Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Wisdom of Crowds

While Wikipedia isn’t exactly a social network, it does have a behind the scenes community of people interacting with each other. There are actually discussion boards on Wikipedia. Along with this, in Chapter 7, Van Dijck describes Wikipedia as “a community of many minds collaborating, distributing collaboration, and crowdsourcing.” Crowdsourcing is very powerful and is the main reason that Wikipedia is the internet force that it is.

In order to show this concept, our class held a crowdsourcing experiment. In this experiment, 10 people were asked what they thought the Annville, PA population is. These guesses ranged from 3,500 to 8,000. The outliers, the lowest and highest guesses, were ignored and after averaging the other 8 guesses, we were only a couple of hundred people off of the actual population of Annville. This showed that the knowledge of a crowd of people, even only 10 people, is very powerful. This is how Wikipedia is such an extensive database- millions of users collectively contribute to the millions of pages and topics.

In order to show the power of crowdsourcing in another way, I found another example that goes all the way back to 1906. At a country fair in Plymouth, England, 800 people took part in a contest to guess the weight of a slaughtered and dressed ox. Statistician Francis Galton observed that the median guess, 1207 pounds, was accurate within 1% of the actual weight of the ox, at 1198 pounds. This median guess was not only better than the actual winner of the contest, but better than all of the cattle experts’ guesses. You can read more about the Plymouth ox contest here.

As these two examples show,  the wisdom of the crowds in indeed legitimate and real. From now on, I’ll trust the collective knowledge of a group before I trust the knowledge of a single expert.

 

What Twitch Plays Pokemon Can Teach us About the Internet

Pokemon- one of my all time favorite games. It was a big part of my childhood. If I was going to be away from home for a decent amount of time, I had to have my Game Boy Color with Pokemon inserted in it along with me. Heck, even today at age 20, I still play Pokemon. But never would I have imagined that it would be possible for 100,000 people to simultaneously play one copy of Pokemon. Twitch Plays Pokemon does just this.

For those who don’t know what Twitch is, it’s a video streaming service that is popular in the gaming community. MLG (Major League Gaming) matches are streamed here, along with tons of other content from video game media outlets. The format is simple- the stream is played in a video player, and viewers with a twitch account can chat on the right side of the page. Twitch Plays Pokemon takes the user input from the chat box, and applies it to the Pokemon game being streamed. Sounds simple right? With a few players, it would probably go smoothly. However, with 75k to 100k players, chaos ensues.

I’m not going to go into the further details of Twitch Plays Pokemon, if you’re interested in that, check out the first part of the article I’m posting about from IGN. What I’m interested in is the effects and growth of TPP. In one short week, TPP has absolutely exploded to, at the time of this post, 21.5 MILLION total views of the stream so far. The internet age, as Justin Davis explains in his article, has made our bandwagons increase in size extremely more quickly than before. We’ve had hula hoops, pet rocks, and Furbies all be fads that grew quickly and eventually died. But nothing at the rate of today’s internet generated fads. TPP didn’t exist 9 days ago. Today, it now has its own in jokes and language, factions vying for attention and mindshare, imitators, gifs, and plenty more. It’s absolutely insane how fast TPP has grown. In a matter of a week, it gained its own subculture.

TPP reminds me of a couple of internet fads that existed not that long ago, but now feel like forever ago. Davis mentions the Harlem Shake. Doesn’t that feel like forever ago? It was a year ago. Davis puts it perfectly- “The Harlem Shake feels like the oldest, most worn-out, most cringe-worthy thing now, doesn’t it? Imagine if someone you knew said they wanted to make a Harlem Shake video – how that would make you react. And now consider that the meme is just one year old!”

The phrase “Harlem Shake” was searched heavily… for two weeks.

Remember that little game Flappy Bird? That followed a very similar trend as the Harlem Shake. I don’t remember hearing anything about it this week, (yay!) signifying that its flame finally burned out.

I think that the main fuel behind these internet fads is social media. Once something goes around on social media enough, the majority of the internet world knows about it and it reaches internet fad status. Where did I first hear about the Harlem Shake? I saw a video on Facebook. Where did I first see the game Flappy Bird? One of my friends tweeted about it. Where did I first see TPP? I saw a tweet about it. Social media is absolutely the number one driving force behind people spreading the current fad.

