Why Google+ Could Succeed

Google has begun rolling out its latest iteration of a social network, Google+. It’s getting plenty of press in the blogosphere, with a wide variety of opinions (great start; Facebook me-too late in the game; meh-be; etc.)

Here’s my take on why it could be a winner – our current social networks are dumb.

You heard me. Dumb. Google+ is showing some potential smarts.

Not to say that Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and the like are poorly designed, or that there aren’t really smart people behind them. And certainly not to say that those of us using these networks are dumb for doing so. Not at all. These platforms are a good start, and it’s very smart to be involved with digital networked communications.

But these initial tools are baby rattles, compared to the sophistication we really need.

I’m going to point you back three years, to the series I wrote on the ideal social media/web interface (One Interface to Rule Them All <– the link is to the first of 7 posts). There, I outlined how we need smart platforms that would do things like layering (Google+ Circles),  automated finding via Intell-Agents (Google+ Sparks); and, last year, I had a hankering for real-time private rooms (Google+ Hangouts).

The need is for far better ability to classify, stratify, find (not just search), and control. Google+ is heading in that direction, and that is why it could take on platforms that do a more “brute-force” job of connecting and publishing. And make no mistake – current social platforms are still quite “dumb” on the brute-force level. They give us a bigger and bigger fire hose with only the most rudimentary ways to manage it all.

If  Google+ evolves with simple elegance and solid integration, our brilliant friends at Google have a great shot at a next-gen platform.

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Why Should I…?

My car needed an oil change. And instead of suffering through the rigamarole that often occurs when going to the dealership (even with a coupon for a freebie), I decided to use the Valvoline “Instant Oil Change” joint not far away. You don’t even get out of your car – they have a remarkably efficient system for knocking out quick stuff like this.

And knock it out they did. Very friendly and crisp service. Zoom-zoom and it was done (yes, I have a Mazda). I was very happy with Vince and the gang up in Kinnelon until the very end – when he pointed out a section on the receipt and asked if I would make a phone call (“only about 4 1/2 minutes!”) to tell Valvoline about how they did.

Just plug in that 17-digit number and go through a series of questions. Ummm…yeah. I just saved a bunch of time by using their service, then I want to take more minutes of my time to get immersed in an automated phone survey…with no incentive to do so? Why should I?

Oh – I had a chance to win $500.00. Right.

As I drove home, I mused on this – what would motivate me to actually make that call? What would make me WANT to do something so optional and non-rewarding, even if (as a marketing guy) I know why they’re doing it and I benefited from the good service?

Well, when totaling up the bill, Vince asked if I had any coupons. Ummm…no. There is a seemingly random appearance at times of such coupons for Valvoline but I can never keep track. Well – what if the incentive to make the phone call was to receive a coupon for $7.00 off the next oil change? And furthermore – what if I could do the survey on-line, and specify whether I wanted to print it out immediately, OR have them e-mail it to me at an interval I choose – say, in 3 months as a reminder, just when I’m due for the next oil change?

That, I would do. And really – isn’t it better to provide coupons to already-existing customers, in a way that actually helps ensure their return? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

So, Valvoline or other-purveyors-of-similar-services – Tell you about my visit? Sure – it was fine, but can be better for both you and me. So here’s an idea for you, from a customer/marketer who won’t make that phone call for no reason, but will spend 15 minutes blogging about how to improve the experience. Hope to see you again in 3 months or so (if I remember…!)

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Ask the Ten Questions

TenIt really all boils down to about 10 questions. Sit down with a client, go through these questions, and you’ll pretty much have the raw material to brainstorm and blueprint a project.

Just about any kind of project. After many years of consulting with clients about projects large and small, in areas ranging from training to technology to marketing to social media, I’ve found that the key questions are pretty much the same. Here are my Top 10 Questions for Defining a Project:

    1. What’s the point? (at the highest level, what exactly are you trying to achieve?)
    2. Why? (what are the strategic and business goals that provide the context?)
    3. What is the current state? (where are you now?)
    4. What is the desired state (where should this initiative take you?)
    5. How would success be measured? (what metrics and results will be used to gauge effectiveness?)
    6. Who is/are the key stakeholder(s), and the target audience(s)?
    7. What are the available resources? (budget, time, internal personnel, etc.?)
    8. What are the potential phases? (short-term, long-term, ongoing development?)
    9. What are the anticipated deliverables?
    10. What are the potential variables that may impact the project?

