The online world is in a revolution. Well, that is permanent, but now it’s serious. Really serious.
We must agree geeks aren’t that good at naming stuff, so adding a “version” to what we already know is there is the way to go now. And we’re into the 2.x era. AJAX-style web developing is the “primma donna” right now. If you make up a page with old fashioned tables (which I hate) you look so outdated and so functionality flawed that it’s almost a shame to publish it. You NEED to have all the smoke and mirrors, drag-and-drops, flying divs, colour switches and re-sizable windows even if they are of no use. With the increase in load times a “loading” or “processing request” message is a must.
Then you have Identity 2.0, a concept that puzzles Freudian Psicologists around the globe, since they could blame all of identity 1.0 problems to sex and parents. The concept behind this idea is that you can carry your identity all through the web. A nice idea, but somewhat freaky. I wonder how many people will have fake IDs 2.0; I know I will if the concept ever becomes popular. Man I have 3 different hotmail accounts to use under different circumstances. I’d rather have an official Identity for some stuff and other ones for more “obscure” matters, or just to remain anonymous (being anonymous is one of the greatest advantages of the web, although the idea of centralizing logins and sharing stuff through blogs, ebay, mac and so on sounds appealing).
Then there’s internet 2 or www 2.0... (or should it be wwwwww?) a nice deviation of www only available at some educational institutions. This nice thing allegedly has a bandwidth of 10 gigabit/second. So you’ll get your porn a lot faster. That is ... you'll get your porn once the lab rats are through playing with it (not the porn, the internet 2).
With all this going on I wonder how does anyone keep up... or how do companies keep up. As far as I'm concerned I'm not too much of a fan of sequels... so I'll hibernate all the way to when everyone releases version 3 of this bizarre world.
Today's news is old news. Today is late. Tomorrow is yesterday.
In the era of communications ultra highways we live (survive) the moment, reacting to trends, markets and making decisions in just a snapshot. We're living in a momentum of continuous worry about arriving late, reacting slowly and being delayed. This is particularly true when working with web, where a ten minute visit is considered long.
Be good to me and let me get a tad pseudo-philosophical. Just 100 years ago musical pieces spanned someplace in between 20 minutes and 1 hour (average). Today's pop music songs rarely last more than 4 and a half minutes. But then again 150 years ago people lived shorter lives. Sounds like a contradiction? Not really.
It's all a matter of options and choices. In the good ol' days before mass production you barely could choose anything you your "short life". (I'm over simplifying, I know).
Today you get to choose your TV channel, your favourite brands for clothing, gadgets, cars, food, and a long etcetera. You even get to choose your government (if born on the "right" place).
And everything happens in a snap. An Argentine rock song says "I don't know what I want, but I want it now". When buying on-line something as trivial as having to wait a couple of seconds too long for a server to react can cost thousands of dollars. Thus you need to react fast. If the competition offers something similar to our stuff and at a better price people will find out really quick.
Now even though quick reaction times to events unfolding is a must in today's world, it is of little use if those reactions are not part of a bigger, longer term scheme. You might "win" today's battle, but if you are not already planning future moves, a larger policy, a bigger and broader idea you will end up loosing on the long term.
When looked under the microscope today's markets are as volatile as ethanol. Thus it makes things quite challenging to policy makers to predict what will happen in the long run. But if you can have a broader look, take into account global variables and the largest scale you can see clearly defined trends evolving.
It is impossible to get too detailed on long term plans. Its just a waste of time and resources, and not worth it since it is details that change on a daily basis. Thus you need a strong idea and direction, and go working the lower layers of it as time and events evolve.
Don't get confused "We need to sale twice as much next year" is not a plan, its merely an objective. Don't get me wrong, clear objectives are a must, without them there is no plan, its just not the subject of this rant.
