Media type and the Social network

What is a media type in context to the internet? I would say images, video, text, would be the basic ones. Now say someone wants to create a web application which supports uploading and display of images. On top of that also wants to create a social network which helps the uploader share and comment on images.

Now this is not a  new idea and many people have done this. The formost 3 which come to mind are Flickr, Picasa and jpgMag. All three support uploading of images. All three have support for comments on images. And in all three users have the ability to share with friends and other users. Then what makes them different? The basic mediatype is same and the basic features are also same.

Mediatype and basic features are the skeleton, what differentiates these applications are the outer details. And especially here the GOD is in the details.

If you compare the upload restrictions in flickr and in picasa(for the free version):flickr – 100MB per month , picasa – a nerdy 1024MB (which makes it exactly one GB). Now people with digital cameras and who shoot even on and off if they upload regularly will cross the 1024 Mb limit in picasa soon. Then they would either have to delete some images or stop using it. While in flickr theres a continues flow of fresh images even for a free user. That keeps a users page continously fresh. What I have personally seen is people use picasa to upload 200 pics from one trip, all the images to it. While in Flickr they might only upload the better ones, so that they don’t cross the 100 MB per month mark. This difference in itself changes the quality of the pictures in both the sites.

jpgMAg caters to an even niche audience. They have a voting feature which they use to select some pictures and then print them to make a magazine. So here the submissions are mostly based the the current running theme which they declare. And needless to say such serious business brings in the experts. The satisfaction (and the money) which the selection of your picture for print brings increases the quality of pictures manyfold. And their upload restriction is “only 10 a day” which makes the pages even fresher. So these and plenty more features determine what kind of social network these sites have.

The whole point of this post was that only a mediatype doesn’t make a web application. I have seen people saying kwippy, plurk, twitter in the same breath. As for kwippy just give it some time to work on those outer details 🙂 which would set it apart.

Usable fruits

I was having a watermelon yesterday, when this thought came into mind. A seedless watermelon would be so nice. No fussing around with the seeds. No fumbling with the tongue to get the seeds out.

Then found out on the net that there is indeed such a watermelon. Surely all of you have eaten seedless grapes. I guess 99% commerical grapes are seedless. So I guess due to their user friendly nature these seedless fruits would qualify for “usable fruits”, wouldn’t they?

A little more research gave me this:

All of the above techniques for seedless propagation have one serious flaw: they lead to a decline in biodiversity. Because they involve essentially making carbon copies of one plant, if an agricultural disease which targets that plant evolves, it can spell big trouble. Many famous cultivars of seedless fruit, for example, are grown all over the world, and these stocks could be extremely vulnerable to disease or pests. The decrease in biodiversity is also bad for the species in general, as the more diverse a species is, the more likely it is to survive, as a general rule. read more here.

So I guess there’s nothing called a free lunch. On one hand these are useful to the customers. On the other hand very vulnerable to disease. Which explains the need for industrial pesticides. And how these pesticides find their way into our bodies.

Are their any other examples where usability has a really bad side effect?

Geography?

I like nike sites. Though they are made in flash, which takes away some things I am quiet used to nowadays like permalinks. They have this emotional quality to their site which makes me feel to get up and go running. So I guess they have partially succeeded. Full success would have meant me running to their showroom and getting their sneakers.

One thing I absolutely hate about them is as soon as you type “nike.com” you get a splash page which asks which language you want to see the site. Which is okay for a site in multiple languages. When I click English. It shows me a list of countries. Now India (where I live) is’nt there. Also there is’nt anything called “Others” or “Other countries”. What do I do know? Why are they treating me so partially? Isn’t India worth their attention?

I have written earlier about sites in multiple languages here.

I realize that they might not support online purchases in India. And thats the only valid reason I can think of. But why can’t they at least have a “Other countries” where the less fortunate of people come and just window shop?

WordPress upgraded

Now kicksandkisses runs on wordpress 2.5. It’s got a host of new features and the admin panel has been designed by Happy Cog and I totally love it.

Do check out soon for new mods here :).

Google spam

gmail spam unspam

spam unspam search

Do you see the difference between the two images?

In the first mail i got to the mail by clicking on the “spam” link on the left menu. This is in fact same as using “in:spam” in the search. Since the mail is a spam, the button on top is “Not spam”. Which is the correct and expected behavior, as you are inside spam, you would want to unspam certain mails which have been wrongly labeled.

In the second image i got to the mail by first clicking the “spam” link and then refining the search with keywords. This gives me a search result page. And though the search also has “in:spam” the button on top still shows “Report spam”. So if I get to a wrongly labeled message through a keyword search I can’t unspam it.

Am i missing something over here? or is this a bug?

I guess they have different templates for the spam page and the search result page. And they haven’t put the condition that if the search has “in:spam” it should show the relevant option or the relevant template.

Browser War – 1

99% chances are that you are reading this on a browser. So being a usability/design blog why not analyze your browser first. For starters let’s just focus on very basic browsing goals, in three web browsers mainly IE7, Firefox 2 and Opera 9. And we won’t be going into how these browsers render html code or how margins behave differently in IE and other browsers. Because the users do not care; all they want is a browser which lets them do things they want. And they won’t change their browser if a margin goes a little here or there. So what we will do is analyze how these browsers respond to normal basic browsing.

What is normal basic browsing? Opening new windows, new tabs, typing in a URL etc. We will go task wise and try to accomplish each task in each browser.

Task: Opening a New window from file menu by either File> New Window or by the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + N. Then typing in the URL and pressing enter using the keyboard.

IE7 opening a new fileIE: It duplicates the existing page instead of opening a fresh new window. In some cases it might be useful but in most of the cases it is completely useless. Now if the user presses the stop button or presses the ‘Esc’ then the page loading stops. Let’s assume the user does not stop the loading page, instead clicks with the mouse on the address bar. While clicking on the address bar s/he is looking at the monitor. After
bringing the cursor into the address bar, the user looks down at least once towards the keyboard and begins typing. Meanwhile during this time what many times happens is that the duplicate page has loaded and the browser puts that URL into the address bar. The user’s click has gone waste.
There are two problems here:
a) The browser opens a duplicate page when ordered to open a new window.
b) Once the user clicks any editable textbox, s/he should be its master. But here the browser usurps control.
Opera new window optionsOpera: Opera has got it exactly right. It opens a fresh new window with cursor blinking on the address bar. The behavior when starting opera, and when opening a new page are totally different and as expected. A new page is a new page. And users can set what they want when starting opera, homepage, or last open page, etc.
Firefox new window optionsFirefox: It opens a blank page when a new page is opened, as it should. This takes it’s value from the Tools>Options>Main>Startup. The options here are blank page, homepage or last session. When either blank page or last session is selected, it opens a blank page when we do Ctrl + N or File>New Window. But if the homepage is selected it starts opening the homepage in every new window. Architecturally the problem here is that the browser behaves in the same way when it starts as well as when a new window is opened.Here we have to look into the benefits of setting a homepage. One would set the homepage as something which s/he wants to see the first time s/he opens a browser. It maybe an email site, a news site or whatever. But once he has opened the browser, the homepage is loaded. And the marginal utility of the homepage loaded on any new window is considerably lower.

Here too the problem with the browser loading the URL over a clicked address bar is present.
Task: Opening a page by pasting a URL into the address bar.

IE and Firefox: Behave similarly and as expected.

Opera: We copy the URL from somewhere and paste it in the address bar. To start page loading we would need one thing, the ‘Go’ button. But where is it? Opera has added a feature, when right clicked in the address bar; it has an additional option, ‘Paste and Go’. Though this is very useful as it eliminates a click, removing a very basic button, just because you have a new feature does not make sense.opera go button absent

Task: Opening a new tab window by either File> New Tab or keyboard shortcut Ctrl + T

There are multiple ways of opening a new tab in each of these browsers.
IE: a) File>New Tab along with the keyboard shortcut Ctrl +T. They have put this option above the New Window option. Guess they want to propagate tab navigation.
b) Click on the rectangle, which gives a new page icon on hover. Which I guess is a little less discoverable. The easy thing could have been to put in the icon by default and on hover a text box saying ‘New Tab’.
c) Clicking on the tab bar, in the vacant space opens a new tab. The problem with this is when the number of tabs increase to 4-5 the tab bar is fully covered. And there is no vacant space. So this feature is only useful when the tabs are less than 4-3 (in different monitor resolutions). The workaround IE has done is, even when the number of tabs increases the rectangle still remains and remains to the right of the tabs, where new tabs should come. So the users flow is maintained.
IE New Tab

Opera: a) File> New Tab along with the keyboard shortcut Ctrl +T. Here also it is above the new window. No surprise because these are the people who started tabs.
b) On the left of the tabs is the button for the ‘New Tab’. It has both text and the icon which makes it quite intuitive. But the utility of this button is a little suspect because of its positioning. Also it is too near the File>New Tab.
c) Here also you can click on the vacant area on the Tab bar and open new tabs. But as soon as this space is taken by the new tabs the user has to go back towards left to the ‘New Tab’ button. This totally breaks the flow. They could have easily put the button to the right of the open tabs, like IE7 which would solve this problem.
Opera New Tab

Firefox: a)File> New Tab along with keyboard shortcut Ctrl + T. But it goes below the Ctrl + N option. I can’t understand why.
b)It does not have the tab bar by default. Only if you open the first tab in a window does the tab bar come. This hugely reduces discoverablity. People who may not know about tabs, may never come to know of it. Also there is not default button for new tab. User’s can customize and add it. Now how many people do actually customize?
c)Here also you can open a new tab by clicking on the vacant are on the tab bar. Again the same problem of having no vacant area as soon as 4-5 tabs are open.FireFox New Tab
The rest of this post will be posted in a few days. It will include rest of the ways of opening a page, i.e clicking on a link, right clicking etc..