With some variations on each theme, some sub-questions, and maybe some additional major questions depending on the nature of the initiative, those questions should give a pretty thorough overview for both client and service provider.

If you are on the vendor side, you know that most clients haven’t thought their projects through this thoroughly. That’s where you can take the Ten Questions and do everyone a favor by framing out the project well ahead of time.

That’s my take – what would you add? What questions do you use to tease out the details of a project?

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Tivo Records – and Listens

As part of a major household digital upgrade late last year, we finally entered the 21st century and acquired a TiVo box. I love it – the user experience crosses the threshold of Easy, and we record a whole variety of programs that we can pull up when it’s convenient for us.

One thing bothered me, however, on the TiVo.com site – there was no immediate option on the home page for TiVo users to login (you can select programs you want to record right from the website, which is a great feature). An immediately visible home page login link, to me, was a no-brainer  – users of the service should not need to go one level deep before being presented with that option. Netflix, Amazon – all the cool kids do it that way. Yes, it’s a “mixed” destination (for users and for potential customers who are investigating the service), but it seemed like a design flaw to me, because users who are scheduling recordings should be the biggest source of traffic.

So I did what many of us increasingly do – just threw it out there on Twitter.

And I was surprised to get a rapid response from a TiVo customer service person (that would be you, Shanan) on Twitter who agreed with the input, and passed it along to the development team.

And there it sat, for months. Now I know a bit about web development, and while it may seem like a simple thing to move a link, when you’re dealing with a highly visible and functional site, you don’t make interface changes quickly. A month or two back, I was assured that the input wasn’t forgotten.

It wasn’t. Today, I saw this:

tivosmIt’s a subtle change, and many might not even notice it. But I, for one, appreciate it. And more than that, I appreciate the fact that TiVo was monitoring Twitter, responded promptly and enthusiastically, and eventually came through with a small but important fix.

Customer service lesson: Listen, respond, act. Bread-and-butter basics, I know. But even though it took a while to see this change, I have nothing but praise for the TiVo team for making it happen. Which I don’t mind sharing publicly here!

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Creating a Welcoming Climate

Over my 23+ years of business travel, I’ve seen a lot of airports. Most of them are quite forgettable (at best).

CLTAirportBut yesterday I was once again passing through the Charlotte, NC hub. And once again, I was struck by what a mood difference a nice “climate” can make.

Somebody paid serious attention to the user experience when that terminal was designed. From the wide hallways, to the airy ceilings, to the coordinated color schemes, and even down to the strategically placed rocking chairs, the place exudes – if not homeiness – then at least pleasantness.

The (numerous!) restaurants and shops are well-placed, in a central area as well as in the various terminal “arms.” There are plenty of moving walkways, but lots of space for traditional walking, with good use of plants and other visual diversions. The color blue is tied in everywhere, from lighting to signage, in a nicely-coordinated design.

When I fly through O’Hare, I just want to get through and get out. When I go to my home airport of Newark, my stomach roils in anticipation of the hassle. But in Charlotte, I don’t mind just sitting down for a spell and watching the world go by. It’s peaceful instead of janglingly claustrophobic.

I’m always glad to get home. But if I have to wander around the Charlotte Airport for an extra hour some day, I really won’t mind all that much. I feel…at ease there. They even have a decent BBQ place!

Most of us don’t have entire airports to design. But in ways large and small, we do create a climate, through our words, our tone of voice, our cheer, maybe even our physical surroundings. Do people want to come back after interacting with you or your business?

Where are places, and who are people, that create that kind of welcoming climate for you?? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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The Morning After – First Impressions of iPhone 3GS

RestoreinProgress2Yesterday, the long-awaited iPhone 3GS arrived at the front door. I loved my first-generation iPhone, and after accidentally causing its early demise a month or so ago, I couldn’t wait for the newest version. But would the upgrade experience be a pleasure or a nightmare? I was a bit apprehensive.

