5 Ways to Improve the new Twitter App

It is with great interest that I watch the evolution of Twitter, from a quirky niche service of questionable worth four years ago to a mainstream phenomenon that has disrupted everything from tiny blogs to big media. It’s really coming into its own, and with every new feature or product release, I find myself nodding in agreement at the improvements. The new Twitter for Mac app, however, remains an odd duck for me, even a month after its debut. Its release seemed rushed and incomplete, probably in order to debut alongside the new Mac App Store. A big clue to that is that there is no Windows version yet. If I had to guess, I would say the Twitter team decided they needed new desktop clients, they knew they could probably get something out on one platform in time to get a high position in the App Store, and so they did, releasing an impressive but ultimately incomplete product, figuring they would improve it later, as well as release a Windows version.

That strategy is understandable to me, and I certainly don’t think they’ve made the product worse than the last revision, but there are several features I’d like to see added which would make the native Twitter app better than its competitors, which it currently isn’t.

Let me also say that I’ve always watched everything Doug Bowman designs or directs with great interest and admiration. Doug is probably the second best interactive designer in the world, behind only me, so I always study his work very closely. He has no real weaknesses that I know of, and he has a great team working at Twitter. Doug’s great with interfaces, great with typography, great at expressing his thoughts, great at maintaining a product-centric view with everything he creates, and just a great guy in general. In short, Twitter could not have hired a better person to lead the Photoshop department.

That said, here are my suggestions for the Twitter team (feel free to pay me in Twitter stock, @dickc and @ev):

1. Inline retweet, fave, and follow notifications

This is easily Echofon’s best feature, and I can’t believe they are still the only ones offering it. Essentially, when someone faves a tweet of yours or starts following you, Echofon inserts a small notification for you inside your tweet stream. It’s a powerful piece of positive feedback that has increased my enjoyment of Twitter at least 10x. I’m not one of those “I tweet for me, not for you” people. Everything I tweet, however intelligent, is aimed at people, and when people like a tweet enough to fave it, that’s great feedback. It’s one thing to tweet something you think is good, but another thing to get 20 faves within a minute telling you your suspicion was correct. I call this a fave parade. Echofon doesn’t do this with retweets yet, but they should. And so should Twitter. This should be the first feature addition they work on.

2. Visible, persistent tweeting area

The lack of a text field in which to tweet is, according to Doug, a deliberate decision. Doug told me the rationale behind this is that the focus of the app is on “consumption over production” and since people spend so much more time reading than writing on Twitter, the element should remain hidden until needed. I respectfully disagree with this rationale. Optimizing for consumption is not necessarily helped by de-optimizing the production process. Here is the production process on Twitter vs. Echofon:

With keystrokes (power users):


  1. Control-Tab to app (2 keystrokes)
  2. Control-N (2 keystrokes)

Total: 4 keystrokes


  1. Control-Tab to app (2 keystrokes)

Total: 2 keystrokes

With mouse (most users):


  1. Click on app
  2. Click on lower left icon
  3. Move mouse to “New Tweet”
  4. Click on “New Tweet”

Total: Three clicks and a mouse move


  1. Click on tweet field.

Total: One click

Twitter loses handily in both situations.

It is possible that Twitter is actually trying to get people to tweet less. Doug seemed to hint as much in our conversation about this. If this is a goal of Twitter — which I think is fine — I’d rather see it done via more creative means than obfuscating the interface though.

3. Better content suggestions

Building on the previous suggestion, if Twitter really wants more people to think of it as an information consumption service rather than a microblogging service, how about making it easier for (especially new) people to tune their streams? The “who to follow” feature is really well done, and I like it, but what about a Clippy-like presence in my tweet stream using a bit of artificial intelligence to suggest more people to follow? You could easily unfollow Clippy if you found him annoying, but for new users, an initial message like “Hey Mike, have you seen the new @live_from_egypt account? Live reporting from a news crew in Cairo. Follow it for updates.”

This AI-bot idea needs some further thinking, but the main point is, improve the consumption experience by improving the consumption experience… not by degrading the production experience.

4. Syncing

Echofon syncs your unread counts between multiple desktop clients and the phone client. Twitter does not. In fact, the Twitter iPhone client doesn’t even sync properly with itself sometimes. I get direct messages showing up as unread for days in a row sometimes, even after laboriously going through and “re-reading” them all. With more and more people using Twitter from multiple locations, syncing will become more and more of a necessity.

