Thursday, March 27

Too many parking idiots, not enough stickers. So I ordered more!

Too many parking idiots, not enough stickers. So I ordered more!
Originally uploaded by thatjonesboy.

Am I the only person in Sydney who sees at least one idiot a day who's parked dangerously and/or illegally? My first batch of stickers from is all gone, so it was time to order more.

The stickers are great for bumpers, and are removable, so you can leave them on a windscreen and they will come off easily. Or, if you feel like giving someone a second chance, just tuck the unpeeled sticker under their windscreen wiper. That gives them a warning and an opportunity to spread the word next time they see an irresponsible parker in action.

So, you tell me: am I making a difference to selfish and rude parkers in Sydney?

No? Well, help me out here, peeps - go buy yourself some stickers and join the campaign :-)

Only going to ask you one more time: step away from the interface!

Why do so many people in tech management find 3D interface so strangely addictive, when it's clinically proven to be idiot-forming? Techcrunch reports that AT&T has been developing a new web 3D browser, Pogo, based on Mozilla. I'm amongst the readers who reacted with a strong WTF? at the news, though it brings up some important points about interface design, following trends, and remembering history.

I remember my history. Right about when I joined Yahoo! the company cut a deal with Caligari, a maker of 3D software and browser plugins. The two companies collaborated on a 3D visualisation of the main web directory categories of Yahoo! (News, Finance, Sports, etc.) I can't find a video of the interface in action (challenge: can you find one?) but each section of the web directory was represented by a giant icon on a huge green field of grass.

From memory, Yahoo! 3D was something a lot of senior yahoos were interested in as something fun to play with - it really wasn't something the company was expecting to monetize or present as the primary interface for Yahoo! then or in the future. This was in the days of 28.8kbps modem bandwidth, 13" CRTs and Navigator 3.0/IE 3.0. Flying across the football field from one category to another would take about a minute, with frame rates at about 5fps, and you were quite likely to miss the category you were aiming for with the frame rate and lag time.

Yahoo! 3D taught me that desktop web browser interfaces were already  quite mature, and that on the desktop, the old "click on a link with a mouse" routine was widely-understood, easily adopted by new users, and fast to use.

Since then, browser interface design has tried and rejected a few new  ideas, and  the only one I can point to that has really been taken up widely is tabs in the browser, as well as in the web page itself.

Twelve years later, 3D visualization of data and relationships is a powerful tool, but 3D navigation remains a solution without a problem. Why is this so? I can't point you to research on this, but my trusty gut instinct says:



  1. 3D interfaces need 3D input devices and displays. It's too hard to learn to grasp, manipulate and move objects using 2D input devices and displays. It takes too many brain cells to do the interpolation, even for those with strong stomachs and keen to try new  things.

  2. Despite Javascript, AJAX, Flash and all that whizzy coding stuff, websites and web apps are still built using metaphors dredged deep out of print publishing. You can stack a bunch of web pages together and drag them about, sure, but each of those web pages has only two dimensions. I can only interact with the content on a web page when viewing it from "the front". Stacking and dragging are useful for organising large numbers of web pages and bookmarks, sure. But who organises large amounts of web content? A tiny percentage of the internet audience. And that dragging is inevitably going to be easier using folders and tabs until Apple ships me a 3D input device and display with my next Mac.

The other classic mistake I see in these videos of Pogo in action is mimicry without purpose, in this case, mimicking Apple's Cover Flow interface. I betcha nobody at AT&T knows what percentage of Apple's OS X customers actually choose to use Cover Flow (versus not knowing how to turn it off) but I am sure Apple knows and isn't telling.

Cover Flow is chrome: something that's meant to sweeten the sale or upgrade of the operating system, iTunes and iPods, not to be a primary interface mode.

Knowing your new BMW M5 has a gazillion suspension and transmission settings helps you justify your purpose, and six months later, if BMW surveys M5 customers and finds <5% actually mess with the settings? Who cares? We've still sold a lot of M5s.

How do I know Cover Flow is just chrome when I don't have any data? I asked my friends. The responses are all quite similar: even the musicgeekiest friend I have can identify only 30% of his  iTunes library by album art alone. Subtract the albums he originally owned on CD, then subtract the albums he'd owned for years before buying an iPod, then subtract the album covers that actually have the band name and album name on the cover? He's down to <5%.

