February 03, 2010

The Culmination of What I Believe In

As you know, I have the urge to combine function with beauty online. And then it hit me: what we are missing is the online equivalent of a stamp; a way to convey an (additional) message in a artistic package. I put my line of reasoning in a presentation for Reboot11 in Copenhagen.

Back home, the prospect of personal virtual decoration kept lingering in the back of my head. So I started up a service called PeRSoN.NeL, which will provide just this. To find out what it is exactly, you'll have to be a little bit more patient. But I promise to beautify your virtual life soon!

PeRSoN.NeL snapshot

Posted by Almar at 04:21 PM | Comments (0)

July 28, 2009

Pan down, pan right, close up

It has been argued widely that film/photo techniques like panning and close-ups add to the dramatic effect of movies and pictures. In a previous post "Getting out of the way", I already discuss using more of these techniques in website design.

A really good example of what this could look like is shown by Prezi.com (a zooming web-presentation tool) in their Prezi Tips and Tricks presentation. Prezi of course uses a dedicated technique, but simply breaking the standard up-down flow on a website already has a positive effect. See for example the App Store on the iPhone:

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When viewing the information on a particular application you first scroll down the text, but arriving at the screenshots the scroll becomes horizontal (and vertical again if you continue beyond the screenshots).

The zooming doesn't necessarily have to be literal, but could be like a peek under the hood: showing the actual realtime dataflow on a website (as opposed to visualizing the output data) in a corner of the screen. This is similar to zooming in on the moving parts of an engine, clarifying the mechanics, next to oozing the power potential.

Posted by Almar at 03:08 PM | Comments (0)

March 31, 2009

Getting Out of the Way

Even though more and more effort is put into customer centric webdesign, and some companies seem to become less egocentric (Skittles.com even went to the other extreme), the majority of corporations still put themselves first on their sites. Especially when they 'need' your information.
The forms get thrown in your face; literally, when it's a pop-up.

I actually don't mind giving out information, but I do like to know if I'm nearing the end. And more importantly I want to see if the end result is worth going further: show me the light at the end of the tunnel!

I nice example of how it could be done is the Skitch screencapture application (see image below), that literally moves out of the way (but 'hangs around') when you start moving the file.

I can imagine the pop-up window for a form increasing and decreasing depending on where you are in the process flow.

It's actually using techniques developed in film that can and should be applied here. The landmark article by Dan Willis 'Everything you know about webdesign is wrong' proves this point very clearly. An excerpt; "When we see a character from high over head, we sense their insignificance; when one scene dissolves into the next, we assume a passage of time; when shots of a character in motion are intercut with the object toward which she approaches, we feel the impending dread and danger."

Can you imagine the experience on a website when these techniques are used?! Could a designer make you dread pushing a button because of flashes of images of what's behind when you move your mouse closer?

Of course, it could go in a different direction. For example, the one Brendan Dawes suggested: "[..] great idea for an itv3 show: "i'm a celebrity - resize my browser window"

Posted by Almar at 08:05 PM | Comments (0)

January 19, 2009

Extending the Senses

The web is still mostly a visual experience although sound (especially through video) is catching up. The intentional use of sound (apart from the supporting soundtrack in video's) is however still rare. There are experts around that make a strong case for the use of sound; see for example SonicID's weblog. Note how they 'Explore[..] branding and identity with music, sound, voice and silence'. The latter is only possible of course when you use sound in the first place; you need the contrast. And this is exactly why triggering different senses should be considered more often.

Mickey's senses

Also (3D) movement and touch are increasingly getting a virtual extension. The first is most evident in the Nintendo Wii game console, but also in the ear-movements of the Nabaztag (which respond to electronic messages). Touch is in a basic form coming online through 'tag-readers' like (again) the Nabaztag and Tikitag. Another example of virtually connecting through (spatial) movement is the forthcoming 'Sekai Camera'; it will allow you the access an added reality in the space you are in.

