A Cheesy or a Cheecky Blog?

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Blog advisors say one has to post at least one article a day to keep peoples attention. I’m going to add my two cents to this statement.

I have subscribed to quite a few blogs, and frankly, I only read them very selectively. For example when I see titles starting with ‘Five ways to…’ I get discouraged to read them more and more. The reason is that most of these articles sum up the obvious, and look more like an excuse to post something than a valuable addition to a subject. Anyone can come up with this kind of articles and not say anything that a person with common sense doesn’t already know. You’ll lose less time doing one indepth search on your subject than read such blogs I would think, and you’ll get much more valuable information overall.

Some companies offer a weekly wrap-up of their articles. Then I wonder what is the difference between one poor article a day or a stack of them once a week. A jewel hidden among them could get lost that way. To my opinion, if you have nothing interesting to say, don’t say anything at all. Better send a joke instead, then at least some people are amused. Obviously that implies you’ll eventually have to let go of ‘political correctness’ to avoid getting cheesy in the long run, and many would consider that a risk.

Some famous people with blogs post very long articles with lots of personal story that I believe more resembles fanmail, or go way too deep into their subject to keep the attention of the reader. Not all readers are fan, and no matter how rich your are, that still doesn’t make you an interesting writer.

My point is that I don’t believe the customer is more happy with getting frequent crappy reads than with getting less frequent ‘readable’ articles that bear some depth and analysis. When adding the appropriate references, an article also does not need to be long. It can be a thesis based on different reads. Adding an executive summary is a way to get around the fact that sometimes there simply is a lot to say about a subject, and keep the impatient reader coming back without reading your entire article.

I guess a solution would be to select your readers in different groups, offer some kind of subscriptions. I believe the blogger’s contact with the reader would be a lot better, and you would get happier readers.

 

 

Your fingerprint as a username

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An interesting article from Privacy News Online at privateinternetaccess.com, written by Rick Falkvinge.

Imagine you had a really strong and complex password. It was so hard for anyone to remember, that you had printed thousands of business cards with the complex password on them, and left such a card at every single object you just happened to touch. Would that be a good password?

This week, there was a story about an FBI house search where the people in the house were compelled to give up their fingerprints in order to unlock phones, which were locked just with fingerprints.

Most people seemed to be appalled at the FBI being able to coerce somebody into unlocking their phone, while pretty much nobody would have blinked at phones being seized as part of a lawful search.

How many stopped to reflect over the fact that the house was probably filled to capacity, on every object and every surface, with those fingerprints required to unlock the phones in question? That it would have been absolutely trivial to recover them from the first glass fetched from the kitchen?

Fingerprints aren’t authentication.

Fingerprints are identity. They are usernames.

Fingerprints are something public, which is why it should really bother nobody with a sense of security that the FBI used them to unlock seized phones. You’re literally leaving your fingerprints on every object you touch. That makes for an abysmally awful authentication token.

It’s true that phones can be unlocked with fingerprints, but that doesn’t turn the fingerprint into a secure authentication token. Rather, it turns the phone lock into a phone bolt, without a key requirement – an electronic bolt which one particular person can open trivially (because they carry the fingerprints on their hands) and everybody else can open with a small amount of effort (because those fingerprints are trivially retrievable and copyable). But in no way should it be considered secure, or even a lock: it’s merely something that takes less effort to open for one particular person.

Yes, of course it’s better to have a bolt on something than no bolt (fingerprint security is better than nothing). But a bolt that requires a sliding action should not be mistaken for a lock that requires a key. A false sense of security can be worse than no security in some cases.

Biometrics were never authentication tokens. They were identity tokens. Authentication tokens are secret and replaceable, and your fingerprints (your retina, your iris, and so on) are neither.

When you authenticate something even slightly sensitive with biometrics, you’re doing it wrong.

The right way to do it is to identify with biometrics, and then authenticate with a proper security token, which is secret.

Privacy remains your own responsibility.

The Multi-Functional Abbiss

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There are plenty of (free) apps on the market that can you can do amazing thing with. Some of those apps we use almost every day. However only relatively few users optimise the use of these apps.

This has everything to do with their design. Most of them gathered a large user base through the years with one primary function that people got to like and use. New functions were added gradually, but due to the familiarity of the design and the primary use for the larger part of the users, the new functions had to be stuffed somewhere within the existing design. In many cases the word ‘hidden’ is more appropriate.