So let’s start with the “get it in the front door and up-and-running” user experience. Ordering the new phone on-line was zero-hassle. Delivery was on-time and as promised. Syncing the new iPhone with my existing account and iTunes setup was…FLAWLESS! It. just. worked.

I realize that other users have had issues, but kudos from this address to Apple and AT&T for making a plug-and-play process that required very little intervention.

Now, for the device itself:

1. Speed – yes, indeed, thank you VERY much. Bear in mind that I was used to the 1st gen, and skipped over the 3G. This puppy rocks, from bootup to e-mail delivery to everything else. 5 out of 5 smiles.

2. Camera – awesome. Great resolution, very crisp video, and amazing simple and intuitive on-screen controls. These Apple people know user interface. I wish it could zoom, but hey. 4.5 out 5 smiles.

3. Audio – very cool. The new Voice Memo rocks – great graphic/on-screen interface, dirt simple, crisp audio, one-click forward to e-mail if you want. I’m going to use this a lot for thought capture. 4.5 out of 5 smiles.

4. Form factor/feel – sweet. Very compact, rounded edges, no problems here. It’s like a t-shirt from a brand you love – you just want to show it off. 5 out of 5 smiles.

Social Media app interfaces continue to impress. I get TweetDeck up and running-and-sync’ed with my desktop (with a little help from my Twitter friends – thanks, Amber (@ambercadabra)!

I have not yet had a chance to dig into a lot of the capabilities and subtleties, but for this user’s first impression-level experience – just plain awesome! I’m not easily impressed. As for now…I’m both impressed and delighted!

And THAT is how you create word-of-mouth evangelists…

The Dread of Anticipation

BrokeniPhoneAfter losing my 1st generation iPhone in a tragic training accident several weeks back, I have been eagerly anticipating the release of the new, 3rd generation iPhone 3GS. I decided to forego buying the soon-to-be outclassed 3G model, and, limping by with a jerry-rigged GOphone, waited for the latest and greatest.

And now I find myself in that familiar state: the Dread of Anticipation.

When it arrives tomorrow (having plugged in my current identity and phone info, I ordered it on-line), will it just plug-and-play? Will it really, actually, pick up my current account, seamlessly sync with iTunes on my computer, and just WORK? Will there be no unexpected charges, glitches, and dreaded phone calls to customer support to clear up problems?

Will this upgrade cross the Threshold of Easy?

Have you found yourself, with new or updated systems, fervently hoping for the best, while pulling back the reins of excitement dreading the worst?

Either way, I’ll let you know. Good, bad, or indifferent, I’ll update the user experience on this blog. But if you hear loud whoops of happy relief echoing out of northern NJ tomorrow afternoon, you’ll know that Apple/AT&T got it right…

Update, 4:30 pm on Friday June 19th – the transfer/update/sync was FLAWLESS! Yippee!

R.I.P. iPhone

The music played on. The purveyor of said music, however, was mortally wounded.

My iPhone was a regular companion on trips to the gym. Not that I’d do much surfing or calling when working out, but the iPod music aspect was a nice-to-have. On rare occasions, the iPhone would slip out of the gym shorts pocket and clatter onto the floor, but no harm done – it’s a tough little device.

Not tough enough, however, to withstand a 60-lb. dumbbell. Today, unbeknownst to me, it happened to glide silently to the floor while I was bench-pressing. The music did not skip a beat when the fatal blow was struck – in fact, I didn’t even know the iPhone was damaged until I picked it up and saw a strange separation on the side, and a spiderweb-like pattern across the front screen.

Now I’m a practical kinda guy, and don’t get too attached to things. But that was MY iPHONE! Which goes to show that the depth of brand attachment is sometimes shown in the grief of loss.

No tears were shed, and I don’t plan to buy a smartphone coffin and conduct a burial service. But I do plan to replace this thing pronto. Because now I can’t imagine being without it. You won, Apple. I’m addicted.

[Update - managed to transfer the SIM card to a cheap GOphone, so now I can use my cell # and wait until the new iPhone model is launched in July. But will I suffer the "bends" of iPhone withdrawal? Stay tuned!]

