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Archive for August, 2010

What Next HP, Acquisition by Oracle?

Posted by Bob Warfield on August 10, 2010

The spectacle of Hurd’s ouster at HP is making the rounds, and what a mess it is.  The self-righteous are shaking their heads and smacking their lips about the tremendous wrongs done by Hurd and the courage of the Board for standing up for what’s right.

Well okay, a few are in the self-righteous camp.  FWIW, the folks I spend time with are more in the “WTF was this Board thinking?” camp.  It isn’t clear even what happened.  First it was sexual harassment, but the apparent victim says nothing happened (though supposedly she got a settlement of some kind).  Now it’s about bad practices surrounding expense reporting of some kind.  Let’s face it, it’s a soap opera and we’re probably never going to know what happened.

But, there are some things we do know.  For example, HP’s Board has a track record of ousting the last two CEO’s.  You’ve got to believe Carly is chortling about this latest (Schadenfreude) and has reached out to Hurd to tell him she told him so about that Board. 

I have to say, it does look bad for the Board, just on the basis that we’ve now lost two CEO’s.  If one of my dev teams hired an engineer, and had to let him go, I would tend to assume there was a problem with the engineer.  If they hired two engineers and let both go, I would start to assume there was some problem with the team.  This has happened, BTW, and I hauled them off to beers to talk about it in exactly those terms.  They were somewhat shocked, but it needed to be done.

Who will take HP’s Board out to beers and ask WTF?  As a shareholder, I’d sure be wondering.  Now I’ve got to find a new CEO, and I’ve got to wonder whether I need a new Board too.  That’s an awful lot of high risk turnover.  But will a great CEO want to join HP?  I suppose it’s too great a prize not to. 

What sort of CEO is needed?

Fellow Enterprise Irregular Larry Dignan says the next CEO needs to be all about Growth and Vision, not Cost Cutting.  It’s an admirable goal, but the CEO can’t deliver all the Growth and Vision.  Does HP have a Growth and Vision culture?  I asked the assembled Irregulars to tell me the last example of HP Innovation they remember and I didn’t get a single response.

For a company the size of HP, the only real Vision that makes much sense is an acquisition plan.  Vision is needed to understand how to finish the jigsaw puzzle from the available pieces and create a coherent M&A strategy. 

This is fraught with peril and will take a long time.  First we have to try to find such a CEO, then they have to formulate a vision to maximize HP’s strengths, then they have to execute it long enough to deliver results.  What’s that going to take, 5 years? 

I read with interest Larry Ellison’s view on the whole matter, which can be summarized as letting Hurd go was the dumbest board decision since Apple fired Steve Jobs.  On hearing Ellison and Hurd were friends, this immediately sparked the conspiracy theory that Ellison might hire Hurd to join his team–it would create an instant Succession Plan.

True enough, but I wonder how much Ellison thinks about Succession?  What he does think about is acquisition.  What an amazing move it would be for Oracle to acquire HP, and have just the man to run this new division in Larry’s friend.  Solves a lot of problems for a lot of people.  Shareholders get their value bumped back up.  Leadership is back in place.  Larry has Succession.  Oracle is huge-er,  a real powerhouse, and they get to buy when HP is at a disadvantage, not to mention having access to a guy motivated to work on Oracle’s behalf who knows where all the bodies are buried at HP.  Really, the only ones who ought to object are HP’s Board, because they’re out of a job.

Is such an acquisition even possible?  Well, as I write this, HPQ has a market cap of $99.4B while ORCL sits at $122B.  Not easy, especially if much of a premium has to be delivered. 

It does make you stop and think though, doesn’t it?

Posted in business, strategy | 6 Comments »

Game Dynamics for UX: It’s Older than You Think

Posted by Bob Warfield on August 9, 2010

Periodically, one hears about “Game Dynamics” as part of the User Experience.  It’s proponents will tell you Game Dynamics can make any UI more compelling and get more people to participate.  What it’s all about, in a nutshell, is the “Gamification” of your UI, so it seems more like playing a game and less like doing some sort of work.

There are lots of manifestations of Game Mechanics out there.  Many Social software products award points for participation, for example.  With these points come exalted titles that reward the participant, spurring them on to even greater participation in order to garner more limelight.  Proponents will tell you that with points, you can get people to do ANYTHING.  I don’t know about that, but they can be helpful for some audiences.