And sometimes the users just don’t want to use the enhanced app for anything else than what it was originally designed for. Often because the new functions are not clear, require too many buttons or too much thinking, or because users can be very conservative and stubborn. On the other hand, the marketing department of the software often fails to draw the people into the new features by lack of an interesting tutorial, and try to get the job done with a few blinking arrows and a line of explanation on the screen.

A real multi-functional app is a bit of a gamble to create. It requires a design that is prepared for more functions, or in other words, designers have to project new functions for a number of follow-up versions of the app before they start developing it and prepare the design for them. This may sound very logical, but it isn’t. The main reason is that multi-functionality – interesting as the concept may seem – will look complex if the interface is not done right. We believe at this moment, there are very few multi-functional apps that have an interface that enables the required smooth and intuitive multi-funtional design.

Fact is, that  Apple designed a great concept when introducing the first iPhone and the app store. Many people have made good money on designing great apps, but unfortunately, most of these apps don’t communicate with each other. That is why we believe there is a great opportunity in designing a multi-functional application with a great intuitive interface and a design in which no functions are less reachable than any other. And that is exactly what we believe we realised with the HowAbout application that will be released in november. Every upcoming version will introduce new functions, so that users can roll into it step by step.

So far we have projected a 4 year release schedule, which will develop the app from an organiser with even-based photo-sharing to a full fledged… Well, you will find out as it happens.

We sure hope you will be as exited as we are about it’s release.

Update : As so often is the case with apps, we didn’t release in time. We did present a working prototype in November, but the final release is delayed. Follow this blog or our twitter account to stay in touch. It will be out within months.

The Privacy Thing

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In our May article on Google’s ‘Allo’ application, we already suggested the app looks much of a governmental spying tool on your private communications. Now, RT reports Edward Snowden is saying the same thing. Google has backed away from it’s privacy promises and given 100% availability of conversations on police requests and neglected the privacy settings of the individual users.

And recently, Facebook announced that Whatsapp data will be shared with Facebook, and since Facebook is also in the pocket of the US government, those data are no longer safe either.

Makes you wonder why people keep using Whatsapp and Messenger, although we can imagine China will be screening Wechat communication as well. Research and Snowden already pointed out that Microsoft’s Skype is also very likely to be unsafe. All togehter these three take the greater part of mobile communication in the US. As if there are no safer alternatives, it almost feels like US citizens WANT to give up their privacy.

This rises the question whether the public is simply conceding. Are we giving up privacy because the govt. can probably get our data anyway? Is this the way society is going to move forwards? With governmental efforts on enforcing the ‘cashless society’ on us, it is likely that people will end up accepting the idea that governments will be able to get to your money if they want to. Will they concede to that as well in time?

I strongly believe an alternative should be constructed where free circulation of money and communication is possible without governmental control. I believe terrorism is just an excuse for governments to getting their hands on more taxes and to control the money in case they screw up the economy. The fact that countries, states and municipalities are more and more unable to pay the high cost of the welfare state illustrates this vividly.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in a Name?

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Brand awareness is the single most important thing in scaling your product. It takes a catchy name and a recognisable logo. Without them, it will take a whole lot more time and money to achieve this, unless you have help from a unique and wanted product. With HowAbout, I believe we have a catchy name, and inspired by Nike, I decided to give our logo a premium position inside the app.

Since the HowAbout button is the key feature of HowAbout app, I decided to make it more than just an anonymous button. Featuring our logo there would enhance the chance that it will be recognised by a factor thousand. The logo itself does not carry our name though, but since that is viewed each time you start up the app, I have no worries. Especially since HowAbout is a catchy name at itself, and fits very well to the concept of an organiser app. Sending a Powwow or an invitation to an event is quite similar to asking ‘how about a restaurant next time?’ Or a movie, going to a game, etc. That is basically how I came up with the name :’What would you ask when inviting one of your friends?’

HowAbout app in the first place is a handy, fast and intuitive way to send and keep track of invitations, complete with interactive calendar, overview, contact and group management etc. The people in your contact list are people you actually meet in person. Far away friends that you never meet will just take list space, although there is a way to share photo’s with absent friends instantly, if that is what you want to do : it’s called event based photo-sharing, and is linked to your event.

Where other apps mostly start asking ‘what do you want to do’, HowAbout starts with ‘who will you ask’. The philosophy is that you will likely already have a mood to see a person or a certain group of people when you have an intention to set something up. Since there are activities you do with one group of people, and other stuff you do with another group of people, you generally already have something in mind when you decide which people you will ask.

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That is why we like to encourage users to start making groups, and use them. Since any contact can be in several groups, you can configure every group the way you like. It’s also very practical to make temporary groups which you delete after the event. The contacts are not deleted, just the group will be.

