linked…in?

With the explosion of Social Media in the last few years, it appears there is a channel for everything.  I guess it’s a bit like exploding the saying ‘a place for everything, and everything in its place’.  We’re all on Facebook (well if the 7 billion people world wide figure is to be believed), more and more of us are on twitter and if you’ve got any kind of professional job, chances are, you’re on LinkedIn.

So why am I getting on my high horse about LinkedIn?  Well it was a tweet that I read the other day, about people adding people who they don’t know.  And do you know what? it really got me thinking – why do people add people they don’t know to their professional network?

I think I’m one of those people who are a bit trepidatious about adding people I don’t know to what is essentially a private network.  I only really want to add people that I truly know.  I’ve gone through spates of removing people from Facebook, because, well – just because I went to school with you 19 years ago – it doesn’t mean that I really want to be friends with you now.  So, I’m a bit more reserved about adding people.

I guess this is why my LinkedIn profile only has something like 70 contacts and my Facebook one 80ish.  There is of course that prime number that suggests you can only know so many people before the number becomes un-manageable.  Even so, I’m more about the quality than I am about the quantity when it comes to these two channels.

The thing with LinkedIn is that many people now seem to use it to find jobs, they don’t from what I can tell seem to use it as a method to keep in contact with people professionally.  So what purpose does it serve?  I get very confused by these people who have over 400 contacts on LinkedIn, and yet they don’t really communicate with anyone, and what they do, within LinkedIn is just seem to lurk.

Someone I used to know said to me that they didn’t use twitter because they didn’t have anything to say, I’m inclined to disagree everyone has something to say in one way or another – it’s what makes us interesting as people.  The little nuggets that this person used to come up with were hilarious and it felt like the rest of the world was being robbed because nobody else got to hear them.  So if you just collect contacts like they’re a digital rolodex then what does it say to the people you follow?

If you’re going to put together a social network, it seems to me, that you’ve got to have a really good mission for what you’re trying to do.  Look at Friend’s Reunited – it effectively got ousted from the social sphere because Facebook does it bigger, and it does it better (I felt dirty saying that).  Friend’s Reunited is too niche – and their attempts to make it less so have fallen rather flat on its face (this is a story for another time).  Perhaps LinkedIn will go the same way?

The thing about LinkedIn is that there’s too much going on, too much choice and there’s very little in the way of it being helpful.  If you work in a creative field – it doesn’t show case your work.  If you work in the UX field, it doesn’t reflect how good you might be.  Yes, I know they’ve gone public in America, but I think potentially they need to slim down their offering, and try to scale back on something they’re not.

So I’m wondering, how long is it before twitter and Facebook overtake LinkedIn as the place to go to find your next job, or your next employee?  If you think about it, twitter and Facebook can give you a better view of the person behind that formal CV.  When you’re on either channel, chances are that you’re talking about things that aren’t just work related.  You’re talking about what you like, what you read, what you’ve seen, you share the good times, and sometimes the bad.  You get a view for what the person is really like.  LinkedIn? well, it’s all about the career.

facegram?

So at the start of this year, I decided to challenge my brain a little bit, and was looking at various things that would have an impact over the next twelve months.  I’ll share the others with you some other time.  However, one of those ‘things’ was instagram.

I think I became a convert to instagram last year, on a (probably) boring Saturday fiddling with my new iPhone 4s.  Having realised that I could actually take half decent photos (yes, of my cat), I thought ‘ooh – what shall I do with this new found awesomeness?’ (and yes, I do say awesomeness – I’m a nerd people – keep up).  Downloading instagram, I started playing around with the features, and lo! I actually looked like I knew what I was doing with a camera.

It would seem that I’m not the only one who’s caught onto how cool it is.  Millions of users, brands actively using it as part of their campaigns (Levi’s, Burberry, Tiffany’s to name a few), and now in the last week, an Android version.  It’s suddenly cool to share photos again.

