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"Where does technology exploit our minds’ weaknesses?

I learned to think this way when I was a magician. Magicians start by looking for blind spots, edges, vulnerabilities and limits of people’s perception, so they can influence what people do without them even realizing it. Once you know how to push people’s buttons, you can play them like a piano.

And this is exactly what product designers do to your mind. They play your psychological vulnerabilities (consciously and unconsciously) against you in the race to grab your attention.

I want to show you how they do it..."

- Tristan Harris, "How Technology Hijacks People's Minds - From a Magician and Google's Design Ethicist."

For examples of these deceptive techniques in action, visit the Dark Patterns website.

"It isn’t about product. It’s about getting paid. There are plenty of products people want, but they’re not good businesses. It is because they fail as businesses that they can’t be built as products, not the other way around.

Take productivity apps. People won’t pay enough extra for a good calendar or address book vs. a mediocre one to power a healthy business without massive scale. And, since most of these apps aren’t inherently “viral,” the cost of acquiring new customers is too high to justify a low contribution-per-customer business.

A lack of a great business model makes maintaining long-term focus and attracting a top-notch team to solve a problem nearly impossible. This lack puts things which consumers might want fundamentally out of reach as realized products."

- Sam Lessin, "The Non-Monetizable Product Blind Spot"

"Many more established companies are sure to follow suit [by acquiring or building platform businesses], as are thousands of startups. But before they tread this path, they should consider a few caveats. First, most products and services are not substantial enough to make a good platform. And even if they are, it is not always a good idea to turn them into one, says Ms Gawer, who is co-authoring a book to debunk myths about the concept. The late Steve Jobs, for instance, long resisted opening Apple’s app store to others for fear of losing control.

Second, network effects often fizzle. All sides of an online marketplace have to be nurtured in parallel to avoid imbalances, such as having far more sellers than buyers. During the dotcom bubble most business-to-business marketplaces failed because their pursuit of growth led to such lopsidedness. Even firms that had a head start, such as MySpace and Nokia, a social network and a mobile-phone maker respectively, didn’t manage to turn themselves into fully fledged platforms. Most successful ones are the product of specific circumstances and even chance, reckons Peter Evans of CGE. Amazon, for example, took off in part because its customers did not have to pay sales tax if they were outside the firm’s home state, Washington.

Third, it is not always easy to make money from platforms. Misjudge how much to charge each group of customers, and the flywheel can come to a juddering halt. What is more, for a platform to make good money, switching to a rival has to be costly, argues Andrei Hagiu of Harvard Business School. This risk even hangs over Uber, the fast-expanding taxi-hailing service: using a competitor is easy for both passengers and drivers."

- Schumpeter, "The emporium strikes back"

"In effect, what Facebook has done with Instant Articles is eerily similar to what Amazon did with Amazon Web Services. Prior to AWS, startup costs were so high as to create a significant barrier to entry for most new enterprises. Value accrued to the large companies that could leverage their scale to build new businesses. With AWS, new startups were able to compete with a fraction of the initial capital and infrastructure previously required. Now Facebook has broadly done the same thing to media.

Small ad-supported media companies previously didn’t have the scale to access high CPMs, couldn’t make the comScore Top 50, and were stuck in remnant hell making tiny CPMs. Even hot media companies like Vice would aggregate sites together to boost their audience numbers and make them more palatable. Now new entities will be able to spin up a company with a fraction of the investment required, and without the legacy overhead of their traditional peers...

This kind of leveling of the playing field creates fertile conditions for startup creation. Just as we saw ultra-light startups emerge and use AWS to compete and disrupt the giants in their industry, so will we see ultralight media companies emerge and use Facebook to compete with traditional media. Ev Williams is attempting to provide much the same set of services with Medium’s publisher tools, making the bet that the platform-based world is the future, and that there's room for more than one."

