It takes about 30 seconds to realize that this product is a perfect marriage between digital and analog. The interface is simple, and the story telling is rich and engaging. What a fantastic way to bring together parents and children. Not only does it encourage reading, it also inspires creativity.
This video was originally posted on Alex Rainert‘s blog EverydayUX – one of the best blogs on the web for user experience design lovers. Hat tip to Alex for the find. Head over there for more info and links about the product.
In this presentation, Christina Wodtke (LinkedIn) shares some core principals for creating online communities, and discusses critical design decisions that help a community thrive. I flipped through it this morning and found it useful. It provides a good framework for learning about and discussing how to promote desired behaviors with interface design, and provides some good examples of who’s doing it right. Some notable principals that Christina highlights are:
Kollocks’ 4 Motivations for Contributing: Reciprocity, reputation, increased sense of efficacy and attachment to an need of a group
B=f(P+E) – Behavior is a function of a Person and his Environment
The importance of the esteem layer in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs
The AOF Method – Defining your Activity, Identifying your Social Objects and Choosing your Features
Traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think and business as usual needs a new system of operating that’s more closely aligned with human nature. That’s Dan Pinks argument in a nutshell, and I think his case is strong. For those of you with some time, I’d highly recommend watching the full video. For those of you with only a few minutes, I’ve highlighted some of the main takeaways below. Enjoy.
The Three Elements Of The New Operating System
In this TED talk, Dan argues that there’s a mismatch between what scientists know about motivation and how businesses today reward their workers, and that if we look closely at the data gathered from studies on what truly motivates people it’s clear that we need a new paradigm. Here are some of the best nuggets…He says:
“…too many organizations are making their decisions, their policies about talent and people, based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science…if we really want high performance on those definitional (cognitive) tasks of the 21st century, the solution is not to do more of the wrong things. To entice people with a sweeter carrot, or threaten them with a sharper stick. We need a whole new approach
….the scientists who’ve been studying motivation have given us this new approach. It’s an approach built much more around intrinsic motivation. Around the desire to do things because they matter, because we like it, because they’re interesting, because they are part of something important. And to my mind, that new operating system for our businesses revolves around three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose.
(1.) Autonomy – the urge to direct our own lives.
(2.) Mastery – the desire to get better and better at something that matters.
(3.) Purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.
These are the building blocks of an entirely new operating system for our businesses.”
After presenting the findings of studies performed by leading scientists and economists at the London School of Economics, Dan sites some examples of how this new work paradigm is being put into practice in leading firms:
Worker Autonomy, 20 Percent Time and Innovation
“20 Percent Time…Done, famously, at Google. Where engineers can spend 20 percent of their time working on anything they want. They have autonomy over their time, their task, their team, their technique. Okay? Radical amounts of autonomy, And at Google, as many of you know, about half of the new products in a typical year are birthed during that 20 Percent Time. Things like Gmail, Orkut, Google News.”
Results Only Work Environments (ROWE)
“…an even more radical example…something called the Results Only Work Environment. The ROWE. Created by two American consultants, in place at about a dozen companies around North America. In a ROWE people don’t have schedules. They show up when they want. They don’t have to be in the office at a certain time, or any time. They just have to get their work done. How they do it, when they do it, where they do it, is totally up to them. Meetings in these kinds of environments are optional.”
What happens? Almost across the board, productivity goes up, worker engagement goes up, worker satisfaction goes up, turnover goes down.
I find myself coming back to nuggets on Stanford’s Entrepreneurship Corner frequently. These two, taken together, are like a motivational one-two punch if you’ve got entrepreneurship in your blood. Randy is right on the money. In the first video, he warns against the concept of a deferred life plan, when people put off what they really want to do for what is expected of them. He says that deferring life is when you are deferring your sense of excitement and passion for what you really care about and points out that working hard is not inconsistent with the deferred life plan, but doing so for a product that you do not have interest in is.
In the second video Randy points out that most entrepreneurship in the world is not mission-driven, but inspired by necessity and he challenges the audience with the idea that fostering a strong culture of entrepreneurship can provide a surrogate notion of empowerment and democracy (that we are lacking). So what do you love to do? Wanna change the world? What are you waiting for?
A Cautionary Word on the Deferred Life Plan
Embracing A Value Driven Culture of Entrepreneurship
In this keynote on Constructive Capitalism, Umair Haque reminds us that not all profits are equal. While some truly innovative companies are creating authentic “thick value” in the economy, others create profit through economic harm to others that results in “thin value” and (what he calls) a “zombieconomy”. How thick is the value you are creating?
