Category Archives: Technology

Your Life History on Demand

Here’s what I see coming for voice assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home. Lots of marketing opportunities here, and perhaps finally one eco-system to combine all social app data. More on that later.
Basic Functionality:
  • What date did I move to San Francisco?
  • Who joined me at the Bruce Springsteen concert a few years ago?
  • What was the name of that Portland, Maine dive bar on the water with the oysters we loved?
  • When did I first buy raw maca powder?
That’s fairly simple stuff. The required data sources (which we’re already comfortable sharing) include:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Swarm
  • Instagram
  • Amazon
  • Evernote
Amazon Echo Dot on kitchen counterApps like Timehop can already tap into high level info like this and tell you where you were three years ago, but the social and detail layers will require more information and networked data.
Intermediate Functionality:
  • What did I wear to Blackdiamondskye?
  • Which outfit should I wear today?
  • What topics did I research after my first lunch with Sandra?
  • How many calories have I really eaten today?
  • When am I due for an oil change?
Data sources:
  • Google
  • Weather
  • Credit card purchase history
  • Amazon
  • Photos
    • Clothing/style analysis (with predictive capability)
  • Mobile GPS data (location services) from apps like Google Maps
  • Passbook (boarding passes, movie ticket stubs, event badges)
  • Messaging app history (iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook, etc.)
Advanced functionality:
  • When was I happiest during the time I lived in New York?
  • Which job offer suits me best?
  • When did I know I was in love?
Data sources:
Everything we say and type? No – just all of the aforementioned sources, plus a future wearable or implanted device to monitor energy. Triangulate the data and apply some algorithms and AI.
hourglass with blue sand
Essentially, I think everything I currently rely on Evernote for will be available through a voice  assistant that is continually self-improving a personalized tagging convention and data-rich picture of who I was, who I am, and who I will be (how I will behave).
Location, check-in, and social data – your digital footprint – will be accessible. Visuals included. The more you check in and document your every move, the richer your look-backs will be. This is similar to the re-do in my favorite Black Mirror episode, The Entire History of You, except what I envision is not based on a 24/7 life recorder, but an aggregation of experiential data shared by permission.
ICYMI – The Entire History of You premise: In an alternate reality, most people have a “grain” implanted behind their ear. It records everything they see, hear, and do, like a first person recorder for life. This allows memories to be (quite realistically) played back either in front of the person’s eyes or on a screen, a process known as a “re-do”.
I’m not advocating for a grain implant or anything as terrifying as what’s available in this show. But the personal data recall possibilities are pretty exciting.
  • Upside: wonderful for re-experiencing memories or pulling up information quickly.
  • Downside: our memories will get even weaker because we will exercise that muscle less and less. Oh, and privacy.

Antisocial Virtual Reality – Retinas Deep

I’m finally reading Ready Player One, Ernest Cline’s dystopian future sci-fi novel that’s chock full of awesome ’80s culture. It’s a fun read, accurately called a “nerdgasm” by John Scalzi.

Brief synopsis: In 2044, an energy crisis has resulted in widespread economic despair. The OASIS is a virtual reality simulator in which many people escape the depressing world. It functions as an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) and a virtual society. High school student Wade Watts spends his days seated in an old cargo van in a junkyard wearing his VR visor and haptic gloves, attending school inside the OASIS and hunting for OASIS creator James Halliday’s Easter egg. (Full synopsis here.)

“In the OASIS, you could create your own private planet, build a virtual mansion on it, furnish and decorate it however you liked, and invite a few thousand friends over for a party.” p.57

15% through the book, these were my first two thoughts, one somewhat unique to me and the other not at all:

  1. OASIS users sit for hours or days on end. They probably take about 200 steps per day (bathroom breaks).
  2. The OASIS replaces real life interaction like Facebook on steroids, and it’s a scary but fathomable progression.

pop art woman wearing virtual reality goggles saying OMGPlenty of people have written about whether Facebook could become a sort of OASIS. It’s clearly on Zuckerberg’s radar with the acquisition of Oculus Rift in 2014, and the fact that the company hands every new employee a copy of Ready Player One.  All covered.

What interests me is whether technology will make our future lifestyles even more sedentary and less interpersonally connected than they are today. In a world that enjoys VR more than IRL, we could really lose our ability to interact in a vulnerable, face-to-face manner. That’s already happening with smartphone addiction (social media and checking behaviors). People are more likely to complain on Facebook about daily offenses by neighbors, fellow drivers, or rude cashiers than to confront one another. But furthermore, in an increasingly virtual future, our bodies could either atrophy (if food becomes scarce) or expand even more (if foodstuff replaces real food and we subsist on cheap sugary cereal and microwave dinners). It’s not a pretty thought.

I like technology. I like the idea of free, globally accessible information. It just worries me that we’ll all be sitting on our asses not talking to each other even more. Instead of being thumbs deep, we’ll be retinas deep.

Two girls playing hopscotch on playgroundOn the bright side, quite the opposite of Wade attending virtual school from his van, here’s an elementary school in California where students have standing desks.  Bloodflow improves cognitive function and learning. Add in some VR use with open source global libraries and submersive educational experiences. Maintain real outdoor recess and give them standing desks – that’s promising.

