Tag - context

Twitter: how to fix the Quick Bar

The Twitter Quick Bar, as seen in Marco Arment's post.

Like any other company, Twitter wants to make money. Like most other companies that live off user-generated content, advertising is one of the methods they’re working on.

The Twitter Quick Bar is an attempt to insert an ad stream into users’ tweet streams. Unfortunately, it’s a massive fail – check out Marco Arment’s blog for an excellent overview and explanation.

It’s all about context
The problem is not that users are angry about advertising (or, at least, that isn’t the main problem). The problem is the complete lack of context. And that’s a problem due to the inherent nature of Twitter.

Twitter is the ultimate in contextual media. You follow people with interests you care about. When they tweet – presumably about things you care about – you get messages that you want and expect to see.

Disastrously decontextualized
The Quick Bar is decontextualized. It’s about something that someone else cares about … someone who has paid a stack of dollars to Twitter to shove under your nose. As such, it’s the opposite of permission marketing. To use Seth Godin’s language, it’s interruption marketing.

The Twitter Quick Bar is the Charlie Sheen of UI design. A catastrophic meltdown no one saw coming.less than a minute ago via Twitter for Mac

(This is clueless and tone-deaf for Twitter … a company that should get this stuff. One can only assume that co-founder Jack Dorsey’s departure from an active, day-to-day role in the company has had a negative effect.)

But easy to fix
The simple solution for Twitter: segment your users by interest and attention. Then, instead of selling advertisers a shotgun of promoted tweets or hashtags, sell a sniper rifle of specific interests.

Now, your promoted tweets and hashtags are more relevant to your users.

And now, your users are less upset.

Simple, no?

(But maybe not quite as easy.)

Google Contextual Search and Microsoft Paperclip

Marissa Mayer, former head of the Google search team and now head of the Google’s mobile/social ambitions, has made no secret of her goals. Lately she’s been hyping “contextual discovery” … or search without search.

The idea is simple and compelling: you happen to be at the office, you often go out for a coffee at 10AM, and your phone mentions a new coffee shop around the corner. Or you’re in a new city halfway across the world, and your phone finds a coffee shop to wake up in … without being asked.

The challenge lies in execution: how to be helpful without being annoying. Basically, how to avoid being Cliff Clavin in a pocket.

Microsoft faced a similar challenge a decade ago. After all, 90% of the features in Word and Excel are used extremely occasionally – 10% of the features meet 90% of our needs. So there’s a discovery problem … if you’re Microsoft and want to justify new versions with increasingly more options and features.

Microsoft’s answer was Office Assistant, building on the foundations of Microsoft Bob. The visual representation of Office Assistant was a paperclip … hence Clippy … hence Microsoft Paperclip. Clippy would “notice” that you were doing something (like writing a letter) and offer advice or assistance. Unfortunately, Clippy was intrusive and annoying, and its assistance was wrong, stupid, or just plain obvious – a user experience disaster.

Here’s the question: how will Google avoid the Clippy fate?

Getting the right information at the right time is wonderful, excellent, and good. But there’s more opportunity to fail than to succeed:

Right fact Wrong fact
Right time Party time! Woohoo! Annoyance & anger
Wrong time Annoyance & anger Annoyance & anger

At first glance, it looks bad, but not too bad. After all, it’s a 25% change of hitting pay dirt right? But actually, it’s much worse than that.

How does Google know what is the right fact … one you’ll be interested in? And not just interested in generally, but interested in now? Can a smart contextual search app trace the route you’ve been following and the speed you’ve been maintaining and make some judgements about whether you’re being hurried and purposeful (and therefore not too interested in random desiderata this morning, but maybe very interested in traffic data) … or leisurely and rambling (and therefore maybe touring, and perhaps interested in historical facts that add color to your experience).

These are not trivial problems. And they’re just the beginning.

How, for example, will Google send the notifications? Will they use the same channel/interface as text messages? Will the user need to set a preference that “now I’m interested in various facts?”

I don’t have the answers … but there are a lot of questions to answer before a truly useful and non-annoying tool can be successfully launched.