Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Use case for Flex Data Services

I have been working on an interesting use case for Flex and Flex Data Services, that will build nicely into the recently announced Apollo runtime.

More and more products are focusing on in-product messaging, a pipeline for updates, upsells, upsets, uplevels, etc built into the product interface and then pumped full of sometimes useful, sometimes necessary and sometimes not - clickable marketing matter.

Assuming it is only a matter of time until this approach matures completely and usefulness is part of the usability, it seems to me that what we ultimately need is some way of pumping a series of messages, samples, updates, patches, etc into a local object that can be accessed by users in different ways, whether they are online or offline...hmmm

Given the richness of the Flash interface, the ability to build nice transitions and states into applications or widgets within applications, and the horsepower delivered by FDS to get all that data streaming out to the applications, whether or not it is being viewed in real time and the general productivity of the programming paradigm would position Flex well for stuff like this.

I know I should stop coming up with ideas that Adobe is not interested in focusing on - I had that same problem when I worked there, right DM? ;-) But it seems to me that this is a viable use case, and one that I am going to explore further for some future projects I see coming my way.

Friday, November 17, 2006

What is that guy doing with all those gears?

Have you seen the IBM ads made up in Flash with the guy figuring out integration by bouncing around, falling, flying and tumbling in turmoil through a whole bunch of rotating disconnected gears? Sorry I can't dependably link to the ad since it seems to be tracking my clickpath in some very strange ways.

I can't figure out what they are trying to tell me...I have done a lot of integration projects and I definitely don't remember feeling like I was bouncing through gears. I think I was actually bouncing through global services, support, manuals and help files, but they were not gears, did not spin well, and they definitely did not look the same or even appear to have much to do with each other from a pure shape perspective.

One of us is brain dead.

I know it's a Rational ad, so maybe it has something to do with the way former Rational developers were packaged out of the blue?!? Were all IT guys just given the gears?

Was I right?

I just found a set of predictions I had made back in 2003 regarding the use of web services. Now you have to realize that I was at Microsoft back then, fully baked on the koolaid, but I think I actually came pretty close - although most of the projects I have had insight to seem to be still figuring this out. At least they are talking about it!

See the original here

And now the silliness...

# Web services will continue to gain traction in enterprise integration projects as earlier planned projects move into the execution and completion phase. In the small and medium space the emergence of pay-per-use business models will begin to gain traction as larger architectures allow integration with 3rd party services. The Basic Profile and core standards will continue to erode ebXML market usage as developers move to true open standards. Third party enhancements, both hardware and software, will further enhance production cycles. Mainframe and legacy will continue to decline as larger SI and MIS organizations move to services oriented platforms for both outsourcing and insourcing projects. In the early adopter space, Web services development and management will begin to commoditize as predictable ROI models emerge.

# Businesses will use mobile devices powered by Web services to access intelligent information. It is vital that users can access the information they need and not receive cluttered results. The average mobile device is not powerful enough and does not have enough storage to generate intelligent results on its own. However, access to intelligent information will be achieved through mobile devices using XML and Web services.

# Enhancements to Web services including standardization around WS-Secure Conversation, WS-Federation and WS-Authorization will drive the proliferation of Web services in business to business scenarios. Businesses will be able to execute Web services with full confidence around the authorization, authentication and integrity of these Web services.

Microsoft iPod

In the low, retreating wake of the Zune launch, there is some very funny commentary hidden between the lines of a great parody video on Google.

What if Microsoft had designed the iPod instead of Apple?

Check it out on Google Video!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Customer experience vs user experience

I want to pick this fight again. It's not over yet, and IMHO, we have not yet cracked the nut fully. I still see, hear, feel - sense - a lot of confusion over what people mean when they use these seemingly similar terms to define things that are often at odds with each other, and are driven in different ways out of necessity.

Is user experience a road trip and usability the road and signs? This was one of the metaphors provided in some posts a couple years ago on Interaction by Design. I am not sure it was ever properly solved in the post or resulting comments, but it never got to customer experience anyway. Suffice to say that the confusion stems from the fact that there is already confusion over what people mean by user experience.

Let me try it a different way - in relation to a software company selling software. User experience is what happens in the software. Customer experience is what happens when the user purchases the software. This may oversimplify the outcomes but it does clearly delineate the differing responsibilities of the various teams involved. Developers, usability experts, scenario testers, interface designers plug themselves into the software development process and arrive at the desired state - the world's leading illustration software example. But it doesn't sell itself, now we have to sell it.

So, now we take the information we have from that user experience and begin to define a marketing campaign, website, training, tools and more to entice potential users to come and see how great the user experience is. In my fleeting thesis, this would be the customer experience. A whole new set of usability challenges ensue, but now related to websites, ecommerce, community, online support, training, etc...hopefully handled in way that effectively set realistic expectations about what the user experience would be.