Putting Flickr aside (which seems to have become the stomping ground for photographers with real talent), instagram has created a tool that is actually easy to use.  Take a photo, zoom in a bit, put an arty ‘blur’ on it then pick a filter.  Then upload and share.  They’ve integrated with most of the social channels (now I’m seeing why Google+ hasn’t been included – they’re the black sheep of the social family it would seem) – so creating and sharing has never been so easy.  I knew it was going to be big, I just didn’t appreciate how big.

Only today, well, today they kinda put a dampener on proceedings.  Facebook have bought them for a very cool $1billion (said with a Dr Evil style little finger to my lips).  Only it’s not funny.  I mean – kudos to them – they’ve created something really cool, and it works.  But – well – what now?  Will they be allowed to remain on their little atol in the ocean of crap apps? or will they become part of the Facebook behemoth?  I guess only time will tell.

The thing that I would be most concerned about, is how socially people perceive the app to be.  There seems to be a certain kind of, well, social etiquette on there.  Much like twitter, it’s there to share with people, there’s a freedom to it which made it more like twitter and less like Facebook.  It just seems fundamentally wrong that they would even allow you to make your photos private – I mean – what’s the point? (yes, I tried it, it just seemed wrong somehow) just stick them on Facebook if you’re going to be… oh wait – they’re now part of Facebook… So what are the rules of being ‘socially’ acceptable on instagram, or Facebook, or, well – any of them? To be considered another day perhaps…

window shopping

One of my rather guilty secrets is that I like to window shop… online.  I’m one of those terribly irritating users who goes onto websites just to look at the pretty pictures.  The thing is, when you stop going onto a website with the sole purpose of not buying something, you start to notice the details about the site itself.  Where the ‘buy’ buttons are, how clearly things are labelled, what the pack shot looks like, what the delivery policy is, and how easy it is to just ‘browse’ for random things.

So the other day, I was pondering somewhat, mainly because I’d seen an advert in a magazine for a new range of crockery, and it looked really rather nice.  The only problem, is that the crockery was being sold in a rather large chain store that specialises in baking and home ware products (names witheld to protect my sanity).  Anyway, I remembered the website and I shuddered.  Why? well it’s not exactly known for its ability to ‘browse’ – in fact it’s a site that I would classify as an ‘anti-browse’ site.  Navigation which makes you think about what you might want, and where it might be located (don’t get me started on taxonomy!).  Why should I have to think about it?  If I walked into their shop – I could just see it and walk up to it.

The ‘offline’ shopping experience can be one of pleasure (or of pain if you’re a man being dragged around by a woman – women, take heed – leave the men at home, shopping is far more fun!).  You get in your car, you take a nice drive to a car park somewhere, you get out and then start wandering around these beautifully lit shops, with wonderful products, perhaps you can stop for a coffee and watch the world go by.  OK, so the reality of the situation is, it’s pouring with rain, there’s always a queue of traffic, it takes half an hour to find a parking space, the charges are exorbitant, there are too many people, the sales staff are rude and the coffees are always over priced.  Suddenly, staying at home and browsing using your laptop or iPad seems like a really nice idea – it’s warm inside, you don’t get wet and you get your coffee just how you like it (made by someone else).

The issue here, is that once you step foot over the door, and you’re in the shop, products are laid out in a way that allows you to drift from one item to the next.  Colours are arranged together and you can see them – so you can zoom in on something that catches your eye.  Products are lined up next to each other logically – trousers next to jeans, pots and pans next to bakeware, TVs next to DVD players – you get the point.  You can drift from one item to the next, you can zig-zag around the shop, or loop from one display to another, and you can always go back really easily because you remember that those nice skinny jeans you liked were right next to those hideous red trousers.  Your mind is a powerful thing when recalling positioning of items.

