Facebook’s new music platform – what will happen tomorrow?

Interesting times for online music. A few months ago I wrote about the likes of Rdio and 7digital, where I work, stepping in to offer serious competition to iTunes. A few months later, in July, Spotify launched in the US and the picture of online music looked complete.

It now turns out that this observation was way too premature, particularly given the events over the last few weeks with both Rdio and Mog offering free music services. Rdio’s free music-streaming service won’t come with advertising whereas MOG’s “FreePlay” option will (exactly like the ‘freemium’ business model which Spotify introduced a few years ago).

Things will get really interesting when – if we can rely on persistent rumours – Facebook will launch its own music platform tomorrow. This platform is likely to enable Facebook users to easily share their favourite music as well as television shows and films, effectively turning a user’s profile page into its personalised entertainment hub.

I know these are still rumours (at the moment anyway) but these are the main things I learned about Facebook’s upcoming venture into (online) music:

  1. Facebook isn’t doing it alone – With the likes of MOG, Spotify, Rdio, SoundCloud and Deezer all rumoured to be announced as launch partners tomorrow, it’s clear that Facebook won’t be going this one alone. According to the media and technology executives, who claim to be close to the related deals, Facebook has made agreements with a number of media companies to develop a way for a user’s profile page to display whatever entertainment he is consuming on those external services.
  2. This could be very powerful – Given the audience that Facebook currently has (estimated at more than 700m users) facilitating personal entertainment ‘hubs’ could have a massive impact on the way we consume content and on the positioning of the content industry. Similarly, links that appear on a widget or tab, or as part of a user’s news feed, would point a curious friend directly to the content. Again, it will be interesting to see how this will impact the way in which we consume content (do we end up paying even less for content than a lot of us are doing already?).

Main learning point: will people in the music industry look forward to tomorrow with trepidation, trying to predict what the shape and impact of Facebook’s new music platform is going to be? Facebook’s annual developer conference is always one to appear on may people’s calendars and this year’s “F8” is no exception. I feel, however, that the rumours around the introduction of a new music platform do give the conference an extra dimension and that tomorrow could potentially form the start of a new saga in ‘content land’.

Related links for further learning: 

http://www.tomsguide.com/us/MOG-Spotify-Rdio-Music-Streaming-FreePlay,news-12574.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/19/business/media/facebook-is-expected-to-unveil-media-sharing-service.html

http://gigaom.com/2011/09/15/music-wars-heat-up-but-is-free-really-the-future/

http://musically.com/blog/2011/09/19/soundcloud-deezer-rhapsody-and-vevo-added-to-facebook-music-rumours/

Starting to learn about mobile UX design

Especially with the rapidly growing popularity of tablet computers, there seems to be an increased focus on getting the user experience (UX) of mobile users right. I’ve quickly come to the realisation that mobile UX design is quite a vast but very specific area, differing quite significantly from designing for the web.

My starting point was to learn about the main concepts and constraints which guide the mobile user experience:

  1. Simplicity – The main focus of mobile design should be on simplicity. With a limited screen size (and ditto memory) designers are almost forced to keep it simple, to iterate and refine constantly.
  2. Screen-filling applications – The fact that a mobile application is likely to take up the whole screen during the entire duration of an interaction is a vital consideration to take into account when designing.
  3. Gestures – The introduction of smartphones like the iPhone a few years ago has added another element to the mix: gestures. I’m learning from experts such as Josh Clark that the physical aspect of mobile devices means that “complex = complicated” and that, again, the challenge is to keep things as simple as possible.
  4. Different platforms – I learned from Brian Rieger‘s presentations about the importance of considering the specific platform (e.g. Apple iOS, Google Android and BlackBerry Tablet OS) one is designing for. The platform of choice has an impact on a range of areas such as menu options and privacy.
  5. Convergence of features – Experts such as Luke Wroblewski and Brian Rieger are the first to point out the ‘multi-feature’ nature of most mobile devices, bringing video, music, navigation, chat functionality together, enabling users to discover and to be creative through their device. It’s also an import reason why many advocate the design of “native applications” (i.e. designing for mobile first).

