‘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. 
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Twitter’s Vine: The Power of ‘Short’

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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.

The differences between Quora and Tumblr blog

Quora-vs-Tumblr

This is the answer I provided on Quora. Quora recently released their blogging service and I found it pretty unique compare to all other blogging service, so I did some comparisons and here’s what I got:
1. Audience 
The biggest advantage and differentiator for Quora among other social media is its great audience. The quality of information you’ll get from Quora’s brilliant user base is higher than Twitter or Tumblr. I’m not saying Tumblr doesn’t have quality information. It has, but it also has a lot of noise. While in Quora, the signal-to-noise ratio is way higher. People here are less likely to troll, digress from a topic or post random irrelevant stuff. Come back to blogging, you’ll be able to find more focused audience here, and likely smarter. If you’re good in your area and you write well, I think your talent will be easier spotted. For Tumblr, because of all the apps, web plug-ins, browser extensions, it’s very easy to post something. Since more people are doing it, it’s harder to get recognized.

2. Relevance 
Any content on Quora is highly relevant. It either answers a question, or provide information on a specific topic. Blogging on Quora often stems from a brilliantly answered question. You see, great mind gets better when challenged by equally great minds, thus generating great discussions. Blogging on Quora is unique in the sense that you’re not blogging alone, you’re blogging while discussing with and challenged by one hundred experts in your field, which will lead to better quality blogs. Tumblr blogging is looser on this front.

3. Media
In terms of media, Quora focus heavily on text, pictures are supported for sure, but also to prove a point or illustrate an idea. In Quora, knowledge is on the center stage. Tumblr is really a multimedia micro-blogging site. When you’re blogging on Tumblr, you’ll have great freedom on what media you want to leverage. (Quora should do a better job on this front IMHO.)

Image: Sharing options from Tumblr.

So to answer your question on where Quora adds value in terms of blogging, I think the biggest value is its highly focused, well-informed and passionate community, that will challenge you, endorse you and support you, as long as you really want to generate great content.

UI of Twitter’s new ‘Vine’ app: Subtle Evolution

Recently Twitter released its new standalone short video sharing app ‘Vine’. It’s début isn’t without some controversies, but overall it’s a solid app with great potentials. All the dramas aside, I want to go ahead and do a bit of UI analysis on this hot social app, and see if we can find something interesting:

1. Biggest Screen Ever

Unlike the quite prevalent ‘5 Tabs Nav Bar’ design pattern other social apps have adopted, Vine doesn’t have a global navigation bar at all. It gives user the most screen real estate to display content, while UI gets out-of-the-way. Launch the app and you’ll see a video playing right away in loops, instantly immersive. Keep scrolling down and you’ll get end-less (literally) content, and there’s no bottom bar with 5 different icons to increase your cognitive load. The interface is clean and minimum.

Vine vs other SNS app

Notice that in above pictures, Twittbot, Twitter, Instagram all have the bottom navigation bar. It’s useful if user wander between these app sections a lot. But for a lot of users, most of the time they stay at their timeline viewing, thus the nav bar only gets in the way unnecessarily. Vine isn’t the first app to come up with this kind of ‘flat’ approach to content presentation. Path, which is another ‘intimate social network’ service, also shares the same ‘put content front and center’ philosophy.

Path Timeline and side menu

Path don’t have global navigation bar either, and they uses a side menu that’s hidden from the content panel, only revealed when the content panel slides to the right. Without the navigation bar, Path is able to keep the interface clean and display more content also.

2. Better Icon-Label Connection

Again using the picture above as an example, it’s really hard if not impossible to figure out what those little navigation bar icons stands for. Twitter at least put the label beneath the icons (but it’s very small, hard to read), Twittbot and Instagram only use icons, thus users will hesitate and ask themselves what those tabs are for before touching them. As we all know it, making users stop and think = bad user experience.

4 Section Design

Vine uses a drop-down menu to switch between app sections. In the menu, pretty and sizable icons are displayed along with the section name. When user gets into the respective section, the icon will stay on the top left corner, and the title will be in the middle of the title bar, further strengthen the connection.