In summary, Davis poses these questions- “How much more room for acceleration is there? Could a trend rise and fall in a single day? Could a meme have a literal fifteen minutes of fame, before it becomes uncool to hit the Retweet button?” I think that one day in the not so distant future, something can become cool and uncool in a single day. At the rate the internet and social media has grown, it seems very possible. As Davis perfectly puts it, “So, if you checked out Twitch Plays Pokemon and just didn’t get it, don’t worry. There’s sure to be a new idea next week.”

Usability Journal Post #5

My slightly modified version of iOS 7.
My slightly modified version of iOS 7

This week for my topic I have chosen Apple’s iOS 7 as an example of great usability. The iPhone is really the only Apple product that I wish to own. I don’t own a tablet, and as far as desktops/laptops go, I am a Windows or Linux person. However, when it comes to my smartphone, why am I an Apple fan? For a simple reason- iOS is very fast and easy to use. Android devices that I have used I wouldn’t say are hard to use, but Apple has definitely nailed it better than Android when it comes to simplicity. The only thing I wish Apple would allow in iOS would be greater customization options. However, I am able to install a modified iOS that allows for non-Apple created files and tweaks to be installed (commonly called a jailbreak. Yes, that sounds illegal, but it’s 100% legal. Look it up. It only becomes illegal when you pirate apps and other data. But all this is for another discussion).

iOS 7's new what I call "quick menu"
iOS 7’s new, what I call, “quick menu”

My favorite thing about iOS 7 is the addition of the quick menu accessed by sliding up from the bottom of the phone. All of the phone’s important settings are there, along with handy tools such as the flashlight. Before iOS 7, this was non-existent on stock iOS, which was one of the main reasons I jailbroke my phone back on iOS 6- to have a menu that performs these actions. Having a menu that is quickly accessible for important settings/actions is extremely important in iOS’s usability to me. Some of the settings, such as turning vibration off WiFi/data, or increasing/decreasing brightness, weren’t exactly easy or quick to find. My mental model of a good smartphone is one where important phone settings are easily and quickly accessible. The iOS 7 quick menu is very good, because it very easily communicates feedback to the user for settings by simply being black or white. If the button for WiFi is white, WiFi is on. Siri is also a great example of feedback. When you hold the home button to activate her, you hear the bell sound giving feedback that she’s listening. When you are finished speaking, you then hear another, but different, sound to give the feedback that she finished listening and is processing what you said.

The "slide to unlock" feature. A great example of a signifier.
The “slide to unlock” feature. A great example of a signifier

iOS is also great because of its use of signifiers. The first example of this is the use of the slide to unlock phrase on the lock screen. Between that and the arrow next to it, it’s clearly signified that you have to swipe across the screen to unlock the phone. Another obvious signifier is sound. With iOS, you can set different sound alerts to represent many different events- getting an email, text, Twitter alert, text/call from a specific person, and the list goes on. Another example would be the numbers that show up on Apps on the home screen. These signify that the app has an update/event that you have not seen or addressed yet, and how many updates/events the app has for you. Unless you have them turned off, for example, I know that I have text message(s) by simply looking at my messages app on the home screen and seeing that it has a badge with a number on the top right corner.

The passcode screen. Part of an interlock with the "slide to unlock" page
The passcode screen. Part of an interlock with the “slide to unlock” page

For an example of an interlock, we can look at the combination of the lock screen and a passcode/word. To successfully unlock the phone, you must first slide to unlock, and then enter the passcode/word. This can only be performed in this order; try it in any other order, and you’re going to be attempting to unlock the phone for a long time.

Deleting an app. Example of a lock-in
Deleting an app. Example of a lock-in

iOS has many different lock-ins, but one example would be when deleting an app. When an app is pressed and held, this activates, what I call anyways, wiggle mode. In this mode, apps that can be deleted (anything downloaded from the App Store) have an X appear in the top left corner. Pressing this leads to a dialogue box asking if you’re sure that you want to delete the app, and gives a warning that it will also delete all data associated with the app.

