Thursday, October 12, 2017

How to Help Grandparents with Their Technology

I'm sitting here writing this on my dad's old iMac realizing I could have done a better job helping him with technology over the past few years. I feel like a bad daughter, an interaction designer ought to do a lot better for their parents. My dad was very capable, and fiercely wanted his independence, so I didn't bother him.  Still, I was already doing "tech support" for friends and strangers, and I'm realizing now that I could have saved myself a bit of work after he passed me on his gadgets. So here's my advice to people who have an older parent or friend, even if they are not a luddite!

Make yourself the Admin.


Set up their gmail, give yourself access. 

Give them their password, make sure it's super easy to remember but tell them not to reuse this password for any reason anywhere.

Set up their iCloud, Amazon Prime, YouTube etc tethered to their new Gmail. 

Yes, plug their credit card into these accounts, they're still independent! Give them their unique password and save it yourself. If you don't do this you will be sorry when you want to retrieve photos but you can't, because you don't know the password.

Just get them the smartphone they want, put it on your family account. 

Don't let them deal with any of the account ownership part. If you can set up partial auto-payments from their credit card. Same goes for tablets and smart watches.

Get them sarted with apps. 

The entire concept of shopping on an app store could be foreign to older folks. Get them started with some fun apps, use the camera, show them what they could do.

Make sure their internet providers / cable TV accounts are set up correctly and you have access.

This would be something like their Comcast account. Are they paying tons of money on channels they never watch? OnDemand they don't know how to access? Wifi that never got setup? Yes that all happened with my dad, he probably overspent over a grand $$$$ on Comcast, it's annoying. I actually went out and bought a wifi device not knowing he already had it. Don't let it happen to you!

Give them their privacy and sense of control.

If you can set them up in this way, you can sit back and give them their space and sense of privacy. Knowing they are going to be safe, and happier in the great playground of the internet.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Why Can't Columbus Day Just Be A Food Holiday?

Today is Columbus Day. I never gave the day much thought really, except it's a Federal Holiday and in the past few years it's been a paid holiday I get to take. A few years ago a friend of mine posted to Facebook about Christopher Columbus, in doing so she enlightened me about what a shit the guy was.

I was in my forties by the time I figured out what a giant douchebag Christopher Columbus was. Seems like a lot of people are just figuring it out because now, all of a sudden, people are defacing statues of him. There's a lot of questioning of patriarchy in 2017. To me, I have to say, Columbus symbolized America, the inception of this place I call home, more than he symbolized patriarchy. And, let's admit that pretty much every European explorer in the 1700s was a prostitute of patriarchal colonialism. So why can't we be realists about the past? Why can't we just celebrate America and how Italians have made America great? With food?

My mother was Italian American. Her parents had emigrated with her family en mass and she was born here in the US, in West Virginia. Italian was her first language.  The entire family was poor. They labored in coal mines. They were openly discriminated against by other "white" people all around them. I know this because my mother told me about it.

In the US my mom had the opportunity to succeed in a way that she would never have been able to in Italy. She was the first college educated person in her family, including men. She went on to get a dual masters degree. She worked hard, had a good career and a nice home. When I came along in the 70s I didn't even know what discrimination was. I had to learn what it was. Both my parents said it was a very bad thing, because first it's OK to discriminate against one type of person, and the next thing it's OK to discriminate against you because you're Italian. I still hold this lesson in my heart. Italian Americans have some terrible stereotypes. While I enjoyed The Sopranos immensely I want to be associated with that stereotype as much as my African American friends want to be associated with The Wire.

Some people have called for a renaming of Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day. Sigh. Great. Everyone else gets their own day except us. If every Irishy person in the world can get religiously drunk on March 17th, then why is it so hard to celebrate Columbus day with Chianti and some pizza? I think most Italian Americans want people to see the positive. We can all complain about how much of a shit Chris Columbus was while appreciating the food, the fashion and culture of Italy, which has contributed a lot to the United States. And for the record, we should have an all new holiday for indigenous people. They deserve more than a recycled day.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Steph's Advice to Fix Uber

Dear Uber,


Here we are. You've finally canned Travis Kalanick, what took you so long? You used to be cool but that was like, four years ago. For the past couple of years it just feels like you've been coasting off of your success from the past. How much longer can that go on? I guess if I was being showered with VC gold I would be hanging onto those old victories too. But you're a tech company, you provide a service to consumers, haven't you learned anything from your neighbors at Apple and Google about delighting customers? I'm sorry but you need to try harder. Your vision needs to be much much bigger, and it needs to include people outside of the C suite or Uber won't last.

