airtel MO CNCL UNB OT

I am like this has to be blogged – for future retreival :-) I got a bummer of a news in the morning that Tata Indicom the only provider that said will provide Internet to my place is sorry and is looking forward to revitalize our relationship on a later date ;P {I have a bigger post on that soon}!!

So, decided I will call airtel and activate GPRS (Mobile Office) and using internet on the go. Pained that its going to 43 kbps speed but atleast – its going to be always available. But I was really surprised with the activation messages I have to send. The cost is Rs 140/week (they highlight this plan only after you really dig and ask!)

Activate Mobile Office    : sms MO to 6123
Deactivate Mobile Office : sms MO CNCL to 222
Check Unbilled Amount  : sms UNB to 121
Outstanding amount       : sms OT to 121

Can airtel get more intuitive. Talk about customer experience and Usability. I wonder if this is the state everywhere else in the world. Something is really messed up in the corporate structure I think – otherwise who in the hell will say send sms to 6123 to activate and send to 222 to deactive!

I am blogging for my personal reference and hope other people benefit from it!

sparklines

Sparklines‘ are small graphical charts that can be inserted in line with the text. My curiosity was sparked into it when Rajesh ask me to look into for data representation in Mobiles! A discussion forum on sparklines from ‘Edward Tufte‘ ‘s website was a great starting point. Edward Tufte is well know for his contributions in the field of visual literacy and information design. Look into the comments section of the post for more implementation and insights. A example is followingsparklines_medical.jpg

Another  neat implementation of the sorting algorithm visually is the following picture.

sort_200_elementfile.jpg

The use of sparklines in financial stuff is pretty evident easily. It their inherent ability (when used properly) to pack huge amount of dense data. Following is a excerpt from the book – Beautiful Evidence where there is a chapter on Sparklines.

tables_n_sparklines.jpg

More exploration in the comments section leads to  a beautiful implementationby Mariano
yhoo.jpg

We can easily see how we can see the trends and patterns of the yahoo stock so easily … I just cannot imagine getting so much of information in far lesser a place. Imagine the use of such visualization where space is a crunch! Lovely smart use of color, font,size and shading!
Also do check out the wiki dedicated to sparklines http://sparkline.org/ and if you want to quickly play with sparklines checkout the script at http://intepid.com/stuff/sparklines/

See the stocks ticker at the bottom of this webpage … its pretty cool. Infosthetics talks about how cleverly they use sparklines to display their statistics.


Use see the use of sparklines in google finance. They have put it to great use – in general I am awed with their display flash app :-) ! The php script and the excel plugin are also pretty cool – I tried them out and was impressed what I could build upon in a day on the open source i.e just tweaking it to my requirements. Hope this post is pricked your interest in one of the several clever ways to show data. the excel bar graphs and pie charts are not the only ones! making them inline is cooler!

adaptable design

Leander Kahney writes on Wired.com – “Why I love Apple”. Amazingly good observation. I think this is one of the reasons I have actually believe me ‘empathy’ when I use apple products. Even if my mac does hang (yes it does sometimes) its like – man I was running too many applications :-)!! :P I think its all about user experience – attention to detail + beauty embbed seamlessly. Leander says:

While I was adjusting the width of the columns, I noticed that the
date changes format depending on the width of the column. If the column
is wide, the date is displayed as “February 27, 2006.” But if you
narrow the column, the date changes to a shorter format: “Feb 27,
2006.” If you narrow the column even further, the date format changes
to the shortest format possible: “2/27/06.”

In addition, the time an e-mail message is received is also
displayed — if there’s room. If the column is narrowed, the time
disappears altogether.

And almost all of Apple’s products display these touches. There’s
the iPod’s slick scroll wheel that accelerates down a long list of
songs the longer you turn it; iChat’s phone icons that exactly match
your model of phone; the instructions for adding more RAM printed
inside the machine’s casing; or the light around a PowerBook’s A/C
power cord that tells you if the batteries are charging or fully topped
up.

Not all of Apple’s products are like this, of course (Aperture jumps
to mind), but most of them are. They generally display an astonishing
— almost fanatical — attention to detail that makes them not just
easy to use, but a pleasure.

