Back to the trenches

I was planning to write a post about how it feels to leave the old. Instead, I will write about why to start the new.

There are plenty of things to do, our world is broken in way so many aspects. We live with old infrastructure and paradigms in every industry and service we consume. And now we have the tools and communication to change that, what was unthinkable years ago, adoption of technologies have made possible to get faster adoption curves for emerging products, and this just gets faster with time.

Starting in February, I will be working in my new endeavor. I will use January to clear my mind and take some rest after 4 years creating world class products for ComponentOne. I can see myself blogging more often, but I won’t promise that ;)

Happy New Year everyone & keep tuned!

My take on Google+

Today I was invited to Google+, so I wanted to write  my impressions while my initial thoughts are still fresh in my mind.

My first take is that Google+ is Facebook where privacy settings are core.

That was done introducing Circles. It’s not only a nicer way to categorize your friends in list (which is); but the concept is everywhere in the interaction, whatever you do. You are always aware you are sharing with some circles, and you can see activity per circle, with the aim of helping to reduce noise.

Google+ also took stuff from Wave (RIP). The way the stream is shown, how you can give “visibility” to other groups of people to the “wave”, err… stream is pretty similar to Wave approach. Instead of people, the main concept here are the circles and groups (i.e. extended circle).

One thing I haven’t heard yet (I know, it’s been two days since release), is that Google+ “friend” concept is not symmetric as Facebook’s is. For example, I can add Kevin Rose to any of my circles.  So, yes, it’s like Facebook for your symmetric connections but some circles might turn into a Twitter-like system – actually, it would be more like Twitter lists.

As this guy pointed out, even with the fancy UI, it’s not funny to build the circles: “it’s like arranging wedding seating charts“. It might be funny with your first ten connections, but not when you try to categorize all of them. Other related problem is it shows you email contacts as potential connections. But they are not actual people, they are email addresses, and I won’t polish the database for them, merge duplicates, etc.

Actually, when I started to see all the information it was being requested to me, I noticed the years of effort I have put into Facebook: uploading & categorizing photos, personal information, picking school mates, etc, etc. It’s just too much work I don’t want to make again unless I find a real good reason to do it.

Hangout seems promising but I couldn’t test it. It requires a plugin even in Google Chrome (is HTML5 already dead?, weren’t this guys fighting against Silverlight and Flash? how is a a plugin with 2% market share penetration anyway better? I see..). And then, it didn’t recognize my mic and speakers. I know, it’s beta software…

Again, to me, the main differentiation is the central role played by Circles . Researchers say Twitter lists are not being  used, and neither are Facebook groups… Well, that’s exactly what Circle is. So, is this approach *that* better to make people love friend categorization? Will this approach unify our facebook+twitter streams in one single place if we did?

The actual question is, is this going to take off?

I spent almost 3 hours with Google+, and it really felt like Facebook in the early days: invitations, emails, everyone was there, etc. This shows how deep Google’s reach is. They can generate massive attraction in hours. Problem with social networks in 2011 is people know how this story ends: it ends as Facebook.

Do you think everyone will run away from Facebook and populate the new social network with exactly the same data? Do you think people will split their information? If so, how? What’s your take?

My First Day with my Windows Phone 7

As you might understand, I had to buy a Windows Phone 7 for work…

I went to the brand new Microsoft Store in Bellevue and finally got the Samsung Focus. I have to say the store was super crowded (I guess that doesn’t count in a city where most of the people work for Microsoft); and I didn’t know Dave Mattew was there, I am just seeing it now while writing the post. Damn!

So, this a quick post about my first day experience with the phone, both the device and the OS. Please take into account I was already familiar with the Windows 7 Metro design but had never used a real device; and also, that my daily phone is a Google NexusOne.


The Good

  • The Samsung Focus screen is *amazing*, is bright, clear, colorful… is really great.
  • The phone is also incredible light. That’s why I actually picked it in the store. There were other devices which  looked better, but this one was so freaking light.
  • The Windows Phone keyboard input is perfect. Suggestions and input feedback is really great. As far as I can tell it’s much better than the Android and also than the iPad.
  • The panoramic metaphor actually works. The touch is really sensitive and the metro style, when applied correctly is very subtle and useful.
  • Being able to pin more than apps to the desktop (i.e. a particular contact) is kind of cool and useful.

The Bad

  • Application aren’t there yet. This is kind of expected as it’s still a new platform, and also because it brings some new paradigms that developers should understand first.  You can see issues in most applications, either native or third party ones, from GMail integration, to Office Word to the official Twitter client.
  • The People Hub has auto-converted into a messy place, where all the contacts from many different social networks are repeated in a very silly way. Not sure if I did something wrong.
  • The OS seems to keep track forever of the apps you have opened in the past, building an exaggerated long stack. I guess you can press back forever, and it sometimes does some strange jumps… I guess the OS should provide some kind of visual feedback to show when the Back is available and how long the stack is.
  • The first time I turned on the phone, instead of just starting it asks you for many configuration steps. That’s really silly IMO.

