dConstruct 2008 notes

dConstruct banner.
My journey to d.construct was a long one, I hadn’t even checked which talks were when, so I was very thankful for the schedule built into your name tag! I took quite a few notes for general use, but please to refer to the originals where possible:

Keynote: The urban web, Steven Johnson

This was an interesting introduction to the topic, highlighting the social aspects of the story of understanding cholera outbreaks. Unfortunately I wasn’t set-up to make notes at the time, but from memory it centred around the story of John Snow. I’ve heard this before in terms of good information design, but this highlighted important aspects such as the “social hub” that was the local vicar.

The modern examples mostly came from his company, outside.in, including radar. Radar appears to be an aggregator of local info, like a Google News for local blogs and tweets.

I’m not sure how it works, although one method it employs appears to be language to identify location. For example, monitoring a twitter stream, it picks up a tweet about “Dizzy’s”, a restaurant (or similar) in Brooklyn. Relying on language for this sort of thing seems flawed, as there are far too many overlapping terms (how many Springfields in the US for example?). However, perhaps there’s more to it?

In general it did make me think that it would be good to have a geo attribute, like the lang attribute, to show where a section of content is relevant to a particular real world location. However, I’m not sure what the values should be? Lat-long (numerical), or specified locations, like “Brighton, UK”. There’s probably a microformat for it already, but would be nice to have it baked in properly as a fundamental aspect of HTML5.

Steven also showed a nice way of showing how much of a voice you have compared to other people, with percentage pie charts of posts shown over various map locations.

Playing the web, Aleks Krotoski

(This is more of a notes format, simply getting down what the speaker was saying, my comments are in parentheses. Aleks is a very animated, entertaining speaker, which you won’t get from these notes!)

Aleks starts off by wondering why there is little overlap between the games and web industries. (‘Games’ and ‘web’ are used for their respective industries from this point.)

She first knocks down graphics and story as things that matter (critically) in games. Play is what makes people ‘stick’.

(Side note: I’ve often thought that the fun definition of a “User Experience Consultant” should be: the urge to make verbs into abilities. E.g. usability, findability etc. In this case it would be playability. Not a new term, but it did remind me about this!)

She describes the term ‘Experience Economy’ as essentially a boring term for making things fun.

Control systems

The things game designers can use to increase playability:

  1. Carrots. Give people more for contributing more. It could be points, character levels, collectables etc. The web does do this to some extent, often you give more (e.g. personal details) and get more out of a site.
  2. Openness. As in, games that are open as you play them rather than on rails, with no exploration. (This reminded me of the “Zone of proximal development” where there is a level of difficulty that is helpful.)
  3. Have an important end goal, something to get to, or achieve.

The web has has much greater community, or at least, potential community, but games developers have really started utilising communities, e.g. hiring community managers.

The web does have a few rallying points, e.g. digg.

From the community comes social value, out of the central thing (that the designers created), comes other output from the social community, e.g. characters / assets that people create and then can sell on ebay.

Personalisation causes investment from the person. This is relatively new in the web as a common feature.

There is a social urge to collect things, so far web developers tend to concentrate on points, but could be anything to challenge yourself. (I missed the example URL for this, it was a virtual badge-collection site that rewards users for doing things like not using google for 7 days with particular badges. Sounded like ‘peanod’ or something, does anyone know?)

There is very little focus within games dev on theory, they are gamers who create games. Thoroughly separate from HCI. It is a case where you can show that the process has worked without knowledge of the theory of why.

(The main thrust which doesn’t come through from the notes is that the games and web industries have a great deal to learn from each other.)


Is ‘Little big planet‘ a first step?
The guy from Sony (not media molecule), comes from a web background. But it seems few and far between that this happens. There are 5 major games companies in brighton, but hardly any people here at this web conference.
It’s got wifi (on a Nintendo DS I think?), why can’t I do more with it?
Brief History tour: The most innovative device was the Dreamcast, it was so far ahead of it’s time, only now are we seeing what it could have done, and seeing those things in the mainstream. Why not more integration? In early 2000, the Dreamcast was connected to the internet. You could create your own content, share it, play a multiplayer online games, and it also had VMU (Visual Memory Unit), part of the controller. This little device had a little screen which you could take out, about the size of (modern) mobile phone. You could play a pared down version of the game. E.g. Sonic, you could take it away and play a sub-game that then affected the main game. The game cube did something like this. We’ve still not really seen the realisation of these things.

