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Episode Summary

In this week's edition of The Digital Life we examine three news stories important to user experience and our online lives: the Uber snafu over targeting critical journalists, the rising popularity of the e-book versus the tenacity of print, and the ongoing battle over net neutrality.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on the user experience of the printed book:
I have a large collection of print books having come from a time when collecting books of all shapes and sizes was the thing to do — especially if you were into design or science fiction — both of which I’m into, and before the e-book even came along. I saw an interesting headline that e-books are on their way, finally to surpassing the printed books. This isn’t tomorrow, but in 2018, the way the e-book growth is happening that it’s going to supplant print as the most popular format for readers. I get that. I’ve seen how powerful the Kindle can be, and certainly you don’t want to be carting around a whole stack of books all the time especially if you’re traveling.

It does make me a little bit sad because there is a physical relation that you have with a printed page, which I really feel is lost in the e-book. While I appreciate that it’s so much more convenient, and you can carry a gigantic library basically in your pocket, I think in the long term, something is lost in the translation there.

Dirk on the battle over net neutrality:
I think signs are that it will degenerate into a red state/blue state sort of thing. Net neutrality is important. If it goes away, people are going to be really, really unhappy. Of course, they don’t realize it. Net neutrality is the wrong way to talk about it. We really need a branding expert on it to position it in a way that is more engaging and has people more aware of the perils of where this could go if it goes in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, I don’t think people are going to care or understand until it’s too late.

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Episode Summary

What role should user experience play in your organization? The answer to this question depends very much on who and what you are. Say you’re a bootstrapped startup founded by experts in technical issues and sales. You should try to get free advice and help, or maybe trade some equity for UX design, or perhaps even rely on your own intuition until you can raise some capital. On the other hand, a large software company such as Oracle or Microsoft should make user experience a key focus and investment for every business unit, and have a strong advocate and visionary in the C-suite. Between these extremes lie many different models for deploying user experience appropriately.

In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss a user experience maturity model and how it relates to the current industry trend of taking UX in house.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on UX going "in house":
There are a lot of companies right now who are moving from one stage of maturity into the next stage of maturity for user experience. That is really changing — at least for the time being — how the user experience landscape is shaping up ... How talent's being distributed, really.

You see companies that want to play catch up, right. Where they know they need user experience and they need a big team right away. They don’t want to go and build it organically, so they go and acquire and entire design firm, for instance. Or you’ve got other examples of companies spending more, that sort of bring in top talent and hope that person will kind of act as a magnet for other people to build a department. I think the UX maturity is becoming a hot topic right now because there’s actually this up-leveling of many different software and non-software companies along these vectors. 

Dirk on future trends in UX maturity:
I see a few things coming. One, I see more standards and I don’t mean it by the web standards or how you might think of the word. I see the use experience and design communities more modeling what’s happening in the engineering communities where a lot of problems are already solved. There’s code that live in repositories where people are just slamming in to make stuff work. Problems are centrally solved once and then implemented broadly. It won’t be as universal just because the stuff on the design side has the need for differentiation, has the need for personality in a way that code doesn’t. Code just needs to work and be tight. If it’s really solved great once that can just be propagated everywhere. That’s not as universally true for design, but it’s somewhat true. We’ll start to see some of that. The easier problems or the problems that are more at pattern levels, instead of being basically redesigning the wheel in every company everything, will start finally to get some more patterns, some more forms in there similar to what engineers do with code.

Another thing that is potentially going to have a big impact is artificial intelligence. Recently a company called The Grid just launched for websites which is a very different beast than software or products. They launched a totally AI website generator which is pretty good. It’s pretty interesting. For my needs, I just have to much custom stuff it’s not a good fit. For the 80%, The common use case it probably is. That approach of teaching computers to build stuff and teaching computers to provide user experience solutions, that’s coming. Whether it’s making a big dent in two years or five years or ten years I’m not sure. AI is not my bag but it’s definitely a trend that will impact.

Another … The third thing I’ll mention Jon is something you and I have talked about before about emerging technologies. The complexity of product services experiences are going to go up. The much more of the creation and quote unquote user experience may shift shift to the engineers who have more of the scientific and more of the hard knowledge to deal with some of those complexities. Those are some trends that will come together to make the future of user experience maturity one that actually dove tails more into engineering which it broke away from two decades ago than it is more stand alone. It will start to becoming full circle in a certain way, which I think is really interesting and probably will be very surprising to a lot of people out there who just see UX growing in its own right in such big ways.

