My Slides: Microsoft UX: What Just Happened

I’ve been travelling around Australia in the past few weeks talking about Microsoft UX and essentially “What Just Happened”. I’ve uploaded my slides to slideshare.com (though they don’t animate, booo hiss..) but none the less they are there for those who may have attended my presos to look at.

The “What Just Happened” title came from an internal discussion list inside Microsoft, where I would decode movements on Adobe for all of Microsoft to get a better understanding of the PR spin coming from those guys. I’d essentially break it down into less b.s and more to the point information. Given I had a lot of success with this inside Microsoft I thought it would be a great idea to do the same, only not with Adobe but for those in the public regarding Microsoft.

It’s a theme I plan on continueing with in the near future.

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Microsoft Innovation. If it falls, does it make a sound?

New York Times has kicked up some serious dust in the Microsoft ethos around whether or not the company does innovate.

I often have found myself at a cross-roads of agreeing and/or disagreeing with people like Dick around the term “innovation”. I say this as I pretty much agree with Dick’s arguments in the NYT, but at the same time I can’t but help remember the amounts of innovation I saw inside the company – especially in the last 3 years.

I look at Microsoft Surface and can’t but help wonder at the actual spark of innovation around this product. I state this as I once interviewed Mark Coleran, a guy who’s job was to build Fantasy User Interfaces for Hollywood.

In this interview I ask Mark about how he came up with the inspiration for the Surface like table in the movie “The Island” and his response was:

There has been alot of confusion over the table in The Island. Most people have no idea of developmental timelines and the table itself was not a guess at what might be. It was actually production themselves who had said it was going to be a table type screen. There was a guy called John Underkoffler from MIT involved as well working on how people might interact with such a device. No doubt some influences came from the work going on there, including that of people like Jeff Han. I myself when I got involved at the design stage, looked over a massive body of work previously done on these type of devices and desktop. It was a relatively easy process to draw elements together and combine in such a way as to make it look like a realistic device.

Mark was able to piece together what he found in the industry at the time to help shape the story of a futuristic movie like “The Island” well before the Microsoft Surface table was shown to the world. I ask the question, did Microsoft Innovate with the Surface table? or have they simply democratised the concept of Multit-touch to the unwashed masses?

I look at Silverlight and I know there is actually some pure amounts of innovation from my comrades in Engineering. I have personally witnessed these guys create life from 1’s and 0’s where its competitor, Flash, simply had no clue.

Is Silverlight innovation? I mean the actual name “Silverlight” (aka another word for Flash is …a Silver Light…) is it really innovation or just really good at again, democratising something that most have had the concept of seeing before.

I look at the XBOX Natal and think to myself, ok that’s innovative right? yet let’s be realistic the concept of using your body and having a game react isn’t anything new really (the concept in theory has been around) and would it of come about had it not been for the Nintendo Wii pushing that envelope further?

Innovation is a term I think gets lost in product shipment dates and timelines and there is a multitude of ways in which one could carve up Microsoft’s history around innovation.

I think Microsoft does innovate but only from concepts that have been pioneered OUTSIDE the company. When they do produce results from these efforts they in turn democratise it to the millions of customers around the world that are typically held hostage by premium costs associated with the advancement in such technology.

To go back to Dick’s article in the NYT, I think the problem isn’t the innovation its telling the story around what Microsoft is doing in the market that’s the over-arching problem here. I think splitting hairs on who moved first is simply academic, the problem I personally see being both inside and outside now is that decoding WHAT Microsoft is today and Tomorrow is getting difficult for customers to embrace.

Take this into account and it fuels a lot of ignorance and mistrust around the company, so that if one day it truly does purely innovate, nobody will notice. As it’s getting lost in al the signal of “Look at me, Look at me” marketing from the company.

Is marketing to blame for lack of innovation?

Frank Shaw, VP of Comms replied to Dick’s article, it basically is in my mind a “rar rar rar go Microsoft” response. I spoke to Frank via email just before I left Microsoft and told him why I left the company, as at the time he sent out an email to all of Marketing which basically was “Stop making cheesy dumb ass movies please, you’re hurting our brand”.

I think the problem with Microsoft is its marketing teams. The more I interacted with these folks the more I realised just how disconnected they are from their audience. In that, I’ve worked in Marketing before where we would meet with the customers we spoke to, we would analyse their behavioural patterns and lastly we would react to feedback from them daily if not monthly.

