Badge slave – your phone demands your attention

During my last holiday I disabled all my notification on my iOS devices, plus what was even better, we didn’t have any wi-fi during the holidays, so it became a complete disconnected holiday. Basically it showed me that being disconnected is a good thing, especially since there was not so much demand for my attention by my phone.

This holiday provided me with the insight that my phone was continuously requiring my attention, there was always a badge showing of a new tweet, a new Facebook message or another application that needed my interaction. And if no badge was showing then there was a sound for a new message a new email or something. Just like a small pet, the phone had a continuous demand of being fed. Being fed by me giving it my attention.

Now I have disabled all badges, notifications and sounds on my phone (except for the ringtone and meeting reminders) and life has become so much more relaxing with so much less attention demanding impulses. It’s something I would recommend for everybody to do, that email or tweet can wait some minutes or an hour, if it is urgent, then people will be able to find you anyways.

Best practices: food for thought for the mediocre

I tend to avoid best practices in social design as often as possible. It is not that I don’t know them or don’t share them, I just don’t copy them.  Copying best practices will result in everybody using the same best practice making the best practice in the end into a mediocre practice. And as Jean Giradoux already said a long time ago: “The mediocre are always at their best. ”

In the industrial age it was simple, you could reuse best practices without hardly any adaption of the practice itself. People at the assembly line did similar work, there wasn’t too much context that would influence the practice itself, it was just the assembly line, something on the assembly line and the people doing something to or with the thing on the assembly line. Still resulting in mediocre practices in the end, however copying was making sense since by copying it you could have the same results as the inventor of the best practice.

How I think you should use best practices in social design and social media solutions in general is as inspiration. Those practices are too contextual to be copied since it is likely your brand is different, your audience is different, the way you interact is different, your budgets are different, the people that are executing it are different and the world is different since time has passed since the best practice you were trying to copied was really hot and happening. Therefore don’t try to rely too much on best practices, they were great for a certain organization / group of people during a certain time, however most likely they will perform poorly if you just copy them.

However pick some important design elements from those best practices and see how they can fit your to be social design. Use this design elements and see how they fit your context and if they can be applied in this context. By reusing just the elements and adapting them to your context you’ll be able to define a new practice and if you are lucky: a new best practice.

Open doesn’t always mean Open

There is a growing critique on companies such as Facebook and Apple that build there ecosystems on closed and often proprietary standards. However often the use of an open standard is just a facade. Since open doesn’t always mean open in best case it is just less closed.

In a conversation I had on Twitter with Werner Keil he provided me with information that Twitter will be using an open standard called Java Social. Which in general is a good thing. However makes it Twitter any more open than it is now? I don’t think so. Since there is still no way to get all my tweets out of Twitter. Even the basic Twitter search doesn’t go back for a bit more than a week. So Twitter is closed even though they use open standards, since you cannot get anything out.

Google is praised for their activities in the data liberation front. However the data liberation front is in some cases just a facade. If you can get your Google+ data out, though their is no way to import this data into something else, what is the use of getting it out in the first place? It is nice there is a way out, though as long as that is in a format you cannot import elsewhere it is just some openess-theater, not something really open.

Of course open comes from two sides and Google probably would say that somebody else should build an importer for Google+ theater for other networks. However some networks / platforms already have standards (proprietary and open) and Google isn’t exporting its data according to those standards.

So beware of the openess-theater, since open doesn’t always mean open. Plus open doesn’t always mean better, it is just a different approach for doing things.

How to write brilliant predictions for 2012

2012 is nearing so it is time for almost every blogger with a bit of self-respect to build a prediction list for 2012. However how to you prevent that you will not look like a fool with your predictions and how do you get the most out of it? I would suggest you to use this structure:

Start with what did not work

However explain that even if some of your 2011 predictions didn’t make it, it wasn’t you, it was something else preventing them from happening, so use a quote such as “most organisations are still not mature enough” or “google really lacked the vision to make good progress on this topic”. This way it wasn’t you who made the mistake, plus you can take this predictions with you for the 2012 predictions. Also if something only happened for a bit just claim that you predicted that correctly and preferably make a separate blog post for that.

Make a long list

Make a really long list, so it is easier to get things right (and forget about the things you’ll predict wrong). Something that also will help is to show trends that are already taking place now and predict they will ‘grow even further’ in 2012. Safe trends will be big data, mobile (just like in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 this will be the year of mobile), social media (anything is just fine), sustainability and great design. Preferably use new words which give you the opportunity to explain them in a different way when writing your 2013 predictions. Make sure that you can link back to older blog posts from 2011 so you can drive traffic to your site in general, you know those posts were already brilliant back then so these post deserve the extra attention.

