A while ago I posted about Cecropia, a game company which had pioneered a totally unique video game called “The Act“.Using a simple knob, the player smoothly adjusts the silent protagonist’s personality, causing the characters around him to react accordingly. All the action takes place in ultra-smooth Disney-quality animation, with absolutely no UI elements – creating the first true interactive cartoon.Unfortunately, Cecropia has had a real problem with “The Act” – namely, how to market it. It’s far too short to make into a console game, and the knob (which most users don’t have) is pretty much critical to the experience, which would require a special hardware investment for most people. The animation quality is far too high to package into some kind of Flash game. It really would make a perfect arcade game. Unfortunately, the market for this kind of arcade game died out in the early 90′s.So, anyway, they’re taking their technology in a new direction, facing up to the realities of today’s gaming market, and trying their hand at interactive Flash “advergaming”. They’ve put up a demo on Cecropia.com. I won’t tell you how it works (figuring it out is part of the fun). If you’re at all involved in interactive marketing, get in touch with these guys. What they’re doing is truly groundbreaking, and they deserve a lot of attention (and money). And, who knows, maybe someday The Act will see the light of day, in some form or another.
A little mechanical engineering humor for the weekend.
From vowe dot net.
Niall Kennedy demonstrates a very clever trick for spying on a user’s browser history. You can’t actually retrieve the list (thankfully), but you can compare it to a known set of links. How? By exploiting the way CSS applies different styles to visited links! He recommends it as a way to selectively display social networking links which you have evidence the user actually uses, but the possibilities for creative evil helpfulness here are endless.
When I was at Hill, Holliday I wrote a controversial blog post (still available on their site) called “The Danger of Design – How Not to Build an Online Community“. It was so controversial, I was actually called into the Executive VP’s office and told “You shouldn’t say stuff like this, this is what we’re trying to sell“.I was just going through my archives and decided to re-read exactly what I wrote, and decide whether I still stand by it today.Yes, I do. Absolutely.When I wrote this, MySpace was the king of social networking. My argument was that MySpace’s “amateurish” design encouraged a sense of community. Nowadays, Facebook is king of the hill. Does this invalidate my argument?Absolutely not, in fact it reinforces it. Facebook succeeds for the same reason MySpace did – and then takes it one step further.Facebook succeeds because, like MySpace, it does not impose Design (again, that’s “capital-D Design”, as I describe in the original post) on the users. And it one-ups MySpace because it prevents its users from imposing Design on others.Design (capital D design!) is polarizing. Design forces you to make a decision – does this product’s image represent me, or does it not? If you want to attract a certain demographic, you want your products’ Design to speak to exactly that demographic. That’s Marketing 101.If you want to appeal to everyone, start undesigning.
I came across this joke on a “Joke of the Day” feed I subscribe to and, while funny enough on its own, it struck me that there had to be a hidden marketing “moral” in there somewhere. After thinking about it for a second, I realized what it is… Read my punchline after the joke.
A wise old gentleman retired and purchased a modest home near a junior high school. He spent the first few weeks of his retirement in peace and contentment. Then a new school year began. The very next afternoon three young boys, full of youthful, after-school enthusiasm, came down his street, beating merrily on every trash can they encountered. The crashing percussion continued day after day, until finally the wise old man decided it was time to take some action.
The next afternoon, he walked out to meet the young percussionists as they banged their way down the street. Stopping them, he said, “You kids are a lot of fun. I like to see you express your exuberance like that. In fact, I used to do the same thing when I was your age. Will you do me a favor? I’ll give you each a dollar if you’ll promise to come around every day and do your thing.” The kids were elated and continued to do a bang-up job on the trashcans.
