Microsoft: What Is the Inspiration for Google Action Blocks?

May 22, 2020

Years ago, an outfit connected to the Microsofties invited me to a meeting. The meeting took place before the zippy Windows phone tile interface took the world like a mild mist on a spring morning. The big colorful tiles appeared in the Windows desktop interface. One thing for sure: Flashing tiles catch the eye and suck up bandwidth and CPU cycles like a fast growing dandelion.

I thought of this Windows tile thing when I read “Google Action Blocks Would Make iPhone Simple Again.” The title makes it clear that hurling digital tiles in an action filled way will klonk the iPhone and nick the Redmond empire.

The article reported:

Google Action Blocks can turn several steps into a single step – one button tap.

Tap on what?

Good question. The action block thing converts an iPhone into a semi Windows phone. Android phones are just so easy to use the way the Google intended.

The article is definitely excited about this latest me too from the Googlers:

But why, you might ask, would I need a button to open an app? Can’t I just tap the app icon? Yes, you can, but Action Block buttons can be made large. Action Blocks creates Widgets, Widgets that are resizable – as resizable as you desire. You could open a specific app with a button that’s as large as your display – it could be massive!

Innovation is alive and well at Alphabet. Users of the iPhone who work at Microsoft will experience a moment of nostalgia when Action Blocks are tackled.

Stephen E Arnold, May 22, 2020

Dark Patterns: A Partial Explanation

May 21, 2020

Manipulation is a rich, multi-layered concept. DarkCyber noted “Dark Patterns: Past, Present, and Future: The Evolution of Tricky User Interfaces” is a slice of a manipulative pie, but the bakery has not been fully sampled. (Note: You may have to pay to read the article.) That poorly lit patisserie can be explored by future computer, scholar, analyst philosophers.

The pie slice at hand look good and seems tasty.

The article is the work of a number of computer, scholar, analyst philosophers. The main point is:

Dark patterns are user interfaces that benefit an online service by coercing users into making decisions they might not otherwise make.

The authors have ingested the thinking of the economist, scholar, and analysts Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein. The idea is that “helpful” suggestions, facts, comments, opinions, or other message payloads can cause a person to react. This is the Newtonian approach to manipulation. Like the pie, there is a quantum world of manipulation waiting to be documented; for example, a shaped experience slightly more subtle that a nun’s whacking an inattentive choir boy on the head with a hymnal.

The write up includes diagrams, an origin story, and a nod to the Google. Like many aspiring experts, the authors offer suggestions or recommendations presented in adulting language; for instance:

Let’s urge the design community to set standards for itself, both to avoid onerous regulation and because it’s the right thing to do.

Yep, that will work. The datasphere may be slightly more intractable for users unable to figure out a log scale.

Stephen E Arnold, May 21, 2020

Usability: Why Not Hide Stuff and Use Low Contrast Colors? We Do, We Do!

April 19, 2020

The Decline of Usability” complains that current user interfaces suck. The main pivot in the write up is the application of mobile design conventions to desktop applications. Yeah, mobile. Doesn’t everyone work with a phone, Franken-tablet, or a game device?

Apparently not.

The author of the article uses screenshots to illustrate the craziness applications favor. The article asserts:

Usability, or as it used to be called, “User Friendliness”, is steadily declining. During the last ten years or so, adhering to basic standard concepts seems to have fallen out of fashion.

The article points out about a stack of title bars that appear to create instant confusion:

Almost all of the title bars contain some kind of UI widget. Some have little tool icons, some have tabs, some have drop-down menus, some have combinations thereof. There is no set behavior and, more importantly, the clickable area for traditional operations (move, focus, raise) on each title bar is now of variable width. If you’re accustomed to a title bar being for handling the window and nothing else, it’s very easy to misclick and activate an application feature you didn’t intend to.

Just a thought: The youngsters who create these difficult-to-use interfaces may want to consider making it possible for users to select a less-jazzy version of an application.

Not everyone wants a black interface with gray highlights. Not everyone wants colors to be low contrast. Not everyone wants weird icons instead of words.

However, the future is clear: Game-type conventions, creating interfaces for young eyes, and removing user control of interface elements is the trend.

The approach is not cute; it is indifferent to the needs of many users.

