Web, Poststructuralist Web

The web, the people who use it, and now that we're done using it.

Google’s Material Design Concept is Sublime — June 5, 2015

Google’s Material Design Concept is Sublime

home screenshots
Screenshot of my Note3’s Homescreen and QuickApp Drawer. Using Action Launcher, Cryten Icon Pack, Month Calendar, and Onca Clock.

UI/UX is part of everyone’s life now, we interact with so many non-physical tools and services on a daily basis that we’ve become dependent on design to enable our work and entertainment flows. But Google’s Material Design is something else. Some gleeful reviewers have extremely positive, yet superficial, appreciation for it. While many seem to be perplexed by what they see as an almost inconsequential change – “So they added shadows to flat icons? Big deal.” But that’s not what material design is. It’s not just a standardized set of design rules for a corporate identity, it’s not just about simple usability; it’s so devious that you don’t even notice it, because you’re not supposed to and that’s the point.

Material design is built ground-up from physical world interactions. The reason it doesn’t feel like anything has been done is because Google’s taken what we comprehend naturally and translated it into a digital space. The human mind processes an insane amount of information from a huge number of sources constantly, and material design is a conceptual framework that seeks to simply operate within our innate ability to interpret and interact, whereas most UI/UX has previously sought to impress, elevate, distract, or otherwise capture our attention. Apple’s use of design has always been synthetic, exceptionally well crafted and useable, but highly synthetic and meant to feel slick and premium. Material design isn’t trying to impress you, it’s trying to be invisible and that can be confusing.

The idea of digital objects occupying space within their own world is so intuitive that people can’t even understand why it holds any amount of significance. It’s not like 3D video games, which purposefully try to trick you into believing you are interacting with objects that hold depth; the objects in Material Design do occupy conceptual space, and they occupy it in the same manner that they would if they were physical materials (hence the name). A pen on your desk does not roll through your keyboard, it can roll under or be carried over and once on the other side, it will not magically appear in its original spot. It is this idea that drives this design concept, and I know I’m already at risk of sounding like a blithering fanboy, but it is really a significant shift in UI/UX thought and one that will inform design decisions until the next great transition period.

If you are interested in design, I urge you to read through their design guidelines, it is well worth the time.

 

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The “Tyranny of Technology” — March 13, 2015

The “Tyranny of Technology”

It’s been a while, but the Apple announcement and subsequently a parody video have inspired me to put down my thoughts. The video is Funny or Die’s 33 Must-Have Apple Watch Accessories. Now, I’m no luddite, I greatly enjoy technology and use it at work and in my personal life (as most of us do). However, there’s something bizarre about wearables; while I know that they will eventually integrate into our lifestyles, the way forward is inflated with incredible amount of hype, but the feeling remains . . . I’m wearing a digital shackle.

Personal computers were a boon because they made us wildly more efficient, the internet was a boon because took that efficiency and magnified it by allowing us to interact and share instantaneously as well as creating a level of unparalleled accessibility, smartphones put all of this in our pockets. Recently we’ve seen the rise and, if we’re honest, the plateauing of tablets – we see that they’re great and useful, but they’re luxury items for mostly light use and we’re seeing the 2-in-1 concept as a reasonable compromise. The one truth of invention and of business in general is that you must be providing a solution that has a question, and not providing a solution in search of that question. This is the limbo that wearables are currently residing in.

They’re not yet capable enough to provide real benefit on their own, which brings me to my gripe: After being gifted a Samsung Gear 2 and doing everything in my power to make it useful in my life, I came to a singular conclusion – I have never felt more tethered to my devices than when I wore that watch. It was a constant reminder to make sure my phone was with me at all times lest my watch lost the majority of its functionality. Not only to have it with you, but to have it within range. If I walked down the hall at work to speak with our financial department, bzzzzzt, the watch would vibrate letting me know that I have strayed too far from its parent device.

It snuck into everything and I didn’t like the feeling that I no longer decided when to interact in the digital world, but rather that it was constantly yanking on my pant leg like a petulant child. But what really killed it for me, was that it didn’t improve anything for me. It was only a detriment; I gained no efficiency, no optimization, nothing. The screen is small and while navigating it is “acceptable for a device of its size” scrolling for apps and to read text made less sense than simply picking up my phone and looking at it (most notifications are available on the lock screen or even after unlocking just single press or swipe away), this immediately defeats the purpose of the wearables. It’s supposed to save time on the front end by being available at a glance, but it’s more cumbersome to use than a phone due to it’s inherent limitations of display real estate.

