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.

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.

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.

Analytics awareness, Google has it covered

4 11 2009

Knock-knock. Who’s there? Someone with the IP address xxx.xxx.xx.xxx. What does that mean? Why is the person choosing to visit a particular website over another? What are they doing while visiting the site?

These are questions that analytics can help answer. As a result, analytics are increasingly becoming a go-to resource for websites to garner necessary insights on how users interact with their content. I have previously blogged about analytics because they are important and becoming increasingly so as time goes on. With that being said, this post is going to focus primarily on attempts by Google to harness the power of analytics for people who are not expert web designers.

The main resource behind the Google Analytics tool is the Google Conversion University. In essence, the compilation of materials is similar to that of an institution of higher learning focused solely on analytics, what they do, how to apply them and how to make sense of them. The Conversion University contains:

  • two hours worth of video tutorials
  • video segments range between three and ten minutes each
  • collectively provide powerful knowledge for users to apply towards their own purposes

Considering the depth and breadth of features offered through Google Analytics, I am going to touch upon only a few of the most recent additions I find intriguing. User engagement is one example of recent refinement. Since every website is unique in its own right, it makes sense to measure analytics that reflect data which is catering to the websites needs. Up to recently, engaging a user typically meant them placing an item into an online shopping cart or registering for a mailing list. It was a pretty limited definition of engaging. Now, Google Analytics has moved beyond these regimented standards. Websites can define their own definition of measuring user engagement. Examples include:

  • time spend on a page
  • number of pages viewed
  • comments posted on a page
  • link use for accessing more in-depth knowledge of material teased from the original page

Clearly, much greater customization is available thanks to these newer analytics featurs.

Advancing analytics customization even further, analytics can now be tailored to generate specific titles upon users based upon a set of predefined actions. For instance, if a user visited a website and viewed an animation of the weather forecast, a tag can be assigned to that user labeled something like “weather”. Now, website designers can look at the data collected from numerous “weather” users and compare patterns of the way users rely upon website resources. Did they commonly move to other pages after viewing the weather animation or did they leave the website completely? Perhaps there is a trend for these users to check out the entertainment section of the site when the weather forecast for the weekend is pleasant. If so, can content and advertising be altered to better reach these users? These are just a couple of the specific resources that now exist with Google Analytics.

In order to understand what they do and how they can be best be applied, Google now offers tutorials on Google Conversion University. In fact, if you are interested in not just learning about these resources but want to prove that you understand their application, try taking the Google Analytics Qualification Test. This test is used to determine if a user knows enough about analytics that Google is willing to grant them a certificate to reflect this fact. I plan on taking advantage of this opportunity in the near future. If only I could have Google Analytics show trends in my daily routines where extra time exists for watching the tutorials……maybe someday.

Enrich the EYES and mind with data

30 10 2009

When you hear the terms data visualizations, what comes to mind? To me, at least when I first was exposed to these terms at the beginning of the interactive media masters program that I am currently enrolled; I took them to mean data that was apparent. Pretty basic, I know. However, I have begun to see data visualization differently. Thanks in part to a lecture I watched with other interactive media students this morning, I can further expand my interpretation of what data visualizations really are.

Aaron Koblin is a master in working otherwise static data in useful, engaging, interesting products. As a current member of the Google Creative Labs team, he gets paid to apply his terrific skills on a daily basis. One example of his work that really stood out in my mind was his visualization of airplane flight data compiled by the United States Federal Aviation Administration. Koblin was able to make a visually enticing depiction of all the flights that traveled through United States airspace in a 24-hour period. Furthermore, to demonstrate the power of data when visualized, he did not even make a map of the United States. Instead, he let the data do the work and show the patterns that emerged from the flight paths. As a result, a general outline of the country became apparent as, guess what, planes need airports to begin and end their journeys and they tend to be on land.

Relating to all of his works, Koblin shared a critical insight during the lecture. He stated that by looking at something ordinary, again think static data, in a new way can produce an extraordinary experience. I could not agree with him more on this. Think of it as a light bulb suddenly illuminating. It can help people realize things about material they thought they already knew. This awakening of sorts can produce some dramatic changes in a business sense by gaining a new perspective, a new interpretation on product use patterns, economic factors etc.

There exist numerous examples of sound being used in visualizations, which is very interesting. One example shown during the lecture was a crowd-sourced composition of sound bits that pieced together formed a musical song. Imagine taking many, many strangers single second voice clips and melding them together to produce a musical piece that takes on a very unique sound. That is what Koblin did thanks to the Internet, microphones and curious online users. Finally, a sound visualization playing in the background on my computer while I type this is demonstrating the sound variations of the song “Rest My Chemistry” by Interpol.

Interpol – Rest My Chemistry Video from Aaron on Vimeo.

Here, the visual cues explode, disappear, vary in size and color based upon the lyrical and tonal composition of the song. While watching the piece, it almost becomes a mystery of sorts as you try to guess what visual elements will pop through the next stanza of the song.

