Boagworld Show S05E06

Web & Digital Advice

Digital and web advice from Headscape and the addled brain of Paul Boag... tell me more

Paul Boag Posted by: Paul Boag On Thursday, 21st February, 2013

All apps are evil (but Mark Boulton is great)

This week on our little web design podcast; facebook breaks the internet, Mark Boulton refines the canons of design and we all queue up for mailbox.

Season 5:
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Paul Boag:
[Groans]. That’s how I am starting the show this week.

Marcus Lillington:
You sound like you have just got out of bed.

Paul Boag:
It’s like 9 o’clock in the morning, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes. True, I’m on holiday.

Paul Boag:
What the hell are we doing?

Marcus Lillington:
I’m having to do the podcast today because I’m so busy, I’m having to do it on the day I’ve got off this week. Shouldn’t have the day off I guess.

Paul Boag:
Well yeah, serves you right for having a holiday.

Marcus Lillington:
I’m being good. I’m taking my son to university. But yes, what?

Paul Boag:
People set up web design businesses in the belief that they’re going to have more time and more time for their family and things like that. What a load of bollocks.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, I don’t know. If I had a job in London, I wouldn’t see my family as much. If I had to commute for example.

Paul Boag:
No. That’s true.

Marcus Lillington:
I think maybe people think that it’s going to be a bit bohemian and kind of creative and stuff, which I guess it is very occasionally. But pretty much it’s running a business. But, there you go.

Paul Boag:
Yes. Anyway. So I hope nobody’s expecting very much from this week’s show because I just – I am beyond caring. And then – so I’ve got – I’m supposed to doing this expert review, aren’t I Marcus?

Marcus Lillington:
You are, yes.

Paul Boag:
And it’s not going to happen today. It’s not going to happen today. I’ll do mindless tasks today and think tomorrow. I might have a vague poke around their website.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, just have a kind of like – just tell yourself you’re not starting and then you might start it, just thinking about it; this and that. We’re still waiting for some info anyway, aren’t we? But anyway who cares about that apart from them and us.

Paul Boag:
Well no, I’m sure people want to know how professional I am. And I think I’ve demonstrated that by saying I’m supposed to be doing this important piece of client work but I can’t be arsed.

Marcus Lillington:
I think what you’re saying Paul is that you have to wait for the right moment to – when you’re in full creativity mode before you can start it. And you recognize that, so therefore you are a professional.

Paul Boag:
Oh cool. I always thought I was. You’ve convinced me.

Marcus Lillington:
Or something like that, anyway.

Paul Boag:
Something like that. No, I mean it is true, isn’t it? You do have to kind of work when you’re in the right frame of mind, especially when you’re doing something that’s quite mentally challenging, if that makes sense.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
Because it’s – although I can’t work out whether it’s – it’s catch–22 because when I went up – obviously you know that I’ve just done a day’s consultancy up in Edinburgh. And –

Marcus Lillington:
Yes. How did it go Paul, I’m going to ask you here?

Paul Boag:
It went very well. It was one of those really weird situations – this is a complete tangent from what I was going to say, but – where the client that I was dealing with was really, really very knowledgeable and so actually I had very little to add.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay.

Paul Boag:
Which is slightly embarrassing, that kind of situation. It’s one of those weird roles mind, as a consultant, where what do you do, right? You go into the situation and I could have gone in and I could have said ‘oh no, you’re doing it all wrong’ and stamp my authority on it just so that I am kind of justifying my own fee, if that makes sense.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah…

Paul Boag:
But I really don’t like people that do that. So, in the end all we did is we kind of went through the material that he was producing and the stuff he was doing. And I just encouraged him. You know, you’re going down the right lines, you’re doing the right kind of stuff and feel good about that really.

Marcus Lillington:
What they’re paying for – or what they paid you for is to affirm that their ideas are correct, which, that’s worth something.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, yeah absolutely. And I mean it’s worth something for him internally as well because he can go – it gives him confidence going to his bosses and other stakeholders and saying ‘I’ve had this audited from somebody outside.’

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
So I’m not saying it’s without value, it’s just a bit of a weird experience really. I mean there were one or two things, because large institutions have this kind of habit of splitting things down departmental boundaries, you had kind of one group of people doing the IA and another group of people doing the technology and another group of people doing the kind of aesthetic design and they weren’t kind of speaking to one another. So, I mean there were things like that I could help with. But generally speaking, I’m really, really quite impressed. It’s so exciting when you get a client that really kind of knows their stuff. So, it’s good.

Marcus Lillington:
Just one small question and probably not really for podcast, but I mean, weren’t we discussing the other day about the idea that maybe there was a little bit too much emphasis on CMS there and that I was promising that I’d write a blog post about it one year?

Paul Boag:
Yeah, absolutely. I think that was more a reflection of the documentation that had been sent through to me…

Marcus Lillington:
I see. Right, fair enough.

Paul Boag:
… rather than necessarily their kind of overall vision. I mean that’s the big thing that they’re trying to resolve at the moment, is what content management systems do they go with, and how’s that going to be organized and stuff like that. But their kind of overarching plan is a really good one. It just takes time within large organizations to get where you want to get. It’s like trying to turn an oil tanker, isn’t it? You have to plan ahead and do it in little steps. No, but I was – it’s great, they were a great bunch. But again – no, what I was going to say was, when we were talking about working –

Marcus Lillington:
Well done for remembering, I’ve forgotten what we were talking about

Paul Boag:
[Laughs] Working when you feel like it.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh, yeah.