I simply didn’t see this inside Microsoft marketing, especially in the Developer Division. When you’d ask folks about who the target audience is for Silverlight, you would get mixed responses. Responses that typically where buzzword bingo …

“Technical Decision Makers are our guys!”
“Business Decision Makers…”
“Both, TDB and BDM…TDB for RIA, BDM for Video!..”

I simply would shake my head and look forward to my visits back home to Australia where I would jump on some planes, visit people from all around the country and just listen. I listened to how they got started, I listen to what they love and hated about Microsoft and lastly I listened to what they needed. TDB or BDM folks never reared their heads once so that for me was the first clue – lack of depth from team, noted.

This is important as if these folks are targeting the wrong style of audience or albeit, talking at them NOT with them, then in turn you loose the translation of “What Just Happened” – or in simpler terms “If a tree fell in the forest and nobody was around to hear it, did it actually fall?”

I know there is innovative things happening within the company and I could cite them until I am sick of the sound of my own voice. The reality however is 90% of my time outside Microsoft is telling people this message now that I am outside of Microsoft. I tell them and watch as they either argue the point or in turn show a facial expression of pure surprise and follow with remarks “Really? i didn’t know that?”

I left Microsoft simply because my division is probably one of the best at celebrating mediocrity but also I feared what I would eventually turned into, a person who is at peace with “Good Enough”.

That is the core to why Microsoft suffers from the lack of innovation label as in truth risky innovation is typically replaced by “Good enough” mediocrity – “Don’t worry, we’ll get it right in V3, just ship V1”.

Apple is a company that strikes me as a brand that rejects “Good enough” it simple expects an end to end execution of an idea.

Microsoft differs, take a look at their websites. You have every team jockeying for your attention all being inconsistent and not helpful in the way they portray their messages around whats new?

Apple, you have one. If someone in iTunes team wants to create their own website? its simply “fuck off, and fall into line” and then its executed with precision as to what the story is behind the newest shiny object. It’s competitor, Microsoft, simply fires up 3-4 websites all for the same concept.

Point is. Innovation happens, you just cant’ seem to decode where it lives and I think a guy like Frank, VP of Comms needs to start firing people and soon as Innovation isn’t the problem inside the company, its getting the message out which is.


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Interview with Mark Coleran.

I just finished watching an Interview Adobe Evangelist Lee Brimelow put together around UI’s for the movie industry. It occurred to me tonight that I did an interview with the great Mark Coleran in Jan 2008 but never published it!. To help carry this insight into Hollywood and the software industry, i thought I’d publish it tonight.

Coleran Reel 2008.06 HD from Mark Coleran on Vimeo.


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1, Who are you? And what is it you do?

Hi, I am Mark Coleran. I am a visual designer who has worked over the years in graphic, motion and interface design. From print work  through to television and film. These days I am working in software development for a small company in Canada, Gridiron Software.

The primary are that I specialized in over the years, has been to design and animate the computer screen displays, that either look like real computers or non real interfaces, on anything from hand held gadgets to huge wall screens in movies.

 

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2. How did you get into the Movie side of things in terms of UX Design?

Completely by accident. I was a graphic designer, and dabbled in 3D. I was working for a special effects company at Pinewood studios, visualizing stunts as 3d animatics. We had a few devices to build that required interfaces on them and it introduced me to the area. They were being built by another group called Useful Companies and I pestered my way into a job with them.

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3. Your work is something that is easily considered bleeding edge, the future if you will. How do you even begin to architect the design for this and does the Movie folks brief you on this?

I am not sure it is as bleeding edge as it may at first appear. By the nature of most of the films and the requirements of the interfaces in those films, we do make them look a lot better than they might look if they were a real device. It is a visual medium and your primary task is to tell a small part of the story, sometimes very quickly. For that reason they can be very graphic, more so than real systems and work in very dynamic ways.

The design and architecture tends to come out of those requirements, combined with the requirements from production as far as styling and story telling are concerned.

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4. Pablo Picasso reportedly once said “Good artists copy. Great artists steal”, I’m sure many interactive artists around the world have stolen a piece of your idea’s via Movies into real world software? How do you feel about this and does it motivate you?

