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January 2002 Archives


January 30, 2002 8:18 AM


When reading this article by David Coursey, keep in mind the context under which the comments are made. It's certainly not from a world where the Mac is the universal OS and Windows is a nagging reality. It's the new context that Coursey is dealing with which is using Mac OS X full time after a lifetime of Windows. If you didn't know that, you might think he's another, run of the mill, Mac zealot.

Anyway, It sounds like he's feeling the pain of having weak software support. Welcome to club, Dave.



January 29, 2002 2:24 AM


This Moxi thing (from the guy who brought you WebTV) has a great feature list, and it probably expensive in spite of their claim to be 'surprisingly affordable.' It could be a TiVo killer if there's enough uptake on the consumer end, which of course will be determined by price and marketing. In the Fall, this will have to compete with MSFT's HomeStation, which will make the digital-recording-device-space "crowded" and drive prices down, just in time for Christmas.

Critical mass is on the way...



January 28, 2002 9:11 AM


C|net has an analysis article about online gaming that I think is pretty realistic and makes the essential point that the user experience is the key. I think there are a few things that will keep profits low in the online gaming industry until they learn a lesson, and even then, it won't be easy...

If you have ever played Quake or EverQuest or Tribes2 (these games have a large fan base, and thus are desireable to advertisers), then you know that a massive amount of disbelief needs to be suspended in order to play the game. You leave the rules about the real world at the door when you play these games. Everything is different, which makes the annoyances of the real world, that much more annoying.

If I had to watch the clock as I was playing Tribes2 in a worry aver an hourly rate, I wouldn't be enjoying the game. People who play Ultima Online pay about ten dollars a month for the online access, which isn't so bad of a pricing structure. This article talks about the potential...

Take the game "Ultima Online." Since its release in September 1997, more than 125,000 copies of the Origin Systems software have been sold at $49.95 a copy. With gamers paying an additional $9.95 per month to play the online-only game, "Ultima Online" represents a potential $1.25 million in MONTHLY revenues -- on top of the actual unit profits. And Origin has already released an expansion package, "Ultima Online: The Second Age," for $39.95.

But it's not lucrative when the up-take/critical-mass/subscription-rate isn't really there. You might think in-game advertisements are the answer to this problem, but they are even worse. If you are in EverQuest and are trying to kill an Orc in an attempt to gain some experience, an ad for Pringles is not going to be a welcome occurance. I argue that absolutely nothing from the Real World can be advertised in a game like EverQuest. Adverts in GameSpy Arcade are also super annoying and have caused me to avoid it, and that's just a game matching service, not an in-game experience.

So, if subscription rates don't fuel top line growth, and in game ads are not an option (in my opinion anyway) then prices at the counter will have to increase. But I hope not, because $50 for a game is steep enough for me to limit my purchases to two or four games per year.



January 28, 2002 8:38 AM


I sincerely believe that Flash has serious potential as a web application platform (for the display layer anyway), but you can't deny that it also has tons of entertainment potential too. But who has the time to do Flash sites like these? Not me.



January 25, 2002 12:20 PM


Last week most of the UI oriented weblogs/newslogs had a link to a Harvard Business School article about managing creativity. Unfortunately, you have to buy the article to read the entire thing, but excerpt is available which presented enough content to get me to pay the six bucks. The purchasing process was about 8 steps too long, and the $6 was a bit steep for such a short article, but I digress.

The excerpt speaks for itself, so I won't rehash. What I will mention though, is that there is an overlapping theme between this article and a book called Next: The Future Just Happened (another over priced, quick, but good read). The point is that progress and creativity tend to come from outsiders who have no pre-conceptions of the rules. These people are not lost in a pile of assumptions which blind their ability to view things from a different perspective. Harnessing that potential is a double edged sword with the benefit of profiting from new perspectives coupled with the possibility of smothering the creativity you need to forge ahead.



January 24, 2002 3:22 AM


Seriously, Spyware is one of the worst things to come along on the Internet in the last year or so (the Nimda and Code Red viruses would be my other pick). What is so offensive about it is that YOU intstall it without your knowledge or approval, and then it reports various bits of information back to the creator of the software.

The experience the user gets from this sort of thing is terrible and does not lend itself to a viable business plan. People will actively fight back against these sorts of activities, and news articles will cover it, which only underscores the need for positive, user oriented, product experiences. AudioGalaxy failed at that, and has shot iteself in the foot. If you use their software, or a produce internet software, please learn from their mistake.