We can't sell ice to eskimos...that was some other department that was trying to do that. Not sure but I think they were all laid off. But let's explore that for a second. The user experience for the ice is based on the fact that it is cold, hard, made up of water, useful for types of construction, food storage and more. The customer experience is all about going to the cold place, cutting the blocks, or maybe just stopping by your local gas station to get a bag. In this last example the user and customer experiences are actually pretty disconnected, as it normally would be from a retail perspective. I don't want the gas station to be frozen, clear, made of water or to preserve my food (I guess gas stations all sell food now though) - and I don't want my ice to have any fuel content, or be branded with little seashells.

One thing I think we can all agree on, is that when it comes to customer experience, the only true owner is the customer. While it is going to take a lot of x-functional effort to make a great customer experience, the customer is going to point it all back at one thing - the customer environment. With user experience, it is also owned by the user, but there is a more clearly established set of rules, goals, sciences and legacy knowledge we can draw on in order to define that part of the road.

I will continue this by providing more interesting, humorous and embarassing examples of each in order to keep track of my thoughts on this...you can follow along over the ensuing days and weeks and that will be your customer experience, or click, search or nav your way elsewhere as part of your user experience. You decide.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Rhythm in Rwanda, Bass in Bangladesh

Duane Nickull has just launched one of the coolest ideas I have seen on the web in a long time - www.mix2r.com - a website that allows musicians to post and share tracks or parts of tracks with each other.

Download, mix and post.

Upload, wait and listen.

Play, ponder and pillage. Politely.

www.mix2r.com is going to be a great way for musicians to bend their writing a little harder, and work together in a truly collaborative fashion without all the normal shenanigans relating to sharing files, formats, etc...

The only thing I didnt like was that the launch corresponded to the teardown and rebuild of my studio - it will take me another week or so to start posting.

Kewl. Props to Duane and Matt McKenzie for thinking like Rockstars 2.0.

Friday, November 03, 2006

A strange thing happened on my way to Nepean...

...last night women stole the blues.

Last night, at the CentrePointe Theatre in Nepean, the strangest and most wonderful thing happened...women stole the blues. Sure, women have played the blues forever, as long as there has been the blues - and the senses of playfulness, irony, righteousness and sincerity have always shone through in a way that can make you smile all the way inside or drag tears from your own tired souls comradery with the idea of the song. But last night was different, last night they stole the blues forever. And they have no intention of giving it back.

Humour me, I am going somewhere with this.

Perhaps it was the collective force of unique approaches and new blood that the collection of Sue Foley, Ellen McIlwaine, Roxanne Potvin and Rachel Van Zanten that meandered through the evening with a slow and careful collecting of all things blues and placing them in the front of their game.

Sue Foley would probably tell me women stole the blues a long time ago and she would know. Taking on what is probably the dream of many established women blues players, her Guitar Women project (a book, website and CD series) proves beyond a doubt that there were a lot of people in on the plan to steal the blues, and that the plot dates back to the beginning. But I had no idea, so all I could do was sit there while she effortlessly nailed some of the fastest, cleanest and most pronounced blues leads and heavy Telecaster-driven rhythms I have heard in a long time.

Ellen McIlwaine would share with me that it takes a lifetime of work, trial and tribulation in order to feel what she knows you have to feel to play like she does. Her approach to the guitar is nothing short of brilliant, transporting and hiding the blues in the tones of India, the middle east, and Japan where she was raised. At one point I was glad when she reminded the audience that "...remember this is just a plain old six string" because I know we had all gone with her on her journey around the world and with our eyes closed there was no way that it was one woman sitting up there with an acoustic guitar.

Gatineau native Roxanne Potvin doesnt mess around too much with "the way things were" choosing instead to take the blues on her own path - a sort of honky tonk meets rag meets funk with some really naked and clean guitar poking its way through the lush fabric she sows around her striking vocals. I was amazed that Ottawa could stay in their seats and sort of nod their heads back and forth, because my whole body was wiggling around my chair trying to steal the blues back and just collectively bring us to our feet to dance.

The star of the evening for me though, was emerging slide artist Rachelle Van Zanten. Her job in the dark quartet of theives is to ensure that we men never ever take the blues back again. From the tear-jerking soulful fingerpicking kind of theivery that leaves you all coccooned in your own blues to the thumping, sliding, grinding and old-school vocal stylings of some tunes that you know in a different setting would have had the whole room moshin' - come on grandma, I know you've been a member here at the theatre for years, but why not write your tag on the bathroom wall, grab another drink at the bar and come right back in here for some heart-pounding, sweaty dancing.

Now that women have stolen the blues, and sent Rachelle in as their guardian of the flame, we never have to worry about listening to some bad balding basement chunkers with out of tune guitars slinking their way through a CCR song.

The other part of the night that proved that we are not worthy was the art show, silent auction, and announcement of a bursary fund for young guitarists right here in the Ottawa area. As a father of some budding young musicians I was more than happy to help - and I am the proud owner of a 4' x 5' Paul Alain painting of Ellen McIlwaine, one of a series of four that hung behind our shameless theives. We are secretly planning to bring the paintings back together one day (we collect art about music) and build our own monument to that cold night in Nepean, when women stole the blues.