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Why Vista? Why Mac? Why Not Web? (Look Out World, Things Like Air Are On Fire)

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 7, 2007

I read with some fascination Phil Windley’s Why Vista? post.  Then I had a funny reaction when I read this part of the post:

Since the application windows can float free of the virtual machine–like native windows, you end up with Word 2007 running on your desktop–just like it was natively installed. Parallels calls this “Coherence” while Fusion calls this “Unity.” I described the spooky feeling this gave me the first time it (unexpectedly) happened to me on my blog a few weeks ago.

What he is describing is the ability to run native Windows applications in windows on the Mac OS/X desktop.  The system will even go so far as to pick the right OS and application to run based on a file type.  This only makes sense given that you probably want a preferred app for a particular file type. 

I watched a video on YouTube of this, and he’s right.  This does feel spooky or unnatural.  My first thought was to attribute it to the Uncanny Valley of User Interface Design, a great post from O’Reilly about why Robots that are too human are less believable, and so too with user interfaces.  That instict is right, I think, it does explain why this feels spooky, but let’s take it to the next logical step.

We step in and out of a dozen different applications every day on the web.  They’re done in a plethora of different languages by many different companies.  Google doesn’t look like MySpace which doesn’t look like Facebook which doesn’t look like this blog.  Yet nothing about that feels strange or spooky.  Businesses that love SaaS use applications from a variety of SaaS vendors.  We had several at the last company I was at.  Switching from one to the other felt a heck of a lot less spooky than switching from the old version of Microsoft Office to Office 2007.

The Web is already a polyglot world, and a better place to be in for all that.  It just feels more natural as a user interface paradigm for aggregating a lot of applications and information together.  The desktop world, for all its rich user interface possibilities is too stylized around the smaller visions of Macintosh or Windows.  Those visions are too ossified beneath millions of lines of code and layers of libraries. 

Hmmm.  It’s another reason to prefer the web and ask how much Vista or Mac we really need.  My consumption of desktop apps is down considerably from what it once was.  I compose these blog posts online in WordPress and I do a lot of other document work in Wikis.  I keep telling myself I need to dump Outlook and go for an online alternative, but I haven’t gone there just yet.  I’ve seen up close and personal that some problems I’ve had with presentations could’ve been avoided entirely with a web presentation tool.

Meanwhile, the Web isn’t waiting around on the desktop.  It is a promiscuous thing: the World Wide Web.  It wants to be everywhere all the time.  It is relentless and addictive.  We hate to be without it.  A friend chided me some time ago for my lack of a WiFi presence at my home so he could demonstrate his cool SoonR application.  That’s been fixed since (although at the time, all my machines were online at home via wired connections), but I digress.  The Web does not want to be left out, even when there’s no connection.  Hence we’re seeing the emergence of mechansims that enable web applications to run without connections.  Adobe has AIR.  Google has Gears.  And all the rest.

I love Ryan’s Stewart comment that, “AIR applications have a quick, easy install experience that is closer to the browser’s zero install.”  When was the last time you installed something on your desktop that felt like that?  I just built a new dual core computer (gotta keep up with the Multicore Jones’s ya know) and reinstalling all the software is absolutely the worst aspect of the whole thing.  Ryan talks about a number of other aspects of bringing the web to the desktop, so take a gander.

Microsoft has been promising to turn the file system into a database since 1991 with Cairo.  More recently, it was supposed to be in Vista.  Although Vista took 5 years to develop, the file system didn’t make it in.  The World Wide Web is a database has let us manage and access data far better than the desktop OS file folder metaphors for a long time now.  We have mashup tools like Yahoo Pipes and standards like RSS that beat the heck out of the desktop’s cut and paste.  I mean come on, how many times have you labored to cut and paste information from some one source into your Excel spreadsheet so you could analyze it?  Now granted, I do wish the web browser supported cut and paste as well as the desktop, but we’ll get to that, I’m sure.

Most importantly, we have the innovator’s attention largely focused on the web.  When their hearts and minds are already there, that’s where all the new stuff will be.

