Wii have a problem (but it’s your fault)

Nintendo Safety Manual for Wii

Who knew a games controller could wreak such havok. Head over to WiiHaveAProblem and be astounded by the number of TV sets that people have taken out when they’ve been playing with their new Wii and the controller has been thrown out of their hands with such force as to break the strap. Carnage ensues.
What does Nintendo have to say about this situation?

Vispi Bhopti, of Nintendo Australia, said the problem was less to do with quality issues and more related to the way the console was being used.

“Nintendo has done various tests before we launched, but it turns out people are playing with a lot more gusto than we would’ve anticipated,” he said

“At this point, I do want to clarify that Nintendo is introducing a brand new form of entertainment and a brand new form of interacting … it’s not like conventional video games, and … we need to let people be aware of how they should approach it. This will take a little time for some people.”

Bhopti added that over-the-top movements and letting go of the controller places unnecessary strain on the wrist strap, causing it to snap.

via Sydney Morning Herald

Oh. So it’s not Nintendo’s fault, it’s your fault. You’re not playing the right way. You’re playing too hard.

Am I the only one who thinks this is a tremendous cop out and would much rather lay the blame at the feet of whoever designed the testing for this ‘brand new’ product? Isn’t one of the most exciting things about a product like this the fact that people will use it in new and unexpected ways?

I would love to know more about these ‘various tests’ that Nintendo carried out and the context in which they took place.

You see, if they did all their testing in a lab, then there is no way that they would have seen this coming, because users, generally, behave themselves pretty well in a lab. Particularly if you’re videoing them.

Users in their own environments are different animals, so imagine if Nintendo did some contextual research… well, it just seems so obvious in retrospect, doesn’t it.

A Wii, a couple of boisterous guys on a Friday night, and a weak wrist strap.

Wii have a problem

It was never going to end well, was it?

Contextual research. It’s fun to do, and sometimes there’s a really good reason to get out of the lab.

Image credit: WiiHaveAProblem

XHTML2 and XForms (an unusual kind of post for a blog like this)

Steven Pemberton

I’m going to go out on a limb now and talk about technical stuff that I don’t really know heaps about, but I think is really interesting for Information Architects and Interaction Designers. I hope that people of a more technical bent will chip in and correct any errors I make and fill in any gaps I’ve missed!

This post was inspired by what I think was the most intriguing presentation at the recent EuroIA conference in Berlin. This presentation was given by Steven Pemberton.

Now, Steven started his talk by breaking one of Kathy Sierra’s rules of presentations (don’t spend time telling people who you are and what you’ve done), but thank goodness he did, because I had no idea who he was or the amazing history that he has in shaping the web as we know it today.

Steven was sharing with a room full of Information Architects the joys of Xforms and XHTML2. A challenging task, given the range of backgrounds and expertise that Information Architects naturally have. Now… I know there were a few IAs with glazed over eyes, but for me… Steven’s talk held exciting prospects.

Let’s start with my take on Xforms.

Xform is short for XML Powered Web Form. The W3C says:

“XForms” is W3C’s name for a specification of Web forms that can be used with a wide variety of platforms including desktop computers, hand helds, information appliances, and even paper.

When talking about Xforms, advocates use great terms such as: open, interoperable, accessible, interoperable. The other thing they talk about is that you don’t need JavaScript and that it takes a fraction of the time to develop as compared with alternative technical approaches. We love the sound of this so far.

An XForms fan on the W3C website says that XForms are:

truly interactive, bi-directional Web of Applications, boosting structured interchange of information world-wide. This infrastructure standard significantly lowers development costs and total cost of ownership across all vertical, service and application-oriented web products – from e-commerce to e-goverment, e-finance to personal web communication.

So, in laymans terms (by my interpretation) what does this mean?

It means that we can design smart and more usable forms without having to use JavaScript (which we often can’t) and without increasing development time.

So, for example, address forms are only shown if the user indicates that they want or need to complete address details. If a form calls for partner/spouse information, these are only shown once a user indicates that they have a spouse or partner. So users only see the fields that they indicate they need to see. All users don’t have to see all forms.

Simpler forms. Less errors. Faster completion. All good.

How does this work technically? Well… unfortunately you’re at the wrong blog to work that out, but a quick look at Wikipedia (of course) shows you the downside that Steven didn’t really dwell on so much in his talk….