Main learning point: a rapidly growing area, designing for mobile devices is an interesting field. The fact that a user’s interaction with a specific mobile device (phone or table) is very different to traditional engagement with the web, means that UX designers and developers alike are learning quickly about the best ways to design for mobile. If there’s one thing that I’m acutely aware of is that there’s quite a lot for me to learn in this area …

Related links for further learning:

http://www.uxmag.com/design/star-power-in-mobile-ux-design

http://uxmag.com/technology/ux-concerns-across-mobile-platforms

http://uxmag.com/design/why-mobile-ux-is-more-than-users-on-the-go

http://www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?1362

http://www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?1272

http://www.techradar.com/news/internet/mobile-web-design-tips-mobile-should-come-first-719677

http://designmodo.com/mobile-web-design-trends/

http://www.slideshare.net/yiibu/its-about-people-not-devices

http://www.slideshare.net/joshclark/tapworthy-designing-iphone-interfaces-for-delight-and-usability-3459041

http://www.techradar.com/news/internet/mobile-web-design-tips-mobile-should-come-first-719677

http://www.clickz.com/clickz/column/2099266/jakob-nielsen-usability-mobile-sites-apps

http://www.netmagazine.com/tutorials/user-interface-design-iphone-apps

Endless possibilities in the cloud

It was interesting the other day to read an online piece on 10 Technologies That Will Change the World in the Next 10 Years. Perhaps not surprisingly, the cloud was the third technology mentioned in this overview.

We’ve already got video and music being accessed and stored in the cloud, the general expectation is that the cloud will soon extend to ‘endpoint devices’ (read: mobile):

  1. Voice search on Android phones – A good example is the voice search on the Android phone which sends sends the query to the Google cloud to decipher and to return results.
  2. More intelligence built into communication devices –  Think for example about using the cloud to facilitate real-time translation or location based technologies.
  3. Rise of services to protect privacy and security – Having more services based in the cloud almost automatically means an increase in the number of cloud-based solutions available to protect devices against malware.
Main learning point: I feel like I’m continuously discovering new possibilities with respect to cloud computing, whether it’s real-time translation or tracking mobile users 24/7. The cloud is without doubt one of those areas that will keep developing and that I hopefully will learn a lot more about.
Related links for further learning: 

http://www.networkworld.com/supp/2009/ndc3/051809-cloud-faq.html

http://www.networkcomputing.com/wan-security/229500450

Amazon is really getting into interactive TV

Back in January, Amazon acquired Lovefilm to strengthen its position in the online video market. It has now bought Pushbutton a London-based digital agency specialised in interactive television content and services for new platforms such as Internet Protocol Television (IPTV), internet-enabled TV sets and tablets. Pushbutton counts the linkes of Sky, BBC, Virgin and Microsoft among its clients as well as Lovefilm, for which it has developed applications on Sony’s “Bravia” Internet-enabled TV range as well for the Playstation 3.

What does this acquisition tell us?

  1. It’s all about content – Like the acquisition of Lovefilm, Amazon’s focus is very much on finding lucrative content related opportunities. The increase in number of app-enabled TVs is such an opportunity.
  2. Bring on Netflix! With US online content behemoth Netflix looking to expand into Europe in 2012, Amazon (and Lovefilm) will need all the content firepower that they can get.
  3. The Amazon tablet? With Amazon rumoured to launch its own tablet computer later this year, this acquisition of Pushbutton will help Amazon design and develop user interfaces and experiences geared for tablets.

Main learning point: Amazon is clearly on a path to expand its content catalogue as much and as quickly as possibly. Acquisitions such as those of Lovefilm and Pushbutton do make a lot of sense in that context. Not only is Amazon extending its catalogue of online content, through Pushbutton it now also has the expertise available in-house to design and develop interactive experiences around that content.

Related links for further learning:

http://thenextweb.com/uk/2011/07/28/amazon-acquires-london-based-tv-app-company-pushbutton/

http://paidcontent.co.uk/article/419-amazon-buys-lovefilms-iptv-app-designer-pushbutton/

http://www.geekwire.com/2011/amazon-buys-pushbutton-adds-universal-movies

Mozilla is trying to make our (sign-in) life easier

How convenient would it be if you did not have to have different login details for a range of sites? And if you could store your user data more securely? Mozilla has started to look into this and has just launched BrowserID, an experimental tool that stores your identity information inside your browser.