There’s a lot more to it than mere points, however.  In fact, there are lots of different Game Mechanics possible.  That’s a good thing, because I’m in the camp that wonders if the simple points systems aren’t getting a bit long in the tooth.  Let’s try to get comfortable with the notion.

I’m fond of saying that there is no special Dark Art ot Social Media, because its just people.  Figure out the Bricks and Mortar analogy, and you’ll understand how to maximize the Social version, provided you’re good with people.  Twitter is like those tragically hip NY night clubs where people go to get a glimpse of the glitterati and maybe meet new people.  There’s tons of energy, but it’s really hard to hold a real conversation there.

So it is with Game Mechanics.  Think of a game that’s popular and fun to play, and you can imagine Game Mechanics that are analagous and might work for software.  Well, almost any game, I still haven’t figured out how we do it with Twister, but maybe that’s what Chatroulette is all about, eh?  Sort of a Social Twister that’s all about random, and sometimes uncomfortable juxtapositions.

Now to the title of my post, about Game Dynamics being pretty old.  Take E-Mail, for example.  Why is it such a time sync for so many?  Because it has crude Game Dynamics.  If I had to pick the game it borrows from, I’d say solitaire.  People get a sense of accomplishment by moving things from the Inbox to the Outbox that is not unlike playing solitaire over and over again.  As productivity experts will tell you, this isn’t really all that productive.  But we like mindless tasks that make us feel like we’ve accomplished something, however trivial it might be.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if E-Mail had Game Dynamics that awarded points on the basis of useful things we did with the E-Mail?  Perhaps that would change our behavior.

This idea that completing a series of small tasks that seem like drudgery to get to some exciting end game (my inbox is now empty!) was around long before E-mail came onto the scene.  Remember trading stamps (I’m dating myself now!).  Once upon a time affinity programs involved trading stamps.  You stuck to the grocery store chain that had your trading stamps.  Gold bond and other brands were available, and you got some in proportion to the dollars you spent at the store.  You went home and pasted them into these little books.  As the books got filled up, you could redeem them for various rewards.  That’s Game Dynamics, folks.

What about this mad business of “Following” on Twitter?  People don’t seriously have thousands of friends.  Many wind up following so many their Twitter stream gets to be useless and unreadable.  Those followers are just game points.  It’s like a collecting game of some kind.  Before the computer, we collected all sorts of things.  People still do. 

Imagine what it would do for a service like Twitter if we learned something each time we collected a new Follower.  Something significant.  Sort of like stamp collecting, where we learned about geography, foreign languages, and all sorts of other fascinating stories based on the idea that each stamp had a story to tell.  

Civilization did a beautiful job bringing that kind of collect-or-earn a-thing-and-learn-something-new learning experience to life.  Simulation games, in general, have tremendous potential for driving Game Dynamics to make otherwise dull software and marketing more fun.  Imagine a simulation where the players do something really fun, but to win, they have to learn some things about your products.  It wouldn’t work for every kind of product line, but for some, it might be just the thing.

These things take many forms.  It’s interesting to try to mix and match.  Take a sheet of paper and draw two columns.  In the first column, list popular online services.  Twitter, Groupon, Foursquare, and so on.  In the second column, list games or other leisure/hobby activities like stamp collecting that qualify.

We sort of mapped Twitter to collection games like Pokemon or Beanie Babies (LOL).  Take your two columns and start exploring random combinations for ideas.  Facebook + Stratego?  Hmmm, aren’t some of the Social Games not unlike that kind of combo?

What else might we randomly connect to get an interesting outcome?

As you’re working through combinations that might work for your application, be sure to consider your audience (I know, even I am tired of hearing that advice, but it’s true).  Are they willing to invest a lot of time in your game?  If not, you better keep it simple.  Your application + Chess might not be a good idea!

Do they want to move a lot of little rocks from one side of the road to another to get a reward?  OK, that’s the E-Mail or points on Social Media type of game.  But, if they want surprises along the way to reward them, that’s more like drawing cards or winning Civilization Advances.

The main thing is to make it fun, and not to be too much in their face with what you want them to do.  That should come about almost as a side effect that is unnoticed or it will all seem too contrived.

Posted in user interface | 2 Comments »

The Tremendous Growth of Useless Information

Posted by Bob Warfield on August 8, 2010

Eric Schmidt says that every 2 days we create as much new information as we did in the entire period before 2003.  If that’s true, then a fantastic amount of that information must be useless, because civilization certainly hasn’t advanced to the point where it has that much to say every 2 days.

