Usability Journal Post #6

The front facing camera of a smartphone such as an iPhone is an example of good usability. Instead of having to turn the screen away or using a mirror to take a selfie, the user can keep the screen facing him/her while taking that selfie. This gives the user feedback as to what the picture will look like, since the image being captured by the front facing camera is being displayed on the screen. This system affords the user the ability to take a picture of them self or with others, or use a video calling feature such as FaceTime. The only possible improvement to this system would be to include higher resolution front facing cameras in future smartphones. Current cameras can be a bit blurry, especially in low light, but this is more of a functionality problem than a usability problem.


Facebook Acquires Oculus VR for $2 Billion

Last week, I wrote about the new Oculus Rift development kit that was released. Well, this past week, Facebook announced that they acquired Oculus VR, the company created from a Kickstarter and the maker of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. This news brought more negative than positive comments across the tech community.

The day the news broke, a post about how to cancel your Oculus Rift pre-order was on the front page of Reddit. Minecraft creator Notch took to Twitter to say that he “cancelled that deal” (in reference to Minecraft becoming Oculus Rift compatible) because “Facebook creeps me out.” People who contributed $25 to the original Kickstarter, are angered by the deal and claim that Facebook owes them $40,000. Twitter was full of negative things to say about the acquisition. This YouTube video was created (warning: a tad bit of expletive language)-

However, not all reactions to the news were so negative. Chris Taylor of Mashable writes a great article on why the acquisition by Facebook is a positive for Oculus VR.  He explains how Facebook isn’t going to ruin the Oculus Rift. Why would Facebook want a reputation of taking companies and forcing them to  do what Facebook wants, and going back on their word of keeping the acquired companies independent? Look at Instagram. It’s a huge social media service that I forget is even owned by Facebook. Kevin Systrom, the creator of Instagram, is still very much in charge. Facebook has also not touched any user data from the recently acquired WhatsApp, even though many worried about that happening. Facebook has built a history of funding startup companies and letting them run themselves independently.

Also, Oculus founder Palmer Luckey answered many people on Reddit about the acquisition. He wrote, “I am not going to close off, I am 100% certain that most people will see why this is good in the long term. Any change at Oculus will be for the better.” He then listed three reasons why-

“1) We can make custom hardware, not rely on the scraps of the mobile phone industry. That is insanely expensive, think hundreds of millions of dollars. More news soon.
2) We can afford to hire everyone we need, the best people that fit into our culture of excellence in all aspects.
3) We can make huge investments in content. More news soon.”

So, what are your thoughts on Facebook’s purchase of Oculus VR? Do you think that Facebook will ruin the Oculus Rift, or help the Oculus Rift become what it aimed to be pre-acquisition? I personally think that this is great for Oculus, because they now have much more funding to create a better, and hopefully consumer ready VR headset. Also, Facebook has a good track record of purchasing companies and letting them continue to run themselves. But, time will tell as to how the Oculus Rift turns out.

Zach Barkus Webinar Discussion Summary

Zach Barkus, an alumni of Lebanon Valley College, currently works for Campbell’s Soups and is in charge of their Leading Mobile Strategy and Emerging Partnerships. In our discussion, Zach talked about some techniques and strategies that he and his team at Campbell’s uses for their social media campaign, some tips about how to use social media as a tool, rather than just for fun, and lastly about the practices that companies will adopt in the future.

Of all the things that Zach talked about,  engagement with the consumer seemed the be the most important point of his presentation. A large number of followers simply isn’t enough anymore, but a good company engages with those followers. He believes that the expectations of consumers are changing- they now have a higher hope for a relationship between the brand and the consumer. Because of this, companies have to pay attention to their customer base and model their posts accordingly. For example, Zach explained how Campbell’s is aware that moms look online after work, and they utilize that time to post a recipe on Facebook. They look for the times with the biggest reward on a post.

Another major point of Zach’s presentation was unplanned vs. planned social media strategies. Some planned strategies can be shorts, say three months, or long, say three years, depending on the desired outcome of events. The purpose of planned events is obvious- to have a fluid marketing campaign that will develop brand identity. This has been the norm up until the last few years, where with such increased social media usage, we are now seeing unplanned strategies as well. They provide a brand with an opportunity to make a statement and get widespread attention. The classic example, that Zach referenced, was the Oreo tweet during the 2013 Super Bowl blackout.

