Sibling Rivalry 2009

A Nokia colleague of mine here in Finland had a charming update to an age old scenario. In this scene, the older sister, who is 13, is saying she has a crush on a boy in her school. It’s a boy in her school and the younger sister is dying to know who it is.

Younger sister creates a website which is all sparkly with animation and mood music and has an embedded form in it. Fill in the name of the person you love and this site will tell you if it’s a true match. It’s a trap of course. There’s a mailto: embedded into the Submit button. Anything typed into the box will be emailed to the younger sister’s email account.

The younger sister is ten.

Older sister runs across the form, can’t resist temptation and types in boy’s name and clicks on button. As soon as she does, old sis realizes what’s happening! She’s furious!

Old sis tries to logging into Young sis’ email account to delete the email. It takes her a few tries but she gets it. It’s easy to guess. She deletes the email with her beau’s name, disaster averted!

Old sis saunters into the living room, tells Young sis that she wasn’t fooled by her amateur prank – says that her password was easy to guess and she deleted the email anyway.

Young sis winks back at Old sis. Says she figured that would happen. That’s why she added a .forward file to her account that forwards any email sent to her email address to another secret account she created just for that purpose.

Hair pulling ensues!


Finnish Wife Carrying

So in the middle of all the excitement of getting settled we missed the World Wife Carrying Championship which took place (as it has for the past 14 years) in Sonkajärvi, Finland – about 500km north of Helsinki.

Eager to see what it would take to participate next year, I came across the official site which had a bit on How to Become a Master in Wife Carrying. In typical Finnish deadpan humor, they went into all the details just so you believed they were serious until you came across lines like,

The core of the race is made of a woman, a man and their relationship. The wife carrying and eroticism have a lot in common. Intuitive understanding of the signals sent by the partner and becoming one with the partner are essential in both of them – sometimes also whipping.

Maybe we’ll go next year.

Related crazy Finnish events include:


Finland, they do it different here

I have a feeling this is going to be a regular feature. There are many things that are different here in Finland. Here are just a few that I’ve learned about in the past few weeks.

Speeding tickets are progressive, you pay more if you earn more. I was warned about someone who had a $1,000 speeding ticket and they were only slightly over the limit. How do the police know how much you make?

There is a government service that allows anyone to lookup another person’s salary. The idea is that if you know what your colleagues are making (and they know that you know) that everyone will cooperate better. Of course no one bothers to look up someone’s salary, just knowing that you can does the trick.

When you get here, you register with the local city hall and once they get your address, they let everyone know. This has the unsettling effect of you signing up for cable TV and the rep not even needing your address because (and they always wink when they say this) we know where you live. The flip side of this is that we’re in a temporary apartment right now but when we move, there’s only one place we need to tell our new address. No pesky change of address forms!

Like Britain and Japan, there is an annual fee for TV. It’s about $250/year for one set (you pay based on the number of TV sets) and if you’re busted cheating, you pay triple.

I can drive on my California driver’s license for the next year but if (or is it when?) I get my Finnish license, the driver’s test includes snow driving.

Most people pay with debit cards for everything and invoices are paid with a wire transfer. This extends to individuals. I can wire money to any account, free of charge. In the US, it costs $40 to do this from one bank to another. Fiscal Portability anyone?

The Finnish Posti is well aware of the impact of all this electronic billing on their revenues so they’ve gone ahead and offered a service which scans in any paper invoices headed your way and they will email you notification when a bill is ready. Login to your Posti account in time and you can look at a scanned copy of your invoice before it arrives.

Recently in Oulu, a development center for Nokia up north, one of my colleagues dialed me a taxi and all he did was grunt a few times, hung up and said a cab was on it’s way. The taxi service used caller ID to identify him, then pulled up the most popular destinations he’s made when he’s booked before, and asked him which of these he is (1) at right now and, (2) going to as a destination. Smart! Like a call log for taxi destinations!

Current Events

Rental Cars as Advertising

o2 Media CarWhen we moved to Finland, we decided to leave our two car, suburban lifestyle behind and live life in the center of Helsinki. We walk everywhere and take trolleys, buses, and trains when it’s too far to walk.

It’s really not a big deal. Helsinki has an excellent public transportation system and the infrastructure is set up to make it really easy to get around without a car.

There are times though, when a car is going to come in handy. Trips to Ikea, or a weekly run up to the big shopping center come to mind. It’s possible to huff it back with 30 pounds of goods in your rucksack but a car would just make it easier.

