I aim to shape products, interfaces and services that mediate meaningful dialogues between people, systems and their environments within everyday life.
Last weekend I attended Spotlight HTML5 held at U of T covering an interesting range of HTML5-related topics like geolocation, semantic tagging structure, back-end canvas drawing, CSS3, interactive web video, and polyfills. Speakers came from Teehan+Lax Labs, Microsoft, Adobe, and AOL.
The talk about CSS3 was pretty exciting as it highlighted some new features you can now do on the web that couldn’t have been done in the past. The big advantages of CSS3 are better search engine placement from the use of real text, increased page performance, better usability and accessibility, optimized styles, and the ability to draw and animate elements.
A topic that continually came up throughout the various talks was the concept of responsive design, in which the layout of the content adapts to the device/media you are using. Greg Rewis in fact, stresses that browsing experiences should not be the same across different platforms and resolutions. The CSS3 specifications now includes media queries to target not only specific devices but physical characteristics of the devices like screen width and resolution. CSS3 also introduced some new background specifications; background-size is of particular interest, especially from an accessibility perspective. This property lets you specify the size of the background image, either as a fixed value or relative to the background positioning area. It doesn’t sound particularly interesting so far — but say you use background images for text menu items and your users need to bump up the text size for easier reading, the background images would scale WITH the larger text sizes. You end up with an elegant and flexible UI where the text doesn’t look like they’ve broken out of the confines of static images. A great example of this is the Fresh Picked Design site:
The CSS3 talk was only one of many interesting presentations that day, but the other presentation slides can be found on the FITC site. For me, the conference was a great introduction to the new features and specifications enabled by HTML5 and CSS3 that will provide some inspiration for my future designs on the web.
As an avid traveller, I’m a seasoned user of flight search aggregator tools to find the cheapest and most convenient flight that fits my requirements. Tired of scanning through tables of text, I was delighted when I played around with the user-friend Hipmunk, a new flight search tool that visualizes all the flight results in a timeline that makes it easy to read, understand and manipulate.
First off, I love that I can constrain the search to only Star Alliance network since I’ll only fly those airlines to maximize my Aeroplan points. Once the search is performed, the basic information such as price, airline(s), departure/arrival airports, number of stopovers, stopover airport, flight duration, and departure/arrival times are all colour-coded, organized and displayed in the timeline. Exact details are shown in a popup when you select an individual flight. It hides flights worse than others, decreasing the amount of visual clutter to sort through. In addition to the ability to sort by price, stops, arrival/departure times and duration, Hipmunk can also sorts by agony, which co-founder Adam Goldstein describes as
..a combined function of price, duration, and number of stops—basically the total agony you’ll experience in your butt and your savings.
The draggable departure and arrival times on the visual timeline is not groundbreaking, but it’s definitely a refreshing alternative to the existing flight search engines.
And finally, I gotta give brownie points for the awesome name.
The CASCON conference wrapped up last week so here’s a bit of a summary of a few more interesting talks and workshops I attended.
Technology of Google Wave
Alex Nicolaou, Mobile Engineering Manager at Google, presented an inter
esting keynote about Google Wave. He introduced the concept and the idea behind Wave for those who were not familiar with it. He talked about some cool product features I didn’t know about such as grammar-based spell check that can be implemented for various other languages (and perhaps even for programming languages?), uploading photos to create a shared album and access control to different parts of the Wave and private annotations. In terms of platform, robots and gadgets can be added to and embedded in Waves for added interactivity and extended functionality.
As someone who has previewed Google Wave and had been initially confused with the entire application, I posed the question: The current email platform is very simple and easy to use, but using this new paradigm of combining chat, email and Google docs all into one, there seems to be mixed reactions so far. How does Google envision the widespread adoption of the application when the user experience is complex and confusing?
Alex explained that Google didn’t predefine specifics on how one can or should use Wave. Since it does so many things, there are many possibilities in the patterns of usage and behaviours that will emerge. The most interesting uses would be the unexpected activities that were not initially designed for that can arise. I later found a site that lists a wide variety of possible use cases in different contexts, so it will be exciting to see what can come out of Google Wave.
Sensor-Based Support of Clinical Contexts in Hospitals
This engaging workshop was conducted by Mark Chignell, director of the Interactive Media Lab at the University of Toronto. He introducted the use of sensors as a tool in facilitating smart interactions to understand context and situations of our environment so that humans can work smarter, not harder. Smart interactions for health care is significant because of the criticality, complexity and richness of data within the sector. For example, using sensors to identify problematic clinical contexts can provide decision support, simplify tasks, and improve doctor/patient interactions. We had a guest scientist/physician, Dr. Jacques Lee, from Sunnybrook Hospital participate in the discussion, which was quite valuable in understanding the current processes and problems and gaining feedback about idealized scenarios and user study evalutions presented by IML researchers.