- Tony Haile, "The Facebook Papers, Part 3: Facebook pulls a page from the Amazon playbook"
"Programmatic advertising is increasingly taking a larger and larger share of available inventory. This means that publishers have less control over their own inventory, while the server calls and tracking codes that slow page load and hurt user experience only multiply. The shift to mobile means that the only ads that make any money are either data-heavy video ads or intrusive in-stream or interstitial formats. Finally, as ad tech vendors have educated advertisers about better metrics, it’s no longer possible to simply hide the ads in unobtrusive spots. Advertisers will only pay for ads that are seen.

Publisher tech teams do their best to wage war on bloat and improve experience, but with these industry forces acting as a counterweight, doing so is often akin to trying to balance the federal budget by cutting funding for the arts. Pity the media company CTO who has to deal with orders to improve their UX while also improving viewability and programmatic and mobile CPMs.

Confronted with the Sisyphean task of improving their own user experience, media companies are instead doing what the music and movie industry did when confronted with a superior unsanctioned user experience: They are responding with legal threats and attempts to make the unsanctioned user experience worse."
- Tony Haile, "The Facebook papers part 2: The user experience revolt."

"High concepts are horrible, horrible things. But if you can pull the line that best describes the core of the initial idea and make it look like a high concept? You have something to hang the rest of the pitch on."
- Warren Ellis, "Orbital Operations"

(In this issue Ellis details his work process. The detail makes several things clear: first, he's one of the highest-functioning people out there; second, even someone as high functioning as Ellis has to give up a lot of what they want to do in order to get the things they have to do done; third, no matter how talented and successful you are, you can still be caught up in the same frustrations, self-doubts and issues as us mere mortals.)

Credit is Always Due

"If you share the work of others, it’s your duty to make sure that the creators of that work get proper credit. Crediting work in our copy-and-paste age of reblogs and retweets can seem like a futile effort, but it’s worth it, and it’s the right thing to do. You should always share the work of others as if it were your own, treating it with respect and care.

When we make the case for crediting our sources, most of us concentrate on the plight of the original creator of the work. But that’s only half of the story—if you fail to properly attribute work that you share, you not only rob the person who made it, you rob all the people you’ve shared it with. Without attribution, they have no way to dig deeper into the work or find more of it.

So, what makes for great attribution?"

- Austin Kleon, "Credit is Always Due" (h/t @jessedee for recommending Kleon's work to me!)

"I enjoy spending time with most of my friends—that’s why they’re my friends. But with certain friends, the time is so high-quality, so interesting, and so fun that they pass the Traffic Test.

The Traffic Test is passed when I’m finishing up a hangout with someone and one of us is driving the other back home or back to their car, and I find myself rooting for traffic. That’s how much I’m enjoying the time with them.

Passing the Traffic Test says a lot. It means I’m lost in the interaction, invigorated by it, and that I’m the complete opposite of bored.

To me, almost nothing is more critical in choosing a life partner than finding someone who passes the Traffic Test. When there are people in your life who do pass the Traffic Test, what a whopping shame it would be to spend 95% of the rest of your life with someone who doesn’t."

- Tim Urban, "How to Pick Your Life Partner" Part 1 Part 2

"In the [Instant Gratification Monkey] world, he’s got it all figured out—if you eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired, and don’t do anything difficult, you’re a pretty successful monkey. The problem for the procrastinator is that he happens to live in the human world, making the Instant Gratification Monkey a highly unqualified navigator. Meanwhile, the Rational Decision-Maker, who was trained to make rational decisions, not to deal with competition over the controls, doesn’t know how to put up an effective fight—he just feels worse and worse about himself the more he fails and the more the suffering procrastinator whose head he’s in berates him.

It’s a mess. And with the monkey in charge, the procrastinator finds himself spending a lot of time in a place called the Dark Playground.

The Dark Playground is a place every procrastinator knows well. It’s a place where leisure activities happen at times when leisure activities are not supposed to be happening. The fun you have in the Dark Playground isn’t actually fun because it’s completely unearned and the air is filled with guilt, anxiety, self-hatred, and dread. Sometimes the Rational Decision-Maker puts his foot down and refuses to let you waste time doing normal leisure things, and since the Instant Gratification Monkey sure as hell isn’t gonna let you work, you find yourself in a bizarre purgatory of weird activities where everyone loses."

