Monthly Archives: January 2009

It's all about purpose, purpose, purpose!

Applications need to serve a purpose to succeed. At least a perceived purpose. I am convinced of this and have advocated this over and over. The purpose may be entertainment and fun, but this still is a purpose. Serving a purpose makes an application desirable.

When an application comes to the end of its life cycle, it typically outlived its purpose. An example in hand would be a Flash-based game, which is fun for a while, but after the viral spread has slowed down, it’s basically dead.

Microsoft have published a nice blueprint for measuring desirability of applications which is worth a read. They, rightly, say that usability testing is not enough.

In the technology developments that I am involved in, testing and feedback reporting typically stops with users performing a task or clicking through some scenarios. This is wholy insufficient in today’s competitive applications market.

In the current approach, the real serious questions are not being asked: What’s the purpose of this tool? Why would a user want to use this tool? Where are the benefits? How fast does a user feel these benefits?

I strongly recommend to introduce desirability evaluation for any software development, especially in fields with a lot of competition.


Net neutrality, democracy and ISPs

I was rather taken aback by the summary of the Digital Britain report. Legislation to guarantee the freedom of the Net has been rejected with speculative capitalist arguments that this will allow for more investment, diversity, and innovation. Ha ha, that’s rather laughable.

What it does in my humble opinion is open the doors to network providers to block at random any traffic they don’t want to carry (e.g. bittorrent), or content providers to charge extra for some services by creating a two- or multi-tier system within the digital world. The example was the BBC being able to charge more for high quality iPlayer content than for lower-grade?! Especially with regards to a public corporation with democratic responsibility this is a more than detestable outlook. We all pay our licence fees so we can have equitable service across the country. It is like having the streetlights out in poorer parts of town because they don’t pay as much taxes than in the afluent regions, where there can be light all night!

This rather mad idea would not stimulate investment or innovation but a digital divide within the digital divide. It fragments society even more.

The Internet has become such an integral part of our lives, that it is hard to live without it. Therefore equal opportunities today start on the Web. Instead of legislating to secure access to the Web as a basic civic right, this report suggest quite the opposite.

Facebook, Twitter and other social waste of time

As an early adopter of new networked technologies, I signed up to Twitter, Facebook, Orkut, etc. a long time ago, but never really got hooked. I accepted invitations but mostly went on ignoring the tools. My earlier scepticism can be found in other blog postings here, the main criticism was that these tools do little more than turn people into collector’s items of someone’s electronic addressbook (I would still hold this true for LinkedIn and Xing).

Then, rather recently, things changed. It all started with me buying a 32GB iPod Touch and exploring the facebook and twitter apps that are available for it. The mobile device put the whole twittering into a different light. Writing long-winded brain-consuming blog posts is difficult to do on a mobile device, and micro-blogging is a nice alternative. It is also kind of entertaining to follow people on Twitter or facebook, which for the information-hungry professional or the nosy neighbour can become an addiction. There definitely is a sense of community there too, which is hard to define, but nice to feel and be part of.

As part of the recent social explosion of these networks, more and more people I knew connected to me. Twitter was reported to have a 1000% growth in users in the UK alone. I guess the growth in active connections (which I estimate at around 20% of people in my contact list) makes it a more worth-while experience to go and check out updates.

Still, I feel it would be worth while doing a text linguistic analysis of the content passed around in Twitter. My observations amount to the conclusion that the conversation level of Twitter feeds is at the age level of a 4-5 year old child. Children this age typically do not converse but talk aloud to themselves, not really expecting an answer. A thorough analysis on how many monologic utterings actually lead to a response or even to a thread of more than three responses would be a worthy and interesting task.

The other observation is that content in these social networks is mostly un-rewarding from an educational perspective. The majority of tweets or status posts fall into a limited number of categories: (1) tea drinking or pizza eating habits, (2) out-of-context @discussion fragments, and (3) link sharing. The latter is the most useful in my view, whereas the information that “Soandso is reading an interesting article” has little to no impact. For category (2) it is normally not worth one’s while to investigate and puzzle together conversations that look like “@bscott yes, you are right about that” or similar.

Connectivity between social subjects seems to come from two corners: link sharing and jokes/provocation. Curiosity about the links other people look at or find funny is a tremendous motivator for staying in and bonds people together. It’s the glue of social networks, and this is what they seem to be all about. Time could be spend in much more productive ways, but it’s good to be connected!

Censored content

We need not complain about web censorship in China, there is plenty of this around here. Apple has been rightly criticised for pushing it’s own measures of what goes and what not on the iPhone.

We don’t want to be dictated by a commercial company that iFart, an application to produce electronic sounds of hot air, is socially more acceptable than iBoobs (no explanation needed). In the context of OER for mobile devices, anatomic study materials may be excluded for silly Puritan reasons, whereas brainless shooter games are seemingly o.k for educating our citizens.

Reliability of content applications (even kosher ones) on the iPhone is relatively low, and may depend on the daily corporate mood. This does not make it a good distribution network for serious content development of mobile educational products.

The other annoyance is ad-supported applications (ad-ware) which obviously do not contradict Apple’s terms, but leads to frequent application updates perceivably only serving the purpose of spreading more ads around – I call this “apps-spamming”. A clear distinction in freeware, ad-ware, and trialware would be useful.