3. Making ‘Like and Comment’ Easier

People are comparing ‘Vine’ with ‘Instagram’ by claiming ‘Vine is the Video Instagram’. They do have some resemblances in UI design. One case in point, they all use a ‘Like’ and ‘Comment’ button for the viewer to leave feedback. The difference is size, where Vine’s buttons are bigger than Instagram, which makes them more ‘touchable’, encouraging people to express their opinion, further foster the social part of the app.

Like & Comment Button Size

4. Curated ‘Explore’ Page
Exploring is an essential part of  social sharing apps. Whether the application can help user find the content they want will determine how far an social media can go.
Curated vd non-curated
As we can see from above pictures, Vine’s ‘Explore’ page has ‘Editor’s Picks’ and ‘Popular Now’, along with 12 most popular or interesting tags, this will cover a lot of ground already. Instagram, on the right side, only list photos that are currently popular. It’s more direct, but also due to the lack of sophisticated algorithm, the results as we can see, are quite random. User will have to input tags they want to search to get access to it, which is not very convenient.

5. Some flaws?

During the review, I also found some design hard to understand. For example, it is a video sharing app, but the only way you can capture a video is to go to ‘Home’ and touch the top right corner icon (no labels either). For such a prominent function as creating video, this is a bit too modest. Maybe Vine’s design team think this app as more of a major content consuming app than a content creating app I don’t know, but if making a video is not as easy as taking a photo, this will hurt its subscribers growth. Video is harder to capture and thus needs more love from UI/UX.

To Sum it up

Overall, I felt the application’s UI and UX is carefully designed. It’s not as sophisticated as Twitter, or as fancy as Path, but it gets the job done very efficiently. The UI gets out-of-the-way as much as possible, people will not have a hard time finding their way around because it’s just not that many layers worthy of the term ‘Information Hierarchy’. Everything is quite buttoned up. It’s simple and even ‘shallow’. (Interestingly, some say the early contents are also ‘shallow’, but addictive.) But simple can be powerful, and easier to get viral, which is critical critical for a new social service.

Facebook’s Road to Close?

Facebook’s Road to Close?

unfriend

Their business philosophy seems to be undergone subtle changes in Facebook headquarter. The ban on Voxer felt like last week, today they also banned Twitter’s new video sharing app Vine from accessing their ‘Fiend Friends’ feature again. Some say it’s kid’s fight between Twitter and Facebook. I think it’s might be deeper than that. Facebook is facing huge pressure after IPO on their financial performance and using every opportunity possible to monetize. I smell desperation from their recent moves. More importantly, they used to be pretty ‘open’ and foster a bigger social app/service industry based on their social graphs, allowing smaller social service and apps to grow the pie. Now they seems to not willing to do it, at least not without solid benefits. Who will be the next victim? Will they even go so far as charging money for it? Either way it’s a ‘Unlike’ for smaller companies and they might choose to ‘Unfriend’ Facebook platform. Will Facebook become a walled garden?

Situation is still developing. I’ll keep watching and report anything interesting back.

 

Why Path Is Gaining Traction in China

 

 

Path-App

In an interview TechCrunch had with Path’s CEO and co-founder Dave Morin, Dave mentioned that China is the top 5 area for Path on subscribers. Yet he isn’t quite sure about why. His answer is ‘One of the biggest segments of our users is family, and that is a big part of China’s culture.’ This answer is logical, but to a Chinese immigrant that has worked in both places like me, it’s much deeper than that. Let me explain.

I have been using Path for some time. Mainly because that Path’s user interface is very well designed and have some unique patterns and I’m a user interface guy, I have a good appetite for great UI. Since Path is a social network app focusing on private, intimate experience, I started to build up my Path ‘Friend list’. Very quickly, I found that most of my friends that using Path are from China. Being an 1st generation immigrant in US, I still has some friends in China. Usually on new apps fronts, since I’m closer to the ‘creative engine’, I used to be the early adopter. But not this time, this time there is already a small community building up around Path. It intrigued me. What did Path did right to gain this kind of early traction in China?