Information around the Xbox 360 launch said you’d be able to connect the Xbox with other machines, e.g. iPods, Playstations etc. There are lots of cross-platform issues, but the potential is there.

What creates the divide? (Between the web and games industries)
They developed in two different ways. In the UK, the games industry developed out of a bedroom coder mentality. A small pocket.The Web industry attracted different type of people, as the connections/connectedness of the online sphere have always been there.

Now people really engage with the web, there should be more cross over.

The games industry has some unfortunate perceptions, e.g. games are childs playthings, and people generally don’t recognise the depth and breadth of what is going on.

Perhaps it’s a marketing issue?

(I couldn’t hear the question, but…) What about the barrier to do with open standards on web vs very proprietary practices in games.
I think that will change with more smaller developers using (perhaps open?) standard environments.
What about a negative feedback loop with games players becoming games designers. A lot of web practice is about designing for another audience that is not you.
There has been a lot of research recently in games industry, see the paper Chicks and Joysticks: An Exploration of Women and Gaming. Another perspective is the DS’s brain training, plus the marketing with the adverts of non-typical gamers (e.g. Nicole Kidman using the DS). The industry recognises the current audience (The average age of an Xbox gamer is 28), but we need to adapt or there will be a drop-off.In the web industry? I’m not sure, I’ll think about it and I might blog about it.

Leveraging Cognitive Bias in Social Design, Joshia Porter

This is about the merging of the web with social psychology.

Web designers need to add (social) psychology tools to their belt. But, those worlds haven’t collided yet.

A little experiment: which of these two restaurants would you choose? (95% choose second)

1st has physical barrier, and no one sitting down. The second has lots of people there, with a small queue.

Calls this the ‘bandwagon effect‘. Associated with sheep mentality. With little information available we tend to follow others. It’s one way (heuristic) we use to make decisions.

It’s a short-cut rather than doing the logical thing: gather all the needed information. Makes up for a lack of resource.

Sometimes there is ‘cognitive bias‘, and these are often predictable outcomes.

There is the Lake Wobegon effect (where every one thinks they are above average).
We all know the Self-serving bias, and the prediction bias (leads to underestimate work, part of the Focusing effect).

The main paper for this stuff is Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, by Amos Tversky; Daniel Kahneman in 1974, (although there are plenty of easy links to the Wikipedia for this!).


(You could probably go through the List of cognitive biases and assign design patterns to them? Joshua makes a great start on this.)

For representational bias (couldn’t find a reference), uses Freshbooks happy users example. They show a ‘representative’ selection, showing the ones that resonate with their exact audience. Rather than stock photos, uses real (or at least realistic) ones.
(This seems more related to the bandwagon effect combined with Ingroup bias to me?)

Freshbook's happy users screen grab.
Review of the day on yelp.com, the chosen users are always the ‘best’, people that do a lot on the site. Power users. By showing that, they show the desired behaviour. This should attract those people interested in doing the same, and perhaps put off people who aren’t.

Loss aversion, e.g. Few people would take a 50% chance of loosing / gaining £100. At 3:1, there is a much better response.

“Losses loom larger than gains”.
Therefore make sure people gain before they lose something, e.g. personal data. Netvibes frame the registration as “login to save your page.” I.e. not loosing information.

OpenID feature, framed as ‘don’t forget another password’.
Rather than call something ‘save time, create an account’, frame as not loosing something.
E.g. “don’t lose the ability to track your package.”

Ownership bias: people value things more when they fell a sense of ownership.
(I think this is a weak example based on copy: youtube, my hotel etc. Flickr has lots of “you”s. I’m not convinced about that as the whole you/me thing can cause usability issues, but it could certainly apply to keeping people on sites when they have created / uploaded something, which is covered later.)

Sign up problem effect (the 9x effect): People value current software about 3 times as much as a theoretical real value. Software makers tend to overvalue their products by about 3 times. Therefore a product has to be 9 times better to actually convert people.
From ‘Eager Sellers and Stony Buyers‘.