I was partly hoping to see something revolutionary from Apple, perhaps because they’ve done it in the past and I (we) anticipate something more, but they didn’t. The Apple Watch looks exactly what we’ve already seen from wearables thus far. And that parody video highlights not only the truth of wearables in their current state, but that we’re being locked down through the tyranny of technology. Don’t stop looking at your screens, don’t stop inputting your private data, don’t stop responding to notifications, don’t stop everything depends on you sitting fixated in a digital stupor. Our present is more akin to Farenheit 451 than it is to Minority Report. Our technology should be an extension of our desire to accomplish, not a “more efficient means of going backwards”.

I don’t care if anyone likes or supports Apple’s or anyone else’s wearables. That is a forgone conclusion. I only ask those that are still pondering it’s merits to continue pondering and wait until the technology is at a point where you benefit instead of voluntarily shackle yourself.

Value of Information – A second look — January 16, 2014

Value of Information – A second look

My first blog post was about hyperstimulation of our communications; and something I said never quite felt appropriate. I wrote the following about the value of information approaching zero, and I don’t think I explained it thoroughly enough:

It is because of this that we see the value of information itself approaching zero. Wait, don’t react just yet! Information still holds its original value, however, due to its accessibility and in the coming case of hyperaccessibility you practically don’t even have to pursue it, it is given to you. That is the role of all these media outlets. The greatest value add of the future rests in packaging, and disseminating information, not in the creation of the information.

To begin the clarification process I want you to think about the difference between a chore and a desire or need. Immediately, “chore”, evokes negative response as your brain pulls up a list of all the unfinished chores you have. Desire is much more positive, it’s something you want, something you must have, and you will do what must be done to acquire it. Need is somewhere in the middle, but there’s an understanding that needs must be fulfilled . . . because they’re needs, otherwise they wouldn’t need to be fulfilled (score one for using a definition to define a term! But seriously, you know what “need” means).

When something is scarce, it can be desirable. When a need is scarce, it is highly desirable! In fact, it might be sought after at all costs! Now that we have a context, we can view the transition from desire to chore.

In the simplest terms: Food is a biological need. When it is scarce it is highly desired. When it is available it is a need. And when it is available in excess it is a chore.

How many people think of “grocery shopping” as a chore that they have to do? Well, if you’re fairly well-off in a 1st world country, it’s quite likely a chore to you. Because food is so available, do you go hunting for your dinner? Of course not. Do you travel to various farms for each type of food you want to purchase? Doubtful. Do you go to a singular location that has packaged, displayed, and prepared the food for rapid and efficient acquisition? Yes, the supermarket.

That was my point about the value of information approaching zero (or in the case of chores, a negative value). Although you may desire or need information about something, it is increasingly becoming a chore to acquire it due to so much information being available. So you seek out a source that can package, display, and prepare it for your consumption.

Sites like Amazon know this, it’s one of the reasons they’re so successful. You don’t have to leave their site. You get side by side comparisons in price, customer reviews, product Q&A, access to customer service all from a single interface. Not only that, but they track your viewing history to provide you with contextual ads while you’re browsing goods so that you can see more things that may interest you. This is how social media managers need to think when preparing or disseminating information to their audience. How can you make it a one-stop shop for your viewers? How can you organize and design the content to be accessible, easy to digest, and readily available?

Viewers have a multitude of options and these options are constantly vying for their attention. So the future of value resides in the ability to get content that your audience wants to your audience in a manner that they appreciate.

Information isn’t worthless, but if your audience feels that it’s a chore to get that information . . . it may as well not exist.

Metrics – When are they useful? — January 10, 2014

Metrics – When are they useful?

You can do an internet search on social media metrics and reveal millions of results each detailing the importance of metrics, how to read metrics, how to capture metrics and just about anything else you can imagine. But me . . . I want to talk about a way that metrics are not measured, weighted metrics, the metrics that are real. What am I on about? Far too often (everyday actually) I see the gaming of metrics. I’m not talking about flat out fraud in which bots and algorithms pump up numbers by spamming likes, retweets, shares, etc back and forth between themselves so that someone can hold up a report to the company that hired them and say, “Look at these amazing numbers!”

