“A city speaks to you mostly by accident—in things you see through windows, in conversations you overhear. It’s not something you have to seek out, but something you can’t turn off.”—Cities and Ambition - Paul Graham
As much as we complain about other people, there is nothing worse for mental health than a social desert. The more connected we are to family and community, the less likely we are to experience heart attacks, strokes, cancer and depression. Connected people sleep better at night. They live longer. They consistently report being happier.
“Resist the urge to regress when a solution has problems. The only way out is through, with more knowledge. We all have a moral obligation to our descendants to be a force for the growth of knowledge, so that they may live like kings compared to us.”—Today’s email from The Listserve. They’re often good, but today’s was great.
Towards the end of a recent project at work, I came up with a technique to help us do more user-focused QA work, which was unambitiously titled the Scenario Card Game.
How does it work?
You write down the main tasks that someone will do in your application, and print them off on something playing card(ish) size.
Write down all the little nuance details that might make those tasks happen differently, and again print those off on something playing card sized. The best things to use here are things that a user might need, or unique facts about them that would change the task.
Pick a task card, and few nuance cards (we used three). You now have a specific scenario to use when walking through your application. Check that everything makes sense together, if anything conflicts just put some cards back and draw new ones.
At this point, you should actually use that scenario to walk through your app, and record the results. Were there bugs? Was it hard to figure out what to do because of the nuances?
Make the app better. Repeat.
In our project, there was a lot of functionality, but people were having a hard time seeing how everything fit together. So we created some scenarios that outlined specific flows a user might go through, and developers/QA would walk through these to make sure everything was working. It was a pretty good system, but the scenarios were very perscriptive, which meant that after you had done the scenario once, people started seeing them as a bit of a chore, and it didn’t invite the level of creative exploration that we were hoping for.
So this game was an attempt to capture the big picture things that people would need to do, provide some constraints, but still leave lots of room for people to make their own decisions when testing them.
I like it because it combines testing the technical issues with the app (“there’s a bug on the account screen”), and usability/design issues (“how do I select a Spanish consent form?”). And it provides some more direction than “take a look at the app and see if anything is busted”.
Try it out, I’d love to hear if it helps you out on a project.
We originally tried this with a third card type: for personas. This was great because it humanized each of the scenarios, but the cards didn’t really change the scenarios in any way, so I think you could get by without them. If you already have personas created for your project, add them as a third card type. But if you don’t (we can argue about whether you need personas at a later date), I don’t think that should stop anyone from trying this out.
You come up with 3 simple habits you want to form, submit them to him, and he emails you throughout the week to check if you’re on track, and provides suggestions for how you can make the habits simpler to increase the chances you’ll actually do them.
As per his habit design lecture, the idea here is that a habit is much more likely to be formed if it is incredibly simple and requires little motivation, which is the opposite of what most people focus on when trying to provide motivation to form habits/change behaviour.
Here are my three tiny habits for the week:
After I finish a cup of coffee, I will fill up a glass of water.
After I go to bed, I will open the book I’m reading.
After I get undressed, I will put my clothes in the laundry hamper.
You’ll notice they’re all phrased in the same way: he suggests you tie new habits to well established ones, because you need a trigger to remember to do that action.
Pretty simple stuff, but it will be fun to see how well I do after a week (and then after a month or two).
A few months ago, I started using Rdio full time for listening to music, replacing my previous system of iTunes + a library of music stored on my harddrive.
Since then, I’ve gotten quite a few ‘O RLY?’ questions from people I know about this decision, so I thought I’d write up why I chose to do this, and also how I made the switch.
First, what the frack is Rdio?
Rdio is a streaming music service that you run on your computer + tablet + smart phone. They have a wide library of music to choose from, and you can still mark some music as being in “Your Collection”, so you don’t have to wade through Justin Bieber tracks to find the stuff you want. And you can see what you’re friends are listening to, which provides a good stream of likely-to-not-suck music to try out.
The simplest reason why I gave up the personal library approach is that I’ve never really cared that much about holding onto a bunch of music. I did it, but it was essentially because there wasn’t a viable alternative, and it just seemed like the way it’s done. I enjoy listening to music as much as the next guy, but have never been a big music discovery person: I have never listened to a band before it was cool.
My old system for building my music library was to listen to the music I had until I got bored of it, then go on a quest for several days to find new music that I had heard people talk about, or I’d use Last.fm to show me stuff I might like based on what I had been listening to lately. I’d torrent all those albums (always full albums, I like to hear more than just the singles) and add them to my iTunes folder, then add them to iTunes. A lot of times, there would be some metadata or album covers missing, and so I’d go through and update all of that so I could always find things in iTunes. It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t efficient, and it meant I never heard new music when it was actually new.
Now, with Rdio, I check out the music my friends are listening to, spot an album cover that looks sufficiently cool, and give it a try. A lot of times it’s bad, so I try a different one, and that one’s pretty good. If I actually like an album, I’ll add it my collection, sync it to my phone, and then I can listen to it while I’m driving or taking transit.