I have no problem with it at all. Any designer has done this themselves (if they are being honest). If you can provide a small bit of inspiration to someone then that is fantastic thing. We are all influenced by each other and most people don’t ‘steal’, they borrow, combine, adapt and craft until they come up with something new. Then I see that and take inspiration (or steal) from it myself. I do object to straight plagiarism. Not so much in what it is itself, but that it is a lost opportunity for someone to do something creative, even if it is heavily inspired.

It does motivate you, to keep at it, knowing that.

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5. In the movie “The Island” Sean Bean sits over a table like surface and interacts with it, this was the movies yet Microsoft has surface which is real? Did you see this coming, if not does it freak you out that some of your work has come to real life?

There has been alot of confusion over the table in The Island. Most people have no idea of developmental timelines and the table itself was not a guess at what might be. It was actually production themselves who had said it was going to be a table type screen. There was a guy called John Underkoffler from MIT involved as well working on how people might interact with such a device. No doubt some influences came from the work going on there, including that of people like Jeff Han. I myself when I got involved at the design stage, looked over a massive body of work previously done on these type of devices and desktop. It was a relatively easy process to draw elements together and combine in such a way as to make it look like a realistic device.

There is never anything particularly prescient about most of this faux technology. It is all out there, but just not widespread. I look at what labs and hobbyists are doing in basements. We get to make it up and make it look real a few years before it hits the shops. It is just there for the looking.

It was already real life, but perhaps with a few rougher edges.

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6. Following on from that question, where should UX head tomorrow? In that a lot of our interactive models follow some pre-set formulas, what should we do unbalance this further in order to push ourselves harder to do better?

Now there is a question!

As I am now involved heavily in real UX/UI work, so I have developed an intimate and sometimes painful understanding of the area.

If anything I think UX should become as divorced from engineering as possible. Not in the sense of not working with engineering, but that solutions should not be defined by engineering parameters.

It should also become divorced from the systems that it runs on. Why should people learn a system rather than simplify a task they want to do (the original point of computers?)

It should become about creating something that people should never be aware of. Each and every ‘experience’ (I hate that word!) should be a non experience. It seem to have been forgotten that we are building a tool to perform a task and that the task is everything. I don’t have a good experience with my hammer. I just hit a nail with it and a good hammer doesn’t make me think twice about doing that. The tool should be almost invisible in relation to the thing that people are trying to achieve. Simplicity and transparency.

Focusing on the task at hand and nothing else is the key, not a model, pattern or formula. If you try and fit the task to any of those rather than the other way around, you have failed.

There will always be compromises but my guess is that the real progress will come when those compromises are no longer tolerable.

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7. Where do you get your inspiration from?

Many different places. Games, film, graphics, engineering, architecture… it is a list that could go on for ever. The key for me has always been to look beyond the project and process that I am currently engaged in.

I also try and engage in other activities that have a certain synergy with what I am doing. In particularly photography. To look, see and compose can teach you a lot that you can employ in other areas.

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8. What are some things that irritate you with Software UI today? What are some things that you love in Software UI today?

For the sake of diplomacy, I am not going to name names!

Some of the things I dislike…

Complexity, unnecessary decoration, high contrast, bells and whistles, RTFM, software that makes me feel like an idiot – that blames me for its designers mistakes, imposition, bad metaphors… or just metaphors, implementation models.

Metaphors in particular. A metaphor nearly always feels forced. A real world equivalence that does not always work. There have been great examples of their use in the past but they seem to be regularly over used these days. Stretched almost to breaking.

What do I love… that there is a whole new wave of people creating well crafted simple applications, focused on doing a few things, very well. They are showing a lot of established people better ways of doing things and I hope they get the success they deserve for that. Key elements would be focus, environment, simplicity and context.

I unfortunately can’t put a single mainstream tool that I use on a day to day basis in that second list.

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9. I believe that a good UI will invoke an emotional connection that far exceeds function. What is your belief?

I agree and disagree with that. As I stated before, I think that the UI, as well as the UX should be almost invisible in comparison to what people want to do.

The simple fact is that the user is in an environment and that environment has to be a good one. A nice place to be. People spend a lot of time and effort on the physical environment that they live and work in, yet have almost zero control of the one they do the vast majority on their work. It is supremely important that we get that right and make it  good place.

However, that must never become something in itself. Personally I think the creation of an ‘Experience’ is a failing. It must be good as such, but once something becomes an experience rather than just a part of the process, it starts to get in the way of the task and goal at hand.

If we can create something that never gets in the way of what people want to do, without encumbering them and where appropriate helping them, then we will naturally get that connection.