5. A configurable links-only view

This is a huge one. I actually wanted to build a company around this, but it seems like something Twitter or someone else should do. Here’s the concept: shield me from all information except links that have been tweeted/faved/retweeted by X or more of the people I follow. This builds on a concept I am using in my life more and more these days: I don’t want to hear about anything unless and until at least 2 people I know think it’s important. There’s just too much out there.

With a client that allows me to filter for links that have been tweeted at least twice, I might follow 1000 people instead of 100… or I might finally make use of lists. Imagine using this filter on a “list of tech CEOs”. I couldn’t care less what 2000 tech CEOs have to say, but I would like to know if at least 10 of them referenced the same link one day. It’s a very powerful concept, and one that encourages people to add more inputs instead of removing them.

General design notes

As with everything Doug designs or directs, the Twitter client is a beautiful work of art. From an esthetic standpoint, it’s really pretty to look at. I wish it had bigger edges to grab onto, followed the HIG more closely, and a few other minor things, but overall, I’m happy enough with the way it looks. I just don’t love the way it works. Hopefully if the excellent design team at Twitter agrees with some of the points above, we’ll see a more useful client released with the next revision. For now, however, I’m sticking with the client that makes up for its looks with its great personality: Echofon.

Reducing your DirecTV channels down to something reasonable

If you don’t have DirecTV, you can go ahead and skip this post. Just thought I’d post this list of non-shopping, non-religious, non-infomercial, non-stupid channels in the DirecTV channel lineup. When you sign up for DirecTV, you have somewhere between 200 and 900 channels and navigating through them via the guide takes 15 minutes per rotation.

To make your life a lot easier, you should delete all of these unnecessary channels off of your receiver as soon as you can. Since I’ve been through this process several times, I thought I’d publish my list of channels to keep, in order to give others a head start. Here they are:

4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 16, 22, 28, 101, 202, 206-209, 212, 229, 231, 232, 235-237, 241, 242, 244, 245, 247-249, 251-254, 256, 258, 264-267, 271, 276-278, 280-286, 304, 306-308, 335, 337, 355, 356, 501-505, 507-509, 515-517, 525-531, 535-542, 545-552, 554-559, 603, 614, 687, 688-1

Note that this is from the Seattle channel lineup so your mileage under channel 100 may vary. Happy deleting!

The Eagle Project

Now that it’s 2011 and the house blog is complete, it’s time to start writing on Mike Industries again. While one could argue this is a better post for the house blog, it’s really an independent design project so I’m posting it here.

In a nutshell, I want to build some sort of structure that will encourage eagles to land on it. I know very little about eagles, but I do know that before the top of a giant dead tree in my neighbor’s yard snapped off last year, we had eagles landing on it almost every week. Now, they just occasionally fly by and never seem to hang out. So the thought is, if I can build some sort of structure that has similar perching qualities to that dead tree, eagles should theoretically start landing on it.

Here is what I think I know about those qualities:

  • The structure must be one of the tallest things in the immediate vicinity, although not necessarily the tallest
  • It should have some sort of horizontal bar of a particular gauge on top of it for the eagles to wrap their claws around
  • The perching area should be sparse. Eagles like having an unobstructed view of the territory below them.
  • It does not seem necessary for the structure to actually look like a tree, as eagles perch on inorganic structures like street lights all the time.
  • Should there be a good areas to build a nest near the top? I don’t know.

So far, I’ve thought of four different types of structures to build/commission/procure: a wooden totem pole, a rustic weathervane looking thing, a vertical rusty iron sculpture, and a temped-up PVC pole.

The totem pole

Installing an unpainted totem pole would work well because it eliminates the “what the fuck is that thing in your yard” factor. Everyone knows what totem poles are and it would fit well with the Native American culture that pervades the Pacific Northwest. The downside, however, is that I certainly couldn’t make it myself and it may be hard to find the right one. It would need to be maybe 50 feet tall, would be extremely heavy, and would be very permanent once installed. If eagles decided they didn’t like it, I’d be stuck removing it, which seems like a chore and a half.


