Why I think Google Plus is revolutionary

I wrote the post below on July 2nd 2009. It sat in my Evernote for just under 2 years now, but with Google Plus, Google just did so much of what I was talking about that I guess I should share it now. The rough draft that I wrote is below. I’ve put in how Google plus fulfills the pieces below that.

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//Stuff I wrote in 2009:

Coming up with the perfect Communication system:

These are all the avenues I use to communicate with others:

  • In person
  • Phone
  • Windows Live Messenger
  • Windows Live Messenger (video)
  • Gtalk
  • Skype
  • Email
  • Twitter
  • Blog
  • Facebook Chat
  • Facebook messages
  • Facebook Wall
  • SMS (text messages)

How can we classify these though?

Length:
-Short form: SMS, Twitter, Facebook Wall
Medium form: Email, chat, blog, blog comments
-Long form: Email, Chat applications, Phone, Blog

Fidelity:
-Face-to-face: In Person, Video Chat
-Voice: Phone, Skype
-Text: Email, Blog, Chat, Twitter, Facebook Wall

Urgency
-Urgent: SMS, Phone, Chat applications
-Important, but not urgent: Email, Facebook Messages, direct twitter rmessages, in person
-Neither urgent, nor important: blog, twitter, facebook wall.

Audience
-myself: delicious, notes, google tasks, word documents, reminders
-small audience: SMS, Email, Chat, Twitter direct message, phone in person,
-medium audience: Facebook wall, Twitter
-large audience: Blog

Temporal
-Synchronous
-Replies within short time frames
-Whenever
These are my rules for which apps to use, rules that I kind of instinctively obey because they are the most convenient. They are rules that I break all the time. They probably have differences and similarities to your rules. Why is that? Each of the services that we use has different social connotations to us. I might believe a Facebook message is for important things, but you might think it is just for fluff and never check it.

How to fix it?

Here is my proposal for the workflow of my dream communication device:

  1. Choose who you want to communicate with, person, group, all your friends, open internet (Which is what Facebook’s privacy changes have just done)
  2. Choose the urgency (this should probably be more granular than what I just set up).
  3. Choose the fidelity that you require (text, voice or video).
  4. Choose how synchronous you want it to be.
  5. Specify how long you want the message to be (for text this step could be automatic, just letting you know when you start to cross boundaries).
  6. From the receiving side, you specify how you want messages to come to you from certain people.

Now, the critical part of this system is that the receiver gets to define how they are notified about your intent to communicate. These can be rules based on your location, your status, the time, what your calendar says, who is trying to contact you. even who you are with. So for instance, all urgent messages from your close contacts are pushed to your phone which beeps or vibrates. If it is not urgent, it is sent to your desktop, where a popup can appear every hour detailing how many new non-urgent messages are waiting (this stops the smartphone syndrome of constantly checking email, facebook etc jsut to see if something important has come up).

//End of stuff I wrote in 2009.

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Some random images from my phone… no uploading required!
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Now for how Google Plus implements so much of this:

Choosing who:

Circles is 95% of the way there. Between Circles, individual people, people with the link, public, they’ve really made that part super easy.


 Choose the urgency:

Not implemented by Google Plus… here’s hoping they do.

Choose how synchronous you want it to be.

The difference between the chat and the sharing pieces.
 Choose the fidelity that you require (text, voice or video)

All in Google Plus.

Fidelity choices on Google PlusFidelity Choices on Google Plus

Specify how long you want the message to be:

Google Plus just does it automatically. I’m not sure if this one is relevant anymore.
From the receiving side, you specify how you want messages to come to you from certain people:

Google has at least made a start on it

Settings for recieving posts on Google Plus

The big thing is that Google Plus does this all in one space. No message box, chat box and email inbox, no separate places to rebuild your community again and again, just all in one application.

I think that’s kind of awesome.

Fixing Mac OS

I just got a shiny new 13 inch MacBook Pro to use at work. Now, I feel that debates around the question “which operating system is better” are silly and believe that all of them have pros and cons. To prove it, I run Ubuntu on  my desktop, Windows 7 on my laptop and now Mac OS on my work laptop.

That being said, in my opinion, one of the greatest weaknesses that Mac OS has is its window management. The operating system believes that it can do a better job than me in arranging and sizing the windows on my screen. This fails drastically once you have more than one screen, or have lots of windows to manage.

To fix this I found a great free tool called “better touch tools“. The app works great for its intended purpose of adding more control over trackpad gestures and keyboard shortcuts, but it also allows you to add the window-snapping function of Windows 7. This means that setting windows side by side or making them full screen can be done with a flick of the mouse, as opposed to painfully dragging the box in the bottom right corner.

For anybody who’s work entails looking at more than one application at a  time or who uses multiple screens, this app is a must!

Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat, giving the big boys a run for their money.

I have installed every new release of Ubuntu for the last 8 versions (my first was 7.04 Feisty Fawn). I would use each release for a few weeks, get frustrated with the amount of effort it took, then return to Windows. Every time I could see the potential, but Windows 7 was always just a better operating system on average. I think that has finally changed.

After getting frustrated with Windows 7 taking a ton of time to do anything I installed Ubuntu’s Maverick Meerkat and I haven’t looked back. I think the 6-month release cycle has really paid off in a huge way for Ubuntu. All the little improvements over the versions have come together into something that now competes.

So why is it so good?

Continue reading “Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat, giving the big boys a run for their money.”

Microsoft shares its vision for the future… I can’t wait!