The senses 'smell' and 'taste' are probably still further away, although research in 'olfactory displays' is well underway.
The breakthroughs will probably come from playfull applications like the RJDJ games are for sound and movement on the iPod/iPhone.

Posted by Almar at 03:17 PM | Comments (0)

October 29, 2008

Google ranking: your space in the parking lot

Classic Modern Architecture prescribed designing from the inside out, without actively considering the context. But according to that school the context is always the ideal park, never a parking lot. Google is like the online equivalent of a parking lot, and yes the boss gets the best spot.

virvie - Google Search

Webdesign is still mostly inside out (although the 'widgetization' is a positive development). But outside, in the Google search results, you're just another 'car in the lot'. Also, when parked a Ferrari (or the fancy website) is a lot more equal to the Fiat (the middle of the road website) next to it.
The question now is how to stand out in the parking lot. Should Search Engine Optimization also get a visual component? What is actually going to show up in the search results?

Posted by Almar at 02:22 PM | Comments (0)

September 17, 2008

Website souvenirs

A souvenir is something you get to keep the experience alive after visiting a place or an event. Photo's and before that postcards are the most common souvenirs. In the book Experience Economy online strategist Bruno Guissani is quoted saying "Souvenirs are the means for experiences to 'socialize', to share them with others".

Old postcards

If visiting a certain website gives you a memorable experience, you might want to get a souvenir as well. This already happens in a way by the means of 'Pages' in Facebook, where celebrities, places, events or products can be befriended or sites like "HOT or NOT" hotlists. Although most of these refer to 'real' artefacts, not virtual ones like websites. Also they usually refer to the continuing phenomenon and not a particular event.

For the souvenir to be valuable it has to be unique and specific. So what you need is a date stamp and/or a screenshot of the site as it was when you visited it. It will allow you to 'go back memory lane' and relive the experience.
For those of you that have used the Netvibes website for a while, the recent 'launch' of their Vintage site, supports this experience. For others it's a good reference point to appreciate the current experience:

All in all, it is already possible to create your own souvenirs of virtual experiences by taking screenshots (see also "Taking pictures of the web") and maintaining a lifestream (see also "Street credits"). But I think there is an opportunity for businesses to support this process, like they do so amply in the real world.

Posted by Almar at 05:22 PM | Comments (0)

July 25, 2008

Exterior dashboard

The real and virtual world are converging. Although it probably never was that separated. It is more a matter of visibility. The increased use of LED screens in the real world (for the current biggest see 'The Place in Beijing') opens up a whole new 'outlet' for digital information.

The more familiar are ticker tapes of news or stock information and commercial presentations like on Times Square. But what if the screen functions as a kind of dashboard; for example, color coding cooling towers of power plants according to current power consumption.

exterior dashboard

Wouldn't driving by such a screen make you at least reflect on the issue of power consumption or maybe even your personal involvement in it?

Going back to the computer screen and the browser window, a similar thing could be done. What if the background color of a particular site represents the server load at that time. It could very well influence user behaviour ("This place is hot!"). It would even be more interesting if this information were to be represented visually in search results.

Posted by Almar at 02:53 PM | Comments (0)

June 02, 2008

Aging through a lifestream

It started with weblogs, but especially with (location based) microblogs like Brightkite, sequential publishing is becoming a real force. It is a force that at least shapes online history. Lifestream tools (like Tumblr and Friendfeed) allow you to record and look into this history.

In his keynote at the Web and Beyond conference, Adam Greenfield talked about the 'Big Now' and 'Long Here', referring (in short) to the fact that you now can follow people all over the world in real time and track events related to a certain location over time.

Bryce Canyon, Utah

The question is if this literal stream could shape the underlying content like I mentioned in a previous post 'Use influences appearance'. Also, should I protect myself from certain streams so I can get a maiden look at a piece of information or a place before it erodes and ages through the shared opinion of others?