For the weathervane, I’m envisioning as skinny of a metal pole as possible (maybe something like rebar) and then some sort of sculpture at the top of it that looks like a weathervane. It’s not even essential that it’s operational… just that it answers the question “what the fuck is that thing in your yard”. I like this idea because it’s potentially very adjustable after it goes up. If birds aren’t landing on it, I might be able to take it down and change what the top of it looks like.

Vertical rusty iron sculpture

There are some really good metal artists around, and it might be cool to just tell one of them my goals and have them propose something. The upside here is I’d get a nice, professional piece of art out of it, but the downside is that it’s likely people wouldn’t really know what it was… which isn’t a dealkiller. Also, depending on the design of the sculpture, it may or may not be adjustable after the fact.

The temped-up PVC jobbie

With one trip to Home Depot, I could probably get 50 feet of PVC pipe which I could anchor into the ground and just see what happens for a little while. It’s still a bit of a project as I don’t want the thing falling onto my house, but it’s doable for less than $100. It would no doubt look hideous, but it might be a good proof-of-concept before doing something more permanent and expensive.

Other ideas?

If anyone has any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Cognition Comments Considered Harmful

I was looking forward to writing a post this weekend about Happy Cog’s new commenting system on their otherwise excellent new blog, but the sage minds at Full Stop interactive beat me to it. You should read Nate’s whole post. It’s spot-on.

It’s interesting to me that Happy Cog is trying to eliminate the negative things associated with commenting by encouraging brevity, while for several years, the secret sauce I’ve cooked up to prevent comment spam has involved just the opposite: measuring the amount of time you spend typing and only entering your comment into the database if you spend more than a few seconds on it. It works like a charm and eliminates 99.9% of comment spam before it even gets in the front door.

In my opinion, what Happy Cog has created is useful. Let’s just not confuse it with a commenting system for a blog.

It doesn’t encourage community, it doesn’t encourage conversation, and for the most part, it’s not accretive in any way. What it does do is create a lot of linkbacks to your blog on Twitter. Is this valuable? Sure. But is it as valuable as free-flowing, insightful, conversations which elevate ordinary posts into conversation pieces?

Not for me it’s not.

For all the great things about Twitter — and there are many — one of the worst things about it is that it’s making us lazy ambassadors of our thoughts. Why spend an hour on a blog post when we can tweet out our main thesis in ten seconds? Why allow conversations on our blogs when we can just hear the first 140 characters of our readers’ opinions?

We know short attention spans are bad for our intellectual development. We should be creating solutions that fight against this threat… not feed into it.

How To Properly Apply for a Design Position

Back in 2004, I wrote an article called “How to Make Friends and Influence Art Directors” that continues to get a surprising amount of traffic. In the course of opening up a new design position at Newsvine/msnbc.com and seeing the applications, however, I feel like I need to update the article for 2010.

We’ve gotten so many poor applications for this position that it really makes me wonder if designers today are aware of how art directors actually hire people.

If you’re a designer and you’ll ever be looking for a new job in your life, you should read this.

First, let’s start with what matters and what doesn’t. There are exactly three things that matter to me when I evaluate you as an applicant:

  • Is the stuff in your portfolio well designed and in keeping with the creative style I’m looking for? Note, “stuff” could be your blog, your personal site, or even fake clients you’ve done fake work for. It does not mean how big your clients are or how many projects you’ve worked on. As far as evaluating your design work itself, all that matters is how your stuff looks and feels.
  • Are you a cool person to work with? This sort of thing can come out in a personal interview but it can also come through blog entries, tweets, or anything else that shows your personality off. It generally does not come from a cover letter though as I know you’re specifically crafting those words with the intent of landing a certain position.
  • Do I know anyone personally or professionally who can vouch for you being a cool person to work with? The answer to this question does not need to be yes, but it of course always helps to know someone who knows someone. This is why.

Everything else? Doesn’t matter.

Résumé? Doesn’t matter. Where you went to school? Doesn’t matter. What societies you are a part of? Doesn’t matter. None of this sort of stuff matters unless and until you make it past the big three tests above… or at least the first two. Does that mean you shouldn’t spend time on your résumé? Of course you should, because if you get past the first stage, someone will probably look at it. Just don’t think it’s going to be your ticket towards getting noticed or getting in the door. I’ve seen résumés of design instructors with 10 years teaching experience and masters degrees in design who have the portfolios of junior high school kids. This is why we pay little attention to résumés.

