UICraft: Why Facebook’s New ‘Stickers’ is Stupid Yet ‘Sticky’

Following Path’s step, Facebook recently introduced a sticker feature in their messaging experience. Stickers are a glorified version of ’emojis’ which user can send to their friend while chatting to express emotions. It usually comes with a package of different expressions/emotions. All Facebook’s current stickers are free to download, but the ‘Free’ tag could very quickly become ‘$0.99’ like most Path stickers do.

Facebook-Messenger-stickers

 

Image via: phandroid.com

Stickers are no new creation by Facebook at all. A bunch of Asian messaging apps and services have already embraced it for some time. This whole ‘cuteness’ thing might seem silly, yet before you shout ‘stupid and cheesy!’, let’s not forget all the ‘stupid’ videos that got millions visits on YouTube. There is something behind all these ‘stupid yet popular’ fads. Most of them share one treats: They play very well to your emotion. And emotion, my friend, is usually our weakness. That is what’s behind all these impulse purchasing, all these ‘my brain tries to say no but my body screams YES’ moments, all those ‘this is so stupid but I just can’t stop laughing’ videos.

This is also why some  apps are successful in creating attractive experience. Enter ‘Clear‘, the highly successful to-do app with flat and simple visual but powerful physics and interactions. By swiping the item right, user can mark complete the task. Swiping left is delete the task, pinch open to add an item and pinch close to fold the current task list. It might sound simple, yet it’s physics is so great that when you are doing all these simple operations, you feel like you are manipulate a real object, you are throwing the completed task away like throwing your empty can of Coke to the dump. It relates to your feelings and emotions.

I still remember when the first time Apple released iPhone and introduced multi-touch, people are instantly amazed by the interactions without rationally knows why. Like Steve Jobs once put it in his keynote when demonstrating a multi-touch feature :” I can play this all day!’. As human-beings, we are sophisticated, we use our brains, we developed science. But most of the times, we aren’t that smarter when it comes to our emotion. We fall in love, get hurt, heal through it, and do it again. That just how emotion works. It is sticky and always comes back. No wonder after Path first announced their Stickers and In-app shop, they said the first week it brings in more money than all the money the company has ever earned before. No wonder Facebook is following suit.

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People Are Walking Away from Theaters and It’s OK

theatre-seats

Image Source: mamadrama.com

Less and less people go to theaters nowadays. Ticket price is hiking so do the gas price. More ‘long tail’ contents like PSY’s ‘Gungnam Style’ are pulling people’s attention here and there. What I observed is a role shift of the theater from ‘main-stream-cheap-no-brainer’ choice of weekend entertainment to upscale-expensive-optimized-experience once several months. Why? Because cheaper substitutes emerge, with Netflix, Hulu, etc. on the service side and smartphone, tablet, smart TV, LTE on the hardware side. And content is shifting from a mass market dominating ‘hit economy’ to a more commoditized ‘long tail economy’, leading by the prevalence of Youtube, Vimeo, and thousands of user created contents.

Old business case needs  retooling and new models need to be invented.

Forgive me if I’m being too dramatic on this, but like Charles Dickens put it:

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’.

Thoughts On Recent Attack on Apple from China State-Run Newspaper

apple-china-store-pudong

Recently, Apple got attacked by Chinese government owned media a lot. Here’s my perspectives:

Firstly, Chinese consumers pretty much know the governmental media’s true color and that their claim against Apple is all lying or twisted. The recent scandal ’820 Event’ speaks it all. (more details here: http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2013/03/16/apple-weibo-china-cctv/)

Secondly, government itself also knows what they are saying is bullshit. A lot of government officers, their children, family members use iPhone and they won’t use it if the service is bad. They just has an agenda and a marching order.

Lastly, over time, Chinese netizens have already developed a habit of interpreting whatever government media claims reversely. If the media claim someone is bad, then that someone must be actually good! So all the ‘attacks’ in effect are good PR for Apple.
Read more at http://macdailynews.com/2013/03/26/china-slams-apples-empty-and-self-praising-response-to-warranty-complaints/#gWutMWgbWaC3ohvh.99

Android Developer ‘Perk’?

Play-Store

In his blog, Dan said:

Let me make this crystal clear,

every App purchase you make on Google Play gives the developer your name, suburb and email address with no indication that this information is actually being transferred

I can’t say this is totally unexpected. There are so many privacy leaks everywhere. And the only way to not get spammed or exploited is to not give out your email information at all.

However, the impact of this privacy issue could be huge. People could get stalkered for leaving negative rating of an app they don’t like on Google Play, or being the victim of email spam. Developers don’t really need these private information and Google obviously gains nothing from it. I hope Google could show some respect to user’s privacy and stop this ASAP. They don’t want an unnecessary push on the fine ‘Creepy Line‘ they are carefully walking, don’t they?

