trenchant.org

by adam mathes

Executive Hobby

As Willis describes it, their careers hinged on the tastes of one man, Adult Swim’s senior executive vice president Mike Lazzo. “Once in my late 20s when I was working on Space Ghost it occurred to me that my career was basically working on a show that was a hobby for our boss, Mike Lazzo,” Willis explains. “He was running programming and development for Cartoon Network, and I think this was his fun thing to do. It was a value but I think this was what he really enjoyed doing. It occurred to me my whole career was this, doing this guy’s hobby. I hope he continues to enjoy his hobby and doesn’t go into like hunting, boating or fishing.”

The Life and Death of Aqua Teen Hunger Force

I cried during the season finale.

Calming Influence

In my 10 years in the tech industry I have been privileged to work with some brilliant people with decades of experience, some of who have been kind enough to try and mentor me at times.

A lot of their advice can be boiled down to “dude, chill.”

In The Year 2015

“Well instead of tail -f ‘ing referrer logs your watch will tap your wrist when people talk about you on the internet. Also there are hoverboards but they are basically just brand marketing.”

“What about snacks?”

“Snack technology is basically the same as in 2000.

“I was really hoping for better snacks.”

CANTWAIT_BOT

@cantwait_bot expresses the agony and excitement of waiting.

Consumer Time

It’s in vogue to mock this new generation of on demand delivery and services but have you actually tried buying anything in a store? Ugh.

Retail experience are mostly a nightmare of wasted time, inefficiencies, and bad design decisions compounding into terrible user experience.

At least that’s what I thought as I waited to buy light bulbs, listening to the tragic difficulty of loyalty card updates for others in line.

It’s 2015 — why wouldn’t I just type what I want into a little messaging app on my smartphone? and have it show up on my doorstop instead of waiting in line wasting my time with this awfulness?

Code Incomplete

I’m trying to bring more projects to a “completion” but nothing is ever complete so what I really mean is “released.”

· · ·

I’ve been working on glitching out old Sierra games graphics for a long time and have a lot of weird stuff on my hard drive but decided maybe to start it’s just an endlessly glitching twitter bot.

@quest_glitches

Mirrored locally.

· · ·

I’ve been living with the 5 minutes without fav before delete twitter bot and it’s great! Or terrible I don’t really know.

The (simple) code to delete your unloved tweets I cleaned up and put in a git repo.. (Side note: seems weird that the most social place to share open source code now is hosted by a weird for-profit company? Seems like this code should live somewhere else, either on my own server or a non-profit host.)

Eat, Tweet, Delete

I turned on a bot that deletes any tweet I make that doesn’t get favorited within 5 minutes.

What does it mean? Why would I do that?

Who knows anymore — the 2015 media landscape is baffling now that I’m no longer in the target demo.

Despite being on the web for nearly 20 years I am not qualified to run my own social media. Maybe? But who else is qualified?

[Robots.]

Freer expression followed by audience silence leading to de facto obscurity being equated to self censorship.

Automated curation by community engagement plus robot helpers for a better, more focus group tested, engaging content stream for audience enjoyment!

Withholding labor if I don’t get paid in hearts and stars.

· · ·

I’m into bots right now. Try to create a bot positive culture in all that you do on the internet now.

I guess I thought it was kind of funny, as a concept, mostly.

The Centralized Dystopia of the Now

Certainly nobody predicted that a company such as Apple would be able to take 30 percent of the recording industry’s revenue because the record companies were incapable of setting up their own servers.

Philip Greenspun, Apple Music: Good reminder not to listen to computer scientists

See also: There is no Disintermediation

A Theory Of Retrogaming

It would be considered perfectly normal for someone who enjoys books to be reading books from 10, 20 or 30 years ago along with books published recently.

We don’t call those people “retroreaders.”

Yet if you do the same thing with video games it’s sort of outside the realm of mainstream activity, and you’re a “retrogamer.” It seems strange.

(Of course, we do call those that study ancient Greek and Latin classicists, but that sounds cooler.)

Pebble Time Hot Take

It’s the retro-future of the 1980’s on your wrist.

Also, the calendar shows declined events so it’s super annoying.