Don't believe me? Test yourself, I'd love to read about your results.

Meanwhile, who'd regularly use an interface that forced you to stop and think about 95% of the choices available to you?

While website homepages aren't as obscure as album covers, they certainly aren't designed to be recognisable - much less legible - at Cover Flow-sized dimensions. And any new content on them worth clicking on won't be readable unless the Pogo user is viewing at something far greater than 1280x1024px.

AT&T's Pogo mistakes the chrome for the fundamentals, and then tacks it onto its own product without any understanding of its true purpose, like a Chinese manufacturer designing cars that come out looking like a BMW that got left too long in the microwave with a LandCruiser.

Some of the videos of Pogo in action are well worth watching, and I'm in favour of AT&T and other large companies with too much money/time doing research of all kinds, even if its only into doomed interface design.

But while you watch, don't let the siren song of 3D interface whizzyness lure you away. Don't start picturing yourself in a 'Minority Report' future with productivity levels 10x today's. Expect the personal jetpack to ship first!

Wednesday, March 26

iTunes: when labels lose the plot

iTunes: when labels lose the plot
Originally uploaded by thatjonesboy.

It's tough managing rights and markets and content on the interweb. The interweb aggregates so well that all your whack geographical or distribution-focused pricing policies, never intended to be seen together in the one place, may suddenly collide, such as in this case with a Phoenix album available for both $10.99 and $17.99 in iTunes.

Wednesday, March 19

Support the pigs, man

I love all the kinds of pig meats - Judaism wouldn't work out for me. But there are humane ways to treat pigs, and they are too intelligent and interesting to farm inhumanely. Support the pigs, man.

Updated: OK, no flaws in Apple's iPhone SDK after all!

Update: I stand corrected, and so should Pete Yandell, my original source for this story. Thanks to the diligence of readers like you, I've now learned everything I missed while I ducked out to put the kettle on while the iPhone SDK videoconference was playing: there absolutely is a way for a small business to test an iPhone app without offering it over iTunes Store, and developers who only want to release products to their own staff are able to pay a little more for the ability to do that privately via iTunes Store.

However, it still seems a strategic mistake to open the SDK to US developers only initially. Software development quality does not respect geographical boundaries, and the largest and most experienced mobile software development communities are all outside the US.

Anyway, read on, see where I was wrong, and please join in the very healthy discussion in the comments for this post!

It's been a couple of weeks since the launch of Apple's iPhone Software Development Kit (SDK) and it's taken me that long to find a serious flaw worth noting in what has been an otherwise enthusiastically-received program.

But while considering Rails Camp 08 I found a stunning flaw unearthed by developer Pete Yandell - he says the iPhone SDK program is only available to US-resident developers.

Until now my only concern was that third-party iPhone apps could only be sold on iTunes Store, which seemed a needless constraint for Apple. I think consumers and carriers could understand the risk in downloading iPhone apps from other sources, all it needs is a disclaimer pop-up from Apple before you wander out of the walled garden, not a blanket ban.

But limiting iPhone developers to US residents is seriously nuts, since almost without exception, the best mobile developers, designers, usability and product management people are outside the US. 

In terms of strategic mistakes, it's akin to launching a program to promote, say, professional surfing and then requiring all competitors to be residents of Tajikistan (Tajiki don't surf!)

It's most likely a measure designed to put some limits to the growth of the SDK program - Apple reports they received a bazillion SDK applications in the first nanoseconds following the launch and it has been reported that there's already a waitlist to have SDK paperwork considered.

If there's already a waitlist, it's safe to assume someone at Apple is manually reviewing every SDK application submitted. So why not bust open the US-only restriction and allow that reviewer to consider any new developer - from any country - solely on the basis of the quality of their proposal and track record in mobile development?

Apple wants the best possible iPhone apps, right? It has to cast the net further than the mobile equivalent of Tajikistan...

Friday, March 14

What does it cost to get a social network user to churn?

