Chat Wars

An engineer’s-eye view (and history) of the battle between Microsoft and AOL for chat market share. One of Microsoft’s strategies was to allow people to use AIM chat inside their client, which involved reverse engineering the AIM protocol. This turned into a back-and-forth battle between the opposing company’s engineers.

AOL tried different tactics. At one point they seemed to be identifying the Microsoft client because it wasn’t downloading a huge chunk of advertising that the AOL client downloaded. So I changed our client to download it all (and then throw it away). They put in mysterious messages that didn’t seem to affect their client but broke ours because we weren’t expecting them. One day, I came in to see this embedded in a message from the AOL server: “HI. –MARK.” It was a little communication from engineer to engineer, underneath the corporate, media, and PR worlds that were arguing over us. I felt some solidarity with him even though we were on opposing sides.

Apr 18 2014

Traditional Affordance as a Vestige

I liked Matt Gemmell’s take on iOS 7. The point that lingered with me was his take on traditional cues for affordance, suggesting they’re a design vestige:

In the field of user experience, there’s a huge and unhelpful overemphasis on similarity, familiarity, and the ability to formally reason about interfaces. People are more nuanced. We respond based not only on experience or reason, but also on emotion and intuition.

Too many interfaces run immediately to the well-worn toolbox of simulation and explicitness, imposing a cognitive straitjacket not only on the user, but also the designer. We too easily forget that the only thing that matters to people are their goals: their own tasks, and content. With limited attention, we want to devote our focus to what’s important, rather than distractions and artifice masquerading as design traditions.

I can’t say I fully agree. If affordance were a color, I’d saturate everything with it.

Jun 15 2013

Who vs. Where

Although a takeaway from mid-century psychology, I think it maps nicely to understanding online spaces. A distillation of one of Roger Barker’s early insights, from “Our Town“:

The repercussions for psychology seemed profound: if you wanted to know how people were behaving, it was less important to know who they were than where they were. An individual’s emotions, motivations, and life history were secondary to his or her location. A school wasn’t just some classsrooms and a gym, but a context whose physical layout and social forces shaped — or, in Barker’s stronger langauge, “coerced” — the actions of the students.

Jun 8 2013

What Coke Contains

This is currently my favorite thought narrative:

The number of individuals who know how to make a can of Coke is zero. The number of individual nations that could produce a can of Coke is zero. This famously American product is not American at all. Invention and creation is something we are all in together. Modern tool chains are so long and complex that they bind us into one people and one planet. They are not only chains of tools, they are also chains of minds: local and foreign, ancient and modern, living and dead — the result of disparate invention and intelligence distributed over time and space.

Mar 4 2013

You are solving the wrong problem

When you are solving a difficult problem re-ask the problem so that your solution helps you learn faster. Find a faster way to fail, recover, and try again. If the problem you are trying to solve involves creating a magnum opus, you are solving the wrong problem.

Aza Raskin

May 27 2011
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