Plans need to be flexible enough to allow changes at a lower level without affecting the broader scheme, in other words, the how can change without affecting the what. For example, you want to increase sales in a 4-fold (objective), your plan includes changing the e-commerce engine, and in the midst of it all comes up a company providing the ultimate web-based commerce tool, you can switch to that, and everything in the higher levels remains unchanged.
You should always have plans and objectives set for long terms of time. You should know where you want to be in 1, 5 and 10 years (at least), and have the in mind the frame-set to actually get there, bearing in mind that small variables change in a snap, but the broader look evolves more slowly, even in hi-tech, continuously evolving environments. We have no way of knowing for certain what computer technologies will be available (variables), but we know for sure things will evolve (constant).
It is a must to distinguish between what things are likely to change and which are bound either stay static or evolve in a predictable way. With this clearly in mind its easy to set the long term and variable "columns" with which we'll work.
Of course there's no such thing as a cataclysm-proof plan. Unforeseen events are ought to and will happen. Certain things can adapt or prevail, some you will have to change. There's nothing wrong with changing the long term ideas if it is necessary. Overall, unless a meteor hits the earth, your plans should be able to survive and stay current with only minor adjustments.
As a last comment I highly encourage everyone to get a grasp on the long now foundation, which has a lot of philosophical and not-so-philosophical arguments on long term planning.
WARNING! this is a rant! don't keep readin if you like the software!
Okey, so yesterday I got my daily "run out of space" message. "Your ability to send mail has been blocked" blah, blah... Of curse I had to send quite a few notes before I left the office (7pm) so I decided I had to free some space and start sending them... Nice thought. Never happened. I moved around 150+ mails to my local archive, deleted the trash... nothing, still exeeded my quota. Whatever... I'll deal with it tomorrow.
Today is tomorrow... and I emptied everything! I mean not a single note was left on my folders (inbox, trash, sent, all of them!)... still no mail going out... I was a couple of MB over the quota...
I scratch my head, gaze the screen in puzzlment and think my alternatives. Throwing the ThinkPad through the window looks tempting... and if it makes it safe and sound the whole 7 story fall I might even end up in ThinkPad Legends... But if it doesen't I'll have to do a whole lot of explaining. Uninstalling notes? uh! the temptation! but not quite practical. I guess I'll have to deal with it.
Finally I see it... a "show all documents" folder. What on earth? ALL documents are there although they are not anyplace else... Select all > delete... Shazam... 20 minutes after a stalled notes and a replication after... I have my notes back!
In my mind it made no sense at all, but at least it worked...
Now don't get me started about publishing stuff through notes on a server!! You don't want me going down that road!
This month the PC turns 25. How much has the world changed? A lot. Think about it for a second, and picture your day (not even your life) without a computer. For starters you wouldn't be reading this (or I wouldn't be writting it), most of our jobs would not exist, and many things we know we wouldn't of aquired.
Computers (in general) are arguably the biggest break thru in technology since the wheel. They allow us to prove things we wouldn't be able to otherwise (chaos theory comes to mind, as an example), it makes our lives easier (remember "the worst thing that can happen is a machine doing a man's job with the exeption of a man doing a machine's job"), it comunicates us and it entertains us (it doesen't entertain you? let me remind you your TV has a Chip, bowling alleys are computer controled and the car you drive to your nice Beach Vacation would't go a mile without it's computers).
Besides they are a great tool for democracy. A Computer connected to the internet is a learning tool, you have the same access if you are connected uptown or in a ghetto. You might even call computers Communists!! Its all up to you; if you want to spend your time in a 3D shooter or at wikipedia. PCs give you options, most of them free.
Its no secret that chips will keep getting smaller and faster. Communications can only improve, "evolution" will carry on; we've witnessed it for the past 25 years and it will only keep happening.
As part of the company that still employs many of the minds that came up with the PC you have a sense of pride. We've done great things in the past. So what about the future.