- Tim Urban, "Why Procrastinators Procrastinate"

"Beyond trying to be kinder to our future selves, what else can people do about procrastination?

Tim Urban points out that the typical advice for procrastinators — essentially, to stop what they’re doing and get down to work, is ridiculous, because procrastination isn’t something that extreme procrastinators feel as though they can control.

“While we’re here, let’s make sure obese people avoid overeating, depressed people avoid apathy, and someone please tell beached whales that they should avoid being out of the ocean,” Urban writes.

But there are some simple tips, those who study the subject say, that can help procrastinators get down to business."

- Ana Swanson, "The real reasons you procrastinate - and how to stop"

"For someone who knows they want a career change, is in the position to make one, and just needs to take a few steps to get there, motivational advice works. Personal testimony can be transformative. Finding a tribe of like-minded people who put a lot on the line to pursue their passions may be just the push someone needs to move forward.

But where does that leave the people who don’t have a calling or enough resources? To drop everything and do what you love, you need a safety net, flexibility, and a passion that also happens to be a marketable skill. It’s a beautiful thing when someone turns the fire in their belly into a fulfilling career, but the stories we tell about creativity don’t apply to everyone.

It’s time we examine the messages we’re sending about creative fulfillment and explore new ways to talk about our work."

- Kate Kiefer Lee, "Putting Work In Its Place"

"If we continue to compare ourselves to other women, who we are and what we have will never be enough.

The bigger problem with comparison, however, isn’t just that it hurts our perception of ourselves, it’s that it’s actually counterproductive to connection and sisterhood. When we compare ourselves to others, we aren’t appreciating them—we’re challenging our own worthiness.

We’re also harboring negative feelings about why we don’t look like them, and those feelings often end up reverberating off of the women against whom we’re comparing ourselves. This breeds resentment, jealousy, and disconnection.

When we compare what we have to what someone else has, we rarely see the full picture. We might think someone “has it all” and lust after their figure or their looks, but we don’t know about the darkness that they might have to battle each day, the struggles that they must overcome. We don’t have to fight their demons. Not to mention, we don’t have their genetics, which plays a huge role in the way our bodies develop.

This tendency to compare has painful consequences when it comes to how we show up in the world. We wind up placing much of our focus on someone else’s world, rather than being fully present in our own. Inevitably, we miss out on the opportunity to live in the moment."

- Neghar Fonooni, "You Are More Than Your Body (Fat)"

"Looking at the difference between the good and bad VR, I started to glean some insight into the nascent artform. No one has even come close to mastering the medium, but it’s clear that holding on to the traditional rules of storytelling is a surefire way to make disappointing VR...

...Cinematic VR necessitates breaking the traditional construct of a linear story that hits certain beats: this happens, then this, then this. Good immersive content doesn’t just deviate from this pattern, it flips it on its head. Instead of plotting moments on a timeline, it builds a world for the viewer to experience on their own. Instead of trying to control what the viewer sees or feels, the filmmaker is sculpting a time in space, where everything that happens in between the beats is part of the story too."

- Meghan Neal, "How Traditional Storytelling is Ruining Virtual Reality Film"

How to Be an Artist With a Day Job

"...a Washington Post article found that roughly 1.4 million people were making a living as artists in the United States. We don't know how many people in the country are attempting to be career creatives, but the total population is about 320 million. By the way, those 1.4 million are nearly all white and have a median salary of about $30k, which for many of us doesn't even qualify as a living wage. More people are incarcerated in America than are making that level of a "living" from art.

...Welcome to the world of creatives with day jobs, populated by the vast majority of artistic people. But among the broken dreams is a world in which you can not only survive, but thrive. You don’t have to be cynical and bitter, you can be optimistic and realistic. Yes, realistic optimism is an actual thing that involves recognizing harsh realities while understanding how to make the best of them. This post isn’t about giving up on your dreams, it's about embracing the journey to achieve them. It's also about accepting the reality that you may never be able to work on your number one creative passion full time. Here’s how you can live like that and be happy."