Paul Boag:
See I was saying that you kind of need to work when the muse hits you, so to speak. But in that kind of situation, you have to turn up and just do the business, whether you feel like it or not, and you kind of do get there if you push through the pain threshold, don’t you?

Marcus Lillington:
Of course, yeah, I mean –

Paul Boag:
Or perhaps that is why I had nothing to suggest to them, because I was brain dead. If it had been a better day perhaps I would have been full of wonderful ideas.

Marcus Lillington:
I’m sure – if they’re listening to this, I’m sure that fills them with confidence.

This actually does – this slightly relates to – not that I’m pimping my post in any way, shape, or form, but it relates a bit to what I was saying in the last post that I wrote about Jessica Hische and her procrasti-working.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s a bit of a leap. But basically she’s saying that we tend to fill our downtime, maybe not with just doing nothing but with things that we like doing and that we should recognize those tasks we do when we’re not really feeling like it, are the stuff that we really like doing, then maybe we should try and focus on doing that as much as we can, which I kind of make the argument that we can’t all do that but nice idea kind of thing.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, and I think you can – okay, you maybe can’t do that, you may go ‘well I feel like crap today, so I’m going to go…’ you know, as she does, kind of invent a new board game or something like that. But what you can do is you can look at your task list and kind of pick the least offensive out of the options there, rather than getting in your head as I have done today that today I’m going to be working on this expert review and actually I’m not in that right place. So why do it today, why not put it off till tomorrow if I can?

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, it’s only the first task with a brand new very important client, so you’ve got to get it right, Paul.

Paul Boag:
Thanks. Thanks.

Marcus Lillington:
Any time.

Paul Boag:
But again, even with a task that you have to do, like really I ought to at least start on this expert review, there are bits within that task that I can do, which is, as we said earlier, just have a little nose around the site and it might inspire me to start taking notes and it kind of goes from there. Oftentimes it’s just starting that’s the big thing, isn’t it? Once you’re going it’s all right.

Marcus Lillington:
I’ve got a habit of doing that actually, and I haven’t done it this week, and I probably should have done. If I’ve got say three or four proposals and a review or whatever to write, is I start all of them.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
And it’s often just the title.

Paul Boag:
Yep.

Marcus Lillington:
But because the document exists, it’s quite an easy thing just to turn to and do a little bit on that, rather than doing, I’m going to complete this one and then do the next one.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
And it works sometimes; that is my tip for the day.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. I like that tip actually. Do you know I am going to do that, because I have got several things on the go, that – no, they’re not on the go, that’s the problem. Certain things that I should start and so I’ll do that today. I’ll start all of them.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
And then we’ll see how that goes. It’s a good plan, Marcus. I like it. And one of the things that we should start, he says, transitioning brilliantly, is our web design podcast and talking about web design stuff. So should we do that?

Marcus Lillington:
Let’s do that.

Facebook breaks the internet

Facebook error page

Facebook Connect bug takes down entire internet (almost).

Paul Boag:
Okay. So first up, Facebook breaks the Internet. Have you seen this?

Marcus Lillington:
No. What?

Paul Boag:
Actually it’s called…

Marcus Lillington:
Facebook is the Internet; I’ve heard that said quite a few times.

Paul Boag:
Well yeah, I mean it’s certainly heading in that direction, isn’t it? It’s quite an interesting one. I mean it really shows the power of someone like Facebook. Because they – basically they had an outage, you know they’ve got their Facebook connect feature, so that’s the ‘like’ buttons that you can put on your website and that kind of thing?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
And they had an error with it. Something went wrong with it. Which meant that if you were logged into Facebook and you tried to visit any website that had a like button on it, you couldn’t see the website.

Marcus Lillington:
That shouldn’t be possible.

Paul Boag:
I know. How –

Marcus Lillington:
Really? When did this happen? How long did it last for?

Paul Boag:
The thing is it only lasted for a few minutes.

Marcus Lillington:
Right.

Paul Boag:
So it wasn’t a big deal. But, wow! Does that show how careful you have to be about integrating third-party content into your site? I mean just such a powerful – I mean it’s not the first time it’s happened, something like this. Because back in October of last year, Amazon’s web service, which is used by a number of popular sites, things like Netflix and a lot of people – when we did get sign-off, all the images were uploaded to Amazon’s web service.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah we – yeah, I mean loads and loads of people use that.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, absolutely. So that went down. Had I think a series of outages back in October and again took a load of services with it. But that’s one thing, because when you integrate with Amazon’s web service I think that’s quite – you know that you’re doing a fairly deep level of integration there. But just integrating some ‘like’ buttons on your website.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, yeah.

Paul Boag:
You know ‘whoa’ kind of thing. ‘Ah!’ So yes, it’s quite interesting. I mean I think there’s kind of several lessons to learn here. One, is if you are providing a service like this, and there are increasing number of web apps that do provide these kinds of services, it’s got to degrade gracefully, it’s got to time out nicely, it’s got to basically not break the sites it goes on.

But I think the flip side of it is for those of us that use these kinds of services, whether that is embedding a YouTube video, whether it’s a Facebook ‘like’ button, we’ve got to consider the consequences of doing those things and how business critical is our site and what are the consequences if this piece of code that we have no control of takes down the site?