This video was created for VINT, the International Research Institute of Sogeti. For more information please visit the following websites Methemedia or http://vint.sogeti.nl. You can also contact duivestein directly. For those of you that don’t have 45 minutes to watch the keynote, here’s a quick synopsis of the video’s content.
We’ve got a talent problem. We’ve got too many brilliant marketers getting us to love stuff. Somehow they’ve gotten us to buy into this formula: bigger, better, shinier, more expensive stuff = self-esteem. Being the self-esteem seeking creatures that we are, we consume gratefully. The issue is that it’s not doing us much good.
In Small Is The New Big, Seth Godin points out exactly why the side effects of great branding is a problem that needs fixing, and why we should worry that (as he puts it) “the unintended consequences of excellent branding…is one of the great tragedies of [the marketing] profession”. He says -
I think when traditional marketers talk about “brand”, self-esteem value is what they mean. A true brand is something where the self esteem value far exceeds the utility. It might be Heinz ketchup or a Rolex watch or a Marlboro cigarette, but in each case there’s a truly emotional connection between the brand and the user….It might be Timberland boots downtown, or Prada bags uptown. Both are ridiculously overpriced for the utility they deliver, but it’s the story we tell ourselves that matters, the label, the image, the peace of mind.
The problem, of course, is that the values and the messages that are selling us the promise of peace of mind are also leading us astray, and there’s no way to market our way out of the problem. Or is there?
#1 Tim Berners-Lee On The Next Web of Open, Linked Data
20 years ago, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. For his next project, he’s building a web for open, linked data that could do for numbers what the Web did for words, pictures, video: Unlock our data and reframe the way we use it together. (Recorded at TED2009, Feb 2009)
There’s a lot we can learn about best practices for creating and releasing software or web services to the masses from watching the video gaming industry. Successful video game companies know how important it is that they engage and immerse users quickly because they know they aren’t just in the software business, they’re in the fun business, and there’s nothing fun about sucking at a game. Recognizing this, they’ve developed innovative methods for getting complete novices engaged and enjoying the product as quickly as possible. I call this the “zero to fun” metric.
Getting a user from zero to fun as fast as possible isn’t just a gaming industry must. Everyone wants to enjoy the experience of using software and the web, and how much we enjoy the experience is largely a function of how adept we feel as users. Making a user feel like an expert is key to making their experience remarkable, and for that reason, giving a user that feeling quickly should be one of the primary goals of any company releasing software or web services to the world.
I mentioned in a previous post that open-social development for products has been a getting a lot of press lately. Companies are learning that true customer insight starts by including customers and users in the development stage. Getting prototypes into the hands of your potential customers early-on, and iterating a ton based on the feedback you get, can pay huge dividends in the long run…but only if the feedback you get is good. One key insight can greatly improve your chances of getting what you want from your guinea pigs…
When it comes to prototypes, more is virtually always better.
One prototype is a solid start – it’s better than nothing, and has some value. The trouble, however, with showing someone just one idea and asking them what they think is that their answer is likely going to be tainted by what they think about you because you’ve presented an idea that you’ve (obviously) committed to. If they are a friend (or simply want to develop rapport with you) they’ll likely respond positively regardless of whether idea has true merit. The opposite is often true if you suggest a single idea to someone who doesn’t like you (for whatever crazy reason). What you’re likely to get is an unnecessarily negative response or no real feedback at all. In both cases, the person you’re trying to glean insight from is less likely to give you the kind of quality, objective feedback you need.
As the popularity of blogging, social media and open source development continue to explode, widgets are taking root as a mainstay of the online social experience. The interdependency of self-publishing, social media and open source platforms are ensuring that widgets, those bits of code that allow us to aggregate, publish and share a wide variety of different content/information in one place, are here to stay. In fact, the rapid growth in online cultural trends like lifestreaming, microblogging and social browsing is creating increased demand for ways users can pull information from a diverse array of profiles and information sources, aggregate them and publish them quickly and easily. Said simply, widgets help us glue the web together, and as online social ecosystems become more complex, and as web sites and web based applications rely on more underlying services, widgets will prove to be a core component of the self-publishing culture and infrastructure.
For all of these reasons, we can estimate that companies will continue to throw a lot of time, money and energy at creating widgets and widget-like applications that online goers want to use. That said, not all widgets are created equal, and only the very best widgets spread (which is the whole idea). In this post I want to explore what makes a remarkable viral widget and offer developers some design tips…
#1 It’s Not About You.