Stephen E Arnold, April 19, 2020

In the Wake of Zoom: Microsoft Teams Phone

April 18, 2020

Google is emulating the Zoom interface. Microsoft is converting Teams into a phone system. Me too is alive and well. “How to Deploy Microsoft Phone System with Teams” is easy, according to the 24 minute instructional video. Lashing these two systems together requires a Microsoft 365 account. Just purchase a business voice plan for about $150 per year. Set up a Virtual User. Fill in personal details. Plug in payment data. Add users and provide more personal information. Review the licenses available. Now you can upgrade to Teams, and you are about 25 percent through the video lesson.

For comparison, Zoom’s phone is immediately available after receiving an invitation and joining the meeting.

People working at home with basic computer skills will find the procedure interesting. Good enough for today’s WFH professional. Oh, at the 11 minute mark the Teams Phone system was not responding. Call the company’s system administrator. Oh, snap, quarantine. Time to walk the dog.

Stephen E Arnold, April 18, 2020

Boat Anchor Productivity: The Mac Edition

November 14, 2019

Most of the young sprouts I see at Starbuck’s are using mobile phones. Nevertheless, the information in “IBM: Mac Users Are Happier and More Productive” explains that joy for IBM employees is available at the Apple store. The write up states:

IBM CIO Fletcher Previn talked up fresh IBM findings that show those of its employees who use Macs are more likely to stay with IBM and exceed performance expectations compared to PC users.

How happy? The write up reports:

MacOS users are happier with the third-party software availability within IBM — just 5% of MacOS users ask for additional software, compared to 11% of Windows users.

Sounds Garageband good. Now about:

  • The weird controls in Garageband for audio recording
  • The thrill of learning that Apple updates alter MIDI settings
  • The ecosystem weirdness of some apps in the Apple store and other apps available from vendors
  • The incredible performance degradation of apps like iTunes over time.

Yep, nothing but thrills DarkCyber like happy IBM professionals. Why aren’t these folks using IBM computers with OS/2?

Stephen E Arnold, November 14, 2019

Google UX: Some Interfaces Are Little Bafflers

March 13, 2018

I  read “What Google Is Learning about User Experience.” I am delighted that a giant company is “learning.”

I noted this statement:

Josh Lewandowski, lead UX researcher at YouTube, said he asks himself two questions each day he comes into work:

  • “What are the desires, needs, and problems our users have that we should be anticipating?”
  • “Once we know what those are, what’s the best way to solve for them?

Interesting. From my vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, Google’s user interfaces have some pock marks. There are confusing functions; for example, upload a video to YouTube. There are boxes in which one can describe the video. None of the boxes provides a maximum word count. Careless or indifference? I don’t know.

On my Android phone Google Play insists that I turn on certain features. I don’t want these features. The controls for Android OS no longer allow me to turn off updates to apps I never use. I cannot disable the annoying and distracting message about Google Play having a problem. Careless, indifference, or a larger plan to remove user controls.

In Google’s Gmail, I find it fascinating that I have to click to see my email, not just the default listing. Even better is that there are no controls to make it easy to delete junk. Even the hapless BlackBerry I had years ago, make it easy to clean up an email in box. BlackBerry!

For more words and promises, be sure to read the complete article. Do it on your mobile phone for the full experience.

Stephen E Arnold, March 12, 2018

Search System from UAEU Simplifies Life Science Research

December 21, 2017

Help is on hand for scientific researchers tired of being bogged down in databases in the form of a new platform called Biocarian. The Middle East’s reports, “UAEU Develops New Search Engine for Life Sciences.” Semantic search is the key to the more efficient and user-friendly process. Writer Mark Sutton reports:

The UAEU [United Arab Emirages University] team said that Biocarian was developed to address the problem of large and complex data bases for healthcare and life science, which can result in researchers spending more than a third of their time searching for data. The new search engine users Semantic Web technology, so that researchers can easily create targeted searches to find the data they need in a more efficient fashion. … It allows complex queries to be constructed and entered, and offers additional features such as the capacity to enter ‘facet values’ according to specific criteria. These allow users to explore collated information by applying a range of filters, helping them to find what they are looking for quicker.

