Monday, May 30, 2011

Tech mix...

For memorial day weekend, before it becomes old news.
  • Google Tasks API is released, finally! After all this time without any improvement, I wasn't hoping anymore to see GTasks become a useful Task management tool. Initially designed to be as simple as a piece of paper, it was definitely simple - too simple. Although it's still lacking key features, at least with an API, other developers can build on it.
  • A few weeks ago at an event on Silicon Valley Trends, I briefly chatted with Yvan Castilloux from People Power, a startup creating a cool product to monitor the individual energy consumption of each electrical appliance in your office/home. It works by placing a chip in each appliance, which then sends the data to the clouds, where you access it via a website. It's more oriented B2B than B2C for now, but they want to reach end customers soon. I thought about it again when I read about "Android@Home, a framework that allows Android devices to communicate with home appliances and other devices," which was presented at Google I/O 2011. I don't know you, but I'd love to be able to monitor my energy consumption.
  • Programming only when it's too ineffective to do it manually: a 23 min video of Manuel Rosso, CEO of Food on the Table, at Startup Lessons Learned 2010.
  • I just discovered Storify, a really cool web app to make a story out of social media feeds. Or, put pieces of news together to make actual news.
  • Verify: A web app to quickly test your design and interface with real users. goes further by having users experience an interactive interface, as opposed to Verify which just shows images.
  • It's everywhere in the tech news, Google releases the Chromebook in June, a netbook with Chrome OS: Google's very simple and fast OS entirely dedicated to web surfing. Don't want to buy a netbook to try out Chrome OS? No worries, you can geek around and install Chromium OS, its open-source version, on any notebook. Google develops an OS for PCs (Chrome OS) and an OS for mobiles (Android), yet the difference between the two industries is fading - when will Google unify the two?
  • LetsLunch for networking during lunch. Ah, even lunch time is being productive now :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hackers' developmental "action-logic"

When Vivek Haldar writes that hackers love "closed worlds", I can't help thinking of adult developmental psychology. Although I'm not familiar with the "early lips systems" and "SmallTalk" he refers to, his description of experiencing such systems reminds me of my teenage years and my dreams of becoming a real hacker. Since I've started studying developmental psychology, I have often looked back at these years as an illustration of the Expert action-logic (p.15) (pdf). And I think it's true of many (pseudo-) hackers. In fact, closed-world-loving hackers are another good illustration of the Expert action-logic. Why is that?

Web comics from the excellent

Experts have grown out of the Diplomat action-logic, they have an increased capacity for 3rd person abstraction and for seeing multiple alternative solutions to a problem. What better capacities can you expect from a tech guy? Whereas Diplomats are more likely to sugar-coat reality, Experts can more easily accept an imperfect present - and be cynical about it. This is in part because they can better see what could be in addition to what should be, and they identify with an ideal self and an ideal world that seem reachable. So why stick around with the crowd if they can strive for individual improvement, mastery, or even perfection?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Monday, May 9, 2011

Those noisy newsletters!

How often do you read email newsletters? If you're like me, it has become a habit to unsubscribe from as many as you can, except maybe for one or two. Most of the time, newsletters are a pain. I sometime find useful information in one of them, but please, please, if you have to send me one, send me something interesting, simple, easy-to-read, and to the point.

Sadly, most newsletters I see are terrible. They are so inexpensive to send that many organizations don't invest much resources in designing good newsletters. Newsletter senders, please get inspired by these few principles below, or run the risk to be an annoyance to your reader. Please STOP WASTING MY TIME.

Purpose: Beyond the click-through rate

The way newsletters are made has not evolved much in the last years. However the way people interact with online information has, emails included. The amount of information we read online, in particular, has increased drastically (14% of all information hours Americans receive come from the Internet (p. 18)). Users are learning to be more selective with the information they grant their attention to. With the amount of emails we receive everyday, consider your newsletter as a potential annoyance for the recipient, and a sign of trust on their part when they open it. This trust is precious, hard to earn and easy to lose. Sending a newsletter just to send a newsletter is the easiest way to lose it. For many people, your email is the visible face of your organization. If you think it's only one more email, you're missing out the context. Your email is a statement about who you are and how you view your relationship with the reader.

You can't design your email with in mind the click-through rate as ultimate goal and measurement of success. It's a valuable metrics, but more important is that your reader keeps trusting you enough to open your next newsletter. If he or she doesn't, you lost them. How to do then? Focus on pleasing your reader - just like you would if you sent an informative email to a friend. Don't try to trick them with deceiving offers, don't try to get their attention if your content is not worth it. Respect their time!

Good little content

I'm sure you want to tell me all about your business, but don't try to force feed it to me in an email: it is not the right medium! That's what websites are for. It may seem radical, but in newsletters good content is little content. Give me one or two content items, no more. If you have no way to prioritize between four news items, it's likely that none of them are worth sending a newsletter about. Maybe you should consider blogging instead - readers can consult your blog whenever they like, they can even subscribe to a RSS feed. Send an email only if you have something important to share, and in that case, share only that, all the rest is noise. Nothing stops you from linking to your blog, why not even with the titles of the last three posts published.

Just consider how you read your emails; do you often spend more than 7 seconds reading an email not personally sent to you? Me neither. So if you take my time with an email, make sure you have top A content for me, not B not C. It's okay to share B quality content on a blog, it is not okay to waste my time with it in my inbox.

Empty space is soothing

The good thing with little content is that there is more space for nothing. AAAH what a waste? No, empty space is a rare commodity on the web, everyone trying to fill each pixel with value-creating content. There is great value to nothing. First, in the noisy web, it is resting, and users appreciate this comfort (look at the success of Google's homepage when competitors were filling their pages with news, ads and fluff). Second, space contrasts with content, so it emphasizes it without having to use noisy tricks like bold, italic, colors... And third, empty space loads pretty damn fast with every connection :-)  In short, empty space is not nothing! Designer Mark Boulton has written a good article on the use of whitespace.