Widgets that are perceived as ads rather than tools lose, plain and simple. Widget design should always be about the publisher/user and their content. Developers can put a small trademark on it, a link back to their service and a “grab this (for yourself)” button, but that better not be the focus. Subtlety in marketing is critical. It’s easy for developers to get excited about building an “ultra viral” widget that promotes the heck out of their service and brand, and it’s natural to want to put their mark in a prominent place that steals the show. Big mistake. Widgets that win put the user’s content front and center. Self-publishing isn’t like fashion. There are no label whores. Users want to highlight their stuff, not yours. The moment a reader sees a widget, interacts with it and THEN thinks “can I get one of these and do this myself?” is the point that they’ll start looking for a trademark. That moment should be the first time they notice your marketing. Viral is about the utility of the tool, not the marketing.
#2 One Size Fits Few
If you think you can make a popular one-size-fits-all widget these days, you’re dead wrong. The one-widget-for-all model is dead. More and more amateurs are diving into code and are customizing their blogs and social profiles in all kinds of different ways. People know that creating a unique web site design is key to blogging and online-social success. Radical individualism IS the norm when it comes to web design. For that reason, users want widgets that fit in a variety of spaces to fit THEIR unique design, so make it easy for them to get what they want. Developers should consider designing an easy to understand installation wizard that allows users to easily create a widget of any size they chose TO THE PIXEL, no matter how wacky. Flexibility will win out over standardization. Maybe even offer a few shape-formatting options. Help them look good and they will love you for it. You’ll be sewing the seeds of evangelism.
#3 Make It Customizable & Reflective of The User’s Personality
Personalization and being different is everything on the web. Widgets need to fit that trend. Give the publisher every facility you can to personalize the widget so their instance of it is different than any other user’s instance. This could be as simple as letting them select a fixed color scheme OR as complicated as pulling the user’s account data in from other services (for example, FriendFeed’s feed widget pulls delicious tags, twitter updates, Flickr photos etc all into one feed).
Giving people tools to make their site(s) more engaging should be a primary goal of every widget developer. A lot of developers out there seem to forget this, which baffles me. Good widgets are useful tools for the user FIRST and branding for the developer a distant second. Users should see an obvious value proposition when they ask themselves “How can I use this to enhance MY brand/message/content mix?”. On the flip-side, readers who engage a user’s widget are asking “What does the information this widget delivers say about the author?” If the answer is “nothing”, reader engagement completely vanishes and wont return. You only really get one chance to convince a reader that your widget is something they should pay attention to (and might want for themselves). If they decide that it’s not, readers will simply remember that the widget is there, and that they should ignore it and skip to primary content. Ad blindness works the same way. It’s the developers job to turn a widget into a node of interaction, and the way to do that is to allow widget users to create and display THEIR content with it. When readers see fresh streams of dynamic, user-created content in a widget, they’ll remember it, return to it and interact more.
#5 Make It Simple Stupid and Easy To Maintain
Simplicity of installation is just one part of the challenge. Making a widget easy to maintain is the other. To keep a widget engaging, a user needs to keep creating dynamic content, which is not easy these days given the complex array of things we do online in any given day. Developers need to be sensitive to the fact that most people who blog and use social media are dying for simplicity – many have too many accounts and use to many services to manage it all consistently…the time and effort required to add yet ANOTHER widget (and new behaviors) that they need to manage will (in most cases) lead a user to decide against joining your widget community at all. Widgets that win will allow users to create content by doing the things they already do. For example, a widget that showed the most recent items in my Netflix queue would update automatically as I updated my queue in Netflix, and not require any additional work on my part. AdaptiveBlue’s widgets are a great example of this.
#6 Individualization and Community
One last point before I wrap up. Widgets often represent a user in a greater community – sometimes they act like a badge that identifies the individual as part of a tribe (think mybloglog). Although I’ve discussed above how making a widget personal and customizable is important, developers should also remember that if a widget is about community building, allowing users to highlight their affiliation and status within that community is also very important. People don’t want to just stand out from a crowd, they want to belong to your community. Let them show that affiliation proudly.
In short, the above are just some thoughts I have on building great widgets based on my experiences and observations. What are yours?
[tweetmeme]All you systems theory buffs out there are probably familiar with the concept of “emergence”. For the rest of you, here’s a quick and dirty definition: Emergence describes the way that complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. The idea of emergence, although it might sound complicated, is important when thinking about social media because it helps us understand how cyberculture has developed and how our rules and rituals that we use when we interact online continue to evolve. When social scientists who study cyberculture find a new pattern of behavior or ritual that is unique to the online world, they often call it “an emergent behavior”, which is a fancy name for a social rule that a lot of people follow that no one person mandated. I’d like to talk a little bit about this in the context of a platform we all know well: Twitter.