Messaging is the New Web

Ben Brown declares that the ascendance of Slack and messaging apps presents a new paradigm that calls for “messaging experience design.”

Designing for messaging will become a discipline as important as responsive design, and will incorporate skills as diverse as copy writing, business analytics and API programming.

Slack is the Operating System

I agree.

A few related thoughts —

Messaging:Mobile :: Web:Desktop

The web provided a platform on top of the existing desktop operating systems that had very serious constraints but key advantages in ease of use, development, distribution, and scale.

Over time it eclipsed desktop in relevance and interest for lots of things.

Rather than buying complex software, installing, and launching it we simply loaded up a browser, visited a URL and did whatever it is we needed to do.

It’s just easier and faster.

It didn’t matter that you couldn’t run Photoshop in a browser - HTML over HTTP was more than enough for plenty of interesting things. A lot more people want to read about what their friends are up to or shop or bank online than edit Photoshop layers.

Messaging (in a very broad sense including SMS, texting apps, and things like Slack) present a similar challenge and opportunity today in the context of smartphones.

There’s a constrained set of interactions and interface elements, but replying to an SMS or similar text conversation is an order of magnitude easier than installing a native mobile app. It’s also less work than firing up a mobile web browser, typing a URL, waiting, and seeing what may or may not be a decent experience.

There’s more advantages: authentication is transparent - you’re already logged in to the messaging app (or have a phone number.) No new account required. You already know how to use the interface, no hunting around and learning a new one. It’s more likely to work in a wearable context with limited screen and voice input.

This isn’t a new observation and all the major chat applications on the consumer side have embraced the idea of being a platform. I expect that we’ll see more and more intelligence and smart interfaces move up from the mobile OS apps layer to a messaging layer.

Protocols vs Platforms

SMS is probably the closest we have to a “protocol” - in that it’s universal across cellular providers, we have an agreed to routing system with phone numbers, and almost anyone can use it.

It seems like it would be the best foundation to build systems like this except that the telecom industry seems to have shot itself in the foot by trying to extract too much profit from it, forcing all the innovation to happen in the “free texting” apps. (And changes in rate plans or free unlimited SMS aren’t changing the dynamic - it’s too late.)

So instead of just developing for SMS you probably need to think about Twitter, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Line, and half a dozen others because that’s where the users are and where all the innovation happened.

Customer facing business, in the same they you developed a web strategy, then a broader social media strategy, will need a coherent messaging experience strategy across these services.

Slack As Universal Interface

An opportunity for Slack is to embrace being something of a “universal interface” for businesses and encourage as much integration with services on its platform as possible.

If integration with Slack is cheap and easy and provides additional distribution for business services, more services will be incentivized to offer it, which in turn makes Slack more valuable for its customers. And when Slack’s customers have a host of services integrated with their Slack instance, the more valuable Slack becomes to them (and the harder it is to migrate away from.)

Slack’s challenge is balancing its desire to be a great piece of enterprise software that delivers value on its own with being a stable, trustworthy, platform provider that creates a win/win for itself and partners who build on it.

Flow

Going to try to stream something interesting on twitch every night this week.

Also write something.

This counts, right?

If streaming hello kitty roller rescue counts, this counts.

Maybe I need to get a keyboard for this iPad. Or maybe get a chromebook, put raw Linux on it, and use that for writing.

Or you know, just use my MacBook. The 15” retina MacBook Pro is still the best computer I’ve ever had, but increasingly feels out of place not on a desk.

In a world of tiny shrinking computers even the best laptop I’ve ever owned starts to feels loud and impersonal.

Apple Watch 10 Days In

I haven’t returned it

I mean, it’s kind of awesome?

Despite the flaws it’s one of the most remarkable devices I’ve ever used.

Flaws are more easily forgiven because the industrial design is so damned good at creating an object that justifies itself aesthetically first.

Fashion

It’s the first smartwatch that doesn’t feel embarrassing to wear.

Let that sink in for a moment.

· · ·

Creating an object like this that is actually wearable is a success that shouldn’t be discounted.

In some sense the rest is kind of inconsequential because no other company seems to be able to create a piece of technology that isn’t offensive to display on your body. My guess is it will be a while before they do (and may require some partnerships between technology companies and more fashion conscious companies.)

