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December 4, 2009 2:19 PM


As noted by John Gruber at Daring Fireball, the simplicity of a Twitter post opens up a lot of UI opportunities. As a result of that and available APIs, we are seeing more and more Twitter clients (I have four on my iPhone), but beyond that, we are seeing the start of the next logical step, convergence.

Socialite and Raindrop are the two best examples that I know. These are applications that aggregate your social footprint on the internet and attempt to wrap some meaningful UI around it all. Raindrop is still in early dev and requires you to be a bit savvy if you want to use it, but Socialite is (Mac only and) immediately available and is quick to set up, so give it a try.

Something worth looking at when using a variety of Twitter apps and these convergence apps, is how the designer has chosen to organize and present everything. If you boil things down a bit, a tweet, blog entry, Facebook update, Flickr post, rss feed and email, all have the same basic parts...

  • The person who sent it (which includes a way to reply, such as an email address or @twitter account)
  • The content.
  • A title/subject/name.
  • Some other bits of data, such as time/date, category names or tags, etc

With such a simple set of elements, there is a ton of opportunity to design a look and feel around them. The Raindrop folks have been sharing their design ideas on Flickr and you can see they have been exploring many ideas. It's not a surprise to see a 3 pane UI like you have in Outlook, and NetNewsWire.

Socialite has completely Mac-ified that experience, and while some folks think the UI is just too intense, I think it's done elegantly and sensibly. You can see though that there is a lot you can do in the app, especially on the right side of each entry. At times there are 5 icons and one of them has a menu with 15 actions you can take. But overall, the UI is based on a use case you already understand, email.

Back to Twitter clients, compare something like Tweetdeck (which is entirely consistent from iPhone to its Air counterpart) to something like Tweetie 2. The base philosophy of these two clients are very different, but they use the same source material. As Raindrop continues to develop, it will be interesting to see if they can find a different but equally (or more!) usable format than you find in Socialite.

For a good overview on Socialite, check out Mashable's article from last week.

July 11, 2003 10:55 AM

The ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act, and many of your questions about it can be answer at the DOJ website. One question I never thought of is "does this apply to my website?"

The answer may be yes...

Many authorities, including those that are opposed to the view that the ADA should apply to e-commerce, are cited and discussed. But based on all the authorities, the paper reaches the conclusion that the law does clearly contemplate the coverage of the Internet by Title III of the ADA.
I assume it's going to take a lawsuit to bear this out.

[via the Webdesign List]

April 17, 2003 12:26 PM

I have had my TiVo in use for about a week now, and just last night I picked up the manual to figure out what features I might have been missing. I can happily report that I have missed only a few, and pretty much useless, features. The basics are all there when you get the thing working after a somewhat annoying registration process (the annoying part being the wallet opening).

In terms of interaction design, they pretty much have gotten it right, which really means something to me, because I know the TiVo folks have had some issues to work around. Most significantly, they have had to deal with Gemstar patents, and the desire to avoid them due to the cost of licensing.

The TiVo is already too expensive at $400 for the "80" hour model (which is actually 37 hours at an acceptable quality level due to the lossy mpeg compression). So, avoiding more cost due to Gemstar's patently evil business plan (which is to have patents, and then litigate value out of them) is a good thing. Sure, there's a $50 rebate, but I have to mail that in, and fill stuff out, and lowers the VALUE of the $50 and increases my annoyance at the TiVo product. It dirties the product, and TiVo should knock of this mail-in rebate bullshit.

But I digress, back to the usability issues and the evil of Gemstar. You see, Gemstar has a patent on the display of television scheduling in a grid format. To avoid a costly patent licence, TiVo has created a method of showing the user what is coming up next on various channels in a different way, unfortunately, I think the grid pattern is better in terms of user experience, finadability, and immediacy of understanding. The format they use is hierarchic in nature where you choose a time, then a channel, and then you see the programs for that nexus of tv-space-time. And sure, you can see a little of what's around that, but navigating is clumsy, and requires, well... navigating.

This is ok though, but keeping the cost of the box down. This is one of those decisions that we usability dorks need to make from time to time...

Is this compromise on ultimate usability worth it in terms of cost saving?
Those cost savings may be realized in MANY ways. You may be able to avoid a patent infringement, or avoid more work (which may be billable against your budgets), or reduce the amount of processing a system may need to do by making the user do a little more work. However, these desicisions are extremely difficulty to make as you get further away from obvious liscense costs to the more ambiguous realities of what your hardware can handle. So far, TiVo seems to be making the smart decisions.