The Evolution Of The Retweet
Since it’s launch in July 2006, Twitter has grown to over a million users. According to TechCrunch, as of March last year, Twitter users were firing off around 3 million tweets a DAY. Chew on that for a second. There’s a community out there of over a million people generating millions of tiny messages daily from a variety of different devices and applications (web, mobile, desktop clients etc). What’s important to realize (for the purposes of this discussion) is that the creators of Twitter never published a list of social rules for its users, and said “GO”. No one ever told us how to use the platform. We just did. We figured it out as we went along. We watched others. We copied. Those of us who were innovators tried new ways to “tweet” and other people noticed and copied us. Over a year and a half after Twitter’s launch, over a million of us that use Twitter know that it has social rules and etiquette – these are the patterns that emergence describes. We reinforce those rituals every time we use Twitter by following the rules we’ve made for ourselves (and by reprimanding those that don’t).
Retweeting is a perfect example of one of these emergent, ritualistic behaviors in Twitter culture. Retweeting has rules associated with it, and the behavior has evolved over time. I remember when it was common for people to full-on write “Retweeting @username” in front of a tweet, burning up their 140 characters just to give another person credit. Necessity for brevity, of course, has resulted in “RT” being the universally understood indicator over time, but there was no rule that said they had to give another person credit at all… but they figured out a simple way to do it because they wanted to. Because it’s the right thing to do. Within months, everyone was doing it. Now it’s a mainstay of Twitter culture…at least until someone else comes up with a better, briefer way to re-broadcast someone else’s message while giving credit. Who knows…maybe it’ll end up being just R @username. Culture and social rules are always evolving.
Why Entrepreneurs & Developers Should Care About Emergent Culture:
Since Twitter opened up it’s API, countless numbers of entrepreneurial-minded developers have released applications and services that integrate with and build on Twitter (my favorites include apps and add-ons like Adaptive Blue’s Glue, Tweetdeck, and Tweetsville for the iPhone). Here’s the problem – because of Twitter’s growth and popularity, there are A LOT of people developing apps that don’t really do anything different! Some of them look neat, and the UI is pretty, but the fundamental functionality across many apps is the same, which is BORING. There is nothing remarkable about something that takes what everyone does already and repackages it into something that just looks prettier. What a waste of creative energy. A shiny new UI that does the same thing still makes it difficult for consumers to decide what to use. The applications that DO stand out, however, are ones that have taken into account new, emergent behaviors and built them into their design.
Tweetdeck and Tweetsville are perfect examples of apps that stand out for this very reason. They were some of the first to incorporate cultural trends and add automated “Retweet” functionality into their UI. The developers saw an opporuntity to take an emergent behavior that was cumbersome (cutting and pasting someone elses message and adding “RT @username” to the message) and automate it. Brilliant. THIS IS DIFFERENT. It adds value. In all the noise, these were apps that got noticed and talked about because they were fundamentally more useful because the developers were in tune with the culture.
Some Insights for Developers and Entrepreneurs:
So what can we learn from this example? Here are some quick insights for entrepreneurial-minded developers that want to pack a punch in the market…
Developers, when you build a completely new application or service and release it into the world, people will use it in unexpected, unanticipated ways. Watch the crowd. Notice the patterns. They are tell-tales for what your next design steps should be. Never stop tweaking.
Entrepreneurs, if you’re building on top of an already-popular platform, you need to be keenly aware of the existing culture and tailor your service or app not only to what people are expected to do, but to incorporate emerging behaviors into design decisions. Repackaging existing functionality into something that looks good isn’t enough and won’t get you noticed. Culture is always evolving. Finding emerging behaviors that create needs that haven’t been addressed yet by others is a golden opportunity ripe for exploitation.
Every platform has it’s own culture, social rules and etiquette, but many online social rules are common across platforms. Take these common patterns into account. These are your staples that should never be ignored.
Heavy Users who are very popular on a social service act like beacons that guide the behavior of large followings. Watch them for patterns. They are the ones that will pick up on new and useful behaviors and broadcast them to the rest. They are people who turn early patterns into mainstays of culture.
When a service forces people to interact in new ways, new patterns are born. Innovators aren’t always the people who are heavy users from the beginning. They are just the creative ones that see and exploit opportunities to use a service in new ways, sometimes unintentionally. Because these people aren’t necessarily popular, you’ll have to work hard to identify them and engage them for feedback. Make giving feedback easy. Contact people directly who are doing new things with what you’ve built. Ask them why. The answers you get might floor you.