Marcus Lillington:
I don’t know, I’m just thinking about, like if you embed a YouTube video, aren’t you assuming that if for some reason – well my assumption would go ‘if YouTube is broken then that video won’t work’. Not ‘my site will break.’

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
How can you test that? You can’t test it because YouTube isn’t broken most of the time.

Paul Boag:
No, you can’t. But what you can do is you can – a good developer that knows what they’re doing can build the code in such a way that it affects – I mean I’m on the edge of my knowledge here, all right, so I’m going show my ignorance and people are going to laugh at me. But you should be able to build redundancy into the way these things are pulled in so that they do degrade nicely. Now, this is a little bit of an interesting one because when – so if you take the Amazon web service example, Amazon just, the service went down, right? So yeah, as you say, you would – in that case you could code into your site a backup to – okay, if Amazon web service is not available then do this. Which is fine and I think a lot of developers do do that but not as many as should. And if you own a website that uses these services, it’s worth checking that out. But in this –

Marcus Lillington:
So in the Facebook case, is it more a case of people were just kind of just grabbing this code without much thought and just sticking it on their site?

Paul Boag:
Yes, that’s part of the problem. But the other part of the problem is, from what I’m reading here – and I’m only reading a limited amount – but from what I am reading here it’s not that the service went down, right. It’s that there was a bug in the service that so that if someone was logged into Facebook they couldn’t see the site, right? So that means there must be some communication going on with Facebook and Facebook had to be up in order for them to have been recognized as logged into it, maybe. I don’t know. But the fact we don’t know is scary in itself.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, true.

Paul Boag:
And what’s really scary about it is Facebook didn’t really expand on the problem is – you know, what the problem was or how it happened. They simply said that they’re going to be resolving it quickly or it was resolved quickly.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
So we’re none the wiser as to whether this could happen again. I mean perhaps by the time this show comes out more information will be available, and if you know more about this and you’re listening to this show, go along to the show notes and actually post what Facebook have said on this, and I’ll do the same if I come across it. Because I think people need to know why this happened so that it can be prevented again.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, yeah, definitely because this is something that – ‘likes’, Facebook ‘likes’ go on to pretty much any site that’s trying to promote anything. So, business critical is what I am trying to say.

Paul Boag:
Yes, yeah. Oh absolutely. Interestingly mind, I’ve made a decision not to include these things on my site, I mean there are exceptions, video, for example, obviously I embed in YouTube. But I do try and minimize the use of these kinds of things. Not because I’ve got a fear of them going down because it’s – to be honest it’s not the end of the world if Boagworld goes down; I’m fairly confident that probably the people that I might embed into my site are going to probably put a lot more effort and a lot more resources into fixing any problem than I would. So I’m kind of okay from that point of view. But these things do often create a performance hit on your site.

Marcus Lillington:
They do.

Paul Boag:
And that I am worried about. So I tend not to use many of these things if I can get away with it. You won’t find Facebook ‘like’ buttons on my site and even where I’ve got Twitter integration it’s actually not – it’s essentially just linking out to the Twitter site; there’s very little Twitter code actually embedded in my site. So there are other reasons for avoiding this kind of stuff as well. But I’m not saying you should but I am just saying you need to think through the consequences and I think this perfectly demonstrates those consequences. And it also demonstrates quite how pervasive Facebook has become.

Which does scare me a little bit. Facebook has got that ring of – do you remember back in the AOL days where they had this kind of walled garden where if you were signed up for AOL, you only got their designated parts of the Internet. And it feels almost a little bit like that, Facebook, to me. Scares me.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, I was about to say that basically there is a way round all this problem with using their kind of third-party elements, is just set up your sites on Facebook. I’ve decided, the new band website, I’m not going to bother with a real one; I’m just going to have a Facebook group page.

Paul Boag:
You see that’s – yeah, see – now, scared me. You scare me.

Marcus Lillington:
I know, it’s weird isn’t it? But then I’m thinking about it, that it’s partly an effort thing and I’m not the world’s best designer by a long way, but I just sort of think, well, why not, it’s an information thing.

Paul Boag:
Absolutely, I don’t disagree with you. In your situation I think that’s very sensible and I think a lot of small businesses could go down the same route to be honest. It doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a pretty and nice Facebook page.

Marcus Lillington:
True. True.

Paul Boag:
There is lot of design work you can do on Facebook. But I don’t know, it’s just the overarching principle. I’ve decided – did you hear me on Twitter last night? When I just went off on one about how I’m deeply disappointed with the way the Web’s turned out?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes. You’ve been given all these great toys and look what you’ve done.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, absolutely.

Marcus Lillington:
No, I didn’t follow that, but yes, do tell.

Paul Boag:
Well it’s not much to tell really. I was thinking –

Marcus Lillington:
It’s bad, isn’t it?

Paul Boag:
I was thinking back to when I wrote my dissertation at university. And my dissertation was all about the Web and the potential of the Web and, you know, I had images of it turning – I can’t remember, I’ll have to look up the exact wording I used on Twitter because it kind of just shows my massive naivety back then. Let’s see if I can find it. Where’s it gone? That’s my favorites; that’s not what I’m looking for. Essentially it was I had pictured this world of kind of utopia where race and gender and – yeah, here it is “as a platform for equality, accessibility, and democratization, the chance for race, appearance, and gender to vanish.” I didn’t expect very much, did I?