Other companies do this too. IBM’s ThinkPads are marvels of clean,
sturdy engineering; Nokia’s cell-phone interfaces nicely anticipate the
user’s intentions. Even Microsoft’s Xbox 360 interface is pretty slick.

But again and again, Apple delights with its focus on the user
experience. Its engineers and programmers obviously work through every
aspect of how the product will be used, and refine it until they get to
the slightest detail — like matching the date format to the width of
the column.

Metaphors in Design

I came across ‘real’ use of Metaphors thanks to Jono when I was doing my research in Berkeley at Berkeley Institute of Design. Off late I read the Master’s thesis by Dan Saffer from CMU on “The Role of Metaphor in Interaction Design“. In this post I am going to highlight specific points in the report. However, I would recommend you to it if you have a time. Its a quick and nice read.

Personally Metaphors I feel help in design. Help being more creative while designing a product. And also help people use something easily.

I am highlighting the key takeaways first – guidelines for Metaphor Usage:

  • Metaphors are cultural
  • Metaphors are contextual
  • Fit the Metaphor to the functionality, not the otherway around (obvious but difficult once you start using the metaphor)
  • Use metaphor to uncover otherwise hidden aspects of the material
  • Discard process metaphors when necessary
  • Don’t let metaphors ruin key features
  • Choose Metaphors that are appropriately scalable
  • Let your Metaphors degrade and die

Classic Example: Computer is a Desktop
I think this one has been really powerful and still applicable. I think its time we start looking at a metaphor for ‘ Mobiles / cellphone ‘. Any examples anyone can think of?
Mobile as a Remote? I think its good but not that scalable! Expect some comments here.

Use of Metaphor in Design Process:

  • Redifining “Problems”
  • As a Reasearch Tool
  • As Inspiration
  • As a Communication Device
  • In the process itself!

Metaphor in Products:

  • As a Conceptual Framework
  • Define Space and structure via Container Metaphors
  • To Orient (users)
  • Introduce New Concepts

Critique of use of Metaphors in Interaction Design:

  • Physicality of object being compared cannot be matched more by abstract subject
  • Abstract object has more properties than the correct object.
  • Metaphors don’t scale well
  • Metaphors degrade with time
  • Metaphors are overused as a design tool – hinder advanced users

help the weather department?

well, I happened to check the Indian MeT department site for the weather. I was really impressed with the amount of data they have! They have also done a decent job of presenting the data.

But I feel the UI and Usability can be really enhanced. Does anyone want to work with me to help them? Basically take the same pages and make a mirror site and show them how well it can be done!

We can use a bit of CSS, better colours and small amount of Ajax. Is anybody interested to give it a spin??

Here are the main URLs:
All India Weather
Today’s Min Max
Main Features of Today’s weather

They even have a weather animation! I am picking today’s satellite picture directly from their site – I hope it works for entire time of the post …

Attract and Motivate

Its all about the looks! A good post on “attract and motivate through customer experience“. The auhtor says:

“The “demotivators” I’ve identified are “trust” and “usability”, in
other words, these are not so much motivators, but enablers, lubricants
of cooperation if you like. “Motivators” are actually more enablers,
ie. autonomy is just about putting frameworks in place that enable
customers to be creative.”

example given = IKEA! i.e this doesn’t apply only to just web companies :D

“make our offline lives richer”

Two great back to back posts on why web apps fail!

The 7+7 reasons he mentions are:

  1. Focus on social instead of personal.
  2. They solve too many problems, or try to.
  3. They’re about making someone other than the user happy.
  4. They sell it the wrong way.
  5. Not in it for the long haul.
  6. They show too much of what’s going on, and get gamed.
  7. They don’t have an underlying business strategy of improving people’s lives.
  8. They’re never built.
  9. They’re modeling an offline activity incompletely.
  10. They’re ahead of the curve.
  11. They don’t plan for change.
  12. They don’t charge money.
  13. They have no barrier to entry…at all.
  14. They don’t think holistically.

He finally ends with this sentence:

“If we look closely, that’s what most successful web apps do: they make our offline lives richer.”

