Thursday, March 12, 2015

My Dislike of Instagram

A photo posted by Peter Rogers (@peterrogersesq) on

I think I’ve been using the Instagram mobile app long enough to articulate some very basic problems with the experience. I’m also currently be nagged to re-up my Flickr Pro account in a time when you have to ask, “Do you need a Flickr Pro account in 2015?” I’m starting to think you do, especially given the following reasons that Instagram is, for me, Instabad.

1. “Likes” do not exist.

Photos you “like” can never ever be found again. Where the hell do my “likes” appear? Nowhere, that’s where. I select the damned “♥︎” icon (which I can only assume means Favourites/Likes in Facebook parlance) and I see images I’ve taken that people who follow me have “♥︎” (liked?) under the heading “You”. Yet under the same heading, I see notifications of when my followers began following me. What the hell is this heading?! For some reason the “♥︎” icon is actually “Activity” in your photo feed and not “Likes” at all? I have not yet met anyone who could explain this to me. Under the heading “Following” I see images people I follow have “♥︎ / liked”, which I suppose is sort of interesting, maybe? But nowhere can I see the images of people I follow, that I “♥︎ / liked”. Just to re-iterate how crazy this is, if I follow Jill, I can see photos she liked, excluding my own photos, Jill can see what photos I liked, excluding her own, but neither of us can see the photos we, ourselves liked of each others photos? This is completely confounding and generally makes the “Like” functionality a useless little “thumbs up” to the original poster. By the way, these “Likes” cannot be filtered or re-ordered and only appear from most recently liked to oldest liked (the language of social media depresses the little grammarian in my head - who, it should be said, is often sound asleep). In Flickr, “Faves” becomes a scrollable album I can peruse at my leisure.

2. No slideshow.

Whether I’m looking at my own posts or someone I follow who is an exceptional photographer, I can see a grid or a list of their posts, but if I tap one, I then have to go back to the grid to see the next image. Why can’t I simply scroll through the posted images like any other slideshow on any other handheld device in every other app ever created. This is beyond an annoyance but is an impediment to using the app. Of course, in Flickr, your own photostream is scrollable horizontally, and photos of people you follow, are scrollable vertically (not sure why they are different, they just are).

3. Post, is ALWAYS selected.

It is perplexing that the large centered Post icon is always highlighted in blue and that other areas of the app have an almost imperceptible grey square when selected. When I am looking at my Home feed, why isn’t it surrounded by a blue square? I’m there but I’m not, because the Post icon is surrounded by a blue square - so that’s selected, no? No. It is not. Selecting it doesn’t change much unless you notice the faint grey square around the previously selected icon being now gone. Did you notice? I didn’t think so.

4. There is no zoom.

You see an amazing photo posted by NatGeo of birds in flight. You’d like to zoom in, using an almost now universal gesture, but no, you cannot enlarge the image, which is frozen to the width of the screen. Too bad for you, just hold the screen closer to your face if you want to see an image larger. Flickr does allow you to select an image, and zoom into see details, by use of the “unpinch” gesture.

5. Mobile first means Mobile Only.

“Mobile First” became a rallying cry for the exasperated Web designer keen on creating responsive Web sites that looked appropriately great on large monitors and small screens alike. Yet, Instagram has no other version to be first or second. There is no tablet version and no desktop version of the application. Sure there’s a Web page, this isn’t the stone age after all. But you can’t upload photos or do much of anything from that Web page. If I do go to the Web site and see an image I’d like to share I have to leave the feed view and go to the photo page of that image. Um - click a mouse much? Why the extra step? This is inexplicably similar to how you used to view images on Facebook but who knows, maybe that’s the point – which it should be said, is a very stupid point. What makes it stupid is you get to the Photo Page by tapping a “More” button, but it isn’t a “More” button at all, it’s a “Go To Photo Page button” because that’s all it does. Can I do anything else from this site, such as post images taken with any device other than a phone? No, you can’t. If you want to post images or videos you took with a DSLR or Tablet, you’ll need a third party app, hooked up to Instagram’s API to do that. Yet for all of that, Instagram is incredibly popular. People use it constantly and within its restrictions, succeed at sharing great images from it. I can not really fathom how Flickr dropped the ball on mobile applications and many before me have asked the same thing. I also cannot conceive of so, so, so many people who use Instagram and have never really been bothered by some of these missing features? For me, these all stand out as to what makes Instagram a crummy experience. I wouldn’t say it’s a crummy app, after all, millions of users enjoying it can’t be wrong and I can’t say it’s failed to take or save an image (and they have found technically and perceptually clever ways of uploading large files). But for me, these fundamental shortcomings make Instagram more of a pain in the ass than it is worth using. I haven’t even mentioned a mysterious icon on your personal page that does nothing (looks like a person icon within a cash register flag? It does nothing. Do I have to buy something to find out what this does?) Instagram, I wanted to get along with you but for me there are far too many gaps to make this app enjoyable. I have no idea why people enjoy it so much but that’s for them to know and me to find out, I guess.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Unbearable Wearables

Steve Mann's early wearable computer prototype

In this episode of the NPR podcast Invisibilia, the hosts interview early wearables creators from MIT’s media lab and ask if technology is changing us. Of course, those super-nerds believe that wearing reality-augmenting tech like Google Glass only helps us be better versions of ourselves and don’t understand why people would question one form of technology over another, like say, eye glasses or shoes.