<update when="December 24, 2003">
Solutions for removing perfectnav (aka find4u ?) have been posted here recently. Scroll down to see those solutions and to see a comment from what seems to be a perfectnav representative (offering uninstall info). I had never heard of perfectnav before people stated posting comments about it here (I'm a Mac OSX user) and cannot vouch-for/verify anything in the comments posted below. Swim at your own risk.
</update>

January 23, 2002 2:40 AM


I was just watching a news article on C|Net News about the Olympics coverage coming up next month. One comment made by the ultra-young-looking Sr. Analyst was about the streaming media made available at the Sydney Olympics by Quokka Sports (now defunct, so no link). He said there was a concern about the online media canabalizing the televised coverage. What a crock!

I watched those streams at work, with a full T1 at my disposal, and the experience was terrible. I sincerely can not imagine streaming media canabalizing televised content. For the Salt Lake Games, MSFT will be assisting NBC in the online coverage, which is a good thing in my opinion.

The hope I had for the Sydney Olympics would be coverage that was robust, up to minute and complete. I lived up to my part of the bargain by staying up to 3am one night to watch the meagre 15 minutes of whitewater kayaking coverage, which was a complete let down.

This year, I'm buying a Tivo for the explicit purpose of recording as much Olympic coverage as the hard drive will allow. I thinking of hacking the one I buy to boost the storage capacity. What I really need is for NBC/MSNBC/CNBC to cover everything and run the content over night so I can record it. It would be perfect if they did this without interleaving the event coverage so I could record full events without being forced to watch events like Figure Skating.



January 22, 2002 12:35 PM


There's a pretty good thread of discussion going on the SIGIA-L list about eXtreme Programming and Interaction Design. It was sparked by this discussion between Kent Beck and Alan Cooper. The discussion occurring on the mailing list is a bit more nuts-and-bolts than the article and offers several more perspectives on the issue. Good article, great thread.



January 19, 2002 3:43 AM


A massive media company looking to buy a Linux distributer could be a good thing. Linux as a desktop OS is just not quite there yet, and perhaps a company that prides itself on making the Internet easy could bring Linux to more consumers. But, I'm not sure AOL wants to get into the business of software development for an OS that still is, for the mast part, a server OS. IBM does that already and seems to be doing a good job.

In my opinion, a better Linux acquisition for AOL would be Lindows. Most people have investments in Windows software, which wouldn't be an issue with Lindows. I think a strategy of shipping /Red-Hat-Linux-CD's to everyone in America would garner few new AOL subscriptions because folks would have to deal with way things are done in Linux, and use Linux software. Yes, I know a Linux user could install WINE on their own, and then run their Windows software, but how many AOL users would do that? Not enough to base a business plan on.

January 17, 2002 11:47 AM


David Coursey is trying an experiment in working in Mac OS for the next month. I think adoption of Mac OS full time is very unlikely for a few reasons. The most important reason being that he has a high level of comfort in a different look-and-feel, a different widget set, and a different computing attitude (Windows = Windows centric; Mac OS = user centric).

Raskin talks about automaticity in his excellent book 'The Humane Interface' and notes its importance in adoption of a given system. When you drive a car, you don't think in terms of 'raise right foot off of accelerator by contracting the muscles in the abdomen and thigh.' You don't think about it at all, it's automatic, you just do it. Coursey has a career of automaticity to fight when he wants to do something as simple as close a window. For a while, he'll have to conciously think about where to click the mouse to close that window.

Coursey says "In theory, a Windows user ought to be able to get along quite well with a Mac." Which is, imho, just plain wrong in terms of battling the automaticity issue and another, more important, issue.

Transpose the words 'Windows' and 'Mac' in that sentence and that would be true when it comes to getting the OS's to play nice together. The Windows OS has become the most proprietary OS on earth. It refuses to open a Mac formatted disk without installing 3rd party software. But, the Mac OS has been able to open PC disks for years, without any after market software installs. This is just one of many examples. The Mac OS (and more to the point OSX) is probably the most flexible OS when trying to work with other OS's. I have been able to find ways to pry open just about any file ever sent to me (other than encrypted files for which I don't have the password. I'm not a kr@k3r.) But, I digress.

Coursey is in for more problems when his reliance on specific software that is not available on Mac OS becomes a clear and present danger to his work flow (which he talks about). On a given OS (Mac, Windows, Linux, OS2/Warp) you find and exploit software that is available to you when it becomes necessary. Changing your OS is like going to another country. You have to learn the local customs, the dialect, where the local market is and how to say "when is lunch?" I wonder if a month will be long enough for Coursey to become fluent in Mac OS.

I think the most interesting thing we can learn from this experiment is how Coursey manages to find his way in a different OS and how that experience changes his views of his native OS. I guess we'll have to check back in a month.