I’ve already signed up for Helsinki’s equivalent of Zip Car (City Car Club, they’ve been around longer than Zip) where you can order up a car via SMS but today our savior, Pirjo Koskivirta at Finland Relocation, sent me a pointer to o2 media, an advertising company disguised as a car rental firm.

I didn’t get it at first. They rent out these cute little Smart Cars for 5 euros/day. The deal is, you need to drive at least 30kms, otherwise they charge extra. I had this image of people driving laps around Töölönlahti just trying to turn over the odometer.

By now you figured it out right? I’m a little slow and it’s late. The value prop here is they just need people to drive around and get impressions for their advertisers on their fancy-wrapped cars. Why pay college interns to do it when they can charge people instead. It’s more environmentally friendly, the renters get a car for cheap, and the advertisers get their message taken into real world situations.



iPhone UX Anti-Patterns

What follows are notes from a session I attended at the last Web 2.0 Expo. While a few months old, the notes here are still very relevant. As a Nokia employee, some may think it strange for me to blog about how to develop for the iPhone but I think not, the priciples I share here apply to all mobile developers.

10 iPhone User Experience Anti-Patterns

The presentation was given by Toby Boudreaux. Point of clarification before we begin. For those unfamiliar, an anti-pattern is a play on design patterns which are re-usable design components that emerge to become commonly understood elements used in User Interface design. A common user interface anti-pattern is the hover text box that obscures an otherwise important part element of the user experience.

On to the iPhone UX Anti-Patterns from Toby’s talk

Billboards & Splash Screens

While it your logo may look cool in all it’s glory and scrolling credits for everyone on the team including the office dog is also seems like a nice thing to do, your users will tire of it after a few times and will get down right annoyed if they use your app with any frequency. Best to tuck this stuff down as a sub-menu off the About menu. In short, “don’t put branding ahead of users.”

Sleight of Hand

Do not use the same area for different or conflicting functions. Think of muscle memory and make sure that the same gestures are related. Toby illustrated the problem with the iPhone’s slide to unlock and decline functions.

A quick and easy way to avoid this anti-pattern is to print out wireframes of your design and overlay each screen on top of each other over a lightbox and to be careful where your exit or quit button is going to be, assuming that your users may add an extra tap by mistake.

App as OS

When the app is running in a mobile environment, it tends to take over the screen giving the user the impression that the application is the OS. Rather than attempt to mediate the entire experience of the device through your app, defer to specialized apps which are designed to handle those functions. Use the YouTube player for videos, the browser for web pages.


Tone down any loud notifications. You can provide a setting to make them louder but remember, you’re embedded into a mobile device which is going to be carried everywhere. If possible, avoid pop-up error messages and embed your error message into the interface.

The Bouncer

If your app requires a user account, make sure every screen that can be accessed without a login has a link to registration or sign-up. The last thing you want to do is have a potential registered user land on a login screen with no link to a page where they can register.

The High Bar

Allow for progressive degradation of your application. Remember, you’re app is operating in a mobile environment. Assume that connections will be flakey, the phone not running the latest OS. Remember the guy on the bus that’s just gone into a tunnel. What about the one-handed user on the subway? Can he they use your app effectively?

Memory Lapse

Make sure your application is able to persist state. There’s nothing worse than having to step back through to get back to where you were. The illusion of fast task-switching, pausing and unpausing, requires state persistence.

Gesture Hijacking

Take care not to take over and re-define a popular gesture. It’s a balance because you also don’t want to try and be too clever and introduce a new behavior that has too steep a learning curve.

Spin Zone

Don’t rotate the screen for the heck of it. Fancy UI elements to be used in moderation.

Sound Off

Don’t hijack audio that is already playing. This is a common one. How many times have you been listening to music and then start playing a game that requires you jack the volume way up. When you quit out of the game, you blast your ears off as your music player comes back on.

It’s much better to blend the sounds so the user can take care to switch to the background app and shut it down or pause it.

Apple has done a lot of careful thinking about interface design on the iPhone expanding their work on the Human Interface Guidelines to the mobile environment. The iPhone HIG is a good resource for anyone designing for the mobile environment.

Hope these iPhone UX Anti-Patterns were useful. Can you think of any others?

Current Events

Jyri Engestrom on Social Objects

I ran across some notes from the Web 2.0 Expo back in April that are still relevant and worth sharing. Today I’ll post on the talk that Jyri gave on Building Sites with Social Objects, tomorrow I’ll post notes from a talk given on iPhone Development Anti-Patterns.