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Episode Summary

In 1980, Bill Gates famously wanted a computer on every desk and in every home. Now perhaps Microsoft would like a fitness band on every wrist and all your health data in the cloud. With the release of its Health platform and fitness band into the already crowded fray, Microsoft is (again) staking a claim to your quantified self data, along with competitors Apple and Google. The battle for your body's health data has just begun.

On another front, the war for your living room is heating up, with Google Play now on Roku and the Amazon Fire TV stick premiering for a mere $19. Perhaps most significantly, even Walmart is getting in the game, with their Vudu spark streaming service. In this episode of the Digital Life, we discuss the future of design for ecosystems — be it your body, your living room, your car or even your bathroom — as designers begin to consider how digital and physical products come together with the Internet of Things.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on being tracked by IoT devices: 
We’ve talked about the Quantified Self quite a bit on the show and we’ve also talked about health tracking and all of those sorts of things, ad nauseam; but I think it’s really interesting that in a lot of subsegments of our lives, we are now seeing this invasion of the giant tech company.

What I mean by that is, if you’ve got Amazon or Google or Walmart in your living room, you’ve now got Microsoft or your Apple watch or your Fitbit or whatever it is on your body when you’re exercising. All of a sudden you’re moving from your office desk to your exercise regimen to go home and watch some TV at the end of the day and all of those things are being tracked. Your data is all of a sudden being monitored in a lot of different ways and a lot of different systems.

Dirk on the battle for the living room:
The whole battle for the living room, because it’s such a long … the fight’s been going on for so long. Nobody is winning; it’s so protracted. I don’t find it interesting on that front, but then, even more than that, the content ownership is so dispersed, all of these idiots are just trying to get the power grab and get all of the control, so they’re going into it in ways that are entirely not user-friendly, so none of these solutions are going to work for me, so I’m like, “The hell with it!” I stopped caring.

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Episode Summary

In this episode of The Digital Life, we talk about the state of the UX economy, and the implications it has for digital agencies.

Like wildfire, word of the demise of UX agencies is spreading through the community. Sparked by the acquisition of Adaptive Path, the closing of Smart Design in San Francisco, and an analysis by UX influential Peter Merholz, the intelligentsia are hailing the decline of UX and design agency work in technology. Exacerbating the situation are rumors that a variety of other agencies are in trouble, trying desperately to get bought as they prepare for a shutdown.

It's so easy to get caught up in a few data points and a good story. But what's really going on? 

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on the ups and downs of the market for digital services: 
I think it would also be worth mentioning some of the ups and downs that we have experienced over the past 10 to 15 years in regards to both macro and micro economic factors. In particular, I’m thinking about the various waves that we had to ride, especially at the beginning of the internet technology boom. I can remember it was a very personal thing for me watching lots of start-ups go under during the dot bomb around 2000. Then, of course, that was quickly followed by the exodus of quite a few designers as a result of the 9/11 attacks that just decimated the economy and additionally this industry. 

Dirk on positive factors for agencies:
This is just nutty that people are saying that UX agencies are dead and the whole model of outsourcing design and digital design is dead. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Perhaps the first and the biggest [positive factor] is that software is only becoming more important, more mission critical to companies in every industry every day. We are already in a period that really was started by the success of the iPhone and the iPad, which took computing from something that was more work and geek based into every moment of every day of every middle class and above consumer in the United States at least based. The need for design, UX, anything pertaining to software has just been growing really quickly, and it’s only going to continue to grow. That is certainly a big factor. 

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Episode Summary

China is on the rise, not just in the manufacturing and production of physical goods, but also in the digital realm. If Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's Q&A session with students at Tsinghua University in Beijing in Mandarin wasn't a sign of the times, then certainly the largest tech IPO in history, with Chinese tech giant Alibaba raking in billions of dollars to further fuel the growth of the company, is indicative of the fact that that the digital world is China's fastest developing frontier. In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the rise of China, and the unexpected opportunities it may represent for product designers in the West.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on Mark Zuckerberg's Q&A session in Beijing: 
Last week, Mark Zuckerberg spoke at a university in Beijing and he spent at least 30 minutes or so practicing his Mandarin in front of a fairly large audience and taking questions and answers. While I’ve seen the mixed reviews come in as to the quality of his speaking in Chinese, I think just the fact that a billionaire CEO from one of the most important digital companies currently running, the fact that he was in China, speaking the language and attempting to take question and answer, I think that’s a significant event.

