Has Apple gone crazy or is the company now trying to influence customer health?

30 11 2009

Good question.

Although I cannot lay claim to having a definitive answer on their motivations, Apple recently made waves with regards to computer warranties. According to reports from Apple customers, the company is sticking to their claim that smoking (cigarettes, pipes, cigars etc) within the vicinity of their laptop and desktop computers nullifies the computer warranties.

Does this make sense? Is Steve Jobs trying to be funny and nobody has realized the joke yet?

Before going any further, I should preface that I myself am not a smoker and am using my own personal Macbook Pro to write this post. Therefore, I have not developed a nervous tick while writing AND taking a drag for a nicotine fix. However, with that said, I think Apple is wadding into dangerous waters with this mysterious warrant voiding policy. I have elaborated on my reasoning below:

> Where is the evidence of a DIRECT link between smoke (casual, not as in a building fire) damage and Apple product destruction?

> As indicated by Apple owners who have contacted Apple, why is there no mention of this policy in the warrant materials?

> If smoke is so harmful towards Apple computers, why aren’t a plethora of other substances cited in warranty material as being capable of nullifying warranties?

(When was the last time you read a car warranty stating the radio, navigation system or the power door locks would be harmed by the act of smoking AND consequently nullify the warranty??)

> If Apple begins enacting and enforcing this mysterious policy, will it set a precedent for all computer manufacturers?

Smoking is harmful to humans, this has been scientifically proven through numerous scientific outlets. Computers however are not made of flesh and blood. I am wary of Apple’s motivations behind such a policy that seems to be cloaked in mystery. The company is not needing to pinch pennies by voided warranties as Apple’s profits have been riding high recently. So what gives? Is this an attempt to send a statement to their customers that they should change some of the choices they make, such as lighting up? I am curious for an answer. I am not Steve Jobs and neither can I try to formulate the exact motivations behind Apple’s decision to enforce this move. As an Apple customer, the move seems misguided as the intent is unclear and potentially invasive on customers personal lives and the decisions they chose to make.

I hope the air will be cleared on this topic when Apple is more forthcoming about the influence of smoking on its products.

links for 2009-11-24

24 11 2009

links for 2009-11-21

21 11 2009

Advice on website design…….from the government?!?

21 11 2009

Perhaps you are as surprised as I was when I stumbled across a unique website created by the United States government that provides useful advice on website design tips, tricks and tools?

Who would have thunk.

The website is Usability.gov, which is run by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. I knew this website was a break from the norm when the first title on the homepage reads, “Please don’t make me think!” Along similar lines, the color scheme is vastly different from other government websites I have seen. Instead of relying upon blue hues and shades of white, which tends to be standard government website fare, there is an abundance of orange, raspberry purple, teal, yellow and white. Certainly this is not what I would have expected to see prior to visiting this site.

I find this website encouraging for a variety of reasons.

The Mission: to serve as a hub of resources for government website designers to construct more user-friendly websites

The Content: numerous documents, lessons and pointers of design processes

The Resources: various case studies of improved government websites, free design templates and additional educational tools to further design study

Needless to say, this website is a great resource for presenting and understanding basic website design principles. What really surprises me, besides the fact this information is coming from the United States government, is that this website is not more prominently marketed. I for one had no idea this resource existed online. Did you?

There are many websites that could benefit from the principles and resources discussed on this site, regardless if they are public or private sector related.

The wealth of information presented is impressive and for good reason. Instead of simply stating things should be done one particular way, Usability.gov presents actual case studies conducted by government agencies. Under the Methods section on the homepage, you can view several clearly defined categories of ways to approach website design. The categories are as follows:

> Planning the Project

> Analyze Current Site

> Design New Site

> Test & Refine the Site

> Methods at a Glance

I clicked on the Analyze Current Site option and was presented with six sub-topics, each presented in short one or two sentence summations with an accompanying link for further information. This is designed well as it is easy to read and does not represent a cognitive overload.

At this point, I decided to explore the Personas sub-topic. Clicking on the link loads a page with short but clear explanation of key aspects related to analyzing online user personas. At the bottom of the page, a real   example of a user persona is presented from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.    Additionally, the side bar contains several additional real government agency examples of user personas that can be downloaded as Microsoft Word documents.

The information contained on this page alone is insightful and very relevant. Many people complain or assume that the government operates under a veil or secrecy and the public has no idea what really is going on within the halls of power. To that I say, explore Usability.gov. Here there are not just examples outlining how government entities establish and refine their online presence to better serve constituents but great tools that private individuals can use to make their own personal website more user friendly.

As mentioned earlier, I hope this website gets more publicity, it certainly has earned it. Hopefully, my blog post will divert some folks to look into this resource.

Encouraging Web design from the USPS

14 11 2009

When it comes to government websites, it is a rather safe assumption that very few people would characterize them as being aesthetically pleasing or easy to use. With that in mind, I recently was surprised by the United States Postal Service website.

From my perspective both as a citizen and as a student of interactive media, simplicity is tremendously important to website design. It does nobody any good if content is available online but the means to access it is so convoluted that people do not realize the power at their fingertips. Luckily, the USPS realized that a strong design premise would serve their organization’s needs online by way of catering to American’s mailing needs.