January 16, 2002 11:51 AM


I recently commented that Microsoft will be using the Xbox as some type of trojan in the not-so-distant future. Some folks think I'm crazy, but this article at C|Net says...

Microsoft plans to transform its new Xbox game console into a general home device that handles everything from e-mail to video recording, according to analysts.

This transformation is a whole new box, which I think is a bad idea based on what the Xbox can already do. If MSFT were to release another box, and market it differently, I'd suggest that they would be competing with their own products (which is already a loss leader). Why not just release a keyboard and mouse for the Xbox? I can think of several after market upgrades that could be marketed for the Xbox that would be money makers, making the platform that much more viable. But the C|Net notes the following...

Besides playing Xbox games, the HomeStation will act as a digital video recorder, similar to devices from TiVo and Sonicblue's ReplayTV, and will perform Internet functions such as e-mail and Web surfing.

...which means there is now a reason to wait to buy an Xbox, because, if I can buy an Xbox++ that will do all this other stuff, then why would I want to buy the version that only plays games? I can't think of a reason. And I plan on buying a Tivo, because the Olympics start in 23 days!



January 15, 2002 3:50 AM


Nanoloop is a 'real-time Game Boy sound editor' that actually works on that tiny Gameboy screen. It's a cartridge like any other Gameboy game, but this one is about creating something. So, instead of you (or your kid) playing Pokémon all day long, you could be writing music that sounds like this. And for the record, I like music that sounds like that and like this too.



January 14, 2002 9:01 AM


In usability circles, Flash gets a lot of bad press and for the most part, I have to agree that Flash gets used in useless ways. At other times, Flash can be a pretty compelling medium for new media art. There's no doubt that the format has a great future since there is support for things like XML underneath the vector graphics. People just have to leverage it in compelling ways.

Macromedia has a site dedicated to Flash usability, but I still can't stand the user interface in the Flash 5 development application. In my humble opinion, Macromedia interfaces have never been usable and have been a barrier to learning the application. Too bad for Macromedia, because Adobe just announced LiveMotion 2.0. I'd count down the days if I could, but there's no date available yet.



January 11, 2002 9:48 AM


In a thread on SIGIA-L, a link to the MIT Information Architecture project was posted. After taking a quick look thru the site, and its examples, I tend to think that it's an exercise in mashing information design and information architecture into one, like what Triplecode is doing. Here's the mission statement from MIT IA...
Humans have a rich awareness of location and situation that directs how we interpret and interact with our environment. The Information Architecture project seeks to create information spaces, where people will use this awareness to search, browse, and learn. In the same way that they navigate in the physical environment, they will navigate through knowledge.
That sounds a lot like Adobe's Atmosphere application. MIT's efforts will be a bit more academic than Adobe's or Triplecode's, complete with various publications with titles like "Ligature: Gesture-Based Configuration of the E21 Intelligent Environment." Just go here and click on the publications link to read more.

January 10, 2002 8:28 AM


An encouraging sign of progress in Information Architecture is the appearance of web sites and software tools to help get the job done. Here's a few commercial tools for taxonomy and categorization.

QKS Classifier

QKS Classifier is a hybrid taxonomy platform that efficiently and accurately organizes valuable content into an intuitive directory of enterprise knowledge.

Verity Catalog

The most effective, scalable e-commerce portal infrastructure available, Verity K2 Catalog ensures that your customers find exactly what they're looking for-and more.

Verity Enterprise

Portals powered by Verity K2 Enterprise automatically organize your information assets, putting content from various structured and unstructured sources in the context that gives information real value.

Sageware

Sageware's solutions automatically categorize all forms of an organization's records, including electronic databases, specific content from Internet sites, and any other sort of document that the organization may deem important for their users to access.

Inxight's solutions

Inxight's solutions multiply the value of unstructured content with accurate and scaleable software for analyzing, organizing, categorizing and navigating information in multiple languages on the Internet and enterprise networks. When you need an unstructured data management solution that is scaleable to any size in any of the world's major languages, there is only Inxight.



January 9, 2002 1:14 AM


RSS is a resource used by many sites and businesses around the world. In fact, I'm using it on this site to syndicate content from C|Net, Designtechnica and IASlash (just look to the right of this page screen). I'm using RSS in conjunction with a Perl script and a Perl module (and a crontab) to pull news headlines into template files that are pulled into this page using server side includes. It's a daisy chain architecture, but it works, and is not very intensive in terms of processing.

The rain on this parade is that someone says they own a patent over RDF which is how RSS is expressed. The software patent issue is a huge issue, and this dispute is a symptom of it. Considering the following quote from the C|Net article, I wonder how many individuals are infringing...