Dirk on China's rapidly-growing consumer market:
According to the United Nations Statistics Division, in either 2015 or if not, most likely 2016, China will surpass the United States as the largest consumer market in the world.

Now, on the surface you might say, “Well, so what? China has a billion plus people. Of course, they’re the largest.” As recently as 2009, China was only the fourth largest and China was less than 20% the total of the United States. The U.S. was more than 5x, almost 6x, larger as a consumer market than China. In the course of just 6, 7 years, China went from being fourth in the world, a fraction of the United States to soon to be the largest consumer market in the world. The scale and speed of growth is massive and it really speaks to long-term strategy. 

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Episode Summary

The battle for online privacy continues to heat up as big tech companies and the government struggle to define the degree to which we can keep our personal and transactional information to ourselves. In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the latest news from Twitter and Facebook effecting privacy and the user experience, and talk about the latest data breaches from some of the biggest names in finance and telecom.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on privacy and government surveillance:
From my perspective — and I’m somewhat pragmatic about these things — I think there are ways to balance things out, aiming, of course, for these ideal states that we love, but then also acknowledging that perfect freedom also has some pretty severe prices to pay for that. The question remains — Do we need that particular freedom, or is it better that our information is given up to the government to prevent things like terrorist attacks and things like that? The Twitter story and the idea of the surveillance state pressing its thumb down on some of the larger tech companies, that is an ongoing story and this just happens to be another step in that ...

Dirk on highly-targeted advertising on Facebook's ad platform:
I really hope that they are anonymizing the information similar to how a bank would protect our login credentials. I don’t know the latest technology at this point, but when I was certainly more knowledgeable about banking websites and security, you’d have multiple different pieces that would be cobbled together to allow you to login, each of those would be stored separately with different identifiers and it would be highly, highly non-trivial for someone to reverse engineer that and put all of the pieces together, that, “Hey, in bucket A, B, C, and D, this is the stuff that belongs to Dirk Knemeyer. Boom! I’m going to pull it all together.”

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Episode Summary

In this episode of The Digital Life we discuss some of the latest tech and UX news including: the Kano computer kit for kids, which encourages a childhood interest in engineering ; the unveiling of Windows 10 and what it means for the "universal" user experience; and the launch of Digital.nyc as a focal point for the Silicon Alley start-ups and venture capital firms of New York City.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on the Kano computer kit for kids:
I wanted to start out with this very exciting build your own computer kit ostensibly for kids, but also for the young at heart such as ourselves. The kit is called Kano and it was a Kickstarter project that received massive enthusiasm from the Kickstarter community. What is Kano? It is the first computer they claim that anyone anywhere can make. That started shipping a few days ago. They described their mission is to give young people a simple, fun way to make and play with technology.

I’m excited about this because it takes the Raspberry Pi and some additional pieces of hardware, puts it together in a kit in a way that an eight year old can understand and start really digging into the world of computer engineering. I know for my own sons, they’re not quite at that age yet, but what’s attractive to me about this hands-on engineering is I fully believe that engineering is going to be a key skill to have going forward, and I want my kids to be able to not be afraid of it, to not be afraid to get their hands dirty whether it’s in playing with circuit boards or writing code. I want them to be comfortable with that.

Dirk on Windows 10:
Wouldn’t it be interesting if instead of beating their stupid, same marketing advertising bullshit drum, if they just launch the damn thing and instead of already setting expectations high and under delivering as always, what if they pleasantly surprise us once? How would that change our perception of the Microsoft brand? How would that change our interpretation of Microsoft’s position in the computing ecosystem?

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Episode Summary

The darker side of human nature rears its head in the digital realm more than we'd care to admit. While the promise of the open Internet brings with it wonderful opportunities for community and communication, it also has a host of problems, whether it's called cyber bullying, harassment, or trolling. In this episode of The Digital Life, we examine the story of Kathy Sierra, a UX luminary, who for the second time has pulled back from her online life, due to horrific harassment, and her blog post explaining her side of the matter. You can also read her post at Wired online.