March 4, 2003 7:26 AM

At my local grocery store, there are five self check out lines that are almost always empty. Only when there's a snowstorm coming, and its right after work, will these lines be used by the non-geeks. I love it, because, being a UI dork, I like attempting to use these over complicated and highly conditional systems to see how they work.

First, when you approach the register/thing it sense that something has come close, so it starts telling you how to work the system. IF you have a Bonus Card, please scan that first, and then you can start scanning all of your junk, but if you have any oranges, please weight them, but if they are Tangerines, those are four for a dollar, so just look up the item on the touch screen (I was able to do this in four clicks, but I've seen others use seven or ten more than that).

Ok, that Coke you have, well, the UPC label is coded in to represent a six pack, so when you scan that, the light over the register/thing will start blinking, so a cashier can run over and tell you how to deal with that (thus I now avoid single bottles of soda at this store). Now, keep scanning your stuff, and watch it go down to the conveyer, where it sits there until you are done and can go bag it yourself.

Ready to pay? Ok, if you want to use cash, hit the cash button on the touch screen, and if you have change, insert that first, and then your bills (and this is where the system shines, I have yet to have a refused bill of any kind), and when you insert enough money to match or exceed your bill, your change is ejected in a spot back behind the register/thing. If you have change that's more than a buck, bills come out somewhere else, which the system tells you in a not-so-sexy mother like voice. In a third location above eye level, two feet down the aisle, your receipt is printed out on top of the machine that looks at the conveyer belt to make sure you put four tangerines thru, not five.

No cash? No problem, press the credit button, or if you prefer, the debit button. Now, go back to the beginning of the aisle, and swipe you card thru a different machine, hit the credit or debit key on this machine, and then listen to unsexy mother like register/thing tell you that is "processing" ... "processing" ... "processing" ... "processing"

I should start a photoblog of all of the confused faces that I see alighting upon these poor customers. Until then, I've got the system down pat (thru learned behaviors) and use it at every chance, because it gets me out of the store faster than anyone else (especially those who are older than me).

February 25, 2003 4:46 AM

Kalsey and Kaufman make the same point today about bad copy writing and what it does to the user (not good things). I learned this lesson two years ago when I took an info architecture class with Thom Haller. One of his major points was that good copy is as important as the UI it's embedded within, and being an English Major, I happily agreed.

Now, perhaps many of us blogging types have too much copy writing experience to not find something wrong with just about everything we read (eg, everything on this page), but the points remains that good copy is usable copy (and usable copy matters). Your writing should provide context to the user within the scope of their experience, and leverage their understanding of the issue being discussed. Too often we fail to keep the message personable and suffer from Haller's oft described 'disease of familiarity' and go off the handle and rail on how much Netscape 4.x sucks ass.

In the case that Kaufman points to, ESPN tells you sort of abruptly that your browser sucks (if they sniff a particular browser). Well, they are probably right, but stepping on toes doesn't help the situation and likely achieves absolutely nothing. My advice? Don't make a point out of something if it's going to be pointless, otherwise spend a minute thinking about being helpful, and how to best execute that helpfulness.

September 9, 2002 8:56 AM

Nokia will be introducing a video phone that seems to be getting a less than enthusiastic welcome from analysts (but what do they know anyway?). A video phone is all new and futuristic, but the real fun will be the bashing the circular number pad will get in the usability and HCI communities.

I remember, back in the when I was a kid, there were commercials on TV showing the masses how to use the grid number pad on the touch tone telephones. There was this guy wearing pilot/barnstorming duds dialing the touch tone pad way faster than the old crappy looking rotary dialer. It was a help manual in 30 seconds of video and was used to sell the concept. I wonder if Nokia will try to sell the circle pad as something 'better' or as something 'cooler' or if they will even bother and rely on the wow factor of a Dick Tracy phone. At any rate, it will be something requiring time to get used to and become proficient with. Is that what we want from our devices of convenience?

September 7, 2002 11:47 AM

I poke thru my logs everyday like it's the morning paper, and saw an intersting referrer domain show up today...
"" was too interesting to pass up, so I visitied the URL tha was the referrer and found that Google is working on keyboard shortcuts. As you use those shortcuts, you get visual feedback and they even scroll the page for you. Check it out.

