Technology is wonderful, and terrible

Stephen Hackett’s Parenting Technology is a haunting piece of writing for The Magazine. I don’t want to give the story away, so I’ll just quote a couple of key paragraphs:

How many little moments have I missed in my kids’ lives by checking Twitter on my iPhone while they play in the yard? How many hours have I spent writing or hacking away on my Web site while I should have been reading books to Josiah?

Technology saved my son’s life, yet has left him with terrible scars. It allows me to work from the hospital on days when I need to, but distracts me from being engaged at home. Technology is wonderful, but terrible, all at once.

How we deal with that balance — with what technology wants — remains one of the biggest struggles of our time.

Poster: a great iOS WordPress app

Back in May I posted my wish list for a mobile WordPress publishing platform. Since then nothing official has come out of WordPress to help with that list. But I’ve been using Tom Witkin’s Poster app for a while now, and it’s close enough to what I need that it has significantly increased the amount of writing and publishing I do from my iPhone and iPad.

Poster’s interface is clean and focused on what’s most important: writing. It has full support for Markdown and TextExpander touch — including some custom keyboard commands to insert commonly used Markdown attributes:

Poster edit screen

The built-in preview screen makes it easy to proofread and make sure you didn’t miss anything:

Poster preview screen

The only thing that is still missing for me is a mobile Safari bookmarklet that lets me send a piece of selected web page text — along with the page title and URL — to Poster as a new post that’s ready for editing. It would also be great to see Poster integration with apps like Instapaper and Reeder.

If you run WordPress and have stayed away from mobile blogging because it seemed like too much of a hassle, give Poster a try.

Links for Poster: Official site | On iTunes

User centered design in emerging markets

Niti Bhan does strategic design planning and concept development in emerging markets like India and some African countries. She begins her article Developing a user centered methodology for emerging markets and the bottom of the pyramid by discussing what happens when companies in the developed world try to introduce products in lower-income markets:

So the value propositions of the products, services, and programs introduced for lower income markets—particularly in the developing world—are still based on elements of the value system prevalent in global consumer culture. There is a gap here, and it’s most obvious in the marketing messages, advertising and communications which tend to emphasize product benefits or value that may not be relevant—much less contextually appropriate—to the BoP [Bottom of the Pyramid] customer’s life. When the value proposition of the seller has little or no resonance with the value system of the target market, it will most likely be ignored.

Even more interesting, she questions the value of using a standard user-centered design (UCD) methodology in these markets. Her point is that it’s not just products that need to be tailored specifically for these markets, the methodology we use to identify user needs should be different as well:

UCD has emerged from the same operating environment as that of the majority of the producers and most certainly has been part of, if not partially the creator of, the global mainstream consumer culture in which we’re all immersed. Therein lies the rub. The process is not divorced from its context and thus, we found, it needed to be far more flexible as it evolved and was adapted to the challenge of conducting exploratory user research in slums and villages and townships across the developing world. For the human centered designer, more likely to have been trained in the heart of the most sophisticated consumer markets in the world, there were additional challenges when considering the new and emerging consumer markets at the BoP.

I see this in our work at Flow as well. We constantly have to adjust how we do usability testing or contextual interviews to make sure participants are comfortable enough for us to uncover their real needs/issues. Niti’s work looks fascinating, so I definitely recommend reading her post and checking out some of her other writing as well.

Being right all the time

John Gruber wrote the following in the context of recent leadership changes at Apple, but it’s applicable to life in general. From Seriously, Apple Is Doomed:

What you want is to be (1) right more often than wrong; (2) willing to recognize when you are wrong; and (3) able and willing to correct whatever is wrong. If you expect perfection, to be right all the time, you’re going to fail on all three of those — you will be wrong sometimes, that’s just human nature; you’ll be less willing or unwilling to recognize when you’re wrong because you’ve talked yourself into expecting perfection; and you won’t fix what’s wrong because you’ll have convinced yourself you weren’t wrong in the first place.

I’ve mentioned before that the ability to admit that you’re wrong is an essential characteristic of a good designer. I maintain that some of the biggest product failures can be traced back to a refusal to recognize that the idea/design isn’t perfect.

Design like you’re right, listen like you’re wrong.

An agency perspective on responsive design: tips, case studies, and challenges

Christopher Butler shares a long and interesting agency perspective on responsive design in What We’ve Learned About Responsive Design. He shares tips, case studies, and some unresolved issues — including how to deal with larger display sizes:

So, the parting question for me is this: What about upward responsiveness? If we’re heading toward bigger displays with much higher pixel density, how will our designs adapt to make use of them? We’re all excited and sold on the concept of responsive design, but so far that has been limited to responding to smaller conditions. If we’re up for that challenge, than I know we can do better on the “desktop,” too.

So far we’ve dealt with that issue either by setting a maximum width for websites, or to live with acres of white space. Christopher rightly points out that we need to experiment more with ways to take advantage of larger displays without overwhelming users with too much content.

(link via @smashingmag)

Nothing beats Twitter for live events and real-time search

Dan Frommer believes that when it comes to live events, Twitter Stands Alone:

Then look over at Twitter, where the room is bursting with fresh news, links, photos from everywhere, alerts that Karl Rove is melting down or that Diane Sawyer seems wasted, jokes coming so fast that you can barely keep up. (Many of them even funny.) You control the content, the sources, the volume, the pace, and your drink. Sometimes, it’s wrong, but it’s quickly corrected, and you should be more skeptical anyway. And if you want, you can participate. You’re not just watching.

This sentiment resonates with me — especially because we don’t have cable TV at home. On election night (morning in South Africa) I went to the gym at 5:30am so I could watch CNN on the TVs there (two birds with one stone and all that). But all the TVs in the section I was in when the race was called were set to sports channels, so how did I find out who won? Twitter, of course.

Twitter is also my first port of call when there is an issue on this site, or with one of the apps I use. If my site is down, the first thing I do after running a traceroute is send a tweet to Cloudflare or Mediatemple. When Tweetbot isn’t sending push notifications, I just search for “Tweetbot notifications” to find out if it’s just me. This has been said before, but there is simply no service out there that is better for real-time search.

Ok, that was more of a Twitter love letter than I thought it would be. I’ll stop now.

Key startup questions: is this viable, feasible, and desirable?

Des Traynor shares some insights on how he works with startups in Asking Questions beats Giving Advice:

The first question I ask (though sometimes I just ask myself) is an easy one: is this viable, feasible, and desirable? The answer has to be yes on all three counts—no two are enough. In fact, pick any two, and you’ll think of a start up that failed because they missed the third.

This approach shares parallels to the “problem frame diagram” approach I discuss in Usable yet Useless: Why Every Business Needs Product Discovery. The goal with that approach is to identify the user needs and business goals of the product, as well as the core competencies of the organisation.

Des goes on to describe some of the key things you have to think about before launching a product. If you do Product Management on the web, his post is highly recommended.

What matters is products, not names

Micah Baldwin in Silent But Deadly:

Yet, there is something amazing, maybe even beautiful in execution. In silently creating something of immense value without the need to be everywhere to be seen by everyone. That our worth as entrepreneurs is built through our products, not through our names.

It’s a great story and a great post.

(link via @PaulCartmel)


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