23and…everybody

I saw a tweet which included the unstoppable Aral about 23andMe

You may remember I wrote about my thoughts about joining up and then a follow up.

Well…. as per the tweet

Today, 23andMe announced what Forbes reports is only the first of ten deals with big biotech companies: Genentech will pay up to $60 million for access to 23andMe’s data to study Parkinson’s. You think 23andMe was about selling fun DNA spit tests for $99 a pop? Nope, it’s been about selling your data all along.

Since 23andMe started in 2006, it’s convinced 800,000 customers to hand over their DNA, one vial of spit at a time. Personal DNA reports are the consumer-facing side of the business, and that’s the one we’re most familiar with. It all seems friendly and fun with a candy-colored logo and quirky reports that include the genetic variant for asparagus pee.

Its not even shocking…

We all (well some of us) knew this was coming. It does make me wonder how far companies such as 23andme will go?

I started listening to Andrew Keen on Triangulation today before leaving for work. I only got 10-15mins through when I found myself agreeing with Andrew on something (and it really hurts me to say so).

He mentioned something about Uber and the value of these services. 23andme I imagine would be added to the example pile too.

Another video which must be watched…

Aral Balkan – Free is a Lie – Thinking Digital 2014 from Thinking Digital on Vimeo.

Aral drives me a little crazy, I end up writing massive long blog posts about his talks. But I have to give it to him, the showmanship and underlying ideas are pretty much good. You can see for yourself in the talk which got me writing about the 5 stacks.

Don’t forget to check out my blog for BBC R&D connected what happened at the Quantified self and Thinking DigitalThe panel discussion which I made reference to, is also up and Tom Scott’s video telling us its all going to be ok.

Maybe next time you should come to Thinking Digital and experience it for yourselves?

Choose your ecosystem wisely

Android robot-shaped KitKat bars

In my mind the primeconf online dating talk has a lot of parallels with what I have been looking at in regards to  the different stacks and data ethics.

One of my biggest posts was one about the 5 stacks after listening to Bruce Sterling’s talk at SxSw interactive in 2012.  But came across a really interesting piece while looking into the Google IO.

Its time to choose your religion, Android or iOS?

It’s impossible for Google or Apple to introduce a new feature, let alone a whole new revision, to their mobile operating systems without it instantly being compared to the other’s alternative. The sparks that inflame heated discussions about who’s got the better notifications or smarter multitasking come right from the top of both companies. While unveiling Android L yesterday, Google’s Sundar Pichai took a subtle dig at Apple’s new iOS 8 by saying that custom keyboards and widgets “happened in Android four to five years ago.”

Of course this also applies to Amazon with their recent Firephone, Microsoft with Windows Phone and somewhat Facebook too.

Frankly the copying of each other is boring and getting tiresome. But regardless my bets are still with Google. Although I won’t lie, Google Fit although a better thought out proposition than Apple’s Healthkit, worries the heck out of me. Can you even imagine the insane algorithms which will be built?

Although not a foil hat wearing person, I will say I’m one of those people who removing  Moves app from my Nexus5 when Facebook bought them. And that was for a subset of personal data! I didn’t even stick around to see the EULA change because I had a idea of what they might do with that data.

Life will surely be sweeter once every gadget you own relates intelligently to every other, but to get there, you’ll have to decide where your loyalties lie. And the fact that both Android and iOS platforms are set for their biggest updates in years this fall means that the obsessive comparisons between them will be as salient as they’ve ever been. More than ever, your smartphone preference will dictate your choice of tablet, TV, car, watch, and even fitness tracker.

Its a shame things are this way. For example even Ubuntu are following this route with their Ubuntu Cloud, Phone,Tablet, etc. Whats driving all this besides the money, massive collections of data and customer lock in? User experience…

Last year when Aral gave his talk at Thinking Digital about user experience, I was up in arms again (seems everything Aral says, I tend to get up in arms about).The notion of a single user experience winds me up. Each user (in lui of a better word, citizen, person, etc) is different and although you can build experiences for a bulk of people, we have the technology and experience to build  but enlightening and masterful experiences which don’t trap users in a silky web, where you can only emerge a little lighter in regards to personal data.

What Apple and Google are building is what Nike, Adidas, and all the fashion brands wish they had: a set of concrete reasons to compel people to use one company for all their needs. It’s brand loyalty based on practicality as much as emotional attachment.