Crossing the Threshold of Easy

For years, I read about Skype, and enjoyed the concept, though I didn’t use it. Didn’t have the need for free point-to-point Voice-over-IP, given my calling patterns and calling plans. It meant a little bit of trouble – hooking up a mic/headset, calling through my computer – not hard, but it was a few steps I didn’t feel like taking.

The quality of VOIP kept improving, however, and many people signed up for Skype accounts. Then they added video. Now that’s interesting – but again, it meant hooking up a webcam, doing an initial setup, taking some steps to use it – a change in workflow. Nah.

easyAfter managing to spill some coffee on my laptop keyboard, I had to buy a replacement Dell, and this model had something new to me – a built-in webcam and a built-in mic/audio system of reasonable quality. Finally, I re-considered Skype, because it had crossed the Threshold of Easy – a quick download, and it just worked. Plus it gave me something new: on-demand and free video calls.

I’m not tech-shy, but I’m not a first-adopter – I don’t chase gadgetry and spend lots of time doing configuration and troubleshooting. I want stuff to offer me some kind of benefit and at the same time, delight me with ease of use. That’s why I was so relieved to get rid of my cell phone and become an iPhone fan – it not only works, it leaps over the threshold of easy. By and large, the Tivo experience has been that way as well.

Over the years, I’ve had a chance to use, and sell, lots of products. Most suffered from a distinct lack of ease of use. Software interfaces designed by engineers who care only about functionality have been a particular grief. If you’re making my life harder instead of easier, you’ve already failed. Go back to the drawing board, and include a creative usability person in the ground-level design process.

If you’re going to create a product or service, put an awful lot of effort into crossing that threshold. It may well be the difference between something that garners a few percentage points, and something that’s a smash hit. Make it, not just able to do things, but EASY.

What are you a fan of that crossed the threshold of easy for you?

Five in the Morning 121708

Let’s go visual today:

Logo fan? I am – great logo design is wonderful (and awful logo design is…well, awful!). Vote for some faves here at LogoFaves.

CrazyLeaf Design Blog presents the Most Beautiful Websites of 2008. Some real tasty stuff here. Grab a cuppa joe and explore! Dara’s Garden is very sweet. Here’s an interesting one from a content perspective also: BlogSolid.

A tongue-in-cheek tagline for a company/website that works – Don’t Hire us if you Want Average. Nice.

Also from aforementioned CrazyLeaf folks – Best Design Resources of November 2008. Especially nice for you web/blog designer types.

Classic LIFE images hosted by Google. You’ll recognize some of these iconic photos. Neat old stuff included.

PLUS – Haven’t had the privilege of meeting Todd Defren yet. But my opinion of him just went up 5 notches. And of his wife…6 notches! Very touching post.

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Five in the Morning 120408

If you Twitter, you’re probably wondering about some of the potentially “corrupting” trends. Here, Paul Chaney opens up a discussion about Twitter automation – as you’ll see in the comments, I am not in entire agreement. What do you think?? (btw, if you’re not following Paul, you should be: @pchaney)

Want to do free press releases? Dana Willhoit has the list of sites that do just that for you!

Tom Peters recommends two books on Design.

Robert Lesser talks us through Lead Generation using Web 2.0 approaches. From MarketingProfs Daily Fix blog.

Demogirl – now this is a cool service, pointed out by Greg Verdino. Quick, distilled “how-to” screencasts. Good, basic, useful implementation.

Extras – today only! Click before midnight and get 2 links for the price of 1!!!

Say – what does Steve Woodruff/@swoodruff/StickyFigure actually sound like? Find out! Four bloggers share in the latest AOC2 podcast.Thanks to Jay Ehret, @themarketingguy!

Hot off the blog presses – 40 Ways to Deliver Killer Blog Content. From Chris Brogan. Here’s my #41 – Aggregate Information that People Want.

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Five in the Morning 112108

Well, I’m back from a 2-day trip to Chicago, and it looks like my little experiment in time-queued blog posts and tweets for Five in the Morning worked OK (yes, the last 2 days had been prepared in advance on Tuesday). I know, I know, this is hardly a cutting-edge technology advance, but I’m of a generation that still marvels a bit when stuff like that actually works!

