When it Doesn’t Just Work

We came back home after a few days away to a rather amusing note from the gal who house-sat out home (and dog) while we visited family over the holidays.

She noted a few “issues” with our digitally-controlled stuff, summarized thusly:

  1. The radio in the kitchen does not work like a radio,
  2. The TV in the family room does not work like a TV,
  3. The TV in the master bedroom does not work like a TV,
  4. The atomic-interfaced alarm clock is now into 2017.

Anyone who, like us, has more modern digital video/sound systems knows the problem with the proliferation of remote controls and the occasional complexity of doing simple tasks, like, say, turning the thing on and changing channels. What if the prior input was for the Tivo, and now I want to watch a broadcast channel, or a DVD, or skate on over to Netflix-on-demand? Eventually, you get used to which buttons to press and in what order, but when someone else comes into the house, you now have…utter confusion.

Back in the day, when you walked into someone else’s house, every TV pretty much worked the same. And radios had on-off buttons and simple station selectors. It wasn’t HD, but it was simple. It worked.

We’ve come a long way in making great technology. I was reflecting with Joe Cascio over coffee a few days back how we old-timers were trained, by Microsoft primarily, to expect disaster and hardship and trouble with every new version, every peripheral, every update (the “Microsoft Flinch”). I still get angst-y whenever I install something or bring up a new device – except now, stuff mostly just works (OK, so I am now mostly working with Apple products, but the PC stuff is WAY better as well!)

But we’re not there yet. When a house-sitter can’t even get a TV to work, we have a user-interface problem. When I STILL need my kids to occasionally remind me that I have to press button Q on remote #3 in order to actually reach the proper menu to do X, this is not good design. We’ve crossed the threshold of easy on a lot of products and systems, but we still have a ways to go to make everything just work. I guess that’ll keep some of our talented people permanently employed!

————-

Subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

One Interface to Rule them All (part 6) – the finale!

If only software could be designed and developed at the snap of a finger! Alas, great programs typically have to iterate their way to excellence and broad acceptance. However, it helps to have some big picture goals to shoot for, and that is the main purpose for this series of posts on the ideal web dashboard/interface. Hopefully, someone will take the ideas we’ve been discussing and create a new generation of portal functionality that will make our web experience better.

Speaking of ideas, what underlies this “MetaMee” concept is one big IDEAIntelligently Designed & Evolving Aggregation. Right now, we have fragmentation across many websites and platforms. Someone needs to take all the bits and pieces, apply intelligent design with user needs in mind first, and allow us to custom-aggregate in a flexible environment that will accomodate an evolving web and its evolving users.

If this final post is your first exposure to this IDEA, here is the background: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5.

In part 5, we began a discussion of one of the key concepts, layering/stratifying of information. Here, I’d like to introduce several other key concepts that would make the MetaMee platform uniquely useful.

First is the idea of pivoting. I will use the term this way: the ability to take one piece of information and view it from different angles of approach and richness. Let’s say, in my conversation stream, I see a tweet from Mack Collier, whom I had decided to follow. I find it interesting and want to know more. Right now, learning about Mack, or joining in on that conversation, might require me to go to Twitter, Plurk, Mack’s Viral Garden website, etc., etc. But what I’d really like to do is click on that message, see it in a threaded view (if it is part of a threaded conversation), initiate a private chat with Mack, see tweets with similar themes from similar folks, see a more complete bio of Mack (based on what he has revealed of himself in the “layers” of his MetaMee profile), see what other data streams he has available that I can subscribe to (pix, other sites, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.), and have the ability to give Mack ratings and recommendations that other MetaMee users can use to form their view of Mack. All from one place.

Some of these ideas I spelled out in prior post a while back, about the ideal social media interface (that is the bite-sized version of this much larger endeavor, an ideal web interface!). The fact is, by aggregating all of this into one place, and being able to pivot around, I can much more intelligently make connections with those that provide value.

Aggregation, in fact, is the next concept. Your comments on other people’s blogs, your tweets, your posts, your purchases, your ratings – they’re all over the place, aren’t they? Your pictures, your contacts, your interests…wouldn’t it be nice to pull all that together and have it accessible from one dashboard? It’ll be a hard technical problem, granted. But the company/entrepreneur/team that pulls this off will find a ready audience.

We also need to be able to classify what comes in (we talked about classifying what goes out in part 5). I’d like to be able to take data streams, and people, and put them into buckets of my own making – you can do this with Google Reader, for instance. Being able to classify by topic, and/or importance, and/or whatever else I want, means I can intelligently aggregate and control. Crucial in the age of information overload. I also want to comment on and rate (think of Netflix and Amazon here) just about anything, which will lead to more intelligent recommendations by MetaMee, and also may help others if I choose to share those ratings and comments in my public persona.

Finally, let’s summarize this whole thing with some imagery to help make sense of it all. In the vast ocean of this networked world, I am a salmon hatchery on a little stream. I launch my little fish (my media) out there, joining other fish coming from their streams, mingling in larger rivers and out into the ocean wilderness of the internet. But my fish – and yours – are tagged. When people catch our fish (see our photos, read our tweets, subscribe to our blog, etc.) they tell others where the good fishing is, and they come to our stream. If the fish are unhealthy, few will cast in their lines, or wish to visit the hatchery. Natural selection at work.