Keep it high level

To be even more safe try to not be concrete in your predictions, you might rather want to talk about generic terms such as the rise of the platforms, X as a service, major shifts in some verticals or horizontals. This is very safe since everything that happens can be tied to either a platform a service or a shift in a certain area. So basically you are always right.

Disclaimer

Make sure to put some disclaimer in your predictions post, you might want to claim that there are exciting times ahead and that therefore tons of things might change, even the things you could not foresee (which is highly unlikely, since you are of course brilliant, otherwise you wouldn’t write these predictions).

My predictions for 2012

I would say things will change in 2012, some big players will disappear, some old players will reinvent themselves and of course there will be some exciting start-ups since there is an exciting time ahead.  Every vertical will be impact by social and by big data also to support sustainability programs, and probably the need for mobile experiences will increase, however only if there is really great design involved.

Just don’t take yourself too seriously in 2012. Do the things you love, not the things you are good in.  New things will happen, old things will disappear and change is the only constant, and change will happen whether you will predict it or not.

Just do great stuff.

The issue Google+ cannot solve: forcing common names

Google  is currently deactivating numerous accounts on Google+ since they claim that those accounts aren’t using real names. In a conversation Robert Scoble had with Vic Gundotra  acknowledged that Google has made mistakes in its first pass with Google+. But he explained that the requirement to use real names is an attempt to set a positive tone, “like when a restaurant doesn’t allow people who aren’t wearing shirts to enter.”  Or as Vic elaborates further:

“it is about having common names and removing people who spell their names in weird ways, like using upside-down characters, or who are using obviously fake names, like ‘god’ or worse.”

And that is exactly the issue: since the issue with common names, is that common isn’t that common. And what is a common name and what is a real name?  Google cannot worry about that, since they have no means to enforce it. Face it: they have no reference on what your real name is. The only thing they have is an assumption on what they think a common or real name is.

Facebook could do it

When Facebook started back in the days they had a very good reference to real names: your .edu email address. That was guaranteed to contain your real name and therefore easy to enforce (only if you had an .edu email address you could join).

Google doesn’t have such a mechanism, plus Google has the feeling they are the ones that can decide what is a common name. Leaving people who are better known by their nickname with a deactivated account. People with a real identity that is directly connected to such a name such as Skud and epredator. It is identity that matters, not the real name, since real names may vary depending on the context a person is in.

What’s my name

My real name, given by my parents when I was born is Henricus Geraldinus Marinus Mans, however my forename given to me by my parent for for every day use is Rick (which is a lot easier to write down :)). However what is now my common name according to Google? Is that Rick Mans, is that Henricus Mans? Can I use rickmans, which is my nickname nearly everywhere around the web. No way Google knows what is right for me, they have a lot of information about me, but they don’t have my birth certificate, nor my id, they have just the information I provide them.

I am sure Google is not telling Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta that is not appropriate to use Lady Gaga. Or that even though James Brian Hellwig legally changed his name to Warrior he should stick with the initial version of his names. Or that  Laurence Tureaud should not name himself Mr. T, even though he changed his name. And what about Raymond Joseph Teller who changed his name in just Teller, would Google allow that, that isn’t really common to not have  first ánd last name. Or what about the kid of the Israeli couple that was named Like?

Google cannot solve this

Google won’t solve this issue, because they don’t have the information about your names and what common names are. And since they cannot solve it, they shouldn’t bother to do so. The only thing they do show now, is showing they still don’t understand what people do, they have hard time to grasp the social part. Not everybody wants or can use the first and last name that are on his’ or her’s birth certificate.

If Google wants to something with this then Google should just make sure that the identity matches, that is something they can do, since there is likely to be enough context about most people around the web to provide enough information about somebody’s identity. And even that validation is not that important, since most people can do it themselves and don’t need Google for that.

Google shouldn’t assume that they know what a common name is, since common isn’t that common and this one of the very few things Google doesn’t have enough data about to know what is common.

Stockholm Syndrome and Google+

I am the first to admit that even though I am every now and then an early adopter, I tend to be a skeptic for every new service which is lauded even before it is started. Google+ is such a service. It is applauded by many in the tech industry as something really cool and really great, mainly because it doesn’t suck and it doesn’t have privacy issues.