Richard McMannus has this as #8 on his great list of 10 Web Trends for the future

Call it the Web Unplugged.  When It’s ready, It will be better, and things like Air will set the World on Fire.

Related Articles:

Patrick Logan makes a couple of pithy comments.  One funny, one dead right about what else is needed: the browser has to get better.  I think the browser issue is holding the web back at least as much as any lack of Open Social Networking.  But we have come a long way.  The old web was like a Green Screen 3270:  Half Duplex!

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Posted in platforms, ria, saas, user interface, Web 2.0 | 7 Comments »

What Personality Type is Your Web 2.0 Fave? (Part 2 of Web 2.0 Personality Types)

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 3, 2007

Since my original post on Web 2.0 Personality Types, I’ve been exploring the idea that a set of traits, similar to what one finds in personality tests like the Myers Briggs, might lead to an understanding of why people have strong preferences about their styles of interaction on the Web.  Let’s quickly try to slot in some of the vast plethora of sites and activities one can perform on the web using the same categories as the original article save one.  I’ve left out the simple vs rich UI and instead factored that into Text vs Rich media.  The reason is that its hard enough to show 4 dimensions in a 2 dimensional diagram let alone 5!

Here is the result:

Web 2.0 Personalities

You can see the various dimensions along the edge.  To see how to read it, E-mail is classified as Text+Defer+Structured+Watcher.  Most email is Text, although you can embed things in it.  You interact with email on a Deferred basis at a time of your choosing, unless you are a Crackberry Mail adict (hence it is in the “Interrupt” quadrant).  E-Mail is structured as a pretty rigid timeline or send based thread.  Free Form sites are often those for whom the primary structure is search.  I also regard Tagging as a variation of search and hence it is classed as “Unstructured”. 

Not all Search Engines are Unstructured.  Google is Unstructured and Text.  Here is their familiar, clean, unstructured, and textual UI:

Clean Google UI 

Now consider something like CureHunter’s Medical Dictionary which is Structured and Multimedia:

meddict.jpg

There is a lot of structure to search, and it’s often very illuminating to have the ability to see and traverse that structure, yet not every likes it.

OObject is another great case study that lives near a Seam in the matrix (watch out Neo!).  It’s kind of a visual blog, however, there is a participation angle too.  They pitch photos at you of objects that are interesting.  The participation angle is that your “Blog Comments” are primarily votes and the most interesting way to use the site is to look at the rankings of objects by vote rather than to try to grok the individual objects coming at you.  Looking at this thing, I’d think it might benefit from a Visual-Twittery-Interrupt Feed so you can just let it run constantly in a widget, pausing when something cool catches your eye. 

You can create twists on services using this concept as well.  Start with a successful service like FlickR:  Multimedia+Deferred+FreeForm+Watcher.  Now let’s change one dimension.  If we change Multimedia to Text, we go from FlickR to Scribd.  FlickR shares photos while Scribd shares documents.  Here’s another.  Dale Dougherty wonders what would happen if it become common practice to update blog articles with new developments (have to look at how Blog Readers respond to that for a start).  He envisions writing news articles and attaching mini-blogs to them so that each one updates.  This is a great idea, because once a link graph exists to take you to the article, why should you have to find a new article to keep up with the story?  At the least, why not add a link to the new or related story to the blog entry.  But hasn’t Dale just morphed the Blog’s Text+Deferred+Structured+Watcher style over to more of a Text+Interrupted+Structured+Watcher?  It isn’t quite interrupted, but the blog now has more of a real-time aspect about it.  It would be more like Kyte with Blogs instead of videos perhaps for the most Interrupted style.  That is, a blog with a Twitter box attached at the bottom.

