Sunday, February 14, 2010

when product usability conflicts with industry usability

The new Google Buzz highlights and worsens a significant usability challenge in the social networking space. On one hand, it makes sense for Google to add social networking functionality to its suite. If users have a need to these tools and capabilities, it makes their product more usable to integrate them into popular programs like Gmail. It also made sense for Facebook to integrate twitter-like microblogging functionality. LinkedIn and Twitter are doing this too. All of these additions makes each of these systems more powerful and more able to satisfy the diverse needs of diverse users. In theory, you can get all the social networking you need in just one system.

The problem arises because social networking requires you to use the same systems as your friends/colleagues/coworkers/etc. So if some of your friends are on Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc, then in order to socially network with them, you also need to be on all of these and check them all and use them all. For example, to make sure my friends can read this blog, I announce new posts on Facebook, LinkedIn (when relevant) and Twitter. And sometimes I post the blog on Facebook in the first place, and then would have to announce it and link to it here.

In the end, every time an individual system enhances its usability, it makes the entire industry less usable because of all the cross posting and cross linking. If a third party creates a way to consolidate all of this in one place, then I need to learn and use another one!! Uggh.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Donating for Disasters

It is remarkable how generous we are. Despite the bad economy here at home, everyone I look there are collections going on for Haiti. At my condo building the mailroom fills up every week. At work, there are piles of food and clothing waiting to go.

But it is also remarkable how clueless many of us are about the best ways to give. Today, I saw a case of Cup O' Noodles in one of the collection sites. The size of this case compared to the amount of food it carried, suggests that it will probably cost more to ship it over to Haiti than it will be worth to the aid agencies. Same thing for the loose cans of Vienna Sausages, I suspect.

On the other hand, if you donate money to the UN, they purchase staples like rice in huge volumes (at steep discounts) and contract out for special nutrition bars that have a days worth of vitamins and calories in a small package. The gains in efficiency from ordering this way can feed a family of 5 for an entire day for the same price as one can of Campbell's soup shipped from the US.

So please continue to be generous. But don't use this as an excuse to clean out the pantry of things you don't want anymore. Be smart about it. Donate money to reliable organizations like the UN or the Red Cross. And if you have to give food, give something compact and calorie/nutrient dense, like dried beans or grains.