It is not overly complicated as Wave, which was supposed to replace email, though the team forget that the big email issue is that email is so easy and that everybody can do it. Wave however was so complicated that the wonderful Gina Trapani even could write a book about it to explain it to normal people. Myinformation is not suddenly shared with everybody with whom I emailed 2 years ago as what happened with Buzz which was a default opt-in network from the start. Also the fact that it was in the inbox of people made it quite a mess.

Stockholm Syndrome

Now because it doesn’t suck and it doesn’t leak your information to a list of people you don’t want to be connected with, Google+ is labeled as as a great tool. Some are even talking about the ‘immense potential’ of Google+. To be honest those were the same people with Stockholm syndrome that were using Wave, which also had an immense potential according to them. This behavior is typical Stockholm syndrome behavior: people have positive feelings about Google+ because it doesn’t suck, that is the reason for them to see it as a brilliant thing.

So what is Google+ now? For me it is nothing special, though as I proclaimed in my article about Buzz, I might be a luddite. When talking about the immense potential, it means that currently functionality is not good enough and people hope for the better. The thing Google is supposed to be great in: ordering information, is something completely outsourced the users of Google+. Humans rather don’t want to make lists and if we do it, we are bad in it, or at least: Google is supposed to outperform on this matter.

For now Google+ is really a super user toy, great for the incrowd, great for pundits, but it is not better or different than other services already available. It still doesn’t provide a solution to a problem.

 

Why (and how) I share 300-500 links per month on Twitter and other channels

Since February 2009 I have read more than 300.000 items in Google Reader, how much more I don’t know, since Google just provides me with a 300.000+ number. Every month I read some between 10.000 and 15.000 items with two main goals:

  1. Use the information I consume to enable me to do my job better and to increase my knowledge
  2. Provide the items that matter with other people who don’t have time to read this number of items each month but could also benefit from this information

To accomplish the second I share somewhere between 300-500 items in my Google Reader. However since not everybody is in Google Reader I use ifttt.com (If This Than That) to synchronize my shared items in Google Reader with my bookmarks on Delicious (now more than 11.000 bookmarks).

From Delicious to Twitter

I use my bookmarks on Delicious as basis to feed my Twitter account with links I collected and these are posted via dlvr.it with at least 30 minutes in between on Twitter. First of all to prevent overload (10 items in one minute is a bit much) and second of all because many people are following me on Twitter because of the information flow and I want to keep it flow and not an overflow.

Blogging and emailing

For people who are not on Twitter or not on Twitter that often I use the feature of Delicious to post the collected bookmarks to my link blog (for about 830 days), so people can have a daily overview on interesting links. Since I used to do a weekly newsletter with 10 top links many people were used to receiving a set of interesting links via email. I stopped doing this newsletter, since it was too consuming for me to keep up the quality. However due to popular demand I have enabled an email subscription to my link blog so people can receive a daily email containing the links I collected that day.

So why so many channels? Because over the years I have noticed that many people are different channels and that one channels doesn’t fit all. For some channels I got explicitly a request to create it (such as the daily email newsletter), others were started as an intermediary to feed other channels (such as Delicious). Though overall there is hardly any overlap, and that is mainly because I dislike noise. Of course there a few people following me both on Google Reader, Delicious and Twitter, however these people seem to have found a way to manage the duplication.

Do I achieve my goals?

Do I get to my goals? Yes, goal 1 is easy, since that is just me and yes I enjoy consuming the information and I have the feeling it helps me to do my job better, to get a better understanding and in some cases to get in touch with people who are creating great content. Goal 2 is harder to measure, though I do it through dlvr.it since they provide statistics on the links I shared. Each month I receive somewhere between 10-15k clicks on my links, which is for me an indication that quite some people do click the links.

Of course it is only a fraction of people who follow me who click the links (5-10%), though I think it still a good performance. Also every now and then when I am at a conference or another place where I meet people in real life who are connected with me on social media I often get the feedback that they appreciate my links and encourage me to keep up the work. This appreciation is a great driver for me to continue this.

Let me know what you think of this way of sharing information and if it is usefull for you. And if you got a good link, do share it with me.

Why manifestos or oaths won’t save the Internet

I often like the way Jeff Jarvis is thinking and how he is transforming journalism in his own way. Though I personally think that he is heading the wrong direction for saving the internet. We won’t save the Internet if we would create a manifesto or if we ask our leaders to take some kind of Hippocratic oath for the Internet. Promises and paper work only come so far, as soon as somebody doesn’t want to agree with it, it stops. Papers are burnt, oaths are forgotten en the Internet is in an imminent lock down.