After a few days, the old-timer greeted the kids again, but this time he had a sad smile on his face. “This recession’s really putting a big dent in my income,” he told them. “From now on, I’ll only be able to pay you 50 cents to beat on the cans.” The noisemakers were obviously displeased, but they accepted his offer and continued their afternoon ruckus. A few days later, the wily retiree approached them again as they drummed their way down the street. “Look,” he said, “I haven’t received my Social Security check yet, so I’m not going to be able to give you more than 25 cents. Will that be okay?” “A freakin’ quarter?” the drum leader exclaimed. “If you think we’re going to waste our time, beating these cans around for a quarter, you’re nuts! No way, dude. We quit!” And the old man enjoyed peace and serenity for the rest of his days.
This is exactly how “Consumer Generated Media” is going to die.
A while back, when press coverage of the Hollywood writers’ strike was in full swing, a writer was asked why it takes a staff of so many writers, taking such a long time, for so much money, to come up with something as short as a late night monologue. His response was: “You’re paying for the jokes that aren’t on the show”. Writing comedy’s not easy. Trying really hard to come up with five perfect jokes is far less effective than brainstorming 100 and throwing out 95 of them.There’s a perfect parallel here with UI design. Whereas the art of programming typically involves working in a “5 steps forward, 1 step back” process, the good UI designer will know when something’s not coming together correctly, and do the right thing by throwing out the entire design and starting over. It’s more like five steps forward, five steps back, six steps forward, six steps back – repeatedly starting from zero, but each iteration benefiting from knowledge gained in the previous one.A good UI design is one in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. No amount of tweaking will repair a UI that has gone too far down the wrong path. If your UI designer isn’t throwing out (a lot) more designs than they’re showing you, they’re not trying hard enough.The creators of the forthcoming OS X personal task manager, “Things” have written a great blog post describing this phenomenon. In the process of designing a single dialog box, they threw out dozens of possible options (they actually display 38 of them). And this was for something that’s already been done (a dialog for entering recurring events on a calendar), which they just wanted to do better. Had they been designing something that’s never been done, there would likely have been a lot more.So, the next time someone spends two weeks designing a single mockup, thank them. Remember you’re paying them for knowing what to throw out.
An acquisition of Yahoo by Microsoft would undoubtedly be a boon for Microsoft, no matter how bad they bungle it, if only due to the subtraction of competition. But is it good for the consumer? Well, my initial reaction was one of fear and trepidation. Microsoft has a history of buying valuable properties, stripping them for parts, and baking them into their same old bread and butter offerings (Office, Windows, and MSN). Can you think of a single major online “brand” that has come out of Microsoft in the past 5 years? Windows Live? Maybe, but that’s a stretch.Yahoo, on the other hand, has successfully acquired and fortified brands like Flickr and del.icio.us. “Microsoft™ Yahoo!™” is one thing, but “Microsoft™ Flickr™”, Well that idea can bring your typical Web 2.0 utopian to tears. Stripping Yahoo for parts would be terrible for the average Joe. Yahoo is loaded with so many interesting technologies and tools (Pipes, anyone?) that would undoubtedly be lost in the shuffle if Microsoft tries to pick it apart.However, what would be good for Microsoft, and for the consumer is if Microsoft plays it smart and realizes that Yahoo is a far more relevant brand in this day and age, and doesn’t mess with it. What the Yahoo acquisition can do for Microsoft is allow it to stop their hopeless and incredibly annoying strategy of building desktop software that tries to supplant the web.If Yahoo became Microsoft’s “bread and butter” (which would mean figuring out how to beat Google in the advertising market – no small feat), it would take an enormous amount of pressure off of Windows, which could actually once again become a useful, streamlined OS, instead of a bundle of “Look, you can’t do that on the Web!” whiz-bang eye candy features.Time will tell how this will play out. The great thing these days is that for every Yahoo site or feature that Microsoft ruins, there will be 10 scrappy startups ready to jump in and pick up the slack. And let’s not forget that Google was a scrappy startup a mere 10 years ago. Play your cards carefully, Microsoft…
The West Midlands Fire Service has certainly gone out of their way to make their web site accessible – to the deaf. Kudos to them for figuring out a way to convey information to the deaf via the visual medium of the web.