The Product Guy’s Weekend Reading (March 13, 2009)

Every week I read tens of thousands of blog posts. Here, for your weekend enjoyment, are some highlights from my recent reading, for you.

01_shark-jump

On Starting Up…

http://www.businessinsider.com/the-new-startup-dream-jumping-the-shark-2009-3
The upside of "jumping the shark."

 
 

On Design & Product Experience…

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2009/03/09.html
On being a ‘product guy’ at Microsoft.

02_microsoft-product-manage
03_theguardian

On Modular Innovation…

http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2009/03/10/dream-how-the-guardians-api-could-let-a-thousand-stories-bloom/
The Guardian’s opening up contributing to the increase in Modular Innovation.

 

Have a great weekend!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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The Product Guy’s Weekend Reading (December 19, 2008)

reading_w_TPG_thumb5_thumb2_thumb2_t[2] Every week I read tens of thousands of blog posts. Here, for your weekend enjoyment, are some highlights from my recent reading, for you.

On Starting Up…
http://www.paulgraham.com/divergence.html
One person’s look at the potential future of Venture Capital.

On Design & Product Experience…
http://www.thedesigncubicle.com/2008/12/why-exactly-designers-hate-comic-sans/
On the hatred of a font: Comic Sans.

On Modular Innovation…
http://www.bloggingstocks.com/2008/12/16/microsofts-newest-windows-live-services-its-best-yet/
Lessons of Modular Innovation from Microsoft.

Have a great weekend!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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The Product Guy’s Weekend Reading (September 26, 2008)

reading_w_TPG_thumb5_thumb2_thumb2_t[2] Every week I read tens of thousands of blog posts. Here, for your weekend enjoyment, are some highlights from my recent reading, for you.

On Starting Up…
http://onstartups.com/home/tabid/3339/bid/6727/Startups-and-The-Power-Of-Polarization.aspx
Good discussion about startups and the power of polarization.

On Design & Product Experience…
http://www.usabilitypost.com/2008/09/24/use-whitespace-to-indicate-relationships-between-content-elements/
Whitespace and its role in shaping website relationships.

On Modular Innovation…
http://www.sitepoint.com/blogs/2008/09/26/microsoft-talks-up-client-cloud-future/
Microsoft shares thoughts on the future of online Modular Innovations.

Have a great weekend!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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The Product Guy’s Weekend Reading (May 9, 2008)

reading_thumb1_thumb1 Every week I read tens of thousands of blog posts. Here, for your weekend enjoyment, are some highlights from my recent reading, for you.

On Starting Up…
http://www.hueniverse.com/hueniverse/2008/04/the-last-announ.html
Learn from the founder of Nouncer of the decisions and challenges that eventually led to the start-up’s April 2008 failure.

On Design & Product Experience…
http://www.liveside.net/blogs/opinion/archive/2008/05/07/live-search-design-too-many-cooks.aspx
When designing a User eXperience the process works best with a single, centralizing force / individual who crafts and sets the strategy. Read about Microsoft Live Search and their perplexing presentation.

On Modular Innovation…
http://www.stoweboyd.com/message/2008/05/talk-talk-open.html
Questions and discussion about how Modular Innovation will impact your email.

Have a great weekend!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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Microsoft’s Mistakes. You too can learn from them.

microsoft (Part 2 of 2) The other day I briefly highlighted what I saw as the ‘Good parts’ and ‘Good starts’ within Windows Live Events to clearly distinguish where I feel the product has missed a golden opportunity; and highlight some broader takeaways that should be applied to the current and next generation of online web products and services.

Not so good parts…

Overall, I found the user experience pretty good, as long as I didn’t have to interact with the page and its components and features. In some cases I found the negatives to be in the simple user interaction and experience design, in others it was the sense of being mislead by the user interface to expect bigger and better functionality from my click.

Where’s the pop?

The User Interface didn’t POP. By pop, I am not referring to those annoying ads that everyone loves to hate, but to the responsiveness and feeling that goes along with the interaction of the user interface. Here, with Windows Live Events, I found the interface experience, my user experience, to be slow, sluggish, and, at times, sleep inducing.

