Barcelona According to Miles

September 16, 2010

La Boqueria Mercat, Barcelona

La Boqueria Mercat off of La Rambla

For a blog that provocatively calls itself “The World According to Miles,” you guys haven’t seen too much of…the world. Well, I suppose I’ve posted pictures of Tel-Aviv and New York, but not much beyond. That’s about to change.

Last week @clothesure and I got back from a 5-day jaunt in Barcelona, Spain. It was a much anticipated trip for me culminating an intense summer of product development at GameGround. I’m pleased to say that during the trip I didn’t once think about game systems, liquid layouts, roadmaps, or onboarding processes. Ok that’s a complete lie. But for those of you who really know me it was an unprecedented minimum.

The primary motivation of this trip for me was to explore city culture – in doing so constantly comparing it to NYC culture because yes I’m just that kind of New Yorker – and satisfy my restaurant and cuisine curiosities (I came strapped with two food-oriented guide books and lists of friends’ recs).

Jamon Serrano

Jamon Serrano at La Galera tapas bar in the Barri Gotic district

The food and beverage scene was not a disappointment. Salted cod, slow roasted lambs, cured hams, paella (sans allergic reaction – woot), gelato, strong coffee, Cava, local reds, manchego cheese…I could go on. But nothing quite compared to my molecular gastronomy experience at Moo Restaurant. I did a 6-course tasting menu with wine pairings assembled by one of the best sommelier’s in Spain. I was too embarrassed to take pictures so here’s a picture of dish that had one of the most unique presentations I’ve ever seen:

Smoked Pigeon Carpaccio at Moo Restaurant

Smoked pigeon carpaccio with a dollop of juniper-flavored ice cream garnished w/ dried fruits and spices served in a glass container full of flavored smoke!

It was a treat. My girlfriend was overwhelmed as well, which was fun because we both drank heavily to feel less like outsiders.

On a different, less boozy note, an aspect of Barcelona I was pleasantly surprised by is the street art scene. Some of the art I managed to capture with my iPhone was really involved work.

Street Art Barcelona

Space Invader Street Art Barcelona

Space Invader tags Barcelona!

This mark is all over Barcelona

And of course the famous, almost city-defining architecture…

The trip was relaxing and ultimately deemed a success, but I think we both agreed that it’s not our favorite city. The city is not foreigner friendly and the service culture is unpredictable. Not to mention the locals were pretty quiet seeing as that August is really a month of rest. Anyone considering going to Barcelona should definitely consider June or July, but you’ll pay the price for it 🙂



August 27, 2010

When I experience great products I’m going to write about them here so that I remember why I liked them. This week a colleague referred me to OneUpMe, a daily competition of wittiness. The structure of the competition is as follows:

  • Each day at 7AM OneUpMe posts a simile to the community (e.g. “She was like an Abacus – calculating”). Each simile has the exact same format.
  • Each member of the community has the opportunity to submit a more clever finish to the simile (e.g. in lieu of “calculating”). Only one submission per day is allowed (submissions and voting ends at 10PM), but each member can submit and remove as much as necessary to hone in on the perfect submission.
  • The community then votes on the submissions and the member with the most likes is the winner that day

All of the posts you make, likes you receive, and competitions you win are archived in your profile for bragging rights later on.

So why do I like OneUpMe so much?

The product is extremely buggy and I don’t care at all.

As an experience designer I get paid to ensure that a user’s experience of the products I work on is smooth and intuitive. OneUpMe has a long way to go. I’m logged in an out of Facebook randomly, elements display in unpredictable places, and much is to be desired in various interactions with the product. But guess what? I don’t care. I don’t care because products that are great, don’t have to be good, especially on Day 1. And that’s the sad truth of my profession. Users are incredibly forgiving of experience issues when value is undeniable. For example, Bloomberg only recently hired a UX team after decades of an extremely user unfriendly product that financial professionals simply couldn’t live without.

The onboarding process could not be more simple.