Mozilla claims that with BrowserID there will be a better and easier way for users to sign in. A user can prove their ownership of an email address with fewer confirmation messages and without site-specific passwords. This experiment forms part of a wider exercise by Mozilla which concentrates on exploring and changing the way user identity works on the web.

These are some of the key aspects of this new way of signing in, as proposed by Mozilla:

  1. Single verification – With BrowserID users will only have to verify their email address once before they can use BrowserID to sign into any website supporting BrowserID with two clicks.
  2. Email address confirmation – If the user is logged into BrowserID, all email addresses associated with the respective account are displayed automatically. The user then has to to select one, or use the default selection, and click the Sign In button in the window afterwards. A password does not need to be entered anymore.
  3. Secure The Verified Email Protocol that the BrowserID uses is entirely based on a user’s email address (as opposed to the OpenID which is typically based on a user ID or user-specific URL). The idea behind using verified emails is that it should be easier and more secure for the user to control. Sites get proof of ownership using public key cryptography.
  4. Cross-browser – Not unimportantly, BrowserID will work on all modern web (including Internet Explorer) and mobile browsers.
  5. Decentralised – Anyone with an email address can sign in with BrowserID.
Main learning point: I know it’s early days but wouldn’t it be amazing if there would an easier way to sign-in on sites and be less worried about your personal details being stolen (think for example about the Sony Playstation hack earlier this year). Mozilla will be the first to stress that its BrowserID is an experiment, which it will iterate as more people start testing it. I do feel, however, that Mozilla’s vision is a great one and I really hope that they succeed in creating a robust, secure but very easy way of using online credentials.

Related links for further learning:

http://identity.mozilla.com/post/7616727542/introducing-browserid-a-better-way-to-sign-in

http://www.technologyreview.com/web/38092/?mod=chfeatured

http://www.ghacks.net/2011/07/15/mozilla-browserid-sign-in-system/

UX features for online retailers to consider

I just read a really insightful piece by Paul Bryan on 10 Absentee UX Features on Top e-Commerce Sites. His agency, Usography, has conducted a Retailer UX audit, looking at the 100 top retail websites. The audit highlighted some key user experience (UX) features for brands to consider. From the 10 features that Bryan listed in his article, I particularly liked following UX features and looked for interesting examples to serve as good illustrations:

  1. Product videos – A case can be made for video as a good way of bringing a product to life, think clothes, shoes or cars. Good examples are Zappos and Mercedes Benz
  2. Combination of online and offline – Personally I’m all for the convenience of online shopping (and not having to go to a store). However, buy online-pick up in-store functionality offered by the likes of Tesco is rapidly gaining popularity
  3. Price drop alertsAmazon is a good example of a site that lets customers know when the price of a product they’ve indicated an interest in has dropped. It’s an incentive for customers to return the site and to buy the product.
  4. Customer product tagging – I think Bryan has a point when he states Letting customers create their own tags for products keeps the taxonomy fresh and relevant. However, call me a cynic, but I’m still not convinced most consumers would go through the effort of for example tagging a pair of red socks at Urban Outfitters.
  5. Co-shopping – This is a feature that lets customers in different locations view the same product and have a chat about it in a sidebar. Good examples are shopwithyourfriends.com and Dell.
  6. Virtual try-on – When talking about engaging customers, enabling them to virtually try on a product is a compelling feature. There are good examples in sites that let users try on glasses or see what they look like in clothes of their choosing.

Main learning point: even though eCommerce has been around for a while now there is a good number of exciting new UX features for retailers to implement. The research conducted by Usography shows that particularly social media oriented features such as customer tagging and co-shopping are on the rise and could help eCommerce sites to engage effectively with their target audience.

Related links for further learning:

http://www.internetretailing.net/2011/06/tesco-to-expand-click-and-collect-to-groceries/

http://www.magentocommerce.com/knowledge-base/entry/how-do-product-tags-work/

http://www.usography.com/audit/ http://www.zugara.com/augmented-reality/e-commerce