Marcus Lillington:
You should be a politician, Paul. Well, to a certain extent it has provided that. It’s also provided a platform for…

Paul Boag:
Bitching.

Marcus Lillington:
… weak trolls to – who wouldn’t dare to open their mouths in the way they do, if it was face-to-face, to kind of hind their computer screens but you know…

Paul Boag:
And you know, Tim Berners-Lee was creating this open accessible system to everybody and then Mike – Mark Zuckerburg comes along and builds Facebook on it. You know, it feels like a travesty to me.

Marcus Lillington:
Facebook’s great.

Paul Boag:
I know, it – well it – oh, is it?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, it is. It’s a kind of – it’s a chat room. I think as long as people realize that’s what it is – where am I going with this? I think what is good is it means that people who often don’t talk to each other and don’t communicate say, I don’t know, grandson and grandmother who don’t live in the same town, they get to – grandmother gets to see grandson playing with the dog on the weekend or whatever…

Paul Boag:
Yeah…

Marcus Lillington:
… which wouldn’t have happened before.

Paul Boag:
Well this is where we got to on Twitter is that everybody was starting to point out the good things, right. And I’m not saying there aren’t good things about Facebook but I’m just saying, ah surely it could have been so much more. Surely the Internet could have been so much more. I mean Facebook – sorry, this is the mood I’m in; this is what happens when you do a podcast first thing in the morning. Facebook feels like a cancer that’s spreading across the Internet, slowly infecting everything it touches.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh that’s harsh. That’s really harsh. I really like Facebook. I think it’s great. It’s because it’s basically about the people who are on it and you can only – you can select the people that you want to follow and therefore if you like those people it’s a really cool thing.

Paul Boag:
Do you know what it reminds me of?

Marcus Lillington:
What?

Paul Boag:
Have you ever seen one of those sci-fi films right, where somebody gets – you know it’s a reoccurring thing that often is in sci-fi films and TV and stuff, where somebody gets infected by an alien virus, right?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
And then over time that virus rewrites their DNA, so eventually they become the alien.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
You know, it’s a kind of classic sci-fi thing.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s what’s happening to all of us.

Paul Boag:
That’s what Facebook…

Marcus Lillington:
And we don’t realize.

Paul Boag:
… no, no it’s what Facebook is doing to the Internet. It’s rewriting the DNA of the Internet into something I don’t like. There we go.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay, I think we should move on, Paul.

Paul Boag:
Have I – no, I feel like I can rant about this more. Okay.

Marcus Lillington:
Maybe you can but I think we should move on.

Paul Boag:
All right, let’s move on to the next one then.

A new cannon in web design

Mark Boultons upcoming book

Mark Boulton releases an extract from his upcoming book and it makes educational reading.

Paul Boag:
So Mark Boulton.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
He’ll cheer me up. He’ll talk some sense.

Marcus Lillington:
He usually does.

Paul Boag:
I like Mark Boulton. He’s one of the nicest people on the Internet. Fact.

Marcus Lillington:
He doesn’t use Facebook.

Paul Boag:
No. He’s sensible. I don’t know how I can say that about Facebook considering I’m on it, but anyway. I’m such a hypocrite. Right – so no, this was an article suggested by somebody and I can’t remember who, let me have a look. No, I can’t find it. Just – oh, Harrison Brown, thank you Harrison. Bit of sanity for the show. So Harrison suggested that we check out this and it is a post that was written in December last year. And –

Marcus Lillington:
Okay, so quite recent.

Paul Boag:
Yeah yeah. “This is a perfect article for anyone to read that comes from a print design background or for our marketeers that are used to working with print design.” And it’s quite a, not highbrow article, but it goes into a lot of history about the kind of history of design and the kind of background to design and how we’ve ended up designing the way that we have. And he’s talking about grid systems and structure and that kind of thing and about how grid systems and design have been very much influenced by the media; by the printed page. That we start with the constraints of the page and then we design around that.

And he’s basically saying you can’t think that way when it comes to the Web because the Web doesn’t have a page, it doesn’t have a defined area that you’re working within. Instead you’re looking into a flexible view port that could be a variety of different sizes, it can be rescaled by the user, different devices affect it, et cetera, et cetera. And then he kind of goes on and he talks about how on that basis, knowing that there is no page, that there’s no edges, how do then go about defining a grid? How do you work with your content? And he talks about the content-out approach, which we’ve talked about on the show before.

But I think it is quite a hard concept for certainly print designers and people that are used to dealing with print to wrap their head around. And so I really recommend you check out this article because he does a really good job at just putting it all in context really: explaining where we’ve come from; why that’s no longer appropriate; and then suggesting a new way of looking at things, a new way of approaching web design – he talks about a new canon of design.

And he talks about – I won’t cover the whole article actually, it’s much better that you just go and read it than it is for me to get into it. But he’s kind of setting up new principles about creating relationships between content rather than necessarily having a grid that you then fit content into. He talks about creating ratios rather than fixed measurements of stuff. And then he talks about binding that to individual devices. I’m really not explaining it very well, it’s something that you have to read.