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10. If I were able to assemble every single UI/UX Designer/Developer in the world into an area where you could tell them something, what would you say?

Users will rarely ever be designers, but designers always have to be the users. Without an intuitive grasp of the problem you are trying to solve, it will always be a best guess no matter how much you listen to the end user.

More of Mark:

I have many more interviews like this that I did in 2008 that I’ll publish online. Lee’s inspired me to tackle this area head-on as no matter what brand of tool you opt for tomorrow, interactive design is really about the work guys like Mark produce. It’s the part in a movie where you go “damn that’s freakin nice”.

ILM, Pixar, OOOii etc are all companies I’d leave Microsoft in a heartbeat to work for – as these brands are my main source of muse.

Thank your for you time Mark!

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Adobe Open Screen Project – reality check.

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Despite what some folks in the Adobe community think, I’m actually still a big fan of Flash and what it represents. I do however hold Adobe up to a much higher standard than I did with Microsoft, as for me they have shown endless amounts of potential but have in my opinion squandered through either in-fighting or misalignment with the rest of the industry.

I’ve read a many a post on the “Open Screen Project” and whilst the concept of putting Flash Runtime on multiple devices etc is quite an appealing concept, I just don’t see them pulling it off beyond a few million units here and there. It’s a reality check that I think a lot of the Adobe staff need to take a step back and review.

Putting Flash on the iPhone or vNext desktop device is the easy part and I don’t think a lot of companies are realistically against that idea on it’s own. They would be typically skeptical of the technical dependency when you start too look beyond the “Open” PR spin and start focus on the tooling and ecosystem surrounding it.

Adobe just don’t have the developer numbers to support a sophisticated ecosystem it requires. There are a lot of exceptionally talented programmers in the Adobe community, some of which are fighting well above their weight – these however aren’t the majority. Adobe needs more of a groundswell of developers, ones that typically hail from either .NET, PHP or JAVA as their previous breeding ground. To date, they haven’t yielded that as fast as they should/could.

Adobe have been plagued with getting their community to move from ActionScript 1.0 and 2.0 over to ActionScript 3.0 and for the past 2-3 years that’s been a campaign of there’s in motion (i.e. being a little more aggressive in ensuring future roadmaps lock the next generation of ActionScript etc into place, essentially what I call a “duress adoption”). They’ve also recently started picking up on the reality that Microsoft fears daily, PHP has become the 800lb gorilla. There are quite a groundswell of PHP developers out there who don’t typically favor Adobe or Microsoft in a lot of ways and are more than happy to punch out solutions built in a HTML/CSS/JavaScript sandbox.

So why me, someone with little PHP experience? I’ve always felt like evangelism is about growing your developer community and developer relations is about helping the community you have – Ryan Stewart, Adobe Evangelist.

Adobe needs to court these folks and fast, as if they can get these folks to switch gears into the Adobe community lifestyle, they in turn and increase there developer base in a much more significant way than they have in the past by pounding at the Java and/or .NET developer doors.

Assuming they fix the Developer base, they next need to convince OEM manufacturers that their tooling isn’t the liability in this equation. I say that, as whilst its fun and 10x more productive to build Flash based solutions via Adobe specific tooling, this in turn creates effectively a liability in around the concept of being “”Open”. It’s not really Open, its more of a half-hatched Open concept, as producing a SWF outside Adobe tooling is actually not a likely thing to occur in the industry. The reason being is, whilst you can technically make your own SWF, you are still required to fall into line with Adobe’s roadmap and vision of where it all heads.

Implementing software which creates SWF files has always been permitted, on the condition that the resulting files render "error free in the latest publicly available version of Adobe Flash Player." – Wikipedia.com

Point is, that whilst their intentions are righteous and feel open, you have to face reality that this is just shifting the boundaries on a total lock-in and instead of declaring the Runtime and File Format as completely locked, its really the tooling story behind it is where the money tree begins. After all, Adobe aren’t in this business for free, they have shareholders and a $3billion+ fiscal profit expectation to meet.

The tooling component to this equation is really the bottleneck as could you imagine what would happen if say ActionScript 3.0 and Flash were solutions that a Visual Studio .NET developer could write inside the said tooling? It would have a huge impact on both sides of the isle roadmaps that’s for sure.

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Silverlight is creating a mutant designer who can code.