Websites now can get you engaged and creating something before asking for any sign up. This creates an instant feeling of ownership.

Geni gets you started very quickly, just three bits of information and you have the start of a family tree that you can share.

Freshbooks uses every sign-up tactic possible:

  • bandwagon (thousands of new users)
  • features and benefits
  • why it’s better than you current product
  • they explain what it is immediately
  • provides a telephone number
  • shows where freshbooks is used (with a world map)
  • shows feedback
  • shows more happy users with quotes
  • has a tour
  • highlights free registration


Isn’t this evil?
Absolutely, that’s a great question. Depends on business ethics really. Trying to provide a win-win. If you provide a better solution, your making the world a better place. However, getting into psychology is what casinos do, e.g. people still sign up for cards etc.

Even when we are aware of cognitive bias, we are still susceptible (see Blind spot bias).

Regarding the e-commerce checkout without an account signup, where was the stat from?
A major US retailer gained 10-20% from allowing people to checkout without signing up, but I can’t name names.

What doesn’t work internationally?
I have no idea, great question.
(Comment from the audience) Regarding International applicability, things like youtube/myspace are less relevant to asian societies than western societies.
Great point, now you mention it, it’s mostly about strength of bias in different societies. It will vary.
Can you reconcile Freshbooks Direct Marketing style approach, vs slide, which is less ‘full on’? Is there a heuristic for when you’ve gone too far?
There is a danger of trying to automate too much, if people don’t know what’s going on, there could be an issue. It’s a very contextual question, each case is different.

In the workshop yesterday, we mentioned that some sites start you instantly, some don’t. There is a trade-off where a screen describing what’s going on could be more important.

What most designers don’t think about is the behaviour change that happens when you use a new bit of software. Habits and behaviour change can be huge, so you want to minimise that.

I read that google was so successful because you didn’t have to change your behaviour. But another site can copy that…

Designing for interaction, Daniel Burka

Daniel is Creative director of Digg, and co-founder of Pownce.

Makes point around the effects that large crowds (e.g. for baseball), and the infrastructure around it. That’s what we are doing, building the infrastructure to allow people to do similar things.

Challenges for social design

Challenge 1: Getting signups.
Encouraging people to participate.

Percentage of people that ‘view’ is much greater than participants. Need to increase benefit, go beyond altruistic motivations. Tap into self-interest.

Therefore, in digg they’ve added a recommendation engine. It takes your activity (digging, burying), compares it to others, and makes recommendations based on that. The more you tell the system, the better it can be.

There might be 16000 stories in 24 hours, so boiling it down to the dozen you’re interested in is tricky. Therefore this recommendation (personalisation) is very useful. The more you do, the better it gets, and the messages on the site reflect this.

Reduce barrier to entry. Currently Digg pops-up a dialogue when you need to login. The next version will allow you to login via other social sites, like Facebook. Put those details on, and it takes the details from there.

Let people Dip a toe in the water. Get going quickly, get invested quickly.
Geni (overlapping with previous pres), is possibly the best of it’s kind.
They show you what it is, you only have to put in 3 things, and you are started.
Once you get to the next step, you’ve got something already.

Challenge 2: Encouraging positive behaviours.
Personal profiles, gives you sense of trust, and creates trackable connections.
Silverorange intranet was something I was involved in many years ago, uses avatars, and this makes it quite emotional for the users.

Last.fm, mixes info from user (name, sites like tumblelog), also your music taste, recently listened to. The digg profile page does this as well, you don’t have to do anything beyond normal usage to keep it up to date.
In pownce, we link to other profiles. Uses info for other sites.

Focus on tension points. Copy and design can go a long way.
If a particular place in the site is a tension point, focus on that. Getsatisfaction has a good interface for this, where you can show how you feel about something when adding a comment. The reason for being on the site is probably negative, in GS, they have the faces to show emotional state.
Makes it explicit, “dorky as hell”, but it works. Simple to do, but has a big effect.

Avoid negative competition. Kind of the hill contests don’t work. The system on Digg listed the users by how many stories got to the homepage. Self-fulfilling prophecy, and new users couldn’t get on the list. The system encouraged bad behaviour, people tried to game it. With critical mass, the feature went from encouraging to negative.