Metrics and data are only valuable if they’re appropriately collected and genuine; and I see a lot of metric gaming. What’s an organic viewer? Someone who found your content and found it valuable on their own terms and voluntarily chose to like or share it in some way. So how do social media managers, marketers, and even personal users game their metrics?

Some methods are innocuous and generally accepted, “Like us on Facebook!”

I’m not personally a fan of this because it colors intent. Put up your content, if it’s good, people will +1 it, or like it, or favorite it. Why do you want to inflate your metrics with potentially imaginary viewers? If people aren’t returning to you, you’re failing the primary objective of social media, which is to build and cultivate relationships – not to acquire numbers for a quarterly report (and believe me, if you set expectations that your value revolves around the numbers, that’s what people will come to demand). Short version: I’d rather have 10 genuine viewers who keep coming back than 100 one-time gold star clickers.

Others are somewhat disingenuous and sneaky (and are often promoted as valid tactics): “Find highly connected social media users and friend them and interact with them.”

This reminds me of brown-nosers, those people at work who disregard everyone except those who they deem valuable to their needs. It might be effective, but your numbers aren’t yours at the end of the day. You didn’t accomplish any growth through value of your content, you accomplished growth through gaming the system. Did the person who shared your content care at all about it? Or are they just gaming back at you building a false relationship in which you’re simply boosting each others numbers but have no interest in each other. It’s a dilemma I face myself. I know very well that I can reach out to highly influential people and slowly get them to share my work, but it’s a grey area in terms of social ethics. Yes, I do want the greater audience where I might find genuine interest; but how am I reaching these people?

And lastly, you have those who are disappointing: “Hi @JoeShmoe, please retweet this.”

It really bothers me when I see this; shamelessly asking someone to share your work. It’s almost an admission that you’re not willing to put any effort into either creating quality content or putting in any effort to attract viewers on merit of your actual marketing skills.

This really is a difficult internal discussion to have with yourself. Because it means taking a look at your analytics pages and thinking, “How many of these people could care less? Why do I value their numeric representation as a piece of data that showcases my reach or value as a social media manager?”

When you ask someone how many friends they have, you’re likely to hear something along the lines of, “Well, I have just a few real friends, y’know ones that I’m really close to, but I know a ton of people.” That’s how it is with social media, you can have a ton of traffic, lots of sharing and whatnot, but at the end of the day, the only viewers that matter are the ones that keep coming back to you because they want to. Because you have provided real value to them. Those are the metrics you want.

 

Leftovers — December 12, 2013

Leftovers

Content trails or leftovers usually only enter people’s minds when they might jeopardize their personal or professional lives. But I’d like to discuss another side of our collective interwebnets usage; digital pollution and more specifically, signal to noise ration in which the excess noise remains.

We live in a time when new content, new products, and new services are being created at breakneck speeds. And we all know the primary rule of information GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out. But that’s where I’m going, there is no out. Garbage keeps coming in, but it doesn’t go away, it piles up.

Prior to the web, this wasn’t really a problem, but we now have a volume issue. When applied to various aspects of design and content creation, we have repetition at such frequency that even if someone of quality comes along, it’s rapidly shared and subsequently overwritten rather than being allowed to stand. I’m about to use an analogy on the internet, and while it’s a faux pas because “that’s a terrible analogy for all these reasons!” I still want to proceed despite the inherent riskiness. Think of a great writer, Shakespeare, Faulkner, Hemingway, etc just pick one. But place them in today’s world where their work would be asked to stand against mountains of content streaming at a constant rate. It would be revised, rebuilt, replicated, deconstructed, shared, and forgotten in a matter of minutes, hours or days.

That freedom for everyone to participate is also what is diminishing the value of quality content. Perhaps this gives birth to additional quality content due to sheer volume being pushed through, but we forget the burden it places on those who create the best content. The burden of maintaining that quality or suffocate in the smog of digital exhaust.

So, I ask everyone (including myself) to be considerate with our shared space, to preserve your best content and think about what you’re leaving behind.

What does your audience want? — November 27, 2013

What does your audience want?

