Archive for the ‘Potential improvements’ Category

Apple’s iPhone-iPod missteps

Friday, October 12th, 2007

Wil Shipley writes an excellent examination of the challenges Apple faces with a fully-locked-in platform such as the iPhone/iPod.  The key point is that this recent situation of increasing lock-in diverges significantly from where Apple generated its tremendous prior success — empowering its customers:

  • The first Macintosh made it easy for users to create. 
  • The first iPod made it easy for people to purchase and listen to music. 
  • The first iPhone made it easy for users to get upset that they can’t add applications like every other phone in the known universe.

Which of these things is not like the other?

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BBC for only Windows users

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

The BBC’s iPlayer controversy, neatly summarized in the BBCorrupted and iPlayer Protest Defective By Design columns.  With the BBC’s mission of serving the public, choosing a Windows-only solution clearly is not user-friendly.

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FCC Net Neutrality commentary ends today

Friday, June 15th, 2007

From Wired via Slashdot, the FCC’s Net Neutrality commentary period ends today.  Here’s my comment:

As a founder of several small companies, all dependent on the
Internet, I am concerned that allowing a duopoly (local phone carrier and local cable carrier) will restrict and fetter access to my target consumers.  We have seen the effects of allowing a small group to impose unilateral data access restrictions in the mobile telephone space, where innovative services are completely lacking, data plans are overpriced, and development is restricted to those who pay extortionate rates to be promoted on the mobile carriers’ networks.

These are some of the same companies who now protest innocently that they will not stifle future development but who have a record of doing precisely that in the past.  See for additional details.

Ensure that all traffic of a given type is handled identically on any connection, regardless of the owner of the originating system.  Sole proprietors, Google, AT&T, or Verizon – their websites, phone service, and video should all behave exactly the same way, whether the traffic is handled by AT&T, Verizon, another ILEC or CLEC, or any independent ISP.

Head on over and post your own!

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Ubuntu as primary user system

Friday, June 8th, 2007

I think this article about using Ubuntu as a desktop system is significant because it highlights the unseen cost of utilizing Windows. The person in the article is not a standard computer user — his use of rsync shows that — but his point about an integrated system to install and update software highlights the major failure of Windows.

My last Windows installation started Monday and has taken 5 days, and I keep discovering software I haven’t installed as I’m using the machine. The next steps are:

  • Go to Google
  • Locate download file
  • Download
  • Install
  • Add license key
  • Configure

…and don’t even think about updates.

Mac OS X at least deals with Apple updates – but what kind of a killer app would it be if Apple Software Update checked all the installed applications, shareware, and other goodies on your machine and coordinated installations for you as well?

Fun with Fraud

Friday, May 25th, 2007

A great column on the vulnerability of credit cards and a simple way to protect customers from fraud.

Word and footnotes

Friday, September 29th, 2006

A small challenge in using Microsoft Word popped up today, when I had a footnote that I wanted to apply to two separate table entries. I first tried the intuitive answer – copy the footnote reference number and paste it in the second location that I wanted. Nope! Next I tried the easy way out – I asked a coworker. Nope, nobody knew how to do it.

I finally threw my ego on my sword and looked in Help… and found it! A 6-step process to create a second reference to a footnote.  Except it doesn’t format it correctly, though the page does tell you that problem… and if you can warn the user about a problem, you should correct the issue in the application.  And the second reference doesn’t behave the same way on mouseover and may have its own peccadillos.

I started playing around with it, and found out that you can right-drag the second reference and choose “Link Here” and it can be duplicated to a third and fourth instance… but it doesn’t work if you right-drag the first footnote.

What do we learn from this?