Being "migrated" to Lenovo felt like a whiff of fresh air, and I think this sensation is shared by most of my fellow Lenovians (lenovits? lennovers?) around the globe. We have this sensation that only great things are bound to happen. We have a lot of great minds in different and key possitions, it can only go well. What will this great things be? I don't have a clue, but then again I'm not that smart! Just make sure you keep looking in our direction, because 25 years after the first IBM-PC, we might start the next revolution.
(Disclosure: SIMON can be considered the first personal computer but we're talking about something else!!)
Last year I was given the option to make the switch from IBM to Lenovo. I was still rather new to IBM, but the decision was not an easy one. Although there was a raise and a "promotion" to make my life easier I must say I was a tad uncertain.
IBM is IBM, big blue giant, a huge company with a gazillion different areas working on a googol ideas. Then there was Lenovo. "Just" PCD.
At that time what really made me go the Lenovo way was the challenge. A whole new team had to be set up for a massive template migration in under a month. Who can say no to that?
Lenovo Web Production LA team delivered on-time and on-target. It was an exhilarating moment. Everybody helped. Our internal clients from all over Latin America were very patient with us and eased up the work while we had to transition. QAs and Devs worked way too much overtime to meet the deadlines and what was expected in terms of our quality standards. Finally we had a great leadership in the hands of Diego Marcucci, who was handed a live and burning coal.
We have worked for the past 8 months on LA's Web, and our work has only started. The good thing about making a switch as I did is that you get the sensation of being in a brand new company but one that is worth billions already. A lot to do, and quick. There's a lot of money to be made out there. Latin America is emerging form some very harsh times, companies are settling, and for the first time in over a decade people have some serious spending money in their pockets. And they all need computers. Why not give them some really nice Lenovo ones?
This post is going to take a while to write. For starters I'd like to round up a concept, what a challenge!
Of course I won't be discovering penicilin in this post, but I wanted to make an abridged list of fundamentals you need while trying to come up with a new and unique approach to a subject.
Twice I’ve been to Raleigh this year. Twice I was overly well treated by my hosts. First time I got to hang around Chris Diamondidis and Mike Mann. I was taken to places (mainly to get some driks...) and shown around town. The second time I spent most of my time with Jim, both at work and at his place (once we got MTS to work!!) and at some other places like the Carolina Brewing Company.
Many times I've been told americans are not as friendly, but in my experience this is a myth, at least in North Caolina. Southern hospitality rules!
Getting a tad more serious and philosophic I must agree with the world is flat. Comunications allow us to keep in touch and updated in just nanoseconds. Whatever happens on the most distant spot on earth we can know as it is happening. The good thing about the internet is that, for example, if I wanted to see a show airing in China, Japan, India or whatever distant place I can find a way to see it even if my cable company does not air it. I'm pretty sure you can get whatever you want with a computer and a decent internet connection.
The flatterning of the world gets sociological as well. Although I don't subscribe at all with neo-marxist ideas Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt's Empire states something which I believe is quite true. They state that the 3rd and 1st world will co-exist in every country. In Argentina this is true.
A big portion of the population is highly educated, has a reasonable income (for argentina, where 1 dollar equals 1 peso) and have access to Cable, Internet, good food, education and other "fundamentals of modern life".
On the other side there's a huge ammount of people living in poverty and ignorance. Most of them are very computer illiterate, and are either unemployed or recieve minimum wages for the work they perform. This leads to insecurity, crime, child abuse, families far too numerous and an utterly unbalanced social panorama.
The only way out of it (in my mind, at least) is education. No matter if you are born rich or poor, silver spoon or "villa emergencia" (which are poor people's settlements), if you can get a grasp of knowledge you will have the chance to revert whatever disatvantages come form your raising, enviroment or social conditions.
The socialist point of view only makes people lazy. If you earn as much (or as little) working or staying at home, performing an excellent job or breaking everything you touch, there's little point in trying to do better.
As usual if I were to write everyting that comes to mind I'd stay typing forever. So I give a very short and badly articulated post.