August 4, 2002 1:47 AM

I have been playing around with the next version of Mac OSX, code named Jaguar, this weekend. The version I've been using is 6C106 and is a bit behind the golden master version 6C115. I have noticed a few bugs (FruitMenu and ASM are going to need an update), but here's a few bright notes...

Overall performance is much improved. Quartz Extreme is the marketing term for unloading the video tasks to the video card. Most of us are used to the concept in gaming where newer faster video cards are a way of life for making the games playable. What Nvidia does for gaming, Jaguar does for exverything else. Of course, the card you actually have in your machine makes a difference, but I'm delighted to report that a 500mhz tiBook, with its 16 meg card sees a marked improvement, system wide, in performance.

Sherlock is not the 'find' interface anymore. You might think this is a bad thing, but I deplore having to open an application to simply find a file. Command-f (at least in the build I'm using) maps to a simple Finder window with a search interface. Key strokes are not lost as the window opens like they are when Sherlock is opening. So, command-f, start typing and hit return makes for a super fast way to find a file.

Sherlock 3 is pretty cool. But so is Watson, which deserves credit for being ahead of the curve.

The Sharing control panel includes a firewall interface. I consider myself to be a Mac power user who is comfortable with a command line. But, having an ultra simple and straight forward Firewall interface is awesome.

Command-tab is more of a toggle now. It used to be that command-tab'ing would always step you thru the open applications in a linear fashion. BBEdit munkies like myself would have to command-tab-tab-tab, etc until you go to the browser, and do it again to get back to BBEdit. Now, if you command-tab, it selects the app you were in last before stepping forward. This means fewer keystrokes.

March 13, 2002 8:51 AM

There's a new OpenGL based 3D interface available for Mac OSX called 3DOSX, that looks pretty cool, but doesn't feel terribly productive to me. For a long time, folks like Jef Raskin and many other old school GUI pontificators have been saying that WIMP interfaces (Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointing device) are getting long in the tooth. But, I don't think any of the proof-of-concept 3D interfaces are going to replace WIMP any time soon.

The 3DOSX user experience is actually pretty good in terms of navigating the space, and always knowing where you are (in relation to everything else). Revealing that frame of reference is one of things that GUI professionals should always be striving to do and that present WIMP interfaces could improve upon. Forgiving its performance problems (one frame per second), 3DOSX is a far cry from the speed at which I can rifle thru WIMP based file directories, but is still a pretty good advance on a demonstration 3D interface from Microsoft. They represent the file tree as a hallway where you move forward and back to pick up files off of virtual easels. The files have thumbnail previews that help you understand what's inside. But while watching the demo video, I can't help but not know where I am in any sort of file hierarchy.

So, having a sense of spacial relationships between files would be a good advance, but here's a few problems that need to be overcome...

  • After finding the file I need, when I go and do something with it, will that be 3D also? I can't imagine working in TextPad or BBedit in a 3D interface.
  • 3D interfaces cause the user to manipulate the mouse WAY more than with a WIMP interface (which is a significant user experience issue in my opinion).
  • Performance issues for these interfaces are prohibitive (even with an NVidia GeForce).
  • I'm used to the WIMP interface and understand it. Plain and simple.

February 11, 2002 4:42 AM

There's an interesting article at Yahoo! from Business Week Online that is definitely MSFT biased, in a 'position paper' sort of way. It asserts that AOL is going to have to get used to more competition from MSFT in the various areas, which seems obvious. At the core is the MSN vs. AOL customer base battle in which AOL won't see accelerating subscriber growth like it did just three years ago. The article states...
Although MSN will continue to lag behind AOL in the number of Internet subscribers, Microsoft may ultimately compete head-to-head with AOL for consumer dollars spent online. 'Content is not king, and it never has been,' declares Matthew Rosoff, an analyst at consulting firm Directions on Microsoft, referring to AOL Time Warner's top media brands. 'Compared with AOL,' he adds, 'Microsoft has a far superior understanding of how consumers use computing devices,' which will help it woo consumers who want more than just dial-up access.
So, is this to say that people use technology for the sake of technology? That interactive systems are about interacting with the systems? That if these things are true then MSFT wins? Not!

Even if MSFT has a better understanding of 'how consumers use computing devices' (which is debatable) how does that translate into wooing users who want more than online access? I'd suggest that the 'superior understanding' would translate into more compelling and usable systems that enable people to use technology in meaningful ways. Im my experience, MSFT certainly doesn't have the usability market cornered, and what content do they have? None. Time to embrace and expand?

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