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Why I Love Wikipedia

I love Wikipedia. It is so much better than any other encyclopedias. Since each entry can contain inline links to other Wikipedia articles and so you end up jumping from entry to entry and end up at a topic completely unrelated to the one you started on. It would be interesting to see some network statistics of the relationships between entries.

Anyway, the other day I was reading the entry on hurricanes and through various links I ended up reading the "request for deletion" pages regarding some of the schools I went to. Here's just a few things I've learned from Wikipedia in the past couple of days:

  • After the list of names for hurricanes is exhausted, the Greek alphabet is used. (What happens if a Greek-lettered hurricane has to be retired?)
  • There are six lists of names that are used on a rotating basis, with particularly damaging hurricane names being retired and replaced.
  • Southern hemisphere hurricanes are rare (only three cyclones have been observed there) and spin in the other direction.
  • Global warming has little to no effect on hurricane creation.
  • Cincinnati Bengals Wide Receiver Chad Johnson went to my high school, as did Sin City star Mickey Rourke.
  • Adam Curry was the first owner of mtv.com, but when he left his VJing job there, MTV sued him for it (they settled out of court).

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Web2MemeMap



Web2MemeMap

Originally uploaded by Tim O'Reilly.


Tim O'Reilly, founder of O'Reilly Media posted this map outlining what ideologies and technologies define Web 2.0. As stated in the caption, it is a "result of a "What is Web 2.0?" brainstorming session at FOO Camp 2005."

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UI Revolutions

Between Microsoft's new Office UI (screenshots, video) featuring the ribbon, and Nintendo's unorthodox Revolution controller (details, hands-on), I think we're at the start of a new era of User Interface/User Experience design.

Universal designs, while consistent, may overly complicate the performance of a particular action; they are the jacks of all trades and kings of none. Microsoft is now moving away from a UI paradigm that worked well with few features but requires a lot of menu-hunting by the user to find what they want to do. Instead of forcing the user to think on the document-level, which requires thinking about formatting, layout, tables, etc., Microsoft decided to orient the user on the task-level. The creation of a document can be broken down into many tasks, the majority of which can't be done simultaneously, so why not focus the UI on document tasks instead of documents? That's exactly what Microsoft did. At first glance, it looks like they moved the menu bars into larger tabs with much larger toolbars. The biggest difference, however, is that the tabs make the toolbar modal and in doing so, eliminates options that are only applicable in a different context. Not only that, the ribbon provides more vertical space and can fit descriptions in addition to icons and allows for different layouts of icons within the ribbon.

Moral of the story: Empower the user by providing only options related to the task they are performing.

Only with an intuitive, contextual User Interface, can you not only provide access to popular options, but also highlight previously obscured options than can also be powerful.

Nintendo has taken a similar approach. They have created a non-standard controller design that will simplify the performance of particular actions. Contrary to Nintendo's competitor's "universal controller" design, which don't adjust to context, the Revolution controller can be physically used in ways that mimic in-game physical movement. Nintendo is in no way restricted by pseudo-consistency. Their developers don't have to deal with: "Since A is the main action button in our menu system, we don't want to confuse our users by making another the button the main action button in gameplay." Not only that, but users have no reason to associate "A" with action X other than previous experience in that game.

Things gets even more complicated when you need key combinations to perform actions because there aren't enough buttons on the controller. With Madden 2006 (on XBox), for example, I need to press three buttons to call a Hot Route (where a receiver's path is changed after the play is called): First there's "Y" to turn on the Hot Route (how does Y equate to Hot Route?), then I pick a reciever's letter and finally use the control stick to pick from one of four pre-selected routes. There is nothing intuitive about this, but it's the only way to do it with the current controller paradigm. Now image the same situation with the Revolution controller: Point the controller at the receiver (intuitive!), press a button (is Hot Route the main action of the current context? No, so then I must have to push an auxillary button), draw with or physically move the controller in the shape you want to receiver to run his route (intuitive!).

Moral of the story: By taking away the traditional restrictions of a controller, you allow for more contextual control of a game situation. The ability to add peripherals (such as a a left-handed analog stick) allows for even more contextualization.

Only with an intuitive, contextual User Interface, can you not only provide access to popular options, but also highlight previously obscured options than can also be powerful.

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How much iPod do you actually need?