OneUpMe’s onboarding process is dead simple. All registration, authentication, and profile building is handled automatically by Facebook’s Open Graph APIs. More importantly, the first objective – the first set of actions a user needs to take – is completely clear: enter a submission in today’s competition. That’s it. And it’s clear that the attitude of the creators is “if you don’t like it, then don’t use it.” I love it.

Non-continuous engagement.

In a world in which content creators and service providers compete for our attention in an attention economy, everyone is vying for continuous engagement. Uttering the words “moderate” and “engagement” in the same breadth is likely to get you some very puzzled looks. These truths make me that much more appreciative of products that require non-continuous engagement. OneUpMe requires about ten minutes of real creative thought each day and that’s it. No friends requests, activity feeds, email notifications, Facebook notifications, tweets, or other touch points. Just one action, once per day. And that action is incredibly fulfilling and rewarding, even if I don’t win.

The half year I’ve spent building a product in the entertainment industry has taught me a lot about the wonders delightful copywriting can do for a user’s experience of a product. We the creators of the interwebs can delight with warmth, comedy, wit or even provocation.

Prior to my current project, I was a practitioner of matter of fact copywriting. If you’re not being factually correct, then you’re not being clear, right? But the fact of the matter is that often matter of fact writing can be really boring, uninviting, and condescending. And I believe that’s a fact.

What has been even more surprising to me as I’ve been adopting this new mantra towards onsite copy is the number of different opportunities to delight users that I’ve overlooked over the years. Here are some that I want to share with you:

  1. Invalid entries in text fields. You can assume that nobody likes being wrong.
  2. Interstitial pages between steps of a process. You created the step that the user had to take so it’s your job to thank them for obliging.
  3. Flash preloaders. Don’t hate on me for mentioning flash, but if you’re using it on your site preloaders are an excellent time to make users smile.
  4. Error pages. This is hard to soften, but if you get it right then you get Fail Whale.
  5. Empty containers. Take advantage of first or low-effort use cases of features to get creative with copy.
  6. Email notifications. Nothing is worse than opening up a purely informative email. Why? I get hundreds of them.
  7. Activity feeds. There’s a reason why good comics have tons of Twitter followers. Make activity feeds fun to consume. And that doesn’t mean just slap an exclamation point on the end of them!
  8. Tabs, Categories and Areas. Don’t be too nuanced here, but if you can shoehorn pleasant objects and ideas in your site’s taxonomy while still creating a strong mental model it will likely be appreciated.

This list is just a start. I also want to note that I’m very aware of the fact that witty copy can be tiresome if overused or over-experienced. So while you’re word-smithing make sure you’re always aware of how many times the user will likely encounter the copy:

The Wittiness of copy

That’s all for now.


May 23, 2010

In the words of the beautiful songwriter Damien Rice: And so it is. Or I should say — and so it has come to be. The genesis of my chronicled musings, complaints, joys, sorrows, favorites, least favorites, likes, don’t likes, beliefs, disbelief, wins, and losses is finally upon us.

It is here and only here that the world may see things the way I see them.


Companies like Foursquare are showing that game mechanics can be an effective stimulus for social networking. @fredwilson recently wrote a post about rewards and monetization that stimulated a sub-discussion in the comment stream about intrinsic versus extrinsic value in rewarded activities:

I’m curious that if by rewarding going to a place that you may also destroy the bond between you and the place? This is well documented in motivational research. Rewards turn the original intrinsic appreciation into an extrinsic work type relationship. Once that happens I wonder if you’ll lose those people as they move on to find something more intrinsically rewarding, something less like work. Rather than a coupon, maybe a reward could be something that deepens the relationship with a venue, something more life affirming? ~ posted by “toddhoff”

Todd’s point is interesting and it got me thinking about the art of rewarding. What is the right way to reward someone? What is the right time? With what? I’m pretty confident that I don’t have the full answers to any of these questions, but yesterday I did stumble upon a rewards system that allowed me to contribute a small hypothesis to the ongoing debate. It just so happens that Todd’s discussion-starter occurred on the same day that GetGlue shot me an email reminding me to come check up on my recommendation stream. When I got there I saw the following internal promotion:

Get Glue Reward

I think that the promotion above is making a key mistake. The reward is unlocked and presented to me a priori, which eliminates the mystery, surprise, voyeur, and self-affirmation associated with winning digital rewards. I hypothesize that for long-term engagement with a service, game or application, non-monetary rewards will be more effective when presented at the time a desired mission is complete, not prior. The mission can be alluded to throughout the process of achieving it, but it isn’t the raison d’etre for the user. For example, just recently I was given the “Photogenic” badge on Foursquare because it just so happens I have visited three venues that have photobooths. This not only came as a pleasant surprise, but it told me something I didn’t necessarily know about myself (I wasn’t even aware that Gallery Bar has a photobooth!). If Foursquare had told me in advance to “Earn the ‘Photogenic’ badge by checking in at just 2 more locations with photobooths” I might have been far less pleased to receive it.

This is only the beginning of the analysis I plan on doing on game mechanics and rewards systems. I don’t pretend to know even close to what there is to know about this topic. All I know is that it is becoming an increasingly important dynamic on the web and way in which companies and brands attempt to engage users in social media. If you have any thoughts, suggestions, or empirical data related to these topics hit me up @mileslennon.

Of Sheep and Shepards

February 6, 2010

There is a very memorable scene in an episode of Sex and the City in which Aiden and Mr. Big overcome their issues by bonding over Mr. Big’s communication problems with his current famous girlfriend:

Big: And the thing is, see, she can reach me, but I could never get her. Day or night, whenever, she could reach me, I couldn’t get her. See?
Aidan: That’s fucked up.
Big: Yeah.

(Full disclosure: I understand that it is extremely bizarre that a heterosexual male is referencing Sex and the City episodes, but it’s actually a pretty good show. And any dude that won’t admit that is just ashamed of liking a show targeted at women.)

My purpose for referencing this scene is that it appears as though Twitter implemented direct messaging while watching it. The permission schemes for direct messaging has bothered me on numerous occassions, most recently when I attempted to respond to a direct message sent to me from @fredwilson:

I received these two messages:

I am given the option to reply, which means that Twitter is not intelligent enough (or the call is too expensive to make) to detect that Fred is not following me and I will not succeed in replying:

I am told there has been an “Error,” which clearly is not the case. Nothing erroneous happened. This is Twitter’s expected result:

I’m well aware many, if not most, Twitter profiles are public. Allowing followers to direct message users they are following – regardless of whether or not the relationship is reciprocal – would cause an unwanted flood of messages to be sent to celebrities and micro-celebrities like Fred. However, in this particular example, Fred initiated contact with me, which I believe implies that he at the very least wouldn’t mind a response to the thread and more likely does wants a response. He may not want to follow my updates (he probably has better things to do), but he clearly wants to contact me right now. This leads me to believe that there must be some solution to this problem.

For the purpose of thinking this through, I’m going to refer to follwers as sheep and those whom followers follow as shepherds. My first thought was to only allow a sheep to reply to a thread initiated by a shepherd. The problem is that sheep would have an unlimited number of “replies” they could make to shepherds, which still leaves shepherds vulnerable to floods. My next thought was to only allow sheep to reply to a thread initiated by a shepherd once, but that gives the sheep only one shot to get a reply right which is a bummer if you make a mistake. My final and most dersirable solution is to only allow sheep to reply to messages that are initiated by shepherds and allow shepherds to mute threads at any time to prevent flooding or spam. This means that Fred can instantiate a conversation with me, I can reply freely, and at any point in time if Fred feels as though I’m abusing the relationship, he can mute the conversation and never engage me again.

I realize that Twitter is focused on public messaging features such as lists and retweets at the moment. But if direct messaging becomes more important in the roadmap, I strongly suggest they get their sheep/shepard issues resolved.