And what’s really exciting is that I got to the end of this really engaging article going ‘yes, yeah, this makes a load of sense, what he’s talking about is really good, this helps explain things really well to print designers and clarifies my own thinking over this.’ and then I get to the end, and he goes ‘this blog post is an extract from my upcoming book on designing grid systems’ and it’s like ‘yes, this looks like something that’s really exciting.’

Marcus Lillington:
Hasn’t Mark created a kind of grid-system system?

Paul Boag:
A grid-system system?

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
Yes, he has, It’s something we featured last season when we were talking about using tools.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s right, yeah. I knew it rang a bell.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. And it’s an excellent tool and definitely something that you’ll want to check out. It’s not something that I use particularly, although I had a play with it and thought it was brilliant. I guess I don’t design enough to be using a tool like that, but I can imagine how it would be certainly useful to a lot of people. But no, he’s writing a book called the Practical Guide to Designing Grid Systems for the Web. Because, whether or not you’re using a tool to create your grid systems you still need to make lots of decisions about what your grid system is going to be and how it’s going to work.

So – and I knew he was writing a book but I didn’t – you know, I think reading the article kind of made me go ‘ooh, this is something I really want now and something I really want to check out.’ So I was trying to persuade Mark to write a post for Smashing Magazine, but he wouldn’t because he’s got to finish this book. And I’m glad now. I’m glad that he’s staying focused because I want my hands on this book quickly.

And the other great thing about it is he’s not just talking about grid systems for websites, he’s also going to look at things like RSS feeds and email and then obviously multiple devices like mobile phones and all of that kind of stuff. So it looks really exciting, really good article to check out and you will be inspired if you are from a design background. And if you’re from a print background you’ll groan and realize that you need to rethink a lot of the stuff that you’re doing, which is always massively depressing.

So on that depressing note, let’s move on to the next post.

Mailbox alienates users

Mailbox iPhone App

This week saw the launch of the much hyped Mailbox iOS app. Unfortunately, this launch did not go as smoothly as planned and the backlash raises some interesting questions.

Paul Boag:
Okay, so our last story of the week is really the whole rollout that’s gone around this fancy new iOS app called Mailbox. You’ve heard of it.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, I’ve seen this but I thought that it’s complete rubbish and I have to wait in line with 100,000 other people, so stuff them, was my reaction to it.

Paul Boag:
There we go. I think that sums up the issue precisely.

Marcus Lillington:
Why do you have to wait?

Paul Boag:
Well it’s very – there are good reasons for it, right.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay…

Paul Boag:
Well first of all let’s just explain what the app is. The app is an email client, essentially, but it is an email client that approaches email very differently. So it essentially recognizes that to a large extent your email is your to-do list.

Marcus Lillington:
Hmm…

Paul Boag:
And so what it allows you to do is it allows you to reorder emails manually, so you can put the ones that you need to deal with first at the top. It also allows you to defer emails; so you can say ‘I don’t need to deal with this until tomorrow’ or ‘next week’ or ‘tell me about it this evening’ and then it will go away and pop back into your inbox.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh, I love the sound of that.

Paul Boag:
Yes, exactly.

Marcus Lillington:
I’m not a major email user as you know.

Paul Boag:
Yes. From my perspective Marcus, this is possibly your perfect email client.

Marcus Lillington:
Right.

Paul Boag:
Because I know you’re not a great fan – you know I’m a GTD nut, and I organize all my tasks like that and I know that you’re a heavy email user, but I think this would give you a real sense of control and organization over your email that you probably don’t have at the moment.

Marcus Lillington:
But I just kind of use ‘read’ or ‘unread’, that’s basically how I organize them.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. So this is a much more efficient way of doing that and it kind of stops things slipping through the gaps. So someone like you, yes you should definitely go sign up for this. So that’s what it is.

Marcus Lillington:
But does it – you said iPhone app, still?

Paul Boag:
Yes. At the moment, it’s only an iPhone app. They’re certainly intending to rollout onto other platforms very quickly.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay

Paul Boag:
And I suspect that’s probably how they’re going to monetize it, because at the moment the iPhone app is free.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, and you buy the desktop version.

Paul Boag:
I’m guessing. But it might not be, it might be something else.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay.

Paul Boag:
But anyway, so that’s the thing. But what’s caused the hoo-hah is as you said you download the app and then you have to basically reserve your place in the queue before they then allow you to use the app. And I mean the queue is massive. The last time I looked at it, it was pushing a million.

And you sit there and what’s quite interesting is once you’ve reserved your place in the queue, you pop-up the application and it says ‘you’re on your way to a whole new inbox experience’ dah-dah-dah-dah-dah, and then it shows how many people are in front of you and how many people are behind you. And you can watch the number of people in front of you slowly tick down.

But that’s the problem. It slowly ticks down. And you quickly go ‘hang on a minute, this is never going to end. I’m never going to get in at this rate.’

So it’s quite an interesting situation. And the post that I referred to is talking about where this has gone wrong, why it’s failed.

Because let’s explain why they’ve done it this way.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I want to know why and could they have just done it normally or was this a kind of PR stunt?

Paul Boag:
A publicity stunt? Well this is what – yeah, and again that’s another common reaction that a lot of people are saying ‘well this is just a publicity stunt, waah’. I think what it is, is that they were concerned about load, right?

