Archives For February 2013

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Long, long time ago, the Internet used to be open. It reflected freedom of expression.  Vast amounts of content were created and consumed.  Without borders, without walls, without restrictions.

Today, there are so many places to help you create and share content – but, along with creating content, they are also slowly building a wall around the content! Take Quora as an example – Quora’s mission is about creating and sharing knowledge.  It has done a phenomenal job of creating good content – and an even better job of locking up the content!

Enamored by the high quality content, I started blogging on Quora – it has certainly slowed me down on this blog a bit!  But, the inability to share content freely, without requiring the users to log in, has been an issue – a rage, actually! Even though Quora responded showing that they listened to their users, it’s still a problem – fundamentally, they think that requiring an identity to access content is normal and acceptable!  It is this fundamental notion that is causing the Internet to be closed, one step at a time!

Whose right is it anyway to put a wall around our content? It’s hynotism – just like I wrote before, it’s about owning every move of the user without the user knowing that he/she is being hypnotized!  The walls we knew with cellular companies where small, claustrophobic and uncomfortable.  The walls we see now, with the likes of Quora, are deceptively liberating – they have the illusion of being free and available.  But, unless we see a turn that brings down the walls, the future of the Internet surely seems to be drifting towards a closed state!

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Apps try to optimize user experience by maintaining the last used state when the user leaves the app and comes back to it later. This is incredibly useful when the user has to leave the app for a brief while and come back to it. Sometimes this happens when we are responding to a notification while on an app and have to then come back to it. Or when a link takes us out of the app and we get back to it. Occasionally, it is even useful when we have to leave the device and come back to it.

Some apps however take the state maintenance to an extreme. They seem to maintain it for too long, beyond the point of usefulness. Facebook is an example. Now, Pulse, Flipboard and others appear to be following suit. The problem with this is twofold. One, beyond a certain time, when I come back to an app, I want to see new content and do not even have context for where I left it the last time around. Two, when I’ve been away for long, I have sometimes passed the previous state by accessing the app on another device by then and the previous state is irrelevant to me any more. It now takes longer to back out and reset the state to a new session.

Clearly, state maintenance is not a binary all or nothing aspect. There is a period of time when the previous state is very critical to maintain and there is a period beyond which the previous state is not just not useful, but an impediment to good user experience. It is important that apps pay attention to this and get their designs right. Some apps such as the Kindle try to maintain state at the server and sync on app launch across devices. It is not perfect, but goes after the right idea. Some apps like Twitter show you the previous position, but tell you how much new content is available. For some apps, these approaches may not make sense and they may just need to reset to a new session state.

Every app needs to consider its functionality and user experience and do the right thing. Keeping state is not always the right thing to do!