Archives For September 2013

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Huffington Post published this theory about why Generation Y people are largely unhappy.  First of all, there is a little debate about what really is Gen X and Gen Y.  The timelines that Huff Post talks about don’t tally with what Wikipedia thinks.  But, I digress.  Really, it talks about two related concepts.  That the relationship between happiness and reality is governed by expectations.

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This is somewhat logical and I can get behind it.  So far, it’s alright.  The second part is that the expectations of Gen Y people are unrealistic!

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So, this is where the problem starts.  It talks about how Gen Y people feel special and want to cut short the hardworking process of progressing in your career and how that’s all messed up.  At the surface, it seems like there is a logic here.  But, when you scratch the surface a little, you realize this is total bullshit.  This writeup went on to invoke reactions such as this one. Okay, that’s one aspect of it – that Gen Y people are left to deal with student loans and insufficient jobs.  While I sympathize with that, that’s not what I’m going to focus on here.

Careers are no longer built in sequential progressions that cause years of hard work to eventually pay off.  That’s one way of looking at it and frankly, that’s a broken way of looking at it any more.  Places that reward just the sheer number of years one has been working hard at a particular level are likely not innovating aggressively.  It is the era where the smarter one and the one that can deliver takes all.  This is why it is not at all uncommon for one to be reporting to a past report of theirs, where someone who is younger had an impact that earned them a faster progression than their older boss has had.

Any more, progression is about impact.  True, it is conceivable that you might have impact early and might end up with a lot of responsibility when you are not ready for it.  That surely happens.  However, it cannot be true any more that you keep progressing just because you are working hard.  The working hard must absolutely translate into impact or it’s of no value.  And not all organizations and managers are good at seeing those two as distinct things.  It takes skill to separate the two.  Hard work can often be misinterpreted for eventual impact and that’s a problem.

Chamath Palihapitiya perfectly articulates this notion in this video.  As he notes, the pedigree you collect via traditional education and methods matters less and less.  What you know and what you can cause to happen matter a lot more.  Some people have a hard time separating experience and maturity from age and impact.  It’s never too early to recognize impact.  If you can sense when impact and maturity go hand in hand and capitalize on that talent, you’ll do well.  That’s what separates the ones that keep innovating from the ones that stagnate.

No, careers are not built with progressive linearity.  Careers are a function of impact and maturity.  And it doesn’t matter what generation you are from.  It only matters that you can think big and deliver big.

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I finally have a working phone and it’s not the HTC One!  Even though I badly wanted the One and I still think it is the best-looking Android out there, I went with the Moto X.  After all, I had to get a feel for the first real phone from Google!

First Impressions

The unpacking left me with an Apple-like experience – I had to check to make sure I didn’t mistakenly order the iPhone!  White everything (except for the phone itself) meticulously tucked in layers – well, it’s become a norm these days, but this felt a little more Apple-like than other non-Apple gadgets.  Taking the device out of the box was a ‘meh’ moment.  Really?  It looks no different from my phone that just died – the Galaxy Nexus!  Okay, the back of the phone has a better feel to it, but, whatever!

I had already braced myself for an unimpressive first impression, but the reality reinforced that.  Small screen (I had been using the LG Optimus briefly before this and yeah, the screen size suddenly looks a lot smaller!). The same boring form factor and look.  Oh, and the not so good camera (I had made up my mind on this before taking a single picture, given all the reviews!).

Beyond First Impressions

Just a few days later, I have to admit I’m liking the device!  I won’t go into all the details, as there are many reviews that cover everything in great detail.  But, the most important thing this phone provides me that is invaluable is the hint of context aware personalization in its very basic form.  We can talk about many things that can be done here, but the few features that this device supports are really fundamental and in many ways, this is the best starting point for personalization.

Active Display

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The active display is brilliant!  It is a means by which a small area of the screen is lit up at low power and the Moto X uses this to display the time and pending notifications when you pick up the phone.  Most of the times, you pick up the phone just to turn the display on and check the time or see what notifications are pending.  You don’t even bother unlocking the phone!  Now, the phone does it for you – both at some regular intervals as well as upon sensing the device being picked up.  Combined with low power inertial sensing and low power display, this helps with extended battery life while giving us exactly what we need!