1. Early Adopters, wall-climbing clan?

It is quite interesting, that many early adopters of Path use it for purely one reason: It allows them to bypass Chinese ‘Great Firewall’ and actually gain access to Facebook, Foursquare and other social networks. People in China might not as informed as the rest of the world due to censorship, but the urge to know more and have free access to information is all the same. There are a lot of people, especially those work in IT industry, that are tech savvy and have access to Internet from very young age. They have access to websites, services and apps normal Chinese don’t know or care, and they don’t want to lose those. Censorship was getting in their way to web service like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. So like all the courageous frontiers do, they start to figure out different ways to ‘climb the (fire)wall’. Path, happened to be one of the ways. Visiting Facebook or Twitter via web or iOS app is totally blocked, but Path, since it’s a niche product, wasn’t on the radar. People can still share their status, check-ins in Facebook or Foursquare via Path. This is not really the kind of story of glory on Path’s side, but being a niche player as it was then really gave them some advantage.

2. Growing subscriber base, rooting for the elites.

Path always has a focus on family and closed friends. Different from Facebook’s open and everybody style, Path is more about intimate and close relationship, about sharing moments with yourself and your close circles. Like I said earlier, it’s logical to say that because Chinese has a strong focus on family, Path will naturally rooting for them. In reality, Path actually roots for the young elites of the society. Yes, Chinese has a focus on family, but there is a very big generation gap between the young generations and the old, much bigger than in US. Chinese’s Internet development just caught up these decade or so, before that, a lot of people haven’t even used a computer. So the old generation don’t really get to learn how to use Internet, let along mobile apps. Even now most city families in China own 1 or more computers, the old generations still are not comfortable to use it. (But they are getting more used to use iPhone or Android phones now, cause it’s easier for them. More on this point later). The young generations, however, grew up with Internet. Even their family can’t afford a computer and Internet access, there are Internet Cafes everywhere.  They are the main Internet content consumers in China. They spend money on apps and buy virtual goods on ‘Kaixin Farm’ (Equivalent of Farmville in China). They are the ones to support the phenomenon financial success of some Chinese Internet companies. They usually are young professionals (a lot of them works in IT or design industry), live in big city, drive their own car, and enjoy modern life just like the rest of the world. They are kind of the ‘elite’ group in China, they want to be unique, to be different, and feel good about it. Being a niche product, having a unique UI, and only runs on iPhone (at that time a symbol of fashion and coolness in China) , Path is a perfect fit for them. I think they are now the biggest demographic of Path.

3. Crossing the chasm, leverage the coolness.

So what could be the best strategy for Path if they want to expand their niche presence in China and become the mainstream? I have a fairly simple answer: Go after the ‘coolness’ and grab the young generation. Social status and peer pressure is very important in China and coolness has a price. You’ll be surprised how much money people are willing to pay just to look cool. If all the cool kid is using Path in school, then the rest will follow. If some young celebrities are using Path, fans will use the app just to follow their idol. If the young professionals are all using Path to exchange ideas, sharing photos, then you’ll have to use it to get into their circle. Some PR campaigns would also help, like sponsoring the biggest match making show ‘You are the one‘ by live blogging via Path(again Path makes the show looking cool) etc.

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Image: by Apple China

Don’t worry about the older generations though. If the sons and daughters are using it, the parents will use it eventually. Family is still the core value of Chinese society after all, and cool kids will still teach their parents how to use it. (An advantage for Path is, their user interface are quite simple and intuitive, which will make the learning curve for the parents less steeper. ) The old generations will be told: ‘Mom, Dad, you really have to learn how to use this app, or risking not seeing all the update photos we took of your grandson.’

Mon and Dad will learn, oh they sure will.