Finding a one size fits all solution is very appealing and based on what I’ve read around the web, that seems to be the general attitude surrounding social media engagement. “Well, if it’s working for Nike, we should use it too!”But I want to examine these audiences as my experience tells me that their usage behavior is informed by the type of relationship they have with differing entities.

Here are the relationships as I have interpreted them:

Communicative – Typically found between friends and family. Social media channels are used for interaction of a communicative nature in which thoughts, ideas, conversation and life are shared back and forth. This is an arena that marketing teams new to social media wrongly believe that they will fall in once they begin their outreach efforts. They are, in fact, closed off from this stream no matter the depth of the relationship they believe has been forged, they will never become friend or family.

Symbiotic – Successful for-profit entities engage in symbiotic relationship building. Finding audience members (aka consumers of their product) that want to promote their product through their approval of it. It is a powerful tool to harness, the value of a happy customer, and it is meaningful to both sides. Nurturing and valuing these advocates/champions can please them further which in turn increases reach and impact of message. In addition to building individual relationships, value added engagement such as providing content beyond product being sold serves the community while bringing attention to the brand/company. A great example would be high quality behind the scenes images from the Olympics posted to Instagram by a sporting goods retailer. Giving people something they might otherwise not get while drawing attention to the brand as a whole. Trust building through generosity.

Parasitic – Now, parasites are generally seen as a negative, the word itself heavy with negative connotation. However, most academic/non-profit entities are engaging with parasitic audiences. Because nothing is being sold, there is no product, typically a cause or concept is being championed and asking people to help support it. It is important, then, to remember that the audience is looking for a stream of information and engagement . . . from the entity, but without intention to reciprocate and engage in return. Their engagement comes in the form of support of the cause. Social media then, becomes a form of stewardship of a constituency while serving as an outlet to keep the audience informed. Another major difference in the academic/non-profit social relationship is that any particular audience member may or may not have anything in common with another.While philanthropy may be a hobby for some, it is not a foundation on which relationships are based, it is an action as a result of relationships formed. The academic side is even more parasitic than the non-profit side. Prospective and current students are happy to use social media . . . to engage with each other. They just want information from a school or center or club. Faculty are the same, they are not interested in engaging with students through a third party, they will engage directly. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, students are a transient entity, their time at an institution exists solely to achieve a goal before departing. Therefore, any social media manager operating in an academic setting must remember that they are there to service their audience and not expect relationships to form.

Self-Serving – A new group (not entirely new) has surfaced and they are self serving. You might ask, “Is this not parasitic?” Yes and no. The self-serving group can be challenging to identify and engage because they can fall into any of the other categories and can be useful so long as their needs are being met. In a communicative relationship, the self-serving might be looking to bolster their activity or otherwise gain more attention from others by engaging with you.

In a symbiotic relationship, the self-serving will advocate and champion on your behalf so long as you supply them goods/services/praise. They are a false advocate/champion, they care only for personal reward and not because they value a product/service being offered. They might prove valuable as you may gain reach with them, but they are essentially acting as paid marketing.

In a parasitic relationship, the self-serving as seeking additional information/resources in order to hold it over others or to otherwise serve their needs. Wikipedia might be a fantastic example in which most of us behave as self-servers towards it. Very few engage in and act to improve/promote it as a tool, but we gladly use it for writing papers, winning silly arguments, gaining knowledge or whatever other use one can think of.

And this brings me to my final point, a person who is a champion to one brand may not be willing to champion another. Or a parasite of one entity might be willing to form a communicative or symbiotic relationship with another. As social media continue to mature as a concept, we are seeing major brands mistakenly identify “high value social media users” who have large followings so that they can engage them to help sell their product. They may agree to champion your product, but they will do so as a self-server and the rest of your audience may pick up on it and see them as paid advertising. A certain car commercial comes to mind where social media stars are given free vehicles in hopes that they will energize and engage their communities. The car is simply payment, they are nothing more than temporary staff who are serving their own needs for reward.

The best engagement and growth is organic. The truest advocates and champions are those who found value in your product/services/institution/cause/etc and wanted to share with others. Just be wary of what your audience wants from you and avoid using a one size fits all approach, it doesn’t.

Microculture Communication — November 22, 2013

Microculture Communication

One of the most common questions marketing and social media managers ask (themselves as well as clients) is “who is the audience?” It’s a pertinent and valid question, but it forgets to factor in people’s inherent rejection of change with the contradictory concept of widespread adoption of new technologies.