How should I apply then?

The following, in my mind, is the perfect job application:

Dear ______,

I’m very interested in the ______ position at ______. I’ve used/admired the service for _____ and would love an opportunity to be part of its design team (you can substitute this sentence with anything that makes you sound uncommonly qualified or excited for this position). My stuff can be viewed here:

Blog/Personal Site: http://____
Portfolio with samples: http://____
Twitter account: http://____
Favorite thing I’ve done recently: http://____

I’ve attached my résumé as well if you’re interested in my background or who I’ve worked with. Look forward to hearing from you.



That’s it. No long preamble. No links buried in a PDF or Word document. No hoops for the art director or HR person to jump through in order to see your stuff. If you want to add some more flavor towards the end, go ahead, but that’s the general recipe.

Almost none of the applications I have received follow anything close to this form, so I can only assume most people simply don’t know how they are being judged. Other professions are undoubtedly different, but in design, it’s simply a question of how sick your stuff is and how easy you are to work with. Give a hiring manager a good impression immediately on both of those fronts and you’re going to get an interview.

P.S. If you’ve already applied for the position mentioned above and haven’t heard back, it’s likely your style might not fit with what we’re looking for. It doesn’t mean we don’t admire your design skills.

P.P.S. If you haven’t applied for the position above and would like to, please do! We’re looking to hire the right person immediately.

P.P.P.S. On a related subject, besides Authentic Jobs and 37signals, are there any other great places to post design-related job listings these days? If you know of any, please let me know.

Another Nail in the Pageview Coffin

This weekend, msnbc.com launched a sweeping redesign of the most important part of their site: the story page. The result is something unlike anything any other major news site is offering and is a bold step in a direction no competitor has gone down (yet): the elimination of pageviews as a primary metric.

For many years, I’ve railed against tricks like pagination and “jump pages” as a means to goose pageviews. Honest people in the industry will tell you these are simply acceptable tricks to bump revenue a bit, while disingenuous or uninformed people will use “readability” as an excuse to make users click ten times to read ten parts of a single story. For this latest redesign, msnbc.com has decided to de-emphasize page views entirely and present stories in a manner that maximizes enjoyment and as a result, total time on site.

What do I mean by this?

Think of how a typical user session works on most news sites these days. A user loads an article (1 pageview), pops open a slideshow (1 pageview), flips through 30 slides of an HTML-based slideshow (30 pageviews). That’s 32 pageviews and a lot of extraneous downloading and page refreshing.

On new msnbc.com story pages, the above sequence would register one pageview: the initial one. The rest of the interactions occur within the page itself. Can msnbc.com serve ad impressions against in-page interactions? Sure, and that’s key to the strategy, but as a user, your experience is much smoother, and as an advertiser, the impressions you purchase are almost guaranteed to come across human eyes since your ads are only loaded upon user interaction.

This is the first time (to my knowledge) this sort of model has been deployed on a major media site with over a billion pageviews a month, and it has the potential to change the entire industry if it works. It’s also a big risk, as most advertisers are not used to thinking of inventory this way. We like big risks with big payoffs though and we feel that when you take care of the user and the advertiser at the same time, you’re probably onto something.

Ad model aside, there are also tons of other interesting things about the new msnbc.com story pages:

  • Every form of storytelling (text, video, audio, slideshows, discussion, voting, and more) is now available right within each story page itself.
  • The top navigation (nicknamed “the upscroll”) contains all basic elements when a page loads but if you scroll the page upward past its initial position, you get more interesting stories to read. It’s a great way of presenting a content-packed header without sacrificing screen real estate.
  • A social bar at the bottom of the screen, powered by Newsvine, which lets you easier share content via Newsvine, Facebook, Twitter, and other services.
  • An “annotated scrollbar” down the right side of the screen capable of teleporting you to any section of the page you desire.
  • Bigger, easier to read text. Goodbye Arial, once and for all!

To be clear, the msnbc.com team is very proud of what’s been launched so far, but is under no illusions that things are perfect yet. Everyone involved in creating these new story pages is monitoring reaction closely and ready to modify anything that needs improvement. Since we have plenty of thoughtful design and development voices here on Mike Industries, I’d love to open this thread up for some reactions. What is working for you, and what, if anything, would you change? The team is listening.

