Try to keep this stuff in perspective

Things can get stressful when a design comes down to the wire, when the problem changes and the design must follow. There are those times when that ‘tiny’ change you agreed to yesterday becomes the fly in the ointment today. Then it shifts the experience in a difficult direction. I constantly try to channel my anxieties and worries about my work in order to make myself better at what I do each day. But when things get crazy it can still be easy to lose perspective on what we do.

The following statements are like those that you hear once in a while (e.g., “This is not rocket science.” etc…). but these stand out to me because of the context surrounding them. These are three moments in my career that help me balance the anxiety with the drive:

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Nifty Spin on a Portal Display at MSNBC.com

This launched over a year ago, but like a re-run that you’ve never seen “it’s new to me”. I first have to say that i am now a fan of the MSNBC home page and I respect the work that went into it. I visited it for the first time after following an RSS link and these are my impressions of a particular feature:

What caught my eye?

Big letters. I enjoy using typography that draws my eye to headers and key bits of info. When used to their potential (e.g., the big words and numbers actually mean something, and aren’t a giant marketing term) they can offer a better visual anchor than an image. The headline here caught my eye as I scrolled down the page and anchored the portlet very effectively. I enjoy the control I appear to have with the options at the top (how many stories, placement/priority of the portlet). Those simple controls were enough to make me futz with the portlet and already begin to engage with the page in a personalized way.

What I like:
  1. The grid is askew. The fact that each section is given its own space within a a more complex grid (more than 4 equal columns) allows the sections to appear in a readable way suitable for the content.
  2. The fonts are readable and the typography assists in the design. The large font anchors the section, the font for each story is well spaced for reading, the blue is clearly clickable and the grey gets out of the way.
  3. The story of this section is laid out for me. I can get a pretty good sense of what I am going to find within the “Business” section of the site. This is especially helped by the “Topics” area of the portlet (you’re not a true media site if you don’t have a “topics” section yet).
  4. There is a good futz-factor. The links are clear and the display is simple enough that I feel like I know what will happen when I click them (i.e., enough to not be afraid to futz with the “Move Box”).
What seems to be missing:
  1. Disappointment when clicking a story link. The stories themselves don’t seem to have caught up with the industry standard in terms of cross linking, summary info and integration of multimedia integration. CNN’s mosaic style is the best take on that so far.
  2. # of stories control on top is a bit confusing. The definition of ‘stories’ is a bit random. I imagined it was referring to the list of stories on the left, but it appears to also refer to the “Multimedia & Features” section as well. This sort of blurs the meaning of the ‘featured’ story on the left with the other ‘featured’ stories on the right. Also – what is a portlet with “0” stories? An interesting choice for basically closing the portlet.
  3. The left is more effective than the right. The ill-defined usage of the feature area is bothersome. I have created and struggled with such sections myself. It looks great on the PSD file (the image balancing out the text and such…) and I so want to find a use for it. It works when it is featured videos and such but after a year or so, i imagine it is hard to enforce such a rule.

New to me… nice job.

[Updated] i get it now: why i’m hooked on blip.fm

Personal Soundtrack T-Shirt from ThinkGeek.com
Personal Soundtrack T-Shirt from ThinkGeek.com

[Update: It is possible the end is near for the fun on blip.fm.]

My Personal Soundtrack
holy crap. i get it now! this whole social media thing. the stuff with the updates and the tweets and the blips (“They’re *blinking* and *beeping* and *flashing*! Why doesn’t somebody pull the plugShatner from airplane ii). It was fun to broadcast what i’m eating and what i am toasting or overhearing. But combine that tweet-ability with music and you’ve got social media gold! I think (and hope really) that blip.fm is going to be a success… i also think certain forces will surely muck it up to some degree. But mostly I am rooting for this site to figure out what no one else has yet – How to make a music sharing experience with flow that doesn’t suddenly suck or get people arrested.

What I Like

  1. The nostalgia is addictive: Our lives have a soundtrack. Hearing songs from the past turns out to be a great way to dredge up touch-base with the associated memories. add 140 characters of stuff and you’ve got a cool personal soundtrack building.
  2. The community rocks: you instantly get 30 or so favorites so your stream is instantly filled. The props system is a terrific way to encourage connecting with others. Sure, Twitter has a star you can click for tweets, but on blip you are saying you like a song in addition to the pithy quip or reminiscent remark.
  3. The music is largely there to discover: You are encouraged to upload stuff, but most searches return a series of results. The combination of search results and favorite djs creates a really rich and real-time feeling music discovery channel.
  4. Know your friends tastes better than if you took a facebook quiz: favorite your friends or follow their updates in twitter and you may see a whole new side emerge. That or confirm what you already believed.
  5. It’s free (shhhh. don’t wreck it.): I will click through and buy stuff. i won’t complain a peep if/when they splash it with advertising.  Attend concerts and buy concessions. Whatever needs to be done to not wreck a fun and good thing. At least the team running the show is thinking business model early on.
  6. It gave Twitter a purpose for me: You can follow everyone’s updates within the blip.fm site. But seeing what my friends post via Twitter provides an instant filter, allowing me to follow a crap load of interesting djs on blip while bubbling up the ones i am most interested in following on Twitter.
  7. i’m hooked: while my initial excitement will surely wane, for the moment i am hooked.
  8. It’s a semantic smorgasbord: Music has never had such rich contextual information. on a song-by-song basis people are sharing associated thoughts, comments, memories, feelings, etc. Some sites allow you to star or favorite a song and maybe even comment on it. But none have drawn the basic song-to-comment association so simply and clearly.
  9. It’s created for an international audience: It feels more than an American sharing site. The little flag beneath each user’s name lends to the feeling that blip is addressing the needs of a global audience (or faking it well).

what could be better

  1. The listening experience is not up to par with last.fm or pandora
    1. volume control and normalization
    2. continuous play from page to page
    3. can’t pause the river
  2. It could hook up with more sites – last.fm to import favorites (they do scrobble now), other purchasing channels, nostalgic merch to go along with the 80’s tune you add, etc.
  3. better on-boarding and explanation: I honestly didn’t get it at first and ignored it after i registered. then i realized you could search for songs as well as upload. that opened a whole new door.
  4. It’s at a good size now, but may eventually clog up twitter and even blip itself.

Thankfully the folks at blip appear to be listening and open to suggestions too. I look forward to seeing how the site evolves and the many sites that spawn off of it based on the data and semantic potential through the APIs (which are still in private beta as of this post).

a touch of funniness amidst my deadly serious geek feeds

I commute a lot. I like hearing crickets and other bugs when i stroll outside in the AM and I enjoy having 15 lunch choices on one block. Therefore i commute from my country home to my city job. It is good to know every once in a while that I am not alone in my travels. Though I have been taking a car lately and rolling in my bubble world, i am soon heading back to the rails of NJ Transit.

The point: I am pleased to follow the blog of a former colleague who sheds a pithy light on what can be a crappy commute next to some nice though smelly, and at times loud people. I too enjoy a good rock tune once in a while… just not necessarily coming out of someone else’s ears.

the blog