Stealth Internet

So what does work? The thing that worked best for last 40 years: just creating the Internet. Independent from what governments want and think, just add enough infrastructure so everybody can be online whenever it is needed. Or in some cases create a stealth Internet. Since if there is enough distributed infrastructure, there is no government that can shut it down. Therefore  we should hope that the few (as in: world leaders) are willing to save it, though  it is about going for the mass andhis mass will contribute enough and create enough distributed infrastructure to save it for everyone.

Sysadmins to save the world

In the end it will not be world leaders that save the Internet, nor a manifesto nor an oath, it will be the sysadmins, they have the ability to execute and create the distributed infrastructure for the Internet. It will the people with the ability to execute, not the people with ideas and papers.

The design principle of physical cash

Let me be honest with you: I am 31 and this month I got my first credit card. Before that I just asked my wife if she could buy something online if there was any credit card involved. The reason why I am such a late adopter? I am a laggard regarding plastic cash, I like the design principle of physical cash. I like my euro coins and notes. For the simple reason that if I spend everything I see it directly: my wallet will be empty.

That is the main reason I don’t like plastic cash: there is less an easy (visual) overview on how much money you spend (the card has the same color after spending and is still the same size), and it is harder to identify how much money is left and even the value of a cup coffee is becoming more abstract, everything is just on swipe away (and a push on the green ok button).

I might be old fashioned, though I strongly believe a lot of people would be in less financial trouble if they hadn’t had any plastic cash and just plain and simple physical cash. The issue with plastic cash (and with the upcoming NFC on more devices) is design. When designing a different non physical way of doing transactions, try to provide the same insight as we can with physical cash. Wouldn’t it be helpful (both for you as the seller) that your card changes it’s color as soon as a certain limit is reached?

So for me it is about the design of plastic cash, spending 100 euros is similar as spending 2 euros. If we could have somehow some of the characteristics that physical cash has, for example the alerting functionality you are out of cash or that a certain limit is reached, or that paying five euros for a cup of coffee is rather expensive, then I would completely switch to plastic or to NFC.

iCloud and iMessage features or lock-ins?

Apple just announced iCloud, their service to ‘store(s) your music, photos, apps, calendars, documents, and more. And wirelessly push(es) them to all your devices — automatically‘. Or as other people described it: MobileMe that really works. And what is even more surprising, where you had to pay for MobileMe, iCloud is free. That is also the case for iMessage, a free way to send messages to other iOS users using native iOS functionality.

However is there such a thing as a free lunch? Are iCloud and iMessage new features or are it lock-ins? Basically every app on any platform is a lock-in. Every app you buy makes it harder to switch, especially since there are real switching costs involved (re-buying the new app on the new platform) and other switching costs such as reinstalling and finding the apps you need on the new platform, configuration etc etc.

iMessage the lock-in

If you are using iMessage you won’t need a subscription for SMS, as long as your friends and family you would like to text have an iOS device. If an iPhone costs about 600 euros, and let’s say other mobile phones cost about 300 euros it means that you have to close a 300 euro gap which can be done in a reasonable time with using iMessage alone (you will save on your message bundle). Is iMessage therefore a feature or a lock in? It is both, though abondining iOS is now even harder, since it not only means you have to pay for messages to your friends on iOS, it also means that your friends have to pay to message you since you are not on iOS anymore. So with switching to another operation system you are not the only one having a disadvantage, your friends have a big disadvantage as well.

iCloud, another lock-in?

What about iCloud? Using iCloud doesn’t affect your friends, there are no costs involved and it syncs everything to everywhere (as long as it is Apple). And why did Apple make it free? For the simple reason that creating a lock-in is more valuable than asking for a subscription fee. iCloud makes it convenient to have your information always and on every device with you. However it only syncs with Apple products. Moving away from Apple’s platform means losing the iCloud functionality, creating immense switching costs, since how are going to manage then to get everything in sync on all your devices?

Switching is harder

So in general iCloud and iMessage are great new features, though by adopting these features you will make it harder for yourself to switch to another platform. Since the way in which this new features and the platform work is really easy, however there isn’t currently a way out for both iMessage and iCloud, there is not something outside iOS that offers the same integrated experience. There are some alternatives though, but none if these are integrated with the native new features just presented by Apple, which means that either you, or even in case of iMessage your friends have a big disadvantage if you switch to something else than iOS.