Search is a good testing ground for playing with these ideas, so let’s try to make up a new Search application using the Personality Traits.  I want a search engine that is Textual+Interrupted+FreeForm+Watcher.  Hmmm, sounds like I just described the FBI’s CARNIVORE software, or at least the popular Tom Clancy-esque view of it.   We’ve got software monitoring email coming from tons of sources so its textual.  It’s free form, meaning that presumably all manner of arbitrary search triggers can be inserted.  There’s no participation as ideally the FBI doesn’t even want the participants to know they’re being watched.  And presumably, its interrupty.  I have visions of a master control room with a bunch of guys looking at screens.  When the right combination of “bad” words comes up, an operator pushes a button and black helicopters are dispatched to deal with the situation.  I’m being a bit tongue and cheek here, but you can easily imagine Wall Street using this sort of thing to sift through news and trade on the results all day long.

This process of being able to shift just one or two of the dimensions and find another service that makes sense gives me hope that there’s something real to the idea.  It feels right to be able to make sense of the inter-relationships of these services, rather than to just assume new services can be invented ’till the cows come home.  Unfortunately, it’s also very subjective, and I’d appreciate any feedback folks can give to better position services in the matrix.  For example, I’ve got Facebook and LinkedIn as Structured and MySpace as unstructured.  LinkedIn is below Facebook because it seems even more Structured.  Lots of trade offs and gut decisions, but it seems to make sense.  I haven’t yet come up with something for every box.  Who knows, perhaps some boxes are not fertile combinations, but it is interesting and fun to twist the Rubic’s Cube and see what pops out.

Next article we’ll look into how you go about reaching all these personality types with your own Web 2.0 initiatives, although that’s probably becoming more clear as you look at the map here.

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Posted in Marketing, platforms, ria, strategy, user interface, Web 2.0 | 4 Comments »

Web 2.0 Personality Types

Posted by Bob Warfield on August 29, 2007

There’s a Facebook application called Personal DNA that I came across recently.  It’s like a Myers Briggs personality test.  When I took it, I found my personality was “Encouraging Leader”.  It’s a fortune cookie, but at least the fortune was good for my aspiration set.  

For a long time I was pretty skeptical about these personality tests, but after I took the Myers Briggs test twice and realized what it said about the teams I was involved with, I became more interested.  The first time around, I learned that a person I’d partnered with through more startups and other jobs than anyone else had exactly the same personality type except that he was the “Introvert” and I was the “Extrovert”.  Talk about having each other’s backs!  It was actually perfect.  Because our learning styles were the same, our communication was extremely high bandwidth and very effective.  The risk would be that we could be blind-sided when dealing with people far different from that personality type.

I’ve seen that happen too.  The second time I took the test, it was with an entire executive team.  After, we were presented with a map that showed how everyone fit in relative to one another and relative to the center of mass for the whole team.  I remember my first reaction to it was to say, “Hey, that’s like a seating chart for who everyone sits with at lunch!”  Needless to say, those individuals who were far away on the “seating chart” presented difficulties.  It was harder for us to communicate our ideas to one another and collaborate.

One of the important points they teach you on these personality tests is that there is no “best” personality trait.  They are all effective (its great fun to look up who the famous people are from your type!), but the value is in understanding how to communicate with someone who has different traits than yours.

This got me to thinking about the Web and whether there might not be some sort of “Personality Type Test for Web 2.0 Software”.  Let me give you an example.  Guy Kawasaki recently announced he was going to Twitter.  I’m not a Twitter guy.  I like Instant Messenger-type software because it lets me know when people are online that I may not otherwise reach out to, and because it can be faster than a phone call.  Random tweets having nothing to do with anything of immediate importance seem like noise to me.  In fact, one day I had a blog post opened that had an embedded Scoble Kyte video.  Kyte includes a chat capability, and this thing was on a browser tab that wasn’t my current tab while I worked on something else (I’d planned to read the post shortly).  The constant beeps and squawks were so distracting I finally stopped what I was doing to deal with it.

This brings me to the first of several “Web 2.0 Personality Dimensions” one might define.  Let’s call it your “Interruptability”:

Interrupted | Deferred

If you are the “Interrupted” type, you love multi-tasking.  You crave feeds.  You want data feeding you constantly and driving your day.  The “Deferred” type wants to be more in control of their time.  They want to take time out to focus on things without interruption.

