trenchant.org

by adam mathes

Eat, Tweet, Delete

I turned on a bot that deletes any tweet I make that doesn’t get favorited within 5 minutes.

What does it mean? Why would I do that?

Who knows anymore — the 2015 media landscape is baffling now that I’m no longer in the target demo.

Despite being on the web for nearly 20 years I am not qualified to run my own social media. Maybe? But who else is qualified?

[Robots.]

Freer expression followed by audience silence leading to de facto obscurity being equated to self censorship.

Automated curation by community engagement plus robot helpers for a better, more focus group tested, engaging content stream for audience enjoyment!

Withholding labor if I don’t get paid in hearts and stars.

· · ·

I’m into bots right now. Try to create a bot positive culture in all that you do on the internet now.

I guess I thought it was kind of funny, as a concept, mostly.

The Centralized Dystopia of the Now

Certainly nobody predicted that a company such as Apple would be able to take 30 percent of the recording industry’s revenue because the record companies were incapable of setting up their own servers.

Philip Greenspun, Apple Music: Good reminder not to listen to computer scientists

See also: There is no Disintermediation

A Theory Of Retrogaming

It would be considered perfectly normal for someone who enjoys books to be reading books from 10, 20 or 30 years ago along with books published recently.

We don’t call those people “retroreaders.”

Yet if you do the same thing with video games it’s sort of outside the realm of mainstream activity, and you’re a “retrogamer.” It seems strange.

(Of course, we do call those that study ancient Greek and Latin classicists, but that sounds cooler.)

Pebble Time Hot Take

It’s the retro-future of the 1980’s on your wrist.

Also, the calendar shows declined events so it’s super annoying.

Messaging is the New Web

Ben Brown declares that the ascendance of Slack and messaging apps presents a new paradigm that calls for “messaging experience design.”

Designing for messaging will become a discipline as important as responsive design, and will incorporate skills as diverse as copy writing, business analytics and API programming.

Slack is the Operating System

I agree.

A few related thoughts —

Messaging:Mobile :: Web:Desktop

The web provided a platform on top of the existing desktop operating systems that had very serious constraints but key advantages in ease of use, development, distribution, and scale.

Over time it eclipsed desktop in relevance and interest for lots of things.

Rather than buying complex software, installing, and launching it we simply loaded up a browser, visited a URL and did whatever it is we needed to do.

It’s just easier and faster.

It didn’t matter that you couldn’t run Photoshop in a browser - HTML over HTTP was more than enough for plenty of interesting things. A lot more people want to read about what their friends are up to or shop or bank online than edit Photoshop layers.

Messaging (in a very broad sense including SMS, texting apps, and things like Slack) present a similar challenge and opportunity today in the context of smartphones.

There’s a constrained set of interactions and interface elements, but replying to an SMS or similar text conversation is an order of magnitude easier than installing a native mobile app. It’s also less work than firing up a mobile web browser, typing a URL, waiting, and seeing what may or may not be a decent experience.

There’s more advantages: authentication is transparent - you’re already logged in to the messaging app (or have a phone number.) No new account required. You already know how to use the interface, no hunting around and learning a new one. It’s more likely to work in a wearable context with limited screen and voice input.

This isn’t a new observation and all the major chat applications on the consumer side have embraced the idea of being a platform. I expect that we’ll see more and more intelligence and smart interfaces move up from the mobile OS apps layer to a messaging layer.

Protocols vs Platforms

SMS is probably the closest we have to a “protocol” - in that it’s universal across cellular providers, we have an agreed to routing system with phone numbers, and almost anyone can use it.

It seems like it would be the best foundation to build systems like this except that the telecom industry seems to have shot itself in the foot by trying to extract too much profit from it, forcing all the innovation to happen in the “free texting” apps. (And changes in rate plans or free unlimited SMS aren’t changing the dynamic - it’s too late.)

So instead of just developing for SMS you probably need to think about Twitter, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Line, and half a dozen others because that’s where the users are and where all the innovation happened.

Customer facing business, in the same they you developed a web strategy, then a broader social media strategy, will need a coherent messaging experience strategy across these services.

Slack As Universal Interface

An opportunity for Slack is to embrace being something of a “universal interface” for businesses and encourage as much integration with services on its platform as possible.