As a sort of conclution I might say that comming in touch with different cultures enlightens you. And Americans will do fine because they are stubborn and decided, hard working and good to think outside the box when they need to.
I was reading through seed’s magazine web site the other day. The design is simple and certainly not revolutionary or anything, but somehow it invites you (at least me) to read. Besides having a certain interest on the subject the simple way things are arranged and the colouring, somehow, make reading on that page a more pleasurable. Interestingly enough this is something most newspapers I know fail to do.
I’ll try to “decode” what I think they (and others) are doing right.
1. Just enough white space.
Too much whitespace can be distracting. The eye tends get too distracted. On the other hand too much word and text clutter can be very hard to focus on, you’ll get frustrated and quit reading in just a blink. Its a difficult balance that has to take into account font type, the “frame” in which the text is sitting (which I’ll analyze further bellow), colouring and overall proportions.
2. No annoying (ahem! Distracting) Animations
Most newspapers make a living out of the ads they have on their pages. But theres nothing more distracting than a Flash (or gif) animation banging into your eyes as you read. Besides there’s usually not just one but many cluttered into a column, each at its pace, each at its own “rythm” and colouring. Newspapers can afford having such distractions since people are alegedly interested in reading what they publish. Ad’s are OK as long as they are inside a certain palette and don’t cause too much of a fuzz in terms of distraction. Once again “balance” is the key word, since if an add blends too much with it’s sorroundings it wont generate any clicks, on the other hand if it is just too distracting it will not only distract readers, but cause page abandonment (to a certain extent).
3. Good use of fonts
This is simple, a legible font in a good contrasting background is a must. Make it hard on the viewers sight and they are out of there. Pretty straight forward ain’t it?
4. Clear and understandable presentation.
It also seems basic, but knowing what you are about to read is a must. This includes: what section (and subsection) you’re at, a good descriptive or inviting title, a clear and short description and even a post date help the visitor to know if they want to keep reading (it is impossible to make anyone read something they are not interested in, even with the best of designs).
5. Pages not too long.
Its a fact: People don’t like scrolling. They have less of a fuzz if they have to click to keep on reading than if they have to scroll a long page. Besides, let’s face it: we are lazy, if the text looks too long, most users will flee in panic. If the text looks short they’ll start, and if they are hooked they’ll keep on reading.
It is a good practice to split a long article into multiple pages to hook users. Everything you want people to click into should be on the top portion (first scroll) of ANY page.
Till now everything looks good, but what about the commerce part?
Same principles apply. From my personal job experience I’m used to configurators. Selling add-ons is good for everyone, for the user who can “customize” it’s thing and for the company who makes a few more bucks.
Once again lazyness kicks in. A few translations of the same principles:
- Buy, next, configure and prices should be near the top.
- Clutter is confusing. Too many options, too much text altogether too many decitions to make. You have to really want something or know exactly what you’re after to go through it all. Images and icons as an aid to text help finding things faster. Highlighting “best options” is a must. You don’t need to see everything you can add you only need to know it is there.
- Long configurator pages tend to draw traffic away. If people have to scroll down too much to get to the “premium leather case” they simply wont; they either will skip it or abandon the page.
- Long checkout processes are frustrating, ggather the least possible ammount of data. Buyers know they’ll have to input a few fields (Name, adress, credit card) but usually will avoid too much questioning. Having pages reload upon any changes is possibly the worst practice as well. It does not only make customers suspicous, but it wastes people’s time. Aleways remember your customers time is as precious as yours, and you really don’t like wasting it (even less if you’re aping for it!!).
As a wrap.
Keep things simple, clean and clear. Avoid “too much” of anything and help people focus where you want them to focus.
Did I miss anything? (I know I have)
Do you have any other examples of good and bad design in this regard?
Sometimes I really like working for lenovo. Having the T60 delivered with a preloaded SuSE makes me very proud to be part of the company. It is a corageus move and I really pays off both for the Linux community and for Lenovo.
