the Mac, iPhone, and iPad.

    Many of today’s entrepreneurs could stand to do less “hustling” and more reading, exploring, reflecting, and gathering input — and when it is time to make stuff, set their sights as high as possible.

    There is more to this world than money, and there are countless opportunities to make it a vastly better place. Rather than using our CPU cycles just playing with combinatorial innovations, let’s devote ourselves to making the world as amazing as possible. Try to take time to reflect on how you can make the world better, and not just on what current technology affords.

    I Hate Mice

    At Xerox Parc in the 1970’s, Alan Kay fostered the innovations that form the foundation of modern computing. Windowing, mice, object oriented languages, laser printing, WYSIWYG, and lots of other stuff we take for granted today either had its start or was fleshed out at Xerox Parc.

    The venerable mouse, which enabled direct manipulation of content on the screen, was just one of a few innovations that was screen-tested as a possible heir to the venerable cursor and text terminal metaphor which had predominated since the dawn of computing.

    Mice, trackballs, light pens, tablets, and Victorian-looking headgear tracking everything from brainwaves to head and eye movements were all considered as the potential input devices of the future. No doubt there were other metaphors besides windows considered as well. Hypercard, anyone?

    Steve Jobs, by selecting the mouse as the metaphor of choice for the Lisa and subsequent Macintosh computers, sealed the deal.  Within a year, Bill Gates, by stealing the same design metaphor for use in Windows 1.0, finished the deed.  By 1986, the mouse was a fait accompli.

    Since the dawn of the Mac and Windows 1.0, we’ve taken for granted the notion that the mouse is and will be the primary user interface for most personal computing and for most software.

    However, computing is embedded in every part of our lives today, from our cell phones to our cars to games and zillions of other devices around the house, and those devices have myriad different user interfaces.  In fact, creating new user experiences is central to the identity of these technologies.  What would an iPhone be without a touch screen?  What would the Wii be without its Wiimotes?  What, indeed, is an Xbox 360 but a PC with, uh, lipstick and a different user interface metaphor?

    (An aside: How awesome would it be if the iPhone, Wii, and Xbox 360 all required the use of a mouse?  People fidgeting on a cold day, taking out their iPhone, holding it in their left hand, plugging in their mouse, working it around on their pants to make a call.  Kids splayed out on the rumpus room floor, mousing around their Mario Karts. Killer, souped up force-feedback mice made just for killing people in Halo.  Mice everywhere, for the win.)

    So, what’s with the rant?  Simply that the web has taken a bad problem — our over-reliance on mice — and made it even more ubiquitous than it was in the worst days of windowing UI’s.

    “And then if you click here…”

    No, here — not over there.  Click here first.  Scroll down, ok, then click submit.  Now click save.

    See the problem?  The reliance on the mouse metaphor on the web is fraught with two hazards.

    1. Mice require users to become collaborators in your design.
    2. Each user only brings so much “click capital” to the party.

    Catch My Disease

    We’ve all had the experience of using a site or app that requires a great deal of either time or advance knowledge to fully utilize.

    You know the ones — the ones with lots of buttons and knobs and select boxes and forms just waiting for you to simply click here, enter the desired date, choose the category, then get the subcategory, choose three friends to share it with, then scroll down and enter your birthdate and a captcha (dude) and then simply press “check” to see if your selection is available for the desired date; if it is, you’ll have an opportunity to click “confirm” and your choice will be emailed to you, at which point you will need to click the link in the email to confirm your identity, and you’ll be redirected back to the main site at which point you’ll have complete and total admin control over your new site.  Click here to read the section on “Getting Started”, and you can click on “Chat with Support” at any time if you have any questions.

    What the hell do these sites want from you?

    If these sites are trying to provide a service, why do they need you to do so much to make them work?  Sure, some stuff is complex and requires information and processes and steps to empower them, but when you ask users to participate too much as key elements in your design, you create frustration, resentment, and ultimately rage.  That’s cool if that’s your goal, but if you’re trying to get happy users, you’ve done nothing to advance that cause.  So, it shouldn’t be about “all you have to do is click here and here.” Ask less of your users.  Do more for them.  Isn’t that what service is all about?