In the online world – this very rarely occurs.  You ‘walk’ over the threshold and wow – you’ve got to think.  What did you go there for?  Oh yes, plates.  Now – are they in the crockery section? nil points – there is no crockery section.  Hmmmm… oooh I know, it’ll be in something to do with the ‘home’ section… no. hmmm… this is getting like the telegraph crossword with a clue that’s actually an anagram.  Oh I give up – I’ll just search for it – oh damn, what do I search for? You know what – I think I’ll just go get wet and go to the shop… all my fun has now gone, and I’m not even sure I want those plates any more.  The thing is – the above happens, all to frequently – but more and more of us just aren’t even venturing out to the shops.

My question that formed in my head, right about the time when I thought – those plates I’ve got already are OK, was ‘Are customers going to buy from an online store instead of the real store, just because of who the brand are?’  I’m sad to say that I suspect the answer to that is an emphatic ‘yes’.  There are tons of reasons why, ease, no shop near, etc, etc, etc.. but should this really be an excuse for a poor experience?

When you have a real life presence in the form of a bricks and mortar store, and then you have an online presence, the two surely should be there to support one another, no?  One should be an extension of the other, and vice versa.  In fact, when they both work hand in hand they can save the company millions and increase profits.  So why should it be so disappointing that when the store employs people who are specialists in psychology to present their store in such a way where customers are compelled to purchase, do they not do the same with their online store?  More specifically, why aren’t these experts, working with their online equivalents (me incase you were wondering- yes, I know, shameless plug), to produce an experience that is pretty much identical?

It’s 2012 – the internet is not going away (well, unless there’s an unfortunate incident with something called Skynet – but that’s science fiction so I’ll move on), and if the high street is to survive, then surely having strategy that encompasses online and offline makes sense?  I would love to go to a website and know that I’m going to get the same kind of experience as I would get when I walked through the doors of the store I like.  User Experience might be considered ‘new’ to a lot of people – but it’s not – it’s been around for years.  We (me especially) want to create an experience that the customer loves, because if they love it, well they’re more likely to buy something they never intended to.

crumbs

It really isn’t lost on me that I’ve managed to set up a blog which is supposed to focus on user experience – with a really rather amazing Woo Theme – that has breadcrumbs that don’t bloody work… GAH!!

Given that I’ve spent the best part of four hours buggering around with the site – you’d think I’d have worked out how to fix said breadcrumbs issue – no.  Not one to be deterred I will find a way to fix it (or I’ll just have to remove it – oh the horror!!).

 

sorting

I read a tweet by Jeff Van Campen who said:

Sometimes I see Pinterest users who have screen after screen of single-pin boards, and I want to take them through a card sorting exercise.

This got me thinking – how on earth do people sort their data? Me, being me, and slightly OCD about grouping of data (hey – it’s a good thing) – naturally thinks that there’s always a very simple, logical way of grouping things.  Now when I say ‘things’ I mean that overall – from how you put your socks in the sock draw (just bunch them together in matching pairs and throw them in the draw) to how you file data on the computer (a bit more complex).

I should know better really, I mean I work in UX and no two humans are the same.  We do our job by identifying the largest common denominator and build solutions for that.  This is obviously what Pinterest has done in the way they’ve designed their site.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Pinterest – it’s like getting a peek inside what makes everyone else on this planet creative – but it does pose a problem for them.  The whole point of what they do is to create groups of visual content and make it accessible for all.

When you sign up for Pinterest, you get given a set of pre-defined boards – they’re very well thought out in terms of naming – and then you, well, just start pinning.  So what on earth would lead people to just add one pin to one board and end up with hundreds of boards.  Do they just not get it? (probably not).

I guess what Pinterest have done, is create a site which exposes non-techie people to the concept of information architecture.  They give you a starter for ten and expect you to get on with it.  The problem is that a lot of people won’t understand the idea of grouping of content, making it easy for everyone to find.

I wonder if there is a way to overcome this potential problem, without running the risk of making things overly complicated.  Perhaps a ‘tool tip’ introduction that helps these would be clutterers shape their boards?  It’s something to ponder, although I suspect the peeps at Pinterest have bigger fish to fry – with the issue of copyrighted material being displayed on their site (at the end of the day – I would have thought that the site serves as free promotion to website content, with an audience of people re-pinning content it’s a great word of mouth tool to get people to your site – but that is a post for another day).

