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The age-old look forward

Of course at this time of year everybody speculates about what the year ahead holds. What will be happening in 2013 and indeed what will be different by the end of it?

But in fact, just like New Year’s resolutions, it is simply a psychological stop-off, a Gregorian calendar by-product. We could look forward 6 months, or 18. And we could ‘look forward’ at any time we want to. As much as we hate to admit it, we could join the gym or being a new diet at any time we wanted. The following graphic from Occupancy Marketing illustrates my point:

gym membership holiday

 

So instead of look to what we want to have done during this year, at Oolone we want to focus minds on what our users would like as soon as possible. We are now the top result for ‘visual search engine’, but our ongoing software development plan requires your help. We are looking for a software engineer with experience in eye-movement tracking, who may be interested in joining us in a new venture at Oolone.

 

Chris

Oolone

 

 
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Life in HD

The relatively recent rise in popularity of High Definition epitomises the subtleties of the relentless freight train that is technological progress. When HD came out, all but the geekiest among us were particularly enthused by its treasures – certainly not to the scale that was hyped around it. Perhaps a hint of cynicism hung in the air; possibly over-zealous marketing for an area of technology progression that had come relatively easily to its engineers? And perhaps a progression that was trying to mask the absence of any other more significant change? Our screens, we thought, seemed sharp enough.

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But then our standards changed. As soon as people tried it, they were hooked. Even if they only tried it out of greed for the newest technology, and even if their initial delight was in part only to justify the large market price it courted, there was no denying that people started to rave about it.

Users of ‘The New iPad’ will see it’s extension into personal computing. We thought that the pictures we saw on devices were limited by connection and camera. And as for text, well that was obviously sufficient to read and who would even notice ‘sharper text’? As it turns out, nearly everybody.

The point here is that perceptions adjust as things come along. We feel a bit hard done by if a website or video takes more than a second or two to load. This thought, of a page which contains more relevant and accurate information than it may have taken a scholar a week to get hold of two decades ago.

I won’t get on a high horse to proclaim that people should ‘count their blessings’, the simple message is that all is not as it seems. The most innocent or benign changes can turn out to become the biggest game-changers. It all depends on how we adjust as individuals and as a community.

 

Chris

Oolone

 
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Google ‘Knowledge Graph’

You may or may not have noticed that Google, as of this weekend, has begun to roll out a new way of searching the web. They call it their ‘knowledge graphing’ and it consists of a switch, as Google’s Ben Gomes puts it, from strings to things. Sites will no longer be recognised or listed purely according to keywords, but the engine will try to gain an understanding of what the searcher means.

Will this change our lives forever? Is it the dawn of AI as it was always envisioned? And could it become like Star Trek’s famous computer system, a more widespread and relevant form of Apple’s Siri?

It is difficult to say. But what is not so difficult to say is that, at present, Google need to tread a very fine line. Their text searching is currently rapid and relevant. It is in fact, on many computer browsers, instantaneous. The aforementioned switch will therefore fundamentally slow the process down. An extra step will reportedly be added; that of a list of options for the meaning of ambiguous search terms. Of course when you start with a baseline of instant search, any significant change will slow things down by definition, and speed is not everything. But it’s importance comes from not interrupting the user’s experience – from trying to be ‘invisible’. In google’s current roll-out, the user will be asked for which of several options they meant (e.g. cookie; food or internet record). The front running search engine is essentially reduced to a complex thesaurus.

But the above are perhaps not the biggest risks taken. Much more concerning for many people is where it may lead for privacy invasion; that Google will attempt to learn what people want by their individual choices; something it is already doing to the dismay of many.

Perhaps it will pay off – perhaps in a few years all searching of the net will be based upon meaning. But in the meantime, why make a complex thesaurus to try to get into the user’s (private) head when you could ask them to judge with their own choice and senses what they were looking for?

Chris
Oolone

 
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Next Level Technology

When does tech become accepted normality? How new does something have to be to be considered ‘tech’? It’s a philosophical point, but also one that illustrates this ongoing concept that technology should be invisible, allowing it’s users to get on with whatever they were wanting to do.

It is somewhat ironic, then, that the act of using technology has become an activity in itself. This perhaps ventures from philosophy into psychology, but many people will want to surf the web on the newest iPad because it is pleasurable to do so on a brand new, state-of-the-art product. Not because it is ‘easier’ than their old iPad.

But rather than write off this novelty value as trivial, we should appreciate it’s importance; after all, people need to play around with new things to realise what they want. Often, in fact, it is even a gentle push from an industry that gets the interest going. Apple put Sir Jonathan Ives on the case as designer for a new tablet, to be injected into an already-failed market, and hey presto they have a multi-million selling product and a re-popularised idea.