What does that say about the continued need for better ways of filtering information overload?

What does it say about the role machines and software are playing in automating the creation of useless information?

What opportunities does it create for the entrepreneur?

Where is the value?  In creation, consumption, or discovery of information?

What does it say to you about your personal strategies for surfing the information wave without getting tubed?

Posted in saas | 2 Comments »

Crappy UI Anecdotes

Posted by Bob Warfield on August 5, 2010

Sorry, but I have been extracting these stones from my user experience shoe for some time. I would grumble and finally move on, but as the same stones kept making their way back into my shoes, I finally decided to start keeping notes. This post is the result. It probably won’t be my last, but at least I’m getting a few off my chest and out of my shoes.

Google:

It only seems fitting to start with Google, as I read about the demise of Wave.  Are we surprised that Wave has passed, largely for UI reasons?  Google is just not a UX-focused organization, it’s an algorithms-focused culture.  Each takes its own peculiar brand of Alpha Geek, and the Armani T-Shirt Clad Jobs clones don’t get along so well with the pony-tail wielding unkempt Unix geeks.  I mean really, those UI guys are hardly even developers, they’re more artists or something, and the algorithms guys hate them because they get more girls.

So we suffer at the hands of these folks in many ways:

In Google Reader, I can Mark as Read all items older than a certain interval. Cool, that’s a great way to empty out my reader of posts that got too old before I could get to them. Unfortunately, it takes newer articles I had already seen and marks them Unread. Useless!

Gmail for the iPad has checkboxes like the other readers. When I start up mail, I make a quick scan based on sender and title. I check items to be deleted immediately, I star items I must definitely read, and the rest I leave alone. When done with the marking pass, I want to hit to get the checked items out of there. On the iPhone, a little palette drifts up and obscures the regular Delete button. On the browser version on my desktop, there is only one Delete and Archive, and they deal with anything checked, rather than the currently open mail. On the iPad, there is a floating palette, but it goes to the BOTTOM of the list of mails. The delete above the current mail item is the thing you see first and click on. That just deletes the current mail item, and I have spent a lot of time fishing them back out of the trash after inadvertently doing so. Google, why did we need 3 different ways for this UI to work? The desktop version would be fine on all platforms. Why did we need the crappy 3rd version in particular that comes up on the iPad? Useless!

Maybe the Android is different.  Perhaps the mobile devices are so pathetically weak in computational power that Google’s Uber Algorithm Geeks will have nothing to do with them.  I hope so, because if Apple keeps up with this Flash nonsense, I will likely switch to an Android.

Lastly, I offer final proof there is no UX sense at Google whatsoever.  I am writing this in Mexico, and it is augmented by an exchange I had with the Enterprise Irregulars about GMail.  I found I couldn’t even type “UX” into GMail as it felt “U” would be a better choice for me.  Meanwhile, the UI has switched to Espanol.  Never mind that I am logged in as me and told it 3 separate times so far to switch back to English.  No, somewhere, some Alpha Algorithm Geek just thinks its cooler if Google ignores all that and assumes it knows what is right not because a user told it so, but because IP packets are coming to the Google Mother Data Center from somewhere in Mexico.  Of course we must respond in Espanol.  That’s the algorithm, man.

Corporate Web Site Surveys

I just hit this on Salesforce.com. I looked at one page and made one click. Immediately up comes a box asking me if I’m willing to participate in a survey. WTF? I just got here, leave me the heck alone while I look at things. If you must interrupt me, at least do so for my benefit, not yours. I really do not want to pick on Salesforce specifically about this, because I see it constantly. My usual reaction is to close the survey and leave the site immediately. It’s just like hanging up on the Direct Marketers who call at dinner. I wonder if your web site analytics software tells you there are others doing the same thing? Seth Godin’s recent post, “Is Everything Perfect?” comes to mind. As he puts it:

Recently, though, our performance-obsessed, live-forever society has morphed the greeting into something like, “please list everything going on in your life that isn’t as perfect as it should be.” In a business setting, this causes bad prioritization decisions.

Amen, Seth. Bad prioritization like asking a visitor to rate their experience before they’ve really had one.  These are the kinds of people who think users are just click-throughs and not real people.  Useless!