I could go on and on about examples of usability in iOS 7, but put simply in my opinion, it’s the best mobile operating system out there, especially when enhanced to your own liking through modification. My main gripe with iOS 6 as I mentioned was no use of a quick menu, and now with iOS 7, I don’t have that complaint anymore! The only improvement I can offer is to give the user more customization options, but I am able to fulfill those needs through modification anyway. My “personal edition” of iOS 7 is perfect to me and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. It looks great, is very usable, and most importantly in today’s world, it’s fast.

Predicting the Future (EPIC Response)

We love to predict the future and know what lies ahead. Whether it be future technologies, or knowing what the weather will be like tomorrow, we like to know what to expect. In an article written by John Battelle, he examines the future of the internet. He mentions being more interested in the future ten to twenty years from now than next year. I agree that the distant future is much more compelling- things will be drastically different in ten to twenty years as compared to a measly year.

In the article, Battelle attempts to look at past predictions that spanned at least a decade. EPIC 2014, a video created for the Museum of Media History in 2004, does just this. You can view the video below:

Battelle goes through the topics of the video that it predicts, and discusses their validity as of January 2011, when the article was written. Some of the predictions I found interesting-

– The New York Times “goes offline.” A few years ago, we all probably agreed that this could happen. But today, we can all agree that The New York Times isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

– Google buys Tivo. This was a good prediction in 2004, but today, it’s clear that Google doesn’t have serious interest in the TV market. Sure, Google has the Chromecast that supports popular streaming services, but in my opinion it’s a pretty useless device for people that already have means of displaying those services on their TV. Think game consoles or simply plugging your computer into the TV directly. Google hasn’t explored any options yet that actually involve network and live television.

– Google and Amazon join together. Actually quite the opposite has happened it seems. Each has their own version of services and they are competing directly against each other.

– “MSN Newsbotster.” This is an interesting prediction because it’s pretty much what we know today as Twitter. “A social news network and participatory journalism platform that ranks what users friends and colleagues are reading and viewing”. This is the basis of trending.

Overall, EPIC was correct about the main trends that the future of the internet would hold. Sure, many details were wrong, but that’s to be expected for something trying to predict 10 years into the future. It was not really correct about the cloud, as it isn’t a dominating force just yet. Also, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft definitely don’t control the world of social news and social editing. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and others have taken a hold of that world. In fact, to add to Battelle’s point from 2011, I think that Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and etc look to the Facebooks of today’s internet to promote products and stay alive. In regards to what has changed since Battelle’s comments in 2011, I think that everything he said still applies today. Sure, some minor details may have changed, but overall he is still on point in his assessment of the internet.

In examining this topic, the thing I realized is that 10 years ago, 10 year old me never would even have come close to thinking that the internet and social media would be what it is today. It’s amazing how far technology and the internet has progressed in the last 10 years. I’m not sure that I could function without the advances that have been made since 2004. I’m excited to see what the next 10 to 20 years has in store for us and how much technology and social media will change our lives further.

The # Symbol: a.k.a The Hashtag- Chapter 4 Post

In Chapter 4 of our Van Dijck book, it talks about the basics of Twitter and how it became a relevant social media platform. Included in this is a discussion of the symbols and new terminology that Twitter has created. Twitter has created a new meaning for what used to be just a number sign- the hashtag. Not only this, but the verb “tweet” is a commonly understood word these days. It is actually defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

I first started my exposure to Twitter during my senior year of high school. I created my account to tweet the hashtag #FlyHighGaby, which was a reference to a girl at my high school that passed away in a car accident. One of her dreams was to trend on Twitter, and through the community tweeting the heck out of the hashtag, she actually did. Not only just trending, but at one point, it was the number one trend WORLDWIDE. You can read more about her story here.

At the time, I didn’t really understand Twitter or the purpose of a hashtag. For the first few months, I didn’t really tweet much other than the occasional tweet. My account at the time really only existed because of #FlyHighGaby. However, once I began my freshman year here at LVC, I actually started to become an active user of Twitter, as I began to understand the platform, and as Facebook kept making changes that kept lowering and lowering my interest in that service. Since I have made the switch from posting on Facebook to Twitter, it has changed what the # symbol means to me. Unless I am in a mathematical or programming setting, if I see a number sign, to me it is a hashtag.