I look over the past 3-4 years in around the RIA industry and just chuckle at times to myself. I say this with all the appropriate levels of respect attached.

The reason I chuckle is that prior to Microsoft i was laser focused on getting developers to adopt Adobe Flex as we had an abundance of Designers in the Adobe community but less developers. Once I joined Microsoft, I was then focused on getting designers to join the Microsoft ranks as we had an abundance of developers.

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Today, nothing really has changed much. As when I was a Product Manager for Silverlight, I think we last announced there was around half a million (there about) Silverlight developers, which for a product that’s roughly 20+ months old, is about 4:1 on Flex Developers give or take. Yet, before we all start whooping and high fiving one another about the success of SIlverlight over Adobe’s products, they would have about 5x as many designers in their ranks compared to Silverlight which would have probably a design audience measured in thousands and not hundreds of thousands.

I’m yet to see any evidence that this stand-off is likely to change radically in the next 2-5 years either, except there seems to be a change in the wind that I was hopeful would happen but skeptical at the same time. It turns out Silverlight is igniting a lot of design passion within the ranks of the Silverlight developer community – meaning, I am seeing some interesting signs of developers wanting to learn “design” albeit also “user experience”.

Can they design though?

Everyone can design, as when you were children you were told to draw a house with clouds, you did so and sure it made your parents happy enough to put it on the family fridge, but is it a realistic house that can withstand the elements such as a sun with eyes?…no.. but you designed. As you began to age towards adulthood for some reason you stopped drawing. The passion in a nutshell, was depreciated from within you.

Designers however kept it alive and continued to learn new techniques and slowly over time mastered ways to explore the concept of design more. That’s why they see things differently in the world than most and can bend your ear on the subject in ways you think they are likely smoking crack.

Today, lets face it, the design audience isn’t exactly pounding down the Microsoft Expression door, this in turn has created a discipline that needs to be filled and as such more and more developers are stepping up to fill it. They will in turn need guidance and better techniques on how to pull off the design part and it will take some time for them to master this art form. In the process I think this will also be a more vibrant unbiased beacon for the design audience to flock towards as in order for the developer audience to fill such a position, they will seek out more designers for help. As the design audience begins to help them, they will in turn also begin the journey of understanding what’s before them and hopefully it will stick.

Thus as Yoda would say:

“the cycle it will, repeat itself it may”.

Point is, at some point we will have a displaced audience that sit between the words design and develop they in turn will be the influencers on why Silverlight should be adopted. Today’s developer is tomorrows designer, so we who consider themselves of the design lineage need to show kindness and patience towards these folks. As they in turn will also show us faster and more efficient techniques to also carry out interactive design.

Next time you hear a developer say “I can’t design” correct them and say “You mean you haven’t the passion to try design” as this is a more correct response.

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EGOSPY – Sneak Peak.

image It’s now approx 1 week since I left Microsoft and its been an amazing and relaxing time for me, in which I’ve sat down and mapped out various RIA based projects I’ve wanted to work on for the past 3 years. The one project that’s taking the bulk of my latest interest is an application I’ve called “EGOSPY”, something in which I think the RIA community will probably meet with mixed feelings.

The application came to me yesterday after I watched a few comments on a blog post I posted on InsideRIA.com around Adobe and the recent iPhone announcement. The parts that struck me as being odd, were not so much the opinions expressed by folks on that blog, but it was more along the lines of what they were saying and how they went about saying it. I’ve often found the overall behavior in general around the RIA community very political when it comes to choosing a technology platform to adopt (on both sides of the isle). Its always been a fascination for me, as I’ve been on both sides of the firing lines and have watched in depth how various factions interact with one another.

In light of this morbid curiosity I seem to have, I thought of an idea on what if someone tracked these skirmishes? in that what if someone wrote an Application that essentially keeps score, measures the impact each event has and as well as track the behavioral patterns of the folks who comment etc. This is what EGOSPY is going to do and the chuckle part for me is I’m building this in both Adobe AIR and Silverlight Out of Browser – in case others may want to peak at the data, they can do so but not have their brand-religion impacted (choose your poison if you will).

You can see a sneak peak at the concept in play so far (basically its a still of the console) as i’ve got the base foundation laid for both Adobe AIR and Silverlight codebase + assets. I’m now wiring the various moving parts to it, aka the secret sauce.

