Google Chrome Bookmarks:

I was going to write a ranty explanation of all thegood features Google removed from Chrome’s bookmarking utility, and all the bad, useless features they added, but instead I’ll focus on why their decision is short-sighted and anti-user.

google chrome bookmarks ui

1. If they’d looked outside their internal population of Search fans, they’d see that lots of Chrome users are using Bookmarks as an info organization tool. These casually productivity-minded folks save web content for later in hierarchies that work for their specific projects and goals. They’re saving them because Bookmarks is an extra brain that lets them categorize it and forget it.

2. Search is predicated on the idea that the user can verbalize and thus even remember in the first place what exactly they need. Saving content in a hierarchy allows the human to forget the content by storing its relevancy in the external brain of their branched Bookmark folders.

3. The new search-based bookmarks didn’t even bother to convert folders into tags. Folders are nigh irrelevant in a search-based environment. They become a tagging system of max 1 tag per item. If the Goog had instead added a rich tagging system to Bookmarks, productivity users would be singing hallelujah.

4. Google removed the ability to move items around within a folder. The items in a folder are now listed either alphabetically or in order of when you added them to the folder, preventing org users from using order as an organizational tool.

5. Google removed the ability to view the expanded and collapsed hierarchy of your folders, making it difficult to use the hierarchy structure to organize your items.

Basically the point of bookmarking things is that you won’t remember to search for them later. When Google removed folders, they removed users’ only way of reminding themselves to go back to important destinations.

Un-paradoxing our age

These statements are so true! But very bleak, so I took the liberty of paraphrasing in a more active and positive frame.

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We have bigger houses but smaller families; Instead of seeking a bigger house, welcome more people into your “family”.

more conveniences, but less time; Instead of seeking more conveniences, be grateful for the time that you spend in your day.

We have more degrees, but less sense; When you’re attaining your degree, strive to gain more common (and uncommon) good sense.

more knowledge, but less judgement; Instead of seeking more knowledge, hone your sense of decisiveness.  

more experts, but more problems; While you’re becoming an expert, make your expertise useful in solving real problems.  

more medicines, but less healthiness; Make medicine your last resort, and make your lifestyle a healthy one.

We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor. When you’re dreaming of walking on the moon, pause to be grateful for what’s already right in front of you.  

We build more computers to hold more information to produce more copies then ever, but have less communication; When you notice yourself hoarding data on your hard drive, recall that we welcomed computers into our lives to make communication easier; send someone an email to say ‘hi’.

We have become long on quantity, but short on quality. Remove our focus from quantity, and return to the pursuit of quality.  

These are times of fast foods but slow digestion; Eat consciously and savor each bite.

Tall men but short character; Be strong and people will recognize that in you.

Steep profits but shallow relationships. Ask yourself how your profit-seeking has served you, and then spend a few moments to reach out and deepen one of the relationships in your life.

It’s a time when there is much in the window, but nothing in the room. Fill your life with meaningful experiences and deep connections.

Map detail!

Okay, so maybe you only go into a Best Buy approximately once every 3 years, but this is really neat. Best Buy added their store’s floor plan to Google Maps, findable just by browsing around the map:

Not sure why or how the Geek Squad is the center of 94103


It would be great to have this for Rainbow Grocery, Costco, Home Depot, etc. Since it’s the only store that has their floor plan built into Google Maps, it feels more like an advertisement than a feature, but hopefully it’s paving the way to having this info accessible for every business eventually.

Sony’s $10 black earbuds vs. Apple’s $29 EarPods with volume & mic

Apple’s EarPods win. I was honestly surprised. I generally assume Apple has massive markups for their branded products, and, since they’re not historically an audio company, that their headphones wouldn’t be as good as good ol’ Sony. But when I plugged both models in back-to-back to my iPhone (playing the same song), the Apple EarPods honestly just blew the Sony earbuds out of the water. I’m not an acoustics expert, but the bass end of the spectrum was super impressive with the EarPods and basically absent with the Sonys. Overall sound might’ve been clearer with the EarPods too, but it was the bass range that really made it. Mad props, Apple. (I’ll keep covering the Apple earbuds with foam covers for a better fit though.)

(These are the EarPods I’m talking about, and these are the Sony earbuds.)

Zazzle’s anti-free-speech practices

So this is interesting. I recently created a product on Zazzle called “NSA-proof communication device.” It’s a dry erase board. (Get it? Get it?) It looked like this:

zazzle nsa proof communication device


It was up for a couple of days before I received an email from Zazzle’s Content Review Team reading,

Unfortunately, it appears that your product, NSA-proof communication device, contains content that is in conflict with one or more of our acceptable content guidelines. We will be removing this product from the Zazzle Marketplace shortly.

Product Title: NSA-proof communication device
Product Type: aif_dryeraseboard
Product ID: 256940178052035216
Result: Not Approved
Policy Notes: Design contains an image or text that may infringe on intellectual property rights. We have been contacted by the intellectual property right holder and we will be removing your product from Zazzle’s Marketplace due to infringement claims.

Translation: The NSA told Zazzle that some part of “NSA-proof communication device” is their copyright, and Zazzle interpreted my dry-erase board as infringing on that copyright. I can only assume it’s the NSA’s name that is allegedly copyrighted. Obviously, this product’s invocation of the NSA name falls under fair use, since it’s parody.

