Designing for creepiness

I had my Facebook deactivated for 6 months, during which I visited Saudi Arabia and worked with a guy for three days. The main communication during this trip was WhatsApp.

Few weeks ago I reactivated my Facebook, few days later I found him as one of the recommended friends. I don’t have Facebook app on my phone so they can’t have access to my address book, but I have WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook.

Today I had a friend asking me, how can she disable allowing Google to get access to her location. She said whenever she opens Google search she finds at the end of the page Google telling her where she is. When she opens Google maps it automatically opens on her neighborhood. She went so far to reinstalling windows but still couldn’t get rid of it.

I told her they are getting her location from her IP, and gave her a locate my IP link so she can get a better idea. And as for the Facebook case, I know how they got this guy, but not every Facebook user knows that WhatsApp is owned by Facebook and technically they can connect the missing pieces from Facebook to WhatsApp and the other way around.

With the explosion in data collection and ease of analyzing the data for smarter recommendations, users are losing control over what they are sharing not understanding how it can be used later. This leads to a bigger UX challenge where whenever a company is introducing a new feature specially in recommendation, it needs to reassure the user that their information is safe and there is nothing to worry about. Otherwise it is too creepy.

The elevator

Working in software makes us take things for granted. Everything should be optimized for maximum efficiency and the best user experience.

In a building with multiple elevators, with each of them have it’s own calling buttons, but all the elevators are on the same routing system for maximum efficiency: Suppose you have the two elevators on the same floor, for simplicity the ground floor. You push the up button for one of these two elevators. I expect the closest one for which I pushed the button should open, reality this is not the case.

It turns out, elevators are hard coded, if the three elevators are on the same floor, and you want to go up, a specific one will open no matter which button you pushed, which for a lazy person as myself isn’t the best experience.

Elevator makers don’t have to think of this. At the end there is no bounce rate, & conversion is 100%. No one will decide to take the stairs because the wrong elevator opened.

The truth is revealed: Stirring tea doesn’t cool it faster

Yesterday I finished the book: “What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions”. The book is written by a physicist who used to work for NASA who decided to quit and start drawing comics on his website xkcd.com. If you are a nerd you are probably familiar with the site.

Few of the answered I liked were “Can I create a jetpack using downwards pointed guns?”, “What happens if a woman self fertilizes her egg with a sperm carrying her own DNA?”. The latter one was more interesting as I finally learned why relatives marriage might result in retarded kids, and why genetic disorders such as the one I have which resulted on not being able to walk has a 50% chance of passing down to every kid.

Yet, the funniest one which I should shock my dad was about, if you stir tea, will it cool down faster? Short answer is NO.

The physical effect of stirring is actually a little complicated.[6] Most of the heat is carried away from teacups by the air convecting over them, and so they cool from the top down. Stirring brings fresh hot water from the depths, so it can help this process. But there are other things going on — stirring disturbs the air, and it heats the walls of the mug. It’s hard to be sure what’s really going on without data.

Fortunately, we have the internet. StackExchange user drhodes measured the rate of teacup cooling from stirring vs. not stirring vs. repeatedly dipping a spoon into the cup vs. lifting it. Helpfully, drhodes posted both high-resolution graphs and the raw data itself, which is more than you can say for a lot of journal articles.

The conclusion: It doesn’t really matter whether you stir, dip, or do nothing; the tea cools at about the same rate (although dipping the spoon in and out of the tea cooled it slightly faster).

You can read the whole answer here, where you will find out if you can boil a cup of water by stirring very quickly.

If you have great book recommendations feel free to add them as comments. All things non-fiction are welcomed.

Facebook engagement post like era

Facebook has published a very good medium post on how they designed and launched reactions for the web and mobile. It is a well detailed post that you can read here.

What this post lacked is the result of the project after being live for few months now. I wonder how is engagement post like era? Did it go up, down, is it as Facebook anticipated? Less, more?

I am curious to see how this one year project drove Facebook’s engagement metrics given the time and resources invested in it. I am also waiting to see whether they will extend it to other areas such as comments & third party websites, which might change the way feedback is given across the whole web. There will be some challenges like getting the default like reaction out of people’s mind towards a more balanced & distributed reactions.

Will see.

Signifiers for tweetstorms

A key design element to any object whether physical or digital is signifiers. Signifiers tell people how to interact with the object, unleashing its capabilities.

Affordances define what actions are possible. Signifiers specify how people discover those possibilities: signifiers are signs, perceptible signals of what can be done. – Don Norman, The design of everyday things.

It is surprising, how a company like twitter suffering from an engagement problem partly because of the 140 characters limit, yet users started using the product in a different way to overcome this problem by posting tweetstorms.

Tweetstorm is a series of tweets about the same topic, posted sequentially and mostly marked by their order. – Unknown

While twitter now supports tweetstorms by allowing users replying to themselves, there are no signifiers on the app nor the website that you can do this. I still see lots of tweetstorms where users post each tweet separately marked by a number instead of replying to the previous tweet to continue on the topic.

This problem leads to another problem which is making it harder for users to read the whole tweetstorm specially if it is from a user they are not following, because they can’t simply tap on the tweet and read the whole tweetstorm, instead they have to visit the person’s profile to read everything. Add to this if the tweetstorm is old and unlinked, it is very hard to reshare it whether on twitter or on any other platform as the users have to scroll back in the person’s profile until the time of the tweet to be able to read the storm.

Twitter, please fix this.

Would it make a difference?

