The Twitter Brand and What Comes Next

Twitter LogoBuzz Andersen has posted some really insightful comments on how the landscape is changing in the world of third-party Twitter apps. Quoting his partner in developing a Twitter app of their own, Andersen claims that “Twitter clients are going the way of email clients, ” i.e., becoming a commodity, and that the age of third-party innovation in this space is largely over.

For those who don’t monitor every pulse of the Twitter-scape, in recent months Twitter itself has made a marked change in strategy by investing considerable energy and care into updating its client applications (e.g., Twitter for iPhone and for iPad) and, very recently, its own Web site. For any other Web startup it would sound odd to say that these are surprising initiatives. However, in its short but rich history Twitter has become defined almost as much by third-party interfaces like Twitterific, Tweetdeck, Echofon, and others as it has by its own interfaces, so this activity is novel.

Continue Reading

+

Share

Weeks without Tweets

Have you ever had that feeling of nagging guilt, the kind that slowly simmers inside of you when you know you haven’t been keeping up with something you really should be keeping up with? Like bills piling up on your desk, or your office email left unchecked for days, or medicines not taken daily or as prescribed by your doctor? That’s sort of the feeling I have right now.

I took most of this month off from posting to this blog, but it’s been at least four or five weeks since I’ve logged into my Twitter account. At first I welcomed the respite, the break from posting updates regularly or coming up with interesting things to say. Then I began to miss it a little as I started accumulating a little backlog of ideas and links I wanted to tweet. Somewhere in the middle of the month though, it turned to a kind of dread of the unanswered queries and unrequited mentions, and now I have outright anxiety over wading through whatever awaits me there on the other side of that login. Urgh. Social media is too much work.

Continue Reading

+

Share

Layer Tennis, Anyone?

Tune in this coming Friday afternoon for Coudal Partners’ Layer Tennis, in which I will have the honor of matching my graphical prowess against Nicholas Felton of the famously self-aware Feltron Annual Reports. It’s sure to be a cornucopia of wild, free-ranging visual expressionism. ’Cuz y’know, that’s what both Nicholas and I are known for. What’s more, the venerable John Nack of Adobe will be providing the commentary as Nicholas and I parry back and forth.

Layer tennis, for those unfamiliar with it, is that curiously un-aerobic Internet sport in which two graphically adroit competitors, armed with Photoshop, swap a single image file back and forth, embellishing each volley with collage-like visual ornamentation. Oh, and it’s all done under the watchful eye of a stopwatch, so the pace can get kind of frenetic; each volley is fifteen minutes long, and the match is over after just ten volleys. Fun stuff. Check out the archive of previous matches to get a sense of what’s ahead. And point your browser to Layertennis.com on Friday to see Nicholas probably kick my ass.

Continue Reading

+

Share

A Good Day’s Busy Work

Here’s a rant. Thanks to the power of randomness and that old ‘my ears were burning’ sensation, I somehow happened across a comment on a blog the other day in which my Twitter habits were called into question. The remarks, which were about me only in part, contend that “although [Khoi] hasn’t Twittered in months (again), he’d be worth following if he ever embraces the medium.” Well.

First of all, I’m flattered, really, that anyone considers what I have to say interesting enough in any medium to lament my absence from it, which is one way I interpret what this commenter meant. However, my other interpretation goes a little something like this: “Khoi is not keeping up with his busy work. Tsk. Tsk.”

Continue Reading

+

Share

Collateral Damages at SXSW

Sketch of a Conference Schedule BookletThere are a lot of interesting ideas that I heard at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive festival that I’m still turning over in my head even now, a week after the conference ended. But silly as it may seem, the one thing I really can’t stop thinking about is how bad the conference schedule, map and badges were this year.

I don’t mean to impugn the hard work that went into designing and producing those printed collateral items, or to underestimate the crazy logistics and coordination that must have been necessary to get them written, designed, printed and into conference-goers’ hands on time. Nevertheless, I found them basically unusable. They were awkwardly sized and awkwardly conceived; once you decoded the hard-to-read sessions schedule, for instance, you’d have to refer to a map that failed to carry over any recognizable color-coding — and was printed upside-down. I’m sure my blood pressure went up a bit every time I had to refer to them.

Continue Reading

+

Share

Lesson Learned

I’ve learned my lesson when it comes to the annual South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. When I first started attending, five years ago, the conference was more than just a critical gathering for everything webby; it also drew considerable power from its intimate scale, from the way it provided an environment in which people normally separated by the far reaches of the Internet could meet and interact on a very human level.

Last year, owing to a hectic travel schedule and personal obligations, I was forced to skip the festival. But secretly, I was somewhat glad to have stayed home. SXSW Interactive had grown so large in the prior year that I worried it might have outgrown its usefulness. My last time attending, the crowds had been bigger than I’d ever seen before, causing the session rooms to be spaced at awkwardly and frustratingly opposing ends of the Austin Convention Center. I couldn’t imagine that the intimacy I found so valuable would survive the ever-growing crowds, and I remember returning from Austin exhausted and feeling as if the book had closed on something special but already receding into the past.