Read more about on:
I’m lucky enough to be about to get married to a Scientist. That’s how I get an insight of how things work. Its definetely nothing like the idealized version some might have of it, is more a story of struggle and errors than one of success. The whole way of doing things, evaluations, scolarships and funds is messed up form top to bottom.
Here’s how things (don’t) work. When you start working on an investigation you have to consult existing bibliography on the subject of study. See what other people have done and achieved, what is known and what is missing. Thus you don’t start from scratch but have a whole bunch of data to base your work on. Sounds great, but life is never so simple.
1. About Publications.
As a Scientist you spend 4 years, a decade or your whole life working on the same line of investigation. While you (alegedly) make progress you publish your stuff in the form of “papers” in more or less recognized scientific journals. This magazines review what’s submitted to them and approve or decline the papers. The more respected the publication is, the harder it getts to get something published in it, at least so the say.
Now publications are the measuring stick for science and scientists. To be able to make advances you need money; in order to get funds and scholarships you need to publish. For scientists to publish they need to get results right? Wrong! Since there is so much preassure to publish, most of the time publications are just a collection of missleading, retouched figures and test protocols with results no one swill ever reproduce.
This leads to a vicious cicle of people who start their experiments on other people’s work which is, to say the least, wrong. You follow their protocols, reproduce their exact methods and get... absolutely nothing. Nice isn’t it? Wait, it get’s worst.
2. The famous and the unknown.
When you start in science your lucky enough if your mom recognizes you. As you make progress, and if your field of investigation is in vogue you get recognition. You also have to get a little bit lucky. Of course the more unknown you are the harder it gets to get stuff published in the good and respectable publications (unless you make a break-through discovery, that is), on the other hand once you have a name no one will dare not publishing your stuff, even if its rubbish. And, believe me, “famous” scientists publish even more useless stuff than the unknown.
3. Trial and error (and error, and error...)
One would think that in the midst of the first decade of the 21st century the trial and error would be something science would be over with. Au contraire, it is still the only way scientists have to get things done. It is an enormous waste of time and resources, but no-one seems to be able to come up with a better way of doing things. You have to try, fail and adjust over and over again just to get only near where you’re aiming, and, most of the time, you hit some other thing that wasn’t quite on the scope. No wonder most important discoveries are made “by mistake” (penicilin, rubber and viagra are just some of a huge list, viagra itself is an interesting case. It was supposed to be a blood preasure regulator, which didn’t work all that well in that sense, but males who got it strangely refused to return the samples... ).
4. The commerce of it all.
The oddness of commerce meddling with science can can be put in one simple example:
You own a gene? How on earth can you own a gene? So you OWN a gene I (and everybody else) has? Someone please tell me it’s not truth!! And yet, it is.
Human genome project was supported by US government, the idea was to map all genes in human DNA (but not quite learning what they are good for, which is a huge challenge, since, as surprising as it might appear, most of our DNA is just “noise” inherited by millions of years of evolution), private sector was participating in it, but not much. Progress was slow, people got frustrated and then came Craig Venter and his shotgun technique (don’t ask me to explain it learn more on Craig Venter and Shotgun Sequencing on wikipedia), which really made things happen. Like it or not, as controversial as Mr. Venter is, this breakthrough was probably one of the 20th century major scientific accomplishments because of what it implies and allows.
This lead to companies “buying” genes (not entirely true, but let’s have it that way for now). So now, if you happen to be studying anything that has to do with any privately held genes you have to pay the owner a fee (toll? tax?) to use that sequence...
I’ll buy ACGTGGTGCACCACGTTTTGCAACA, please... and I’ll have it with a big coke and fries.
The implications of this particular “thing” happening well be adressed by me on some other ocation and I’ll continue my ramble as well as being brave enough to suggest some practices which would help science, scientists and us all.