I completely agree. We are all here to make a difference in everybody’s life! Lets make the so called web 2.0 really social so that the impact comes back to the ‘real’ world.

mobile TV and user experience

Putting people first says poor design and user experience are hampering the growth of mobile TV.

Weaknesses include:

  • Poor quality reception – patchy 3G coverage with interruptions
  • Slow start up speed – The time taken to access the service through menu structures and connection time was between two and five minutes
  • Cost – flat rate vs pay-as-you-go issues were raised in the study
  • Usability -Many aspects of the service were simply considered unnecessarily complicated to use
  • On screen displays – such as details of current show and channel were considered important
  • Programme guides – not easily available

10 years in your palm

I used a palm for 15 months 2 years back and as student I felt it was really useful!

Making notes, appointments – especially when life is really random as a grad student, tracking your expenses, reading books. well, my use stopped there. But the decently sleek design of my Palm Zire and the concept of adaptive writing were things that left an impression in my mind.

Handwriting recognition – where the humans adapt their gestures to an extent and the machines are efficient beyond that was win-win situtation! This is some concept designers have to keep in mind while making new products. Simplicity is more important – you customers are willing to learn and spend the time. Thats provided your product rocks once they learn the basics!!

This Cnet news article talks about the 10 years of Palm. i cannot believe its been a decade… 10 quick years of product design evolution! Some pics taken from the article:

first Palm

palm1.jpg
The palm I owned :-)

palm_8.jpg

The Palm Treo (no-windows mobile one!):

palm-treo-650-300x500.gif

Others notable mentions

palm5.jpgpal_7.jpgpalm_6.jpg

todays links …

links I hope to read later in the day. Blogging in case any one of you find time in between and find it useful. :-).

Usability Research: Key Findings 2005

Creators, Syntheziers and consumers:
talks about communities and groups effect in yahoo.

Top ten U.S Spending Trends (2005)

Free eBook
: Its of the entrepreneur genre …

Some webapps and services you should check out if you haven’t yet!
www.picsquare.com
– For people who want to send prints especially in India. They are in the news doe refusing VC funding recently from some firm!
www.meebo.com
I am surprised lot of people are still unaware about this webapp for chatting from inside the browser! Also do check out www.ajchat.com
Visual RSS public aggregator
– this one really rocks
On the lines of RSS aggregator see: Live.com (from Microsoft) and Pageflakes.

Mobiles and usability!!

Just read a great review by Harshad of his new Samsung SGH C210. My company has also given me a samsung cellphone too (I was previously using a cool LG one) will drop in a line on my experiences once I start using it for a month or so … BUT I would like to highlight the final paragraph by Harshad:

“So I’ll try to learn the foolish ways of this foolish phone… maybe even get my fingers damaged in the daily excercise for sending messages and making calls. Till I save up for a better device… I will have to deal with a bad bad bad choice. This is perhaps the worst user interface I have ever seen. Even UNIX is better – it allows fairly intelligent people to change things as they want – here I am supposed to be just as stupid as any other Joe user. *sigh*”

ALL usability and Mobile manufacturers read the above sentences again and keep re-reading it! There is so much to learn in this paragraph. Harshad has done a great job of simplifying the trouble and problems with the current cell phones! Both industrial design and the software design.

I shall be sharing the blogroll for mobiles soon but gotomobile – a mobile usability and user experience blog is doing a decent job at looking into this space!
Coming back to his comment, he is a geek and feels the need of more control and ability to program stuff. And I don’t think the companies should pay heed to that. But what you have to understand is even a non-geek feels the need of non-customizing at some level!

And yeah, all the cribs are on the software front. Hardware he is ready to put up with :) and common how difficult is it to have multiple builds?? how the same hardware!

Another thing lacking in the mobile handset industry is STANDARDS!!! The list is endless – power chords, usb chords, buttons, talk button, end button .. god damn it I agree you need more IQ to operate these phones than operate windows ;-) But guess what even illiterates manage to do that. So, designers – go understand the common man – they have lot to say.