What I mean by this, is that new services, platforms for communication, and devices are constantly coming out and being dreamed up. But the people who use them tend to adopt rapidly when they’re younger and slow down their addition of new services/platforms/devices as they get older. Various reasons behind this, less time, more stable social/family circles, general understanding of what they like and don’t like.

We see it happening with Facebook and Email very visibly. Go ask a teacher/ or undergrad professor and they’ll tell you that they keep sending emails but no one reads them! Yeah, because email is old. Email usurped physical snail mail and now shareable cloud space is usurping email. Shared workplaces (like project management clients, dropbox, online whiteboards) are faster and more efficient than email.

Don’t worry, email won’t disappear tomorrow, but it will die the slow death. You still get mail right?

So why is Facebook watching users lose interest? Well, people tend to stick with what they are used to and transition out of it slowly. So Facebook is now a tool of the adult and business use, but younger  generations are favoring twitter, pintrest, pheed, snapchat, kik or other closed systems. Unii is a brilliant piece of social media. It’s basically facebook, just for university students.

This solves two major problems that social media created for young people.

1. Parents can’t join. Limited to students with University ID. Now their parents can’t see what type of trouble they’re getting into.

2. Potential employers won’t see their college indiscretions.

So what we have happening is multiple groups are splintering into their own communication microcultures where they consume information in a way of their choosing. So the answer to “Who is the audience?” is another question: “How does your audience want to be reached?” Each channel needs to be tailored to that particular group and their consumption preferences.

As we continue to increase the number of possible channels it does become unwieldy and identifying who your real audience is will be more important than ever before. It’s very easy for any one group to completely shun any given social media channel, because they are insulated and are getting what they need from their own community. One thing you can count on, is that once those same people are used to their adopted channel they’ll tend to stick with it for a long time and it becomes increasingly difficult as they get older to rapidly learn and move to new technologies. How long did it take Facebook to get saturated with parents and grandparents? Exactly, it took that first generation growing up and becoming those parents. Now their children are looking at mom and dad posting facebook updates and rolling their eyes at how behind the times they are.

Hyperstimulation — November 21, 2013

Hyperstimulation

To adapt the phrase “hyperreality” from Baudrillard, who revealed the concept of real life imitating a simulated version of reality. Typically referred to “art imitating life.” But his concept did not stop there, the really hyper part of hyperreality is that the simulated reality is based on the first reality, but when real life imitates the simulated version you get a second version of the first. Now it gets confusing when you compound that with the continued pattern of simulation and the subsequent real life imitation of that simulation. It gets to a point where people’s real lives are so divorced from the original version that they can only identify with simulated or manufactured realities.

Okay, now that the simple explanation is past us: hyperstimulation is the future of communication as we will come to know it. It’s already happening, when you’re watching TV and are simultaneously on a computer/tablet/phone that’s the entry level of hyperstimulation. These multiple channels of information, flowing both to and from each user will compound as we continue to get increasingly accustomed to additional channels.

It’s difficult to imagine getting used to the sensory overload we will see in the near future. Wearable tech is here now, and will only become more sophisticated. Imagine a college student in a classroom, listening to their professor while taking notes on their laptop, while their twitter feed scrolls past their eyes on their glasses, while their smartwatch is monitoring their heartrate in response to various stimuli and sending that data back to a server which notices that your heartrate increases when you see a tweet about a certain topic, it then notifies a database to push out more products/services/information related to that topic. Think contextual ads that display things based on what you tend to look at, but complimented by biometric data that tells computers how you feel about it.

It is because of this that we see the value of information itself approaching zero. Wait, don’t react just yet! Information still holds its original value, however, due to its accessibility and in the coming case of hyperaccessibility you practically don’t even have to pursue it, it is given to you. That is the role of all these media outlets. The greatest value add of the future rests in packaging, and disseminating information, not in the creation of the information.

As people are more and more pressed to view your content, they will want it presented to them in the most digestible, effective, and efficient manner possible. Recently Slate has taken to adding the number of minutes next to headlines to notify their viewers how long any particular piece of information may take to consume. It’s a huge value add and one I wouldn’t be surprised to see become commonplace.

The way we consume information is rapidly changing, and people’s preferences for their method of consumption will be in my next post about Micro-cultures.