My Creepy Experience with GMail

My Creepy Experience with GMail

My piece of experience with Gmail that I hope someone could decipher for me:

In Gmail, I was forwarding an email to a friend talking about an attachment I sent him before. Hit ‘Send’ button. A notification dialog pup up:

‘We noticed that you mentioned to send an attachment, but this email doesn’t have an attachment. Did you forget to attach the file?’

Seriously? Reading my email to sell ads is bad enough but I can still stand it somehow. Reading my content and try to make sense of it, and make suggestions (even in the name of helping me the user) is very very CREEPY to me. I felt like you’re writing a private letter to your lovers at home, then someone pop out of nowhere telling you: ‘oh you really shouldn’t add that last line. She wouldn’t like suggestive language.’

Does anyone know what’s going on with this Gmail behavior?

‘House of Cards’ : Refreshing Viewing Experience

HOC quote

So since everyone is talking about ‘House of Cards‘, I decided to throw in my 2 cents. As always, I’ll try to focus on the experience part. I promise, this one blog will be concise.

  • Being able to watching the entire season is REALLY REALLY GREAT! No waiting needed whatsoever.
  • Having known that, I found myself not wanting to see it all in one weekend. Kinda like little kids save their Halloween candy and not wanting to eat them all too quickly. It’s a secret pleasure.
  • Flexible when viewing is great. I start viewing in my media room with HD projectors, then go downstairs to my iMac, then end up in bed with my iPad. It’s true to all Netflix content though.
  • The show is amazing. Legit characters, great plot, Kevin’s ‘directly speaking to you’ monologues, very well written copy. The quality level is on par if not better than other hit HBO shows.
  • Modern day references you can relate to make it feel real. Kevin’s playing XBOX games, Zoe’s blogging practice get mocked by her journalist colleagues, iPhone text messaging back and forth displayed on-screen as an overlay, Twitter references (‘In today’s life, when you’re talking to one guy, you’re talking to thousands’ – Zoe), and don’t even mention all the ‘blatant’ Apple devices in every scene. (Can’t say whether it’s products placement though since Apple never do placement)
  • To be continued. 

Skeuomorphism vs Flat Design II : Evolution

Skeuomorphism as a design approach is under a lot of heat now. Mostly triggered by Apple’s contribution to it in its iOS and OS X design, as well as some ‘infamous’ apps (‘Contacts’ for iPad for one) that get things wrong. People embraces the benefit of familiarity it brings to the design, but doesn’t like it when it gets in the way or being fake. Some blame skeuomorphism for the disparity between iOS hardware and software, suggesting a total overhaul of iOS UI is necessary and cheered when Jony Ive took the position of both UI and Industrial Design lead in Apple. Yet we still see Dribble’s ‘Popular’ page flooded with tons of skeuomorphism works. Where are the future heading? To know better, we need to look back and find out where are we from.

 

1. Day One

tumblr_md5a9hLBqm1r2v2xso1_400We’ve come a long way on user interface design. 30 years ago, when MS-DOS is first released, we have but the green characters and the blinking cursor on-screen to play with. User experience is out of the question, people were still getting excited about the simple fact that PC can help them do tasks they would have done it manually before. Functionality, is the key world for this era. ‘GUI’ is not in any nerd’s dictionary just yet.

2. GUI – Skeuomorphism’s first début

Then came the GUI (Graphic User Interface), first developed by Xerox, get applied by Apple to its Macintosh computer, then Microsoft follow suit and released Windows.

Everything changed.

A new page on user interface design opened. As enthusiastic as using the command line was to nerds, it’s still more comfortable to see all the graphics. With the great success of Windows operation system, computer for the first time belongs to the rest of us, and GUI helps a lot in making it happen. It makes it possible for the normal people to be able to use a computer. Skeuomorphism is the hero in the time, for a curious yet not quite computer literate average user, being able to see a ‘calculator’ with the shape and function similar to its real world counterpart, people felt more comfortable using it.

290px-Windows_3.11_workspace

Calculator program for Windows 3.1

3. Before iPhone

GUI keeps developing over time, more and more people starts to use computers, more and more designers as well as developers put their efforts into making more useful and beautiful software. Windows as a platform won the PC war and dominated the market. Apple holding their ground with its uniqueness in design and extremely polished and user-friendly products, waiting. A lot of innovations happened at the time with Google leading search and Facebook leading social network. Both of their product featuring a ‘flat’ design and their engineering focused culture. Beautiful design are hard to find, people are like in the dark, waiting for something emerge from the horizon like the first light.