At the time of this writing, no widely used web browser supports XForms natively.

I don’t know much about Firefox 2.0 or IE 7.0, but from a quick review, it seems they’re into XForms. More’s the pity.

So why talk about Xforms?

Well… because they seem to me to be a great opportunity waiting to happen. And because if we don’t start talking about them and why we want/need them, then why will the browser manufacturers ever bother to support them?

Same, unfortunately, goes for XHTML2.

Steven’s talk got me all excited about the possibilities of XHTML2. It has a couple of key objectives including:

  • Less Presentation, More Structure – we all know that getting presentation OUT of HTML is a good idea
  • More Usability – for people who code, that is. Making HTML easier to write. That means making GOOD HTML easier to write. That’s a good idea.
  • More Accessibility – now, lots of people think that accessibility is boring or ‘out of scope for their target audience’ (that’s a whole other blog post). When Steven talks about accessibility he talks about ‘designing for our future selves’, when we all will have a shaky mouse hand and dodgy eyesight. Accessibility is boring whilst you’re young and agile, but you may live to regret thinking it too hard in the long term.
  • Better Internationalisation. Well… actually Steven says ‘internationalization’. I rest my case. (As an Australian this is a sore point, and there are sooooo many much worse off than I).
  • More device independence. Anyone who’s developed for multiple platforms would love this to be true… however, see above re: browser support, and then consider the nightmare that is mobile phones… even I think this may be optimistic. A great objective nonetheless.
  • Better Semantics. Now, this is the bit that I think is REALLY sexy :)

What does Better Semantics mean? Well, from what I understand it means that when I write ‘tomorrow’, it can actually mean 28 October 2006 without me spelling it out, and in a way that can be added to a calendar, or linked to other people’s ‘tomorrow’s’ that mean the same date, without me having to Google it and then link to ever single one. When I refer to a person, either by name or by a term like ‘the President of the United States’ I don’t need to explicitly explain who I’m talking about and then provide a link… but that potentially, all that additional information, or other information that I’ve already gathered, is available through that simple statement.

Now… even as I write that, I wonder how it would work. At this stage, I’m not inclined to trawl through the details, but the potential seems obvious.

As does the challenge for Information Architects. If we thought tags were problematic… then what kind of a challenge is this! How do we embrace the possibilities of a semantic version of HTML without unnecessarily constricting it OR compromising it through freedom? And, when and by whom are these semantic decisions made? By an IA, a designer or a coder?

Now, it’s completely possibly that I’ve entirely misintepreted both XForms and XHTML2. Afterall, you don’t come to this blog for the down and dirty on all things technical. But, based on what I heard from Steven, there are some interesting possibilities for the future that could be embraced sooner rather than later. And, no, this is nothing new. Afterall, Jeffrey Veen was lamenting XHTML2 and it’s lack of backward compatibility in 2003!

But I don’t live under a rock. And these things interest and potentially affect me. And I’ve not really heard much of them before.

I wonder if you’ve heard of/ been thinking of/ have an opinion on Xforms or XHTML2?

(And I very nervously hit Publish on a such-technically minded blog post…  If I’m completely off base… I blame Steven. Or Berlin!)

Image Credit: Michiel Hildebrand @ Flickr

Help Me Crazy Egg!

There’s a kind of grim irony in exploring Crazy Egg, only to discover that the very thing that would make their website and service useful for me would never be able to be detected using the tools that they provide.

Crazy Egg is designed to help you continually test and improve your site.

They do this by capturing where on your site people are clicking and providing you this information in a range of formats, from a simple list, to an overlay (which we’ve seen a fair bit of now, and is even included in Google Analytics these days), to a ‘heat map’ that looks a lot like something you’d generate from eyetracking, but is of course based on the volume of clicks in various parts of the page.

There’s obviously a lot of interesting information you can gather from this kind of data, and it’s particularly digestible thanks to the visualisations. It is only one of very many ways that you can establish what people are doing or not doing on your website, and it is far from telling you what is working and what is not. Crazy Egg says their data can help you:

  • Test different versions of a page to see which works better
  • Discover which ad placement gives the best results
  • Find out which design encourages visitors to click deeper
  • Learn which content leads to improved sales

I don’t have a huge problem with most of these claims… except for the first one – how on earth do you define what ‘works better’ based on clicks?

What Crazy Egg doesn’t tell you, though, is why something that you’re *not* doing is making people unable to use your service.