When I log into my account and select an event that I want to update or invite people to… let me do it QUICKLY and painlessly. I want to login (pop), click (pop), invite (pop), and go (pop). The interface rendering times, the additional pages that were being loaded again and again, can all benefit from a major overhaul. Empower me, your potential user, to do what I want to do with my event…efficiently, productively.

Microsoft, did you ever hear of Ajax or dynamic page elements? My advice to you is to make the event overview and its management a single page, a page that loads the ‘dashboard’ view once and dynamically allows me to enter new information or be updated while I am looking at my event. Don’t force me to navigate back and forth, again and again, to manipulate my details and invite people. All those extra pages, all that extra loading, all that interruption in my workflow of planning and managing and ENJOYING my event just slows me down, ruins any potential happiness I may get from some of the features, and makes me want to look elsewhere for a UI that will be fast, responsive, and fun to interact with.

The sluggishness I found to be present within the UI goes beyond the unnecessary extra page loading that occurs, but is also found in the initial page downloading and rendering. I am not, as of the posting of this article, sure what is going on under the hood or what sort of processes at Microsoft are resulting in this bloated feeling that appears to be all too common to Microsoft products, that causes such a slow and sluggish feeling (I used IE , FF, and Opera browsers). The sluggish interface is not unique to Windows Live Events. I also experienced excessive sluggishness in Microsoft’s (now discontinued) Live Product Search — a product I thought was head and shoulders above the competition out there. With Live Product Search, a product that I truly enjoyed and recommended to people, as with Windows Live Events, its big negative was that it was slow in how it responded to user interaction . Back then, I stopped using Live Product Search, and most likely many other people did too, because it was just sooo slow.

The ‘fun potential’ of the user interface is present, but quickly dissipates when the actual interaction portion of the user experience equation is taken into account. Correcting this portion of Windows Live Events will go far towards user adoption, but is also the lesser of the ‘Not so good parts.’

The future is in Modular Innovation.

Within Windows Live Events It is nice that I can blog about my event; even though it is not readily obvious that I can do so at first glance at the event’s dashboard view. It is nice that I can share pictures and discuss the events with friends and other attendees. It is nice that it is an experience integrated with the Windows Live suite of web products.

Wouldn’t it be NICER (or great, or awesome) if I could blog, not just on Windows Live Spaces, but on WordPress (The Product Guy’s platform) or other blog formats? Wouldn’t it be NICER if I could share or integrate with my pictures on Flickr or other photo sharing platforms? Wouldn’t it be NICER if I could communicate with other people, in real-time, or via Twitter or receive updates when there are new bits of information being shared?

Answer: Yep.

While the layout of the page presents the promise of a sharp user experience and alludes to the potential of a great, integrated, centralizing event planning application through some obvious and some hard to find features, it falls far short. So far short, it only is integrated with Microsoft – a very limited web product audience.

Windows Live Events, what could have been a nice module that combined and brought together information from other web products (modules) online, instead is only a repackaging of a proprietary Microsoft-only event planner.

Those tougher to find features on the Event’s homepage are the ones that drew my greatest attention for which I also carefully chose my words when describing. I purposely described “the good” with words like “promising” and the “layout encourages.” While there are hints of good ideas, hints of implementing (a) Modular Innovation(s), Windows Live Events, in my opinion, missed a great opportunity. (Of course, I am not saying they cannot make a reattempt at this opportunity through a future release.)

The (missed?) opportunity…

Event planning is not unique to the Internet. What I did like seeing was their eye towards greater integration with other services. However, without allowing for integration with third-parties (Via an API? perhaps.), what could possibly be the incentive for people to sign-up and use Windows Live Events? For people that are not Windows Live-only users, there isn’t any.

Integration is the key to any chance of broad-based success for Live Events. Have I mentioned this a few times already? Hmmm… it must mean it is IMPORTANT! What is unique here? Microsoft Events does present a nice, simplified UI, but with so many other product options out there, there is nothing making this new service stand out. This is where the opportunity lies.

Windows Live Events would be more interesting to the public at large if events could just simply integrate with other blog platforms and social networks to invite friends from your social network to your created Live Events. Don’t limit the users to the Microsoft blogging platform and picture sharing — let me choose and customize my user experience by connecting it with other online products (that aren’t Microsoft, if I choose).

