How to build great collaboration software

Productivity software has changed a lot over the past decade. With the rise of cloud computing, software to handle documents and calendars has shifted from desktop-based, single-user to cloud-based and designed for sharing. At the same time, the Internet has ushered in the rise of social media. As a result, productivity software has converged with communications software to give us the collaboration software we know today. At best, collaboration tools make it simple and delightful to communicate, plan, and build things in groups. But I still see lots of websites and apps still making basic mistakes that get in the way. So fundamentally, what makes a collaboration tool work well? Here are some rules I follow when building out the user inerface for collaboration tools, starting with the core architecture of a service and continuing with how to get the details right. Allow multiple accounts to access each workspace Many ...(Read More)

Remembering Clifford Nass

Yesterday morning, I was shocked to hear about the passing of Clifford Nass over the weekend. He was a professor in Stanford’s Communication department and a brilliant researcher in computer interfaces. I’m humbled to have had the opportunity to take his courses and benefit from his mentorship, and it saddens me that he passed away in the middle of his career, with so many potential years of cutting-edge technology research still ahead of him. I first met Professor Nass as a prospective freshman at Stanford’s Admit Weekend. He was giving a presentation on his latest research on voice interfaces, which found that people have the same response to variations in gender and emotion in voice recordings, regardless of whether the voice is human or robotic. He was so enthusiastic to share his work that he could hardly finish one sentence before moving on to the next one. His presentation demonstrated ...(Read More)

User interface interactions I like

I’ve found that it’s much easier to criticize bad user interfaces than it is to celebrate good ones: when a UI has usability issues you get frustrated; when a UI works well, you carry on with what you were doing. So I’d like to take the time to recognize a few interfaces with interactions that I find delightful. Cameras with helpful error messages I have an Olympus Pen E-P3 camera that I use a couple times a month. There are a variety of mistakes I commonly make when quickly taking out my camera for a photo, like leaving the lens cap on, or starting off in the wrong camera mode. These mistakes take valuable seconds of fumbling to recognize and correct, which often means missing the opportunity for an action shot, or making people in a group pose wait around awkwardly. Another mistake I make is leaving the 14-42mm lens ...(Read More)

Tech products and services as rooms of a house

I moved to New York about 2 months ago, and I’ve been trying to learn as much as possible about the tech and software industry here to orient myself. Part of that process has been reading the book Tech and the City, which I found about about through Fred Wilson’s AVC blog. The book quotes entrepreneur Chris Dixon, who compared development of the Internet industry to construction of a house: “Imagine the Internet as a house. The first phase — laying the foundation, the bricks —happened in the ‘90s. No wonder that Boston and California, heavy tech places with MIT and Stanford, dominated the scene at that time. The house has been built, now it’s more about interior design. Many interesting, recent companies haven’t been started by technologists but by design and product-oriented people, which has helped New York a lot. New York City has always been a consumer media ...(Read More)

Before SOPA, there was DOPA

Most U.S. internet users are familiar with the proposed Congress bill Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). With overly broad rules and far-reaching consequences, SOPA would change the Internet as we know it by giving the U.S. censorship powers equivalent to those of political regimes in Iran or China, and by severely limiting the ability for search engines and content-sharing sites to freely index and deliver user-generating content. A similarly-named and similarly overreaching, but much lesser-known bill called the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) was on the table half a decade ago, in late 2006. DOPA would have required certain public schools in the U.S. with federal funding for Internet access to block access to social networking sites where so-called adult “sexual predators” could contact and harass teenagers. While DOPA did not affect the operations of the Internet as a whole, it would have severely limited high school students’ access to ...(Read More)