What technology for RIA?

A dated, but good presentation about RIA using Macromedia products.

I still think Macromedia Flash is the best avenue to build real RIA business applications today. However, I see clearly the problem with choosing this technology. In many organizations, the engineering group dictates the technology used on the client-side. It takes alot of management risk and vision to demand an RIA from their development organization. Most management has not experienced real interactivity on the web (especially in business apps), so they do not know to demand it. It is a catch-22…Until the experience is standard, management of new web applications company’s will not demand the higher quality experiences.

Macromedia is working on the next generation of their Macromedia Flex product. This product is targeted directly at the engineering community. They are attempting to create a “Visual Basic” for Flash. The problem here is that Macromedia has no experience with developer tools.

Additionally, Microsoft is working on an alternative model called Sparkle. Sparkle, will allow development of RIAs. Of course, the output will be built into internet Explorer 7 and Vista. Of course, Microsoft will use it’s monopoly of the OS and Office to make Sparkle work better than Flash. Of course, they will crush Flash like everything else they have set their sites on. Of course, they will tightly integrate with .net. Of course, they are going to win this fight.

So that makes my original statement moot. Making an RIA app for today’s technology, runs the risk of being outdated within a single year. Better to use Sparkle and build for the future.

Overall, this puts the lowly UX designer in a pickle. We want to build rich UX applications, but we need a partner in engineering to meet us halfway. We need to have the technology resolved. Hopefully, this situation will not too much longer.

Negative Bias of the Brain

Quick article from Psychology Today. June, 2003.

This is exactly what I was discussing with Katie. Our brains react more strongly to negative stimulus. Having a positive attitude is harder than having a negative one. This is the exact opposite of “It takes more muscles to frown than to smile.” Fascinating.

Hey Instant Messenger

Donald Norman wrote a few lines in his book, Emotional Design, about Instant Messenger. He proposed that the main function of IM is to provide emotional connection between people and not to communicate specific information. Most of the IM traffic around the world can be summed up with the following exchange:

Person A: Hey.
Person B: Hey.
Person A: I think you are worth talking to.
Person B: I think you are worth responding to.
Person A: That makes me feel good to be listened to.
Person B: It makes me feel good that you wanted to talk to me.

I have looked through my IM history and think this conversation accurately reflects a huge portion of my traffic. In fact, there were sometimes when I opened up an IM window to someone and literally could not think of anything to say to them. But I wanted to talk to them anyway. This fulfills an emotional need and not a functional one.

I also think IM is like ESP. I think a thought, touch a few keys and the other person is immediately “aware” of my thought. One day we wont need the keyboard.

Donald Norman also pointed out the importance of “Presence Awareness”. Knowing someone is online and available to talk to is very reassuring. Instant Messenger is great.

Design

For work, I need to edit a file originally made in Adobe inDesign. I have never used it before. I will report my findings.

Speaking of Design, I just finished reading Donald Norman’s book, The Design of Everyday things. I also just started another of his books, Emotional Design. The books are fairly well written and give a no-nonsense manifesto on why Design (with a capital D) is the most important thing in the world. Everything that has happened in history has been designed. Wars, Inventions, assassinations, Speeches, The Last Dragon. It is the details of how something is accomplished and designed to be accomplished that makes all the difference.

I have been thinking more and more about this subject. I am going to be reading up on this in the coming months. Some books on the radar: The Inmates are Running the Asylum and The Elements of User Experience. That last one looks very good.

This is such a critical area for success. Each area requires thoughtful design. Without it, you have complete anarchy and usually crappy products.

One example recently I have seen is Microsoft Live. There is clearly an intense amount of design work going into this. Is this pronounced L-if-v or L-eye-v? Hmmm.

Eavesdropping

When people are having a conversation really close to you, is it rude to eavesdrop? I mean if they are not being quiet and you were sitting there minding your own business, what are you supposed to do? I am sitting in this situation right now.

Should I put on my head phones? Scream? Pretend to be lost in thought?

The screwed up thing is that I want to contribute to the conversation, but I was not invited into it. Kind of a bummer actually.

Making it impossible to blog. Trying to think about Halloween. Should I wear my costume to work? Is that unprofessional?

User Experience

Recently alot of movement has been seen on the User Experience side of the web.
1. http://www.zimbra.com/ has a new Email client on the web using Ajax. It’s features and usability improvements over Outlook are impressive.
2. Lazlo Mail is a flash Email client that is debuting on Earthlink.
3. News.com has a new UI.
4. Article on better UX using Ajax.
5. Microsoft Sparkle is a direct competitor for Flash. Interesting Article.

In general, I think we are in the beginning of a UX leap forward. Web Applications, specifically business-oriented apps, are going to become much more interactive in the next 2-4 years. I think this will coincide with a movement away from PHP, CF style programming for web applications towards Microsoft’s new toolset. Visual Studio 2005, SQL 2005 and their related components are bring the ease of RAD to the Web. What VB did to the 80’s, VS 2005 will do to the late “Aughts”.

Side note: What the heck do we call this decade? The Ohs? The Single Digits? SinDigs for short? What a lame decade to come of age. Or is it?

Internet Explorer Mail / News

Recovered from Archive.org – Apr 17, 1997 (One of my first design critiques)

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 3.0 is expected to be released in beta in just two weeks. The much anticipated upgrade to 2.0 will include many features Netscape¬†holds a monopoly over. New functions will include Java support and an integrated email and newsgroup system. I have downloaded standalone samples of the mail/news programs.

CRITIQUE

Mail for Internet Explorer 3.0
It’s a HUGE improvement over trying to use Exchange to handle regular Internet mail. It has a nice look to it and easy to understand format although I felt that it still misses something. You can not have nested folders for storing email (neither does Netscape) which would make the application more user friendly. The view can be changed but very little else can be customized. I am hoping that the beta and subsequent versions will add some more functionality to the mailer which seems to be little more than a slick looking copy of Netscape’s built-in system. No support for multiple POP addresses or inline links in mail either.

I give it a B- for functionality and an A for improvement over lame-o Exchange.

News for Internet Explorer 3.0
This is the kind of application that makes the Internet more useful! A search engine combs through all the mess of the Usenet and picks out the groups you are looking for. A simple yet powerful interface allows you to pick favorite groups and search for new groups. Customizable window positions adds to its functionality. In addition to the marvelous search engine, this unnamed usenet reader has built in uuencoding/decoding capabilities. I strongly recommend getting this program even to use in conjunction with Netscape. I need to use it more to find some drawbacks.

I give it an A for design and functionality.

In other news:
CompuServe is expected to offer 16 million shares that should bring in as much as $480 million. Shares for the number-two online service are expected to sell between $27 and $30 each.