I find this very interesting to think about. Twitter has changed a large portion of our population’s perception of a simple number sign. 4 or 5 years ago, I bet everyone would have agreed that it was simply a number sign. Or maybe a Tic-Tac-Toe board. Either way, today, most internet users will agree that # represents a hashtag. Also, the verb “tweet” and all its forms, “tweeting,” “tweeted,” “tweets,” and etc, are recognized by most internet friendly people. Even Coach Monos, the 60+ year old head coach of the football team here at LVC, knows what “tweeting” means. Twitter’s growth in past 8 years has been remarkable along with its ability to change the meaning of symbols and become a defined word in the dictionary.

Usability Journal Post #4

Today’s topic of usability is the cereal box. To me, opening and maintaining a cereal box has always been less than useable. When you are opening a normal sized cereal box, 99% of the time you don’t intend to eat the entire contents of the box in one sitting. This is the biggest issue with cereal boxes. They aren’t very good at affording the opportunity to keep the cereal as fresh as possible. For starters, I find myself ripping the cardboard tabs a lot, significantly hindering the usefulness of the tab. I accidentally did this to the box of Reese’s Puffs that I currently have.

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The other major problem with these cereal boxes is that the bags inside that actually have the cereal in them are hard to open. Again, I kind of messed up the bag attempting to open it.

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Not only is it easy to tear part of the bag, but there is no resealable function to these bags. This places a negative constraint on the cereal that you have to eat all of the cereal within a week or two, or the cereal will become stale. Sure, you could clip the bag shut, but that requires an extra device to do something that should be put into the bag itself.

To fix these usability issues, these cereal boxes should simply become a bag with the branding and information printed directly on the bag. These bags would also be resealable, so you don’t have to worry about your cereal becoming stale. This what my mental model of a good cereal container should be. There are cereal brands that already use resealable bags as the container for their cereal. But it surprises me that it’s the cheap knockoff brand that has better usability in their product instead of the top of line, name brands. My roommate has a bag of “Cinnamon Toasters,” clearly a Cinnamon Toast Crunch knockoff. However, this cheap knock off bag fixes the main usability issues with a cereal box. I hope that the name brands also switch to this design in the future.

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How the Sports World has Taken Advantage of Social Media – Chapter 7 post

In Chapter 7 of our Socialnomics book, Qualman talks about how ESPN took advantage of the “Tom Sawyer Approach.” Qualman drives home the point that companies should implement this tactic. Let your fans and viewers contribute to your product, show or service- it’s a very good thing. I have noticed in the past few years, that sports broadcasts have really taken advantage of socialnomics.

In the chapter, Qualman mentions the story of ESPN and their fantasy football podcast on iTunes. Their podcast was successful because they allowed fans to contribute content to the show. The hosts of the podcast held a contest to see who was the biggest “Super Fan” of their team. The prize for winning this content? You get to contribute content to the podcast weekly! That’s right, win this contest, and you essentially get to work for ESPN for free! That’s the gist of it, but many people attempted to win the contest and really wanted to contribute to the podcast that they regularly listened to.

ESPN continues this same strategy today of incorporating user generated content into their shows. At this point in 2014, I don’t think there is a show on ESPN that doesn’t incorporate social media in some way. Twitter is the favorite of the channel, and pretty much every SportsCenter hour features tweets from fans, players, coaches, or sports media. One of ESPN’s favorite things to do, is to use the hashtag #SCTop10 for viewers to submit sports highlights that they think should be a part of that day’s Top 10 Countdown. Some people on Twitter will even attempt to tweet their highlight as many times as possible in hopes of getting their clip on SportsCenter. This might even have been a factor in the LVC soccer team getting on SportsCenter back in 2012! (Does anyone else remember that? If not, you can view it here) I don’t see tiny little LVC getting on ESPN 20 years ago without social media. And yes ESPN, we’re a real school. If ESPN wanted to, most of their daily content could be pulled from social media and they wouldn’t hardly have to do any work on a daily basis. These days, sports news is on Twitter before it’s on ESPN.