Challenge 3: Allow for flexible participation.
Allow for niche, allow for small participation, allow for huge contributions, it’s a difficult challenge and no one has cracked it. We need to adapt to different data, volume and frequency.

E.g. use benjamin roethlisberger, who has a really long last name. Uses him as the example guy in designs. Chemists use ‘unobtainium’, which can be anything.

Designers do the same, enter just the right data, perfectly align things etc.
Make sure you enter silly data, use stuff from a myspace profiles etc. It’ll be more realistic.

Flow, amount of stuff going in. Facebook is quite good at dealing with this.
It tries to determine what you think is interesting. However, you’re never sure if you’re friends receive things, as they may not see it in their feed. A preferences pain like facebook uses is a bit of a crutch, but I’m not sure what the best solution is.

Follow trails, paving the cow paths.

Don’t be afraid to adapt to your users.

Pownce thought files would be biggest thing, but actually links was the biggest thing, by far.

Then adapted by sucking in video to display directly, and even created oEmbed to enable that more easily.

The comment system has evolved greatly, even used to have threaded comments as they thought Digg was big enough, and because people started using the @notication to reply to other people. Pownce has smaller conversations, and they concluded that it wasn’t useful there.


Question on progressive registration, is that good thing?
Can be strange, you can end up with quasi accounts. Not very conformable with that, prefer the linkedin style “you’re 30% complete”.
Do you have release cycles?
We used to do changes on the spot, now we have a roughly 30 day cycle. Wouldn’t want to loose the advantage of making small adjustments quickly.
Do you do user testing?
Mark Trammle can give you the in depth answer. However, we’re getting better at it, we used to do quick and dirty, partly task-analysis testing.

Now we do focus group testing at start of project, then do user testing with paper prototypes or comps, then do task based testing towards the end.

Every time we just do a little bit, it’s been worth it, finding obvious problems that hadn’t been that obvious to us before.

Social network portability, Tantek Çelik

I didn’t takes notes on Tantek’s, he’s always very good at doing comprehensive presentations and publishing them (the link is in the heading).

Designing for the coral reef, Matt Jones and Matt Biddulph

Will do an experiment, download ‘neo-readder’, for iPhones, N series Nokia phones and others.

Yay: not invented here! Something of a Dopplr motto.

What we do with computers in general: We make models, e.g. spreadsheets, and manipulate things to see how we make things better.

(Shows model of all space time!) notes it may change next week with the LHC.

Dopplr is a “social physics engine”, a piece of software that underlines the physics of the world, how things behave. It’s kind of a middleware as a website.

Shows a graph of enzymes showing the increased interaction due to the catalyst, Dopplr intends to be something that increases the effect of the parts.

Show a picture of Jon Postel, famous for his be conservative in what you send, be liberal in what you receive, something they take to heart.

Coral reef as a metaphor: Dave Winer made this comparison initially, and they show some imaginary outlining it as both an infrastructure and an animal.

From the coral reef diagram, we are tropic level 2!

Web 2.0: It’s an arc of history, with connected computers. In the early days people used mainframes with time sharing. You would get economies of scale, and the individuals benefit.

Then we got into the personal computing era.

Then with sites like Flickr, it widens out again. With the internet, and the data oriented uses of it, Flickr is a mainframe, and using the economies of scale.

See also Tom Coate’s, native to the web of data.

We design for other sites, re-use of data. Sites that open up, are themselves benefiting.
Matt Webb: Your web service is a finite state machine that operates on your users.

Michal Migurski. Doing stuff with maps and lots of data. They started wtih google maps. But started creating open source map frameworks, e.g. modest maps, mapnic.

“Slippy maps”, like Google’s, are more like games, where you can slip through. They divide the world into discrete chunks, then stream them. It’s like looking at a blue whale through a letter box.

From a game design article, they make valiant efforts to avoid landing screens. This is a lot like web 2.0 stuff, where you try and stream things in as you go along. There are a lots of places on Dopplr where we use that.

The long zoom, designing a distributed interwoven identity.
The genius of a coke bottle is that if it smashes into a thousand pieces you still know what it is. Because details are so hard to get right, they are hard to duplicate.
Ideas aren’t going to win, it’s going to be the execution, the details.