‘missed?’ well, one can hope that the Windows Live Events team will heed my advice and make many of these improvements.

Learning parts…

There are many constructive lessons that can be learned by poking at and experiencing Windows Live Events that, when applied to other web products, will result in broader acceptance and adoption, and an overall better experience that your users will come back for time and time again.

To build a larger base, secondarily, Microsoft will have to clean-up and make enjoyable (interactive, responsive, not slow) the user experience; but, primarily, at the very core, empower its users through modularity by…

  • Allowing integration. Enabling people to connect their Live Events to their other online experiences (Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, Blogger, IM, etc.). For example, let me invite people that are my close friends in MySpace to my party being planned via Live Events.
  • Allowing portability. Enabling people to download or move all of their event information for editing or manipulating on other event or related platforms. This will allow more people to try it out, without worrying about losing their information and experiment with different methods of interacting with and using and leveraging Windows Live Events. Also, how neat-o would it be to be able to download all of the plans, pictures, and discussions surrounding an event and burn them to a DVD to watch with your friends next time you meet up?
  • Allowing modules. Enable people to interact with Windows Live Events as a module. As a module, you can place features, actions, or other types of updates within any other service. Also, as a module, other services can transmit information to the Live Events module (e.g. friend X has accepted the invitation to your party).

In the end, some nice User Experience (UX) and integration (barely), but the 2 big problems that I have found to be all too familiar to the majority of Microsoft’s web products (not unlike their desktop products) are:

  1. sluggish UI and UX really hurt any gains made by some of the good UI decisions, and
  2. openness — connect to and give the people a way to connect complementary services and other platforms (social networks, IM, blog, flickr, twitter, etc.)

It will be interesting to watch Windows Live Events and see what of my advice is eventually adopted and the resulting consumer responses (and their corresponding UX gains).

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

Looking for the good in Windows Live Events…

date (Part 1 of 2) So, clearly, Microsoft saw there was a huge need and demand for an online event planning utility — and Windows Live Events was born. (Sarcasm)

But, seriously, there are some positive, along with the negative, aspects of this new product offering.

Last Friday, Microsoft released Windows Live Events. After completing my review of this new web product, which is clearly aligned to compete with the likes of Evite, mypunchbowl, Renkoo, as well as many others, I came away with mixed feelings about its future, and some solid observations of user experience that I feel everyone can benefit from hearing and thinking about, as well as apply to other projects to create more successful web products.

Good parts…

The User Interfaces start out well. The initial visual presents a simple, cohesive overview, easy to find and click primary actions, summaries, all with just the right amount of detail.

image

An especially nice section of the interface, are the huge buttons, along the top, dedicated to the most frequent event related actions — nice and easy: inviting guests, tweaking event details, communicating and sharing — all relevant to the event.

image

The summary information is presented in fairly good balance to the event details on the same page. It is a very nice experience that allows the user to quickly login, take a peak at the event, and know the latest information — easy to take it all in ‘at a glance.’

Good starts…

I found it difficult to clearly classify the parts of the page that are for sharing and socializing entirely with the Good or Bad parts section of this post. My imagination (or was it my hopes?) got the best of me when I saw the parts for blogging, discussions, and picture sharing.

Before clicking on any of these ‘Good starts’, I was filled with all sorts of cool ideas and questions…

  • Is ‘Blog about this event’ going to really let me connect this to my blog (powered by WordPress) or other blogs out there?
  • Will I be able to ‘Share photos’ on Flickr?
  • ‘Discussion,’ that will be a fun way to quickly coordinate and keep track of everything.

The social and communication components of the page contain considerable promise. These components provide some nice, and fairly easy to access (blogging and calendar integration are somewhat buried) features. The _layout_ of the page definitely encourages the sharing of event related photos and group discussions.

While my findings did not live up to my expectations, one can hope that some day they do, and, at least, they are a good start to integrating with a social community, even if it is Microsoft-only, for now.

In Part 2 of my discussion of Windows Live Events I will delve into the negatives and other universally applicable product lessons. 

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy