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On Everyday Apps

In his latest post, Joshua Porter riffs on the concept of ‘every-day apps’, something I’ve talked about in the past (although I used ‘destination sites’ to describe such properties). In my post, I made some base assumptions suggesting that our capacity to visit sites on a regular basis is finite. It was nice to see Joshua cite a study reaffirming my guess, demonstrating that most people regularly visit only about 10 sites.

I found this description of product design particularly poignant, mostly because I’ve made this same mistake:

In general, most people think they’re building an everyday app, but they’re not. When the actual use patterns are discovered, most apps will be used every few days or less.

The rest of the article is spent postulating on how LinkedIn could bridge their ambitions to be an everyday site. For me, the more interesting problem is acknowledging that you’re not an everday app while still positioning the product to succeed.

May 13 2009

Twitter Simple

Twitter is frequently lauded as a triumph of simplicity. “It should be Twitter simple” can be heard punctuating discussions around new product development.

To the contrary, I think Twitter is complicated as hell. Explaining the value proposition to an internet-savvy person accustomed to a service like Facebook can draw the same blank stares as explaining it to your grandparents. The 140-character limit feels arbitrary and limiting. Twitter search, a product with incredible value, remains hidden from the general public. Dozens of clients and hundreds of Twitter-based websites add to the cacophony.

Part of the reason it’s so difficult to explain is that it’s not a website and it doesn’t have an explicit purpose, meaning the conventional vocabulary to describe online properties fails here. It can be better seen as a medium of communication where the value proposition is completely contingent on how the person chooses to put this medium to use.

All this, just to say that I am loving the Cocoa IV drip from @scottstevenson and @cocoadevcentral even though it represents a departure from my approach of only following people that I’m somehow personally acquainted with. I also have a thing going on with the robot from @popurls, who’s got some jokes.

Apr 14 2009

Cognitive Shield

I really like the concept – especially its name – of the “cognitive shield” as described by Aza Raskin. The point is to block out information that might distract a user from their primary task, while still have it be available in case it is relevant to that task.

In the end, the affordance of the final implementation ended up getting in the way, but the concept was retained in a more understated form.

We’ve taken another tack this time at not breaking your train of thought by using default fonts and a Firefox-gray background. Instead of taking the over-the-top cognitive shield approach, we are trying to make the page “fit-in” to ameliorate a visually jarring experience. After a couple days of testing and feedback, it seems to work.

While I’m not willing to give up on the concept of abstracting secondary tasks / information in the bold way the original concept proposed, a sufficient cognitive shield will always be available in the form of a good visual hierarchy and adherence to the principals of information design.

Apr 3 2009

Little Red Riding Hood Via Graphics and Swedish Electronica

Tomas Nisson‘s superb retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, sans verbal expression. In case you want to purchase the hot jams in the States, this is your best bet. Update: or, you can just get it on iTunes.

Mar 27 2009

Destination Sites Are a Zero-sum Game

Recently, Cameron Marlow, helped publish some numbers regarding the nature of relationships on Facebook, finding that most people, while having upwards to a couple of hundred friends, only actively interact with about a dozen of them. This was consistent with other off-line studies that showed the people we actively correspond with and the people we are close with are quite finite in number — maybe even suggesting a limit in our capacity.

While the data crunching wasn’t meant to be empirical or conclusive, it did offer a look at a new class of relationships: the relationships we maintain passively, through products like the Facebook News Feed. The number of people in this relationship segment was significantly higher per individual. Whereas we communicated directly with about a dozen people, we passively maintained a relationship with about 30 people. Cameron describes this class of relationship management:

This consumption is still a form of relationship management as it feeds back into other forms of communication in the future. For instance, a high school friend uploads a photo of her new puppy and this photo appears in your News Feed. You click on the photo, browse through a host of other photos and discover that she has also gotten engaged, which may lead you to reach out to her.

I think there are meaningful parallels (baseless assumptions) one can draw between our capacity to maintain relationships and how we interact with websites.

Without my RSS reader, I oscillate between a handful of sites, outside of which, I struggle to find a new vector for my web surfing. There is the “core” group of sites that I visit very regularly with maybe a couple of dozen supporting sites where my visits are driven by a specific context (i.e. share a photo, read product reviews, post a link, etc.) or because I happen to remember about it. This list of core sites has not grown much in size, but members of that exclusive club are always changing.

A lot of consumer sites that are being created are done so under the pretense that they will be “destination sites” — a site a user will explicitly choose to visit for one reason or another. Assuming the number of our core sites remains relatively constant — achieving destination-site-mindshare is an uphill battle, since it means unseating an existent core site. Your value proposition needs to be that much greater. For that reason, most people visiting your site will be new and most of them will not come back.

I think this stresses the importance for your website to broadcast in some capacity and provide the means for people to maintain a passive relationship with your website, which in turn creates inroads for a more directed interaction down the line.

Addendum

For the fun of it, without the aid of my feeds, my current core sites for an information fix are:

What are your core sites?

Maybe even more interesting than trying to guess on the sites, if you use Safari 4, a screenshot of the Top Sites feature would probably be quite telling. (The Top Sites feature seems to support the idea that the list of sites we interact with most-often is rather finite.)

Mar 10 2009

Posts of the Original variety

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