May 30, 2010

Ethnography, Usability, and Community

Context offers fodder for innovation. Hidden in the physical work space, in the users' words, and in the tools they use are the beautiful gems of knowledge that can create revolutionary, breakthrough products or simply fix existing, broken products. —Jon Kolko, Thoughts on Interaction Design I’ve been talking with my colleague Jinghua Zhang, the project lead for Mozilla’s Test Pilot program, about the usefulness of ethnography and qualitative research in user interface design, and it seems like something that could both strengthen Mozilla’s community and help make our products easier to use. ... Read more

May 26, 2010

On The Webbyness of an Installable Web App

I’ve heard some talk lately, primarily from Henri Sivonen, regarding whether Google’s notion of an Installable Web App is “webby”. I am not sure exactly what webby means, but if I had to guess, it would involve the kinds of qualities that Mitchell Baker and Mark Surman believe make the web better: more transparent, participatory, decentralized, and hackable. Though I’m not fully sold on these newfangled apps, I can think of three ways that they could make the web better. ... Read more

March 1, 2010

The Paradox of Choice

I wanted to quickly illuminate what one might call the flip side of the Open To Choice campaign, which is summarized by this Publishers Weekly review of Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice (2004): Like Thoreau and the band Devo, psychology professor Schwartz provides ample evidence that we are faced with far too many choices on a daily basis, providing an illusion of a multitude of options when few honestly different ones actually exist. ... Read more

February 15, 2010

You Are Not a Gadget

This is what a social network looks like. Each dot represents a human being. Each line represents a social connection between two people, such as acquaintanceship, financial exchange, friendship, or love. The picture can become arbitrarily more complex as we take one-way relationships into account and add more dimensions to model particular interests and behaviors. Much of the attention around technology these days has something to do with this picture. ... Read more

February 10, 2010

Herdict-Firefox Integration and Better HTML Presentations

I recently wanted to create a short, two-minute and thirty second “pitch” for the Herdict-Firefox integration prototype I’m working on with Jennifer Boriss, Laura Miyakawa, and Jeffrey Licht. Here is the result. It turned out that the pitch itself was an experiment for me: after fiddling around with Screenflow and iMovie for a bit, I got frustrated with their limitations and decided to just use HTML to put together the presentation. ... Read more

January 17, 2010

The Value of Nothing

From what I’ve read of Tim Harford’s The Undercover Economist and The Economist, capitalism seems like a reasonable way to make the world a better place, given its assumptions of human nature. In particular, America’s brand of capitalism, which tries to lower the barriers to getting a job or starting a business as much as possible, seems compatible with notions of liberty and democracy. I just finished reading The Value of Nothing, which provides a fascinating counterpoint to all of this. ... Read more

January 11, 2010

Evolving Firefox Extensions

Firefox’s extension platform is incredibly powerful and generative, but when I created my first extension in early 2008, I found a number of barriers to entry—difficulties echoed by a number of other newcomers I talked to. For one thing, extensions were difficult to get started with. Perhaps the best indicator of this is Myk Melez’s video tutorial titled Extensions Bootcamp: Zero to “Hello World” in 45 Minutes, which actually ended up being 90 minutes long. ... Read more

December 13, 2009

Mozilla: The Big Picture

I realized over the past year that the Mozilla community doesn’t just generate cool software—it actually produces a wealth of great visual assets, too. I thought it’d be useful for both folks on the periphery and on the inside to use images as a way of understanding what’s going on at Mozilla—sort of like about:mozilla, but using pictures instead of words. Here’s what I’ve got so far: This prototype is a showcase of what happened in the Mozilla community during the month of November 2009. ... Read more

October 6, 2009

Web Application Memory Profiling, Take Two

Back in July, the Mozilla Developer Tools Lab released an experimental memory tool that allowed a web developer to get a better picture of Firefox’s memory usage. That tool was a great start, but it had a few issues: It was slow. It showed the entire Firefox JS heap, which included lots of objects internal to Firefox that weren't of much use to web developers. It was a bit of a hassle to set up, as it involved freezing Firefox and accessing a local web server from a different browser. ... Read more

September 15, 2009

Liberating Your Data From Other People

Ragavan recently posted some interesting thoughts on DataLiberation that got me thinking: Another factor to consider is how you define what "your data" is. For example, if you look at it as just exporting your photos out of Picasa and importing them to flickr, I'd posit that's a rather simplistic view. A large part of what makes your data useful and valuable is all the relationships associated with it. I share my photos with my friends and family, I license some under Creative Commons, I group them, I tag them — all of these make my data very context rich. ... Read more

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