Project lead Nazar Zaki expects that simplifying the search process will open up this data to many talented researchers (who don’t happen to also be computer-science experts), leading to significant advances in medicine and healthcare. See the article for on the Biocarian platform.

Cynthia Murrell, December 21, 2017

Immersive Search: A MSFT Me Too, Me Too?

November 28, 2017

We noted “New Windows Search Interface Borrows Heavily from MacOS.” If true, the approach is little more than MSFT’s putting search results in the center of the display screen. Instead of “me too, me too”, MSFT may call this innovation “immersive search.” A great advance. Why not let me decide where to display search results?

Stephen E Arnold, November 28, 2017

UX (That Means Interface) Excitement

November 9, 2017

I read an article in Thread Reader. The first person essay titled I think “Graviscera.” In theory, you can find the story at the link provided in the previous sentence.

The subject of the write up is the UX or what oldsters like me call an “interface.” The concept is simple, but like most digital thingies, it is a challenge to some. My father, before he died, struggled with using a mouse. He was a keyboard type of person. I find that I am okay with a mouse, but every once in a while, I long for XyWrite III+. IBM bought this fine word processors and, well, you can pretty much figure out the fate of that nifty, speedy piece of code.

In Graviscera, a person with a strong sense of what works expresses opinions about a number of the silly, perhaps stupid, interfaces foisted on users. I enjoyed the write up because it has oomph.

Here are three points, and I urge you to read the full essay. If you are under the age of 35, you will probably disagree with the ideas in the essay. If you are a bit older, you may recall keyboard centric and command line interfaces which did not require moving a cursor to and fro or putting a large finger on a Lilliputian icon in order to view a document. Believe me, old fingers and tiny icons on a zippy mobile phone can frustrate even a manic Facebook user or twitchy tweeter.

Now the three points I highlighted with an old fashioned orange marker:

  1. Google Maps is unusable. Yep, Graviscera nailed it. I am not sure what the Googlers are trying to accomplish with maps, but performing certain operations is impossible for Graviscera and me. Don’t believe me. Try to figure out what’s on a route from a mobile version of Google Maps. Give up? Now try the same thing on a desktop version of Google Maps. Give up? I have. As miserable as Bing is, I find its mapping function slightly less worse than Google’s.
  2. Use a mouse to view Twitter content. Graviscera points out that a keyboard interface would make life easier. That’s true. The low contrast of Twitter adds an additional usability challenge. Those with perfect eyesight probably love the mousing around thing on pale blue text. Well, I don’t, and Graviscera seems likely to agree.
  3. Keyboards and function keys work for many applications. Graviscera nails this. The focus is on point of sale terminals. But there are many applications which would benefit from consistent keyboard functions. Even the crazy IBM keyboard with the two dozen function keys were easier to operate than some mobile interfaces. Graviscera does not mention Fitbit, but I think it is a poster child for mobile wonkiness.

I recommend that you read Graviscera. Let me conclude with this quote from the write up:

Nobody will agree with me, citing anecdotes and examples that are meaningless in the current zeitgeist.

No need to fret. I agree with you.

Stephen E Arnold, November 9, 2017

My Feed Personalization a Step Too Far

September 8, 2017

In an effort to be even more user-friendly and to further encourage a narcissistic society, Google now allows individuals to ‘follow’ or ‘unfollow’ topics, delivered daily to devices, as they deem them interesting or uninteresting. SEJ explains the new feature which is considered an enhancement of their ‘my feed’ which is intended to personalize news.

As explained in the article,

Further advancements to Google’s personalized feed include improved machine learning algorithms, which are said to be more capable at anticipating what an individual may find interest. In addition to highlighting stories around manually and algorithmically selected topics of interest, the feed will also display stories trending in your area and around the world.

That seems like a great way to keep people current on topics ranging geographically, politically and culturally, but with the addition of ‘follow’ or ‘unfollow’, once again, individuals can reduce their world to a series of pop-star updates and YouTube hits. Isn’t it an oxymoron to both suggest topics and stories in an effort to keep an individual informed of the world around them, and yet allow them to stop the suggestions are they appear boring or lack familiarity? Now, Google, you can do better.

Catherine Lamsfuss, September 15, 2017

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