A good problem to have

Through much of the late 90s and early 00s, I remember having the same conversation over and over again about Apple and Microsoft. I had it with my friends, I had it with my colleagues, and I had it with anyone else who was interested in computers. It went something like this:

Other person: “When are you going to give up already and start using a PC? The war is over. Apple lost.”

Me: “They still make the best stuff and I want to support the company that makes the best stuff; not a company that uses their monopoly to sell products.”

Other person: “Don’t you think Apple would do the same thing if they were in charge?”

Me: “Yes. They’d probably be even more ruthless, but at least they’d make great products.”

From there, the conversation would tail off in another direction but I always remember thinking wishfully to myself that if Apple ever did rule the world again, what a fantastic problem it would be. Instead of having our future dictated to us by a company who didn’t even care enough to fix a broken web browser for over five years, we’d have our future dictated to us by a company who produced the most wonderful products in the world. The dream seemed so far-fetched, however, that it was easy to miss the potential for nightmare in it.

Trading places

Apple will probably finish this year a larger company than Microsoft, from a market capitalization perspective. That would mean the world values the sum of future cashflows into Apple more than any company in the United States besides Exxon-Mobil. God forbid the terrible BP oil disaster gets worse and has cascading effects on other oil companies, we could see Apple at #1.

So in a sense, we’ve now admitted — as investors at least — that Apple owns our wallets, many years into the future. This actually feels good right now, though, in a way. Not only am I using a great operating system, but lots of other people are too. Not only do I have a phone that keeps me connected, but I really enjoy using it too. Not only can I craft richly designed web experiences for geeks with good browsers but a good majority of people can finally view them too.

Most things are great so far. The reward we’ve reaped as a society for shoving greenbacks into Apple’s bank account for the last decade is that we have much better stuff now. It’s the exact opposite effect we got from making Microsoft big.

Those who are following the situation, however, have noticed a few things change recently, the most obvious being a move towards an incredibly closed operating system in iPhones and iPads. Many believe it’s only a matter of time before most of Apple’s products run on a similar OS. There are many definitions of “closed” vs. “open” but here is mine:

A closed system is one where a single organization has absolute control of everything that goes into it and everything that comes out of it.

Adobe ignores fire, gets burned

Steve Jobs wrote in his mostly reasonable letter condemning Flash that it was Adobe whose stuff was closed and Apple was the one using open technologies, but Adobe’s CEO — despite saying very little of substance — was right about one thing: this is a smokescreen. In order to use the Flash format, all I need to do is either buy a single copy of it (if the IDE is useful to me), or use any number of other, free compilers out there. In other words, Adobe never even needs to know about me and never needs to approve what I’m doing or selling.

In order to get my stuff onto an iPad or iPhone, however, I must receive explicit approval by a human being working for Apple after this human being has manually reviewed my work, derived my intentions for the product, and made a value judgement on what my creation brings to the device. As long as that process exists, there shall be no arguments that the iPhone or iPad are more open than just about anything we’ve ever seen before… including Flash. To claim that because Apple is pushing open standards like HTML5 (really for their own benefit) means they are somehow more open than Adobe is folly.

Adobe’s problem in this mess is that they’ve painted themselves into a corner with the public. They used to be loved by everyone who used their products. Ask a designer ten years ago whether they’d rather switch away from Apple or switch away from Adobe and I’m sure most would have stuck with Adobe. Today, not only has the situation reversed itself, but I find myself actively trying to move away from Adobe on my own. They’ve shipped nothing but bloatware for the past five years, each version of CS being slower and buggier than the previous and offering very little important utility in return. $700-$1000 for Photoshop CS5 and it still can’t even print a tiled document. Adobe Creative Suite, in many ways, has become the Microsoft Office for the creative design and development industry. Somehow I bet that was a company goal in a presentation at some point. Mission accomplished. So when Apple stiffarms Adobe by changing section 3.3.1 of their iPhone OS developer agreement, it’s no wonder people aren’t exactly rushing to Adobe’s defense.

Flash has taken a slightly different path towards public distaste and I actually don’t blame Adobe for most of it. When Flash first came out, only the most talented design visionaries used it. When a new Flash site came out in 1999, each one was like a new DaVinci… beautiful works of art that moved the web from a tame, ugly typographically poor medium to a center stage for creativity.