Zazzle is treading into dangerous territory if they think they should take down every single instance the letters ‘NSA’ appear in products on their site. Really makes it look like Zazzle is an enemy of free speech. Or at best, too darn lazy to protect free speech in the face of an email from a big corporation or government agency.

I’ve been fighting with their customer service for a day and a half now, and the most recent action they asked me to take (which I obediently complied with since I’m a peon) is to state, with my e-signature, that I agree to get sued by the person who filed the takedown request. Bring it on.

Measuring site engagement: A means that has become an end.

Engagement is the level of interaction and duration that a user is on the site.

While product teams themselves keep the site/app’s features oriented around the product’s larger goals (e.g., helping people share photos, helping people communicate in general), metrics of engagement are used by product marketing teams to show advertisers that it’s worthwhile to buy ads on a site or app. Engagement was never meant to be an end in itself, but to figure out what the users are doing, and see if the product is meeting its original goals.

Gradually over the course of a company focusing more and more on monetizing, these engagement metrics play a bigger and bigger role in dictating product decisions, spurred by a marketing team seeking more advertisers, and, ultimately, management seeking more revenue.

When engagement takes a front seat, we start seeing the product’s original goals being uncomfortably edged out. Where once Facebook’s goal was to let people share stuff with each other and see who’s connected to who, now their goal seems to be to draw back as many eyeballs to the newsfeed as possible (where the ads are) by lighting up the ‘home’ link with a red jewel as soon as there’s new content.

Surely someone on the design team understood that a news feed jewel would be counterproductive to the user’s goals (eg. reading inbox messages with their undivided attention and responding without distraction). But that usability wisdom got swept away by the product team or management when the promise of more eyeballs was proposed.

Now the question is: can we hack the standard list of engagement metrics to be tailored more towards a product’s original goals and value mission, and avoid engagement metrics from being focused on just monetization and catering to advertisers?

Privacy design

Let’s take a look at Facebook’s “How people bring your info into apps they use” feature.

Facebook loves simplicity. This works out well for social interfaces that have a simple backend, but it works out poorly for things that have a complicated backend like Facebook’s privacy settings for apps people use.

When people are wondering where their information will end up, there’s no way to simplify the verbiage you use to explain this to them, while communicating all the answers to their questions. The only information we get in this control panel is, “People on Facebook who can see your info can bring it with them when they use apps.” This leaves a lot of unanswered questions, namely:

  • Will my friend’s apps be able to see this information even if my friend can’t?
  • Once my friend’s app brings over a piece of my information that only he can see, can that app make it public to everyone?

If Facebook is allowing apps to make private information public, this would violate Facebook’s own TOS clause that also prohibits people from taking screenshots of someone’s profile and making it public. This question can easily be cleared up by using more explicit, precise terms. “Bring info into an app” doesn’t say anything about what happens to that info. Does the app store my info that my friend brings to them? Can the app then show that info to other people besides my friend?

This is not the place to be oversimplified and big-picture-oriented; Facebook needs to have text (either in the privacy settings, or in a separate, super-detailed document) to answer all of these questions.

A quick critique of a Facebook rooster announcement

A “rooster” is an anchored (non-pop-up) but closeable announcement at the top of a page, usually seen on a landing page after you log in, eg., on Facebook, at the top of News Feed.

When Facebook rolled out a new feature called Subscribe which allows users to see (public) posts in their News Feed by people who aren’t on their friends list), they let users know about this by showing a rooster at the top of the News Feed. There are a couple of things wrong with this rooster that I’ll describe below and suggest remedies for.

1. The wording of this particular rooster was clunky: “Now you can let anyone get things you share publicly right in their News Feeds.” You’d have to read that sentence out loud, just to get its meaning.

2. Users don’t read. If a user can’t figure out how to use your new feature just by clicking around on it, please reconsider how you’re presenting it to them. Fortunately, “subscribing” is a simple and straightforward functionality, so users will be able to figure out how it works just by noticing it and clicking on it. Since the idea of “subscribing” is straighforward, this feature would have been better highlighted with a flag that says “New” or some other simple highlighting technique, rather than a disembodied text box in a different location.

A lesson from Facebook’s 2008 redesign

In 2008, Facebook launched a new redesign for users’ profile pages. There were a bunch of interface changes: the first intermingling of status updates and wall posts, tabs along the top to replace the profile’s array of boxes, and a few others. Facebook planned to launch all of these changes at the same time, and to help users deal with this big change, Facebook gave users the ability to switch back and forth between the old and the new. This backfired and alienated users for a couple of reasons:

1. Changes to your interface should be imperceptible. Think of your product as a robot, and your interface as the robot’s face. If several things change all at one, your user’s trustworthy robot friend will be less recognizable, more foreign, and the user will be alienated and confused by this interface that is no longer quite as familiar and trustworthy.

2. When Facebook gave its users the option to switch back and forth between the old and new profile layout, users thought the switching itself was a new feature. Users spread the word to their friends that “now you can choose which layout to use.” In some ways, the ability to switch back and forth was indeed a new “feature” that would soon be removed from the site, and users then got upset that this feature was removed.

Facebook’s well-meaning designers thought they were giving users something valuable: the power to choose, and the chance acclimate themselves to the new interface before it would be forced upon them. But their mistaken assumptions were that users want to make deliberate choices, and that users only want to be familiar with an interface before using it. This isn’t the case: users don’t want to exert any conscious effort to become familiar to something new: they want the new thing to already be familiar. The only way to ensure that is to prevent them from detecting that the new thing is different at all by making changes very gradually.