How feature creep ruined the moleskine city notebook

moleskine_sf.jpgWhen I heard of Moleskin City Notebooks, I thought it was a brilliant idea. Your regular moleskine with maps! After leaving behind my moleskine on a plane, I bought the Moleskine San Francisco notebook (as we were going to the move to the city soon). The first disappointment was that the city notebook was not available in square paper, and I had to buy the plain paper. But everything since has been a disappointment as well.

My previous Moleskin notebook was standard pocket size. Almost all of its 192 pages are for writing. There is an accordion pocket and a plastic band to hold it together. Simple, unipurpose – for writing down thoughts and notes.

With the city notebooks, seems like the designers got much more ambitious:

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Upcoming talk at UC Berkeley: Fast, cheap and somewhat in control: Lessons from the design of SlideShare

Next week, I will be giving a talk at the Information School, UC Berkeley about the design of SlideShare. This will be for Marti Hearst’s UI Design class at the I. The talk is really about a 360 degree view of design that I got as I have moved from academic to consulting to entrepreneurship. The title and abstract is below.

Fast, cheap and somewhat in control: Lessons from the design of SlideShare

In the last five years, Rashmi has approached design as an academic researcher looking for statistical patterns that distinguish successful design, a user experience consultant solving design problems for large companies, a creator of a game-like software for design research. Now, in her current incarnation she balances design among business concerns while leading a small, bootstrapped startup. In this talk, she will share 10 lessons learned from the design of SlideShare, why Web 2.0 companies don’t do user research (or do they), how the Beta launch can be considered a user probe, how personas are not needed when you know your users by name, the importance of technical simplicity and how designers need to avoid thinking too much and start taking risks.

User Research Friday in San Francisco on 27th October

Some of us are putting together an informal half-day conference focused on what’s new and innovative with user research methods. The idea is to find out what cool ideas and methods others have been trying out, and share what we have been upto ourselves. Its a free half-day conference. We chose a Friday afternoon to make it easy for you to come by. The location is Bolt & Peters office in downtown San Francisco. The setting will be informal (there will be food and drinks!). And this will be followed by a cocktail hour at 5.30 PM.

Talks are 20 minutes long and will cover a wide range of topics related to trends in User Research. Speakers include Wendy Castleman from Intuit, Ravit Lichtenberg from HP, Lane Becker from Adaptive Path and more. Go to the User Research Wiki if you want to learn more or want to sign up.

It should be a fun afternoon. Look forward to seeing you there!

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BayCHI panel on Designing systems with emergent behavior

baychi logoThere is an exciting panel at BayCHI tomorrow (Tues, Oct 10th) with a discussion about the design of sites with emergent behavior. How does the process of design/design research change (or does not change) in the case of sites like Facebook, MySpace and Yahoo Answers where you are designing not just the interaction of the system with the individual users, but also how users will interact with each other, the group at large. Such social systems display behavior which is not something that was “designed” in the traditional sense of the word. What role does the designer play for such systems? How can you anticipate what consequences a relatively minor change on the individual level will have on the group as a whole? For example, Facebook’s recent decision to offer a feed of all your friend’s actions on your front page. And other related issues…

Panelists are Tim Brown from Ideo; Peter Merholz from Adaptive Path and Larry Cornett from Yahoo.

I will be moderating the panel and will make sure there is plenty of time for questions. So come by to PARC, Palo Alto at 7.30 PM. If you want to let the world know that you will be there (and find out who else will be there), then go to Upcoming. Note, BayCHI events are free to open to the public.

Visualizations on Valentine’s Day

BayCHI monthly program is always on the second Tuesday. This time the second Tuesday happens to be Valentine’s Day. We are going to have a shorter than usual program and will also have some Valentine’s day goodies (chocolates etc. around).

The tagline is: Bring a date or meet someone new! (For the record, that was not my idea)

We have a great program on one of my favorite topics – Visualization. Jock Mackinley from Tableau Software will give a talk on “Visual Interfaces for databases”.

This will be followed by several short visualization demos: Josh On will demo the TheyRule – one of my favorite visualization engines. Michal Migurski & Eric Rodenbeck from Stamen will demo some of their work: I am hoping it will include Mappr and Vow Delici.

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Technorati – please take a page from Google’s design

I was just looking up something on Technorati and realized just how distracting I find the cute visual design – especially, the images to the left the search bar. Every time I go to that page, I find that my eyes go to those cartoonish figures. They are cute, but I am there to find something, not for the cute visual design.

aug13_technorati_google.gif And what’s with such a busy page? Seems like every possible option (Technorati Blog, Get Indexed, Personalize, Tour, Developer Center) has a place on the main page. Developer Center? Surely that does not need a link on the front page. It’s a search, not a browse page. I counted: there are more than 35 links on that front page.

Reminds me of something recounted by Marissa Mayer (from Google) at a BayCHI talk. They used to receive an email from a user once in a while. And everytime it would just have a number. Sometimes, the number would be high, and this user would express his displeasure. Later they realized that the number was the number of letters on the Google Home Page.

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Clustering your own tags

clustering delicious tagsSomeone pointed out this clustering application for Its just for clustering your own data though, so its not leveraging the group mind. Still it was interesting to see the clusters formed by my tags. Some of the clusters were: clusteranalysis(!); visualization; mobile research; market research; flash; ajax; cardsorting; design.

Expectedly, they are using k-means clustering algorithm. I played around with the number of clusters and the cohesiveness of the clusters does change as the number of clusters goes up.

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Tivo troubles: Why are the recommendations so bad?

As some of you know I am very interested in recommendation systems and algorithms. So when we finally got Tivo, I was excited for Tivo to change my world with its spot on recommendations. Well, thats not quite the way its worked out. Two months later – after constantly giving the thumbs up and down to programs/movies we like, Tivo still does not seem to have a clue about our preferences. Everytime I check, it has recorded some new program I dislike or would just never watch. Yesterday, it recorded Mash!. Earlier, it started recording kids’ shows for some reason. After a lot of frantic thumbs down, it stopped doing that. Once it went on a binge of recording the 6 O’ clock news from the major channels. I like news, but prefer radio or the internet. The only program I end up watching is “Sex and the city” reruns. I love that show (though Jon hates it!). It would be nice to have something to watch that we both like.

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