Saucy social networking social networker Laurel Papworth has cleverly pointed out that AOL's announced acquisition of Bebo may jeopardise Yahoo7's big partnership deal with Bebo in Australia, since AOL Australia and Yahoo7 are competitors locally.

It'll take a while for the deal to go through and international partnership deals to be rejigged, perhaps as much as a year or so for them to get around to figuring out what to do with a market as small as Australia, but it would be reasonable to expect that AOL Australia would want the Yahoo7/Bebo deal to be unwoven asap.

Laurel says the Bebo deal represents as much as half Yahoo7's available ad inventory. Holy CPM, Batman! No idea if that's correct, but that's a big kick in the guts to lose that many eyeballs with only 6-12mths warning.

Before I pick my jaw up off the floor, there's something else that leaves me agape. I haven't reported on the deal yet because I've been waiting for the perspective to be able to see the deal from AOL's valuation side of things. Surely it would make sense if I gave it time. But nope. No sense yet.

So, what's with AOL offering $850 million, in cash? Is it all upfront? Or are there performance metrics Bebo needs to make to collect most of it? Did anyone tell AOL this business was started by a couple of people only three years ago? Did anyone point out that since most of AOL's customers are in the US, they don't want a Bebo account because they're either wedded to Facebook or MySpace already?

Speaking of which, where are the studies looking at the cost of getting someone to churn from one social network to another? Has anyone looked at that yet? If I've been focused on my Facebook account for one, six or 12 months, what's it going to cost a competitor to get me to switch to their product?

Personally, I'm all over Facebook, a bit active on MySpace, and on Bebo, I'm an "unengaged user" - i have an account there, but only to see how it works and browse through the kinds of users to be found there. So Facebook has me as an "engaged user" - using it several times a day, with almost all my real-world friends connected, and a big social history stored there. This animated blackboard toy is the only thing I really like about Bebo right now.

I don't have any numbers, but intuitively, I think there are two kinds of social network user: engaged minority and non-engaged majority. The non-engaged majority will churn quite easily, but because their engagement is low, they're not worth very much to you and will churn again to your next new competitor. The engaged user is, I'm guessing, extremely hard to dislodge, even if you give them the means to migrate all their content, social history and reputation to your new social network.

Yet the network effects that give a social network its value depend entirely on those highly-engaged users. In other words, if you succeed only in acquiring another network's unengaged users, you've failed. They won't stick because they don't care about documenting their social history, and they won't stick because you don't have the engaged users you need to keep the unengaged connected.

That's my guess, anyway: would love to see the numbers if you have them.

FriendFeedFeed is just a spoof

Originally uploaded by thatjonesboy.

Just a spoof, yes, but this is a trend worth spoofing. What worries me is these aggregations are headed in the wrong direction, losing richness, interconnections and annotations along the way: see my prior post on this topic.

Thursday, March 13

Facebook | birthdays
I hate it when Facebook makes me remember someone's birthday. It's as heartfelt as all standing around a cake in the office singing happy birthday.

Tuesday, March 11

I Watch This - TV Guide recommendations on IceTV

I Watch This - TV Guide recommendations on IceTV
Originally uploaded by thatjonesboy.

Regular viewers will know I have a major jones for Electronic Program Guides (EPGs) and digital television. Early Aussie pioneer IceTV is still hanging in there despite being dragged backwards through the hedge of the courts by the unlimited resources of the interests backing Channel Nine.

Now IceTV have finally launched their recommendation feature, (hmm... shouldn't that be ""?). Whatever it's called, it gets you to tell it which shows are your favourites (or you can let it watch what you record) and it'll come back with recommendations.

How well does it work? Well, my experience is limited because although I still have a login, my paid subscription to IceTV lapsed and I haven't renewed. Unluckily for IceTV, recently I fell in love with AppleTV and buying shows from the US iTunes Store and haven't had much time for Australian free-to-air television since then.

But my login allowed me to 'favourite' a few good shows in IceTV, including Foreign Correspondent, Lateline, Media Watch and Cutting Edge, just to test out the recommendations ('cos regular readers will recall, I also have a major jones for all things recommendations).

I expected IceTV's recommendations to be fairly good: highly engaged customers providing relatively accurate data, genre and cast relationships providing clear pointers to recommendable content, and most of all in Australia, a relative paucity of content to choose from!

