Blog posts tagged "design"

Henry Blodget: “Facebook’s Approach To Innovation Is The Secret To Its Success”

May 17th, 2010

http://www.businessinsider.com/facebook-privacy-innovation-2010-5

Blodget gets the headline right, and nearly everything else wrong.

I’m really surprised we aren’t seeing more people writing and talking about what I see as Facebook’s key competitive advantage: It’s a data driven company, which is nimble enough to act on that data.

When I look at the Facebook engineering culture I see the best parts of what we’ve done at Flickr, scaled up in a way I didn’t think was possible.

And when you look at the work the data team is doing (which you can get a sense of by the tools they throw off), you know that Facebook’s innovation is being tested, put through it’s paces, and extensively analyzed before most of us are aware of it.

This is a unique combination.

Twitter lists, creators vs curators, and who owns the meta-data?

October 16th, 2009

Flickr is a creators’ community. This informs a number of the decisions we make. Including the question of “who owns the meta-data?” (where own is defined as who can operate on it).

On Flickr a photo tag can be removed by a photo’s photographer whomever added it. And a tag only has a single instance. This is profoundly different then del.icio.us which is a curators community. On del.icio.us I can make any statements I want about an object in the world, and all the curators voice can be conglomerated towards consensus. Flickr privileges the creator, del.icio.us the consensus.

Even when we launch curatorial features, like the recent galleries launch, the content creator has final say about how their work is described, including membership in a gallery. You can not only remove your photo from a gallery, it can’t be re-added once you’ve done it, and you can block that curator from operating on your photos again.

This is all been a fairly rudimentary discussion by way of explaining my biases.

I’m excited by the Twitter lists feature, it’s a great example of enabling powerful interactions by offering stripped down bare minimum organizational tools. (in fact its almost identical to galleries in that aspect)

But interestingly, and frankly surprisingly to me (possibly given my biases), Twitter is positioning itself as a curatorial community, not a creator community. This might actually make sense in the sphere of social media experts, and their endless re-tweetings, but its a fundamental mismatch with my expectations as a very early member, and someone who isn’t trying to shill a product (beyond perhaps a slice into my own routine life)

Thankfully I was saved from having to make the effort (via buzz and meowrey)

From the Twitter lists beta

Streams, affordances, Facebook, and rounding errors

March 18th, 2009

I’m not really a Facebook user, but it is impossible to be a serious practitioner of the rough craft of building social software without being at least somewhat a Facebook watcher. So indulge me a bit, as I add my own thoughts to the cacophony of folks writing about the Facebook re-design.

I’ve always thought their status updates design was brilliant. Not because it was usable or attractive, I’ve always thought it was terrible. But because their design didn’t make promises they couldn’t keep.

Think briefly about the platonic ideal of an activity stream, the increasingly common social pattern that makes your traditional CRUD fronted MySQL install cry at anything remotely resembling scale. All the updates from your social network, quickly listed for your viewing pleasure, in reverse date ordering. No two users of your service will share an activity stream view (unless your service tends towards 100% social graph overlap, in which case why bother?), writes are high volume and need to be committed quickly to preserve ordering, and shared caching is right out.

So you go queue-ish, you de-normalize. And now you’re pushing messages around between services, transactional commit are gone, and you’re dealing with the inevitable skew of distributed systems. But even in queue systems, 100% guaranteed, in order delivery is more fantasy then reality (though you can get close).

But Facebook was smarter then that. They specifically designed a page that was lossy. They said, “You don’t want to see everything, here is a subset of things your friends do we think you’ll be interested in.” And so you knew that you weren’t seeing everything, it wasn’t that they were failing their contract with you, but that they had decided not to show you something for editorial reasons. And you knew that if you wanted to see everything you had to dig, because that was the contract. And that digging was scoped to a user, your wall or your friends wall, data scoped by data owner — super cheap look up.

Contrast this to Twitter.

Twitter is infamous for its bad period of down time as growth went asymptotic. But less well remembered is the teeth gnashing and hair pulling of the bad period right before, where update loss, delivery failure, and out of order delivery where the bugaboos of the day. Twitter promised you would see all your friends updates, always, neatly collated. The promise is implicit in the design, the language, the APIs, the very DNA of the service. (in fact Twitter used to make more audacious claims, I still mourn the death of the “With Friends” feature, that allowed you to see anyone’s public updates in the context of their friend network, not just your own).

One of the best, unattributable quotes from Social Foo last year was the data point that Facebook was at one point losing up to 80% of messages across their update bus. As someone whose expectations are shaped by the five nines style promises of Twitter, its a loss at scale which I can’t possibly fathom. And it wasn’t even an issue in the Facebook community. And when they expire updates out of hot storage to less accessible stores, you don’t notice, because they never offered you the option to page back forever. Contrast again to Twitter whose design (if not content) encourages you to page back forever until you smack up against an arbitrary and surprising limit. (whose exact location has changed over the years)

That is designing with affordances. Don’t let your design make promises you can’t keep.