One of Henry Ford’s greatest quote was the following; “If I had asked the people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. We believe that Google’s current approach to search (‘more of the same but faster’) is analogous to this. Although making steps forward in other areas, such as Google goggles, the search industry remains stagnant. A previous post on Yahoo’s Axis browser shows our enthusiasm for this – when will this kind of visual technology become the norm? Only time will tell.

Chris

Oolone

 
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Web Curation – ‘More than just a market’

I recently read an insightful article by Oliver Starr, who is an employee of Pearltrees, a web based and self-declared ‘social library’. The linked article places Pearltrees amongst a new spread of web services whose self-descriptions use the term web curation.

As Starr rightly points out, this ‘curation’ is what humans have always done. We have a tremendously consistent habit of collecting things, and then alternating between collecting more, and adjusting and polishing that which we have collected.

car collection

We then sometimes even take pleasure in the subsequent pruning that has to take place. Think electronic photo albums, shiny collectable mantlepiece items, or cars. Many other things happen in the background – like circumstances adjust – but there is this ongoing process of collection and pruning. What area of collection you move onto next obviously depends on many life influences.

As Starr says, even the small personal choices like choosing an outfit are part of this curation. And it’s integration into the web is part of what Starr believes will become Web 3.0; Web 2 having consisted of the birth of blogs, wikis and video. It will merge with human behaviour that we have always had – behaviour that has been carved into our genome and phenotype over millions of years.

As Pinterest, Storify and Pearltrees tweak their platforms for curation of different media, they watch to see how people react. They are readying themselves to adjust for a wider change. And this is why we want Oolone to be ready for a full scale democratization of the web. People should be empowered to search using innate senses, and ‘curate’ their results. In doing so they will not just have curated a specific set of search result pages, but will have also made a fundamental contribution to the distribution of future searches.

Our means of doing this are already well underway.

Chris

Oolone

 
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Axis of Awesome – Yahoo Axis

Proprietors of search, Yahoo, have produced a visual web search browser plug-in. ‘Axis’ is a product whose installation allows visual previews of websites upon searching the web, rather like Oolone.

A small search bar at the bottom of your browser allows entry of your search term, which is followed by a series of screenshots appearing at the bottom of the window representing your top four results. These are, of course, scrollable to show more results, and represent a completely visual approach to finding your desired destination.

‘Axis’ is a bold move by Yahoo, but we believe it is in line with the future of the internet; a future in which sites are judged, identified and remembered visually.

There are, however, one or two aspects that we think could be improved upon in their version of visual search.

First and foremost, the results page cannot be expanded; users are left to judge a site based upon a small image alone. At Oolone we have tried to make this easier through a hover intent system, allowing a closer look at possible destinations.

Secondly Yahoo have produced this exclusively in a browser plug-in/app format rather than a website. At Oolone we believe that visual search should be a natural, intuitive experience. And I’m sure Yahoo would agree. But while access to websites is universal, the plug-in market is still relatively small and isolated. What’s more, an extra step is added in the route to an evolutionary web, in the form of a compulsory download and installation.

Axis is a great step forward, however, and one to be welcomed. But we maintain that intuitive user experience needs to remain at the forefront of all new design in this field. We need to give credit to the eyes and brain that are so good at dealing with images, by making it easy for them to switch to this kind of search.

Chris & Jon

Oolone

 
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Clean and Simple

There is something pleasing about that title isn’t there? It conjures up clutter-free images of relaxed control over something that could have been busy and untidy. It implies that whatever product or area it refers to is new and untouched, or that it at least feels like it is that way because of it’s simplicity.

Companies in recent years have used this impression to their huge advantage. The obvious example in technology is Apple, whose software and hardware reduced the complexity of user interface. But less obvious examples go almost unnoticed. Take the area of skincare, where ‘Simple’ products have flourished because of their name, packaging, and implied fundamentality. Another example is ‘Dove’, a soap whose marketing makes it seems more ‘white’ and ‘clean’, even more ‘moisturising’ than any other soap despite it’s chemical indifference.

Clearly this image resonates with our affinity for compartmentalisation; our brain can deal with things better when they are categorised and simplified, therefore it likes it when things are like that already.

But there should be an element of truth beneath it. There should be genuine simplicity and ease of use. After all, we all want the chores of life to be negligible, the inconveniences to vanish, the interfaces to be seamless so that we can get on and be efficient with our 80 years on the planet.

The internet is taking over swathes of human interaction with information. This is why it must be seamless. When looking for something, you should be able to use your most innate skills to identify it from the choices presented to you. And that interface should be clean, simple, and genuinely intuitive.