If I may give some advice to your product, UX, and marketing teams it would be this:

Build up your brand

I know, I know, you think you did this already. But you didn't. I have never seen a single ad from Uber encouraging me to ride. No TV ads, no radio, no print ads, not even internet ads. Really? Not even a feel good ad like Apple puts out? Try harder.

Listen to your customer

I know you have ratings and reviews that's good. What are you doing with that data? Maybe to riders it feels like this information goes into a black hole. I bet if you ask people you'll uncover a landslide of great improvements. Try that.

Be a service, not an app

The simple act of pressing a button and getting a ride is a great start. But in order to grow, to get more customers using Uber more often you need to delight people. And human beings main point of contact with Uber is not the app, it's the cars, and the drivers. This is you're "Netflix Moment", Uber. Your challenge is to grow your business beyond the app. YOU need your own "Orange Is The New Black". Netflix started producing content, not just delivering content. Now, people are happy and not just subscribers, actors, producers, artists are making money too. It's a win-win that leads to even more profit. You need to start taking the ride experience to a whole other level and you're not going to achieve that with a load of contractors and some borrowed cars. YOU need to own your cars. YOU need to treat your good drivers as well as your corporate employees. You could do a lot right there.

You have great data on people, use it

I know you know this already but it seems like you're doing nothing with the data. With this information you can find patterns to expand ridership. With your data you know who your best drivers are and you can reward them. With this information you could have several drivers operating a single Uber owned vehicle equitably. You can turn efficiency gains into customer delight!

Hopefully a change in leadership will shift the focus away from being a "hot tech company" to a service that people can't get enough of.... With growth and revenues to follow.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

How to NOT Get Your Email Hacked

Never transmit STDs - Software Transmitted Diseases

I came up with this saying over 10 years ago. And today it's more relevant than ever thanks to Google Docs. Fortunately there are some simple rules I'd like to share and please feel free to pass this along.

The rule is simple - NEVER click on a link emailed to you unless you can absolutely verify it is legitimate.

Sub rule 1: If the email with link is from a business like your bank or from any online account you might have - Go directly to that website instead of clicking on the link in your email.

Sub rule 2: Tell friends, family and colleagues not to send you emails that look phishy. If they must share something over email ask them to at least write a sentence or two along with the link to show that the email is legitimate.

Sub rule 3: DO share with everyone these rules.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Comments Unchained

When I run for president, will people dredge up this blog? Will people even know to connect this, with me, and what will happen when that happens? Answer, probably a lot of crap I never expected to happen will happen.

I used to think comments were the best thing to happen to the internet. Right around 2007, when Facebook opened up to the rest of the world I marveled at their interface. The interaction design was perfection. My photo sitting right there next to a little box practically making me reply to every little thing posted to Facebook. Compelling and sticky, the perfect User Experience really connecting people, with words. This type of interface had already been around, in the form of self publishing and "user generated content". I loved the disruption a decade ago, especially when in 2009 Gourmet magazine ceased and the editor, Christopher Kimball penned his gripes in the New York Times.

"The shuttering of Gourmet reminds us that in a click-or-die advertising marketplace, one ruled by a million instant pundits, where an anonymous Twitter comment might be seen to pack more resonance and useful content than an article that reflects a lifetime of experience, experts are not created from the top down but from the bottom up. They can no longer be coronated; their voices have to be deemed essential to the lives of their customers. That leaves, I think, little room for the thoughtful, considered editorial with which Gourmet delighted its readers for almost seven decades."


The gall, I thought in 2009. I thought Kimball was speaking from a privileged perspective and didn't get it. Today in 2017 I am not so quick to criticize.

As an interaction and interface designer of more than 20 years I have been constantly observing how people interact with this thing we are all staring at right now. The web. Lately I have been paying a lot of attention to comments. I've noticed how the Washington Post's comments are insanely bad, but funny, because they are pretty much unmoderated. While the NYTimes comments are much better in all around quality because they are moderated. I've also seen how some websites have communities that self-moderate comments, or how groups will learn over time to self police comments on their venue of choice. But there are still many structural flaws to commenting of which only human moderation can fix a few.

A funny thing happened when I stopped using facebook. I got smarter, and a lot happier. Why did this happen? I think for a year leading up to the election, it wasn't the fake news or rude memes that frustrated me about what I was seeing online - it was people's responses to everything. Or even that everyone felt the need to respond to everything, no matter how stupid it was. Like stepping in dog poo and then strolling around the house ignorantly wondering what the weird smell is, that's how I felt a lot of users were reacting to the web. NO no no! Don't spread poo! I was trying to point out that some of these topics people were sharing were just "click bait". Stuff designed to make people react, usually angrily, and without thinking. I was fine with the cute animals but I was seeing less kittens and more mean and angry stupid shit. The more I tried to defend my idea of intelligent user interaction the more stupid shit I'd get stuck to my shoe.