I intend to use both Amazon Simple Database and S3 Storage as well as ASP.NET and Windows Communication Foundation as the proxy/filter at times between Amazon and the Client.

http://www.mossyblog.com/lab/prototypes/egospy/

I’ve also drafted a breakdown of the types of personas I’ll be monitoring and looking to validate with some basic home grown research. Feel free to add/subtract your input here:

image High Priest/Priestess.
The architects of a brands doctrine and will often be seen at major religious events only. These entities will often command the Priest/Priestess into action in and around how they approach situations that require a response from a brand. They will at times take a passive aggressive approach to competing brands in an open format, all the while providing a behavior model in which they expect to be repeated by Disciples, Priests/Priestess and Fanatics.

imagePriests/Priestess.
Belong to the secret order of a corporation and their jobs are to ensure all believers of the brand remain so. They will typically enlist and/or encourage Fanatics/Disciples to fight for a particular cause, especially if a brand’s doctrine is challenged openly. They often prefer a swarming effect to an event in the hope of drowning out all chances of the vocal minority from exerting their objections/beliefs around a given doctrine.

image Spinsters.
Are specialized fanatics who often follow a strategic transmission pattern to indoctrinate the target group. This may begin with a simple transmission such as a provocative blog post, video medium or an advertisement eluding to imperfection in a competing brands doctrine.

image Disciples.
Someone who believes and helps to spread the doctrine of a given Brand. A typical Disciple is pretty locked into the belief system outlined by a given brands priesthood. They rarely deviate from the doctrine and will typically challenge any who argue against it in an open manner. Disciples almost never provoke attacks, and are typically defenders rather than aggressors.

image Berserkers. 
These types of people are dangerous. They do not execute restraint and will often attack any who get in their way. They differ from Disciples but only slightly as these types do not favor any one particular brand. They generally are easily irritated by ignorance.

image Peacemakers.
These types of people often favor a particular brand, but will often move themselves into position to ensure that hostilities are reduced to a peaceful resolution. They typically don’t outwardly project their brand beliefs onto others and are more inclined to allow others to co-exist within their community haven.

image Fanatics.
Extremists who will actively provoke arguments in order to enforce their particular brand belief system on others. They cannot be reasoned with and are typically vocal and approach situations with high amounts of emotion attached. They pride themselves of on being aggressors and will rarely make coherent points and will instead focus on ad hominem attacks etc to shift focus from a given cause.

image Apatheists.
Someone who has an indifferent attitude towards a brand and the existence of its Priesthood, Disciples and Fanatics, not really caring one way or the other about brand issues. As a general rule, this lack of interest is motivated by a disinterest in Brand but are more focused on what the Brand produces.

imageSkulking Ninjas
Someone who is obviously a fake alias, but has suspicions of being part of the Priesthood, Disciples, Fanatics or Spinsters. Typically these people often are part of the Priesthood or Disciples but can’t show their true identity for fear of open reprisals and/or are looking to defect from the doctrine but can’t due to severe penalty clauses. At times these folks are personal, and are there not to debate or interact on a given topic, but are purely motivated by an absolute hatred regarding a particular person.

imagePhantoms
The ghost who talks, typically someone who is obviously a fake alias as well (much like the Skulking Ninja), difference however is they are consistent in their alias and often will talk about a given topic/brand without ever being identified. They are a secondary identity attached to someone who either prefers to remain anonymous or can’t reveal their identity due to the possibility of either criminal charges, political retribution or career limitations imposed. They thing about these entities are that whilst they are essentially a lie, they often speak raw open and transparent truth majority of the time – given they have no fear.

The concept behind EGOSPY was inspired by this discussion via TED. As i often think that in part the social impact that the above personas have is in many ways part of a kind of brand focused censorship – aka brand dictatorship.

An example of the GUI.

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Do we have one site too many?

In the past month if you’ve interacted with via twitter, email, facebook etc you’ve probably been asked by me “How many sites do you visit a week”.

I only ask is that I’ve got this theory or ill feeling that we at Microsoft are making far too many websites than we need to, but at this point it’s just a theory (i have no evidence or data to substantiate this theory either)

I’ve created some artist mockups of where I’d love to one day position Microsoft and the way in which we interact with the community  and potential customers. It’s an ongoing project, one that I’m doing to provoke some new thinking inside the company, but first I at times need to pitch what I think the initial problem is. Have a look and tell me if you agree or disagree?

Slide 1 – What do all these sites have in common?