On the other side of the coin, let’s say I have cable TV, with 468 channels available. That’s a lot of noise! But I only want 22 of those channels (I think). I should be able to pick and choose only what I want for my constant streams, and grab tastes of others as they seem interesting to me (it still grates on my nervest that cable providers don’t allow us to custom-create our own viewing packages. Hello??????). But the cable box is smart enough to know what I tend to watch, and even has a central hive mind that tracks what people who seem to be like me tend to watch. Then, when I power on, I can go to channel 23 for “Recommendations.” Bingo! Now this interface to the broadcast (and narrowcast) world is serving me, and making sense of the ocean of content, while allowing me full and flexible choice.

Idealistic? Sure! But why should we shoot for mediocrity? Add your comments and thoughts, and let’s find someone who wants to make us a MetaMee-type platform. To have such a thing to simplify our on-line lives would be…well, precious!

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

Zemanta Pixie

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

Zemanta Pixie

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

Zemanta Pixie

One Interface to Rule them All (part 3)

First, I’d like to thank all those readers who have left comments and given input on my prior posts (part 1 and part 2). We’re all wrestling with the problem of having application-overload, and while none of us has “the” answer, all of us together might be able to craft something that gets us closer.

After reading some of the comments, I’m wondering if I shouldn’t have called this series “One Dashboard to Rule them All”; as what we’re really talking about, I think, is a functional master dashboard. Some might misunderstand that I’m implying an approach of imposing a certain interface scheme on app developers. I’m not – I just want a tool that will display, talk to, and intelligently query all those sites and apps through APIs and what have you.

Also, referring back to the part 2 post, I should clarify that if a user selects one of the five main functions (say, View), then the viewport floods with the user-specified content related to Viewing, while the other functional areas wait in the background to be selected, perhaps via tabs, as the drawing implies. However, it might also be cool to select a continuously running horizontal or vertical “Converse” ticker so the IM/Twitter/etc. conversations are displayed in real-time.

Be that as it may, here’s the next installment. This ideal dashboard/interface would enable us to consolidate a number of me-centric functions in one up-front area (we’ll call it the MeeOMy bar – I know, dumb name, but we’re just doing rough design here!) that will then update and interact with various websites and apps. Here’s a graphic of the concept:

Using this tool, we can put our current status or location in one place, and this could be used to feed other “presence” apps such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, etc. And wouldn’t it be sweet to have one MASTER place into which, and from which, to import/export ALL of our contact info (and to have that contact database also be resident on the local computer).

The next couple of functions get into the heart and soul of why this dashboard/interface is something well above the realm of just another set of favorites on a browser, or widgets on an iGoogle/MyYahoo/Netvibes/Pageflakes page.

This app would have user-configured smart bots (let’s call them, for the time being, Intell-Agents) that would go out to the web and FIND what I’m looking for. Right now, we have to do a lot of SEARCHing. And the volume of people, information, and things on the web is exploding, which means that sorting through everything out there is a monumental task. I think that the next big thing is automated engines that will help us find what we specify.

So, for instance, I want to purchase a Bose Wave Radio, for under $125.00, and I want MetaMee to look at all auction sites, discount sites, and other shopping sites, until it finds available listings fitting my specifications. Only then does it return results – maybe days later. Intell-Agents actively go out and look for/find what we need, while we work, sleep, and go about our other activities. Extrapolate that out beyond just a purchase into the many other realms in which we search, and you’ll see how powerful this is.

The other realm of “Intell-Agents” that I’d love to see is smart Recommendations. Let’s say you subscribe to a number of people on various sites like Twitter, Plurk, FriendFeed, etc. – and you subscribe via RSS to any number of blogs with various themes. MetaMee would, via intelligent mapping of people/blogs “like mine,” make ongoing recommendations of “similars” – including people, info streams, products, etc. Think of how Amazon and other sites make recommendations, and then expand the concept to all the various areas where we’d like to find “similars.”

Search? That function is a subset of all the other functions. When I’m in “Converse” mode, I might like to Search among individual people in single or multiple platforms. When in View mode, Search is essentially Googling. In Buy/Sell mode, I’m searching across whatever multiple e-commerce sites I specify; or, if I’m using MetaMee to launch one particular site through a link or a widget, then I’m using that site’s search function for its own content.

Out of the gate, there’d be some work getting cooperation among some sites. But if there was enough demand, individual platforms would need to collaborate with the MetaMee platform or get left out.

On this front, you’ll see that I’m painting with broad strokes, because I’m speaking as an idealistic and pragmatic user, not a developer/programmer. There’s some seriously hard work under the hood here. But if these capabilities were available, even in alpha and only a subset of functions active, I’d be jumping all over it. How about you?

UPDATE – I guess somewhere in the “my” category should be a centralized way to track comments, ratings, reviews, and/or recommendations that I’ve placed elsewhere. Haven’t really thought it through…what do you think?

Next post: Data Flow: the MeeVault, Settings, and interactions with the “cloud”.

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

Zemanta Pixie

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

Zemanta Pixie

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

Zemanta Pixie
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 154 other followers