Archives For December 2012

Infinite scrolling is one of the cooler user experiences brought to life by Pinterest – since its introduction, many others have followed suit with incorporating infinite scrolling on their web sites and applications.  For certain types of content and applications, this is the best overhaul that has happened to the user experience in a long time.  Pagination has been a deterrent to viewing a large amount of content.  For user generated content that grows at a fast pace, taking that deterrent out of the equation has definitely helped! 

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There really hasn’t been an equivalent to pagination on mobile, minus the dull experience of clicking through tiny page numbers on a small screen browser.  Loading content in response to scrolling is so much smoother.  

Given the popularity of this feature, it is now making an appearance in all kinds of applications.  Facebook. Twitter. Tumblr.  Pulse. The problem is that loading content infinitely is not quite suitable for all types of content. Aside from all the discussions around SEO and finding the equivalent of click value in a scroll experience, there is also the question of exactly what kind of user experience one is targeting with the infinite scroll.  

For leisurely content, that is quite fitting. It gives the user a perception of vast amounts of interesting content and keeps the engagement of the user.  On the other hand, for some other types of content, it is exhausting to the user to see that there is an endless amount of content they need to get through. Search content has thus far not become a target for infinite scrolling, appropriately so. I believe news content should fall under that category as well.  The recent Pulse update that delivers endless content leaves me exhausted, with the feeling that I’m never caught up with news! If users are interested in old news, they will actively seek it. One of the issues with old news often is also that updates may have been published later – if the users have already consumed the latest content, the old news becomes somewhat even confusing for the user. History linked from recent news is useful, but related and outdated articles showing up in the news stream is distracting.  

Following best practices for designing the infinite scroll experience is one part of it.  But, thinking through the type of content and whether the experience is fitting for it needs to be a necessary pre-step before adopting it.  

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Emoticon overload is so common, it’s now a phrase in the urban dictionary! NYTimes posted a blurb on this topic three years ago and there is much advice out there on how to use emoticons sparingly in business communication.  Digital body language is a topic of study now. Emoticons were introduced to convey the tone that is often not otherwise known in digital conversation. However, we are at a generation today where these are abused to the extent that the real tone of the conversations are difficult to glean.

So, why are we obsessed with emoticons? Why have we taken it to a point that called for smiley abuse awareness?! The fact is that we often want to say things in a lighter tone and keep an out to get away with things we say. With a smiley next to it, at best, there is room for ambiguity.  We get so used to it, anything you say without an emoticon appears serious and sometimes even annoyed. We like to keep the reader guessing as to what is just-for-fun and what is more serious than that.

This is one reason even socially introvert people are comfortable having a big presence online and a large group of friends in social networks.  The removal of the physical proximity provides a level of comfort to people – this is why we often find people who are otherwise introverts having hundreds of friends in social networks and things being said in asynchronous digital media that would not get spoken in voice communications!

How bad is this? My take is that it depends on the people involved in the conversation. But the risk is in getting used to it so much that conversing without emoticons ceases to feel normal. As long as we can be in control of our digital etiquette and know when to use what conventions, we are safe!

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It is certainly the era of user experience.  An era where Apple is teaching the rest of the world about the importance of user experience – one where others are learning fast to figure out how to get it right and be a player.  An era where user experience as a science is getting its due credit.  One where it is clear that computer science in isolation does not make or sell great products.

This does lead to the question of the end goals of a perfect and intuitive user experience. Is it really about the user? Do Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and others care so deeply about their users that they feel compelled to pour billions into getting this right? Maybe – but, just a little bit!

As is evident from the numerous patent wars, no one wants to get along in this game. Sure, the patent wars are broader than user experience at the face of it, but isn’t everything about the user? Faster speeds, lower power processors, better networks, more memory, better applications, slicker UIs, you name it – if it isn’t about the user of the product, there would be no incentive in investing in it.  So, why then can the players not get along to create the best unified experiences?

The end game here is hypnosis – yes, it is an era of digital hypnotism.  Wikipedia describes the characteristics of hypnosis as “The hypnotized individual appears to heed only the communications of the hypnotist. He seems to respond in an uncritical, automatic fashion, ignoring all aspects of the environment other than those pointed out to him by the hypnotist.”, among other things.  Every player in this game is trying to be a hypnotist and the subject is the user.  User experience is a means to an end.

Let’s parse it a bit further.  Apple has demonstrable success in the art of hypnotizing the user.  By creating intuitive, simple to use products, they built a faithful user base.  A user base that will adapt to their products and swear by their products.  They look past flaws in their products to the extent that flaws appear to be a feature.  Having established that loyalty, they enjoy the luxury of rolling out a flawed product (Maps of course!), a highly important one at that, and still not losing the user base!  It is a perfect win for their years of investments in user experience!

There are no incentives in working together – when everyone wants to claim the user, there is no question of unity.  After all, multiple simultaneous hypnosis is proven hard in psychology!  As every one of these major players try to grab every piece of data about the user that can be used to bring them under their influence, the users themselves are undergoing a transformation.  We talk less and type more.  We smile less and use more smileys (more on this later).  Running out of battery on our phones is our biggest fear.

It is a new world.  As long as the net result is making our lives better, being hypnotized by one of these players may just be par for the course.  We win some, we lose some.  As in psychology, you can only be hypnotized if you want to be hypnotized.  As every big player tries to do everything, they are trying to take over the users’ lives in totality.  They want to know our past and present and predict our future.  Or, better still, lead us towards paths we will be happy to follow.  The trick is in having enough snippets of what we, the users, want to do.  Once we are hooked (err, hypnotized), we will do as we are told!