    Limited Click Capital

    Sometimes, people just want to be served — even entertained or enchanted. They don’t want to become the slavish backend to a maniacal computer program that requires 6 inputs before it can continue.  Is the user in service of the computer, or is the computer serving the user?  I always thought it was the latter.

    I’ll never cease to be instructed by the lessons learned from developing my sites Twittervision and Flickrvision. Both sites do something uncommon — they provide passive entertainment, enchantment, and insight in a world where people are asked to click, select, participate, scroll, sign up, and activate. It’s sit back and relax and contemplate, rather than decipher, decide and interact.  Surely there are roles for both, but people are so completely tired of deciphering, that having a chance to simply watch passively is a joyful respite in a world of what is mostly full of badly designed sites and interactions. This alone explains their continued appeal.

    People come to sites with only so much “click capital,” or willingness to click on and through a site or a “proposed interaction.”  This is why site bounce rates are usually so high.  People simply run out of steam before they have a chance to be put through your entire Rube Goldberg machine.  Make things easier for them by demanding fewer clicks and interactions.

    Make Computing Power Work For Your Users

    Truism alert: we live in an age with unprecedented access to computing power.  What are you going to do with it?  How are you going to use it to enchant, delight, and free your users?  Most designs imprison their users by shackling them to the design, turning them into nothing more than steps 3, 6, 8, 9, and 11 of a 12 part process.  How are you going to unshackle your users by making them — and their unfettered curiosity — the first step in a beautiful, infinitely progressive algorithm?

    Predict and Refine

    Forms and environments that rely on excessive interaction typically make one fatal assumption: that the user knows what they want. Most users don’t know what they want, or they can’t express it the way you need to know it, or they click the wrong thing.  Remove that choice.

    Do your best to help your users along by taking a good guess at what they want, and then allow them to refine or steer the process.

    Remember, you’re the one with the big database and the computers and the web at your disposal: how are you going to help the user rather than asking the user to help you?  You’re advantaged over the user; make it count for something.

    Don’t Think About Mice

    Mice lead to widgets. Widgets lead to controls. Controls lead to forms. Forms lead to hate. How are you going to break free from this cycle and give your users something compelling and useful with the minimum (and most appropriate) interaction? What is appropriate interaction?

    It depends.  What if you rely on gestures, or mouseovers, or 3 yes or no questions in big bold colors?  That’s minimal and simple.  It  may be just what you need to empower your idea and serve your users.

    I’ve been working with the WiiMote and the iPhone a lot lately, and trying to use touch screens, accelerometers, and the Wii’s pitch and roll sensors to create new kinds of interaction.  Maybe this is right for your work.

    Think about it and don’t assume traditional mouse/web/form interactions. Sure, sometimes they are the right and only tool for the job, but if you want to stand out and create compelling experiences, they surely can no longer be the central experience of your design.

    Long Live the Cursor

    Back in the early days of GUIs, there were lots of people who contended that no serious work would ever get done in a window and that the staple of computing and business would be the DOS metaphor and terminal interactions.  There have been dead-enders as long as there have been new technologies to loathe.  I’m sure somewhere there was a vehement anti-steel crowd.

    The mouse, the window, and HTML controls and forms are the wooden cudgels of our era — useful enough for pounding grain, but still enslaving us in the end.  How will you use the abundance of computing power, and new user interface metaphors to free people to derive meaning and value?

    SocialDevCampEast2 Recap

    I’m finally recovered after a really exhausting week that included SocialDevCamp and the wild ride of Twitter Vote Report.

    SocialDevCampEast2 went off without a hitch on Saturday at University of Baltimore.  Once again, some of the best and brightest developers, entrepreneurs and social media gurus gathered to trade ideas and talk about the future of the web.

    One thing we try to do at SocialDevCamp is vote on the sessions, to make sure they are things that people really want to hear about, or at least size the discussions to the right rooms.  We ran 5 rooms all day in 5 sessions plus lunch, for a total of 25 sessions! Check out the wiki to see the sessions that were held.