- "How to Be an Artist With a Day Job," Evan Brown

Why Chat Sucks for Shopping

"If we were to replicate the current chatbot paradigm in real life, the shopper would begin by walking up to a salesperson and saying “I want a pair of white sneakers that cost under $100,” to use the infamous Buzzfeed example on Facebook Messenger shopping. If a salesperson pins you down while you’re in browsing mode and asks you to define your precise needs and price range, is it likely to make you more interested in shopping or to make you move on to the next store? Does the idea of a shoe store where all shoes are hidden behind a wall, where you would have to tell the salesperson your price range and shoe specs in detail, after which they would bring you individual pairs of shoes to assess, appeal to you? Or does it sound like a circle of Hell from Dante’s Inferno?"

- "Shoppers Browse, Chatbots Don't: Why Chat Sucks for Shopping"

(yes, this is a little bit of self promotion! Give it a read and let me know what you think.)
"...if you’ve ever found yourself wishing for this actress’s waist or that singer’s legs, remember this: The media’s concept of the ideal woman’s body isn’t static. Whoever People magazine deems “most beautiful” this year is just a representation of what has bubbled up in the cauldron of pop culture. That silhouette of the “ideal woman” has been put through a series of fun house mirrors (fashion, movies, pop music, politics). It also changes year over year, so the physical qualities we embrace today are often at odds with those from previous generations.

To prove our point, we’re taking a closer look at body ideals over the last 100 years—which shows that, as they say on Project Runway, 'In fashion, one day you’re in, and the next day you’re out.'"

- Maria Hart, "See How Much the 'Perfect' Female Body Has Changed in 100 Years (It's Crazy!)"

(Some really great infographics in this one!)

"[League of Legends] had recognized that toxic behaviour was a major drag on players' experience, and they wanted to solve the problem with science...

To tackle it, Lin needed to make sure that he had a good picture of where such toxicity was coming from. So he got a team to review chat logs from thousands of games each day and to code statements from players as positive, neutral or negative.

The resulting map of toxic behaviour was surprising. Common wisdom holds that the bulk of the cruelty on the Internet comes from a sliver of its inhabitants — the trolls. Indeed, Lin's team found that only about 1% of players were consistently toxic. But it turned out that these trolls produced only about 5% of the toxicity in League of Legends. “The vast majority was from the average person just having a bad day,” says Lin. They behaved well for the most part, but lashed out on rare occasions.

That meant that even if Riot banned all the most toxic players, it might not have a big impact. To reduce the bad behaviour that most players experienced, the company would have to change how players act.

Lin borrowed a concept from classic psychology. In late 2012, he initiated a massive test of priming, the idea that imagery or messages presented just before an activity can nudge behaviours in one direction or another..."

- Brendan Maher, "Can a video game company tame toxic behaviour?"

Chatbots

OK, so, the rise of chatbots.

You go online into a text interface and type in commands in order to get information or services.

....um, weren't GUIs invented specifically to get AWAY from that?
Want to know how to be more confident?

There’s an easy answer: Don’t.

Yeah, it’s a trick question. But we’ve all been led to believe that self-confidence or self-esteem is the answer to everything. It’s not. In fact, research shows it’s the cause of a lot of problems.

We don’t need more self-esteem. We need more self-compassion.

- Eric Barker, "How to Be More Confident: 3 Secrets Backed By Research."

Facebook: the tipping point?

"Meanwhile, a new report from The Information passes on internal Facebook data that appears to confirm what GlobalWebIndex reported last fall and what many Facebook users have anecdotally reported seeing: A decreasing percentage of Facebook users are choosing to frequently update their statuses or otherwise share their own content (for example, upload photos/videos taken from their phones). Just 57% of Facebook users accessing the app each week posted in a given week, and only 39% posted original content."

- Eric Jhonsa, "Facebook Takes on YouTube and Tries to Halt a Sharing Decline"

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