UFIL is working with Toronto-based Patent Enforcement and Royalties Ltd. (PEARL) to enforce the claims. According to press releases on PEARL's Web site, the companies believe as many as 45 companies may be infringing on the patents.

I first saw a link to the C|Net article over at The XML Cover Pages by Robin Cover.



January 8, 2002 4:39 AM


The Washington Post has an article about the slow rollout of broadband services in the US. There's some discussion about the issue at Slashdot too. Now, here's my story.

I live in a pretty nice neighborhood in Northern Virginia in a recently constructed 'planned urban development' (PUD). This particular PUD has a few thousand homes in it and dwelling within them are a lot of dotcommers because this area of the country is a major communications hub housing such companies as Worldcom, AOL, Exodus, PSInet, Adelphia and Verizon. In fact, all of these companies have facilities within 5 miles of my house and I can almost see Exodus from my window as I type this. Not one of them is able to provide high speed access to me. Maybe I should break into Exodus with an ethernet cable in hand...

January 6, 2002 12:53 PM


A large part of the Macintosh experience is the Apple experience, which has had its ups and downs to say the least. Tomorrow looks like it's going to be an Up day with the hype machine saying things like "Beyond the rumors sites, way beyond." Which will be hard to live up to since the rumors swirling include a triple merger between Apple, Be and Palm, a new hand held, flat panel iMacs, GigaWire, new versions of Adobe and Macromedia apps and G4 speed bumps.

At the last MacWorld, disappointment was the theme with no new product announcements in spite of rampant rumors. Based on their own hype, if Stevie boy doesn't pull thru tomorrow, there's going to be a mutiny.



January 5, 2002 11:55 AM


Design Not Found makes a good point about bad usability in this snapshot about PayPal. This a prime example about how little effort one needs to exert to make a site, application, etc, a bit more usable. And these efforts are like pennies, they add up.



January 3, 2002 5:11 AM


Like I said last week, Webtechniques is always interesting. And the trend continues with an article in the February 2002 issue titled Groundwork for Project Success. This article echoes another that used to be available at UIweb.com under the title of "Critical thinking in web/interface design part 2: idea generation" but the site seems to be gone these days. Fortunately Google has a cached version of that article.

Both articles are well worth the read if you are going to find yourself as a stake holder in a given web site/application project. Note: Being a stake holder doesn't mean being an investor or a client. Being a stake holder is being someone who makes a contribution to the success of a given project (which still might be money ;^).



January 2, 2002 12:18 PM


At home right now, I have many CD-Rs that have MP3s on them. Like everyone else in the world, I found that if I rip my CDs into MP3s and then dump those onto a CD-R, I could get six to ten full albums crammed onto one disk. Even better, if I just leave them on my Mac (or my Dell) I can have a playlist that is two days long. My MP3 player even tells me what song is currently playing which my console CD player can't do.

So, I consider the MP3 experience as a good one. But you might ask, "what about the long downloads?" Well, in my opinion, the pain of downloading an MP3 is less than or equal to the pain of sifting thru the bins at Tower, waiting in line, slapping down a $20 and driving home in awful Northern Virginia traffic. In fact, I suggest that the user experience of procuring MP3s is now far more acceptable than the experience of buying a CD. And then the follow-on experience of playing the MP3s is better since I don't have to swap a CD every 45 minutes (yes, I listen to a lot of music)

Recently there's been some discussion about the price of CDs falling to about $10, which is a good step towards a better User Experience. But since my TV plays MP3s and I can route that to any place in my home, I won't be buying $20 CDs anymore.



January 1, 2002 10:51 AM


2001 is finally over, and not a moment too soon. I should be driving a flying car and reading about humans orbiting Jupiter. Instead, my car is burning oil and Jupiter is still so very far away (in spite of being so close).

Fortunately, progress on the web continues in the form of Content Syndication. NewsIsFree is a content syndication and aggregation site and you might be familiar with Blogdex and MetaFilter, which are content aggregators too. For the most part, the aggregators are not doing things semantically. That is to say, I don't find syndicated content that I am interested in without tons of browsing. Weblogs have semantic value built in, so I'll be trying to exploit that by syndicating content that is relevant to my interests (and hopefully yours) by using the aggregators and the sites they aggregate.

To the right of the home page, I currently have link tables from IAslash, C|net News and Designtechnica that are brought to you thru the magic of Perl and RSS. In the future, more robust syndication will come along with more sources and hopefully a better way to sift thru it all. We'll see how that goes based on how well 2002 gets started.


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