Posted by Almar at 07:18 PM | Comments (0)

February 21, 2008

Adding a soundtrack

What makes some movies so captivating? Is it the acting? Is it the special effects? Or is it the soundtrack? You could do a small test for yourself: what would the difference be if your favorite movie had a different lead actor/actress (you sometimes hear that they at first considered somebody else). Or what is the difference between an original movie and a remake with more special effects. And, finally, what is the effect of the overall movie experience when you watch it with the sound off!

You probably come to the conclusion that sound makes a big difference. Actually, it turns out to be essential in telling a story. Research showed that the longest lasting proliferation of knowledge/wisdom in the world has been realized by Aboriginals through combining art and music; continuing over 40.000 years! (see the BBC series 'How Art Made the World' for a detailed (multimedial) explanation).

Kawai K1

This knowledge makes a strong case for adding sound to websites. This should not just be the 'sound on' and 'sound off' that has appeared on some sites (and which has come and gone for good reason). It should actually be an auditory support to the browsing through different site elements; for example something like increasing drum riffs when nearing the end of an online checkout process.

Following the filmic approach one could also consider some kind of 'exit-button' for the site. This then leads to a page/pop-up with music, similar to the end role of a movie. It would give the site visit a more rounded experience, even if the actual browsing is not as linear as you would like.

Posted by Almar at 11:42 AM | Comments (0)

January 31, 2008

Pacman navigation

Navigation is the lifeline of almost any website. A lot of thought should go into the labels and appearance of buttons and the (identifying information on the) pages they lead to. If done right, a user should be 'lured' to the right information, just by following the signals. This is also known as the Scent methodology. This works particularly well for users with a predefined goal or interest.


But what if you want to bring something new or different to the attention of the visitor? Is there a subtle way (as opposed to e.g. banners) to get them off the beaten track? I was thinking of a Pacman-like approach: chasing something through the site (it appears and disappears on buttons). The chase could lead to a specific page or function as a 'random' walkthrough, showing to visitors pages they may not have known existed.

In this respect also see this funny safety video from Virgin America; getting back attention to something nobody paid attention to anymore.

Posted by Almar at 12:21 PM | Comments (0)

December 18, 2007

Liberating content like liberating form

Nature drills holes in things, it liberates form. It takes away everything extraneous (see talk on organic design by Ross Lovegrove). Personal portal pages (like Netvibes and iGoogle) basically do the same through their widgets. You could call this a functional form of content erosion (since some of the original - hopefully mostly window dressing - content is lost in the process).

osto_bone_1_m.jpg (JPEG Image, 200x200 pixels)

On the contrary on those portals, a form of functional content sedimentation appears. Content that might not have been specifically intended (since you subscribe to a feed, not the actual content) gets in and stays behind. This creates a temporary (depending on the update frequency of the feed) constellation of content that might or might not reinforce the user in the current setup of the portal. The actual content might trigger the user to 'upgrade' the feed (giving it a better position) or even fix the content, or 'downgrade' it by moving it back or even deleting the feed altogether.

It's an iterative process, driven by a partially managed flow of content, that eventually does lead to stronger setup or structure of information for the particular user. Just like the bones that developed over time to best fit their host.

Posted by Almar at 01:36 PM | Comments (0)

October 30, 2007

Creating emptiness for value

In the Taoist view it's a great good to create emptiness in order to fill it with value. Compare it to a jar; you encapsulate open space in order to contain something valuable.

encapsulating emptiness

The emptiness also creates an urge to fill it (like a vacuum), which also can be seen online. Take for example the (relatively large) input box of microblogging tools (like Twitter); it's just waiting to be filled. Of course you can argue the value of the content that is regularly put in, but it's an interesting effect.

The question is if you (periodically) add empty or random space to your site, will it trigger higher value creation? If for example your personal portal (like Netvibes or iGoogle) would randomly generate a new tab, with some empty widgets and a remix of your existing widgets. Would it make you reconsider your current setup and improve it? Also, will overall value increase if you are forced (after a certain threshold) to delete something old when adding something new?