Microsoft

Ah Microsoft. You’ve made an art of Stupid UI moves. How shall I count the ways? It’s everything from that idiotic banner UI you rolled out in Office (hey, did you guys miss the Successive Disclosure and 7 plus or minus 2 because of short-term memory lectures in UI School? Did you forget that modes are bad?), to just their standard practice started by their product management nazis that any new features have to go high up in the menu and UI structure so they look good in a demo regardless of whether anyone would ever actually use them very often. And what about those other expensive bits of UI malevolence, the Paper Clip and Bob (hey, I can hate software that shares my name if it is that lousy). Microsoft is not completely clueless. Vista was terrible, but I actually like a whole lot about Windows 7 and see it as (finally!) a genuine step forward from Windows XP. Rather than end on a high note (this isn’t a happy post), let’s end on the Microsoft thing that wastes more keystrokes than anything else I can think of: clearing the clipboard when you bring up an Office app. I’ve written about this before because it has caused me to have to reconstruct a considerable amount of content over the years.

Get ready for more Microsoft UI pain as Ballmer pushes for an iPad killer.  If you want to understand how truly bad this will be, download some popular desktop remote control app to your iPad and try to run your Windows stuff from it.  Uselessly Epic Fail!

Adobe

Oh man, don’t get me started on Adobe. I love Flex. I really do, and keep beating Apple and Steve Jobs about the head and shoulders over their capricious obstinacy towards all things Flash. Given how much Adobe has invested in making images, groupings of loosely related pixels, so perfect, first with Postscript then followed up with all sorts of other things, you would think they understand User Experience. Heck, it’s the sort of culture that attracts and pays for all sorts of great thinkers like Google to be able to wander around the campus and share their wisdom. These Thinkers are even Designers, who one would think (cough) could get User Experience. Alas, it seems not. I will confess, I do not have the latest Adobe software. I miss generations because it is so expensive. I also truly understand the need to differentiate Ease of Use from Ease of Learning. Adobe’s customers are Power Users, not Hobbyists, so they need Ease of Use much more than Ease of Learning. But damn, there is a lot here that isn’t easy to use. Forget the ridiculously complex conglomeration of random features with few organizing paradigms that is Photoshop. Okay, I just give up. It was created before peeps knew what all it might have to do. Someone needs to start from a clean sheet and simplify without reducing the power. It can be done, but it’s too late for Photoshop itself and it would piss off the intelligentsia if we mess with it too much.

No, I will focus on my pet annoying Adobe application, which is Dreamweaver. I am on CS4 FWIW. I give you one single (well maybe a couple single) issue: it is too darned hard to change a font or center a photo on a web page. This thing is so wrapped up in CSS Fascism that I have no choice but to comply. There used to be a nice little set of alignment icons on the Properties tool that could help me center my photos, but no more. I have to go through a multi-click right mouse button menu or the full menu system to git ‘er done. Thanks. Change a font? Well you had bloody well better have it baked into your page templates because otherwise we’re going to make you create a new CSS style to do it. Never mind that you just wanted to do it once, or that you don’t want to take time to do a tag at the moment. Fuggedaboutit. You are screwed.

And BTW, whoever wrote the code that helps the cursor dance around the embedded tags in Design View? That code is lousy. Try to mark something and run into the gutter accidentally and you cursor zooms off into the ether somewhere. The Mac trick of selecting from end to beginning (I like that trick) is a one way trip to frustration with Dreamweaver. Or, we forget which side of the tag we’re on and what to do and suddenly we are no longer in the font we thought we were because we strayed across a tag. Darn. That means we’ll have to go back into CSS style Hell again because of course it is too much to ask that we be allowed to change our font. Never mind that the template let us stray into a font that isn’t on any of the CSS styles through no fault of our own because the cursor handling code is crap. BTW, Adobe, this is actually something Microsoft knows how to do well and got right almost from the start with MS Word as a GUI product. HTML didn’t invent markup in the text. Lots of word processors made the mistakes you are making today back before we had GUI’s very commonly, and Microsoft showed how everyone should be doing it.  Useless!

Internet Explorer and Text Editing Boxes in Web Software

OMG, if I have to get onto another Social Forum written in PHP or some darned LAMP thing that starts jumping the cursor all over the place if I have more than an inch and a half high paragraph of text I am just going to scream. Or write a blog post like this one. Honestly, I am so tired of that. Every text box that runs in a browser has the exact same bug it seems like. BTW, the bug goes away if you switch from IE to Firefox. WTF? Why can’t either Microsoft or the stinking AJAX coders get this to work right? The answer is the best ones can (thank you WordPress where I am typing this in IE), but this is why I scream and yell when Apple won’t let Flash onto their platform. I never see this bug in Flash no matter which browser I am on. And BTW, when I’m in Firefox most web sites look friggin’ ugly compared to how they look in IE, so it ain’t the panacea either. BTW, please do not write me a comment suggesting I use your favorite new Wünder-Browser because I already don’t like having to use 2 browsers and 3 or 4 is out of the question.