So, without further ado, some fresh posts for your Friday:

I have lived in New Jersey for many years (still cannot bring myself to say I’m “from NJ” – sorry, but I’m from Connecticut). Anyway, there’s a lot that happens in this state that can make a resident grind his/her teeth into gnashing nubs, but Spike Jones points out this fabulous – and creative – and really helpful – promotion by the New Jersey Nets. Wow – now that’s how to take care of your fans!

The AdverGirl (Leigh Householder) has a series going on How Companies are using Social Media. A number of posts are already up – this link is to the first one. Tune it!

Legendary customer experience marketer and wanna-be rock star Doug Meacham has begun his own series on the Transaction vs. the Customer Experience (in retail). Here’s the first entry.

Seek criticism. From the creative David Airey. Sound counter-intuitive? Not if you want to keep improving!

Mack Collier writes a helpful post about GE’s initial foray into blogging/Twitter. What I want to point out here is Mack’s tone of helpfulness and his call for patience. After the Motrin fiasco of the past week, I think we all need to take a deep breath and be sure not to crucify companies that dip their toes in the social media water. Mistakes will be made, initial forays will be incomplete or askew. Let’s follow Mack’s example and be helpful, instead of battering newcomers and scaring them off. It’s a supportive tone of understanding and support (which has always marked our community) that will grow utilization. We all stumbled our way into this not many months/years ago, right…?

PLUS: Every blogger will understand why this is funny! Do not sip coffee before reading lest you snort it all out on your keyboard…

Oh…and did you know that you’re owed a free Dr. Pepper?

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The Cult of Harley Davidson

I recently had the unexpected experience of walking into a cult temple. Otherwise known as a Harley dealership. This is branding nirvana – beyond brand attachment to the creation of a user cult!

Read about on the Marketing Profs Daily Fix blog.

The Shopping Networker

I’m a networker. And, I occasionally go food shopping, although that responsibility generally falls upon my longsuffering wife. As a member of the blogging community who has been in his share of stores, I’ve never written about a shopping experience at Shop-Rite. Or A&P. Or Kings. Or Kroger. Or Stop and Save. In fact, the only food store I’ve written about (until now) was Stew Leonard’s, because it was a memorable experience created through a remarkable environment.

This week, I met someone at a Wegman’s in central Jersey. I was early, but I didn’t mind, because I found myself wandering around, figuring out why I had such positive feelings about being in this store. Someone had very carefully designed an environment that made me WANT to be there. What was it?

First of all, the store design managed to pull off a sense of both airiness and intimacy. The ceiling was high, but was painted an interesting rust/brown hue. Suspended from it, however, was an attractive gridwork of black metal, on which was carefully mounted a lighting scheme that brought the ceiling down while still leaving it open. The various lights employed nicely highlighted the shelves. It was quite brilliant in design, actually.

The floor pattern was not plain, but had a multi-hued, almost stone-looking pattern. Combined with the faux (but attractive) windows and siding that were mounted along the walls, the effect was that you were strolling in an Italian courtyard. You didn’t feel trapped in an impersonal box; instead, they managed to capture the feeling of small shops in a more intimate setting.

The layout was straightforward, but not sterile – pleasant signage mixed with easy-on-the-eyes displays. The cafe section (where I met my client) was set up upstairs, so you could grab some coffee at the coffee bar and just sit and relax at quiet little tables. The aisle widths and patterns varied somewhat, so that the usual institutional feel was absent.

I’ve been to exactly one Wegman’s – this one. Are they all this remarkable? I don’t know, but the store philosphy seems strong, and someone clearly wanted to create an atmosphere that was three cuts above your average food store. When I go to most stores, I just want to get in, get it done, and get out. At Wegman’s, I wanted to linger. That is remarkable.

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One Interface to Rule them All (part 5)

In this post, I want to take a step back from tossing out MetaMee flow diagrams of how an ideal portal/dashboard/master interface might look and function, and just deal with a single issue. Layering.

(If you’re just coming into this discussion, here is the background: part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4)

When it comes to interacting on-line, I want to stratify. Classify. Layer. There is only so much of my personal information, or my data stream, that I might want to give out in any one instance (or in general). And I’d like to be able to classify and layer and filter how much of what I see from other sources, so that I’m not inundated. Also, I’d like to be able to flexibly group people into categories, and promote/demote them into levels of “friendship” and disclosure. Tweetdeck takes a nice, simple step in this direction by allowing the user to create groups and follow sub-streams. Now take that concept and expand it.