Let’s continue with the Scoble example, because it generated a lot of comments on his site from people who complained they don’t want to have to watch videos to get his messages.  They wanted him to go back to writing.  We’ll call this one “Media Preference”:

Text | Video/Multimedia

I can see the test questions already:  “Do you prefer voicemail or email for quick communications with colleagues?” 

Note that if there is, in fact, a pronounced personality trait here, then Scoble is risking a lot if he plans to focus on more video and do less writing.  I say that because he grew his audience through the medium of text so he has a self-selected audience of text lovers who may or may not like video.  If people tend to polarize, there will be trouble and he’ll have to deal with rebellion and rebalancing his readership towards folks that like the new medium.  OTOH, maybe there’s just a business trend issue, such as ReadWriteWeb talks about in their Will Podcasting Survive post. 

There are a couple of other obvious “Web 2.0 Personality Dimensions” one could posit:

Free Form | Structured

Some sites bring a lot of structure, while others are very free form.  Facebook is much more structured than MySpace, which many have argued is a good thing, particularly for those who want to socially network professionally.  LinkedIn is even more structured than Facebook.  There is a continuum.  I remember when I first came across Dave Winer’s ThinkTank outline processor.  I was enthralled because this is the way I think.  When Lotus shipped a word processor called Manuscript that was totally structured around a very rigid view of outlining and styles, I loved that too.  Eventually I discovered that a lot of people, indeed most people, don’t write by outlining first.  In fact, they may never choose to look at an outline.  Hence Microsoft Word has truly useless outlining functionality.  It’s just good enough to demo, and little more.

What about the desire and tendency to become involved with the information associated with the Social Network?

Watcher | Participator/Shaper

I’ll always remember the Peter Sellers line, “I like to watch”, from the movie Being There, but I digress.  A Watcher is just that.  They prefer to absorb.  One of the things the personality trait tests try to determine is whether you respond immediately and interactively, or whether you want to take the information away and process it for a while.  This category is all about how you want to process the information you receive from the web.  A Watcher is pretty happy with a search engine and perhaps a reader.  A Participator wants to get involved.  Perhaps the involvement is fairly passive: they’d like to tag the information or attach private comments to it for their own use.  Perhaps they keep a book mark on del.icio.us.  There are increasingly aggressive ways to get involved however.  Perhaps you will post a comment to this blog post.  Or, slightly more aggressive participation would be to publish your del.icio.us bookmarks.  You may be such an aggressive participator that you write an entire blog post or series of posts about someone else’s presentation.  This can get dicey if the other guy is also an aggressive participator and you disagree, but it’s what makes the Web go round.

Since the primary value of Web 2.0 is collaboration, the Participators play a key role.  With no Participators, there can be no Web 2.0.

How about this one:

Clean Simple UI | Rich Internet Applications

Much has been said about Google’s clean user interface.  Microsoft’s Tafiti goes to the opposite extreme.  Note that the page I linked to for Tafiti belongs to a person who has chosen a blog look and feel that even match’s Tafiti’s scheme pretty well.  They stopped short of calling it a Google-killer, but you do have to ask yourself where you come down on a love or hate of AJAX and Rich Internet Applications.

I could go on pulling these dimensions out of thin air, but my point is really that folks thinking about creating or adopting Web 2.0 in whole or in part should think about whether the audiences they want to collaborate with are likely to prefer one style or another, or whether they need to open all channels of communication to make sure some corner of the Web 2.0 Personality Space doesn’t get disenfranchised.

It almost makes me wonder if being able to “skin” your Social Networking Experience by taking some sort of preference test wouldn’t also be helpful.

This isn’t as far-fetched as you may think.  Savvy marketing and sales people have been using personality traits for a long time to understand how best to reach and influence their customers:

-  How to think about Brands vs Personality Types

-  Know your audience’s Personality Traits

-  Decide whether to show it or tell it in a presentation based on the audience’s traits

-  Here’s a great link on the subject from a social network:  LinkedIn

Why not Web 2.0 interface design too?

