GigaOM Web Innovators Group: Boston Startups Come Out & Present «

I noticed this over on GigaOM GigaOM Web Innovators Group: Boston Startups Come Out & Present «. I noticed that a company called frevvo. This company was founded by a gorup of people I have worked with in the past. They have some cool technology that is worth checking out (I would describe it, but hey, go look for yourself!)

Usability – interesting analysis of WordPress

I just had a look at the results of this interesting usability analysis of WordPress.

While I do not necessarily agree with all of it, it is a very good analysis, and most of it makes sense. The biggest thing I liked in it was the concept of “not getting noticed”. As much as I love slick new UI models, and lots of graphics and animation, in reality the best software in the world is software you do not even think about. As a user, I should be focusing on what I am trying to do, not how I am going to make the software do it. Especially for any activity which requires any level of focus, having to constantly context switch from thinking about your work to thinking about whether the software will let you do it is extremely invasive.

I had not really thought before about the design of WordPress (hey, I started using it because it is free!), but overall it seems pretty good. Goodness knows, if it had done things to annoy me, I would have whined about it on my blog somewhere!

Usability Rant – Searching the Web for Documents, and saving them locally

I spent much of the morning (as I frequently do on weekends) doing research on a topic which has caught my interest through the week. I use a number of sources – sometimes just a web search, often a more targeted search like ACM’s or IEEE’s digital libraries. Usually, I do not read the documents I find right away. I like to search, find a significant number of interesting papers, and then I transfer the documents to my Tablet where I can read them, mark them up, and take notes.

This morning I was searching one of the digital libraries (I will not say which one, because I do not think my issue is with a specific library, as much as with the whole web), and saving the documents out to a sub-folder in my Documents folder under Windows Vista. So, the sequence of actions was like this:

  1. Perform a keyword search on the topic of interest
  2. Start looking at the list of hits presented 10 at a time (like almost all web search – I have already talked about how much I hate this model)
  3. I click on the available PDF to view it, which opens another browser window (Rant #1: I cannot right-click and save this document because the link does not point at the actual PDF, but to some sort of delivery system).
  4. In the new window, I am asked to authenticate myself for this content, even though I have already authenticated when signing in to the document library site (this is Rant #2).
  5. Having re-authenticated, I finally get to see the document (in the latest Abobe Reader UI – which I am not too fond of either – maybe it will grow on me).
  6. I click the button to save a copy of this PDF, and a File Save dialog pops up. (Rant #3: Every time I go to save, it defaults to my Documents folder, as opposed to remembering where I saved the last dozen or so documents. Rant #4: Where ever the focus is in the File Save dialog, it is NOT in the list of documents and folders – so I start spinning my mouse wheel to scroll down and find the folder it should have defaulted to in the first place, only to notice nothing is moving, so I have to click in the list box, and then start scrolling. Rant #5: Wouldn’t be nice to have a button somewhere, similar to the Save and Save As buttons, but which allowed you to “Save this to the last place I saved stuff and where I have been saving stuff for an hour”, in one click?) 
  7. About once every 5 or 6 saves, for some reason it DOES remember what folder I was saving to, which is a good thing, but because it is not consistent, it further interrupts the rhythm of my work. (this is Rant #6)
  8. Periodically as I am going through the search results (in that annoying “10 at a time” list), I will click to view a document and once again be prompted to authenticate, presumably because my session has expired or something. (Rant #7: This should not happen. I have not been away from my keyboard, and I have not paused my work in anyway. The session time-out should detect that I have been active all this time, and should reset. I should not have to repeatedly re-authenticate.)

Admittedly, these are all minor issues. Individually, they would seem not even worth talking about. Together, however, they destroy the overall experience of what I am doing. The destroy my train of thought. They force me to break out of thinking about WHAT I am doing, and think about HOW I am doing it. They waste my time, a fraction of a second at a time. And they annoy the crap out of me!

The sad thing is that this is not an isolated experience. This is the norm, rather than the exception. The computers and software upon which we have come to depend, and which are supposed to make our lives easier, on a frequent and consistent basis, rudely interrupt us with stupid questions and inconsistent behaviour.

There is constant talk in the technology world about “the next big thing”. I, personally, would be thrilled if the “next big thing” were a concerted effort by the technology community to make the current big thing WORK PROPERLY!

The Future of the Tablet PC (does it have one?)

