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Archive for November, 2009

Google Wave Input

I’ve been using Google Wave for a few weeks now as a beta user.

I read an article about a survey Google put out to gather user feedback. The questions seemed… very … milk-toasty. As in, one of the reasons for liking Wave was that it is a shiny new toy? Er?

Having released the survey to a bunch of developers, I would think that the questions and therefore the feedback would be… more specific, maybe? Maybe they got tons of feedback in the free-form text field at the end of the survey.

So here’s my specific feedback for Google. I submitted a lot of these in the form of “ideas” in Google’s Product Idea area, which is a Twitter-like space where you can contribute or vote on other people’s ideas.

Widgets
The widgets are really, really important – as important as the App Store is to the iPhone. It makes Wave customizable, personalized. With so much going on, personalization is important.

Widgets need to be run like the App Store, installable to a toolbox/ribbon view, maybe, within the specific wave’s interface or the user’s consistent interface.

Widgets need to be interest-area-specific. As in, gamers need their own set of widgets; weather freaks need theirs. I need project planning widgets like mind maps and wireframes. People need to have collapsible toolboxes of widgets for the kind of waves they work in most often, and recommendations need to pop up every now and then for new widgets to keep them flowing into users’ toolboxes.

Update Rate
Thus far I’ve joined public waves for various topic areas just to get a feel for how a wave will work. One for project management dorks like me, one for that Getting Things Done guy, one for Kindles. They flex in how much people use them, but when traffic is high, and the update rate is immediate — I am able to see what someone is typing as they type it — those waves can seem like they’re on some kind of time-lapse. I get that it’s an international, open thread and people are playing with it, but I can see having a conference wave in which the conversation moves really, really fast; and waves in which I don’t really want people to see what I’m typing until I’m really done typing it (editing and checking for typos).

To that end, Google needs to make refresh rates a customizable option, by wave types (public vs. private, professional vs. personal) and by individual wave – this is another aspect of personalization. Some users will want to set them by wave type and be done with it; dorks like me will want to get more granular. I should be able to do both at any time.

The Interface
I get that there are lots of ways to communicate and that’s part of the beauty here. For the most part, the interface has been well thought-out to accommodate what’s going on. That said, there are an awful lot of little red, green and yellow lights, plus signs and X’s in this interface. As a user goes from the general to the specific, left to right, the interface should streamline, get more simple and be more customizable. Right now, in the left column is your contacts and chat list; in the center are current waves, sortable and searchable; and then on the far right is your actual wave. So by the time I get to the right panel (and I should have the option to collapse those left windows whenever I want), things need to get easier to see and do. Instead, my widgets and style buttons are sitting up there in a very text-heavy set of options for my current wave. Move the ribbons! Make them a popup control panel, or something.

Integration
People are talking about how it will need to integrate with apps like Outlook, that people in tech will be early adopters but to bring more people into the fold it needs to plug into current software.

To be honest, I don’t know how that can possibly work — it seems to me that it will end up looking like early Outlook/smart phone integration looked, which was just excruciating to view, much less use. The way Outlook is designed to work, with every discrete content type so specific and separate in its own silo of data, and the contact record being the primary key for all activity, I have a hard time seeing how it might work (then again, I’m no Google developer). Outlook is really a contact management system with task management layered on top of it. Entourage is the closest Microsoft product I know of to how Wave groups and organizes content and users — in Entourage, the project is the organizing principle and everything flows from that. Well, I’m sure they will figure it out. If it extends the platform to more users, they’ll figure it out.

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“Readers don’t know what they need or what they want. I’m here to give them what I know they need,” the editor said.

“Actually, in the reader survey, they told us exactly what they want in the newsletter,” the marketing guy said.

I was not only watching two stubborn egos in a death match neither could win, but  two different approaches to b2b publishing — two views of authority — duke it out in that conference room in 1996. I remember walking away thinking in my 23-year-old Webmaster brain, so what does this mean for the website? Now, I know it should have meant a lot for the site’s strategy. (I think I even went behind the editor’s back and asked for the survey results.)

The question was — and arguably, still is — who has the authority? Does an editor, who knows the subject area inside and out, know better than the people paying for her publication what the steady diet should be for the reader?

Does a web developer know what a modular publishing tool should start out looking like if she’s never spoken to the end users? Does a GUI developer know what a new web user needs to guide them through a shopping cart if they’ve been shopping online since Amazon launched?

You can kinda tell where I fall, right? On the side of gathering intelligence from your collective and using that data, intelligently spliced and interpreted, to drive your strategy. I believe in small launches, gathering feedback, more launches. Perfect the product on a continuous basis.

