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

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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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