ESPN isn’t the only sports channel taking advantage of social media. Comcast Sportsnet Washington, a channel that has many different variations in different markets, broadcasts almost every game of the Washington Captials- my favorite hockey team. During the broadcasts, when there is a stoppage in play, the broadcasters will either ask a trivia question, or a discussion topic, for fans to answer on Twitter using the hashtag #CapsTalk. Usually, in the late 2nd or 3rd period, they will go back to the question or discussion topic and display tweets from fans about the topic. This allows the broadcast to generate something to talk about every night, free of charge! Hockey games are usually every other day, and there are 82 games in a season. So, some nights it can be hard to find something to talk about outside of the game happening itself. By asking fans to tweet using that hashtag, the broadcast always has material to talk about, and the fans feel like they are contributing to the broadcast, and they are. People also just like to be on TV. Either way, it’s a win-win situation.

These are just a couple examples of companies taking advantage of the power that is user generated content. This is isn’t limited to the sports world. News, weather, and other TV channels take advantage of social media input as well. In 2014, we’re seeing most broadcast companies use this socialnomics concept that Qualman talked about. It’s powerful because both sides take a positive from allowing fans and viewers to contribute. In the next few years we should see not only broadcast companies, but companies of all kinds take advantage of this “Tom Sawyer Approach” and allow people to contribute to a product, show, or service.

Facebook is Still Copying Twitter–This Time With Its ‘Trending’ Feature

Facebook recently added yet another feature to their service that originated on the rival social media service, Twitter. Readwrite posted an article describing the new addition of trending on Facebook. Trending, as most know, started on Twitter, where the top hashtags in the world, country, and region would be viewable to users, along with the top/recent tweets containing that hashtag. Now, Facebook has added this feature, and surprise, it’s very similar to Twitter’s. It follows the same concept, except that in Facebook’s version, the hashtag (that Facebook also recently implemented) is not displayed, but rather is in plain English with a description of the trend. Clicking on the trend will lead to posts and stories about that trend, again, very similar to Twitter.

I envision that many of Facebook’s trends will be the same as Twitter’s trends. Most trends are news stories, and that is what social media users generally post about most. It’s also a pretty safe bet that trends will be able to be purchased for marketing purposes, similar to how Twitter has trends that are sponsored. If Facebook wants to make an original and smart decision with their trends, they shouldn’t allow some of the stupid trends such as #ARealBoyfriend. Facebook should keep their trends solely focused on news. Will that happen? So far it seems like this is the approach that Facebook is taking. In my trends that I have looked at over the past couple days, I have not seen anything that is not news. However, we will see over the next few weeks whether or not that continues.

Before Facebook had implemented a hashtag on their service, Twitter was the king of the it. Sure, other social media services such as Instagram and Vine used them, but if a company uses a hashtag, for example, #Dodge, by itself in an advertisement, you could assume that Dodge wants you to search the hashtag on Twitter and read promotional tweets about Dodge’s new products. Facebook, being a company interested in making money, was losing out on potential business and money to be made by companies only using Twitter as their main promotion. So, in wanting a piece of the hashtag pie, Facebook added it to their service. Now, when a company uses a promotional hashtag, you don’t just assume that the company wants you to go to Twitter. Facebook then wanted to also “borrow” the trending feature, perhaps because some people turn to Twitter’s trending feature to read the top news for that day. Now, with Facebook having this feature, it is possible to stay updated on the news no matter what you like and follow on Facebook.

Publicizing “trends” does this for a social media outlet: it allows for users to view the most popular content on that service and attract users to that service. Thus, that platform can generate more revenue through ads and selling data. Facebook, as mentioned, wants to maximize their service by doing everything they can to attract new users and keep as many current users as possible. As time goes on, we will see what changes Facebook continues to make to attempt to keep its status as a relevant social media platform. Will it keep drawing from other social media services? Most likely, if Facebook’s current history is any indication.