It seems likely to me Apple will improve it’s software and user experience issues faster than competitors will figure out how to create beautiful objects that inspire desire.

Function

It’s worse in some ways that I thought it would be obviously good, and incredible in some ways I didn’t predict.

The Worst Part

It’s not on all the time. So you can’t casually glance at it and check the time and other things. You have to “wake” it by raising your wrist or tapping.

This only works sometimes, which is basically the most infuriating part of the whole experience and will probably be a dealbreaker for some.

With an OLED display, I’m really kind of shocked there’s not a lower intensity always on mode like that included in most Android Wear devices. (The Pebble e-ink and now memory-lcd screen is always on due to having an order of magnitude smaller power draw.)

I wonder if Apple will change it in a software update within the next few months. My guess is its exclusion was about ensuring all day battery life for initial users, but maybe it was due to other reasons.

Notifications

This should be the slam dunk easy use case but for me it’s not yet. Two primary issues:

  1. I do not have a mental model for when notifications come to my wrist, phone, both, or neither. This is despite having spent a lot of time setting up notifications on my phone.
  2. This is compounded (maybe caused?) by the fact that the taptic engine (the thing that vibrates and taps your wrist) seems far too weak, to the point that I seem to miss things.

This weak taptic feedback has been noted by just about everyone who has reviewed and used the watch. I think it’s actually much worse for me because I’m using the stainless steel link bracelet which is not easily worn as tightly as the sport bands or some of the other options, making it even tougher to feel the taps.

The thing is - when it does work it’s pretty amazing. Feeling the distinct taps is really awesome, I just wish they were about 100x stronger.

Instantaneous Answers and Tasks

Early experiences on iPhone have perhaps lowered people’s expectations on Siri.

But on the watch Siri really feels useful, natural, and futuristically awesome. Just raise your wrist and say “hey, siri” and boom.

When it works it’s pretty amazing. Questions about sports, movies, weather, stocks, actions related to timers, alarms, and reminders - all these “easy” things are amazingly smooth and useful.

I was surprised to find just how natural and awesome using Siri on Apple Watch is.

When it fails though, it’s pretty infuriating.

Apps Are Meh

They’ll probably stay terrible until the next iteration of the SDK and people rewrite their apps. This isn’t due to inherent problems or incompetence - it’s really hard to make software for a brand new hardware platform that has a very odd constrained API that forces your application to be a remote view from a phone.

I expect they’ll get better.

I Want More Complications

The little bits of extra information on the watchface (complications) are delightful, useful, and beautiful.

They’ll be even better when (hopefully) other apps can put data there.

Faces, Glances, Apps

I thought I’d love glances but currently find it a bit awkward to have to swipe vertically, then scrub horizontally to find something, and then wait again until it reloads the data half the time.

It’s probably too late for Apple to make large user experience changes, but part of me wonders if maybe with fewer entities and combining faces and glances you can get something better.

A glance then is just a watch face that is a “full screen” complication or watch face.

You could then have a single virtual horizontal plane of custom faces/glances/complications.

It feels like the watch face is meant to be set and static - force touch is required to change it - when actually I really like the idea of swiping between them throughout the day based on mood or which piece of data I want most prominent. (Though maybe that’s just the novelty of it so far.)

Heuristic for A Good Watch Interaction

The stuff that happens without me having to tap is generally way more delightful than anything that requires even a single tap, let alone multiple taps.

Less interface is more.

A Magical Time

The launch of the iPhone and the ensuing platform shift to smartphones was exciting for lots of reasons. But part of what helped force great new things was that the constraints of the devices (screen size, power, memory, cpu) forced everyone who made software to really think critically and simplify everything down to the essential.

These constraints often helped foster better designs and experiences across a whole host of activities in a relatively short time.

As the constraints of mobile have started to lift due to more powerful devices, we’re starting to see more bloat and less focus in the experiences, in my opinion.

I see the Apple Watch and the world of wearables as an opportunity to simplify again and use these constraints to make experiences faster, better, and easier.

35

No longer in the most coveted demographic.

Fit and Finish

The Milanese loop was really comfortable but unimpressive looking.

The link bracelet though. Whoa.