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Slide 2 – They can be quite frustrating to discover and use?

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Slide 3 – They require unnecessary persistence.

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Slide 4 – They echo the same data at times ..at a rate that makes your head spin.

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Slide 5 – They require you to think in multiple personalities.

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Slide 6 – They all try and be different, but the end user is usually the same.

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That’s the theory anyway. What do you think?

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A tip on learning Silverlight. Throw away your code

You can stare at that blinking cursor inside Visual Studio all you want, it’s not going to give you an immediate insight into how you should architect your Silverlight solution so that it can be reusable and scale.

It’s not that you’re an idiot or aren’t good at programming, it’s just that you are trying to juggle learning Silverlight and building it at the same time. You’re already stressed, at making some bets around adopting the product or maybe you’re trying to still decide if this is still a good bet. Don’t add more layers of stress by trying to find a way to keep your entire code base re-usable.

Yes, your background in ASP.NET or WinForms is going to help you a lot going forward and i bet you have a bunch of best practices or albeit ones that you’re comfortable or at peace with (screw that guy who tells you you’re doing it wrong, did you ship? yes, well back off is what I’d say).

Silverlight is going to be different though, it’s going to require you to rethink a lot of things you’ve learnt in the past. Now you can blame the product for making you change your behavior, sure that can be an easy way out i guess, but you’re smarter than that and you adopted this for the right reasons. You’re rising to the challenge, and i’m telling you now, the code you right in the first phase of your adoption isn’t going to be poetic.

Stop wasting your time trying to build a framework that is scalable, you’ll do that in a few months. Instead, get used to the feeling of producing a solution one that you can throw away – yes i said it, throw away – in a few months from now.

Just ship. As time passes you’ll get experience, just like you did with the technology you’ve just spent x number of years spanking to death. Only this time, you’re going to be in the next early majority and you know what, it’s going to be more fun – i guarantee you.

I’ve spent close to 15 years programming for the web, i miss it. I enjoy it and I’ve used nearly all languages associated with the web (you name it, I’ve written an app for it) and for me as a Product Manager for Silverlight, I often grow jealous of the work you do.

Do me a favor though, practice more. As when I leave Product Management for Silverlight and I one day jump into the hot seat with you, I expect – no – demand you teach me what the best practices are.

The guys on my firewall can’t help you just yet, as we’re busy building the actual product itself, but soon once it stabilizes our teams over at Patterns & Practices and Framework crew, are going to show you the Microsoft way, but that doesn’t mean its the right way, it’s just our preferred way.

We hope by that stage you’ll contribute back and we’ll move forward in Rich Internet/Interactive Applications (RIA).

Throw away your code, trust me, you’ll be better next time.

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What does a potential Silverlight Adoption Lifecycle look like?

I’ve been working in this industry since i left high school back in 1995, and I often think about my journey to date and how I’ve adopted a technology. I then as a Product Manager on the Silverlight Team constantly try and put myself in you, the adoptee’s shoes. I’m constantly thinking about what it takes for you to adopt and what are the motivational events that have impacted you along your journey.

The below is my own personal experience / observation of the industry in general. It doesn’t stop at Silverlight either as prior to Microsoft I watched folks do the same with Macromedia Flash and then Macromedia Flex.

Not to mention AJAX and so on, even HTML! – yes, I watched the birth of HTML unfold into what is now a commercial entity known as oxygen ;).

The Adoption Curve.

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Contact. You’ve found the word Silverlight fly past your senses, you’ve not pinned down what it is but its the talk of the town

Awareness. You just finished reading something about it and have a somewhat bit of knowledge in and around what it’s capable of doing.

Understanding. You just finished a tutorial, training session or brown bag, overall you’ve got what we commonly call a “basic” understanding of the product.

Evaluation. You’re now writing a quick prototype of a project you’ve thought about making in Silverlight. You’re still unsure, but the product has captured your interest levels.

Trial Usage. You’ve built a first draft of your Silverlight solution, and you’re essentially shopping it around for feedback and help you up sell / include this into your peer’s technology radar.

Adoption.You’ve built your Silverlight solution and are ready to deploy, you’ve troubleshooted your way through learning the product and are now what we would call an “Adoptee”.

Institutionalization Your solution is in play, you’re now thinking about the next release or next project, you’re well on your way to success and have either a positive or negative feeling towards the brand.

The Learning Curve.