It all used to be very much the other way around. Spend a ton of money, work toward a huge launch, and then sit and wait for the data to come to you. Then, with a rather feeble toolset, try to figure out if phase two is still viable at all. Not a whole lot of listening going on with that approach, it’s more of a traditional software development way of doing things.

With a toolset (I used to dream about) to look at user behavior, all of the current websites out there to use almost as tools themselves, and all of the savvy users we now have, we have an opportunity to use the knowledge of the collective to build a better product and continue building it as we go. Google has brought this process mainstream, taking open source to a whole new level. It’s very cool to have input into their new product, Wave, as a beta user.

Even Apple has gotten on board with the iPhone, allowing the development community to build apps and then distribute them through the App Store. As much as I love Apple products, it must be said that Apple used to be even more of a proprietary black box than Microsoft.

We have opportunities and tools to start simple with community building, getting feedback, and launches that can happen in more rapid, adaptive phases. It’s pretty cool, actually. To be able to put a product out there and welcome your users’ feedback and data you need to alter and improve it. Takes out so much guesswork, but leaves room for great ideas and surprises along the way.

A brave new world, not without drawbacks, but for those that have the stomach, a lot of fun – kind of like the crazy, wild west days of Netscape 1.0.

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Genius: one percent inspiration and 99 percent inspiration.
-Thomas Edison

The Great Fingernail Incident of 1981:

My friend Amber asked me to hold her 10-speed bike by the back wheel so that she could put the chain back on. As she went to do so the front wheel turned, the bike twisted, and my fingernail – my left ring finger – got caught in the spokes of the wheel.

For the rest of the summer, I watched a new fingernail grow underneath the old one – the old one had black, flaking dry blood between it and the new one that hurt to shave off with a nail file — which I religiously scraped for months until all I could see was fresh new fingernail, with pink underneath it. To this day, that fingernail grows faster than the other nine.

There are several novels that could float from my fingertips fully formed.  Easily made, their stories would be familiar, and therefore either stand the test of time or … float away like so much of the flotsam and jetsam we have today.

Those novels could look like regular fingernails. Since they might turn out something like a woman’s version of Run, Rabbit Run… grow like them, act like them, eventually be clipped right off of the end of a reader’s mind like them.

Or… they could, with their black blood between the old and the new, apply pressure. Pressure for growth, change, expansion. One percent. Just one percent.

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This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First let go of life. Finally, take a step without feet.

-Rumi

Do you want me to tell you something really subversive? Love is everything it’s cracked up to be. That’s why people are so cynical about it. It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.

-Erica Jong

One day I was driving my kids to school and almost got sideswiped.

Mortality hits you hard in moments like that, but so does the vulnerability involved in love.

If those two little people were taken from me, I would never be myself again.

That’s the risk of love.

The risk of giving over completely that most of us are not willing to take.

It is, though, the most important risk of all. More important than any other kind of success in life — there isn’t even a measuring stick for it, it’s so big.

I’m not suggesting loss of identity, or self, or boundaries, or anything of the sort. I believe that love is one of the healthiest things we can have to develop those things.

It’s fear that leads people to believe loss of self is inherent when you give over your self to another.

I think it’s cultural, a peculiar American fear, of a loss of individuality. We are nothing in this nation if we are not individuals out to get what’s ours and hold onto it with our cold dead hands.

Coupling is put down as a falling into one another, as dependency, as though receiving connotes weakness, and giving loss. As though a measuring cup is inside each of us, a finite amount of self parsed out to others.

When I had my kids I gave myself completely — I took a step without feet and didn’t even really know I was taking it until after the fact — and surprised myself by becoming more of who I am as a result. Two pieces of my self-love puzzle clicked right into place with what felt like no effort at all.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m the overly self-righteous type who took all that was missing in my marriage and loaded it into my kids like software. I’m not a natural caregiver, or a nurturer. Nor am I virtuous. I think virtue is a construct, and I’m not describing altruism here. Just human love. Human energy, willingly exchanged.

I have had glimpses of this feeling with other adults. But I’ve not been willing to be vulnerable enough to other adults to really have the scope expand outward,  a true personal shortcoming.

What’s the benefit of the risk? A contradiction. That scary but incredibly fortifying knowledge that your life isn’t complete without the other. That the other continually surprises you with their beauty, intellect, their being. That other who makes you want to be a better version of yourself — not different, just better, but without power games.

Sounds scary. And necessary. All at the same time.

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Tonight I found myself thinking about the song True Colors by Cyndi Lauper. Actually, I’m pretty sure the song itself was written by Prince.

She’s So Unusual was the very first CD I ever had, purchased in 1985 along with our family’s very first CD player.

