Android and Android Devs - Can We Talk?
I’ve noticed that my new phone bleats and buzzes quite a bit now that I have all my social media apps downloaded and sync’d up with Android’s account manager. Unsurprisingly, it’s really distracting.
I want to get notifications but not… like… all the time. Every couple of hours is perfect, and if I want information before then, I’ll open the app I’m interested and get it manually. From what I remember, in Android you used to be able to configure this. You’d go into accounts and then sync settings and you could configure how often each app would annoy you. Now it’s just one check box: auto-sync on or off. You can, of course, go into each application and selectively turn sync off for a given sync stream, but things are on or off. No in between.
I was disappointed at first, but then I thought wait, this could be kind of handy. I know of an app called Automateit that works a lot like If This Then That for Android; you set a rule so that when something happens, something else happens automatically. “Sweet!” I said to myself. I set up rules that turned Auto Sync on at certain times of day and then turned it off again a few minutes later after all the apps had had time to make their updates. That way I was sure to be able to control the flow of information so that I was only interrupted when I could reasonably anticipate that I’d be interruptable.
But that’s not the way it works.
If there’s one checkbox that says sync data, or don’t sync data, that ought to apply to all the data the app attempts to sync. But it doesn’t. It seems to only apply to the data the app chooses to let Auto-Sync manage. What it boils down to is that, essentially, from that interface, you can stop applications from syncing in every way possible except in the ways that generate notifications. If you go into the individual settings inside each app, that’s no help either. Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Linked In… it’s all push notifications or nothing at all. No granularity there, either, flatly defying at least one of Nielsen’s heuristics.
So. Android. Android app developers. Let me ask you a question. In a world where information creation and availability is exploding exponentially, in an era of ever-increasingly divided attention, why is it that you thought removing the ability to smartly manage notifications was a good idea?
Discomfort: The Devil on Your Shoulder
It’s hard to say what this little rant has to do with this blog, except that one of the strongest links between urbanism and user experience is people. And this rant is definitely about people. (Also, I’m not making another blog just to write this, so… deal with it.)
I’ve been sitting on a theory for a while now. It basically boils down to the fact that discomfort is a fairly useless emotion in our modern world. It betrays us. I’m sure it was useful once. I imagine back in the days when you never know what would kill you, that feeling you get when something doesn’t seem quite normal was a valuable asset. If you ran away from the thing that made you feel like that - or pushed it away, or attacked it - and ran towards what you knew, towards what was safe… often times you were probably ensuring your survival.
I feel comfortable making that evolution-based argument because it’s not just in us. It’s in animals, too. You can walk right up to squirrels on a university campus, but walk a mile over to a residential neighborhood and they won’t let you near them. The ones on campus don’t feel because they’re used to it; they’ve learned that there’s no danger, that sometimes there are even rewards. But the neighborhood ones are still uncomfortable and they’ll still run if you get anywhere near them.
But nowadays there are lots of things that make us uncomfortable that just don’t matter. For an example, do you know a safe way to give seasons greetings anymore? One that guaranteedly won’t lead to a fight? It shouldn’t matter what religion you are or what religion you are not when someone says “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” because it’s not the words that matter, but the meaning behind them. But too often we respond to the cue that says “this is different. This isn’t what’s normal.” Too often, we don’t reflect on it. We just react. Because it’s different. Because it’s uncomfortable.
Lest you think I’m just talking about holiday cheer, this has real effects on our society. A Huffington post article makes it clear that not teaching our children to deal with discomfort results in them becoming dysfunctional adults. More than that, I have this sneaking suspicion that the inability to separate out the signal from the noise when we feel discomfort is behind a majority of our society’s social disorders - racism, sexism, political gridlock…
There’s something Ze Frank said in the very first episode of “A Show.”
Let me remember that the unintended meaning that people project on to what I do is neither my fault or something I can take credit for.
Let me remember that the impact of criticism is often not the intent of the critic, but when the intent is evil, that’s what the block button’s for.
And when I eat my critique, let me be able to separate the good advice from the bitter herbs.
Those are things that you can only do when you’ve gotten used to dealing with discomfort. And it does take getting used to - it takes practice. Hell, I’m still not used to it myself. So I’m not blaming anyone. But maybe, just maybe this is the root of a lot of our problems. Even if it only could be… then it’s worth exploring, because it’s a relatively easy fix.
The take away? Practice dealing with discomfort. Do it with a therapist if you have to, but do it. And if you’ve got kids, teach them to as well. It’ll do the world - and you - some good.
FourSquare + WalkScore = Accessibility?
In the transportation discipline, we think of accessibility differently than some others and, as it turns out, it’s a devil of a thing to explain. (That’s probably why we haven’t done so well at creating places with high accessibility.) In essence, accessibility is a mixture of proximity, mobility (a.k.a. speed), and connection (a.k.a. the Internet), with proximity and mobility having a bit of an inverse relationship.
One of the concepts buried in the idea of transportation accessibility is the idea of value and how it differs between people. (UXers reading this should be getting excited about now.) For instance, if there’s a McDonald’s close to me, I might not care, but you might be really jealous.
So I had a thought. What if you tried to marry WalkScore data with FourSquare data to create individualized accessibility measurements? Yeah, there are some digital divide issues there… but it could be the start of something great. Someone should do that.
Don’t Completely Overhaul Your Website
At least not all at once like tends to happen. If you’ve got millions of people using your site, things are probably going just fine for them. Sure, maybe there are some things that you can (and should) tweak, but most overhauls completely change how interactions work on a website. And most of them are driven by the desire to court new users. Even if the new users find the new design better than the old, how does it make business sense to piss off a large portion of the users you already have just for the chance of luring in some users that you don’t? If you want your customers to be loyal to you, you’ve got to be loyal to them.
If you’ve got a website that hasn’t been updated in 10+ years, that’s probably an exception. Assuming you’ve got the user research that says people find your site archaic, go ahead and overhaul that sucker. Or if you’ve got a band website where you really only get spikes of traffic on big releases anyway. But the rest of you should follow the Chrome-update model (that Google has ironically started to be terrible at their own self): minor tweaks that over time turn into a completely different interface, but you hardly noticed because the change was so gradual.
So don’t re-arrange your entire website. Instead, have a plan from getting from design A to design B in stages that people can handle. If minor, but constant change hasn’t been the norm for your development process, be aware that you’ll probably have to be more careful ((read: change even slower) so that people don’t feel like they constantly have the rug pulled out from under them.
A Love Letter to Amazon
- Me: *buys $40 worth of MP3s*
- Me: *attempts to download them*
- Amazon Cloud Player: On Linux systems, Cloud Player only supports downloading songs one at a time.
- Me: Fuck you very much. May you get kidney stones shaped like razor blades.
An Error Message for Chromecast’s Error Message
Ran into my first snag with Chromecast yesterday. I went to play some music from my phone, an album I had been listening to earlier that day. When I tried to send it to Chromecast, the error message I got was something like:
Cannot play sideloaded music.
Google, I’m surprised at you. You’re usually better than this.
- You used jargon in an error message. Your everyday person isn’t going to know what sideloading means. In fact, I don’t either.
- It’s not clear what caused the error. This is related to the fact that you used jargon, but it’s also separate because I don’t know if the error is because of something I did or what.
- It’s not clear how to move forward. Ok, the issue seems to be that it’s sideloaded. Whatever that is. How do I unsideload it?
- Likely, an error message wasn’t even necessary. I picked up my tablet to play the same song from the same app and it worked just fine. If something technical got in the way, and your app can detect that, then likely you can have the app try to fix it before showing the message