In the graphic above, the concentric circles represent user-defined (via Settings) layers of information to be disclosed, allowing me to tune my I/O (input/output) interactions with the web in a more controlled and defined fashion.

For instance, I might decide to have 4 layers or classifications of “friendship” – intimates (close friends and family), friends, professional acquaintances, and on-line buddies (whose Tweets I like but whom I’ve never met). So, I subscribe to tweets/plurks from, say, Amber Naslund (and I do, actually). She is classified as an on-line buddy – never really met her, but she seems like a sharp and interesting person. Then maybe we find some common ground for a more detailed exchange and conversation, maybe even help out with a business need. Then perhaps we finally meet at a conference or something. Amber might well be progressively “promoted” toward my inner circle of friendship, and perhaps I’ve decided to publish some of my media (or other information) only to those in the inner two layers. Isn’t this pretty much how we operate in real life?

Philosophically and pragmatically, I think we do this all the time. Now I’d like to have a software tool – a master dashboard – that applies layering to on-line life, before I drown in information!

Links to the entire One Interface to Rule them All series:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

plus…The Ideal Social Media Interface

Related post: Share Media vs. Tell Media

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One Interface to Rule them All (part 4)

What we’re thinking about together in this series of posts is an “ideal” interface (or portal/dashboard) that will allow for a more efficient and personalized web experience. There are many very cool applications and functions scattered all over the internet – however, this fragmentation brings with it a lot of frustration. Is is possible to make a very cool application (code name: MetaMee) that will simplify our lives? That’s what we’re exploring.

If you’re just arriving for the first time, I’d strongly suggest a quick read of part 1, part 2, and part 3 for context and backstory so that this one will make more sense.

We’ve looked at the very basics of the 5 main functions that would go into the dashboard/interface, and some of the me-centric personalization capabilities that would make on-line life simpler. Now let’s step back and look at data flow, and for that, we’ll need one of my classic ugly Powerpoint drawings:

OK, let’s look at these items one at a time and see how it works together.

The MeeStream (Out) is all my “stuff” that I’m putting out to the web. MetaMee would allow me to auto-login to all my data stores, and through the MetaMee interface and/or widgets from the various sites, more easily determine what gets published where, when, and how. All my ShareMedia (Share Meedia…?) gets funneled through this dashboard, making it easier also to track the stuff. People can then subscribe to Mee, or to whatever aspects of my stream interest them.

The MeeStream (In) is my subscription list. I’m subscribing to people, to information, to news, to videos, to e-commerce deals…to whatever is out there that interests me. Maybe I like Tangerine Toad‘s blog, and I subscribe; but as time goes on, I want to see everything that the Toad (Alan Wolk) puts out there – Tweets, photos, what have you. Click – done.

My Intell-Agents (see part 3) are monitoring my MeeStream, learning from my ratings and preferences, and suggesting new resources for my consideration.

The MeeVault (I have borrowed the “Vault” term from Microsoft’s HealthVault initiative) is the family jewels underlying this dashboard. It is strictly local (MetaMee is a hybrid local/on-line application as I see it), and I have full control over the settings of what information is exposed, when, how, and to whom/to what. My personal information is “layered” into different levels, with full ID and purchasing info in the most secure area of the vault, only be released when I’ve decided to make an e-commerce purchase. The MeeVault feeds the “Settings” area, and we’d use those settings to expose or veil various layers of our identity with all of our web transactions.

What about privacy? If I’m sending out Intell-Agents with my preferences, and various information points are coming back into my stream, maybe I don’t want the world to know what I’m interested in. That where a P1 setting or APP (Anonymous Persona & Preferences) comes in. This is my “stub” residing out there on the front edge of MetaMee, talking to the Internet cloud. My anonymous persona communicates to the internet what I like, what my “similars” are, what I’m seeking – but it does not identify me. This way, our various APPs can communicate similars to each other and help us find more of what we want, but without compromising our full identity.