Continue Reading

+

Share

Fed up with Feed Readers

It’s probably unrealistic to expect to ever find the perfect RSS reader for my own feed consumption habits, but boy is it frustrating that I can’t. I’ve been looking for years, trying every solution I can get my hands on. But compared to the feed management tools that were available as long as five years ago, it feels as if there’s been only incremental progress.

This is at least partly due to the essentially non-industrial nature of RSS reading. Whether you’re a casual RSS consumer or an expert, the majority of feed consumption does not directly produce income or revenue for the consumer. Rather, it’s an activity that’s highly personal in nature, and so naturally subject to a greater variety of individual whims and preferences than, say, word processing. This is why we have RSS functionality in so many different forms: as dedicated desktop clients, embedded in email clients, grafted onto browsers, bundled up as widgets and remotely rendered as Web applications. Not inappropriately, there’s no consensus on how to use this stuff.

Continue Reading

+

Share

Live Music Is Dead to Me

As digital media facilitates our increasing disconnection from the old paradigms for how popular music is consumed — physical distribution is on its last legs, ‘albums’ as a concept are less convincing than ever, and the pay model is fitfully molting its old ways — I wonder whether our attitudes towards live performances are changing as well.

A little more than a decade ago (yikes) I was a pretty heavy patron of live music, seeing at least two shows a week in small clubs in Washington, DC, where I lived at the time. Perhaps I watched too many mediocre bands within too short a time span, but it only took me a few years to develop a powerful distaste for the trappings of live performances: the unnecessarily deafening volume levels, the perpetual discomfort of standing on your feet for hours, the juvenile shenanigans of bands who like to keep their audiences waiting interminably — for no apparent reason other than they’re really incredibly immature, insecure pretenders to artistry. Blech. That’s not for me anymore.

Continue Reading

+

Share

If It’s Too Social, You’re Too Old

I recently came to this conclusion: as an interaction designer, if I’m not actively using social networks, then I’m just not doing my job. It’s obvious to say, but social media is the evolving, messy, inexorable and probably bright future of this business. Its all-comers approach to the creation of content and value is exactly in line with my philosophy for how design needs to change in order to matter in the coming decades. Still, that inevitability hasn’t stopped me from more or less ignoring these networks for too long.

To be sure, I have found some limited entertainment and satisfaction in social networks; Flickr is a good example. But frankly, I more often find them to be incredibly tedious. When it comes to a site like Facebook, whose proposition as an integral part of how we will all communicate, commiserate and transact in the near future is almost a sure thing, the time I spend on it seems more like homework than play. For many months, my position has been: email me and instant message me all you want, but please, whatever you do, don’t make me sign into Facebook. It’s just too much of a drag.

I admit that’s a bad attitude. Actually, it’s an irresponsible attitude for someone who purports to be a forward-looking designer. It’s a disservice to my colleagues and my employer, to begin with, as it basically amounts to sleeping on the job. But it’s also a terribly ineffective way to manage my own, long-term career development; ignoring social media in 2008 is not dissimilar to ignoring the emergence of the World Wide Web fifteen years ago. Those people got left behind, and the same thing could easily happen to me.

Continue Reading

+

Share

A Cloud and a Prayer

imageAmong the many calamitous events that have marked the current global financial crisis, the U.S. government seized the bank Washington Mutual late last month in what was described as “by far the largest bank failure in American history.” For the generations of people, like me, who grew up thinking of the Great Depression as an historical event — something essentially unrepeatable, like say the Black Plague — it’s something of a shocker that a Depression-style implosion on the scale of WaMu could even take place in the 21st Century.

Dramatic reversals of business fortune are a reminder that the constants of commercialized life (in my view, we’re almost all of us living highly commercialized existences) aren’t quite as untouchable as we thought. The concept of “too big to fail” is under siege at the moment. The fact that a company, product or service is so clearly dominant and relied upon is no guarantee of its survival.

In particular, I make this point in regards to Web applications, cloud computing, putting your data online — whatever you want to call it. Over the past decade, consumers have been relying on Web-hosted services to house their information more and more, and on independent stores of data on their personal computers less and less. Forget PCs even. It’s no secret that vanishingly few people are relying on personally maintained copies of records that exist in the home, like say a checkbook register, too.

Many of you reading this right now probably rely on some form of Web application for your email, spreadsheets, word processing, finances, or even to run your business. And that’s just the productivity side: think for a moment about all of the value you’ve created in the social networks you’ve built on say LinkedIn, or the narratives you’ve weaved on Flickr, or the conversations you’ve had on Facebook, or the journaling you’ve done at Tumblr. It’s almost all online, and very little of it is on your computer.

Continue Reading

+

Share