If nothing else, a “Web 2.0 Personality Traits” theory explains why such a diversity of Web 2.0 experiences seems to be successful, and it may point the way for how to make future Web 2.0 efforts even more successful.  If Mark Cuban is right that the Web has stabilized, it simply means that there is an offering out there to tickle the full spectrum of personalities.  What remains to Digest the Web 2.0 is to formalize this thinking and understand how to efficiently leverage it.

(Subscript:  I started out life in this business doing UI design.  The design for Borland’s Quattro Pro spreadsheet is one example.  The notebook tab UI for spreadsheets originated with Quattro, and Borland eventually won a substantial sum suing Microsoft over its use in Excel.)

Related Articles

Check out Part 2 of the Web 2.0 Personality Series where we slot existing services into the model.

Part 3 of the Web 2.0 Personality Series tells how to target the various personalities.

Also see how Fred Thompson and Twitter Leverage Web 2.0 Personality Styles.

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Posted in Marketing, ria, user interface, Web 2.0 | 25 Comments »

Adobe Apollo and Google Gears: SaaS/Web 2.0 Edge Onto the Desktop

Posted by Bob Warfield on May 31, 2007

Years ago Jim Barksdale and the Netscape denizens declared war on Microsoft, saying that the browser was all anyone would ever need and bloated desktop applications would be a thing of the past.  Larry Ellison jumped on the bandwagon not long after with his network computer concepts, and for Sun, the network is the the computer.

It’s been quite some time in the making, and the original combatants have been replaced on the Internet side by a new bunch, but it’s looking like some of this may yet come to pass.  Google announced Gears at their developer conference, and Adobe’s Flex-based Apollo has been out for a little while now.  What these initiatives are looking to do is bring Rich Internet Application to disconnected desktops–clearly the suite spot (pardon my pun) for Microsoft and the other desktop vendors. 

Meanwhile Microsoft is pushing hard for their .NET equivalent, Silverlight.

SaaS and Web 2.0 vendors should be thinking about what all of this means to them.  For example, Salesforce.com has been demonstrating disconnected functionality around Flex/Apollo.  This is useful functionality for their installed base.  It’s also interesting to ponder the third leg of the tripod.  After Internet connected and disconnected desktop functionality we have wireless devices (aka phones).  My friends over at SoonR have a solution they call Mobile Ajax that’s really cool.  Song Huang, SoonR VP of Marketing, was over at my house with a pocketful of phones and proceeded to show me a PowerPoint presentation on one of the phones that had almost no local intelligence.  He got my attention with that!

The sales people and Salesforce.com users I know are all total phone addicts.  I can just imagine them wanting to check on or update the status on their pipeline from their phone using this kind of capability.

How far will all of this go?  Check out a calendaring demo done in Flex over on the Quietly Scheming blog.  That type of UI is so far ahead of Outlook today (and especially Outlook on the web) that its hard to see why it won’t be extremely attractive.

The fun is just getting started!

Posted in business, ria, saas, user interface | Leave a Comment »

Microsoft Surface: Rich Internet Appliance

Posted by Bob Warfield on May 30, 2007

I just caught the Channel 10 video of the Microsoft Surface–awesome new device. 

The direct manipulation is cool, but the real genius for me is the object recognition feature.  I love being able to set an object on the surface and have that surface be instantly aware of the object’s location and identity.

Microsoft says they’re going after the commercial world initially, and I can immediately see what my favorite application would be–hotel check-in.  Why does this have to take so long?  I should be able to cruise up just as I do in other settings, drop my affinity card (Starwood or whomever) onto a surface computer and be instantly recognized.  Options would proceed by touch, finally culminating in a card swipe for charges.  The last clever touch wuold be to do away with the room key.  Perhaps someone will make an id card that is more secure than the visible patterns used by surface computer, but that also has those patterns.  If so, my affinity card could be my room key wherever I stay.

 The only drawback is the surface computer seems expensive and delicate enough that it may be reserved for settings where it can be well looked after.

 Now here is the funny thing: according to Scoble, the original surface web site used Flash not Silverlight.  When I went there Microsoft had pulled it down and was only displaying a black empty page.  Caught!

Posted in microsoft surface, ria, user interface | 1 Comment »

 
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