Category Archives: Thoughts

One-week experience on Paper

Facebook launched a new iOS app called Paper this week. 

It has a small and soft launch which doesn’t require you to switch from the official Facebook app, yet it is BIG in terms of its new IxD paradigm, the revolutions it brings to Facebook experience, and its vision beyond the traditional Facebook.


There are multiple review articles talking about the innovative and intuitive interactions (tab, drag, left-to-right swipe, full-screen format, no refresh button, etc.) Paper is rendering. Also, there is interesting ergonomic analysis on this left-to-right swipe gesture. Besides its sleek fashion of interaction, I am more interested in seeing how Paper fits into our everyday life: as a SNS app, or as a news reader.

Paper as a News Reader

If you take a look at Paper, you will discover that although Paper has aggregate almost all features of Facebook, the original Facebook is only one equal section among all other news sections. In this way, Paper is attenuating the role of Facebook activities and promoting news consumption through other channels. After downloading and playing with it for a while, I naturally put it into the “News” folder rather than the “Social” folder on my iPhone – didn’t hesitate at all. 

So, if Paper is another news reader, why should I squeeze time for it from my already limited news-reading time? Why should I shove Flipboard or Circa away and use Paper instead? 

I like to think from a user’s perspective, so I tried to analyze my needs for news consumption and sharing in my everyday life. I am a normal modern creature who is constantly worrying about missing important news and afraid of drowning in endless news sea at the same time. Context under which I consume and share news: I browse news in breath just to see what is happening when I am waiting for something/someone, and I read in-depth on topics I am interested in (UX, IT product, and entrepreneurship) before bed. Basically, I have two needs for news: topics in breath to show I am not a nerd living in my own world, and topics in depth to improve my professional career. I found Circa and Flipboard fulfilling these two needs respectively. Circa with headlines, highly edited short reads, and ability to push updates on news I am interested let me easily glimpse through and get a good idea of whether the world is still running. Flipboard, on the other hand, is juicy and highly customized to my taste. Instead of offering quick 6~7 headlines per screen as Circa, it usually has 1~3 news per screen, on topics that I have great interested in and from creators that I am fond of (e.g., Verge, TechCrunch, and TNW). I read and I share with my networks in Facebook, Twitter, or G+. 

Circa – quick and dirty, Flipboard – slow but fulfilling. Do I really need Paper besides its original Facebook content? If we look at 4 sources to make news reading delightful and efficient:

  1. Editor’s hand pick
  2. Algorithms to select trending news
  3. Sharing from your social network
  4. Your personal preference

News sections in Paper now only have 2 of them (1 & 2). That means everyone will see the same news on Paper. Besides the lack of personalization, I personally found the design of news tiles in the bottom part of the screen hard to skim – no headlines, with small font size. While instant sharing is another selling point for Paper, it’s nature doesn’t support sharing outside Facebook network. With Twitter account presenting part of my professional image, the narrowed sharing option is not desirable. 

Bottom line:

Facebook is important for me to connect with friends. It also indeed became a news channel for me – offering news curated by friends in my network and media that I follow. Those are core value I gained from Facebook, which is now only a small section in Paper. Do I need another news reader? Maybe. But it really depends on how Paper can squeeze in the crowded news reader market.  


Mobile-only Social Media

The trend has been there for several months – my close friends and I almost stopped posting personal updates on Facebook or Renren (Chinese version). Instead, we share them through “Moments” function in a mobile app called “Wechat”. It happened spontaneously and I’ve been wondered why. Here are my two cents after some examinations.

The fundamental difference between Facebook and Wechat is the mechanism of communication. Though Facebook has message function, which allows people to talk and share privately, it is a platform essentially. Wechat, on the other hand, is a SMS (short message service) at its core, similar to the idea of Whatsapp and Kik. In order to talk to each other, people have to find each other through mobile phone number or other account information, and mutually become friends. On top of sending messages, it allows group chat and has a space called “Moments” where people can share updates with their contacts. Thus, Facebook is a platform SNS with a channel function, while Wechat is a channel service with a platform capacity. How does these natures change our behavior? Why my friends and I chose more carefully what to show on Facebook comparing to those on Wechat “Moments”? Because with a more controlled and closer circle, Wechat is like “the home” social media, while Facebook could be “the city”. People feel safer and more relax to share personal ups and downs at home, and get used to pretend strong and beautiful among strangers. That’s just the nature of human being.