The interface is actually created upon this principle. Using groups will soon feel very intuitive and the obvious way to use HowAbout. Dragging contacts and groups to the HowAbout button will become part of your daily routine. And every time you will see a HowAbout button anywhere, you will immediately know what it means. Isn’t that what brand awareness is all about?

Look and Feel

Recently, the gameification of software has been a hot topic. Finding the balance between the goal of the software and it’s amusement value  was the holy grail of the next generation software. Having a background of card games and boardgames, I couldn’t help but design HowAbout with that element that has given me a homey board- and card game feeling for all those years. You may have noticed this from the mobile app design, but the Web-version emphasises this even more :

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Howabout is really easy to use.  It’s mostly clicking and dragging, very clear and intuitive, and most of all very useful. For people like me who never got to really incorporating the use of a calendar in their lives, this is as close as it is going to get to achieving that.

But what about the business use of such a design?

We think your business is a serious matter, but so is the psychology of the people who work in it. Where Apple has done groundbreaking work in simplifying the use of software, and optimising it’s efficiency, we believe we are moving beyond the minimalist view that has carried them through the past 20 years. Offering the same efficiency and easy of use, we choose for a more playful design that speaks for itself. When Apple recently flattened out the look of their icons, I believe that with it, they removed the character of the design. We want to bring it back with a blast.

So the question remains, will businesses implement this kind of design in their corporate software, or do they prefer a static, ‘professional’, boring look. Feel free to leave your thoughts in a reply.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

yellowbrick    HowAbout has been a work in progress since May 2014. Although it has developed, the basic concept is still prominently there. Some parts got to play a more important role, some got a more intuitive approach, or have been given a better, more interesting functionality, like the interactive calendar and the Powwow function, which takes the possibilities of what is known as ‘a doodle’ way across its current limitations. The application has also been broken up into segments. We are now releasing MVP, with new functions to be added in the coming years, and we hope to arrive at the original full blown concept by 2020. After that; more new additions are already being investigated.

Fact is that nobody ever asks about the money. It is assumed that someone takes care of it. The shareholders, the investors, or of course the designer of the whole thing. Now frankly, it is a fact that the founders of HowAbout never really worried about money, and we honestly still don’t. The product will likely launch in November with all bills paid and as only debtor one of the founders, and we can continue this path for at least another year.

In the same context, the attentive follower of our project will have noticed that we are not following what we call the ‘Yellow Brick Road’. We have not been talking early to market representatives or investors about our project, neither have we been telling the press what we are building and how it will work, nor did we join any incubator or other start-up program. Everything has been relatively confined. Only the last couple of months, we have been quietly lifting the curtain a little on our Facebook page and now in this blog. One reason is that we are using a new intuitive interface that we don’t want other companies to introduce before we do. That by itself should be enough reason. But also, we have long time been unsure about the final design and functionalities of HowAbout, and only with the start of the programming phase itself, we were reassured that it will look great, and overall work out as planned.

At this moment we can not tell if this will end up as a problem. We sure have the experts against us, who say you can’t talk early enough about your project : awareness is key. The good side is that our open beta test phase may go relatively unnoticed, which would give us an advantage because possible competition will need some time to catch up with us. Also, HowAbout’s consumer version is free of charge, so there is a very low step-in barrier. That means a good press release could already create a large user-base if the product is good enough, so we have work to do.

On the other hand without any sizeable exposure, we are unlikely to gain explosive growth and will need a great marketing effort and convention presence to get an amount of attention worth the while. We are running the risk that by the time we are getting somewhere, a big player could release a similar product to ours with a lot more marketing, and dilute our chances of becoming a sizable market player. Fortunately however, HowAbout is not a simple concept -even though it may look like one. I guess it will depend if they estimate our product as a threat or an opportunity. If neither of them, we will stand a good chance. If any of them, in best case we get bought, in worst case our product will remain on the sidelines. Still, most importantly, nobody can stop us from making HowAbout.

Bottom line is, that we know what we are doing, and why we are doing it. We believe HowAbout is a great product that will spread by word of mouth, because it is quite unique, well designed and totally useful for everyone, with a very intuitive interface. That should be a good enough explanation for any potential investor to gain confidence, no matter we follow the Yellow Brick Road or not. Sometimes it is wiser not to follow the money in the beginning. Which application has made money the first year of its launch anyway?

Does that mean there will be ways to monetise HowAbout? Sure there are. We will tell you more when version 2.0 releases. Unless you want to become an investor of course.