Bottom line is this; data visualizations are cool and useful. They can capture an audience’s attention while demonstrating new ideas or building new connections from old ideas based around data. As more of the world’s population spends greater time online, I expect people like Aaron Koblin will play an ever-increasing role in how we understand the world around us.

Don’t forget a dose of analytics!

23 10 2009

If you have any familiarity with my blog, or if you don’t for that matter, you now know I am a student of interactive media. When people ask what I am studying and I tell them this, the common reaction is a perplexed look on the person’s face as they ask “What is that?” Instead of going into the explanation here, I wanted to share an insightful experience that may help to clarify the topic.
I had an opportunity earlier today to sit in on a talk by Travis Lusk, New Media Manager at WCBS Radio in New York City. He is someone who is taking traditional media, radio in this case, and helping to transition it into an online, interactive space. Highlighting the means by which this is done, he mainly discussed the importance of analytics to the online environment.

Does the mention of analytics scare you? Bring back memories of high school math classes you thought you erased from your memory years ago? I will be the first to admit I am not a math person, neither are most folks within the greater communication fields. There is no need to worry though as Lusk explained analytics do not require you to have an undue degree of mathematical knowledge under your belt to make effective use of the tools within the interactive media environment. He did specify however that it is critical to understand why people are attracted to certain content. I take this to mean you have to establish a way of getting inside the people’s heads. Analytics are a tool for providing that valuable feedback and explanations through pattern analysis.

Speaking of tracking, I was surprised when Lusk divulged just how much information online analytic tools provide. For instance, he showcased on the projection screen some examples of what data he could access regarding any particular user who visited one of the several CBS Radio websites he is in charge over. This information included the visitors name, the time spent within the website and, most eye opening to me, the location from which the user was viewing the website. Just remember, somebody is watching!

To be clear, I am not saying or even suggesting that analytics are intended to be applied for malicious purposes. Could they be, sure. Could my computer crash at any moment, sure. Lusk did provide some encouraging insight, for those who are a little on-edge by this point, about making personal connections with website users. He emphasized that if you as a media expert can reach out and touch a user, not physically but in terms of a value perspective, just once, you have made them feel important. This is tremendously important in building loyalty to foster a long-term relationship. He does this regularly when responding to user emails. Instead of having a generic company email address to respond to user’s questions, he replies with an email address that contains his name. This little step helps to establish a connection, instead of users feeling like they are one of many cogs in the machinery of modern media.

All-in-all, it was an interesting talk. Ponder over some of those points and remember that somewhere, somehow, someone is likely taking note of your actions online!

Web design should be effective, right?

21 10 2009

Websites, there are a plenty these days! It seems every time you log online, that’s for those who DO go offline, there is a plethora of new websites covering a myriad of topics. Although there may be numerous websites focusing on similar content, it can come down to the design of one website positioning it to benefit from higher traffic rates than the others. Design plays an important role in the user experience. As Vitaly Friedman of Smashing Magazine did a good job showcasing valuable points regarding what design pointers would best be noted. In many ways, the design alone dictates the user experience. Therefore, it is fitting to list several important principles of website design that can assist the creative minds out there how to best craft a site that has the greatest impact for it’s users. By no means is this an exhaustive list but the tips should still provide value:

> Users DO NOT like thinking! Uncertainty is a no no.
Users need clear paths to embark upon when in a website. Whenever clear paths are not present, doubts surface in the users mind as to where to go or what minimal options are at their disposal.

> Time is money. Think of patience in the same way.

Bogging down users with requirements or forms to fill out or long texts to wade through before entering a site is not going to make them thrilled about their user experience. They are busy people too; keep this at the forefront of the design scheme.

> Focus user attention

Human eyes wander to where they notice the greatest visual impact; they do not follow a strict predetermined path. Design elements so that attention is paid to the most important aspects on a website.

> Do not underestimate the power of writing
Online content is crafted differently that that in traditional print media. Avoid using big words that cloud the underlying purpose or intent. Keep thing simple and direct. This way, there is greater likelihood online users — who traditionally scan online content anyway — will get the point your webpage is demonstrating.

> White space is your friend in the design world

White space greatly assists users in digesting information. Their eyes automatically scan a page to determine if the content can be processed into segments. If it can, the user is likely to engage and check out the material. Use white space to help in this process!

> Test in order to complete

In order for a webpage or website to be ready for users and maximize its usability, it should be tested. There will be kinks in the works. There will be things that require improvement. Testing is valuable because it can and does expose these blips, allowing for correction. Also, testing provides useful insight from the perspective of an intended user. Designers may see things one particular way; the intended users may see things another way. Testing is a great tool to iron out these differences to see which approach works best with the intended goal.

Web design is much more encompassing than the topics I have listed here. These are just some of the basics. If you want to explore a more detailed examination of these design tips, check out Smashing Magazine.