Immediately upon loading the homepage, I realized the color scheme is neutral but effective. The white color is, dare I say it, calming! Never would I think dealing with the USPS would be calming. However, for the website it works.
USPS Homepage

Clearly the website design was conducted from a users perspective. Based upon my recent research, this is a rarity for government sites as many are designed from a government agency perspective not the public user perspective. As your eyes descend the page, information is segmented into horizontal oriented boxes. This helps to show separation between different tools and features on the same page.

One of the best elements is a simple step-by-step animation showing how to take care of your shipping needs right through the website. It is appealing to the eyes and simple to understand. Instead of becoming lost in paragraphs of instructions, the images do much of the work. This helps to engage the user and I bet increases efficiency of the user experience as well.

In order to minimize the number of pages on the site, the use of interactive slide shows is demonstrated on the homepage. This is a good use of such a tool because it shows information that is of interest to the user only of the user wants to be exposed to it. Currently, this feature is used to showcase different holiday stamp collections being released in anticipation for the holidays. Not everyone will care to learn of this information so instead of making users wade through it in order to get to what they were looking for, it is made available in an unobtrusive way where the user has control.

There are a wide variety of tools and functions associated through the website. Some of these include:

  • package tracking tool
  • holiday mailing deadlines
  • postal rates
  • change of address capabilities
  • business mailing resources

Many more features are presented through the homepage, the ones above just represent a handful of what is available. Overall, the USPS website provides a plethora of tools for people to access online to assist in their shipping needs. The fact that this has been done with a keen eye towards design and functionality is encouraging as it bucks the trend with most government websites.

Analytics and government Web spaces: together or apart?

11 11 2009

Analytics are important in an online, multimedia world. I have touched upon various facets of this reality in prior posts. But one aspect I have not heard much about is how analytics can be used for public sector websites, in this sense government websites.

I had the privilege this morning to sit in on a presentation by Mark Tosczak, Account Supervisor at RLF Communications, a public relations and marketing firm with offices in Greensboro, North Carolina. Even though his perspective represents 15 years of professional communication experience largely in the marketing and public relation fields, several key points he made hold relevance to government websites.

Analytics should be used to assist in understanding how people use Web based resources. Furthering this line of thought, Tosczak made a clear distinction that in order to put the analytics data to work it must be understood. Compiling large data sets will do nothing to improve Web performance or improve user experience if nobody on the development end of a Website has any idea what the data indicates.

Is it possible that the same information that can be pulled from analytics can be deciphered by other means? I think so. Additionally, I think analytics and other approaches should have their own respective seats at the proverbial Internet table. This is exactly the point made by Avinash Kaushik, a Google Analytics expert who heads the Googlepublicsector blog. He emphasizes that instead of relying on vast data streams and trying to interpret them, government websites could accomplish just as much by simply asking visitors directly how their visit to a specified government website turned out.

  • Did they find what they were looking for?
  • How easy was navigating the site?
  • Will they return in the future?

All of these simple questions can be answered via a quick exit survey, minus any analytics.

When analytics are used however, they should be closely tied towards goals. Tosczak indicated that goals are closely tied to measurable actions. Analytics are rather useful in reflecting these measurements. This may also be true for government websites, although it can be very difficult to isolate an exact goal for some political related spaces online.

Overall, analytics can play an important role in helping to understand what is happening online. However, they should not be the only source to guide major decisions relating to usability and website design. That is why simple surveys hold power in this process, in tandem with analytics. Considering both Tosczak, focusing primarily on public relations and marketing, and Kaushik, focusing primarily on government topics, regard surveys as useful applications for gathering information, this should serve as a signal that not all eggs should be placed in the analytics basket. Instead, they should be part of a omnidirectional approach for noting what is happening online and how to advance an web site using the collective intelligence from multiple types of resources.

Technology + interactivity in multiple forms

9 11 2009

Today marked the end of an……experience. Era would not work in this sense, so experience it will be. What I am referring to is Face-2-Face Fridays. This experience served as a useful means of sharing some of the latest and greatest interactive media events, tools and resources among our fellow peers, through 90-second presentations each week. Although today is a Monday, since last Friday had scheduling conflicts, it was the last set of weekly presentations. It is fitting therefore to highlight some of the wide-ranging topics that were presented. The following list is not an exhaustive one and is presented in no particular order. Here it goes….

> Twitter Peek
Serving as the first Twitter dedicated mobile device, this is for people who feel the need to Tweet regularly throughout the day or need to monitor other peoples Tweet postings. Although the same can be accomplished via a smart phone, the Twitter Peek enables those without smartphones to actively participate in Twitter from a handheld, mobile platform.

> Rent The Runway (RTR)
Combining the worlds of online commerce and fashion, this site has taken looking good to a new and practical level. Basically, members search through designer dresses, find several they like the have them shipped to be worn for a special event. Afterwards, just return the dresses in a prepaid package to RTR and that is it. It seems pretty painless and offers an alternative to buying something expensive which would otherwise be used online a couple of times.