Credit Where Credit is due:
Tim O’Reilly was the very first person I ever saw “Retweet” someone else’s message (it must have been some time around ETech 08, because that’s when I found out about Twitter) so I just wanted to offer him an “innovator” shout-out. I remember seeing that word “Retweet” and thinking “huh, a twitter-footnote! How honorable and transparent!” From then on I did the same. Tim, if you’re reading this, do you remember who the first person you ever Retweeted was?
Where there’s a social buzz around good open source code, there’s opportunity. And where there’s opportunity, there will be entrepreneurs. In fact, digital entrepreneurship is one of the most natural and predictable bi-products of the open-source movement. Although open source die-hards (myself included) associate the open source movement with “freedom”, we should never delude ourselves into thinking that “freedom” will always produce code that is “free.” I’ve never understood why some open-source advocates are so adamant about defending the concept of a free digital utopia. Drawing entrepreneurs to code is fundamental to innovation, community-building and sustainability of any open source platform. Here’s a few arguments why entrepreneurship around open source platforms should be encouraged:
Innovation Requires Time, Effort and (often) Capital
Let’s be real, there aren’t many people who are willing to take on complex problems for the fun of it. It’s not a question of coding for coding’s sake either, it’s that most people just don’t have the time, energy or resources to justify starting, even if they can see a clear solution to a well-defined problem. The opportunity cost associated with “diving in” is often too great. The opportunity to profit from an idea or solution, however, can create a powerful incentive that shifts priorities enough to turn someone (who may have never started) into an innovating entrepreneur.
Innovators Respond Well To Social Incentives
Sure, entrepreneurs are driven to innovate because of monetary incentives, but that’s not the whole story. Social status, power, connectedness and pride play a large part in the innovating process. Income generation is often just the spark that starts the creative flame, but once a project is in motion, other incentives provide a lot of the fuel that keeps things moving. Successful entrepreneurs know that they’re not going to just release code off into a vacuum. In today’s hyper-connected world, communities form around innovative code, especially if it solves a common problem or need well. The word gets out, traffic increases, communities form and innovators can become celebrities (sometimes overnight). Even at a basic level, the popularity that ensues creates a sense of achievement and recognition that all human beings strive for. The desire for status and connectedness can be a powerful incentive that not only pushes digital entrepreneurs towards great code around platforms and products, but drives community-building and overall sustainability around those platforms and products.
Entrepreneurs Put In Effort To Draw Crowds
Because of the above-stated social incentives, entrepreneurs who innovate around open source platforms have incentives to become agents that build communities. We’re all marketers of our own brand to some extent, but for innovators releasing code into the wild it’s especially true. Making a stable, consistent income “adding” to open source platforms results from a combination of (A) filling a need or solving a problem and (B) making sure A LOT of people who are having that need or problem know about you. The A + B combination results in crowds, which is definitely what you want around open source because a lot of eyes and scrutiny results in better code (that’s the theory at least) and patterns of improvement lead to sustainability.
The point I’m trying to make, of course, is that whether or not profiting from an idea was the spark that got someone to innovate should be irrelevant – the end goal should always be community-building, better code and sustainability of open source platforms. Entrepreneurs are, and will always be, agents of change because they have a unique set of incentives that drive innovation and community-building. Those who are pro-open source should recognize that those incentives can have great affects for everyone and not get so hung up on defending the “free” faith. If we try to squash incentives that drive entrepreneurship by requiring everything that is produced to be free, the end result will just be less innovation.
I’m no politico, but, with the presidential nominee race in full swing, politics has been on my mind more than usual. My morning info-breakfast of FOX news in my hotel room in Jacksonville this week seems particularly rife with snipes at the current “front-runner” Hillary Clinton. Given that FOX news is constantly attacked for its right-wing “tilt”, I’ve been taking daily ganders into the political realm of the blogosphere to see how (if at all) the most popular political blogs have been spinning this week’s news, if for no other reason than to achieve balance in my info-diet. I was particularly surprised (and fascinated) to find yesterday that some blogging technologies being used by popular blogs and media sites (like the New York Times and GigaOm) can influence the “spin” of the related content of system generated out-bound links automatically based on programmed “left” or “right” preferences. Simply stated, this means that many blog readers are being funneled to left or right leaning sites, completely unknowingly, through auto-generated related content links. Here’s a little view into how programming bias into related content links is accomplished on the back end of a blog using a popular technology provided by a new start-up called Sphere.