Always On Voice

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Granted I haven’t quite tested this feature for false positives, but, so far, I’m impressed.  Training my voice was simple and the response is flawless!  The credit for the fundamental technology in this case goes to TI (the DSP that supports always-on-voice with keyword recognition comes from them).  But, the software integration with Google Now and the rest of the platform has also been nicely done!  There is room for improvement on the latency front (from the voice sensing to invoking Google Now to execution of the command itself is in the several seconds – maybe even in the small two digit number of seconds – range).  But, we have to remember that this is first generation and it will only improve.

Drive Mode

There are a bunch of things under the Motorola Assist umbrella, but I find most of it rather useless (no, just because I have a meeting on my calendar does not mean I’m always in it!).  But, the “talk to me when I’m driving” mode is quite useful.  A use case that has been beaten to death in the contextual world, but useful nonetheless.  Drive detection is fairly good, although coming out of drive mode takes too long.  Obviously, lots of caveats here with respect to whether you are the driver or the passenger (presumably you don’t want the device talking to you when you are not the one driving).  But, that’s a tough problem to solve – so, we should not hold it against them!

Trusted Devices

It is nice to not have to unlock the device with a PIN when it senses being close to a trusted device.  At the moment, I think this feature is too broadly set up in allowing an unlock in the presence of any paired Bluetooth device.  Being close to my headset cannot be strong enough authentication – losing the phone and headset together is hardly a difficult thing.  But, sensing my car and allowing the phone to be unlocked is more reasonable.  I suspect users will opt for convenience here – I don’t allow unlocked mode unless I’m in the car, but I can see some people taking every opportunity to keep the device unlocked!

In short, this device is showing us snippets of real personalization and the value is tremendous!  For all those trying to solve the ultimate in personalization, this is an example of starting small, but in the right way.  There is no overwhelming the user and the interface is clean.  I’m sold! 

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I’m a fan of LinkedIn.  I have watched that business grow and what they’ve accomplished is nothing short of amazing.  When they first came out, you thought “hmmm.. online resumes, cool!”.  Now it is the place for anything remotely related to professional activities.  It is where employers go to find potential candidates, entrepreneurs connect with each other, people increasingly go to get anything about their professional lives – from news about other professionals to general water-cooler-discussion-worthy news.

I often use LinkedIn as an example for how to successfully introduce the user to simple functionality and add functionality in bite sizes.  Once users get used to what they have, they’ve slowly and steadily added other things and educated the user on how to use new functionality.  It has worked rather well – okay, they’ve had to roll back on some stuff and double down on some other stuff.  They’ve had their own series of features they’ve phased out (the answer forum or publisher pages come to mind from recent days).  But, let’s talk about what appears to have worked out.

First you put your resume on LinkedIn.  Next, you connected with people you know.  Then you got introduced to people you want to know.  LinkedIn introduced jobs and subscriptions and got stronger ties between recruiters and possible candidates.  You got your next job because someone on LinkedIn saw your profile and contacted you.  LinkedIn pushed the privacy limits with public profiles and got you more visibility.  You got to see who’s interested in your profiles and it got addictive.  Recommendations were introduced to fuel professional introductions.  Fast forward to the current state and we now have endorsements, where we can proactively certify someone to be knowledgeable in something.  Here is an interesting visual history of LinkedIn.  This is all great – 225 million users in 200 countries is worth talking about!

LinkedIn has made it into my frequently visited sites and it is almost the only network, where I choose to receive updates on my primary email address.  By comparison, my Facebook, Twitter and other network emails go to an address I almost never check – I don’t get those emails on my phone and I rarely ever login to those accounts even on a laptop.  I go to them when I feel like it – at a pace that I feel is sufficient to keep up.

Lately, LinkedIn has been pushing its luck a bit too far.  First, the number of emails I get from LinkedIn has exploded.  I started having filters, but thanks to GMail’s new “social” classification, my Inbox is back to being sane!

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But, more importantly, I’m bothered by the amount of real estate that LinkedIn thinks I should get on my screen for something I’m explicitly looking for.  The screenshot above probably explains itself.  I think LinkedIn endorsements is a great idea.  It is not mature right now and in order for this feature to bring value to employers, it has ways to go.  But, it is definitely in the right direction.  That said though, does it have to be in my face every time I try to look up someone’s profile?