Usability Journal Post #3

For this post, I know a lot of other students that live in Keister, Hammond, or Funkhouser Hall will understand the stupidity that is the electrical situation in the dorm rooms. IMG_2120

Pictured above is the light that is on the desk side of a typical room in one of the three dorms. The other side of the room contains the window and beds, with the same lights over the beds. They all have the awful outlet placement on the side of the light, but that is for another post that has been done many times already, I’m sure. What I’m concerned with in this post, is the fact that the lone light switch in the room, controls the outlet itself above.

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The first thing you notice about our light switch, is that it is taped to the on position. This is because, as I mentioned, it controls not only the light nearest the switch, but the OUTLET as well. So, if you flip this switch to the off position, the light turns off, but so does the outlet. This, to me, doesn’t fit the mental model of a LIGHT switch. This switch not only controls the light, but the power to the outlet on the light. Also, if you’re living in one of these dorm rooms for the first time, there are no signifiers to tell you that the switch also controls the said outlet. In my case, I had our TV, fridge, microwave and a couple other electronics plugged into it. On my first day of living in a Funkhouser room, my roommate flipped the light switch to off, thinking it only controlled the light. However, not only the light, but everything that was plugged into the outlet turned off as well. So, to actually turn off just the light and not the outlet, you have to keep the light switch on at all times, and hit the little toggle switch just under the outlet. Thus, the taping of the light switch.

I’m now in my second year of living in a Funkhouser room, and in this room the problem exists as well, so I’m confident all the rooms have the same issue. Because of the outlet’s position in the room and lack of any other outlets close, my roommate and I have way too many things plugged into this lone outlet.

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Pictured above is everything we have plugged into the outlet, on the desk side of the room alone. A microwave, two mini fridges, and a water cooler. The toaster is sitting there unplugged, when we want to use that, we just plug it in at my desk to use it then put it back. Everything here is probably too much for the outlet, let alone what’s in this picture below.

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In this picture, you see that we have a 32″ TV and a Comcast cable box that are always plugged into the power strip that goes to the problem outlet. What you can’t see, is that also plugged in at all times, is my Playstation 4, a Playstation 3, and a stereo that I use for the audio in place of the TV’s speakers, because they’re awful. The Dreamcast (if any of you even know what that is!) is there but isn’t plugged in at all times.

The awful outlet placement in the room is to blame for all this being plugged into one outlet. But if we weren’t aware that the light switch in the room controlled it too, then everything I mentioned above would turn off with a flip of the switch. Very bad design and usability. I don’t know why whoever designed and built these rooms, decided that it was okay for the light switch to control the outlet as well.

Investors, Marketers Disagree on Criticism Over Twitter’s User Growth

Today, Mashable posted a story on Twitter announcing its first earning since becoming a public company in 2013. Twitter announced that since Q3 of 2013, Twitter has only gained one million more American users. Along with only 8 million more international users in the same time frame, this news has caused investors to become concerned about the company.

73% of Twitter’s ad revenue comes from the United States. In the past two years, Twitter’s percentage of American users was 25. Now after this recent report, it is down to only 22%. Twitter’s stock rating, according to Sterne Agee, went from “neutral” to “underperform” after the news. People on Wall Street apparently agreed, as Twitter’s stock dropped about 25%.

Marketers, however, are not as worried about the news. Jesse Pujji, CEO of Ampush, counters the news perfectly. “I think it would be a mistake for advertisers, Wall Street, humankind to look at one quarter and say ‘Oh my God, this is not what we thought it was.'” He continues, “That happened with Facebook and a lot of people lost a lot of money, and a lot of people made a lot of money and realized that it was just the beginning and really early.”

As can be seen in the graphic above, Twitter’s revenue in 2013 was more than double what it was in 2012. So, even though there hasn’t been a huge increase in new users, Twitter and its advertisers are figuring out how to maximize revenue with a stagnant amount of users. Also, 54 million users is still a very large number of people and a great opportunity for advertisers to take advantage of. Twitter, in my opinion, is still in its early stages, and it will be a couple years before we see companies taking full advantage of the advertising potential on Twitter. In a couple years, companies will have no choice but to advertise on Twitter like they do on Google and Facebook.