There has to be a better way right? Absolutely!

The utopian scenario would be to have one global ecosystem where the communication between Apple and Google was about device interoperability instead of trash talk among execs. In its absence, a few sprouts of hope come from companies like Nike and the Google-owned (but still independently operated) Nest.

Yes, the utopian scenario is what we should be working towards and to be fair, many are. However its very complex to build a excellent user experience across different data sets, APIs and services. Its alot easier to just build your own and force the user experience you think people should have.  As Ade said, people’s enthusiasm for federated decentralised $WHATEVER tends to be very low. I imagine its ever lower when considering the user experience. Getting things working technically is hard enough, so the user experience tends to get shuffled into a later position. I do agree with Aral on this. I would also agree this is part of the reason why the stacks are able to increase their lead and dictate the terms which suit their business model.

The old specter of Apple’s walled garden remains. And the more unified Google becomes, the more it’s beginning to resemble it. The difference with the latest software from both, however, is in the scale of the closed ecosystems that are being built. They are, by design, big enough to fit your whole life into. While the next phone you buy might not last much longer than a couple of years, the ecosystem it plugs and locks you into will likely be the one you use for a long time to come.

I would say its not just about choosing wisely, but also choosing wisely what you do on their platform. Its clear things are more difficult as a result of not being all in with one of the stacks but for the inconvenience and pain of wiring up your own solution between the gaps. It may in years to come make all the difference?

User experience design with Aral

Safety dip

Before I start on this little rant, its worth pointing out this is following a talk from Aral Balkan’s talk at Thinking Digital 2013. I have still yet to write my review of the best talks and my own experience with Perceptive Radio but I had to stop and moan about Aral’s talk.

Aral is a friend and I like him a lot but even in the early days I disagreed with him on so many things.

Aral showed many examples of really bad user experience design, many where they got the focus wrong.

User experience bugs me, I agree with a lot but then there are many examples where it seems like a simple no brainier. I would generalise what Aral was showing but I lost my notes by accident in the wifi handover (hoping there still on my tablet and just need to load up evernote and sync the notes. So as I was saying user experience is important but they sometimes go too far…

Here’s something I tweeted last year…

“Frankly this is the worst keypad layout I’ve seen in the wild. should be a shamed of this! http://yfrog.com/odgevclj”

Aral spoke about washing machines and how complex they are. He suggested all you need is a some places to put the washing powder and fabric conditioner. A button or two to maybe start a programme and thats it. Well no I disagree. My mum is a genius with the washing machine and she knows exactly what to put in for the weight and volume of clothes. To be such a expert required time and effort, shes proud than shes mastered the washing machine.

Having a single button machine would rob my mother of her mastery of that machine.

Now I imagine Aral would say, for the bulk of people, all they want to do is get there clothes clean and they don’t really care. And he would be right. I generally don’t care but robbing people of the ability to master a system or device seems a real shame and I’d say is criminal.

After Arals talk and a slight break for audience clapping. He launched into how he’s been involved in helping the next generation to learn how to get their digital skills. How ironic that most of us got our start by mastering the computer by ultimately being geeky.

If you subscribe to the idea that we are almost all geeky about something (coding, design, cars, cooking, paintings, trains, stamps, celebrities, tv shows, beer, phones, films, cocktails, gardening, farming, sports, etc). Most of these require experience, understanding and mastery. Robbing someone of this seems at least to me anti-human.

Not that I’m saying you should have to go through an ordeal to get a ticket for the train/metro/tram. The example of the CTA machine is a total joke, I remember looking at it when I last was last in Chicago and thought what level of hell does this machine come from?

Heat control

I would say the showers in most modern hotels is up as a example of a great user experience because they have that recommended option but if you know better you can press the button and get even more heat. Yes the button protects you from burning but it can also be easily bypassed. Now thats my kind of user experience.

Aral mentioned a few other things which had my fingers tapping.

“Design can not be democratic, design is opinionated and full of assumptions.”

Design can not be democratic? I say rubbish, designers work in small groups and collaborate on problems all the time. I would go as far as to say design in isolation is art. Design doesn’t have to be opinionated, in actual fact user experience design is about designing around the accordances of the user. This means working around them and not making assumptions…

Anyway everything I’ve said is just my view and I’m sure I would say the same to Aral’s face. Looking forward to next time we meet and of course 🙂 Which will be soon… Good talk even though I was screaming inside 🙂