Marcus Lillington:
Okay…

Paul Boag:
This application got a lot of excitement around it and a lot of hype when it was first revealed. And it became very obvious that this was going to be one of those apps, do you know what I mean?

Marcus Lillington:
Mmm, yeah.

Paul Boag:
So what they chose to do was – they were concerned about load, they’d done loads of load testing, that kind of stuff, but they just weren’t confident that their servers because it is very reliant on their servers, would stand up to the pressure, and they will worried they were going to launch, all of these people were going to suddenly hit their service, it was going to go down and everyone was going to go ‘well this is shit’ and not use it, right?

And also they felt that because they’re talking about email here, which is a real business critical thing, it needed to be reliable. So what they did is, they took a page out of Google’s book – which you think would be safe ground – because Google did exactly this, if you remember, with Gmail. Do you remember you had to get an invite to use Gmail?

Marcus Lillington:
Vaguely, yeah, yeah.

Paul Boag:
So everybody was going around and saying ‘can you give me an invite?’ ‘Can you give me an invite?’ And that was their way of controlling how many people could use the system before they were confident in it. Now the guys at Mailbox felt that this was a bit of an unfair system, the invite system, because it was all about who you knew. So they had a great idea, which is to have a queue. What’s fairer than a queue?

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah fair enough. Put like that it makes sense.

Paul Boag:
It makes sense, doesn’t it? But, as it did with you, it’s all backfired horribly on them. And it just – it raises a –

Marcus Lillington:
To be fair Paul, I haven’t gone ‘well sod you.’ I’ve gone ‘I’ll come back in a month when I can get it straight away’ is what I thought.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, absolutely, and fair enough. But a lot of people have had the attitude that you expressed to begin with.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
So it is quite an interesting one and Liz – what’s that – Presen I think her name is – sorry it’s really small type.

Marcus Lillington:
Liz Presen.

Paul Boag:
It is, right. I think I might be going long-sighted than you Marcus, that’s really – oh dear. Or perhaps it’s just because it’s early in the morning.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, could be.

Paul Boag:
She talks about how she felt that the whole system has made users feel insignificant, and she kind of breaks down her reasons for why it’s not a great approach. And it got me thinking. And actually I think there’s more to it than that. And actually I’ve written a post for Econsultancy where I kind of expand out my thoughts on it in a bit more depth.

And I think there’s really kind of four elements here. And I agree with Liz that one of those elements is that it does make people feel undervalued. When I popped open the app and I registered and I saw the list, the first thing that jumped into my head, was the TV series The Prisoner, do you remember that? ‘I am not a number, I am a free man.’?

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, yeah! ‘I’m not a number.’

Paul Boag:
And it felt like that. It was like I am nothing but a number to these people.

Marcus Lillington:
To be honest, if they included one well written sentence on that screen shot that says you’re number 97,000, or whatever, 97,000 people in front you, 480,000 people behind you, we’re having to do it like this because we’re not sure how the load’s going to be, so we’re testing it. You know, well written words along those lines, then people would go ‘oh okay, fair enough.’ Just explain it.

Paul Boag:
Exactly, and that’s another one of the other points that I raise, is that it’s so important that users understand the whole story, isn’t it. That they know what’s going on. And yeah, you’re right, although their blog makes it clear that the pace would – one is the blog makes clear why they’re doing it, the other one is that you may see these numbers ticking down at a really slow rate but don’t worry, we’re intending to ramp up dramatically. So when it starts, yes the numbers will be going slowly, but give us a week and they’ll be speeding by.

So actually it’s not going to be anywhere near as long as people think it’s going to be. But like you say, they only say this on the blog. Now, the app does have, on that screen where it says there are these people in front of you, it does have this button at the bottom that says status. And if you click on that, it does take you to the blog post that explains all this. But like you say, that’s not obvious enough. You can’t rely on people going to search out that information.

Marcus Lillington:
A good copywriter could explain it in probably 12 to 15 words.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think there’s a really interesting lesson for all of us there with whatever we do, that you have to make sure you’re giving the user the complete picture. Because their perception was of slow progress, and we know that perception is everything. And actually that was one of my other points, that I think the other problem that they suffered from is many perceive this as a marketing stunt, just like you said.

And by making a big deal out of this approach, and showing users their position in the queue so prominently, they were almost adding to that considerable hype that already surrounded the product, and that’s a really dangerous road. Because users are increasingly aware of the psychological tricks that marketers use. Like for example we know one is ‘ooh, limited stock’ or ‘time sensitive’ as ways to get you to buy, and that’s essentially what this is, it does read like that. Or ‘look, all these other people are doing this, you should do it too.’ It’s got that feel about it. And I don’t think that was what they were intending, but that’s the perception that there was.

And I think it also demonstrates is something can have too much hype around it. You know, it’s almost over exposed and it’s caused a backlash and I think all of us really need to tread carefully and think about how we present ourselves online. Because often in the desperation to kind of gain exposure we end up alienating the very people we’re trying to reach, which is not good, obviously.

Marcus Lillington:
Well I’ve got – I just downloaded it, I’ve got 777,090 people in front of me and 14 behind me after 10 seconds.

Paul Boag:
Yes. So there you go, that kind of shows you the popularity of all this. I mean obviously the final great lesson in all of this, which is the no-brainer, but it does repeating is that people hate to wait.

Marcus Lillington:
Of course, yes.