5 Resources to Help You Learn UX

Here are five helpful resources about UX (user experience) design and copywriting. These are a great place for a beginner to start. If you’re already in marketing, you’re probably less of a beginner than you may think, if you’ve been paying attention. Pay attention all the time, especially when you’re the user. You know what feels good. Start to ask why that site is easy to use, and look for patterns. Screenshot landing pages and exit overlays that work or shopping carts that usher you along the purchase path. Research the design process of products that make everyday life easier.

Chemex coffeemaker
Chemex coffeemaker – flawless blending of design and function. Photo credit: Karl Fredrickson

The classic paperback rhetoric for writers, some copywriting tips, and these podcasts about design should prove informative for designers and marketers of various levels:

  1. Simple and Direct by Jacques Barzun. In high school, my dad gave me this book to help me write more concisely, and I’ve kept the same copy at my desk ever since. It’s very University of Chicago, and it’s worth reviewing every couple years, especially if you write copy that users or customers are forced to read. Simplify.
    “Principle 1. Have a point and make it by means of the best word.”
  2. Design for the Human Brain
    UX and UI design tips based on how our brains process information. Cognitive psychology is paramount to user centered design. Reduce cognitive load.
  3. 10 UX Copywriting Tips for Designers
    John Williams gets copywriting and design. “Be ruthless with your copy.” Cut cut cut.
  4. 3 Fundamental User Onboarding Lessons from Classic Nintendo Games
    How to create good onboarding flow and inspire users to progress. Place emphasis on the naive user and value of external testing. Tetris “presents a world of perpetual uncompleted tasks” which stick in your memory, bugging your brain to finish. It’s the best example of the Zeigarnik Effect, or the “need to complete.”
  5. 14 Design Podcasts to Put in Your Ears
    99% Invisible, Design Matters, and more. Tip: I like to listen to podcasts with the free Stitcher app. It gets smarter with use.

Technology Means Fair Play – Parking Apps

By the end of 2016, all parking meters in New York City will accept payment via mobile app. New York isn’t the first city to offer mobile parking meter payment (joining Boston, Fort Worth, Seattle, SLC, and others) and it won’t be the last. Interesting: unused parking meter money will be refunded to users. This is one of very few situations in which the government would volunteer to forfeit funds already in their possession. Historically, they may have kept monies in similar cases of overpayment to increase revenue or more likely to avoid the cost of processing more paperwork. Losses in annual revenue due to the refund feature are expected to be nominal, so it’s likely the latter.

New York City street with cars and taxis
Photo by Jon Ottosson

When technology makes transactions more seamless, it’s harder for either party not to play fair.

As the cloud replaces paper and user generated content competes with traditional journalism for greater media share of voice, policies that have served vendors and governments will give way to ones that serve users. Revenues from happy customers and their repeat purchases will characterize businesses that survive, rather than policies that hurt users but previously were not fought due to acceptance and a lower tech status quo.

Fine print, one-sided policies, and rigid contracts will go the way of the horse drawn carriage (and probably soon, the taxi). Keep an eye on companies like T-Mobile and Spirit Airlines. They put customers in control by foregoing required contracts, forced add-ons (e.g., paying for bags and peanuts), and in general offer more a la carte products. “We’ve never done it that way” and “our system wouldn’t support that” won’t be able to compete.

How to Manage LinkedIn Privacy Settings – Remove Imported Contacts

You may have unknowingly granted LinkedIn access to hundreds of your contacts and emails. The confusing privacy policy and slippery UI make it difficult to tell how much data you’re sharing (probably a lot more than you realize).

crowd of people walking down busy city street
LinkedIn’s methods for gathering data from its over 450 million* registered users are shrouded. Usually, they don’t ask permission, they just uncheck new Privacy Controls for you. It’s no wonder they’ve faced numerous lawsuits.

LinkedIn seems to know everyone you’ve ever emailed: The People You May Know feature seems to make predictions based on information you’ve never knowingly transmitted. Before I explain how this works, here’s a quick fix:

How to remove your imported contacts from LinkedIn:

Go to Connections -> Add Connections -> Manage imported contacts (top right of page) -> click “select all” and delete all

Linkedin how to manage imported contacts(This is easiest to do on desktop: forget performing half the functions you want to on the iPhone app.)

How LinkedIn is seemingly psychic about people you may know

  1. Other users’ actions: This algorithm is their secret sauce. LinkedIn analyzes other users’ searches and viewing histories to make assumptions about people you may know. I.e., if Sheryl and Dean searched for both you and Tony, then you and Tony may know each other. Multiply this across many users. The result is an algorithm that predicts your likely contacts without ever accessing your actual contacts. You may see recommendations to connect with someone who has the same name as someone you know, but is a totally different person.
  2. Your contacts: You may have granted LinkedIn access to your contacts, which often happens inadvertently by using the app. “Inadvertent” is the keyword for most privacy issues with LinkedIn, because its strategy hinges upon 1) the fact that most users don’t read fine print and 2) that its UI, especially on mobile, effectively shuffles users along a permission-granting bender.

    LinkedIn app import contacts screen UI
    Strategically designed buttons and CTAs usher users along a permission-granting path
  3. Your login: When logged in, even if you close the tab, LinkedIn has access to any activity you take on a site with a LinkedIn plugin or authentication that you’ve granted. To avoid this tracking, log out of LinkedIn whenever you’re done with your business.

I began researching this because I noticed that LinkedIn seemed to have access to hundreds of my old email contacts. Continue reading How to Manage LinkedIn Privacy Settings – Remove Imported Contacts