Reading a post by Loren Heiny, Will the Tablet PC find a new advocate?, got me thinking (again) about the future of the Table PC – more worrying about whether the Tablet even has a future. I am worried that because of the complete mess Microsoft has made of marketing the tablet platform, without Bill’s continued visible support behind it, the Tablet will either disappear, or be relegated to a very narrow niche product.

I think I have mentioned (over and over) that I am a big fan of the Tablet PC. I think that in many respects it is far more innovative than anything to come out of Apple in the last 10 years or so. And in terms of the industry as a whole, it has opened up both a hardware and potential software market well beyond Microsoft (take note of that all you Apple fans – what has the ultimate closed source community at Apple produced that has benefited any business other than Apple?).

The problem now, of course, is that the Tablet is old news. It is 5 years old, has not lived up to early predictions that soon “every laptop sold will be a Tablet” (though in real terms has been reasonably successful), there is a shortage of really “tablet specific” or even “tablet aware” applications (notable exceptions of course are OneNote and MindJet MindManager). It has really missed the boat on the hype cycle it could have generated. And now, the primary champion of the platform, Bill himself, is no longer involved in day-to-day operations at Microsoft.

So, whither the Tablet PC? Loren makes a number of good points in the referenced article – and I will not repeat them here (hey, go read the original!). I agree whole-heartedly that the fact that those of us who support the Tablet PC have our work cut out for us if the momentum is to be maintained. I have been looking for projections about the size and growth of the Tablet PC market, but doing a Google search I do not see anything that is newer than about 2004. Are there any more current projections out there?

Another thought I had, beyond Loren’s observations, is around open source and the Tablet PC. The hardware specifications for the Tablet are fairly well defined. Unfortunately, the only software that supports it is Windows (not that I dislike Windows, but it means the entire Tablet PC industry is at the mercy of Microsoft’s decsions about continuing the platform). how about some of these really innovation open source types take the Tablet PC to new heights? Lets create a Linux-based (or not) OS, put a novel, Tablet-specific UI on it, and drive the Tablet market in that way? I know there are people out there who have put Linux on the Tablets, but I am talking more than just getting so it doesn’t crash, and works like a laptop with a funny shaped mouse. Something that really IS a Tablet computer. That would be a really innovative use of Open Source!

Thoughts?   

"3D" browsing and searching

Came across a post today called Exploring the 3D Search, about an application called SpaceTime (www.spacetime.com). It is a browser and search front end, which presents the results in a 3D “stack”, and allows you to scroll through them in that way.

While I like the initiative of trying a new visual approach, as I have discussed previously, this is really just another way of presenting a list. It is a start, but still not what I am looking for in a really new, “next generation” search visualization.

It is definitely worth checking out, though.

Second Life: What’s the Big Deal?

Ok, so I have been thinking about this post for a long time. There is a constant stream of hype around Second Life and the opportunities which abound in that world. It is very hard to look anywhere on the web without someone raving about Second Life. Am I the only person in the world who just does not get it? I understand the concept – I mean I have spent time over the years in various online collaborative environments, ranging from IRC, text-based MUDs, web-based chat rooms, IM (hey, I had a 5-digit ICQ number), helped build a voice over IP conferencing system, and wasted ridiculous amounts of time in online games like Ultima Online and World of Warcraft. I have often thought about the integration of collaborative goals with the immersive environments like WoW. I think there are definitely possibilities, and the success of Second Life seems to be proof of that.

My problem with Second Life is with the implementation, not the idea. I have been on Second Life quite a bit in different spurts over the last year, having spent I think enough time there to get a good feeling for how it works. To be really blunt, I found the graphics in it to be really clunky and laggy, and not visually compelling at all (as one of my kids said, “so last millennium”). The interaction with the virtual world is very frustrating (largely due to the lag, I would guess). I wonder how much of the draw of users to this world is driven from the hype OUTSIDE of Second Life, and not by anything inside, because I saw nothing inside to bring me back.

Maybe if someone were to create a better implementation, with the graphics most people have come to expect, without the lag, I might come to believe in the model. Until then, all I see is hype driving yet another wave with little behind it.

I have a lesser problem with the idea of trying to replicate the real world in a virtual environment in order to improve collaboration. I think it is a far better idea to create immersive environment which does not imitate reality, and which takes advantage of this to enable collaboration.

Am I the only person who thinks that the emperor has no clothes?