A very old, good friend of mine used to work in large concert venues and used Time After Time to test his sound system, claiming it to be acoustically perfect. I listened to it once on his way awesome sound system. It was pretty perfect, along with his system. I could really hear, and locate, all those different wavelengths (not a technical term, just one I use) the song moves at.

So I thought, ok, paltry digital music system that I have here on my laptop, I want to hear it right now.

I popped into MySpace (still where I go to find music) just to see if there might be a cover I liked better than her version. I know there are other versions of her stuff, including a pretty amazing ballad version of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Greg Laswell:

Anyway, I ended up downloading the album The Body Acoustic.

True Colors on this album is amazing. Gorgeous. 80s pop reconfigured to be good music. Cello. I realized as I listened to the opening bars, this is a song I learned to play on the guitar.

All Through the Night has Shaggy (a name I do not know outside of Scooby Doo, sorry) and it’s pretty damn awesome. And Money Changes Everything – is a waaaaay better song here. She has really done a fantastic job.

Even if you found her stuff too poppy in the 80s, this album is worth checking out. Even if you can’t understand why Puffy Ami Yumi is on it, look, Ani DiFranco is.

And the Puffy Ami Yumi song is Girls Just Wanna Have Fun — ska acoustic! What fun.

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People I Wanted to Be

When I was younger there were several people – well, ok, characters and/or actresses – that I wanted to “be like.” This phase started when I was probably 11… I can’t say when it ended, really. I just stopped thinking that emulating or wishful thinking were good things.

This is  a really weird mix of badass women and supremely graceful, classy women. Intellectually speaking, I suppose Simone de Beauvoir, Adrienne Rich, Betty Friedan and let’s not forget Erma Bombeck — they are harder to find on YouTube…

In no particular order… Chrissie Hynde for her rawness:

Holly GoLightly… what girl didn’t want to be her?

Katherine Hepburn, in any role on any day but more as a human being… this is the first movie I ever saw her in… you old poop!

College days… Anaïs Nin. I remember why — it was mostly for the passionate way she lived her life, even if there was tremendous pain, too.

Ripley, from the first Alien movie:

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My kids… have cell phones

I used to think giving kids cell phones was akin to baiting them with nicotine addiction. Here, kiddies. Have a gadget. Start small. Gateway drug.

So 5 months ago, when I walked into the AT&T store and let them pick out the phone they wanted (within reason) I … well, I wasn’t unaware of the hypocrisy.

But I had good reasons for the reversal.  I wanted my kids to feel as though they could call their father or me, without having to ask the other parent. I wanted them to have access to us without feeling any weirdness about the “other parent” as my ex and I marched through our divorce.

Then I noticed some interesting things about how they used their first piece of communications technology. Worth noting.

At first they behaved much like I did with my iPhone when I first got it. Changing ringtones, playing with features, adjusting menus. Asking me how to do things, like teach them how to send text messages.They lovingly plugged the charger into it each night, next to my iPhone. They checked my iPhone to make sure I had their numbers in my Favorites list, which is about the shortest Favorites list anyone has ever seen.

When I went away to Seattle for a few days I exchanged several texts a day with my daughter – some of them were real conversations.

Then the toy lost its novelty. None of their friends have them – so much like my Google Wave account, their phones are kind of limited in scope and application.

At some point in July, Jackson lost his phone for three weeks without noticing. Now, if that had happened to his DS, he would have torn the house apart. But the phone? Meh.

How they use their phones now – well, battery conservation fiends that they are (after a lifetime of Mom saying, “Did you turn that off? Don’t waste the batteries!”), they turn the phone on to make a phone call. If they see other messages they check them. Then they turn the phone off and plug the charger back in.

Wow. They don’t carry it anywhere with them. It stays in the house. It’s a device with a discrete use for a very short period of time. They are the same way with the computer. They’ll cruise around YouTube and watch weird cat videos. They are each dabbling in online research for homework. Every now and then they decide they want to send an email. But for the most part, the computer is there for discrete tasks. Not for getting everything, anything done. Not for communicating with the world. Not for work.

Technology, it turns out, is not as big a part of their lives as I might have thought.

To wit: every single night I’m with them, no matter what we have going on, I still bust out their old-fashioned paper books, and we read. Right now, Jackson is reading Swiss Family Robinson and Camille, Scalawagons of Oz (yes, a follow up to the original Wizards of Oz) and a really cool book called The Underneath. If I don’t read at least ten pages from each book to them, it’s a serious problem.

The real kicker is that the house rule around computer and phone usage is for me. That’s right. We have limits on computer and phone time … for Mom.

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