Here's the really dumb part. Facebook was already profitable in 2008. Twitter was insanely profitable. A bunch of Silicon Valley fat cats and their VC friends are getting even richer on the backs of YOUR POSTS AND COMMENTS. So while people like me and you sit around ranting online in a comments section (I am totally guilty of this still without Facebook) we are literally handing money over to a bunch of strangers who don't deserve it. People who will now get to pay less taxes on the wealth generated from our words. We The People have enabled the biggest advertising orgy in existence simply by the fact that we can't help ourselves from complaining and we can't look away from our screens.  Is the real world so boring that we have nothing better to do?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Fake News Is Bad User Experience - Solutions for Combatting Fake News

I was only a little surprised to read yesterday during my commute about fake news. About a month ago I saw an advertisement online titled "Bigger Than Snowden" someone actually paid money towards an online ad campaign to purport that electromagnetic weapons are being used by the government to covertly target, monitor, and torture victims. Seriously. The link above goes to  google search results and you can see how this nonsense has been smeared around the internet as if it's true. Which it's not.

Did fake news catapult It (I'm not saying It's name) into the White House? NYTimes seems to think so. And you know what, I think so too. As a User Experience designer I know how to pull the same exact tricks that creators of fake news pulled. Any of us web professionals could easily fool a lot of people with fake stories.

Then I was a little surprised to read today about a group of college students who already solved the fake news problem in a hackathon.

It took only 36 hours for these students to solve Facebook's fake-news problem

Good for them.

For months leading up to the election I was flagging content on Facebook. Content that was offensive but not technically abusive by Facebook's terms. There were a lot of mean, belittling, inaccurate posts that are designed to stoke people's anger (or fear) that are OK to post on Facebook. I saw people being really mean with an image composed of 2 photos, one of Michelle Obama and the other of Beyonce. This wasn't fake news. It's perfectly fine to put this on Facebook.  A lot of meanness and vitriol was cultivated about the Obama's on social media, and I didn't see the point of cultivating all this anger, until November 9th.

Facebook Needs to Make an Effort

Frankly, it diminishes the User Experience of Facebook to visit the site and see a litany of angry memes. I like that Facebook let's me unfollow friends that are bothering me, but the flagging could be a lot more robust.

  • Bring the humans back. Just re-hire human moderators. You can afford it.
  • There should be an "inappropriate" flag that aligns with standard etiquette. Maybe "inappropriate" content should persist but with an overlay of a scarlet letter. like this: I . So people can continue to share it but they know that they are sharing something that's deemed rude. 
  • There should be a "false information" flag. 
  • Would love it if originators of content are revealed. There should be origination information about a post including the publishing website, country of origin, and other meta data. 
  • Display suspected fake content in front of people NOT tuned to like it. Let people vet news posts that they normally would not see because these posts live outside of their personalized experience. And then allow these users to apply the "false information" flag. 
  • Remove the fake news content from Facebook. The only way to stop fake news from being circulated to begin with, is to discourage it entirely by making the effort to post it too tedious. 

Google Needs to Make an Effort Too

The problem I am seeing in Google Search is pretty simple but still bad. Some of the more outrageous lies are spread via Google, sortof like it's algorithms have run amok and nobody's paying any attention to what they're doing. Here's what I saw and I brushed it off at the time. I'm trying to search for a popular news story, and the top result is something completely different.  The #1 result was coming back with some scandalous political YouTube post completely unrelated to my search.

Google started including comments on YouTube videos in their search results. So this enabled people to game google's search and get a piece of content like a YouTube video to appear on an unrelated search term.

It's against Google's terms of use to trick web pages into ranking higher in search. But it still works. Google is going to have a serious problem of scale on their hands if they allow this ecosystem of misinformation persist. I remember the ad-farms that used to pollute my search results in 2006, before Google tamped down on websites that were really only a collection of ads.  My search results are becoming polluted now, and again, this is bad User Experience and makes me want to use Google less.

I know Google has the capabilities to apply an extra layer of information to their search results to make it obviously clear that the content on that website is deemed fake. After all, here is the Denver Guardian, A fake news site. The way this site is presented in Google's search results makes it appear as if it's completely legitimate. This screenshot was taken today, November 16th, a day after the NY Times article called it out as a fake site. Here is Google giving the impression that this "FBI agent..." story is legit.



If Google is "Organizing the World's Information" I would have to give it a D grade. Does Google expect newspapers to fight back with stories??? If these tech companies don't fix these loopholes of misinformation, then rational normal content creators with suffer and we will all be poorer as a result.