Posted by Almar at 09:48 AM | Comments (0)

August 02, 2007

Travelling a virreal (revisited)

In an earlier post I mentioned the possibility for traveling a virreal. The possibilities have increased tremendously since. First, you can browse photo-sites and find the spot where the photo was taken instantly (and even vice versa). Second, through the uprise of microblogging you can easily join a friend in their real and virtual/online occupations. Third, the service StumbleUpon let's you roam the Internet like a through adventurer.

However, the sites you come across are still more like travel 'tools' than travel 'destinations'. I tried to envision my idea for virreal travel in the following picture; the actual site should be a reward in itself.

iA_WebTrends_2007_2.pdf (1 page)
(Thanks to the great IA webtrends map by Information Architects Japan)

Posted by Almar at 12:53 PM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2007

Does the Internet have a rhythm of it's own?

I posted the following comment on the article 'Rhythm in online environments' on FreedomLab:

... [ ]I think a lot of online presences lack engagement. Somehow though (social) networks seem to know how to keep a story going. Maybe it's because the message flow starts as soon as something extraordinary happens. Put otherwise: people can't wait to tell about something and want to involve others (well before the conclusion of e.g. Idols is reached). Also the good habit of referencing allows you to 'reconstruct' a story afterwards reasonably well. So maybe the Internet does have a rhythm of it's own...

Posted by Almar at 01:25 PM | Comments (0)

July 23, 2007

Spam is like Rain

There are a lot of similarities between spam e-mail and rain. For one both can be very annoying. Also, in both cases 'when it rains, it poors'. But surprisingly spam, like rain, can bring to life new ideas; for example on how to attract attention. Sadly though, the ugly ideas come first and tend to stick around for a long time; like weeds.

Posted by Almar at 02:57 PM | Comments (0)

July 05, 2007

The Next Wave is Cultural after being Social

I posted the following comment on the article Digital Life vs Life Digital: Our Inevitable Digital Future on Read/WriteWeb:

I couldn't agree more! For what you call 'Life Digital' I introduced the term 'VIRREAL' (see www.almarvanderkrogt.nl/blog).
There is a strong momentum building, especially with tools like Twitter.com (with microformats for location) and Plazes.com, which will virally tag the world.

My goal is to actually channel some of these forces to create 'WEBMARKS'; entities on top of the real world that gain importance through their existence.
This could mean that, in addition to the features you mentioned (like providing historical information when you point your phone to a building) virtual elements are added: e.g. artwork, visual information streams or additional visual context.

So maybe the next wave is cultural after being social.

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Posted by Almar at 06:57 PM

June 05, 2007

Human Reboot?

Apparently we have entered the Link Age where conversing over networks is the way to stay 'alive'. Actually, through this we create a second identity which does the 'talking' for us and feeds our network-friends. It seems to me that humankind re-entered the age of 'hunting and gathering' and found its place in the flow (not overflow anymore!) of the information eco-system. This makes me wonder even more what the next (st)age is going to be; the industrialisation of the information economy?

Inspired by Reboot 9.0 talks by Tor Nørretranders , Stowe Boyd and Jeremy Keith.

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Posted by Almar at 07:38 PM

May 16, 2007

Municipalities as Social Network

I am wondering whether it makes sense for a municipality (a village or city) to create an online social network (or to join one or more of them). Is the fact that you share streets, public services, etc. enough to join a network like this? Otherwise, is it a public service (i.e. obligation) to provide information/links to everything that goes on within the (geographical) limits of the municipality?
I think I would subscribe to my city's Netvibes Universe, if it were to provide one.

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Posted by Almar at 11:25 AM

May 02, 2007

Biomimicry, or learning from life

A virreal is ideally a complex interplay between websites and real life actions. In designing a virreal one can learn from (complex) organisms or ecosystems. Taking cues from nature is also known as biomimicry. The key is to figure out how the coordinated dynamics within these systems take place and can be influenced.
The dynamics of current social networks are already very interesting, but I am wondering how they can be taken to the next level, i.e. letting social networks take intended collective actions.

Posted by Almar at 10:06 AM