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rogersfail-wIn an effort to force users of its HTC Dream to do a software update that fixes a 911 call bug, Rogers has disconnected Internet from all its Android customers. Here’s the full text I just received on my phone:

Rogers/Fido Safety Message: URGENT Reminder 911 Calls HTC Dream software update: Mandatory software update is now available to help ensure 911 calls are completed from your phone. Please go immediately to rogers.com/dreamsoftwareupdate on your PC to download.

In order to help ensure 911 calls are completed internet access was temporarily disabled on your phone at 01/24/10 6:00AM EST. To reactivate internet service, please complete your software update immediately. Upon completion, internet access will be re enabled within 24 hours.

For users of Macintosh and Windows 7, please call 1- 888-764-3771(1-888-ROGERS1) for update instructions.

We apologize for the inconvenience but we prioritize customer safety above all.

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Twitter - Bird with Follow Me Sign

Back in mid-2008, Twitter was just another Web 2.0 application. Industry watchers were beginning to take notice of its million or so users and speculate if it might be the start of something bigger, but most people hadn’t heard of it or didn’t “get it”. Here at Bitcurrent we pondered the rise of microblogging and the scaling problems ahead, noting a few teething problems along the way.

Towards the end of 2008, people outside of tech circles began to take notice, especially when it became a key form of communication during the Mumbai terror attacks in November. In December it became clear that Twitter was not just another social site, but a protocol for a new form of communication. By the end of the year, people were exploring all sorts of new uses for Twitter, and the Twitter pantomime was born.

But 2009 was the year that Twitter really took the world by storm.
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The #uxmtl tweet stream behind the panelists

Backchannels are all the rage at tech events these days, connecting presenter and audience like never before. They allow audiences to get more value from a presentation by communicating with each other about it. And the audience can feed back to the presenter, which helps him stay on track and know that he is being understood.

But there’s a point where a backchannel goes beyond adding interactivity to an event and begins to undermine the event itself. In November, I witnessed this at the launch of UXMTL, a community for user experience design in Montreal.

Twitter has made setting up backchannels trivially easy — with or without the consent of conference organizers — since anyone can start a Twitter backchannel simply by using a hashtag. Unlike Google Moderator or Backnoise, no specialized software is needed. At UXMTL, the event organisers simply announced that audience members should use the hashtag #uxmtl on Twitter, and all tweets for that tag were displayed on a large screen behind the panelists, using Twitterfall. For me, this completely changed my experience of the event, both as an audience member and a backchannel contributor.

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A better design for Twitter retweets

Birds on a wire

This week, many people have been given beta access to Twitter’s new Retweet feature. Unfortunately, rather than seizing the opportunity to pave the cowpaths by building a feature that reflects the way users are currently retweeting each other, Twitter have launched something which behaves quite differently.

You have to change your retweet behavior to use the new feature. This has angered many users, myself included, so I’d like to explain how I think the new feature should have been designed. To start with I’ll look at where retweeting came from, I’ll then explain some of the problems with the way it works currently, how Twitter are trying to address these problems with the new feature, and finally how I think the problems could be better addressed.

Why do we need a retweet feature anyway?

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Somewhere around 1999, I first saw a URL in a movie trailer. That confirmed for me that web technology had reached the mainstream. Clay Shirky points out that really interesting social capital applications emerge not when new technology is created, but when that technology is so mainstream as to be boring. He cites U.S. “citizen voter” applications designed to document suspicious voting practices, but is quick to emphasize that these were inspired by their low-tech predecessors in Africa.Twitter names in the credits of a Russell Howard show

Recently, I noticed something equally mainstream about a new class of technology: its appearance in movie and TV credits. As this screencap shows, the credits for @bbcgoodnews (which, I’m pretty sure, features @notrusshoward) include Twitter usernames.

Which got me thinking:
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Status update anxiety

anxious

I’ve realized I’m the least interesting person I know. My social networks tell me so.

Right now, one of my online contacts is cooking; one’s hiking in Nepal; one’s mixing music; one’s boarding a flight to Europe; one explained an idea I had better than I ever could; and one just launched some software I wish I’d built. At least, that’s what their status updates remind me.

Call it Status Update Anxiety.

Happiness is relative, as Alain de Botton so eloquently tells us. We compare ourselves to our peers, and use this as the basis for our self-esteem. In a TED presentation he gave, he makes the point that few people envy the Queen of England — after all, she’s not that like you and I, with her funny accent and strange family rituals — but we all envy the latest tech wunderkind, the classmate who flipped a house, the brother who made some smart investments.

These objects of our disaffection are just like us. Every time Sergey Brin gets up on stage in jeans and a T-shirt, he reminds us that we could have been him if we’d only thought of Pagerank. This is, of course, a gross misstatement — but the mainstream media can’t convey the underlying complexity of achievent. Many inventions seem simple in retrospect, and the one-page writeup in Wired Magazine can’t do justice to the years of hard work. As Sheryl Crow said, it takes a long time to become an overnight success.

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Many rooms

In my office, I know what everyone else is doing, without them telling me. I’m not spying on them; it’s a side effect of our shared hard drive. Whenever my co-workers create or update a file, I get notified. What’s more, I can then click the message and view the file, which is already saved on my laptop.

We use Dropbox, a clever product that effortlessly synchronizes and backs up our files. We’ve discovered it does a lot more than this though; it gives us an ambient awareness of each other’s work, and it makes us more effective because we no longer have to think about versions, file locations or lost data.

Ambient awareness

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Design Patterns for Social Experience

Christian Crumlish and Erin Malone explain Social Experience Design PatternsAt IDEA2009, Christian Crumlish and Erin Malone, authors of the forthcoming book “Designing Social Interfaces”, gave an overview of some key steps and design patterns that can be used when creating social software or sites.

Christian started by reiterating that social experience design is about the interaction between people rather than the interface between the human and the computer – and that while you can fairly well control one person’s experience with a system, you cannot predict or control how people will choose to interact with each other.

As such, when you design a social experience, all you can really do is provide a framework. You can set the basic rules and capabilities, but the participants will finish the design for you.

Five steps of social experience design

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Bare Naked (Open Source) Design

Leisa Reichelt talks about D7UX at IDEA2009
Today Leisa Reichelt gave a presentation to IDEA2009 on her experiences running the Drupal 7 user experience project. She shared insights she had learned about how to design in an open way with a highly distributed team, such as using video missives such as the “We Need You” video to communicate with developers.

One of the biggest challenges she said she faced was that the project was designed by developers with other developers in mind, even though there were two key groups of users that were alienated by the product. They could not engage with strategy statements or goal descriptions.
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