A much smaller and possibly less well known example is the Flickr activity page, where you can monitor activity on your photos, or photos you’ve expressed interest in. For years this page was framed in the language of “which of these limited time periods are you interested in seeing events in?”, that was the question the page tried to answer. Not, “what has ever happened on my stuff?”. Because that was a much harder, and more expensive question to answer. As part of the Toto launch (new homepage) on Flickr last Fall we explicitly changed our contract with our users. Great photography has a 150 year tradition, and we felt that we could at least try to expose 5 years worth of conversations. (and Flickr usage by our members evolves and changes as their lifes evolve and change, something all good social software should design for, rather then living in the ever present now) Our activity streams go all the way back to the beginning now, but it wasn’t a change undertaken without a lot of thinking, architecture, and engineering.

Simon Willison asked this week about best practice for architecting activity streams. And the answer is, “It depends.” Depends on the scope, scale, access patterns, and affordances you’re building — your contract with your users.

Which is a long way of saying think hard about the promises you make to your users, implicitly or explicitly.

And, Facebook, my friend, what the HELL are you thinking? You managed to negotiate the best deal in the business, talk about a racket, and you threw it away for a piece of Twitter’s pain? Are you stupid? Well, best of luck with that.

Early feedback on PMOG – Needs Community

March 14th, 2007

Okay PMOG is super early in its life, but it intrigues me on a couple of levels (not the least of which is the engaging archetype art).

However there are some things about it which are broken. Not surprising in and of itself, but in the process of trying to report said broken-ness I ran into a larger problem.

No community space.

There is a Google Group but it’s a moderated announce only kind of thing (HINT: thats what you’re blog is for!) not a public discussion space. No message boards, no wiki (though presumably we could start one, Twitter Fan style), no groups.

Someone needs to see Andy’s talk about group forming, social software, and out of band spaces.

Especially for a game, a social game, an experimental game.

Uninstalled for now, in an attempt to reduce unexplainable spinnies.

Pardon me?

January 31st, 2007

Playing a bit with OpenID, created an account with JanRain, and was presented with the below captcha. Really changed the whole value propisition of OpenID for me.

On Usable Microphone Design for Conferences

March 12th, 2006

Microphones need visual feedback on whether the speaker is speaking into them. At conferences you’re dealing with amateur speakers, and they seem to have no problem greater then that of speaking into the mike. A little bar, a light that goes on and off, something ambient and subtle.

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“Photocasting”

January 11th, 2006

James Holderness (check the comments)

Do you ever think maybe the Apple guys are just winding you up? Nobody could possibly be that stupid.

Maybe, though I tend to share Phil’s skepticism. Lets start the with the name, “photocasting”. Worst name I’ve heard since “MacBook”. I’d speculate that Apple’s marketing department recently started outsourcing to Engineering, except I’d be slandering my own profession. That’s a minor thing, aesthetic really, but dear god, how could they screw up the RSS? Again? (especially as I know people at Apple who are not only smart and clueful, but get XML)

I mean the iTunes name space was a train wreck. (though truth be told podcasting for some reason produces the scariest, wackiest feeds on the planet, at one point roughly 1/3 of the feeds Odeo was crawling had serious errors)

User agent detection? Of RSS? In 2006?!? Come again?

Embedded CSS? Misformatted dates? Random, namespace-less new elements (PhotoDate?) A new standard for including comments within an item.

See Phil’s comment, Sam, Dave Winer

Hey Apple, consider hiring someone who knows something about syndication, it’s worth it.

Take a look (unless of course you’re using Firefox).

update: [2005/01/18] MarkP on “photocasting”. It’s not just bad, it’s spectaculary bad. (via)

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Yelp, User Contribued Content and Feed Design

December 23rd, 2005

Yelp gets feeds just right. I’m not sure I’ve ever said that before about anybody.

They’ve got:

  • a feed of my reviews allows me to re-purpose the content I create (No RSS, No Content Creation],
  • a feed of my (as yet non-existent) network’s reviews
  • feeds contain the full content of my review (again my content, I created it, give it to me)
  • rich feeds; they use the geo namespace to embed lat/long
  • Both RSS and Atom 1.0 feeds

Very nice.

A minor nit. These are feeds of reviews, not feeds of places, so it makes sense that the rating is included in the title of the entry, but I’d still like to see the rating and location’s name presented in separate structured elements as well (say for example I want to syndicate my reviews locally, and display a graphic of the stars)

Also per category feeds might be useful.