As for sorting, or more specifically, card sorting – the principal behind it, is the same as having a deck of cards that have been shuffled to death.  You have four suits, with different numbers on them.  There are two ways to approach this… do you have thirteen piles of four cards, or four piles with thirteen cards?  Again – a discussion for another time, but something to think about… are you a ‘four card’ person or are you a ‘thirteen card’ person?

voice

A writers ‘voice’ defines them.  It tells the reader a lot about the tone of the story and how it will unfold.  Is it serious? Is it comical? is it… well that’s the problem.  What is it?

When working on my coursework, I’m marked on the voice I use.  Mainly is it identifiable, is it right for the story that I’m telling? This is something I’ve been pondering today while sitting here (on a day off).  If I were to write a novel, what kind of voice would I use?  I’m torn between the serious and the comical.  Something with a little bit of humour wouldn’t go amis I feel, but that can be tricky in itself.  How do you manage to get the voice across?

Would a story be funnier if it was told in the first person, or in the omniscient narrator?  I love the style that Robert Crais uses when he’s writing his Elvis Cole novels, mainly because he manages to weave serious with comical to great effect.  It can’t be easy, but I wonder how plausible it actually is when trying to write something.

Perhaps I should just stop pondering and actually get on with it, and see how it comes out.

make hay while the sunshines

Yes I know, it’s bee a little quiet over the last few days.  I’ll admit it’s because I’ve been overly engrossed in a couple of good books, and the weather has been far too good to sit inside.  Poor excuse I know, but with the last day of summer clearly now passing away like the leaves falling from trees, I’ve got no more excuses.

It struck me while sitting in the garden on Saturday and Sunday, that the noises you hear in the village are so entertaining.  OK, so the church bells and the neighbours cat on Sunday morning were not entertaining (as they woke me up).  No, what is entertaining is listening to the sounds.  What were people up to making all those noises?

I think I was struck by the noise of what was either an electric saw, or a hedge trimmer.  I spent a good deal of time trying to work it out (because the sound by this point had started to invade my head more than I wanted it to).  What was someone doing out there on a nice sunny day?  Were they shaping a bush into a nice tidy hedge, ready for the impending winter?  Were they building some shelves to house the books they’d stocked up on for the rainy days ahead? I just couldn’t decide.

Then there were the birds, chirping around.  The sound reminded me of the spring days, that blossomed into summer.  Of waking up to the birds outside my window before I moved.  There seem to be fewer birds and a lot more cows.  Cows that moo at 2 in the morning.  What on earth is that all about? Were they mooing instead of snoring? I couldn’t decide.

The last thing that struck me was the number of people out cutting their lawns.  I bet it’s going to be the last good cut of the year.  As the days wind down, the grass slumbers.  I’ve noticed it do it.  Not that I sit here and watch grass grow, clearly I’ve got better things to do.  Whatever the case, it was just the little mundanities that build up into the soundtrack to the last day of summer.  I didn’t want to believe that the sunshine that warmed me so much yesterday would be giving into gales and rain (which looking out the window appears to have happened).

How on earth do you layer these little details of everyday life into a story? It is the richness of this existence that reminds us that we’re part of the world.

genre

I’m trying to get a little bit ahead of the game.  I’ve started reading my course book this evening, and there is a quote in it that strikes me as a really interesting perspective.  It says:

To write a poem or a novel is immediately to engage with a literary tradition… The activity is made possible by the existence of the genre, which the author can write against, certainly, whose conventions he may attempt to subvert, but which is nonetheless the context within which his activity takes place, as surely as the failure to keep a promise is made possible by the institution of promising.

I find this really interesting.  Simply because it suggests that by defining a genre that you are writing against, you are promising the reader something.  You are setting out a course for them on which they will follow.  To say that you like a particular genre is to define who you are as a reader.  It is to define your role in the play that the writer has created.  You are the audience, and he or she is the story teller.