The Ugly

  • Not having the ability to change the language as-you-type is a show stopper to me to use in everyday scenarios. I am pretty sure it’s coming in the pipeline but for someone like me, that writes emails in one language and text in other, this is a pain*.
  • I miss my NexusOne track ball for text selection & move the text focus. The track-ball just over performs any other way of navigating the text by touch. Probably the devices with QWERTY keyboard can hide this somehow, but in my Focus, I really miss it.

So, these were my initial feelings with my Windows Phone 7 & Samsung Focus. Will try to get a conclusion when I get back home and could use all its functionality as I have no SIM card here in USA.

[*] I used to have the same problem with my Nexus One, but then Google added that feature in the Frodo release.

NexusOne: Usability and Design Issues (Part I)

Disclaimer: I started to write this post around 5 months ago, but then I stopped blogging ;) Now I am catching up since I started  in leovernazza.com.

As I explained in a previous post, I moved to Android.  In summary, I am pretty happy with the phone.  However, there are several usability issues & bugs that really called my attention for a phone branded by Google. Most of them are too obvious for a company that has an army of PhD ready to take care of the details… but maybe they were using their 20% to integrate Wave into GMail (</SARCASM>).

Most usability problems are just bugs in the design; if you compare them with implementation bugs, the former passed even more stages in the development process; so, I will list them indifferently. I am not a usability guru, but I have sensibility for the topic and I’ve studied a lot about it in the last years, specially while working in Himalia.

The post became larger than I expected so I separated the content in a few entries.

1. Different Searches
I know, Google is the company behind the phone, but… I don’t need more than one search button in my 4.6 inches screen at any given moment.

The problem starts because any application might include -and they actually do – their custom search button.


Official Twitter App for Android and Nexus One

That’s because Android runs on top of too many different devices so the apps need to cover all of them “. Hehe, how difficult could it be to check whether the device already has a button for that, and if so, hide the app button? You can always hard-code the device configuration in a txt. There is no excuse here for the app builder.

That’s actually a third-party app integration issue, but you can see how newer phones took the lesson about this, so it’s also actually a failure in the design of the core.

2. Out-of-context Searches
When an app is finally integrated into the default search experience, then, you cannot search outside the context.

For example, if you are inside the Contacts app, you cannot start a search in Google, you can only search for a contact. You have to go to the “home”, and do a search from there. That’s crazy.

A good solution for this is to add search spaces. I makes perfect sense to set the in-context search as the default, but it should be relatively easy to fire an out-of-context one from anywhere.

3. Too Many Searches
The default browser’s address bar is actually a search box, but it also opens Google in the homepage (yes, another search box) and finally, you have the physical button in your device, to… well… start a new search. I know you can modify the homepage, and that the address bar actually has two functions but… still… 3 ways of searching it’s too much for a phone’s browser homepage.

Where is the minimalism we’ve learnt from Google? Maybe they should try a different home page or something…

4. The prostitution of the loupe icon.
I can imagine long discussions in the NexusOne team, defining how the search icon should look like: “Should we use the G? No, we will print Google in the back… What about a loupe? We are a search company and don’t use the loupe anywhere why should we use one in our first phone? etc, etc…

They finally picked the loupe icon, and printed it in the device, to be used for search, everywhere.

However, one building away, the Google Maps team were using a slightly modification of the loupe icon, for zooming. It the same icon with ‘+’ character inside, but again…. If you are elevating the search as first class citizen, this is important. I don’t see buttons with apples everywhere in the iPhone. Furthermore, the Maps app also uses another loupe for search (yes the Google Maps app requires a chapter apart).

So, my suggestion for all of this would be to integrate all searches (i.e. you also have to add the “Find in page” feature in the Browser, etc), and offer different “search spaces” in a drop down instead of the voice search button (I will explain why in another point), and start forbidding the use of loupe icons in any app, starting by Mountain View.

What do you think?

Kiss or Death

Luckily, I have learned a lot in the last years.

Himalia was a really complicated “concept” because it was really hard to communicate. It’s even now difficult to tell people what it was about. I wanted to reinvent the way user interfaces were made, covering the full process, trying to offer from development tools to totally new possibilities for the end users.

One very important lesson was in my background all the time, I cannot say I didn’t knew it, but it appeared as a revealed truth once I met @BalsamiqMarco in Business of Software 2009 in San Francisco. I didn’t know anything about his company until then, but I couldn’t avoid feeling a little of envy the first time I saw Balsamiq Mockups.

If you see, I had also seen value in using the handwritten[1] metaphor for prototyping purposes back in 2004 when I started the Himalia Designer (a.k.a. GUIlder).  Several years later, they were very successful attacking a very tiny fraction of the problem Himalia tried to solve back then.

There are several reasons why they are very successful. However, what I saw very clearly was they were solving a well-defined problem, in the right moment and in the right place.

With Himalia I tried to solve very different things: reinvent the full UI process with a “continuous prototyping” methodology, but also automatically solve undo/redo for end-users, be a platform-independent solution, create a domain specific specific language for user interfaces integrating component based development, introduce semantic UIs & automatic cross-UI services, etc, etc… I bet you cannot understand more than two of the features… see the problem? ;)

As Don Norman said in #BoS2009, “complexity is good, complicated is bad”. I would add, it’s not only bad, if you are have a startup, it kills.  And that’s the main reason why you should always prefer to kiss.


[1] Now that pseudo handwritten shapes seems to have taken off thanks to Balsamiq Mockups, I feel the obligation to note that the first time I saw this was in this Kai Blankenhorn’s thesis. You can still download and run the java program there. The cool (& nerd) thing is that it actually was a valid UML Profile, really. I used it in my degree thesis as well.

New Home

This is my first post in my new home, I am now in leovernazza.com and being hosted by WordPress.

The pieces are finally fitting together ;)

I am an Android

After following the #NexusOne press release live by Twitter (OMG, the web has changed A LOT with Twitter), I got the first opportunity I could to buy one.

Two years ago I was badly trying to buy my iPhone, but the way Apple decided to market it was too intricated: I had to wait several months until it arrived to my country, change my carrier and phone number, get the contract the carrier wanted to offer, pay an extra fee for the equipment, etc.

Also, I am a developer. Being able to develop for my phone was a important feature for me. I was not going to run to write applications for sale -as many were-; I just wanted to know I could code my phone in case I needed. An here again, we are in 2010… I wouldn’t code in Cocoa and take care to release the memory I’ve used. I am not kidding, it’s not funny.

Apple really convinced me to avoid the #iPhone, one evil decision at a time.

So, I decided to wait for the first good enough iPhone rival I could buy and use in my country, without rush. The first one to fulfill my expectations was the NexusOne and it says @leovernazza in the back.

I will do a few NexusOne reviews soon.

I am Blogging Again


It’s been a while since my last blog post.

I started blogging almost 4 years ago, while I was developing, marketing, researching, directing, educating and understanding Himalia ;)

It was a terrific work, not completed, not released, but surely not wasted. I have more than a full year of not-released-work in my computer. It ended abruptly, or slowly, it depends in the point of view.

I joined ComponentOne after that. I have been leading the ComponentOne team for Silverlight for more than two years, and lately also for WPF. We have built an amazing product (really) and the company has beaten its sales record under global economic crisis; I can see how our little baby is helping the first components-focused company in the Visual Studio world to take the leading path again.

One of the things I miss from the old days was my blog.

It used to be the place to open my mind and ideas with the world, so I am now committed to keep this thing moving again.

If you know me, you know I have ideas all the time and I cannot live without new challenges. I have many projects under the hood I expect to start moving during this year, but more on that after commercials.

BTW, thank you for being still subscribed to my feed.

We Are Up Again

WE had the server down during two weeks thanks to Yahoo (please do NOT register your domain with Yahoo Small Business at least you don’t need it). Now, it’s up again.

 

Keep tuned, news are coming… (slowly, but coming).

Can UX be a Boomerang?

I kept thinking about the Jared’s point of view about another security -vs- user experience trade off.

 

In this case, Jared stands that you can’t require the same security for a “Magic tricks Forum” and for a “Bank website“. I agree with that. I  really hated when Mingle asked me for an ultra secure password for a trial version I wanted to use in my network. Everyday I wanted to login into the system I had to try several password… Well, at least I was feeling lucky® they decided no to block my account in the process :)

 

However, I think you can’t put everything in the same bag. He was using this argument to say that applications should specify what was wrong when the login has failed (was it the username or the password?). The usual behavior is a message similar to this one: “Either your username or password is wrong, try again! Did you forget your password? “.

 

This kind of messages goes against the UX because it’s imprecise. If you are more precise you can help him (and others trying to log in) to solve the problem. But, it’s also true what me and others argued about how we -as users- manage usernames and passwords everyday. To make it short, users have the same passwords and usernames all over web, in different sites. I do that and many people I know do also. Ok, my bank web site password is not the same that the blogger’s one.. but I cannot be sure about other “not-critical” sites. I can’t even remember all the sites I am registered in!!! Can you?

 

The point is: can you forget security issues if you are designing the “Magic tricks Forum” when you know it is the actual behavior of your users? Lets put it in another way. What happen if some of your user’s account is hacked (sometimes all they need is the username because it’s a valid email), and this information is used to steal more important data of him in other site? Ok, it’s not totally your guilt, but, couldn’t you avoid it? Can you just blame your user because of his uninformed behavior? I don’t think so. How will your user feel about your site? Do you think he will just guilt himself or will your site also pay the penalty? The second one is more probable and for sure your team will look incompetent.

 

You know, sometimes UX is indirect. You can just try to improve it but you may end provoking a terrible headache for your user in name of it. Although in this case you may share the guilt with your user, if something happens, you can be sure you will pay for it because -as always- bad UX has more publicity

 

If I were you, I would stay defensive to avoid boomerangs.

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