Paul Boag:
And although it seems like a no-brainer, obviously the guys at Mailbox didn’t really consider this. We do hate to wait, whether it’s waiting for a page to load or queuing at the supermarket. I think in our rich, western culture probably the most scarce resource that we have is our time, isn’t it, and we become deeply inpatient.

Marcus Lillington:
I think they missed a trick actually. You can wait in line for free or you can pay $1.99 and get it straight away.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. Yeah!

Marcus Lillington:
So maybe that’s – see they could have made that point as well. We’re not charging a premium to get it quickly, so it’s not a publicity stunt. I don’t know.

I just don’t think they’ve communicated it very well.

Paul Boag:
No. So I mean they – and there’s also I think there’s the things that they could have done in the design of that screen to minimize users’ perception of waiting, while what they’ve actually done is they’ve drawn attention to the fact that you’re waiting. So instead of having numbers clicking down, they could have had a much broader definition of like, that you’re green, amber or red in your distance, or – actually provided less information rather than more. Because you could argue that the position in the queue gives a sense of progress, but I think actually the sense of progress they’re giving is slower than the reality; it actually looks like it’s going to take longer than it really will.

Marcus Lillington:
Well the current rate on that, I reckon, probably, I might get it in a year.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s what it looks like.

Paul Boag:
Exactly. But it won’t be in a year; it’ll probably be in less than a month.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
So – and also the very final thing I was going to say is that they could have – you know, it’s easy for us to sit here and with hindsight go ‘they could have avoided this.’ But they could have done things to prepare for the possibility that this might not have gone down well. After all they were trying something that had never been tried before and there’s always risks associated with that.

So for example, they could have constructed the queue page in the app in such a way that it was easy to update without resubmitting the app to Apple and that way they could have redesigned it to make the rollout clearer even if they made the initial mistake that they’ve made. So they could have replaced the numbering system entirely or they could put in the wording you talked about.

So there is a degree where, if you’re trying something new – and it’s great that they tried something new. I think it’s brilliant that they did that, and its brilliant that they wanted to be transparent and open and honest – but if you’re going to do things like that, you need to have a way of rolling back quickly. And with websites that’s true as well. Try new features, try something that’s risky and dangerous, as long as you can roll back instantly if it doesn’t work. I think that’s the underlying lesson, isn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
Absolutely.

Paul Boag:
Anyway let’s move onto your contribution to this wonderful show that’s got better and better as I’ve woken up.

Changes in film making

BBC post on films that watch you

Always looking for the next big thing it would appear that film makers might soon dynamically vary the direction of films based on our emotional responses.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay, well in my usual manner, I’ve quickly flipped over to the BBC News technology section because – [Paul laughs] But they always come up with great stuff! Or I suppose that’s not surprising, there’s so many people that work there, that’s probably the largest website editorial team anywhere I suspect, I’m guessing.

Paul Boag:
You’ve just pulled that out of your arse. You’ve no idea.

Marcus Lillington:
I did, yeah. People will believe it because I sound convincing.

Paul Boag:
I’m going to interrupt you immediately. What I don’t like about this post is the terrifying picture.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah. You’re supposed to be terrified, it’s a horror film, isn’t it?

Paul Boag:
I know, but she’s terrifying me. There’s this picture of this woman that she’s really pale and she’s got very red lips and then really terrifyingly scary eyes.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes. Anyway…

Paul Boag:
Sorry.

Marcus Lillington:
Her name is Connie Page, she’s the character. The title of the post and it’s BBC News, technology, is “Many Worlds: The Movie That Watches Its Audience”. So yeah, that’s going to catch your attention isn’t it?

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
So I’m not going to go into every section of it. But basically it’s pretty much like the books that we used to have when we were kids, or certainly when I was a kid, where you could basically pick the ending or pick the –

Paul Boag:
Oh play your own adventures type of thing.

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
So it’s that kind of thing and then the writer says ‘oh this has been done before, in 1967 when’ – I’ve got to read this because it made me laugh.

Paul Boag:
So no, sorry, I’m confused. How can you have a TV program or a film that’s choose your own adventure?

Marcus Lillington:
I’ll come on to that.

Paul Boag:
Do people sit there with controllers?

Marcus Lillington:
I’ll come onto it in a minute.

Paul Boag:
Oh, sorry. Sorry.

Marcus Lillington:
Basically this guy – it’s quite a clever idea, but the guy at the end – I’ve just got to say this because he’s going ‘oh this happened back in 1967’ and I’m thinking ‘did it?’ But basically it was “the world witnessed its first interactive film, Kinoautomat, during which a moderator appeared on the stage and stopped the film at nine “decision” points.” So that’s not really the same is it? That’s somebody saying “stop! And what would you like now?” This idea basically involves people being – four members of the audience, what’s going to happen with this particular film, will be connected up, their brains and their heart rates and all that kind of thing, will be connected up and how they react will change the story.

Paul Boag:
Oooo…

Marcus Lillington:
Bit woooo, isn’t it?

Paul Boag:
That’s very Orson Welles if you ask me.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, is it? It’s kind of the ultimate – well it’s not the ultimate, but the people in the audience are changing the story. Now obviously they’re only changing it to four or five different types of stories, so the story has already been written.

Paul Boag:
Right.