It’s almost as if the author is defining the structure for existence.  There is no such thing as supply without demand.  So if a reader demands a type of genre then it is the job of the author to deliver on that.  They form an unspoken contractual agreement, where the author decides to write something in a specific genre, and the reader agrees to write it.  When that contractual obligation is broken, the reader is left broken by the promise the author has failed to keep.

I wonder how many authors out there fail to deliver on these promises?  To say they are going to deliver a crime thriller, only to deliver a romance.  Sometimes reading a book can be a disappointing adventure.  You set yourself ready to enjoy the ride that is given, and the book just doesn’t live up to your expectations.  Do you continue on through the journey, or do you drop the book and all the hope you had within its pages?

In the past, I used to think that I had to do the author justice by promising to finish the book no matter what.  Now? well, life’s too short for it to be ruled by the disappointments that a bad book can give you.  So I just admit defeat and find something else to fill my time.

autumnal reading

It’s that time of year again, the one where weekends are often a bit miserable.  There’s nothing I like more, than to curl up on the sofa with a good book and waste the day reading (yes, clearly someone with far too much time on her hands).  So I tend to keep a few books lined up in reserve, ready for filling the days (and evenings).

Anyway, I thought I would share with you my current reading list…

The Honourable Schoolboy – John Le Carre

Smiley’s People – John Le Carre

The Affair – Lee Child

one adult and a dog

When you’re single at the age of 34, it can seem as though the whole world is passing you by.  Bearing in mind you’ve just made yourself single, you were never married and you don’t have children, it feels a little bit, well, strange.  If you were in a city, this would be normal, for cities are full of single people.  It seems that is the place to go if you want to hook up with someone.  Yet when you’re out in the sticks so to speak, being single is an odd state to be in.

This weekend, I feel like a divorced mother having the kids for the weekend.  I was asked to dog sit Lily.  I haven’t seen Lily in three months, and whilst I don’t get to see her, it doesn’t mean that the overwhelming love for her hasn’t disappeared.  She bounded through the front door and remembered who I am.  She was as pleased to see me, as I was to see her.  Wag, wag, wag, went her huge brush-like tail, a huge smile across her blond muzzle.  Here was someone, for a change, who was genuinely pleased to see me, no questions asked.

So, being the ‘single mother’ I decided to treat Lily and take her out for a couple of hours.  Knowing she loves other animals (cows and horses specifically it seems), I took her to the local wildlife park.  I’ll admit, I wanted to go and stand, and stare at the penguins for half an hour (which I did).  I let Lily lead the way around the park, she seemed to enjoy this, stopping to bark at the camels and the cows.  I love seeing her happy, the big smile across her face, tongue hanging out the side of her head, her tail swishing in the breeze.

I’ve said to friends, that there are few places you can go when you’re single that are socially acceptable.  This comment has been waved off on numerous occasions as being something silly to say.  Today, my thoughts were confirmed.  There are places that you shouldn’t really go when you’re single.  A wildlife park is one of them.  I was the only single person there.  Lots of couples about my age, with or without children, but not another single person in sight.  Interesting.  For the large part, I ignored this, as Lily was having a very good time yanking me in different directions to look at the animals and have a good sniff.  The people, stared at me.  Some with a mixture of shock, and others with abject curiosity.  It was as if I had become one of those animals behind the wire.

Perhaps I should have a little sign to hang around my neck ‘single white female, not an endangered species, habitat – Wiltshire’.  I don’t quite understand what the confusion is really.  Perhaps people are amazed at my brazenness – I’ve gone to a couples and children’s domain by myself.  Perhaps it’s awe? I do wonder just how many of these couples are as happy as they like the world to think they are.  It’s a deceptive painting of life, to see the glorious colours of a Van Gough, when the reality is a cheap sepia photo of someone long since dead.  I wonder how many of these people who profess to be happy, are secretly envious of the life I now have?  Who knows – all I know is that happiness is what you make it, nobody has the right to question what does or doesn’t make you happy.

random fact generator…