Tuesday, November 28, 2006


And with this posting I am entering a new verb into the vernacular: Zuned.

Definition: Reasonably good idea torpedoed by a million little compromises, as in "He zuned my project, so now it's dead" or "The Chevrolet Corvair was zuned from the beginning" or "Stop zuning me".

There are plenty of reviews of Microsoft's new player, some are lukewarm, some not so much.

The critical things to learn about the Zune is that there is a balance in control of content versus individual freedom to use technology and content as the owner sees fit. Zune simply has too many little compromises to be a success.

The hardware is not dreadful. It is a little bigger than an iPod, but has a bigger screen. The user interface on the player is decent enough. Toshiba hired away someone from the iPod design team that worked on the iPod's UI, and as this player is made by Toshiba, it shows.

It has wifi, an interesting addition. The assumption is that the wireless would allow people to connect to your zune, and thus you can share your content with others. You can't share content from a Zune with a friend that has a wifi equipped laptop, even if they have a Windows laptop. If you do manage to find another Zune user, and send them a audio track (including non-DRM'd music or podcasts) the player wraps DRM around it, so that it will self-distruct after three plays or three days.

To many people, it may feel like bait'n'switch. Things that they could do with other wireless devices don't work on this device. The expectation of a particular functionality is not fulfilled, even when that expectation is quite reasonable, being based on precedent.

To make matter worse for Microsoft, they now have a new Digital Rights scheme that they have to support for this device separate from the digital rights scheme they developed and licensed to other manufacturers. For customers, the bad news is that there previous "play for sure" content is not really "play for sure" since it won't work with this new player.

Wow. It is as if Microsoft was the bright kid in class, but only because they read the headlines in lots and lots of newspapers, without actually reading the stories.

Microsoft gets that social computing is becoming really important, and wants to be part of that. However, they don't get the details -- the parts that are so important.

YouTube is a success because of the freedom it gives users -- both authors/posters and viewers. It sometimes feels like the wild west -- exciting by it's controlled chaos. It's a breath of fresh air after 50 plus year diet of commercial television and film (okay enough for now on that).

Part of me thinks that Microsoft looked at the wrong model. Nintendo's DS has built in wifi, which allows it to do both near and far networking for gameplay (and soon, chat and voice) with other DS users. It doesn't let users send content, but some games do allow two players to play together, even if only one user has a cartridge. Furthermore, some games allow the owner to send a demo version of the game to another DS user.

There is a form of protection to be sure, but does it feel obtrusive? Absolutely not. The context of the way the system will be used, and the functionality that is desired is consistent with how wifi is implemented.

The dilemma for the Zune is that it has to play in an arena where it can't be just as good, it has to be heads and shoulders above it's nearest competitor. What could have been a half-way decent competitor to the iPod isn't, due to compromises that have nothing to do with technical limitations, but Microsoft creating a platform that caters not to the user, but to companies who want to have tight control over their content, allowing them to further shift rights of ownership of content away from the purchaser.

I will stop here, because while I have wanted to write about the Zune for a while now, I think it was important for me to reduce it to the critical issues that will likely prevent the Zune from being a success -- but more importantly -- what is the role of social computing in contexts outside of the web browser. What is happening with the Zune, it's success or failure, is an excellent lesson unfolding.

And please, use the verb "Zune" at least once today.


Friday, November 24, 2006

NCSU Web Redesign

I am posting this here because I don't think it is appropriate for me to post a comment on NCSU's web site redesign, since I am on the committee.

The point of this posting is to examine where we go next when thinking of how a web site should represent an organization.

NCSU has finalized on three designs for their next site redesign.

The third one is the one that is clearly different than the first two, but more importantly, it is different than just about any other campus web site that I have seen.

Different is of course not always better, but in this case it is. Simply put, the web should be the campus's primary face on the world.

And this is a different focus than what many organizations do now.

I want to abandon the junk drawer approach of current web site design. Yahoo got beat by Google. Yahoo is 5 years ago, when the idea of the "sticky" web site was all the rage. The idea was to keep people at your site for as long as possible, so you can show more ads. Google blew that apart, sticking advertising alongside content. It didn't get in the way.

The first and second designs are remnants of the idea, a gateway to an organizations web presence that has to be all things to all people. This is the Yahoo approach. Everyone gets a piece of real estate, which may reflect more internal hierarchies in an organization, and less what the user actually needs. It is just a lot of clutter, discontinuous narratives juxtaposed.

I suggest that instead we think of the biggest audience, and give them what they want. Think of not what a web site is now, and the inward view of site design, but what the audience wants.

NCSU's audience in this context is the world, not the staff, faculty and students of NCSU. They are a much smaller percentage of the audience. I suggest sending them somewhere else, and giving them what they want. They do not want to go to NCSU's main page everytime they need to find something on NCSU's site. They need something much more focused.

Well, then, that frees things a bit!

I like to talk about HP's web site redesign a few years back. HP is actually a bunch of small companies under a corporate umbrella. But think about it -- their dilemna. How do they represent all of this diversity in a web site that is primarily focused on customers.

The answer is of course, is that you don't show all the complexity. You simplify to what your majority audience wants, not making sure that everyone is represented on the main page.

Organizations need to rethink their web presence, particularly Universities. I am looking at other campuses sites for reasons separate of my involvement here at NCSU. I am looking at Phd programs, and the beyond talking about curriculum, I need a lot of information about the campus culture, what does it offer, where is it situated; some Universities forgo telling people about where they are, what does the terrain/climate look like. I find this astonishing.

I like the third design for these reasons, because that possibility exists. I don't think this idea is as prominent in intent in the other two designs. OF COURSE there can be secondary pages that could do the same thing as the "Your Story" design, but it will always feel tacked on, and lots people will never bother to see it, where it will languish and eventually die due to lack of content refresh. It is given secondary priority, and will be treated that way.

The 3rd design is more forward thinking. If it is actually maintained (and because of where it is, it will be) it is something that can be relevant a year from now for it's biggest audience.

If one of the other two are chosen, the University should be thinking of another redesign in at least two years, because the shift elsewhere will be towards more direct marketing of campuses through a web presence, and we will need to follow. Clean and simple, directed on the audience's narrative will always win.

I suggest that NCSU be out front. There is more risk, but there much more to gain.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Notes for Design Expo 11/2/06

I promise I will clean these up. Just wanted to make them available:

{Thank Audience for Coming}
{Brief Introduction}

Disney -- another garage innovator (Ford, Wozniak/Jobs)
So where are we now?

Show StrongBad

Made in Parent's Basement
Money is made on merchandise
Marketing is word of mouth via the internet

It is too hard. Animation takes too long:

Show Red vs. Blue

I have this idea for a movie!

Show Dracula's guest

Key points:

Strong characterization Easily identifiable characters (Mickey Mouse)
The Audience is in on the Joke (Strongbad/Red vs. Blue gaming/internet culture)
Voice Acting is critical, perhaps more important than polished animation

What do we make of this?

Star Wars PowerPoint

Is this animation (yes it is, a parody of what is essentially a storyboarding tool, PowerPoint).
Does it tell a story? Steamboat willie told a story. So does this.

It shows that economy has a place. Everything doesn't have to be big to work, which is in favor of animators (time/labor intensive) and potential audience (cartoons work great on the ipod).

Digital media is now reached commodity state. YMND is communal digital media jokes, reflected/refracted/remixed with a rapidity that is quite amazing. It is almost like a bed of coral that grows and grows. It demonstrates in a tangible way what "visual literacy" really means, what a literacy beyond text could look like.

Digital Media is folk art for today. What we create is a part of us, no matter what the material.