This leads me to think about all the other mobile-only social media applications, such as Path, Snapchat, the original Instegram, and Foursquare. Comparing to PC, mobile usage has the advantages of offering rich contextual information and real-time interactions. SNS big figures such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have all made their aggressive inroads into mobile social media market. However, these mobile-only applications have been able to take up a share through leveraging their special niches that match well with the advantages of mobile usage.

What are the mobile-only social media applications that you are using daily? Why you prefer them over Facebook app? Is SoLoMo really the future of social media? Share your thoughts:)

Note: Some of these applications cannot fit with the definition of SNS as defined by boyd and Ellison (2007), so I used the term “social media” application rather than SNS.

Promoted Pins Come to Pinterest – How Bad is it?

Tonight, I received an email from Pinterest – beginning with a heart-touching story of how he used Pinterest to collect precious moments of his son, Pinterest CEO Ben then rolled out the idea of experimenting pin promotion on Pinterest as a profit channel to maintain the operation of the site.

We are not new to the idea of content promotion: Facebook and Twitter jumped into the realm earlier. While Pinterest guaranteed that the promotions won’t be disruptive because they will be transparent (you know which pins are promoted pins), relevant (the pins will be consistent with something you are interested in), and listening to your feedbacks (machine learning helps to improve the relevancy), we knew both Facebook and Twitter promotions do the same thing.

So, what do you feel about content promotions so far on Facebook and Twitter? Comparing to Facebook and Twitter, what kind of experience you are expecting for promoted pins on Pinterest?

For me, the more emphasis on content exhibition the site has, the less the effect of promoted content has. For example, the news feed on Facebook is really about the performance of the people. In this case, the sneak promotions are relatively incompatible with the main focus and interests of the users. While on Pinterest, the role of content publisher is really minimized and deemphasized in the visual level with heavy emphases on the contents themselves (see the screenshot below). As long as the smart machines promotes “tasty” pins, which I am pretty sure they are capable of, the user experience won’t be compromised much.

Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 1.47.27 AM

Sometimes we need to embrace this win-win situation, don’t we?

Social Media as The Battlefield of Marketing

I was at the ExactTarget’s annual Connections conference on Tuesday. It was a great learning experience listening to the talks given by @kyleplacy and @scottdorsey on the state-of-the-art marketing technologies. I paid special attentions (selective attention maybe) to the role that social media plays in digital marketing. Here, I would like to reflect some take-aways from this conference. These points are by no means comprehensive enough to cover the topic of social media marketing, but rather elaborations on the notes I took at the conference.

Brand Co-creation

Brand co-creation is a marketing strategy that tries to achieve amplified branding impacts through engaging consumers. The emerging of social media changes the landscape of marketing, from segmented and passive consumer groups to connected and active consumer groups. This shift is similar to the idea of “context collapse” as discussed in class, as the connectivity and transparency of social media breaks the barriers between different social/consumer groups. By leveraging the power of social media, marketing can be much cheaper and more efficient for the companies and enjoyable for the consumers.

Does the following screenshots look somehow familiar? Are you also part of the co-creation process?

Toms #travellingTOMS compaign

Toms #travellingTOMS campaign

Shutterfly FB campaign events

TOMS encourages customers to post traveling photos with their TOMS shoes in the photos, and Shutterfly asks you to invite your friends to personalize and get a free photo book while you get a 50% discount. When you think about these events and many other out there, you will be amazed by how these events can bring companies thousands of clicks, transactions, brand awarenesses, and storytelling-style advertisements. All you need to pay is some free photo books and let you do the work for them. Also, use of the hashtags (#) makes the brands more recognizable, and makes it easier for companies to gather and analyze the data.

