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Saturday, August 18, 2007

MobileDevCamp Dallas

MobileDevCamp comes to Dallas next Saturday, August 25th. The idea is that you show up in the morning with either the burning desire to create a mobile application, or mad development/design skilz you want to share. You leave in the evening having contributed to getting a real, live mobile application up and running. Check it out and sign up at:


The event is being run by developers and designers, for developers and designers and there's no admission charge. Newbies and old hands are encouraged to show up and work on everything from iPhone targeted HTML sites to Symbian and Windows Mobile. Whatever you want, as long as it runs on something you can carry around in your pocket.

The technology knowledge will be first rate, but I expect the most important result will be getting to know the best, most passionate developers and designers in Texas. Chris says check it out

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

A Survey of User Profile Fields

Last month I did a comparison of the various ways social networking sites handled user icons and profile images. This time, it's how they handle user attributes. It's the sort of tedious stuff that profile interchange mechanisms are made from. It's also useful if you're rolling your own social network and want to know what other people have done. The table I was using got to be too big for a blog posting, so I moved the spreadsheet over to Google Docs and linked to it from the image below. The chart is not quite complete, but then again it's never going to be quite complete, so I've gone ahead and published it. I'll be updating the underlying spreadsheet occasionally, you can either check back here or subscribe to the RSS feed after the link. If you want edit access to the spreadsheet, just ask.

Thoughts so far:
  • The "last name/first name" vs "full name" thing is going to be painful.
  • There are a wide variety of "genders" beyond the traditional male/female.
  • Same goes for "relationship status". This suggests interchange will be tricky.
  • Putting the GMT offset in timezones is ugly.
  • Not everybody has zip codes, or event state/regions. Fully handling that is a pain.
  • If you put your religions in a dropdown, do you leave off the Satanists?
  • The choices for "field/profession" in MySpace should include "fireman" and "astronaut".
Reading through the list, I was struck by how the choices offered the user defined a whole worldview. Reading through the mutliple-choice questions was especially enlightening. There's a sort of diffuse, unfocused attempt to define what it means to be a person in our culture going on here, revealed through the ways we're allowed to define ourselves. But that's a whole different blog post.


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Friday, August 03, 2007

Invisible Doors and the Piquant Tang of Minor Humiliation

Our pediatrician moved to an office in a fancy new building. The first time we took the kids for a checkup I was faced with the choice of trying to carry an infant car seat through a set of revolving doors or somehow managing to press, with full hands, the button to open the (rather narrow) powered swinging door to the right of them. You can see the doors in the picture above. I managed to use my elbow to press the button to open the swinging door, but I couldn't help wondering what the building designers were thinking in making it physically challenging to get into a medical center.

Turns out there was a nice wide automatic sliding door that I could have used. It's there to the left of the revolving door. You can tell because there's a tiny little lock on the frame next to it, and a minuscule sticker (behind the tinted glass, visually blended with the metal frame) that says "AUTOMATIC DOOR". There's also a small black sensor over the door, but the way things are arranged you have to tilt your head back to see it so I've left it out of the picture.

When I noticed the sliding door on our second visit, I felt a little silly. After all, if I would have been paying full attention I could, in fact, have worked out that there was a door there. Then I got annoyed. I knew how stupid it was to design invisible doors because I'd read Donald Norman's Design of Everyday Things way back when, and I expected building designers to have at least the level of knowledge about doors that I have.

It's not just doors, though. Any time you have a cover-your-behind feature in an application you're going to instill in your users that same feeling of guilt that the building architects caused me to feel. Those transient status messages, those tiny-fonted explanatory paragraphs embedded below text fields, that explanation buried in the online help, all of them make the person writing the application (or designing the door) feel better, but do little to prevent the user from making mistakes. The subject has been beaten to death over the past few years and I don't really have anything new to say except that it might be useful, the next time you encounter a situation like the above, to stop and briefly savor the feeling of minor humiliation. Drink it in. It adds a pleasant piquant note to those dry usability articles, and the memory might give you that little bit of extra motivation to spend ten more minutes coming up with a good design rather than giving in to the urge to just CYA and move on.


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