Let me pick on Tangerine Toad again. For a long time, very few people knew that the man behind the Tangerine curtain was Alan Wolk. But there was a persona out there, Tangerine Toad, and you could actually know a good bit about whomever was hiding behind that ID – you could see his interests, discover his similars, learn from him…all without knowing it was Alan. Similarly, our APP stub allows us to express the full range of our interests and find matching resources in a “safe mode,” before exposing our identity.

Admittedly, this is a lot to digest, and “there be dragons” here in the many technical details. What are your thoughts? You technical/programming types – is this out beyond the stratosphere, or is it do-able? Would love to get your feedback as we crowd-create this (very rough) blueprint of an ideal web dashboard…

Links to the entire One Interface to Rule them All series:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

plus…The Ideal Social Media Interface

Related post: Share Media vs. Tell Media

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One Interface to Rule them All (part 2)

In a previous post, I outlined a handful of reasons why I think it is time for a pull-it-all-together user-centered interface for web applications, and also sketched out a few key characteristics that I’ve been  envisioning.

This will be a series of posts, but my goal is much higher than just dumping my own ideas. I’d like to see us crowd-design something that an entrepreneurial company will actually create. Because right now, our web experience is too fragmented and inefficient.

From my experience, most of the daily web tasks that we perform fall under 5 main buckets. These five functions would be the heart and soul of this new interface design, which I have given the handle “MetaMee“. And let me state up front that I see the target audience for a MetaMee-like app being the middle and upper echelon users of web applications. This tool is designed for those who want an interactive, participatory web experience. Later adopters will grow into it.

So here are the main functional areas that I’d love to see wrapped up into one “master” application/interface:

    View
    Converse
    Publish
    Buy/sell
    Play

Wouldn’t it be handy to have a single interface from which to accomplish all of these tasks? By the way, I have not forgotten about “Search” – I see that as a persistent sub-function that exists within/across these main functions.

Because my graphic design skills would likely get me flunked out of kindergarten, I have to visualize my concepts in Powerpoint. Ignore the clunkiness of the boxes and try to visualize a slick i/f design:

What do you think – is this on target? Are these your main web tasks, or am I missing some things?

Imagine if you could have an app that would enable you to do these things from one place, and would seamlessly “widget-talk” with the existing platforms (for instance, you could write a “tweet” and choose to send it to Twitter, Plurk, FriendFeed, and others). I’d love to to have a stored (and tiered) ID setup that would simplify sign-up, login, and e-commerce, so I could quickly plug into and out of a variety of apps and platforms (that could be the “MeeVault”).

What we’re envisioning is a personalized, functional portal (hybrid web and local) that becomes my intelligent window out to the web (we’ll discuss intelligence features later).

Add your thoughts and ideas and critiques to the Comments!

Next, I’ll post part 3 – the I-can’t-think-of-what-else-to-call-it MeeOMy bar (no, you won’t find it in a candy store!).

Links to the entire One Interface to Rule them All series:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

plus…The Ideal Social Media Interface

Related post: Share Media vs. Tell Media

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One Interface to Rule them All (part 1)

I’m on a quest (as I’m sure many others are) for the One Gold Ring – a single interface that will be my functional portal into the web. Right now, I go to too many places (iGoogle, Yahoo Mail, Google Reader, Flickr, Pageflakes, WordPress, Twitter, Plurk, Amazon, eBay, etc., etc., etc.) to “do web stuff,” and the fragmentation of these services is inefficient and frustrating.

For many years, I’ve mulled over ideal software interface designs, and have an electronic trail of litter behind me consisting of many boxes and flow diagrams exquisitely mapped out in…well, Powerpoint. In a prior post, I tossed out some very early-on concepts for an ideal social media interface. But the holy grail for me is much larger – I want to see a meta-interface that helps me conduct most of my on-line life.

Why do we need this? Well, fundamentally, the tools we used were designed only to fulfill specific purposes. They weren’t designed for me, to pull my life together, but to do one or two things. However, I don’t need another gardener or cook or chauffeur. I need a Chief of Staff. For a throwaway branding term, I’m going to call it MetaMee – because it’s about me.