Personalized Experience:

Coming closely with brand co-creation is the personalized experience – individuals create unique experience interacting with the companies through the co-creation events facilitated by the companies. This helps to create stronger bonds between customers and the brands. Another perspective to see personalized experience is from the big-data point of view. By acquiring more and more information through social media, companies are able to deliver more personalized, and context-awared information to customers. Relevance driven by data is the key to create this kind of tailored experience. That is also what we talked about in the first week of class: “data is the internal Intel”. Data is a core value of social media.

Consumer Mobility

Based on a Gartner’s report, by 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide and that by 2015 over 80 percent of the handsets sold in mature markets will be smartphones. The change of market is not only manifested as the increased quantity of mobile devices, but also on consumer behaviors: based on another report from Gartner, worldwide mobile transaction values will reach $235.4 billion in 2013, with a 44% increase from 2012, with an expected 35% annual growth between 2012 and 2017. All this data is suggesting an important marketing as well as UX-design lesson: whenever a social-media campaign is planned, usage through mobile devices should be primarily addressed.

It was amazing to see how user/customer experience can be enhanced by these digital marketing approaches. This not only helped me to better understand the business behind social media but also provided me with a new perspective to look at UX.

An Insightful Video about IxD Big Picture

I came across this great video commissioned by Bassett & Partners, talking about the future connecting world and how interaction design can contribute to it. Many mind-provoking throughts.

My take-aways from it are two points: (1) Embrace “natural” interactions – removing constrains and artificials; (2) Connections among things through sensors and cloud will lead to environment- and context-dependent future interactions. What is yours? Enjoy.

Connecting from Bassett & Partners on Vimeo.

An Interesting Read: ID Construction on Facebook

I am starting exploring a very possible topic of my thesis: building an online identity management tool. Though my focus will be put more on the design and development of the tool, it is essential to understand theories and current practice of online identity management.

Last weekend, I came across a very interesting and informative paper researching online identity construction on Facebook: Zhao, S., Grasmuck, S., & Martin, J. (2008). Identity construction on Facebook: Digital empowerment in anchored relationships. Computers in Human Behavior, 24(5), 1816–1836. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2008.02.012. As published in 2008, this paper is an early effort to research on online identity management in the context of nonymous Social Networking Sites (SNS).

Important things to notice before reading: the Facebook in 2012 is quite different from the version back in 2008. The most important difference is that now Facebook is not entirely nonymous: you can create fake account and you don’t have to be a college students. However, my interests will still be on those who use SNS to extend offline life and communication, and thus will need so called “identity management”; but not those who creates forged identities that have nothing to do with their offline presentation.

Back to this paper. The methods they used are content analysis of Facebook accounts and follow-up structured interviews. The literature review part of this paper gives very comprehensive review of theories of identity construction. I will list some important ones here as an index that can help to go back to the paper:

  • “Identity is an important part of the self-concept. … and identity is that part of the self ‘by which we are known to others’ (Altheide, 2000, p.2)”
  • Construction of identity = identity announcement & identity placement. Identity announcement is made by the individual to claim who she is while identity placement is made by others to endorse the claim. When there is intersection between identity announcement and identity placement, this intersection will be the constructed identity.
  • Difference between identity construction through localized interactions and online interactions: here the authors discussed the famous work from Goffman (The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life). Basically the localized (offline) interactions place many constrains to hinder individuals from displaying inconsistent selves while anonymous online environment detaches the embodiment of an individual and frees one to present a totally new self. This new mode of presenting a “hidden self” online shows the ability of Internet to empower identity construction.
  • A nonymous online environment is between those two extremes discussed above, since it is built upon offline relationships. The authors coined the term “anchored relationships” to describe this kind of offline-based online relationships. In this anchored online relationships, people are nonymous online and can be traced to their offline identities. Unlike anonymous online society, this nonymous online environment also places constraints on identity claims.
  • The authors then introduced the concepts of “now selves” and “possible selves”. The previous one is who you are in others’ eyes right now and the latter refers to who you want to be in the possible future, which is an image unknown to others at this stage (Markus and Nurius, 1986). They then argued that the nonymous online environment differs from localized interactions and anonymous online environment, in that it empowers a new self-presentation as “hoped-for possible selves“.
  • The concept of this “hoped-for possible selves” is so important that I list it alone here and quoted the definition given in this paper: “Hoped-for possible selves are socially desirable identities an individual would like to establish and believes that they can be established given the right conditions” (p.1819).
  • As the authors review the dating-site (as a form of nonymous sites) research, they found that these nonymous dating sites provide opportunities to users to make public “identity statements“, which can be implicit and explicit. This is an important path for people to construct the “hoped-for possible” selves that are not known offline.