That screenshot is the profile page of someone I pulled up – when it comes up, the actual information I sought has the least real estate on that screen!  Seriously?  Between endorsements, ads and other recommendations that LinkedIn wants to throw at me, the profile I actively sought out gets a fourth or less of the available real estate! Thankfully, it doesn’t do that on the phone yet – but, where is this going?

I find this extremely annoying and if this continues, pretty soon, I’ll be looking up less people on their site.  I’m very curious to know if data points to this strategy being useful in terms of user experience as well as user actions (do more users provide endorsements because it’s in the face like this?).

This is the age of continuous experimentation.  But, I wonder, just how much it is okay to push the users?  I think there is a point in user acquisition where the barrier to entry for a new comer as well as the cost of quitting for the user are both rather high.  And for the most part, this is what brings complacence to LinkedIn or Facebook or anyone else in that state.

But, I’d have to imagine that user experience is still the top priority for these companies.  So, I have to believe that either data points to these abominations still producing good user experiences or that the metrics by which user experience is measured are all messed up.  But, more on that later.  For now, I’m not really sure how long I will still visit LinkedIn “frequently”.  My use of Pulse (now part of LinkedIn) rapidly declined after they shoved the Highlight feature on me, forcing me to highlight every time I wanted to share something.  My tolerance for such unwanted stuff is low – especially when the service isn’t indispensable to me… So, I guess we’ll see if I do really feel LinkedIn is indispensable!

Design By Experimentation

September 3, 2013 — 3 Comments

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If you are remotely interested in design or building products in general, I’d recommend reading Dan McKinley’s slides or listening to his talk.  He discusses Etsy’s experimentation on the infinite scroll and search re-design features and the results are insightful.  “Bite off design changes in small chunks” is probably not an epiphany for many people, but, the slides walk through the pitfalls of blindly using ourselves as representative users or the perils of a massive redesign without checkpoints.

On Infinite Scroll

I wrote about how infinite scroll is not for everything before.  Turns out Etsy discovered exactly this.  Adding infinite scrolling to search results is like telling the user you will never be done with this task.  A task is only appealing if there is the possibility that in reasonable time, the user can make a dent on it.  Infinite scrolling leaves us feeling exhausted.  Another thing that infinite scrolling on search results tell you is that we gave you everything as we couldn’t figure out what’s best for your query.  It really does not build confidence in the technology.

Dan and this article more or less state the reason for infinite scroll not working in this scenario as unknown.  But, the basic human nature of taking on tasks we can complete seems to be the most fundamental explanation to me.

So, why did Pinterest succeed where Etsy didn’t on this feature?  The goals are somewhat different in each case.  Pinterest is primarily interested in engaging the user with interesting content that will keep the user on the site or app.  Or, simply put, it is a leisure activity.  One that can be addictive and turn into something more time consuming – nevertheless, it is still aimed at being a leisure activity (until other goals are apparent, this is true to the observer).  Here, the user is sitting back browsing through no one particular thing, just catching up with one of their many “social” activities.  Etsy surely also wants to serve the user lots of engaging content – but, they want the users to engage in particular ways that result in more sales at the end of the day.  Especially when the user is actively searching, navigating a never ending set of items is exhausting!

I wrote about Pulse’s change to infinite loading in my earlier article – knowing that I’m never done catching up with news is overwhelming (at the risk of considering myself a representative user).  Search results with an intent to purchase are similar – we want to feel like we are buying the best we can find – and we can never feel that we found the best when served an unending series of products (how would I know without looking at everything?)!

I realize that the savvy ones can set filters and sort by various parameters in a nested fashion to find the things they want.  But the average user doesn’t do that. So, serving the best content and personalizing that for the user is much more of a value add than just adding more items.

The Etsy experiment, while showing interesting data, also appears to be not so well grounded in early analysis to me.  Strictly based on the material I saw, it appears that there was not much of an effort to understand the purpose and advantages of the infinite scrolling feature.  If there was, then potentially there wasn’t a good attempt at matching it to their own needs.  Perhaps there was analysis prior to the experimentation – such hypotheses are exactly what A/B testing is for!  But, in this specific case, the misfit is somewhat obvious in my books at least.

So, I’d revise the design by experimentation just a little:

  • Understand the typical use of the feature you are attempting to add (and its general effect on your type of users)
  • Understand your needs (and write them down)
  • If there is a match, design, develop, measure and iterate in incremental chunks towards a bigger vision