Finally, this is a picture of my old cell phone in the US, LG-PM 325 with google Local running on it. I was very happy and satisfied with it! I just couldn’t get it working in India as its CDMA i.e Sprint contract. Neither Reliance nor Tata indicom were ready to help me out on that!!

LG PM325

zingos! tag clouds for news :)

a very quick post on somethings cool I have found on the net – brilliant use of tag clouds (refer to my earlier post) for news items! So, here they are:

NewZingo

Techzingo

Buzzingo

Idea is brilliant! Lovely, pleasing visualization and UI – kudos for idea execution. take and analyse data from google news, active sites like slashdot, digg, technorati and display tag clouds of the current words!! amazing :D

Also see another type of AJAX chat application, ajchat , very useful when 4 or 5 people want a chat room on the fly! no need for username and logins. just agree on a roomname and voila you have a chatroom! chatting on the demand. talk about simplicity.

tagcloud_tech_news

Datamining ‘myself’! g…eeks!

my trends from google search

A new ‘trends’ feature in the personalized feature in google serach. I am sure this will clearly make some people scared! They are using datamining technology to know more about – look at ‘people’ with similar searches tip at the bottom. A neat product if the customer doesn’t mind giving the data to google (as if something prevents them from using it even if you say no :D).

The data is represented in lots of ways. Very neat idea I should say. Monthly, weekly and hourly. What I learnt about myself from just looking at the data:

  • this year I did lot of search during the month of october.
  • During a week, I search most on tuesdays – quite possible thinking back I feel lot bored then and hence look around searching on the net.
  • My search activity is amost the same through out the day i.e I am ever hungry and active before the computer but during the evenings it really really dips. I do chill out then.
  • I am very interested right now in web applications.

Now, just let your imaginations run wild a bit – what can google do with this? Look at the array of prodcuts they have your account associated with:

  1. Google search
  2. Gmail
  3. Gtalk
  4. Analytics
  5. Reader
  6. Blogger
  7. Orkut

I shall stop here as these are some of the decent products they have (Google Earth, Maps, Mobile Local, Desktop, Picasa are independent and kewl). Though the User Interface consistency is pathetic across their product offerings, which Google will soon have look into very seriously! A huge overhaul needs to be done! The price they pay for having independent projects or acquisitions. (even yahoo kinds of sucks in that way)
Coming back to the topic, some things we can expect in future from google not necessary:

  • if these use these information to put their advertising business model in sync! wow, can u imagine – they know you love U2, Apple i.e Rock and Mac. So, they wouldn’t even bother showing ads that have windows product! Very HIGHLY RELEVANT ADS to the user at the HIGHLY relevant places at a relevant TIME! (year, week and mornings & nights)
  • Gone will be the days when you see a victoria secret advertisement in the office when your boss is overlooking you in the morning but it would be completely ok in the night! ;-o
  • Suggesting I should make friends with these people from ‘orkut, AIM’ – common like minded people GEL! Great minds think alike uh …
  • You should read these blogs and news articles! A very relevant offshoot of Gnews but adaptable

Something thats missing in google is ‘photos’ as they are trying to take care of print (books) and video. May be who knows Riya may patch the chasm that flickr has for Yahoo! Other products in the making can be seen at Google Labs

Thinking back, though, all the services may be free letting some company know who you are is extremely scarry! Common dammit I myself don’t want to know who I am, isn’t life random? Especially given the fact that virtual and real world is converging and soon we are all going to be mobile with out even carrying our mobiles! eeks … In short, google can be a Wink away anyday.

Of course, before the Grinch spoils everything “Merry Christmas” – ‘may the Lord bless ye all’ ;-)

Mercury Rising on India

Check this lovely news article about the “IT Boom in Bangalore” at the Mercury News. Mercury News, a Bay area newspaper website, their ‘media’ website is amazingly cool! Its a great mix of photos and videos. Clearly shows how they have adapted to the new form. I am very impressed in the way they have presented this new article – mixing video and browser in a newspaper kind of format! Nice user interface :)
People in India might slightly find difficulty in seeing the video but should be a great watch for the folks in US! Do send your comments if you get a chance. Guess, its an article made for the folks in the US ;-)