Apple

Well of course the UX Gods at the top of the pantheon would never make any UI mistakes, right?  Not even close.  Their stuff is often insanely great, but it can also be quirky and just plain wrong.  I’m not sure what happens there.  Maybe Jobs loses interest and some minion gets too much control.

This post is already too long, and there are plenty more where this came from, so I’ll stick to one example.  The clipboard functions on the iPhone and iPad.  Now I ask you, dear users, what is the relative frequency you accidentally trigger the functions versus the times you really wanted them?  Is there maybe a 5:1 or 10:1 ratio of accidentals to on-purpose triggering?  Me too.  You Apple guys must have forgotten must have forgotten Alan Kay’s admonition that simple things be simple and complex things be possible.  That was a warning not to make rarely used features get in the way of frequently used features, which is exactly what’s happening here.  Useless!

Okay, I could go on like this for quite a while, but I feel better now. Thanks for letting me get this stuff off my chest!

But what about you, dear reader?  What are your UX beefs?  You know you want to vent, come on, let it out right here with a big fat hairy comment.  I dare you!

Posted in user interface | 7 Comments »

Amazon has 70-80 percent of E-Book Market?

Posted by Bob Warfield on August 3, 2010

Great article by David Carnoy, and thanks to Techmeme for putting me on to it.  That statistic, if true, is amazing for Amazon.

Some of the other things said really rang true.  For example, that despite the publishers (with Steve Jobs help) having run roughshod over Amazon to drive up e-book prices, customers are voting with pocketbooks:

We have definitely seen a shift. We have data for the last 15 years on books. And since some of the publishers have decided to price their e-book above $9.99, we’ve definitely seen a shift of customers going to e-books that are $9.99 or less. The good news for them is that the selection of those books is very dramatic. We have about 630,000 books that are not public domain titles and of those 510,000 are sold for $9.99 or less. Of The New York Times best-sellers, 80 of them are $9.99 or less. So customers are voting with their pocketbook…

That’s so true in our family.  We wait for the books to come down in price and meanwhile plenty to choose from at lesser prices.  It’s something of a pity Amazon’s recommendation engine doesn’t let me just tell it to leave out anything over $9.99.

Meanwhile, there was this great article about coffee shops and restaurants banning computers and eBooks.  It’s bad enough to see that happening in an enlightened city like NY, but ridiculous in the heart of Silicon Valley.  Yet, the prohibition against computers at lunch was very much in effect the last time I was at University Cafe in Palo Alto.  No matter, customers will vote with pocketbooks there too.  Shameful to do that in the Valley, though.  Just embarassing.

Posted in amazon | Leave a Comment »

Is Your Child a Computer Prodigy?

Posted by Bob Warfield on August 2, 2010

I recently was asked (along with others), “What language a budding computer scientist should try to study in school?

Fundamentally, it’s the wrong question.  This will sound harsh, but alas, it is only reality.  Or, if you like quotes:

“I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.”
Harry S. Truman

The language doesn’t matter, and no self-respecting computer science curriculum should be letting you choose languages.  They may expose you to a variety, but you’re not there to learn computer languages.

Real developers are born and not made, no matter what the quality of the curriculum.  You can’t teach it, you can only help it to blossom.  If you’re one of these people, you’ll learn many languages quickly as you become interested in whatever requires a particular language.  If you’re not, you can still have a fine career in IT or Prof Svcs.  Most of the people who are really going to get it were programming before they set foot in a University.  In fact, a really good one will be tempted to skip school if you’re not careful.  Computers call to them with a Siren’s Song that cannot be ignored. 

Find a person like this a quality program, preferably one that is under the Math Science moreso than Engineering auspices.  The abstract and theoretical sides will be more nurtured there and it’s harder to pick them up by osmosis.

If you wonder whether your child has this talent, Python is a great place to start.  Get them a book called Python Programming for the Absolute Beginner and see what they can do.  If you’re one of these people, don’t push your child to it.  Watch from afar.  Be interested, and responsive, but don’t force it, and whatever you do, don’t make it a competition. 

Like all careers, you have to love it to be really good at it.

Posted in software development | Leave a Comment »

 
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