Then the advertisers got ahold of it.

When most people speak ill of Flash, they are actually speaking ill of ads. Watching Flash video on YouTube doesn’t crash your browser; visiting a news site with five annoying Flash ads all trying to synchronize with each other does.

What most of these people don’t realize, though, is that it’s other “open” technologies that play a part in making this happen and will continue to, long after Flash is history. The OBJECT tag which spawns Flash movies is an open standard. The javascript that popped open that window with the screaming Flash ad is an open standard. And the HTML/CSS that slowly sashayed that 300×250 div right the fuck over that paragraph you were trying to read is an open standard too.

When Flash is gone, this overly aggressive marketing will simply be foisted upon you using more “open” technologies like HTML5. And guess what? It’ll be harder to block because it looks more like content than Flash does.

Here is when I digress just a little bit…

It also amuses me when people talk about two things in particular with regard to the iPhone and iPad. First, how much better some companies’ iPhone apps are than their web sites, as if the company is somehow so much more gifted at creating iPhone apps than web pages. It feels better because it’s designed for you to do things quickly. Most web sites are actually not designed for speed of task completion at all. They are designed to maximize page views or at the very least, time on site (and hence, maximize revenue). ESPN.com doesn’t want you reading one story about the Mayweather/Mosley fight and then moving on with your day. They want you to read ten more stories after that, check your fantasy teams, and buy a Seahawks jersey. Mobile.espn.com, on the other hand, is more concerned with getting you in and out quickly because they know you have less tolerance for distraction and extraneous clicks when you’re on your phone. The second thing is when people talk about how great content looks in some of these iPad apps. Again, this is a reaction to the lack of distraction, not the tablet form factor.

Content that is free of distractions and potential crashes looks and feels better. Period. It’s not the hardware; it’s the environment.

… and then try boldly to pull it back in

… which brings us back to Apple and their role in the way we experience information moving forward.

With the iPhone and the iPad, Apple has either smartly or stupidly drawn a line in the sand and declared themselves no longer just the arbiters of hardware and system UI but arbiters of content and commerce as well. If you want to develop or produce content for Apple’s ecosystem, you will do exactly as Apple tells you to do. If you want to enjoy Apple’s products as a consumer, you’ll enjoy every freedom Apple provides and live with every limitation they impose. It’s like a country club. Apple isn’t saying you can’t play golf with your pit-stained t-shirt and denim cutoffs. They’re just saying you can’t do it at their club. Apple wants to run the most profitable country club in the world, with millions of members, but they don’t want everybody; and therein lies the difference between how their resurgence is playing out and how Microsoft’s dominance ultimately played out.

Microsoft wanted 100% share in every market they entered. The thought was that once you dominate a market, you can impose your will on it via pricing, distribution, bundling, and all sorts of other methods designed to maximize profit. To Microsoft in the 1980s, a monopoly was a great problem to aspire to have, and since antitrust laws weren’t routinely applied to software companies, the threat seemed immaterial. The problem with this thinking, however, was that the law eventually caught up to them and crippled their ability to continue operating as a monopoly.

Apple, on the other hand — while in danger of eventually suffering the same fate — seems determined to avoid it. What’s the best way to avoid becoming a monopoly? Make sure you never get close to 100% market share. What’s the best way to temper your market share? Keep prices a bit higher than you could. Keep supply a bit lower than you could. Keep investing in high margin differentiation and not low margin ubiquity. Remember how Microsoft invested $150 million in Apple in 1997 in order to keep them around as a plausible “OS alternative” in hopes of avoiding the antitrust knife? Well Apple already has that in Android, in Blackberry, in Windows Mobile, in Palm, and in Nokia. They are fighting hard right now to make sure they are one of the two or three that will continue to be relevant in 5-10 years, but their goal is clearly not to be at 100% or even 90%. That level of success would get the company trustbusted.

It is this prescient and necessarily restrained motivation that reveals the true reason why Apple has closed up tighter over the last few years: it’s not to take control of the world. It’s specifically to separate themselves from a pack of companies they need as their competitors but want relegated to the lower margin areas of the market. Apple will stay closed as long as being closed is a net positive to their business. Until people either start abandoning their products because of this or the do the opposite and adopt their products at a rate which creates a monopoly, they will continue operating at their current clip: high innovation, high profits, and high control.

