Dreams and aspirations

Posted on Nov 4, 2012

Dustin's latest post hit home. Hard.

Humans are by default hopeful and optimistic creatures. We usually think about the future as though it will occur for us with absolute certainty, and that makes it hard to imagine death as a motivation for living. But knowing that my friend could potentially never wake up forced me, unexpectedly, to contemplate my personal drive for existence. Why do I do the things I do every day? Am I honestly acting out my dreams and aspirations? What’s my purpose? For a long time, when I was younger, I waited to discover my purpose. It was only very recently that I realized purpose is something you are supposed to create for yourself.

Goal-oriented design

Posted on Oct 24, 2012

For a while I couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason why Google Reader felt awkward, but earlier today it hit me: for a product called Google Reader, it doesn’t really let me read properly.

When designing a product, the question you should be constantly asking yourself is “what is the user trying to do here, and how does my interface help?”. In the case of Google Reader, I want to consume content I subscribe to - for the most part, that would be text. Suddenly, if having a great reading experience is a priority, everything changes. Line height and horizontal motion matters, background and text colors matter, white space matters. Every feature of the software and interface should be strained through the sieve of user goals.

A goal-oriented Google Reader would look drastically different. A goal-oriented Google Reader would not use 200 pixels of useless interface between the chrome of my browser and the first piece of actual content - something that feels wrong in a world of 16:9 screens. It wouldn’t use a default line-height of 1em, or pure black text on a pure white background. It might let me configure font size and the length of my text column; perhaps even the typeface.

Google Reader is a good product, but not a great experience. It lets me read, but it doesn’t let me enjoy reading. It lies to me when it calls itself Reader, because it just wasn’t designed with that goal in mind.

Like Google Reader - in this particular post, only an example -, a large number of products would benefit from the simplest of thought experiments: ask yourself what the goals of the product really are. Then look at every bit of the interface and functionality through the lens of those goals. Remove all the extras. Fix everything that feels awkward and wrong. Repeat. Your users will thank you for it.

The future of discourse

Posted on Sep 11, 2012

These are interesting times in the world of online discourse. Twitter has been fading as a platform for conversation, as with its growth in popularity came a focus on celebrities, flat discussion and messing with third-party developers. While there are great nuggets of insight being tweeted every once in a while - and despite the fact that you get to make your own feed by following and unfollowing people -, Twitter feels flat these days.

As Twitter almost substituted blogs, I see a return to long-form writing in the future. And others seem to agree, as services like Svbtle, Medium (like Twitter, from Obvious corp) and Branch have been launching recently, showing a rekindled passion for prose.

I am a fan of the way discussion takes place in the blogosphere. You quote someone, you link over to their blog, you add to the conversation by expressing your ideas in your voice and pace - something Twitter only kinda lets you do. And I might be crazy, but I quite like the experience of navigating through several pages with several different designs from several different authors to unveil pieces of the same puzzle. Sure, services where conversations are aggregated are amazingly useful for the reader, but serendipitous browsing is an amazing way to tickle the imagination and generate new ideas that move the discussion forward.

Twitter might have been the future of conversation once, but today it sure sounds like the past. Who knew that the future might lie in blogging again.

App.net and you

Posted on Aug 13, 2012

There's been a ton of discourse on Dalton Caldwell's App.net lately, and now that its funding goal of $500k has been reached, I thought I'd write a few lines on the reasons why I am a backer, and why I believe it is a necessary product today.

I have to preface this by saying I love Twitter. I joined in the very early days (easy to guess by my username), when it was still called Twttr and was basically a hangout for people I knew from the valley. It didn't solve any particular problem at the time, but it grew into a way for people to stay in touch, a micropublishing platform, and a backchannel for, well, most things these days.

Twitter is free, yes, but not really. Allow me to explain. Those guys (a great team of people) have been at it for years, and need to make ends meet. Turning their millions of users into paying customers would be a flop, so their customers are instead - you guessed it - brands. People on twitter are opinionated, vocal, and consequently they share a ton of information about themselves and their tastes. I'll let you figure out what that means, but in one way or another - and I hope you knew it was coming to this to this -, the product when you use Twitter isn't Twitter itself, but your interactions with it. You are the product.

App.net on the other hand is not free - in fact, it'll cost you $50/year. But the logic behind it is that by being a paid service, you're not the product - app.net is. You're not being sold, you're being sold to; you are the customer. It caters to your needs. This is refreshing in this kind of product.

I'm a fan of products that ask for cold hard cash and become sustainable businesses. Products that cost money live by simple rules: if they make people unhappy, people leave, they make less money and eventually fail. If they make people happy however, others join, money comes in, developers are rewarded.

So I'm paying for app.net. It doesn't mean I'll leave Twitter - that wouldn't make sense unless things take a change for the worse. It does, however, mean that I believe a Twitter alternative makes sense. It makes sense that new features being added to that platform matter to me and not brands who want my "eyeballs". I'm not much of a "Viva la revolucion" kind of guy, but users being in charge is refreshing. And app.net being fully funded means about 10.000 other people agree with that.

It probably means the idea is not that crazy.

Craftsmanship and perfection

Posted on Jul 14, 2012

Jiro Ono is 85 years old, and he's dedicated his entire life to his craft - he is considered the best sushi chef in the world. What's amazing about Jiro and many other craftsmen who are at the top of what they do, is that regardless of their status as the best, they still search for perfection. Perfection is a hard thing to define, and more importantly, a hard thing to achieve. But when you make it a part of your ethos; when you aim for it every day, it does not matter if you get there - what matters is what you've made and learned along the path.

"Always look ahead and above yourself. Always try to improve on yourself. Always strive to elevate your craft. That's what he taught me."

Yoshikazu Ono on "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"

If you make things, you sit somewhere on the line between someone who works and a craftsman, and the position you take along that line permeates through everything you do. So what you should do, or rather, what I'm trying to do myself, is find a way to achieve perfection in my work - whether that work is writing code, designing the screens for an application or creating a piece of software. Here's to more craftsmen.