Seth Godin links to a NYTimes story about how much space people actually use on their iPods. Well, of all the people surveyed by the Solutions Research Group in Toronto, half of them had less than 100 songs stored on their MP3 players and the average among those with iPods was 505 songs.

Now, this news comes a few days after I lost my 30GB iPod and started considering my replacement options. My iTunes library clocks in at 19.68GB but a Smart Playlist I made revealed that I only listened to over 4.27GB in the past 19 weeks. The new iPod nano is only 4GB and absolutely perfect. The problem is those few times when I would want to listen to one of the songs I don't have on the iPod. It's not so much the inconvenience of not having the song, its the disutility I get from the fear of not having a particular song.

Despite all this, I decided to go with a 1GB shuffle as a temporary solution. My rationale behind this is that Mac Expo is a week away and with the rumors that there's a video iPod coming out (or even larger capacity 4G iPods), I want to have the smallest investment in hardware as possible at this time. Even when I get a larger iPod, the shuffle still has its uses as a much smaller solid-state player and USB drive.

Getting back to Seth Godin's piece, he argues that a larger capacity iPod is more of a status symbol than a necessity:

We don't buy a bigger iPod because we need a bigger iPod. We buy one because we identify ourselves as the kind of person that doesn't squabble over a few bucks when it comes to buying the best.

Nobody buys "best" in everything in their life. But in every category that's not a commodity, somebody is buying "best" because they want to, not because they need to.

While I agree to some extent, I think his theory doesn't take into account that Apple positions the feature sets of their iPods to upsell people to the larger iPods they don't necessarily need. Look at the difference between the iPod nano and the iPod lines: anyone with >4GB of music has to get the 20GB iPod whether they have 4.5GB or 19GB of music, and for only $50, you bet that guy with 4.5GB is going to get the 20GB player. The same enormous storage gap (and small price gap) exists between the 20GB and 60GB iPods. With that type of upsell strategy and the fact that Apple doesn't offer iPods in, say, 2GB increments, of course there's going to be a trend to move up along the iPod lines.

I also think the Long Tail (as a proper noun) has a large part to do with Apple's offering of large iPods. The average iPod user might not need more than an iPod nano in terms of storage, but what about those on the Long Tail that do? I know several college students with fat internet connections who have over 50GB of music in their iTunes library (legality notwithstanding) who are more very happy Apple offers 60GB iPods. For all intents and purposes, the R&D cost of the 60GB iPod (or a hypothetical 80GB iPod) is zero and the cost of going from a 20GB to a 60GB drive is minimal. Being in relatively small packaging and easy to manufacture (and switch back to the 20GB "mainstream" iPods), a Long Tail does exist for the iPod and so it is viable to offer these huge iPods despite the statistics showing that "average" users don't need nearly as much storage as Apple offers.

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Google Maps does Katrina

Google has added a new overlay option to their Google Maps for the New Orleans area that displays satellite photos of the devastation Hurricane Katrina caused. The color balance is not off, the bluish tint is due to the entire city being covered by water. The best place to see before/after is the Superdome, located towards the south of the city; you can see that the white tarp from the regular satellite image is gone in the Katrina pictures. Props to Google for offering this functionality and getting this data up so soon.

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Lost

Well, I think I've lost my iPod. Through all the craziness going around these past few days I seem to have misplaced it. I thought it was sitting in my backpack, but that apparently wasn't the case when I went to look for it last night. I'm hoping that I just misplaced it and that it's somewhere in my room, and the fact that my headphones were still wrapped up (as if around an iPod) in the pocket I thought it was in gives me a little more hope. Last I saw it was a week ago when I used it on the plane coming back to Philadelphia.

I hope it turns up, because losing something sucks, but if its the worst that will happen, then so be it. Rumor has it that a video iPod will be announced today so I'll if my iPod doesn't turn up, I'll get one of those.

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Busy Busy

I got back to Philly on Wednesday, the flight being pretty uneventful except for a one hour delay. I've been busy setting up my new room, and sorting things out. I will have to get some furniture because all I have at the moment is a bed. I had placed an order online with IKEA but it was going to take a very long time (2 weeks) to get it delivered and the shipping cost was outrageous, so that will get cancelled and I'll have to look for an alternative.

It is also ridiculously hot in Philadelphia. I sure am going to miss living across the street from most of my classes, but I'm thinking about getting a bike to ease the commute.

Not much else is going on, I've just been pretty sticky and exhausted, but I know once I get things set up and everything in order things will be great.

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