Win-Win Solution to Advertisement Fatigue in Information Age

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Image courtesy of iStockphoto/OtmarW

I’ve always been observing the tech industry for new trends, and lately I think I noticed something on the social network and search area. The challenges we are facing as a professional in this crazy informational age is how to deal with the ever increasing overwhelming data and information surround us all the time. Most of us, especially those working in IT industry, has a sickness I would call it ‘Information Fatigue’. Everyday, we have 10 blogs to visit, 100 emails to reply, 1000 tweets to read, thousands updates on Facebook to catch up to. The information ‘density’ within each piece is not helping also. Tweets that have shortened links or pictures, emails with all the 10 pages back and forth reply history, website with so many ads and distractions crammed together. Our limited focus and energy becomes so pale before this waterfall of information. It’s like we’re fed with unlimited food, junk or good, dessert or ramen, steak or salad, day in and day out. We can never get real healthy this way, only more obsess, mentally. The information flows through our brain everyday is out of control.

Eventually, we’ll need to totally rethink how we generate information, distribute information and filter information. In this regard, our social network and social media industry really need to wake up on this. We all know the feeling when we check our Facebook and found out all the mundane day-to-day details of our ‘remotely remembered’ high school classmates. And worse even when we found out that thirty minutes have already passed. What a waste of life and energy! But that happens all the time, from Facebook to Twitter, from Instagram to Youtube. Nothing has been done to improve this so far. Imagine if Facebook can learn my taste when it comes to updates, I can ‘Like’ a friend’s updates, which will increase his updates ranking so it will appear more on my wall in the future. Or I can ‘Ignore’ it, so I will never see those kind of little details anymore. The social network should do a smarter job to learn my taste, and offer more relevant information to me, while filter out the noise. By reducing the noise level of Facebook, it will actually increase its appealing to most people. I’ve talked to a lot of my friends and colleagues on why they seldom get on their Facebook, and the No.1 answer is :’It’s full of crap in their, all the updates of my friends that I don’t care, not something I’m interested or enjoy reading. It’s a waste of time.’ This is a dangerous signal to Facebook, cause less engaged subscriber means less quality information on Facebook, will could cause even less people using it, a destructive downward spiral.

Take Twitter as another example, a standard tweeter user will tweet several tweets everyday, retweets some of his likes, and favorites some others. But Twitter has no system whatsoever to learn what I like and dislike, what will get me excited and retweet, etc. Put it in a simpler way, Twitter don’t know me. It’s like an information feeding machine, without any effort to filter out the noise and promote something according to me taste. In a word, these social media/social networks care too much about running ads and promoting goods, but care much less about profiling and learning its subscriber, which in turn making it harder for them to do targeted ads (ironically).

t1larg.zite.mag.youtube

Image via FastCompany

There are some that does a better job. The popular personalized magazine app ‘Zite‘ is a good example. It has become my main information consuming place lately. What Zite does differently is it starts off by letting you choose some topics and key words that represent your interest. Then it will go out and fetch the news, blogs, articles, tweets that you might interest and present them to you. While you’re reading, you can choose to ‘vote up’ or ‘vote down’, which will increase or decrease the chance next time these kinds of information appear. Basically they profile you, and gets better overtime. The result is amazingly good. Instead of reading my tweets every 5 minutes, or check my Google Reader, I just fire up Zite once or twice per day and read all the relevant information and I’d be happy. They can still do better though. For example, they can remember when is your last time used Zite and when you launch it, it will present you all the worth reading articles from last time you read to now, so you know you won’t miss anything. (Now they always present you the most up-to-date content. )

Some may argue that due to the social ‘intrust’ between users and social networks companies, users are not willing to share their interest and let their private info been exposed much. Well, it doesn’t have to be this way. What the user really hates is not been profiled. What really make user mad is these company grabbing all the user’s private data, but instead of providing valuable suggestions and filtered information, they sold those information to advertisers. If these social media and social networks companies care more about user’s information and give user more value on meaningful suggestions and better quality information flow, I believe users are willing to tell them more about themselves. They would even pay for it, as long as they see value in it.

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. The advertisement fatigue is a desperation on both the advertiser’s side and consumer’s side. Advertiser is desperate because they don’t know who are interested, so they have to bombard the public with ads. The user’s desperation is they know what they want, but no one wants to listen and they’ll have to suffer all these irrelevant commercials. All these can be easily solved by a bit more caring and data mining technology. Come on Facebooks and Twitters, do something!