There are a few other reasons why I really like Rdio:
One is the conceptual idea that there is a lot of stuff that I don’t need to own, to hoard, to transport between various versions of my computing hardware. It’s funny that as we’ve moved away from physical media for most things, we’ve still continued to maintain them in what is essentially a physical form - inside the computer on your desk. The idea of keeping your own library of music is pretty antiquated when you think of it, whether it’s digital or physical. I just want to listen to music, I don’t need to own it. I never really owned it anyways, it was just on my computer.
Second, Rdio is one of the few services that appropriately combines social networking mechanics with a personal utility. It shows you stuff you’re friends are listening to, without making the whole thing about that. You don’t need friends to use it, but it’s a bit better with them. They seem to really get the value that a friend’s music taste has, and don’t over-sell it, which is what I find a lot of services do when they add social elements. So, in addition to doing what iTunes does better than iTunes, it adds an integrated music discovery engine that doesn’t suck.
Third, they have an API. I’m not actually a developer, but I love contributing to services that open up their data for third parties to build apps. I’d love to see a visualization of how music makes its way through the Rdio network, eventually getting to you. There’s also stuff like Anthm, an app which let’s people near you vote on the songs to play next using your rdio collection. Neat.
How it’s done
On the surface, switching to Rdio is pretty simple: you sign up, and start listening. Done.
But if you just do that, you’ll have all your old music in iTunes, still taking up harddrive space. And it’s even worse on the iPhone, where the synced music will basically double your harddrive space. Yikes. So, here’s what I did to switch completely over:
Use iTunes Match to ‘backup’ your existing collection - You can skip this if you’re confident that all your music is backed up on a harddrive somewhere, but I wanted to remove it from Time Machine and everything. Let someone else worry about it.
Add all the albums from your current collection to Rdio - This takes awhile, but it’s kinda fun to go through all the backlog of stuff and realize how much stuff you never listen to. Depending on your setup, select sync to mobile at this step so you don’t have to go back through everything again.
Burn the ships - Delete everything from iTunes, and your harddrive. Technically, I left a few albums that aren’t available on Rdio (like Girl Talk), but you get the idea. Be bold.
Listen to Rdio. I should probably mention that it’s a $10/month fee, which is totally worth it for all the reasons I’ve explained above.
So go sign up, and start listening to music like it’s 2012.
I found this article interesting because I’ve actually been greatly increasing my highlighting/commenting in books as I’ve been shifting to more ebook reading. If you look through my physical bookshelf, you won’t find any scribbles, notes, or highlights: I prefer to keep books in their original state. But on the iPad, especially when using Readmill (which actually makes highlights viewable, shareable, and aggregate-able), I’m highlighting all the time, especially in the most recent book I’m reading, Seth Godin’s Stop Stealing Dreams.
Standard stuff right? But how do I decide what I want to receive as a notification through the Mint iPhone app (which I have installed)? The answer in this case is that I don’t. I get an iOS notification for anything that Mint deems as an Alert, or I don’t receive any iOS notifications at all. My suspicion is that ‘Alerts’ are anything I’ve asked to receive an email for (I can’t be sure though, since there’s nothing that tells me what makes up this list in the app), and if this is the case, that’s the exact opposite of what I want.
If I get an email notification for something (say, overbudget) why on earth would I need an iOS notification as well? I want notifications to direct my attention to things that need attention, and duplicate notifications just make me less likely to pay attention to any of them.
This isn’t a Mint problem. Just tonight I tried to sort this out for Linkedin, Meetup, and Mint, and they all shared a similar frustrating experience that doesn’t acknowledge the existence of the other platforms that one could use to get notifications from their system. The reason I say this is fundamentally broken is that the system is clearly established from the perspective that notifications are an email thing (Mint adds SMS, but doesn’t change the system dramatically).
As we move into the ‘everyone has a smartphone' world, we need to shift from an email-centric view of notifications to a native-notification-centric (iOS or Android or WIndows or…) view. What does that actually look like though?
My gut says there needs to be some way to indicate things that I want to be alerted to, but then also a way for me to choose which platform I want to receive these on. And this setting needs to be visible on all the platforms the app supports. Or, let people say what platform they want to receive all the notifications on, and then turn off notifications to all other platforms. Or stop sending all email notifications once someone installs the mobile app, and use native notifications instead. It shouldn’t require much thought from the user, because almost everyone has something better to do than set up notifications across devices…
That’s overstating it, but a new study shows that just walking through a doorway creates what’s called a “new memory episode,” which makes it difficult to remember the experience in the previous room:
[M]emory performance was poorer after travelling through an open doorway, compared with covering the same distance within the same room. “Walking through doorways serves as an event boundary, thereby initiating the updating of one’s event model [i.e. the creation of a new episode in memory]” the researchers said.
Apparently, there can be these sort of episode markers — “a while later” — in stories as well.
Curious what episode markers mark our digital spaces.