Case in point – me!

I got an email from Crazy Egg this morning to tell me that they’re up and running and inviting me to register and have a play with their service. It’s a particularly interesting service for someone in my line of work – might be another quick, cheap tool to add to the research kit. I’d love to use their services if only they’d make it a little easier for me!

I couldn’t find a word of ‘support’ or ‘help’ content on their site, nor did their blog appear to have a search facility so that I could see if they’d address the issue I was looking for help with.

My problem is that I want to try Crazy Egg, and I want to use my WordPress Blog as a test. I’m guessing that I won’t be the only person they’ve emailed today with this question. I’m guessing they’ve emailed a lot of people who blog today.

At the moment, I’m at the point of abandonment with Crazy Egg because of their lack of support. Surely an FAQ or a discussion board or a Wiki could be in order? OK, so they’re new and they don’t necessarily know what people need to know… let us all help each other. OK, so they do have a ‘Contact Us’ form… eh, at a pinch, perhaps, but I’m still disappointed.

Is lack of help content a bug? (They want us to report bugs… what do you think?)

For now, I’m hoping that someone out in blog-land can help me?!

I have my Crazy Egg Code and I was thinking of putting it on my blog homepage. Anyone got any idea where in the template code I should be putting this code? I had a quick look at places that seemed logical and couldn’t see anything that matched Crazy Egg’s instructions.

Seriously… not even an FAQ on their website. Who do they think their customers are?!

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innovation – give it ten years (girly geeks london)

Microsoft T-Shirt

So, I went to the Girl Geeks Dinner in London last evening. It was an interesting night. The first thing you need to know if you’re thinking of going, is that it’s not a dinner. It’s drinks and a talk. But it’s still good.

I went there knowing absolutely no one, and ended up meeting a few people (hooray to those girls who were brave enough to introduce themselves to people they’ve never met… this happened about three times throughout the night, I did it a few times but not as bravely as some!)

One thing I’m taking away from the evening is that I need to find a way to talk about what I do that sounds as exciting as I think it is. As you do when you don’t know anyone, you find yourself explaining what you do with your time at work. You’d know by now that I’m pretty enthusiastic about my work – but I know that when I talk about it, it doesn’t have that zing. That’s something to work on.

Someone who does much better at it is Abigail Sellen. She’s been involved in amazing HCI work for ages. At the moment, she’s working with Microsoft. Abigail gave a really interesting talk to the Geeky Girls. I loved her relaxed presentation style. Abigail has been doing this work and talking about it a lot. She has such an understated approach, but her CV is so incredibly sexy, I suppose it’s easy to be understated.

Abigail says – if you’re going to *really* innovate – really do something out of the square – then be prepared for a ten year wait to see it go to market- otherwise be prepared to engage in taking it to market (getting out of the research lab and going out for lunch with product managers, engaging with the economics and the politics of the organisation outside of the research lab). She was talking about projects they were working on ten years ago that we’re looking at today and thinking ‘how sexy’. Seen that two handed desktop interaction? That kind of thing. They were working on it ten years ago and now the market is almost ready to find a place for it.

If you want to take innovation to market quickly, then focus on tweaks. Find ways to make existing technology work better. And this is no small task. Abigail gave the example of the mobile phone and the way that SMS completely revolutionised what that device meant to people and how they used it. That’s a reasonably small innovation that came to market reasonably quickly (depending on what market you’re in) and made huge changes.

At Microsoft they’ve been looking at the home technology market. Their thinking is that up until now, home technology has been divided into two areas: time saving and time wasting. This is a pretty simple breakdown, they say, and there must be some more interesting opportunities for technology in this environment – like for using it to allow people to express themselves, to emote, and for supporting families.

Really interesting stuff – enough to turn some of us green with jealousy, I’m sure. Sometimes I really like the idea of working in a research lab. But then, they too have frustrations – such as the ten year wait, and the products that are designed but never get to market, and getting IP Patents for all your ideas can’t be that much fun either.

It was definitely worth the effort to make it to Geek Girls and I’d recommend it to other London gals. Get along and check it out!

Meanwhile – check out Sarah Blow’s great t-shirt (picture above). It’s a customised XXL Mans Microsoft .NET tshirt. Microsoft has never looked so cool. Mash-up of the year I reckon :)

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Check out a non-crunchy version of the photo here.