Here’s a list of things that were previously excruciating but no longer are because I own an iPhone:

1. Waiting in the doctor’s office

2. Waiting for my girlfriend to get ready before leaving to go out anywhere

3. Meetings that are inefficiently managed or a complete waste of time

4. Waiting for long periods of time on subway platforms

5. Finding venues in the city

6. Awkward conversations with strangers

7. Online banking

8. Quickly securing dinner reservations on the fly

9. Managing shopping lists

10. Following threads of text messages

There might be more, but these 10 were on my mind today.

I’m extremely concerned that one day in the near future – possibly a day this year – I will be rewarded for everything I do. Yes, I know that sounds funny, but I don’t look forward to being rewarded for the things I eat, the places I visit, the TV shows I watch, items I like, the people I meet, the things I learn, the things I teach others, and even the things I’m already being rewarded for.

Maybe I should rephrase: I don’t want to be rewarded in the exact same way. I feel very steep diminishing marginal returns to leaderboards, badge albums, and points. These rudimentary game mechanics are polluting my apps, blogs and life. Everything is all too familiar, all too commoditized, all too unbranded and all too useless. Gameplay is an incredible human experience. But its crudest form is being shoehorned into everything that I do in ways that aren’t related or unique to the very things that I’m doing.

I’m confident positing, but can’t guarantee, that the intoxication we’re witnessing in the internet business since the explosion of game mechanics in web applications is also clouding our understanding of the true value propositions and product-market fit for the things we’re building. If it’s a game it must be fun. Right?

I’m not sure I can offer any earth-shattering advice to those reading this. But I suppose I can say that if you’re contemplating introducing game mechanics into your non-game application, ask yourself if you’re using it as a crutch for the deficiencies in the real thing you’re asking users to do or enjoy with your product. Make sure that the act of playing the game closely aligns with common human behaviors. I still need to be convinced that everything needs to be a competition and that I need a barometer for my progression in everything that I do.

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Pogo sticking in websites

If your user is doing this, you're doing something wrong

Good user experience designers will avoid pogo sticking like the plague. Pogo sticking is when the user is presented with an array of choices, does not have enough information to make a decision or understand a concept so they have to systematically explore options and return to the array of choices until the desired option is found. Click the first option, back to the array. Click the second option, back to the array. It’s a terrible experience, but users experience it all the time. Sites that have been particularly vulnerable to this are banks and e-commerce sites. Joshua Porter wrote an article on UIE celebrating The GAP redesigning their e-commerce experience to combat pogo sticking behavior.

Spinning plates user experience

If your reader is doing this, you're doing something wrong

But I have a feeling that pogo sticking is taking on a new, equally displeasing form in content creation and consumption. I call this monster plate spinning. I find often that when I’m reading a blog post I have to balance several different blog posts simultaneously because the content constantly references links to other pages and sites that contain prerequisite knowledge. My reading experience is completely interrupted and my comprehension is far inferior, yet I can’t help but open up the links in several tabs. I’m too curious about the information I’m missing. One of the following things needs to happen for my reading experience to improve:

  1. Websites should adopt footnotes, much like what I’m used to in a research paper. This has been written about on several occasions by usability experts.
  2. Content creators should appropriately summarize the content of a crucial outbound link so that I can choose whether or not I need to open it.
  3. Content creators should rapidly adopt a currently nonexistent tool that would allow them to easily show a preview of outbound link content that specifically focused on the information necessary to understand the remainder of the content in focus. Existing outbound link preview plug-ins are horrendous and peppered with distracting advertisements.

Am I alone here? Please post any comments, ideas, reference links or tools.

Today I spent some time thinking about the future. For me, thinking about the future is a guilty pleasure of sorts. I can have it all figured out on a theoretical level – or at least try my best – but I don’t have to actually execute, which is of course the hardest part. The part that surprisingly so few are good at. No, I’m not a futurist. Certainly not a self-proclaimed one. I’ll only let someone give me the title “futurist” until I’ve made the future, not predicted it.

Anyway, I digress. Today I spent sometime thinking about the future of the web. Search is still the most powerful tool the web has to offer and search marketing is still leagues above any other internet business model. It’s arguably the most powerful business model in the world. It works because billions of times per month we’re trying to find stuff (a.k.a “intent”) and for some percentage of that time advertisers take advantage of knowing our intent to try to convince us that their stuff is stronger, faster and better given our intentions. And according to an acquaintance of mine who wrangles search products at Google, a company that knows a thing or two about these matters, user happiness metrics indicate that advertisers can often provide us better information than that which is available to us otherwise on the web.

So the world’s stuff is at our fingertips and search engines make money by letting business compete to tell us where the best stuff is. What will disrupt that business? What will be the next tool or set of tools to be infinitely valuable to us while also generating businesses billions of dollars? When I asked myself this question recently, I began to immediately think of ways that search could be better, but it soon dawned on me that better search seems unlikely. That includes vertical search I might add. I wouldn’t bet on another company finding the talent, the upfront capital, the IP loopholes, and the 13 years of search logs needed to achieve the same level of relevancy that major search engines have today. I’m going to posit that the answer to search is not search at all.

What if we didn’t have to search? What if we stopped searching and started finding? What if we were constantly positioned in the middle of some kind of an information superhighway (shout out to The World of Goo) that we build ourselves? Information would not be sought out, but rather plucked out of a stream of what was available right then and there in the moment we needed it. I know it sounds improbable. Impossible maybe. But if we continue to be more connected to information via all of the devices from which we now consume it and our friends, family, co-workers and people we follow continue to share every detail of their lives and thoughts via all of the services to which we subscribe, then theoretically the probability that we have recently stumbled on something we’re looking for will increase.

To give an example, imagine a world in which the answer to the question, “Which steakhouse should I go to when visiting NYC?” could be answered by a friend of yours from New York completely coincidentally posting within a very short timeframe of that thought, “Sam Sifton, the NY Times food critic, just tweeted that Striphouse is to be announced as the NY Times Best Steakhouse of 2010. Sweet!” This example would be possible given two huge assumptions: 1) We are aware of people who possess information typically relevant to us and 2) We are somehow connected to the information highway those people produce. Well, I think that trends would suggest that these assumptions are not too unrealistic. I think it will take some time for this behavior of finding not seeking to come of age. Quite a long time actually. But I do believe that it will begin to steal from search bit by bit in the years to come. Brands and business will make money not only by monetizing our intent in search, but by building real relationships with consumers to earn their attention – the loyalty of their eyes, ears and fingertips as they experience the information superhighway day in and day out.