If integration with Slack is cheap and easy and provides additional distribution for business services, more services will be incentivized to offer it, which in turn makes Slack more valuable for its customers. And when Slack’s customers have a host of services integrated with their Slack instance, the more valuable Slack becomes to them (and the harder it is to migrate away from.)

Slack’s challenge is balancing its desire to be a great piece of enterprise software that delivers value on its own with being a stable, trustworthy, platform provider that creates a win/win for itself and partners who build on it.

Flow

Going to try to stream something interesting on twitch every night this week.

Also write something.

This counts, right?

If streaming hello kitty roller rescue counts, this counts.

Maybe I need to get a keyboard for this iPad. Or maybe get a chromebook, put raw Linux on it, and use that for writing.

Or you know, just use my MacBook. The 15” retina MacBook Pro is still the best computer I’ve ever had, but increasingly feels out of place not on a desk.

In a world of tiny shrinking computers even the best laptop I’ve ever owned starts to feels loud and impersonal.

Apple Watch 10 Days In

I haven’t returned it

I mean, it’s kind of awesome?

Despite the flaws it’s one of the most remarkable devices I’ve ever used.

Flaws are more easily forgiven because the industrial design is so damned good at creating an object that justifies itself aesthetically first.

Fashion

It’s the first smartwatch that doesn’t feel embarrassing to wear.

Let that sink in for a moment.

· · ·

Creating an object like this that is actually wearable is a success that shouldn’t be discounted.

In some sense the rest is kind of inconsequential because no other company seems to be able to create a piece of technology that isn’t offensive to display on your body. My guess is it will be a while before they do (and may require some partnerships between technology companies and more fashion conscious companies.)

It seems likely to me Apple will improve it’s software and user experience issues faster than competitors will figure out how to create beautiful objects that inspire desire.

Function

It’s worse in some ways that I thought it would be obviously good, and incredible in some ways I didn’t predict.

The Worst Part

It’s not on all the time. So you can’t casually glance at it and check the time and other things. You have to “wake” it by raising your wrist or tapping.

This only works sometimes, which is basically the most infuriating part of the whole experience and will probably be a dealbreaker for some.

With an OLED display, I’m really kind of shocked there’s not a lower intensity always on mode like that included in most Android Wear devices. (The Pebble e-ink and now memory-lcd screen is always on due to having an order of magnitude smaller power draw.)

I wonder if Apple will change it in a software update within the next few months. My guess is its exclusion was about ensuring all day battery life for initial users, but maybe it was due to other reasons.

Notifications

This should be the slam dunk easy use case but for me it’s not yet. Two primary issues:

  1. I do not have a mental model for when notifications come to my wrist, phone, both, or neither. This is despite having spent a lot of time setting up notifications on my phone.
  2. This is compounded (maybe caused?) by the fact that the taptic engine (the thing that vibrates and taps your wrist) seems far too weak, to the point that I seem to miss things.

This weak taptic feedback has been noted by just about everyone who has reviewed and used the watch. I think it’s actually much worse for me because I’m using the stainless steel link bracelet which is not easily worn as tightly as the sport bands or some of the other options, making it even tougher to feel the taps.

The thing is - when it does work it’s pretty amazing. Feeling the distinct taps is really awesome, I just wish they were about 100x stronger.

Instantaneous Answers and Tasks

Early experiences on iPhone have perhaps lowered people’s expectations on Siri.

But on the watch Siri really feels useful, natural, and futuristically awesome. Just raise your wrist and say “hey, siri” and boom.

When it works it’s pretty amazing. Questions about sports, movies, weather, stocks, actions related to timers, alarms, and reminders - all these “easy” things are amazingly smooth and useful.

I was surprised to find just how natural and awesome using Siri on Apple Watch is.

When it fails though, it’s pretty infuriating.

Apps Are Meh

They’ll probably stay terrible until the next iteration of the SDK and people rewrite their apps. This isn’t due to inherent problems or incompetence - it’s really hard to make software for a brand new hardware platform that has a very odd constrained API that forces your application to be a remote view from a phone.

I expect they’ll get better.

I Want More Complications

The little bits of extra information on the watchface (complications) are delightful, useful, and beautiful.

They’ll be even better when (hopefully) other apps can put data there.

Faces, Glances, Apps

I thought I’d love glances but currently find it a bit awkward to have to swipe vertically, then scrub horizontally to find something, and then wait again until it reloads the data half the time.

It’s probably too late for Apple to make large user experience changes, but part of me wonders if maybe with fewer entities and combining faces and glances you can get something better.

A glance then is just a watch face that is a “full screen” complication or watch face.

You could then have a single virtual horizontal plane of custom faces/glances/complications.

It feels like the watch face is meant to be set and static - force touch is required to change it - when actually I really like the idea of swiping between them throughout the day based on mood or which piece of data I want most prominent. (Though maybe that’s just the novelty of it so far.)

Heuristic for A Good Watch Interaction

The stuff that happens without me having to tap is generally way more delightful than anything that requires even a single tap, let alone multiple taps.

Less interface is more.

A Magical Time

The launch of the iPhone and the ensuing platform shift to smartphones was exciting for lots of reasons. But part of what helped force great new things was that the constraints of the devices (screen size, power, memory, cpu) forced everyone who made software to really think critically and simplify everything down to the essential.

These constraints often helped foster better designs and experiences across a whole host of activities in a relatively short time.

As the constraints of mobile have started to lift due to more powerful devices, we’re starting to see more bloat and less focus in the experiences, in my opinion.

I see the Apple Watch and the world of wearables as an opportunity to simplify again and use these constraints to make experiences faster, better, and easier.

35

No longer in the most coveted demographic.

Fit and Finish

The Milanese loop was really comfortable but unimpressive looking.

The link bracelet though. Whoa.

The Apple Watch Will Make Me Cool Or Die Trying

It’s easy to be cynical about new technology and products, particularly from Apple. It’s also easy to be caught up in the hype before a product launch, which maybe I am.

But I’m more excited about the launch of Apple Watch than I’ve been for anything since the iPhone (which we could only imagine) because it feels very, very different than any high profile tech launch.

Fashionable or Bust

This is a product intended to be worn and seen on your person. It’s going to touch your skin all day. It’s going to tap your wrist to get your attention. It’s designed to be noticed by others.

Mobile devices are personal, intimate, and used in public — the whole package matters. And therefore how these devices make us feel, and what these devices say about you to others matter. […] Wearables (watches, glasses, whatever else comes next) will be even more about fashion as these things will be even more a part of how we present ourselves to others.

me, October 2013

Google’s offerings (Glass, Wear) tried but weren’t cool.

Apple Watch is going to make you feel fashionable and cool or die trying.

Apple Watch looks serious, designed, and beautiful in a way that the competitors in this space as of yet do not.

I was skeptical of the Pebble, but now I wear one every day and I love it, but it is borderline embarrassing as an adult to be wearing it. (The new Pebble Time looks much better, and I’ve preordered one.)

That tech pundits are skeptical of Apple Watch is irrelevant. The early adopter smartwatch phase of Pebble and Android Wear wasn’t that fun. It was kind of boring, the devices were clunky, the software was slow and hard to use, and the devices were just pretty fugly.

The Apple Watch is something else.

Evaluating it purely as a functional object misses the point. It’s a watch and a piece of jewelry as much as anything else — and it’s nicer than lots of the existing traditional watch competitors in this price range. But, also, it’s a hyper-awesome-space-age-internetworked computer on your wrist while it does that.

Wrists Are On Human Beings

Having 38mm and 42mm sizes is one of the few acknowledgments in a major technology product launch that there are customers in the world who matter who are not, statistically in terms of body sizes, best served by a product designed for tall white men. In fact there are people in this world who need products in shapes and sizes beyond what is designed around a statistically average white american male! Like, me. And many women. And all kinds of people all over the world.

In an ideal world we’d expect products to regularly be designed to account for a range of human bodies and this wouldn’t be so out of the ordinary. With wearables a one size fits all approach is unlikely to be as successful. Comfort matters. And you have to invest early on to get it right.

Making designs work at multiple screen sizes in a v1 is something Apple didn’t do with the iPod, iPhone or iPad at launch. It would have been a lot less work for Apple to just pick one size, but I think they rightly concluded that it would have made for a significantly worse experience for everyone.

Mediating, Replacing, and Creating New User Experiences

I think the Apple Watch is going to succeed in large part because it acknowledges fashion, comfort, consumer desire, and luxury in a way other wearables haven’t even begun to, but I’m a hobbyist in that realm.

I have a lot more experience in the world of technology mediated user experiences, and while I think evaluating any wearable purely in functional experiences misses a big part of the story, here’s my take.

The time and effort to glance at a watch is fractional compared to pulling out a device from a pocket, powering it on, unlocking it, and then interacting with an application. It’s seconds vs a fraction of a second.

That’s awesome and exciting.

The premise - and promise - of something like the apple watch is three-fold:

  1. Mediate and filter phone/tablet/computer experiences to save you time
  2. Replace existing experiences with faster, easier, more pleasant ones
  3. Create new experiences that are only possible with a wearable

An initial critical analysis of wearables from technology pundits tend to overly focus on how they don’t really want or need (1), (2) is not yet feasible because of supposed constraints, and they don’t properly imagine (3). I think these are short-sighted critiques.

Mediating Experiences

Because you almost always have your phone with you, and it’s nearly always connected to a network, smartphones quickly became better mediators/filters/messengers than their larger predecessors.

Smartphones mediate experiences - based on emails, notifications, or other things you might interact quickly with an application on your phone, or it may trigger a longer more complex interaction on a computer later.

Push notifications on smartphones are victims of their own success - by providing information outside of the application context, notifications inform and help users to decide whether to re-engage with an application. They help us to filter and mediate (or addict us, depending on your perspective) but are abused by many applications, so often fail to “scale” as you use your smartphone more.

Because we now live in a world of constant pinging, ringing, dinging, txting, liking, retweeting, snapchattering, instabrogramming, hyperspacefumbling, and spammy-re-engaging the idea of having these things show up on our wrists (especially to tech-heavy journalists addicted to social media) is some combination of awesome and/or terrifying for many.

Pebble (in its first version) really focused on this. Having used a Pebble for a year, if you take active control over your devices, notifications, and permissions this can actually be a great experience.

It’s actually quite simple on iOS: go into settings, then notification center. Turn off everything (notifications, badges, sounds, etc) for everything but phone calls. Wait. Breath deeply. Take a walk.

Meditate.

Cleanse your soul.

Only when you are spiritually and emotionally stable - selectively turn on the 2-3 things you might actually need to be interrupted for (phone calls, text messages, VIP email.) If those then actually show up on your wrist and you can glance at them without taking out your phone, it might actually make things easier for you.

On Android it’s also simple, especially if you’re on Lollipop with the “priority” notification features: just unlock your Android device, spend minutes in vain trying to find out how any of it works and why dozens of apps notify you without permission, scream in a combination of futile anger and anguish, then smash your device against the nearest concrete block, drop out of consumer society, go to a 14 day silent meditation retreat, move to New Mexico, switch to a pre-paid phone plan and put your SIM in a used Motorola Razr.

· · ·

Telling you who’s calling you, seeing a text message, and other little bits without pulling out your phone will be an easy win for the Apple Watch, and it’s the easiest part to understand, though some are skeptical it will make things easier. (I was when Pebble was announced and mocked it as a device for those too lazy to pull out their phones.)

Apple watch will likely do a better job of it than the Pebble, which was already useful pretty much based solely on that (the apps on Pebble are too clunky and slow and unusable.) That you will then be able to have super tiny instant reactions / interactions with it will make it not just faster than pulling out your phone, but better in some cases if they get it right.

Think of how many “coordination” text messages happen (are you there, are you on our way, etc) that would be nice to respond to with a single tap on your wrist (‘omw’, ‘5 minutes’, or ‘running late’) rather than futzing with your phone while you’re trying to get somewhere.

Android Wear tried to do some of this, but my experiences with it were the interfaces, navigation, experiences, and hardware were too clunky to get it right quite yet. My expectation is Apple will do better on their first try, and Android Wear will improve, and overall this sort of thing is inevitable for some segment of users.

Replacing Experiences

In the pre-smartphone era, you might have gotten on your laptop in the morning to check traffic for the morning commute. Today that would seem cumbersome (and your laptop probably isn’t on the bedside table like it was in 2005.)

In 2010 if you were on the cutting edge you might have checked your smartphone, using an application, perhaps seeing if other routes were better.

In 2015, you probably use your smartphone, but most modern iPhones or Android devices are smart enough to pull that information and experience outside the context of an application and provide it to you faster via Google Now or Apple’s Today experiences.

It’s not hard to imagine how you can take those sorts of experiences and replace them with something “glanceable” on a wearable that gets most of the value, but faster, with near-zero interaction required.

Interactions and interfaces are often the enemy of great experience - if you can do what you want without impediment, or with as little as action possible, you’ve saved more time in your day for “real” life.

In the early days, many people didn’t imagine that smartphones would swallow up as many “big device” activities as it has - maps, web browsing, messaging, social networking, photography. But as the hardware and software accelerated its pace, it wasn’t just possible to replicate activities you’d do on a laptop with a smartphone with subpar experiences, but it was also more pleasant in many cases. And this happened, very, very fast — a period of a few years. Compared to the adoption of personal computers, the web, and other technologies smartphones adoption and power is just mind-boggling.

If you squint, you can imagine something similar happening with wearable technology, with Apple Watch leading the effort. Directions, short messages, weather, traffic, and a whole host of things might be better experienced and general usage eclipsed with smaller, smarter, zero-interaction or “minimal” single tap experiences if we (as product and technology people) get our shit together.

In the same way that the constraints of the smartphone led to a whole world of simpler experiences vs. the bloated, WIMP and web modes, wearables offer that same blank slate. This doesn’t mean the other platform experiences disappear, but if you can get 80% of the value for 80% of the use cases without the bigger form factor, interface, and annoyance, that’s a huge change in behavior and time spent.

Creating New Experiences

This is the part that is hard to really grok. It’s also the most exciting.

It’s easy to be cynical about how things will not work; it’s easy to speculate about how battery life isn’t great yet. It’s hard to imagine how things might actually work in the future and what will be most impressive.

When I see things like the “send a heartbeat” feature - this is a feature that has to be evaluated on an emotional level, not just technology. It’s a magical, awesome thing that you just can’t do and get the same visceral, emotional, magical thing to happen on any other platform.

Things that weren’t possible before that don’t necessarily even make sense at first glance - that’s what’s most exciting. You don’t get Instagram without the iPhone. You don’t get Snapchat without smartphones either, and you don’t get it by starting with something everyone understands.

New sensors, new inputs, and new contexts offer up completely new worlds.

The kinds of things that seem exciting to me:

  • self-evaluation - imagine the watch that listens to the tone of the voices around me and my heart rate to understand mood and quietly pulses my wrist to try and get me to breathe deeply and lower my pulse.
  • communications - imagine a watch face that shows my loved ones physical status (sitting/walking/running), and one tap to urge them on if they’re exercising
  • swapnote reborn
  • proximity alerts on my wrist if friends are nearby
  • a million other things I can’t even imagine

The point is: I’m probably buying one and if it’s awful I’ll be sad.

Fourteen

I remember nights when I would sit at my computer, staring at the screen, and telling myself I had something to write. Something to say. And even if it didn’t seem important I had to put something down. Even if I thought it was garbage. Because that’s the only way I’d ever get anything out there and get better at it and get over the dread that every thought I ever have is garbage and boring. (Only some of them are.)

I used to sometimes worry that nobody would ever read this.

14 years later I sometimes think nobody will ever read this! How liberating.

Social media solved the audience problems for personal web communication. People can find an audience on centralized, social media sites. It makes writing into the cryptic blackhole void of the independent web nearly as strange now as when it first begun. But the instant audience and feedback and hyper-virality is its own nightmare.

I used to think I wasn’t internet famous enough and what was I doing wrong but now I just crave less attention and I wonder if Snapchat is the only authentic communications modality in 2015.

Happy 14th birthday trenchant daily. I didn’t understand being 14, or other teenagers even when I was one, so I don’t expect to understand you either.

Reinventions

The thought that keeps coming back to me these days is - Forum 2000 already did this and it was funnier.