Here is a concept video that Microsoft recently showed at a conference. I found the original here (take a look at the comments, it’s pretty interesting).

http://images.video.msn.com/flash/soapbox1_1.swf

Although, with all the recent layoffs at Microsoft maybe 2019 might be a stretch.

Maybe it’s time to start backing Aubrey de Grey on his quest to help us all live to be 1ooo years old just so that we can all live the the cool future that is sure to come…
http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

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Under Construction

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Creative Commons License photo credit: carboila
So as some people have noticed lately my blog’s theme has changed. This is simply due to the fact that since last summer when I coded the old theme I have learned a lot about usability, accessibility and just general good practices on the web. As such I couldn’t stand the old theme any longer (due to its violation of those practices) and had to change.

While the new theme does still break a whole bunch of rules when it comes to accessibility and usability, I will be fixing those as soon as I can. The theme is chosen for its style and how I identify with it more than anything else. One of the key fixes is going to be a nice (really complex to code) JavaScript navigation. However, due to the fact that school is in crunch mode and due to my impending trip to Mexico, I will not be able to fix things up as early as I would like.

So there it is, new theme with many changes and improvements still to come. Comments, suggestions and all that jazz are welcome (especially as I am still on the fence about some of my ideas).

Apple multi-touch patent is not legal

{{de|Steve Jobs auf der Macworld in San Franci...
Image via Wikipedia

I don’t understand how there can even be any validity to the “heuristic multi-touch” patent that Apple was just granted. Why? Here are the facts as I see it:

  1. In order to obtain a patent you need to prove that you are the original inventor. To quote Wikipedia:

    Section 101 of Title 35 U.S.C. sets out the subject matter that can be patented:

    Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.

    This means that someone has to prove that they are the person who invented the technology. So for instance someone delivering a presentation on that technology to thousands of people means that there is no way that someone else can apply for the patent afterward.

     

     

  2. The Apple patent states the following:

    A computer-implemented method for use in conjunction with a computing device with a touch screen display comprises: detecting one or more finger contacts with the touch screen display, applying one or more heuristics to the one or more finger contacts to determine a command for the device, and processing the command. The one or more heuristics comprise: a heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a one-dimensional vertical screen scrolling command, a heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a two-dimensional screen translation command, and a heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a command to transition from displaying a respective item in a set of items to displaying a next item in the set of items.

     

     

  3. The Apple patent was filed on April 11th 2008
  4. Jeff Han gave this presentation (in front of thousands) at the TED Conference in February 2006:
    http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf
      

     

     

  5. Jeff Han’s presentation clearly shows all the things listed in Apple’s patent and was produced before the patent application. Therefore the patent is clearly invalid.
  6. Patents have to be non-obvious.
  7. Multi-touch heuristics are obvious. Here is a list posted by Craig Musselman on this post. As you can see multi-touch heuristics are very obvious and have been for a long time (well at least to Hollywood anyway):

    1. gene roddenberry Star trek

    http://www.trekcon.de/fedcon/2006/Intro/console.jpg

    2. Independence day docking tracking screen

    3. jetsons menu system

    4. AI (artificial intelligence) movie

    5. minority report

    6. children of men

    7. Predator

     

     

Am I wrong? This seems to be so patently obvious to me. Have I missed something? If I am not wrong, then I hope that Microsoft, Palm and even maybe Jeff’s lawyers are able to prove this and get the patent taken away.

Watching Jeff’s video about a year ago was a turning point in my life. It opened my eyes to the world of possibility that research into human-computer interaction can provide. My life’s goal is now to be a part of that, to be someone who helps to discovers new and intuitive ways to interact with computers. It is such a shame to see his inventions stolen by Apple. I agree that patents are necessary, but   really only for non-obvious things and only when you really, truly invented something yourself. Advances in any field are hampered if people and corporations do not play fair and I really feel that Apple is playing this one really dirty.

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Usability: Can open source software catch up?

Screenshot of kubuntu 8.
Image via Wikipedia

Last week I attended a talk given at the Vancouver User Experience Group (VanUE). The speaker was Greg Bell and he was talking about how in order for really good software to be developed, everyone in the development process needs to have a good understanding of usability. It was a decent talk, although the 3rd year UBC human-computer interaction course had already taught me most of what Greg was trying to get across.

Installing Windows 7
Creative Commons License photo credit: impresa.mccabe

This lecture coincided with me installing Windows 7 on both of my computers and really loving it. Now, Windows 7 is not much different to Vista, except that it is faster and addresses quite a few usability problems. I enjoy it so much in fact, that I will not go back to using the current release of Ubuntu.  Of course, this realization has upsets as it hits home the realization that as Apple and Microsoft (and indeed any big tech company) are starting to see the great importance of usability and putting it at the forefront of their design process, open source solutions (which have just started to catch up to the big boys) might be left in the dust once again. This Article from the University of  Waikato highlights a few of the challenges faced by open source projects when it comes to usability, including (and in my opinion the most important) “Design for usability really ought to take place in advance of any coding”. This leads us back to Greg’s talk at VanUE. I feel that if usability and the importance of design is pushed more heavily in the introductory parts of Computer Science then open source projects can benefit from that usability knowledge being pooled. Until then though, I think that many open source projects are going to start falling even further behind their proprietary counterparts.

This however, does not apply to all open source projects. Those with enough corporate backing (like WordPress with Automattic and Ubuntu with Canonical) are able to forcibly steer their developers towards more usable interfaces. This kind of work has already payed off for WordPress, however, we will have to await another Ubuntu release or two to see whether their efforts to change the way that a much larger (and more traditionally minded) community of open source programmers will actually pay off.

UbuntuTux
Creative Commons License photo credit: 4_EveR_YounG

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