Jyri Engestrom founded Jaiku which was later acquired by Google and is involved in some of their most interesting social networking products including Google Latitude.  In his session, he started by giving a quick run down of successive social networks from the past emphasizing that despite media coverage of facebook (and more recently twitter), the game is far from over:

Firefly, grew to 2M users, acquired by Microsoft
Six Degrees, grew to 3M users, folded
Friendster, grew to 90M users, collapsed under it’s own weight
MySpace, tens of millions of users, acquired by Fox
Facebook, over 250M users, still growing and independent

The game is not over. We are still talking about a segment of the population. Social Networks have not (yet) replaced e-mail, sms, or the telephone as the lowest common denominator way to get in touch with someone.

Jyri went on to describe how social networks are built and what differentiates a successful social network from others that fail. Most importantly, social networks are about connecting people but there needs to be a catalyst to drive that connection, something with a tangible incentive. Using the metaphor of kids gathering to play together on the beach, Jyri explains that they gather together around a common object, such as a ball. In this same way, people connect around something he calls a “social object.” Think of all the successful social networks and you can see this pattern:

YouTube – video clips
digg – links
flickr – photos – music tracks
good reads – books
slideshare – presentations

In each case, there is a shared object that drives the connection and draws outsiders into a conversation. Bringing up the case of Russell Beattie, Jyri talks about LinkedIn. It’s a useful but only as a profile service, a place to showcase your resume and people don’t connect around profiles. I would argue that LinkedIn has been improperly categorized as a social network when, in fact, it’s more accurately a crowd-sourced recruitment database.

Jyri then went on to list out the steps towards designing a successful social network:

1. Define the Social Object.
2. Define the verbs around the object. For example,
– eBay – buy/sell
– flickr – upload/favorite
– dopplr – add a trip
– upcoming – add/watch an event

The Activity group has been doing some work here and their wiki and mailing list is a great resource.  They have catalogued a number of common verbs and are attempting to unify these verbs to enable broader sharing and connectivity across social networks.

3. Promote the sharing of objects with easy to use tools
– ensure all your objects can be adddressed by permalinks which can be emailed
– create embedable widgets so that bloggers can promote attractive galleries of your social objects. Think flickr badges.
4. Turn invitations into gifts. Each invitation sent by your members should have an immediate value attached in the payload of the message. The days of “Register or click here to see more” are long over.
5. Charge publishers, not the spectators. The people that use your platform to further their financial goals should pay to access your audience.

Finally, Jyri spoke about the future. I’ll add my own observations in here as well because I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this too.

As with the Russell and LinkedIn, the days of connecting just to goose your numbers are over. Twitter is the latest to inherit this behavior and while it may be valuable to have a large number of followers, it makes little sense to follow too many people yourself. As Robert Scoble has realized, the less people you follow, the better the signal.

Future behavior on social networks will be to enhance what Jyri calls, “social peripheral vision” Citing examples such as the head’s up display on World of Warcraft, Jyri tries to imagine a world where your physical world is annotated with data about their interaction your social network.

Today it is still very early in the game. Each of us, with our lifestreams and status updates, are firing off signals like “pulsars into space.” The tools we use to monitor and keep up with are friends are still very primative and much of the talk is about trying to keep up or make sense of it all. In this sense, as we consume a combined lifestream of all our friends, we are not unlike ham radio operators, sifting through the radio bands and sharing notes as we look for a signal, a pattern.

Jyri concluded his talk describing something he called “nodal points” which is he uses to describe a, “pattern or algorithm that pulls information out of data.” It is this pursuit of nodal points that we are seeking. Each social network should have it – it’s where the collective commentary draws a pattern that represents a greater intelligence. Think of flickrs’ Shape files, the clusters of headlines on Techmeme, or the still fallible trending topics on twitter. These are nodal points and each successful social network should have them.

So here’s Jyri’s checklist for a successful social networks.

  1. Define a social object
  2. Define a set of verbs & actions which can be taken on the object.
  3. Aggregate the social objects and annotations by the community to create nodal points.
Building Sites Around Social Objects – Web 2.0 Expo SF 2009 from Jyri Engeström

Dance, Dance Wheelchair Revolution

This past weekend we headed out to the Heureka Science Center about a 20 minute train ride North of Helsinki. There are a ton of interactive, hands-on exhibits which I took photos of but this wheelchair exhibit was the most interesting.

The concept is simple. The quadrants of the circle light up randomly, one at a time and you have to roll at least two wheels over the quadrant before the next quadrant lights up. There is music playing in the background so if you take too long, the music begins to slow down, letting others in the room know you’re not doing too well.

It’s a very effective exhibit because kids immediately know what to do and it teaches you very quickly the limitations of moving a wheelchair around in a tight space.

I hope my kids have a better appreciation of those in wheelchairs next time we ride the train or bus!