> “Secret Girlfriend” on Comedy Central
Further proof that television is moving towards greater interactivity comes in the form of a show that is filmed from you the viewer’s perspective. Furthermore, the viewer gets to decide from a series of clips which paths the storyline will take, giving you the viewer some critical decisions to make.

Google Squared
Google is a dominant force online. Ironically, there are features associated with Google that are not well known. One such example is Google Squared. Instead of doing a typical search for user specified information and presenting results in list form, Google Squared presents relevant information in chart form. Though limited in the information it can present, since the topic requires many entries, it serves as one example of presenting information in a unique way that some users may find more appealing for their purposes.

Recyclable Laptops
Many people have laptops these days and many people wear them out, require the purchase of a new one. However, when that happens, where does the old laptop end up? Many times, it goes into landfills. Attempts to remedy this problem have resulted in a type of recyclable laptop. The idea is based upon a laptop being constructed in layers, each layer composed of paper pulp and other recycled material. If one layer wears out, it can be replaced instead of tossing the whole computer. Looking towards the future, it will be interesting to see if more people take note of this possibility and begin combining environmental factors into their computing needs.

There you have it, a snapshot of some topics that were presented earlier today. There were many more but for the sake of brevity, I will spare covering every single one. Just as I learned interesting bits of information on technology and interactivity, hopefully this post will guide others to explore the possibilities that currently exist and those on the horizon.

Making my Web experience Delicious

7 11 2009

Bookmarking online content has become a relatively commonplace activity. I bet if you were to ask a random sampling of Internet users if they have bookmarked content recently, many would answer in the affirmative. With this in mind, I recently made a concerted effort to utilize a pretty nifty bookmarking application called Delicious.

Before I continue, I should preface that I have previously harbored great resistance to Delicious because I did not see its purpose. As I saw things, why would I want to go through the trouble of downloading this application when I already had the power to bookmark online content through my web browser? Well, my friends, here is what helps set Delicious apart from the pack: versatility. Delicious is unique because instead of saving metadata to your computer in the manner that a web browser bookmark would, Delicious saves this data independently from your computer. What this means is that every single webpage you bookmarked is accessible every time you log online, on any computer.

Since I started to work Delicious into my online user experience, I have been impressed. Now that I have taken the first step, I have grown to really like the tool. To make your experience even more user friendly, I highly suggest downloading the Delicious toolbar so you have easy access to Delicious features through a series of several little buttons installed on your standard web browser.

Since I am not someone who is a major bookmarking fiend, I am not necessarily using the full capability that Delicious has to offer. However, if you are one of those people who bookmarks dozens of sites each day, Delicious is very capable of taking on the task of easily organizing and categorizing all this data. Unlike standard web browser bookmarking, Delicious makes it very easy to arrange all bookmarks in precisely the organizational manner you the user sees best to fit your purposes. It all comes back to versatility. Delicious has done well to make bookmarking content a more user-friendly experience.

Unified Concepts of Interactivity through a Toolbox

6 11 2009

How would you conceptualize interactivity as it relates to theory and audiences? That is a question that may seem difficult to answer. Granted, it should be. There is no definitive right answer.

Presented with this challenge of conceptualizing interactivity, I worked alongside several of my peers to devise a means of knowledge conveyance regarding the overarching topic. After some initial brainstorming, we realized that visualizing information was a necessity. However, how could be show the relationships that are woven together that make interactive media work? We literally and figuratively grabbed a toolbox to complete the task.

A toolbox represents many components that parallel the most important ones pertaining to interactive media. A prosumer approach further guided our efforts in that a prosumer is characterized by a producer and audience combined. Hence, making something while absorbing influences from others. A toolbox relates to all of these relationships. Below are some examples:

Choice – user chooses tool to use

Control – user decides on content that is paired with the decided upon tool

Feedback – depending on tool chosen and how it is applied, the response will vary, varied outcome results from these factors

Design and Function – every tool specified for a use or types of uses and must maintain purpose

Trust and Value – needs to be a discernible outcome from a tools use, clear sign that task was accomplished by relying upon chosen tool

Connectivity – each tool plays a role towards the greater function of the toolbox, remove one and everything else can be affected

Time – some tools allow more efficient task completion than others, just as some websites make task completion easier than others

Usability – tool should be structured for wide appeal and application towards chosen task otherwise user will not rely upon it for subsequent uses

Optimization – since some tools apply more easier to specified uses than others, key is for user to realize this and make appropriate decision ahead of time to optimize their experience

Why Factor – many reasons contribute to user decisions but each one contributes to a degree towards why one approach was chosen over another

Learning Curve – learning is ongoing which is why using simpler tools first allows more intricate tools to be used later

I found it really interesting to view a standard toolbox and all its accoutrements in this manner. The similarities of such a non-digital medium with the workings of an electronic medium like the Internet is striking. That is just the point. As humans we have had quite a few of these concepts already working in our daily lives, yet, many people do not realize just how applicable they are in the age of interactive media. Hopefully this little explanation of our group’s efforts help to showcase the connection between a good old toolbox and the interactive media of here and now and beyond.

Interesting Links for 2009-11-05

5 11 2009