The results of the paper are discussed based upon these theoretical framework covered in the literature review. The major findings are two fold. First, the identity statements form a continuum of implicit to explicit claims. At one end, people adopt “showing without telling” strategy, using visual presentations such as photos to present themselves. This is an implicit way, which is the most common among participants. At the other end of explicit expression, people use narrative format to tell and label themselves. This is the least popular among participants. In between, there is an enumerative way to show the “cultural self” through listing one’s tastes on movies, songs, and hobbies etc. Second, the authors examined the types of self claims. Most participants chose to project themselves as “socially desirable” and hid pessimistic personas and academic identities. Though most results fit the hypothesis of showing the “hoped-for possible” selves that are positive, they did find some presented some types of “hidden selves”, through publishing “superficial or hedonistic images”, “less socially sanctioned” quotes, and “sexually provocative statements”.

Some reflections: As mentioned in the discussion part, living in this nonymous online environments, online and offline world is not separated anymore. The negative “hidden selves” being shown online is exactly the reason why we want to build this online identity management tool. People, especially students need to learn how to coordinate their identity claims in online and offline worlds, since they are highly connected. The “hoped-for possible selves” could be the ideal image we would like people to cast online. In my previous study of identity construction on another popular SNS Twitter, I also found the similar strategy continuum of implicit claims to explicit claims, which is very exciting. After reading is paper, I have several research ideas: 1. As suggested in this paper, we should compare the “objective” coding of online content with the “subjective” self-reported online identity construction methods. Basically compare “what people thought they did” with “what they actually did”.  2. Continue my previous study of identity construction on Twitter and compare it with the case on Facebook. To better compare, it will be better if the participants group are comparable. Understanding how people are presenting themselves online helps to discover areas that are commonly failing and yelling “SOS”.

Progress in Learning Interaction Design

Since I didn’t discover any highlight that I want to share with you here this week, I decided to jot down a brief record of my progress in learning interaction design.

With a more-than-7-year engineering background, I am not a typical “design” person, in terms of making things in a visually appealing fashion. However, my decision to make user experience designer as my career goal is not irrational or impulsive: because I know design for user experience is much more than visual elements, but includes deep empathy, and sensitivity to details, and requires a mind of systematic thinking. I am quite confident that my past and current academic training gave me a good foundation on these, and I will approach this career from a different perspective and skill-set compared to those visual designers or industry designers out there. But I am also fully aware that I need to pick up handy tools to turn my understanding of the users into an interactive and testable product. That’s the reason I am trying to devote some time learning technical skills to render different stages of prototypes.

Things I’ve been up to are: using photoshop to do wireframe and low-/ high-fidelity prototyping; leaning elements that should be sliced from photoshop to be used in frontend coding versus elements should be written just in HTML and CSS; learning HTML, CSS, and jQuery to build interactable websites. With other course work load and research work load, learning these parallel is a challenge and opportunity for me. The best lesson I learned along the way is: learn it when you need it; practice it once you learn it. With several projects in the line, I am pushed to pick up necessary skills as needing them for the projects. This has been an efficient learning journey for me since I don’t typically work in this way as a more “theory”-oriented person. I kept quick notes of handy skills and tried to practice them as soon as having a chance. I tried out different ideas, for both practicing newly-learned skills and preparing alternatives for the design.

Nearly 2 months have passed and I am making progress gradually. Now I would probably call myself a guru in Photoshop for Web design (not for creating arts or decorating photographs, though). I am glad that I figured out what my standpoint and my contribution could be to the UX design area, and I am acquiring corresponding knowledge and skills. I might not become a talented visual designer in my life, but I can really be a good UX designer who always have users in her mind, turn her understanding to product prototypes, and test & improve them constantly.

Finally, is a great resource I would like to recommend to everyone who wants to learn web design and development. Dig up the university’s database, hopefully you can get these great tutorials for free.