Tags: digg

2

sparkline

Iteration and You

Daniel gets off to a great start by plugging my blog. Oh, yeah! The excellence continues with his first slide which features the looming head of Trammell.

Daniel asks for a show of hands. Who works on one website? Who works on many different client websites? A good mix, it seems.

We’ll be hearing lots from Stewart Brand’s book, How Buildings Learn. Buildings don’t change much (on the outside at least …but let’s not go into right now). That’s certainly true of High Road architecture. But there’s also Low Road architecture which is much more modular. A lot of websites are like that. Frameworks like Django help there, as do Web Standards. With Low Road architecture you can easily build a castle as someone has actually done with mobile homes. White trash nirvana!

Establish a visual vocabulary to avoid building a . That worked with Pownce. Notched rectangles are used throughout, right through to the branding. On Digg, a lot of the visual language stems from the Digg button. It was initially inspired by a design element by Dave, used on Mozilla and refined on Digg where it influenced the overall design. Facebook also has a visual vocabulary based around blue rectangles and single-pixel lines. App developers can take this visual language and work with it to ensure their products fit in with the Facebook look and feel.

Design paths. That’s paving the cowpaths to you and me. Launch your website with the base set of features; don’t try to anticipate everything everyone will want to do. Instead, watch what people do and build on that. That’s how images came to Digg—emergence through user behaviour. Threaded comments also emerged from watching how people used a basic single-thread comment.

Adapt to scale. It’s a great problem to have. The original Digg button couldn’t handle figures with more than three digits.

Subtraction is iteration too (so true! I witnessed a great example of this in action just the other day in the Clearleft office). Remove clutter. You can add functionality and reduce complexity at the same time.

Realign, don’t redesign. That’s a direct quote from Cameron. You don’t have to rip everything out and start from scratch. When the Martha Stewart site redesigned, it really confused long-time users (like Daniel’s sister and the girl who sat next to Daniel on the flight to the UK). Unless there’s a really good reason to raze something to the ground, try instead to adapt what’s already there.

Now for the Stewart Butterfield quote:

Every time I hear a designer say the word innovation, I reach for my revolver… I want to shoot them in the face.

It’s okay to reuse something if it’s what works.

Make time for iteration (oh man, I hear ya!) — don’t overbook yourself on the new stuff. Release early, release often. Get it out the door even if it’s not perfect. Daniel illustrates this point with one of my Flickr pics.

But at the same time, don’t panic! You’re going to get an avalanche of feedback. Stop. Listen. Learn. Don’t overreact.

So to sum up:

  • Low road design is easier to adapt.
  • Realign, don’t redesign.
  • Create a visual language.
  • Remove as much as you add.
  • Don’t be over reactive.
  • Make time for iteration.

That’s it. Great advice! Any questions?

  • How do you sell iteration time to clients? That’s always tough—the politics. Choose your clients well.
  • How about using A/B testing to test features? It’s a great idea but Daniel hasn’t had a chance to implement it himself. If you can do it, it’s awesome but it requires the right infrastructure.
  • As an in-house designer, how to you get your bosses and management to buy into iteration? Didn’t we already have this question?
  • On the point of visual language, how much do you use a style guide? Daniel’s never used an official style guide, it’s more of a de-facto thing. At Mozilla they had some dos and don’ts but nothing hardcore.
  • Last question: You know when talked about the visual language? At what point do you decide that it’s too much to deploy everywhere? You can shake it up a bit. If it doesn’t fit, don’t use it. Variations are fine.

Bravo, Daniel! And indeed, Delta Tango!

The Future of Web Apps, day one

I’m spending more time in London than in Brighton this week. After BarCamp London 2 at the weekend I had one day to recover and now I’m back up for the Future of Web Apps conference.

Like last year, the event is being held in the salubrious surroundings of Kensington; normally the home turf of Sloane Rangers, now overrun by geeks. But the geeks here are generally of a different variety to those at BarCamp (although I’m seeing a lot of familiar faces from the weekend).

The emphasis of the conference this time is more on the business, rather than the techy side of things. It makes sense to focus the event this way, especially now that there’s a separate Future of Web Design conference in a few months. The thing is… I don’t have much of a head for business (to put it mildy) so a lot of the material isn’t really the kind of thing I’m interested in. That’s not to say that it isn’t objectively interesting but from my subjective viewpoint, words like “venture”, “investment” and “business model” tend to put me to sleep.

That said, the presentations today have been less soporific than I feared. There was some good geeky stuff from Werner Vogels of Amazon and Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo, as well as some plain-talkin’ community advice from Tara Hunt.

The big disappointment of the day has been WiFi. Despite the fact that Ryan paid £6,000—remember, he’s not afraid of announcing figures in public—nothin’s doin’. For all the kudos that BT deserve for hosting the second London BarCamp, they lose some karma points for this snafu.

The day ended with Kevin Rose giving the Digg annual report. He left time for some questions so I put this to him:

I see Digg as a technological success and a business success but I think it’s a social failure. That’s because when I read the comments attached to a story, people are behaving like assholes.

At this point, people started applauding. I was mortified! I wasn’t trying get in a cheap shot at Digg; I had a point to make. So after informing the crowd that there was nothing to applaud, I continued:

This is probably because of the sheer size of the community on Digg. Contrast this to something like Flickr where there are lots and lots of separate groups. My question is; should you be trying to deliberately fragment Digg?

The answer was a resounding “Yes!” and it’s something that he touched on his talk. Afterwards, I was talking to Daniel Burka and he reckoned that Digg could take a leaf out of Last.fm’s book. The guys from Last.fm had previously talked about all the great features they were able to roll out by mining the wealth of attention data that users are submitting every day. Digg has an equally rich vein of data; they just need to mine it.

Anyway, it was a good day all in all but I feel kind of bad for putting a sour note on the Digg presentation. Plenty of people told me “great question!” but I felt a bit ashamed for putting Kevin on the spot that way.

Still, it’s far preferable to make these points in meatspace. If I had just blogged my concerns, it would have been open to even more misinterpretation. That’s the great thing about conferences: regardless of whether the subject matter is my cup of tea or not, the opportunity to meet and chat with fellow geeks is worth the price of entry.