Here I got a little angry. The very pleasant hosts and creators of Invisibilia are not about challenging their interviewees as much as continuing a conversation. So I’ll challenge them instead. There is a vast and profound difference between Internet connected technology and technology that is clothing. The conversation continues that Plato argued against writing the way we do about mobile phones today, except Plato’s speculations, while somewhat true, have failed to end civilization the way fears around mobile phones are still forming.

Technology obviously changes us. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. At its worse, technology does break connections to other people (those in the room as opposed to strangers on the other side of the planet). It affects our “presence”. When drivers use their mobile devices, they aren’t distracted as much by pretty colours as they are by speaking to someone while they are driving. The driver’s brain is doing too much work imagining the speaker on the other end of the call to be present enough to drive a car. Drivers not on the mobile phones are encased in a bubble of glass, steel and plastic and as such are disconnected from people walking on the street. Drivers stop seeing pedestrians as vulnerable people, but more as objects through a screen on the road (if they see pedestrians at all). I think people drive worse when their windows are up because they are completely and physically separated from the world outside the vehicle. Have you ever talked to someone who keeps both earbuds in while they talk to you? Are they listening to you, or to another caller or to a song? Are they present at all or are they in their own audio bubble? Talking to someone tapping out a message on a mobile phone or laptop is equalling disconcerting. I’ve not spoken to someone reading their e-mail on Google Glass but my guess is why bother? They aren’t really there anyway. They are in another space of textual communication rather than a verbal one. Their nonverbal cues point to their focus being elsewhere.

Technology sometimes makes us break social interaction and nonverbal communication. This isn’t too dissimilar from someone with Asberger Syndrome. It's not hard to imagine that the scientists of MIT or early adopters of Google Glass were never really that good at social interaction or nonverbal communication to begin with. The reason someone coined the term “Glasshole” is because the wearer of the technology was too distracted to know they were being a-holes to begin with.

As designers we often aspire to be technology optimists, but in the area of wearables we should keep in mind not just the experience of the person using the technology but also the experience of others interacting with the wearer. It may take time for wearable etiquette to form but that doesn’t excuse us from ignoring it.

It’s a little like smoking. If you smoke, I don’t really care if your habit is killing you, just don’t take me down with you. E-cigarettes or “vaping” on the other hand may turn out to be even less healthy than smoking (hard to believe) but, so far, it seems to be pretty benign to bystanders. Google Glass will eventually be invaluable to professional users such as pilots, surgeons, forklift drivers, or film directors but because it draws attention of the eye, thus the gaze of the user stares nowhere in particular, it will always be intrusive to face-to-face conversation (oh, sorry, “F2F interaction”).

Friday, March 8, 2013

Beacon in the Night


Frog's proposed Beacon for New York City. Image via Co.Design

Frog's proposed pay phone replacement for New York City appears like an intelligent and well thought out scheme. I'm usually quick to judge interactive kiosks. How many times do you see pay phones or post boxes plastered with posters or graffiti? A lot, that's how many times. But I have admit, I could imagine this Beacon proposal withstanding NYC style punishment. I can picture it looking distressed or dented but still delivering on its promise of up to date information and services – all the while paying for itself with advertising.

Another product I doubted but now take for granted are the stand alone parking kiosks in Toronto. Occasionally you find one out of operation but not that often. In fact, those kiosks are entirely off-grid. Solar powered and using cell phone connectivity these green sentinels are stalwarts of reliability and durability in summer heat and winter storm alike.

Imagine what you could do with updated technology, fully powered and connected. Frog's projections of the reliability of gesture and voice inputs may be pollyanna but not impossible. Another aspect to like is the form and footprint. This simple 'twist' with two pedestrian level panels and two larger traffic level panels make so much sense. Unlike the horrible Astral Media kiosks that Toronto has been straddled with.


Unbelievably awful sort of sums up the Astral street furniture.

According to the Co.Design article, this concept was done in response to New York City's call for proposals around what to do when the current pay phone contract expires in 2014. The idea being the concepts would influence the City's RFP. Here's hoping for big ideas. The future deserves it.