If you're interested in conversation at the intersection of technology, UX, design, and human behavior, you've come to the right place. You can view the full show transcript as well as previous episodes on The Digital Life Web site.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on online harassment:
I think what the blog post reveals, at least to me, is that there are aspects to our online digital life which are just as miserable as our physical lives. The difference being that there actually is it seems to be a little more transparency on the digital side. If all of these had happened to offline to her, there probably would be much less visibility into it and the level that we know of all these things is directly attributable to the fact that it’s online. At the same time, it probably also amplified it, because this harassment happens online. And so people who otherwise would never hear about it can join in for good or ill. And in her case, it seems like there has been an awful number of people who joined in for ill.

Dirk on the need to protect people online:
There’s a reason why humanity has evolved so that there’s local police in one form or another, and essentially, every civilized society. It’s because people, all of us have some badness in us but there are some people who really do a whole lot of bad. That needs to be protected against and combated. It might be naïve of us to think that the kind of individuals who tormented Kathy and her family aren’t out there. I mean they certainly are out there and maybe what we need to be thinking about and talking about is what is our equivalent response to a national military or to a local police?

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Episode Summary

Along with the promise of emerging technologies — such as robotics, genomics, synthetic biology, 3d printing, and the Internet of Things  — comes the very real problem of unintended consequences for people and our environment. While we can't, in any real sense, truly predict the future, we can see how technologies of the past and present — from industrial factories to automobiles to nuclear weapons — have changed the landscape of our world, perhaps in ways that would have astounded the innovators who made those technologies possible. 

In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the challenge of unintended consequences inherent in the adoption of emerging technologies and the potential role of user experience in mitigating them.

If you're interested in reading more on this topic you may want to check out our recent blog posts:

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on the promise of synthetic biology: 
Part of the promise of synthetic biology, for instance, and biotech generally speaking, is that some of the answers around sustainable energy solutions could come from those fields. You have biodiesel that would be produced by a modified organism like an e. coli bacteria that is manipulated in the lab to generate this diesel fuel. Now, all of that takes energy. These bugs all need to consume something, they need to be produced in a certain way. They need to be protected from the environment outside. This process needs to be scaled up to an industrial-type solution. All of those things walk hand in hand. “Can you produce this biofuel at less of an energy cost than you’re replacing with the fuel itself?” becomes a real sustainability question for some of this emerging tech.

Dirk on unintended consequences of technological "progress":
Let’s take health tech out to the nth degree, and let’s say, cancer is cured and organs can be hot swapped in and out and the whole nine yards ... For the sake of a hypothetical example, let’s say everyone now suddenly is living to 200 years of age. The modeling around what that would do to the world population would be frightening indeed.

A lot of the problems that we are foisting upon the planet have to do with overpopulation as much as they have to do with burning fossil fuels and all of these other things. In our own well-intentioned attempts to pursue something closer to immortality for ourselves, selfishly for the one or the people we care about, we are unintentionally undermining the long-term viability and quality of life of the future of the species.

At the macro level, I am really skeptical about all of our attempts to extend life, cure disease, replace body parts. I think it’s really shortsighted, really selfish, and the impact on the human system and the earth system threatens to be absolutely catastrophic and faster than we might realize.

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Episode Summary

In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the recent BIF10 innovation conference, and some of the notable presentations including: Dan Pink's new TV show Crowd Source, where social science and design for behavior change meet reality TV, and Rupal Patel's project at Northeastern University to bring customized speech to the vocally impaired, The Human Voicebank.

If you're interested in conversation at the intersection of technology, UX, design, and human behavior, you've come to the right place. You can view the full show transcript as well as previous episodes on The Digital Life Web site.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on The Human Voicebank: 

There were quite a few excellent talks. I’m just going to highlight one other on the show today. At Northeastern University, there’s a project called The Human Voicebank. It’s lead by Dr. Patel who was there at the BIF Conference.

Essentially, we have fantastic technology for transcribing typed words into speech, but evidence from various studies has shown how our identity is some part wrapped in our individuality in the way we express ourselves through our voice.

The raw text-to-voice programs provide this no matter how good they are. It’s a computerized generic rendering. Even if you have 5, 10, 15, 20, it’s not individual. It’s not for you. It doesn’t sound like you would sound if these people have lost their voices from one reason or another. It doesn’t sound like them. It is not them. It’s a hindrance to communication because people don’t feel like they’re speaking with their own voice. They feel like they’re being translated by this computer.

The purpose behind the human voice project is to solicit donations of voices. You or I could go on a site and read a bunch of texts that over the course of five hours, you would give them enough voice samples that could be cut up and reconstructed into other words. The more you donate, the more complete a voice you’ll be giving them. I think five hours is the minimum. 

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