  1. Consistency: If you’re going to give an option like the right-drag, make it behave correctly.  The “Link Here” option, when used with a footnote reference, copies the footnote… which is the same behavior as a right-drag “Copy Here” has.
  2. Ease-of-use: Don’t make the user go through multiple (6!) steps when there is an easier way to deal with the issue.  While the help entry provided the steps to the result I desired, a more helpful way of dealing with this situation would be to allow me to copy the reference number and then give me a smart tag that let me choose to [a] create a copy of the reference and footnote with a new number (the current action) or [b] create a second reference to the existing footnote.  Or make the right-drag work.
  3. Completeness: Document that you can right-drag a second reference footnote to a new location and get the same result, and reference a link to that documentation in the original Help article to lead the user to all the possible feature uses.

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Netflix and New Movies

Saturday, September 2nd, 2006

When I read about an interesting new movie in the newspaper, I want to be able to add it to my Netflix account – like “Why We Sing!“  – but because they are too new, they don’t show up.  Their movie suggestion page requests (requires?) that they be already released on DVD, which seems mostly reasonable.  Current movies will 99% be released on DVD sometime, so how to fix it?

Implement one of two new functions/features:

  1. Allow people to request movies not yet released and simply put them in a different queued area [probably hard since you can't get 100% of the information for the movie/DVD and adds to staff time searching it out], or,
  2. Allow people to save movie searches as reminders with a future date.  So a new movie coming out, like “Why we sing!”, could be saved as a search ‘why we sing’ that will run again in X months.  Then I could choose to have it remind me in three months to re-search and see if it is in the system yet, or postpone it again if appropriate.  That way the user doesn’t have to figure out a way to remind themselves to search and end up forgetting movies that could interest them.

I’ve already forgotten the title of the HBO Doc that Spike Lee made about New Orleans, and by the time it is on DVD I will have forgotten about it completely.  This feature would enhance user loyalty (since they would have to stay a member to have the system remind them) and would make users happy since they wouldn’t need to remember or track new movies separately.

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Not quite neutral

Friday, August 4th, 2006

In an NYT Op-Ed, Mr. Timothy B. Lee argues that historical regulation of monopolies have turned against consumers, and that Congress ought to just let new technology fight it out since consumers can ‘rebel’.

Except they can’t.

Users are held hostage to one or two providers right now, and if my experience is any indication, both will be as horrible as they can get away with.  If neither one is restricted, they both will “protect” users from those horrible bandwidth hogs who won’t write checks… and the users will have no real choice in the end.

Lee has a good point – regulatory capture is a real danger, but his hope for ’several promising new technologies’ is just pie in the sky right now.  So let’s focus on the real danger and improve the legislation to handle an automatic sunset… perhaps after a certain period of time, or a certain amount of new market penetration, or by allowing the ‘promising new technologies’ unregulated reign, so even the existing carriers might try to build new networks.

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Buildings can be good for users?

Sunday, July 30th, 2006

An interesting article about studies that show buildings can increase health, intelligence and productivity.  Light and views always seem to make people happier — look at how hard people fight for the window office or cube — so it doesn’t seem earthshaking that it actually would affect a person working.  The next step is to figure out how to press builders to create wonderful buildings for all, and to advocate businesses to factor that extra productivity into the rent.  I know it would improve my workplace!

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Banner Ad hack hits MySpace users – why?

Monday, July 24th, 2006

A malware-loaded ad was published through a 3rd-party advertising network and exploited MySpace users’ bad patching practices (or choice of vulnerable software, depending on your perspective) and was described in the Washington Post about a week ago.  So, from a user’s perspective, where does the responsibility lie?

I would argue that this failure is on the advertising network.  Some have written about the seeming ‘impossibility’ of monitoring all the different ads that they publish, but is that ever the argument given on television or in a newspaper if a racist, demeaning, or otherwise offensive advertisement is shown? 


Why should the web be any different?  If you are outsourcing editorial control (by using a 3rd party ad network) then the responsibility should be in that contract, and they should be held responsible.  The real issue is the user-unfriendly ads that are being published these days — javascript, cookies, flash, all kinds of uncontrolled coding that can be used for attacks like these.

If you can’t control or scan for the vulnerabilities, the ad network needs to dial it back to only serving images and links.  If you can’t validate the advanced advertisements, go back to the old style and don’t let the advertisers push you beyond the point of control.

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