It’s scary to people because they remember the harm other companies have done when they reached monopoly status, but with Google, Microsoft, Nokia, RIMM, and now HP all keeping the market healthy with different alternatives, there is no excuse for not voting with your feet if you’re unhappy. Apple’s not going to take over the world because — if for no other reason — the laws of the United States won’t let them. If you don’t want to contribute to their success because their behavior is distasteful to you, then don’t; but don’t forget how fortunate we are to have such a ruthlessly innovative company at the helm of the ship at this point in time. Either get on it or just pick another boat and draft in its wake. When the biggest problem in personal technology is that the leading company is getting a little too exceptional, it’s a good problem to have.

A Train that Never Stops

I have been pitching this concept for at least seven years now to anyone who would listen: a train that never stops but instead uses accelerating and decelerating pods to shuttle passengers on and off at each approaching stop.

Normally, when I’ve drawn this out for people, the concept has been met with a reaction along the lines of “uhhh, good luck with that one!” The only difference in what I’ve been pitching and the concept in the video below (via kottke), is that my model uses individual pods instead of one big “group pod” in order to let people off and on at even more desirable locations, but it’s great to see someone finally put something like this into a video animation:

If I’ve thought of it, and now these people in Asia have thought of it, countless others have probably thought of it as well. Now it’s just time to make it happen. A great train ride is the most enjoyable way to travel, in my opinion.

Better E-Commerce Design using the Luhn Algorithm?

I finally put in my pre-order for SimpleScott’s Designing Obama book a few minutes ago. I wanted to buy it earlier but never overcame the inertia until I got a chance to have beers with Scott and then listen to him speak at the excellent Webstock conference in New Zealand last week (by the way, thanks to Khoi Vinh for asking me to step in for him as a speaker). Can I also just say that Webstock is the best designed conference I’ve ever seen?

Scott’s a great designer, obviously, but hearing about the care that’s going into just the production of the book is going to make this piece of art a must-have. I may even order two and keep one suspended in formaldehyde.

While ordering the book, one part of the process stuck out to me as something I’d never seen before, even having ordered probably a thousand items online in the past: when I typed in my credit card number, a green checkmark showed up immediately after the last digit was entered. My immediate suspicion was that they were counting digits and gave me a check to indicate I had typed in enough of them, but again, having never seen that before, my interest was piqued. I tried deleting the last digit and replacing it with a 1, then a 2, then a 3, and so on. Only when I typed the actual digit from the credit card did I get the green checkmark again.

Further investigation revealed that no server calls were being made, which means this was some sort client-side algorithm that verified credit card patterns. Iiiiiiiiiinteresting!. Even more investigation revealed that this was the work of something I’d never heard of: The Luhn Algorithm.

The Luhn Algorithm is a formula which can be run in javascript, PHP, and most other programming languages that uses some mathematical rules to determine if a credit card number is likely to be valid. Apparently, credit card companies issue numbers according to this algorithm, and if a number doesn’t fit it, it’s definitely not valid. Before you say to yourself “wow, that’s some neat, new technology I can use!”, note that the Luhn Algorithm has been around since 1954!

Although using this algorithm in your own projects is clearly not a necessity, I see a couple of potential advantages and a couple of potential disadvantages:


  • Instant UI feedback is a great tool to help users correct errors
  • The checkmark is a nice bit of instant emotional validation to make sure users complete the process


  • Is there a guarantee that every card will always follow this pattern? What happens if one or many stop following it?
  • Since it’s an unusual experience, does it add a bit of suspicion in some users? Would a less technical user assume their number was being broadcast across the internet more times than necessary?

I’m curious to see if this catches on as a trend.

It’s Only a Matter of When

I’ve been trying to square my lack of enthusiasm about the iPad with the seemingly very positive analyses from those smarter than me.

After a few days, I think I finally reconciled it with a simple realization: the only reason I’m not enthusiastic about the iPad as a consumer is that it simply falls below my value curve at this point in time. Consider the graph below:

When the iPhone came out, I would have paid $1000 for it. I still would, to be honest. I wouldn’t exactly be happy about it, but I’d do it. It provides so much utility to me, it’s become such an indispensable part of my life, and it has no perfect substitutes, so its price elasticity to me is extremely low. Apple can charge pretty much whatever it wants and I will buy exactly one iPhone.