 
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Facebook buys instagram for $1 billion

Recently is was announced that facebook would acquire instagram for $1 billion. It raised a few eyebrows, not least because instagram seemed to have no real revenue.

One point made was that at that time instagram had 13 employees, while facebook had 4000 employees. It was wondered if facebook could have saved a lot of money by building something similar themselves, especially with easy access to their audience.

The purchase is also a sign that facebook is taking the mobile web very seriously.

The extraordinary statistic that ’10% of pictures ever taken were taken last year’ can undoubtedly be partly attributed to the rise of Facebook, so in that sense the acquisition is a good match. It also displays that there is room for growth in the digital photos market.

Facebook would have also been concerned with instagram’s incredible speed of growth, and nipping that in the bud has strengthened facebook’s castle.

The question of how shrewd the acquisition was will boil down to whether or not instagram, as part of Facebook, can grow to be worth more than $1 billion. The answer is ‘probably’. And the extraordinary figure of ‘$1 billion’ did gain the story a fair few dollars worth of extra press.

The acquisition was also interesting from a tech start up point of view in that it has given a bench mark for acquisitions of startups, of which there hadn’t been for a while.

It’s also bound to turbo charge the motivation of app developers around the world, which can’t be a bad thing.

 
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The worst blog post you’ve ever read – the power of counter-intuition

Published on April 28th, 2012 in Ideas

Much is made of a person’s intuition, but often the counter-intuitive idea is the best.

This is especially true in the over-crowded modern market place. To be regular is to be ignored. Even if you are noticed, you probably won’t be talked about.

I recently heard about a new gym that has opened – it charges it’s members if they don’t turn up to use the equipment.

A gym that cares so much about your health that it doesn’t mind making less money when it’s clients are fitter?

Maybe. More likely is that it’s (smart) marketing department know that this extraordinary idea will spread, resulting in more members. And not all of them will be able to make it in every day.

Gyms don’t tend to be very profitable (if at all) in a recession. This gym is doing very well.

For an idea to spread, it helps if it’s unexpected. I doubt the person who told me about the gym would have bothered to if the gym charged a flat monthly fee.

 

IP (intellectual property)

Let’s bring up IP again, with a slightly counter-intuitive slant.

Common practice involves coming up with a new product and immediately looking at every conceivable way that you could stop others from replicating it.

For a brand new product or concept, is this necessarily the best idea?

You’re trying to open up a new market category, and presumably you’ll have to acquire your customers from older, more established categories.

If your category had more than one operator within it, it would be larger. You’d create more buzz around it, and earn it far more credibility.

So how about opening a new category and letting others join it? Of course, putting your effort into maintaining your position as it’s leader? You wouldn’t have the whole category to yourself, but you’d have the largest chunk of a larger pie.

If Apple had been able to stop anyone else from making anything that resembled a tablet pc, would they have sold as many iPads as they have today?

I don’t think the masses would have accepted this new product idea in the same way had only one company produced them.

It’s counter-intuitive, but in many situations counter-intuition works.

 

Jon

Oolone

 
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Kindle won’t dwindle

One question we have been asked a few times since the launch of Oolone is how we explain the huge success of Amazon’s Kindle, given our penchant for all things visual and non-text based.

And the answer is relatively simple. The Kindle is a great device! It is slick, slim and portable, it has a practical length of battery life, and of course most importantly it has a revolutionary e-ink screen that set it apart from other devices at the time it came out.

And if you think about it, it is very visual. It is my belief that it is successful despite the dominance of text within its frame, not because of it. Relative to backlit screens it is a pleasure to read from. Combine this with Amazon’s monopoly on the book and e-book industry and you have a winner.

So what is the likely future of books? Although some are hesitant to convert to e-readers, the positive reviews and conversion stories keep pouring in. But as information has become instantly available, our attention span as a whole has waned. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. As many prominent authors and publishing agents point out, there is now more competition for readers’ attention than ever before. And it is only because of this competition that we quickly switch between sources.

Sidney J. Levy, the Coca-Cola Distinguished Professor of Marketing at the University of Arizona, rightly states that as readers, “…before we can experience the content within we have to have our attention engaged”. If anything it may mean we are more efficient than ever at determining good sources and gleaning relevant information.

Of course there have been attempts at simplifying the summary process as well – take Summly, an app which summarises based using verb stemming and various associated algorithms – but it appears the very sources we use are having to be pithier and more succinct. And let’s face it, nobody likes a waffler.

So read your kindle. But not for too long. My bet is you’ll be back to your video-playing tablet/laptop before long anyway.

 

Chris

Oolone

 
 
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