What would this MetaMee interface be like? Here’s my highest level list:

    MetaMee would consolidate the main functional activities I have on the web into one simple interface.
    MetaMee would be a hybrid off-line/on-line system, built in part using Adobe Air or Google Gears or similar.
    MetaMee would allow storage and controlled release of varying levels of my information to different people/applications/businesses/other entities.
    MetaMee would talk to existing platforms (such as those listed above) in a widget-ized fashion.
    MetaMee would use intelligent bot/crawling technology to find, recommend, and deliver what I want, so that I spend less time searching.

How would this project get done? Here’s where it gets interesting. I’m not a programmer. And I know that there are tons of talented bloggers/socializers out there who are loaded with great ideas and talents far beyond mine. So I’m just going to put out a series of posts this month, outlining my preliminary ideas for this “dream” application, and invite all of you to discuss, refine, contribute, ideate…let’s see if we really mean what we say about social media. I think this app ought to be crowd-designed, and then someone will take the bull by the horns and start making it. Ready?

In the next day or two, I’ll post part 2 – the five main functions that I foresee in a MetaMee-type app.

Links to the entire One Interface to Rule them All series:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

plus…The Ideal Social Media Interface

Related post: Share Media vs. Tell Media

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Lowe’s to Home Depot: take 5. No, take 50!

Recently, a young couple we know and love were able to buy their first home. And, as all of you have “been there, done that” know, this involves beating a well-worn path to your neighborhood supply stores (especially, these days, Lowe’s or Home Depot) for the endless array of “stuff” you suddenly find out that you need as a homeowner.

So, as a housewarming gift, we thought it only appropriate to get a gift card. Since one of them had mentioned trips to Lowe’s, I figured that was the logical choice. And I was thrilled to see that you can just order the gift card on-line and have it sent for free – e-commerce is a beautiful thing.

Except at Lowe’s.

Four tries to simply order a $50 gift card. Four fails. Not only was the website slow and cumbersome, but when I’d try to complete the order, instead of just getting my info and completing the transaction, the site wanted my zip code so it could show me where the nearest stores were. It actively DID NOT ALLOW me to finish the purchase. A couple times, the site even froze.

That’s not e-commerce. It’s de-commerce!

So, with its brain-dead user interface, Lowe’s said to Home Depot: Take $50! And Home Depot was glad to oblige. No problem with their user experience.

When visiting the actual big box stores, my experience has been that Lowe’s seems cleaner and more nicely structured. But if you can’t replicate that on-line, then you’re going to lose customers to the competition. Would Lowe’s even think of putting a maze in front of the check-out counters in their store? Then why do that on-line? When people are ready to hand over their money, you’d better not put barriers in the way!

(UPDATE: here is documentation of the failure showing step-by-step screen flow [SlideShare file]. Oh, and Lowe’s?? I know this post seems quite negative, but I’m trying to help you here…my consulting time documenting your revenue loss is donated. You’re welcome!)

(UPDATE 2: This post did stir up some attention at Lowe’s. I actually got a call from someone well-placed in the Lowes.com environment, who spoke to me about the problem with real candor, and shared about  upcoming changes to the site. Does social media work? Yes it does!)

(image credit)

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The Little Spoilers that Kill a Sale

Last week, I went looking for a new vehicle for our family. We’d narrowed it down to a good-sized “crossover” SUV from one manufacturer, or a minivan from another.

As always, things look great on paper, but you have to test drive these things to see if they feel right.

I got into the crossover for the test drive, and before we went anywhere, I knew it wasn’t going to be the choice. Game over. Eliminated.

Had a similar experience some years back, when I bought a Mazda 626. One of the models I was considering was a Honda Accord – great name, excellent cars, well worth considering. But before turning the key, it was crossed off the list.

Why?

Seat belts. Specifically, the anchor points for the front seat belts could not be adjusted high enough, and therefore the seat belt tugged down on my shoulder. Game over.

I’m of average height – a little under 6 feet tall. A lot of people are my size and bigger. And do you mean to tell me that car manufacturers cannot put people my height into a driver’s seat during the design phase and check on a little thing like this??

That little spoiler has killed two car sales for me so far, and who knows how many others for drivers who have felt the same.

You can have the greatest reputation for reliability, cool design, top-notch features, but if you don’t make me feel comfortable, I walk.

User design matters. Not only in cars, but in software and everywhere else.

What are some of the spoilers you’ve experienced?

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