Google

Google’s ‘Flat’ Search Page

4. Post-iPhone Era

Then came the iPhone in 1997. The multi-touch design totally changed the landscape of user interface. ‘Mobile First’ became a lot of companies motto, big or small. This is a wave bigger than PC. Solid hardware performance, big screen with multi-touch UI and state-of-the-art OS put together, iPhone forever changed how people get information, communicate with each other and entertain themselves. Apple’s many years expertise on design and user experience finally get noticed by the main stream. People started to talk about how beautiful Apple’s UI looks, how smooth the interaction feels and how intuitive all though multi-touch gestures are. The prevalence of iOS drive up people’s expectation on user experience. Products can no longer stop at ‘it works’, they need to be ‘it JUST works’, and at the same time ‘looks stunningly beautiful’ to even compete. Good designers became very popular in the job market, most of them doing their dream job. Things just can’t be better for them.

iPhone-Evolution

iPhone Evolution

5. Overshoot

on-off switchThen like always, things overshot. More designers began to churn out ‘beautiful’, ‘realistic’ designs. Some with deliberations, some don’t. When heavily application of textures, shadows, gradient appears on every website, every mobile apps, every corner of people’s mobile phone screens, people quickly get aesthetic fatigue. All the weakness of skeuomorphism emerged. Too many gradients makes the interface look ‘tacky’, heavy textures competing attention with the content user want to see, design look like a real world object but functions totally differently, all these add to the ‘sin’ of skeuomorphism. Even skeuomorphism itself is not bad, the mis-application of it definitely ruined the day. People starts to pursue a clean, simple, no distraction experience. This is where we are now.

Future?

We’ll know better of what future is after we know better of the history. Now we’ve ‘relived’ the entire ‘Skeuomorphism Saga’, I think the answer become quite clear for us. The future will not be all skeuomorphism, or plain out flat design, or anything in between. Those are trends. Trends tend to come and go with new technologies, new business models. But the simple yet timeless design principles will always stay with us. As long as we follow the traditional wisdom of design, adapt it with new context, we’ll always come up with great designs. We’ll experience the same old hard-working, the contemplating, the tough decision-making. We’ll also embrace the joy of creating, the deep satisfaction of knowing we finally get things right.

This is a blessing to our designers. This is a curse to our designers.

Twitter’s Vine: The Power of ‘Short’

vine_The-Power-Of-Short

Vine, like Twitter itself, is very unique among other mobile video apps that it sets a 6 seconds limit. Twitter also has 140 characters limit. Setting up a limit gives Vine some very powerful advantages to be the killer app of its category:

1. Easier to contribute.
Not everyone can direct and shoot a good 6 minutes YouTube clip, but 6 seconds? Everyone can think of something cool or fun. And even if it’s not that awesome? No big deal! 6 seconds pass very quickly. This means there will be a lot of contents, good or bad, get uploaded. The ‘quantity’ part of the equation should never be a problem.

2. ‘Bite-size’ consumption 
Since it’s short, like Twitter, people can watch one Vine video or two when they only have very short pieces of time. 6 seconds are about the same time people read a tweet, so viewing Vine will be very comfortable for them, for Twitter users, it’s already part of their time management pattern.

3. Robustness
Short video means smaller file size and smoother streaming, means most of the time it will work whether user has a good Internet connection or not. Also smaller video is less demanding on smartphone hardware. Vine videos on iPhone5 won’t be too much if any better than on some free Android phones.

4. Twitter’s current subscriber base
Most video sharing app fails to succeed simply because they don’t have a big subscriber base, thus initially not enough content s to grow or even maintain their users. Vine already has Twitter users and we’ve all seen a lot of videos on day one.

5. Simple and focused UI design
This one is not very obvious, but using Vine feels effortless. UI gets out of the way, no skeuomorphism textures to distract your attention with, no 100 ads pop up to screw your flow of enjoyments(this might change over time though), just you and the video you’re watching, oh and your friends to social with. A simple UI won’t scare people away, they enable and empower people to use the app, to enjoy the content.

Having said all these, I believe Vine definitely has the potential to be the killer mobile video app, or at least the killer mobile short video app.

New Vision from Marissa Mayer of Yahoo

New Vision from Marissa Mayer of Yahoo

“We think about how do we take the Internet and order it for you,” Mayer said. Yahoo intends to be “a feed of information that is ordered, the Web is ordered for you and is also on your mobile phone.”… “There is a way that you can introduce advertising such that it’s not intrusive, it actually adds value to the end user, and it actually enhances the experience,” Mayer said. “And that’s what we need to work on.”

As I mentioned in my earlier post:

‘So to sum it up, if social network companies focuses more on knowing their users better , then providing valuable suggestions and helping user reduce the noise level, it will be a win-win to everybody. Users will have a higher quality of information flow, get ideas and suggestions that relevant to their needs and taste. Social network companies will make better use of their ‘raw social data’ and get more engaging subscribers (that willing to share more about themselves). And even advertises will have an easier time targeting their audience because of the better profiling from social networks.’

I believe Yahoo’s new CEO gets it, and better even she has the power to make it happen. It’s refreshing to see someone with an unique perspective, yet it’s always easier said than done, so it all boils down to how well Yahoo can executes its witty strategy. We’ll keep watching.