So sure enough, IceTV scored a nice 5 out of 10 in terms of other shows I'd like to watch. But is that really helping me much? I mean, there's so little on free-to-air in Australia I don't really need recommendations at all, much less recommendations that are as likely to be wrong as right.

To really make the payoff, IceTV should be there to let me know when a new series of Top Gear is starting, because it knows I enjoyed the last series. It shouldn't be distracted by a repeat of a previous series, or the same series being screened a second time in a different time slot. Does it do this? Dunno, not possible to tell from my exploration. 

Perhaps if IceTV offered me streaming previews, independent reviews rather than synopses, or even production stills. But the local commercial networks aren't about to help - they still see IceTV as stripping away revenue with ad-skipping features, when really they should see IceTV as one of the few things that can help them win and retain what remains of a viable media audience. Sigh.

This morning in da house: Yorke Hinds

Here I am in full iPhone Fuzzycolourtm at the dining table with Yorke Hinds, the devbrain behind Quivalent, once my favourite email newsletter marketing platform, and Zookoda, an excellent tool to help bloggers manage RSS email subscriptions, a product now in the portfolio of PayPerPost.

Peepl have been dropping around to our house a bit lately, mostly to sample our fantastic fresh-ground Forsyths coffee (ZOMG it's so good I'm gonna make another now) but also to chat a bit about new opportunities on da interwebs. With no consent or prior warning, I'm going to use my iPhone's craptastic fuzzycam and's social photomessaging to record some of these visits for posterior-ity. Sorry Yorke!

Yorke's next large-ish thing will be a platform that helps interweb startups manage relationships with the greatest double-edged sword of web development: the beta tester. I'm waiting for my alpha invite from Yorke, really looking forward to having a muck about with it. Unfortunately my feedback will need to remain confidential for the time-being, but hopefully I can tell you all about it very soon when it enters a more open beta.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to drop by, have one of my great coffees, and star in iPhone Fuzzycolour production of your own, do drop me an email.

Monday, March 10

File under "you really had to be there": Dungeons & Dragons lives on

file under "you really had to be there": GG is dead, long live GG
Originally uploaded by thatjonesboy.

I'm not going to burden the interwebs with yet another personal reflection on the importance of Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons & Dragons (a) because my own teenage years were so very like every other young geek; and (b) I knew someone would do it better.

Turns out Adam Rogers from WIRED magazine is that very someone, with not only the killer story, but a hilarious and partly true flowchart to back it up.

He asserts we're all still playing D&D - or at least, role-playing - when we're online, not just in Second Life and World of Warcraft, but also on Facebook, Twitter, Blogger and Flickr.

I think that's an extraordinarily insightful premise. But I think it's your turn to roll...

Facebook wants to know about your politics

Facebook adds political party affiliation
Originally uploaded by thatjonesboy.

In place of the original vague "libera/conservative" affiliations we now get actual political parties, which is great if you vote for the same political party every election and agree with their entire platform, which is... rare. But make no mistake, this is a step forward.

In Australia, all Federal parties considered by Wikipedia to be "significant" are represented, so Pauline Hanson and Shooters Party members will be disappointed.

Here's a fun thing: type a keyword like "Liberal", "Democratic", "Popular" or "People's" into the field and see all the whackjobs from around the world lined up together. It's almost like a political party name should be the opposite of who it actually represents.

I am certain there will soon be news stories showing whether, in the US, Democrats or Republicans are more likely to be active Facebook users, and Facebook Platform developers will bring us a variety of ways to surf the social graph according to political lines.

No doubt, many Facebook users consider their political affiliation a personal and private thing. So put "Pirate" or "Ninja" in there and leave us guessing.

Sunday, March 2

trouble at the ranger station

ranger station banner
Originally uploaded by thatjonesboy.

It took me less time to build a community site for an under 7 soccer team (inc. this nifty banner art) using Ning than it took to send me the confirmation email with the link i had to click on before i could start creating a site. 

So my son's soccer team is now on Ning, not 3eep. Much as I like Nick and Rob and the 3eep guys, it's a case of sorry 3eep, not quick enough this time around.

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