I’ve often thought about the whole competitive story around what it takes to adopt a technology. I know I’ve personally learnt more technologies than i thought my long-term memory could contain, but none the less they are there, crammed deep within the dark matter of which i call my brain (Java, PHP, C#, ActionScript, Flex, XAML, XSD, Maya, VRML etc).

The reason I do think about the competitive nature of technology is that in many ways when you read a Flash vs. Silverlight style post (insert Apple vs. Microsoft etc) it at times reads as if that technologists are easily conned into adopting a technology they’ve never used before.

In that the x number of years they’ve spent nurturing their chosen technology could easily be diverted to the new shiny toy that they have before them.

I put it to you that, folks aren’t that easily swayed, that often its simply a case of a number of factors. They are:

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Boredom.You’ve been using X technology for the past N years. You’re essentially peeked in terms of all that you want – not can – learn from the said technology. It’s time you explored your horizons and shop around for what’s the latest & greatest, that or research an old technology simply because of the nostalgic geeky cool flavor it brings to your technology palette.

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Goldrush.You’ve seen how much others are making off the Y-Technology and you’re keen to get some of that action. You are motivated my greed, but that’s ok, as in the end getting a leg up in life is fair game. You typically would of probably ignored this technology in the past, but all the other kids are doing it, so you’re essentially force fitting yourself to the adoption.

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Duress.You didn’t want to adopt, but you’re forced to due to a project you’re working on or about to. You start off in a negative state, in a duress state. You’re constantly trying to marry your existing skills over to this new technology but are finding it a rough road to follow. Eventually you figure it out and have an overall negative / positive emotion around the technology. It’s at this point you decide to either continue to pursue the adoption or abandon and retreat back to your preferred X-Technology of choice.

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Curiosity.You’re neither bored or motivated by gold / project. You’re simply one of those people who love to explore no matter what the technology. To you, technology is about the art of creation and problem solving and you tinker with them like someone explores a music library – all music is good, it just depends on the listener.

Summary.

There are different motivational reasons as to why someone adopts. There is no one fits all approach, and given in today’s IT environment there are so many moving parts to keep track of, it’s not an easy thing anymore.

In the old days, I remember learning Delphi vs Visual Basic. I choose Delphi simply because I couldn’t grok the VB way of code, to me the Delphi seemed more natural. Delphi didn’t get the uptake as much as VB did, so what happened?

Companies like Adobe, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Sun etc all have an offering to provide you all. The main mission overall is to highlight the technologies strength, divert from the weakness and encourage you to at least get as far as the Understanding stage in the life cycle. From there its entirely up to you, as that’s where the freedom of choice really kicks in (there is only so much a company can market).

It’s from here that you decide based on merit and personal experience (aka Time vs. Commitment) and ultimately this is the true test for these companies. As for us in Silverlight this is where if were to take a pulse at your confidence level, you’d tell us data that I’d rate as pure signal. As this ultimately for us is the tipping point of success vs. failure for the product as its our job to make sure you understand what the product is, ensure it’s easy to learn and lastly reassure you that you’re not alone – as nobody likes to actually bleed when it comes to bleeding edge adoption.

Is that all?

Next Post, how the human mind absorbs the adoption lifecycle, lets dig into cognitive science. The new fad i like to call “Cognitive Load Theory”, as once you fully understand how the human mind works and ways to seed information in both short-term and long-term memory, it gets really interesting… well for me anyway.

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User Experience – The Kettle.

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How many kettles have you owned over the years? is it more than one? has it always been the same one?

It’s a pretty straight forward device, you fill it up with water, it heats up and then you tip the contents out into a container.

Why then are there so many varieties of Kettles? Why are there constantly new ranges or approaches to the Kettle that come out each year?

The answer lies in the fact that end users are like Kettle owners, each has a unique preference and taste towards something we often take for granted each day.

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Each time a kettle is designed, it’s done so typically with an idea of who the end user is and how it could blend in with the rest of the owners kitchen style.

Software is no different to the kettle in many ways, its job is to blend in with the end users desktop, compliment their confidence level and ensure it upholds the core functionality required in order to carry out the task.

I all too often see folks go off the deep end with the User Experience in their RIA solution, and I often ask if they’ve stopped boiling water and are doing everything but that simple task.

Keep it simple; keep it fashionable and always think about User-Centric Design first, engineering second. You’ll find life gets easier that way.

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