Zach also talked about some of the strategies that we will see companies adopt in the future. Google, for example, is beginning to track user behavior. With data such as GPS tracking, they can have an entire day tracked out based off of the data. Google can then sell this data to companies who are interested in targeting a certain audience. Going back to the mom example, companies like Campbell’s who target moms, will be interested in the data that tracks moms’ daily routines. If the data indeed confirms that moms do leave work around 4:30, then those companies can target their ads in that time frame. This could be done using the Facebook post of a recipe around that time as mentioned earlier, or even sending an alert of a deal to mom’s smartphones not long after 4:30 pm.

Zach gave an excellent presentation and I’m thankful that he took time out of his day to do that for us. If we were able to ask questions after the presentation, here are my questions-

  • What do you do when people say mean and angry things against the Campbell’s brand(s) on social media? Just ignore them? Or something else?
  • Have you or Campbell’s thought about using some of the other forms of social media such as Vine, Snapchat, or Pinterest?
  • Do your social media posts have to go through some sort of proof-reading/checking process before being sent out?

Virtual Reality: It’s Finally Going to Be a Reality

Ha, get the pun in the title? Virtual reality is something that the technology industry has been tinkering with for years. Does anyone remember the Virtual Boy from Nintendo in 1995? Yes, it was a huge failure, but it was one of the first commercial attempts at virtual reality. Since then, there has been more tinkering, but no serious attempt at a new VR headset. This past week, two companies released new prototypes of VR headsets- Oculus with their second Oculus Rift development kit, and Sony with their Project Morpheus for the Playstation 4.

The Oculus Rift started in 2012 as a Kickstarter program, which means that it was crowdfunded by donations to Oculus. Since then, developers across the world have 50,000 units to create games and applications for it. There is no consumer version yet, but that is hopefully in the works for the future. The second development kit released this week, moves closer to a production model with increased resolution, decreased motion blur, and improved positional tracking.

Sony’s Project Morpheus, (which is a reference to The Matrix) is most likely going to be a commercial product before the Oculus Rift. Sony is the creator of the Playstation, and is interested in a VR headset for its Playstation 4. As an owner of a PS4, if the price is right, I would be really interested in having one of these headsets. The Morpheus is very similar to the second Oculus Rift, with nearly the same specs. The only real difference is that the Morpheus is designed for the Playstation 4, and therefore fits the design of those products with its blue LED lights and white and black color scheme. The Oculus Rift is open source, and is for any application that it can be programmed for.

It’s exciting to see where technology is taking us. In a few years, these virtual reality headsets will be available to consumers and will further push the boundaries of our technology. This is what drives my love for technology- the innovation and creation of new technologies that we thought could never be done, becoming an actual reality (or virtual in this case).

Twitter Data Shows When We’re Happy, Sad, Hungover

Twitter knows our emotions to the point of being able to tell us when we’re sad, happy, etc. It’s currently March, and according to Twitter data, we’re most likely “hungover” or “late to work.” Hooray for March!

This compiled data, published in article on Mashable,  takes a look at when users tweet certain words and phrases like “feel happy,” “feel sad,” “hungover,” and “late to work.” The data, shown in the graphs below, is broken into days of the week and by month. The compiled data is from English tweets in the year 2013.

As expected, users tweet the phrase “late for work” more often on Summer weekdays. “Feeling sad” shows more in the winter than any other season, to no one’s surprise with winter’s weather. An interesting part of the data is the high level of “feeling happy” on Tuesday in December. However, guess what day Christmas was this past year? Tuesday. So, not too much of a surprise there.

There were some unexpected parts of the data, however. I expected the phrase “feeling happy” to be most prominent on a summer weekend. But it turns out, the day where that phrase was most tweeted was a Tuesday in September. Also, “feeling sad” saw a lot of tweeting in July and August, which is contrary to what I would expect. What were people sad about in July and August of 2013?

I wonder if we will see this data being used by Twitter and companies/advertisers in the future, if they already aren’t now. Looking at this data also makes me think, what doesn’t social media know about us?

How to Hunt for a Job Using Social Media

Forget about looking on job websites, in newspapers, or finding job opening signs around town. The new way to find a job? Social media. In an article posted on Mashable, Yohana Desta suggests how to find a job opening through social media. She lists 5 social media services that are great tools for a job hunt- Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Pinterest. Desta goes into detail for each platform on how to find the position you’re looking for.

This article is really interesting to me because I’ve had three jobs in my life so far, along with the fourth one that I’m working on for this summer. In my searches for those jobs, I never once thought about using social media to find those positions. I did what most people do- use job searching websites such as Indeed, Monster, and Snagajob. Or, I simply drove around town looking for help wanted signs. I know that social media is a very powerful platform, but I never thought about using it to find my next job.

In the future, I’m definitely going to take advantage of social media in my job search, starting with my search for this summer. Hopefully it leads to a new, interesting opportunity for me!

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.