When the iPad was announced, however, the value curve was very different for me. It is currently a device I’d pay about $199 for. Not $499-$829. That is not to denigrate it at all. It just means its current value to me is below its current price. I don’t read eBooks, I have a laptop for my mobile computing needs, and I don’t have a place in my workflow for this device at this point in time.

The key is what happens over time, however.

The first effect is a pricing effect. As the price of both devices inevitably decreases, the value equation begins to change. A $10,000 iPad sells maybe 1000 units. A $1000 iPad sells maybe a million units. A $100 iPad sells 50 million units. And a $10 iPad sells about 500 million units.

So then, “liking” the iPad is really just a question of “what price would you pay for it?” For me, it’s about $199 right now. Electronic toy price, in other words. For others it may be a lot higher, and still others, lower.

The second effect is a utility effect. The utility of an iPhone is very high right now. It already plugs into existing cellular and wifi networks, it fits in your pocket, it replaces multiple devices, and it has few competitors. What happens when it’s not the only horse in the race though? We’re already starting to see stiff competition from Google with the Nexus One and Nokia undoubtedly wants to play this game too. It’s unclear whether any competitors will succeed making a better smartphone than Apple, but they will certainly create viable substitutes, thus reducing the unique utility of the device.

Look at what happens (possibly) with the iPad though. You can just sense by looking at it that it’s a bit “early”. There isn’t enough to do with it yet. The New York Times app looks nice and all, but it’s a far cry from a world of widely available, richly laid out e-publications (I personally question, however, if we even need this sort of world). You also can’t use the iPad for home automation stuff yet (although my buddy Danny will be working on it). You can’t beam Hulu from it to your TV. You can’t video conference with it. You can’t control it with voice commands. You can’t run it for a week on a single charge. These are all things I think we’ll see in the next several years, and thus it may become a more valuable device as time goes on.

When either the price is lowered to my value threshold, or my value threshold rises due to increased utility, that is when a purchase will be made. Perhaps even multiple purchases.

There is little doubt in my mind — upon finally thinking this through from a dispassionately microeconomic standpoint — that at least one of these two things will happen; and that is why Apple wins in the end, despite our best attempts to be curmudgeonly about it.

The Ocean in 185 Lines of Javascript:

Mesmerizing. Try tweaking some of the variables in the “sea” section of the code.

“"Design had been a vertical stripe in the chain of events in a product’s delivery; at Apple, it became a long horizontal stripe, where design is part of every conversation.””
Why I Just Asked My Students To Put Their Laptops Away:

A great essay about how toxic everyday distractions can be.

Humanity's deep future:

A group of researchers at the Future of Humanity Institute talk about where our race may be going and how artificial intelligence could save or kill us all.

Steve Jobs speaks about the future at the International Design Conference in 1983:

31 years later, it’s safe to say this is one of the most prescient speeches about technology ever delivered. Jobs covers wireless networking, tablets, Google StreetView, Siri, and the App Store (among other things) many years before their proliferation. A fantastic listen.

How to travel around the world for a year:

Great advice for when you finally find the time.


A fantastic app for prototyping your design work onto real world objects like billboards, book covers, and coffee cups. This seems like just as great of a tool for people learning design as it does for experts.

50 problems in 50 days:

One man’s attempt to solve 50 problems in 50 days using only great design. Some good startup ideas in here…

How to Do Philosophy:

If you’ve ever suspected that most classical philosophy is a colossal waste of time, Paul Graham tells you why you’re probably right.

TIME: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us:

Stephen Brill follows the money to uncover the pinnacle of corruption that is the U.S. Health Care system. A must-read article if there ever was one.

DIY Dot Org:

A beautifully designed site full of fun and challenging DIY projects. I could spend months on here.

The Steve Jobs Video Archive:

A collection of over 250 Steve Jobs videos in biographical order

Self-portraits from an artist under the influence of 48 different psychoactive drug combos.

Water Wigs are pretty amazing.

David Pogue proposes to his girlfriend by creating a fake movie trailer about them and then getting a theater to play it before a real movie. Beautiful and totally awesome.