    Personally, I enjoyed the conversation on location technology, and why location-based social networks have yet to reach critical mass.  Most folks felt that there was a technological barrier — it’s just too hard to continuously update your location with current device and battery constraints — and others questioned what incentives people have to update their locations.  We decided that those incentives probably needed to be tuned in order to see a successful location-based service emerge, and that there may also be benefit for people sharing location-related information anonymously.  Great talk, and I’m still thinking about what incentives might make LBS actually work.

    We did a session on Twitter Vote Report, which was awesome because we were actually able to recruit some members of the crowd to do some work on the project!  Bryan Liles and John Trupiano contributed some great work to the codebase, some while sitting in the session!  We talked about the overall architecture of the project, and the fact that it was put together in just two short weeks of coding!

    There was a good conversation about iPhone development, introducing people to the platform and answering questions about the platform.  Many seemed to be glad to get a feel for Cocoa and I wouldn’t be surprised if several of the folks there end up working on the platform!

    Alex Hillman of Philadelphia’s Indy Hall helped to lead a discussion on co-working in Baltimore, and by the end of the session, we had actually launched co-working in Baltimore, with a mailing list and a set of great ideas for taking things forward.  Yesterday, we held our first “official” co-working meetup at Bluehouse in Baltimore; I’ll write more about the co-working initiative separately.

    Because I wasn’t in the other sessions, I can’t say what all was said in them, but I heard good things about the conversations on data portability, source code management with Git, and crowdsourcing. If you were in one of the sessions, feel free to leave some comments here or links to your own blog!

    Ann Bernard helped put together an awesome party for SocialDevCamp at Metro Gallery with great food from Tapas Teatro and an open bar.  And live music from Natasha El-Sergany, KADMAN, and Ra-Ra-Rasputin… A great way to end the day, and I can say that by the time it was all over, I had talked to a few hundred people and was completely exhausted!

    This morning, Mike Subelsky, a friend and one of the organizers of the recent and fabulous Ignite Baltimore said via email, “It is not an exaggeration to say that SDCE has totally changed my life,” referring to the first SocialDevCamp held in May. Not to sound self-congratulatory, but the same is true for me.

    SocialDevCamp is one of a few things sparking a renaissance here in the Baltimore/Washington area, giving rise to events like Ignite and to movements like co-working.  With the social media tools available now, this sort of thing is finally possible to do, and it’s hugely gratifying to see it happening!

    See you next spring for SocialDevCampEast3!

    SocialDevCamp East + TwitterVoteReport = Busy

    Being busy seems to always come in spurts for me… just when it looks like I’ve got too much to do already, something cool turns up and takes things to whole new level of busy.

    That would be this week. SocialDevCamp East, the barcamp-style unconference that I started with some friends last spring is back tomorrow, and that’s certainly required some coordination and planning.  That would have been plenty.  We have over 200 RSVP’s now (between the Wiki and Facebook) and we expect a truly incredible day of networking and learning.  See you tomorrow!

    The other big news of the last two weeks has been the TwitterVoteReport project, for which I’ve been acting as defacto CTO since about October 18th.  This is a great project, a great cause, and an awesome idea.  The data we collect will be an archival quality primary source document for future generations to study the evolution of the election process.

    We have five distinct data sources coming in about people’s experience at their polling places: Twitter, Telephone, Direct SMS, and Apps for Android and iPhone.  These are all normalized and aggregated into a single database and reviewed by humans for maximum accuracy.  The data will then be made available in real time to anyone who wants it — from the media to watchdog groups to mapmakers — to help the world understand and monitor the 2008 US elections.

    Putting this project together, with all these diverse inputs, has been a monumental task and a real demonstration of what’s possible when people decide to work together.  We had over 600 phone channels donated.  We were able to think up, code, and submit an iPhone app in just 3 days.  We’ve received press coverage far and wide from sources as diverse as TechCrunch and Fox News.  Not bad for a few days’ work.

    There’s plenty more to do still (between now and Monday), and I’m busy all day tomorrow at SocialDevCamp.  We’ll do a session there on TwitterVoteReport and what we’re up to… we still need more help from people good with maps!

    I’ll post more here as things evolve, and a recap next week, but remember, nothing’s impossible when caring people dedicate themselves to a common endeavor.

    Meantime, check out:

    And watch for news about TwitterVoteReport.com on NPR and in the Baltimore Sun (in addition to myriad other outlets!)