Dr. Lee presented an interesting topic that he specializes in: sensing and preventing delirium in the emergency department (ED). Delirium is an acute brain failure that is preventable, common, and is yet easy to miss and lethal. Approximately 30-35% of patients develop delirium as they remain immobile in the ED, but many of these patients are sent home because the condition was never detected by the doctor. Delirium can usually be detected by sensing abnormal extremes (hyperactivity or inactivity) and by testing direct cognitive tasks. Accelerometers attatched to the thigh or behind the ears to sense hyperactive motion are possible solutions for indicators. Questions of practicality and acceptance then must be considered including the visual appearance and obtrusiveness.
Overall the workshop delved into some interesting discussions between designers, researchers, healthcare specialists and technologists regarding the future of sensor-based technologies that can be used to improve current healthcare processes and human-computer/human-human interactions.
La semaine passé, j’ai reçu une invitation pour essayer Google Wave que Google a récemment introduit. On dirait que c’est le nouveau mode de communication et collaboration en ligne, avec l’objectif de révolutionner la façon dont on envoie des courri
els. À présent, les courriels restent simples et utiles dans nos vies quotidiennes, mais il y a quelques problèmes : il y a beaucoup de copies et versions du même courriel qui sont créés et envoyés pour chaque destinataire, on ne peut pas intégrer des contenus de richesses comme des vidéos, des diaporamas, ou des cartes, on doit faire des citations manuelles pour répondre à une partie d’un message et finalement, il n’est pas facile à envoyer une réponse privée à seulement quelques personnes dans un groupe message. Par suite, Google Wave traite une conversation comme un document en direct où toutes les participants partagent une seule copie de ce document. Ce concept permet tous les participants de se collaborer dans le courriel en temps réel.
Après avoir essayé Google Wave, j’étais tellement confus avec l’interface utilisateur. À mon avis, je trouve ce nouveau paradigme de combiner Gmail, Google Docs et Google Talk ensemble un peu déroutant parce qu’au départ, on dirait qu’il est comme une messagerie instantanée glorifiée et les chaînes de conversations sont désordonnées et ne sont pas linéaires. Cet outil est encore en avant-première et n’est pas très pratique, mais afin qu’il soit adopté si répandu comme les courriels on doit chercher des situations intéressantes dans laquelle on peut l’employer.
Last night I attended Web Wednesday’s social mixer featuring Matt Mullenweg, the 25-year old founder of WordPress. Blogging is a very social method of communication. One interesting phenomenon that has emerged within the WordPress blogging sphere is a side community Club Penguin members, for exchanging cheats, items and trades. Matt’s team has a project extending from simple blogging called BuddyPress thats builds a social networking platform on top of WordPress installations. Matt also discussed the direction of moving WordPress from allowing the user to simply be a content producer (writer) to content consumer (reader) by perhaps aggregating feeds onto the WP dashboard.
And what about the microblogging trend popularized by Twitter and Facebook? Does this mean a fundamental shift for the way we produce and consume content? In a way, yes, since many people who have never devoted the time to maintaining a blog can now easily blog short, random thoughts (quite perfect for celebrities, many of whom have jumped on the bandwagon!) News feeds can be updated by the minute, which have some Twitterers replacing their RSS with reading news tweets. That is not to say that blogs are being pushed by the wayside. They are much more rich in content and character still, and embodies the personality of the writer.
Other interesting ideas Matt discussed was the future of centralizing means of distribution of content over the web. Now with a slew of social networking applications like Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, Tumblr, Delicious, Twitter, just to name a few, in addition to personal blogs, it is quite a hassle to update the same information or post the same content over multiple platforms to reach your different networks. The concept of a “hub press” will enable users to post and share content across multiple platforms from a central hub. Ping.fm is one online service that makes it easier to update your social networks from one location. Online articles provide the ability for readers to share them with people in their networks, to the extent that we have so many outlets through which to re-post.
In addition to managing one’s various social networks, it’s also another task to manage one’s identities that vary across networks, not unlike the roles we take on in real life under different social settings. This concept of separating and aggregating profiles is an interesting area of discussion. Ben Metcalfe sums up his article about this topic by stating that although the most logical thing to do would be to centralize all our information and accounts, our social behaviours and they way we interact in social groups is very organic and dynamic -they way we present ourselves changes according to the social context.