Dopplr was an idea, and then they later realised the scope of what we could do technically.

Another word: delighter, a word from the W hotels in new york, where you put something into their experience (in their room). If you go in and there’s a rubber duck, it’s an “eh” moment. If, on your second day, after shopping and being knackered, and you find a rubber duck, it’s a delightful moment.

In Dopplr, the colours change based on your location. It takes ages, people tend to notice after a month or so. Then you notice it in the favicon!

We wanted to put in data toys, e.g. delighters. Personal velocity works out how far you’ve travelled in a year, and works out how far you’ve travelled in a year. Turned them into things, we ‘equivelised’ (TM) these into an animal. We tried animals, it took a while to work out how fast animals move (Wikipedia isn’t that great for this sort of query!).

The fastest person on dopplr is going the speed of a whippet, but many are very slow. The nasa transporter and a glacier were good equivalents. We have the fail snail, a fail whale equivalent we hope you never see.

Building distributed interwoven system

In Dopplr, as well as the cache, it’s very important to use asynchronous services.
There are many services surrounding central Dopplr, and then the 3rd parties are outside of that.

You need to be playing with asynchronous systems now, Beanstalkd, Apache Caramel. These systems move at different speeds, you need to be flexible and allow for that.

Jeremy Keith showed the chain reaction of updating fire eagle, then Dopplr, Pownce etc.

Shows a diagram of the current schema around other sites such as friendfeed and facebook.

Dopplr is an example of a site that can be successful without people visiting it.
There is a lot to be gained by sending people away from your site, and Google has demonstrated that this isn’t always a business problem.

However, it can be a bit like choosing hi-fi separates, where you try and optimise the overall by using different pieces. It can get too complicated!

They have open sourced some of the routines, like social network imports, search github for Dopplr. (I couldn’t find anything through github’s search, using google I found Identity matcher, Matt’s profile may be better.)

Social network subscription will be next, so things automatically update across sites.

The big challenge is the interactions with the user. Dopplr is careful to be contextual, we won’t automatically import things etc.
Your Linkiedin set of people is not the same as you network on facebook. (This is an important point, it will have to be quite )

We added public profile support a while back, and have been adding more and more toys, e.g. personal velocity. Coded it to be embedded as a blog badge etc. They are open social applications. So if another site supports Open Social they can embed it. Uncoordinated collaboration.

Twitter: You can send messages to Dopplr through that, or email about it, and then it updates dopplr.

It’s an announcement, an instruction to other things.
However, it does depend on language parsing. We’ve built up the top 1000 destinations, but also had to build a ‘stop list’ of the common words in emails that are also town names, e.g. conference.

Just released groups, which get quite a few features of the individual pages. For example, the Dconstruct goup.
Even a group carbon footprint calculator, which should be popular for CSR.

It used to be that you could only get anything once logged in.
Just done “share this trip”, you can get a guest pass URL to share with people to access that trip only.
As a non-user, you get a small view.

Experiment: Share a trip, showed a barcode, but unfortunately no ones phone could get it.


Merlin Mann on the case for a pause button: against the fake follow fucntion on friendfeed.

The fake friend function on friendfeed may be very clever, but the fact that there are fake friends shows a problem. Matt talks about the pause button on social sites (see the Merlin Mann article).

My take: friending considered harmful. We are tying ourselves in knots because of the language. Using the word friend makes it necessary to contort yourself.
Don’t use friends, talk about the actions, trust etc, not friends.
Plausible deniability of friendfeed makes you jump through a lot of hoops.
Shows pic of US politician with a shotgun.

The System Of The World,
Jeremy Keith

This I didn’t even try and take notes about. This was less a presentation and much more of a performance, the presentation and MP3 will be available soon, the text is available now.

4 contributions to “dConstruct 2008 notes

  1. Thanks for putting this together, I didn’t take nearly as many notes and this will help pull it together until the podcasts come out.

    Don’t think I met you at either of the parties but if I catch you at a future conference I will get you a drink!

  2. That was kind of why I did this – some of my colleagues are presenting to their teams, and I wanted them to have something to refer to asap.

Comments are closed.