Marcus Lillington:
But it’s audience power to a certain extent. My initial reaction was, I thought it was a bit of rubbish idea. And I think it is in a cinema situation. I want to go and see the director’s vision, I want to go and see the writer’s vision, which has a start, a middle bit and an end, not three endings; I think that suggests a bit of a crap film to me. But in your living room with your game console, now that’s a different thing entirely, because I think –

Paul Boag:
But then essentially that’s what modern computer games have become anyway. They’ve become –

Marcus Lillington:
But actually being connected to your brain waves and your heart rate and all that kind of stuff? And that how you react changes what’s happening in front of you? I think that’s pretty amazing.

Paul Boag:
Yes, it’s kind of, yeah, happening on a subconscious level. I don’ think that – I mean I think that the cinema is a problem in the sense that it’s only reacting to certain people in the audience.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, that’s the starting point. They do make the point that they’re looking to do this based on cameras, eventually that look at the whole audience.

Paul Boag:
Oh, okay.

Marcus Lillington:
But that’s how they are doing it to start off with.

Paul Boag:
But also I think if you were at home it would be entirely tailored just to you in the way you felt with it. But it’s only – this doesn’t interest – well, does it interest me? In theory should create a better film, because if I’m sitting there and I am really not being that scared by this particular type of horror that they’re showing.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, they can ramp it up.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, or it might not even be ramp it up, but it might be just switch to another type of suspense that gets me, personally, more. So in that sense, it should create a better film. But actually the area that interests me more is where you make conscious decisions through a film. Where you say ‘I want to go through that door rather than door’ but that’s essentially what modern computer games are.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I guess that’s what I’m saying. In a modern computer game environment, that has a kind of story that you have to go through that story, if you like.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
In a computer game environment, if it could be changing based on how scared you are.

Paul Boag:
As well as the decisions making, yeah..!

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly, then I think that that is the next step up for your Xbox and your PlayStation, have that kind of level of control. Or is it control? It’s not really but it’s immersion, isn’t it?

Paul Boag:
Yeah, because what you could do is you could wait until someone’s heart rate goes down and they’re feeling in control and then suddenly hit them with something really scary.

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly.

Paul Boag:
That’d be awesome.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah. But if they’re struggling with something then you make it easier, or whatever.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. That’s genius.

Marcus Lillington:
Isn’t it?

Paul Boag:
I like that. I like that a lot. But talking about kind of influencing films, one of the thing that they’re doing, a TV series is coming up – link in the show notes, I’ll find out what the TV series is, but I can’t remember now – it’s a sci-fi series and it’s being launched simultaneously with a MMO game, a massively multi-player game. And what happens in a TV series affects what goes on in the game and what goes on in the game affects what happens in the TV series.

So, as you – as the players in the game start influencing the world in the game, that will affect what happens in the next episode in the TV series. How cool’s that?

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah. I mean yeah, it’s the kind of crowd mentality, isn’t it, sourcing the story through the audience.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Which of course it’s trying to do. I’m not convinced from a kind of artistic point of view, but I think from a – well I’ll repeat myself, I think it could work on a game play basis really well.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. I do know what you mean about losing that leading – sometimes these things can, yeah, it could destroy the story, couldn’t it? It could undermine the flow of the piece by making it considerably more complicated. But, again, as we were saying in the last section, I just love that they’re trying new ideas. If it flops, it flops, but if you don’t try new ideas then we never move on, do we?

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly.

Paul Boag:
So there you go. Very cool. Do you have a joke to wrap us up with, then, Marcus?

Marcus Lillington:
I do. I’ve got a – people have sent me a few jokes this week.

Paul Boag:
Oh, good.

Marcus Lillington:
I had quite a long one lined up and we’ve already got quite a long show so I’m just quickly looking for a shorter joke. Yes, you’ll like this one, Paul. What’s the difference between roast beef and pea soup?

Paul Boag:
What is the difference between roast beef and pea soup?

Marcus Lillington:
Anyone can roast beef.

Paul Boag:
[Laughs] Do you know, that took me far too long to get it. That is quite funny, I do like that one. I’m going to tell that one to my son. He will think that’s hugely funny.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s 9-year old, 10-year old boy joke, that one. Brilliant.

Paul Boag:
Absolutely, good stuff. All right, well as a show that we’ve done remotely, I think that went very well. I’ve had a lovely show. Congratulations to us.

Marcus Lillington:
And to you Paul and to me. Pats on the back all round.

Paul Boag:
We’re brilliant, aren’t we, basically? We’re damn good at this.

Marcus Lillington:
Absolutely.

Paul Boag:
I bet other podcasters wish they were as talented as we were. [Laughs].

Marcus Lillington:
I expect they start every show saying ‘right, we’re going to make this one like Paul and Marcus do.’

Paul Boag:
Yeah, I bet they do, absolutely. And why wouldn’t you? So if you’d like to tell us how talented we are, go along to Boagworld.com/season/5 and post that in the comments along with your suggestions about what we should cover in future shows. We’re always interested to hear your suggestions because they’re normally better than mine.

Also the other thing I wanted to say is we haven’t had any audio submissions, of anybody saying ‘check out this article, this is why.’ And it’s not good enough people. I haven’t been pushing it. So make sure you do that too; all the instructions on how to do that are at Boagworld.com/season/5. Speak to you again next week.

Marcus Lillington:
Bye.

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