One question I learned to ask myself before posting something on social media is whether it would make a difference?

I am angry about so many things same as you, I don’t like the bullshit coming out of the startups scene, the non-sense in our politics, and even non-checked rumors being spread as facts.

However, I don’t exert much effort into expressing this because 1) It wouldn’t make any difference. 2) I should save this mental energy for a more productive task including but not limited to chilling out.

What’s the value in explaining debatable/controversial topics if everyone has already made up their mind and looking for what’s supporting their point of view?

Continuously asking this helps me think before I post anything online. I also believe that the best way to change someone’s opinion is by talking to them privately, not in a public heated online post where people’s brain survival mechanism kicks in to prove they are not wrong.

Am I doing it because I am good at it? Or I am doing it because everybody is doing it?

Yesterday, I was watching Justin Kan’s snaps on snapchat, one thing he said he realized late is that one should focus on doing what he can do best instead of trying to do what he is supposed to do. Sounds trivial, it isn’t.

The example he gave was when he started his company with 4 cofounders, everyone took the job they were supposed to get. For example he was the crappiest programmer so he took the product job (Yes I am a crappy programmer). Same for the rest of his cofounders. Then Justin goes to say he realized late that he should’ve been the pitching/recruitment/fundraising person given he is good at it and he is more of a people person than product. However because everyone was doing it this way he ended up doing it as everybody else.

Currently I am in conversations with my close friends who are at the same career stage as myself. The discussion is mostly around what’s next? It is mostly around how to climb up the ladder at the same company or how to join one of the big guys such as Google, Facebook, or Uber. We each think of a target for one’s self and discuss how to reach it, then we help each other with whatever we get our hands on to help one progress to the next step they are aiming at.

When I reflected on what Justin said I took a moment to think, What if I am thinking about this because everyone is doing it? Not because I am loving what I do and want to move forward.

Let’s not confuse having a bigger goal, being ambitious, with having the self awareness to understand whether one should keep doing what they are doing and progress at it, or take a step back, reflect, and/or maybe try something different?

I haven’t figured out the answer, yet.

Blogging

I am a big fan of Fred Wilson’s blog. I was reading it before even knowing the word entrepreneurship. I was reading the MBA Mondays and for me it was a blog that provided a lot of value about technology. I didn’t even understand what AVC means.

Blogging was the social networking, before social networking. It was the place where you could share your ideas and interact with fellow internet users who are interested in the same topic, and then Facebook and twitter came.

Still, I have a thing for blogging. It is the place where one can express ideas without the noise associated with social networking. It also forces me to think of what I am writing as blog audience is different from social network user. A blog user is interested in the content or the person writing it while social networks are perceived as the place where everyone is expressing their ideas and emotions sometimes without limits.

I am trying to become a more regular writer, which is why I decided to write this blog and publish it. I really like Fred’s commitment to his blog and I hope I can achieve a similar commitment because writing doesn’t only get ideas out, but also instills them within my mind.

Software isn’t eating real estate brokerage, yet

Part of moving to the Netherlands was dealing with a real estate broker. I am surprised it is 2016 and the system is still that inefficient.

The problem with brokers is almost the same problem with taxis, there is a conflict of interest. Taxis make more money by driving you more than you need, and brokers make money by bringing you more expensive units. And both have – almost – no interest for retaining you, therefore they need to squeeze the biggest amount of money they can for the transaction they are dealing with you.

While the taxi problems got solved by Uber through having the collective rating from different customers, the problem remains with real estate brokerage.

What the broker do?

  1. Search & Discovery: They help you search for units & schedule viewings. They also keep sending questions back and forth with landlords.
  2. Negotiating details: This is where it gets interesting, while they will try to convince you there is no negotiation on price, they might negotiate other minor details such as can I smoke? Can I bring my pet?
  3. Finalize the deal: Writing & signing the contract, recording the unit status before rental, and finalizing government documents if any.

Technology ate half of the first part, search and discovery, but not the rest. There are thousands of real estate directories & classifieds online helping customers search and discover properties.

Yet, scheduling viewings still happen in a very manual way, annoying landlords with tons of calls, questions, and requests while such info should be available online and facilitated easily.

I think there is an opportunity to build the right technology stack that removes friction, facilitates communication, automates contracting, and makes every part of the process seamless, removing the need for a middle man with a conflict of interest with the person they represent. This day didn’t come yet, but I see it in the near future.

The Theseus Disclaimer: the only constant is change.

The paradox goes as follows, captain Theseus’s ship has a defect plank. The ship team changes the defect plank with a new one. After a while, another plank goes defect, another replacement. The changes keep coming until all the ship planks have been replaced by newer planks. Is it still the same ship?

Considering the ship planks are your thoughts and beliefs. Are you the same person since birth? Before you answer this question, go check your Facebook posts from two years ago. Do you still think you are the same person?

The internet is becoming a snapshot of your opinions at every single moment, giving you or others the chance to see what was your opinion about something, say 2 years ago and now.

As time move forward, there will always be someone who disagrees with you at the current moment, who can bring an opinion you had in the past and posted on social media ignoring the fact that people change.

I think if one wants to avoid this from happening, one shouldn’t post his opinion on any controversial matter. Or maybe, everyone should adopt the Theseus disclaimer:

The person who wrote this post is a human being, and might change their opinions or beliefs in the future. This doesn’t mean they are not liable for what they said now, but it means you have to understand and respect the fact of change.

Disclaimer: Theseus didn’t have a disclaimer. I made this up.