Things I’ll never build – Part MCLV – The Conbini App

Third episode in my Things I’ll Never Build series that details web services, apps that I would probably use did they exist. The series is a way for me to evacuate some half-assed ideas that I don’t have time or motivation to push any further, while I focus on more realistic personal and internal projects at AQ.

Good Will x Eco x Food

Talking about AQ, this is how I first got the idea for the app. We have this daily combini run where a few of us will go stretch our legs at the nearby convenience store. Sometimes, one of us is busy and places an order with his colleagues, or one of us is returning from a meeting at around the same time and will offer to grab everyone’s favorite snack on the way back.
But then you could extend use cases to quick visits to a supermarket on the way back home (or to visit a friend) and offering to grab a few things. Push it even further and just alert everyone you are going to Ikea today and offer to bring back anything they want.

The app

I am going to the combini for myself.
I launch the app, select my location, check in and notify a group of friends.
They have 60s to answer with a simple tap on their regular order list.
I buy my stuff and theirs.
I go back to the office, deliver the goods and get my money back.

Some Features

  • Conbinis can promote discounted goods.
  • Get notifications when prices go down on your saved food or during time-sales.
  • Keeps an order history for easy/quick selection.
  • Saves price of past orders to track fluctuation.
  • Kindness Ranking tracks how many times you’ve picked up things for your friends.
  • The Surprise Me button for the adventurous type.

APIs

  • Foursquare for locations
  • NFC for payments
  • Paypal Bumps for payback
  • Passbook-like services

Biz Plan

  • Conbinis pay us to advertise promoted goods to our users and pay us every time someone buys one of them.
  • Conbinis pay us a tiny bonus every time a user buys something for someone other than themselves (when a friend responds with an order, a special barcode appears on my screen that can be read by the conbini.)

Currently Hooked On

I’ve just updated the Hooked On section on aka.me‘s top page. Check it out.

I was previously Hooked On:


Music > The Dodos


Gear > The Grid


App > Foursquare

Designing for imprecise, impatient, incomplete or wrong

My 3.5 year old boy has been trying tens of kids learning apps for the past year since I got an iPad. Looking at him (and his friends/cousins) discover and interact with these apps has taught me a great deal about app accessibility for kids, and has been extremely useful as I progress towards releasing my first iOS app in the next few months.

While these apps are all about kids learning to use their young brains and small maladroit fingers, some seem intent on crushing their little players’ confidence and short temper. Let me share some examples:

Imprecise

When dragging an onscreen element to another location (imagine a piece of a puzzle), the correct landing zone (on which the item is supposed to be released) is too tight. A few things happen: when dropped, the item goes back to it original position although the kid had picked the right item, which in turn makes him doubt that he had picked the right item and try other solutions he knows are wrong only to be faced by another piece of puzzle going back to its original position.

Impatient

While the app delivers a voice instruction, any screen interaction is disabled, or the instructions overlay doesn’t disappear until a tiny corner X cross is tapped. It’s frustrating for kids that play with an app over and over and have learnt the instructions. They just repeatedly and vainly try to interact with the unresponsive app. Some apps actually let kids interact with the screen while delivering instructions, but should the kid make a mistake, proceed to deliver an error message over the instruction message, making for a messy soundscape. Some apps also play 10s congratulation animations, or worse, replay winning moves on screen, while the kid repeatedly taps the Next or Menu button or any button that looks like it could take him to the next challenge right now.

Incomplete

When trying to draw dot-to-dot pictures, the app doesn’t register that the finger has connected with the next dot unless the finger has gone over the exact location of the tiny numbered dot. The result is that either the drawing line stops right there, or the drawing continues till the drawing of the deformed rabbit looks complete but the app doesn’t congratulate the kid because of a few unactivated dots and just stops responding, leaving the kid puzzled and discouraged.

Wrong

The get it right or die trying penchant of most apps that just refuse to help kids along, even after repeat mistakes. This is so discouraging that the kid will rapidly move on to another app.

Instead, our apps should be designed to be forgiving while they gain in dexterity and skills:

  • Landing targets should be much wider than the items being dragged onto them (and similarly, tap zones should be bigger than the items to be tapped on)
  • We should let them interact with the content as soon as they see it
  • We should allow for a number of steps to be missed without stopping or ruining the whole experience
  • Any instruction message should disappear upon touch anywhere on the screen
  • We should let them skip to the next challenge immediately after completing one
  • Let’s give them a little hint when we detect repeat mistakes, hesitation or inaction, or even answer for them after multiple failed attempts to help them progress forward to the next step.

And let’s design for awkwardness too!
One app I saw Eliyo play, lets users compose school lunches for kids. They pick starters, main and dessert. Some of the items include shoes or little bugs that, when added to the menu, have a little teacher animation pop up and let out a loud: “Are you mad?!” or “Gross!” which invariably sends him into mad laughter.

Currently Hooked On

I’ve just updated the Hooked On section of my site.
For my 3 latest addictions, check aka.me‘s top page.

I was previously Hooked On:


Music > Franck Ocean


Gear > Merrell Road Glove


App > Hero Academy

Raising bilingual kids

Is it said that building a bicultural family is a challenge that lasts a lifetime. I believe that raising young kids in a bilingual environment can be an incredibly rewarding experience that doubles the fun with each new word learned or spoken. It’s far from easy though when, in any given week, if both parents are working, your kids’ exposure to the minority language probably doesn’t total 5 or 10 hours. Frustration can build up quickly as soon as they start conversing with the other parent while having difficulty understanding you or simply ignoring you.

At the time of writing, my own kid has just turned 3. From discussing with other parents in our situation, I believe our personal experience to have been pretty standard. A recent thread on Facebook’s Tokyo International Parents & Pals (TIPP) group discussed various approaches to raising young kids in a bilingual environment. The discussion culminated in a seminar and party  held early March in Tokyo. I noticed several patterns in the thread that I want to highlight and preserve here.

The golden rules

  • Be Patient. Most kids only seems to really start speaking both languages around 4 or 5. Remember that this is not an earlier is better race. Don’t give up when your kid asks you to speak in mummy or daddy’s language or throws a tantrum.
  • Be Flexible. Adapt your interaction and attitude with your kids to match age, environment and what seems to tick with them. Above all, make it fun!
  • Be Gentle. Getting angry if your kids don’t understand or don’t want to interact in your language will create stress for everyone and complicate further interaction. Remember that it’s a big challenge for them too.
  • Be consistent. Choose a method or routine and stick to it until you see progress and your kids have gained confidence.

The tips

  • Send kids to spend holidays abroad with the grand parents at least 1 month a year. You should join too but the Japanese parent should probably stay home
  • Speak to them in your language as much as possible even when they answer in Japanese. If they don’t understand, you can explain things slowly to them and guide them through the task but try not to switch to Japanese.
  • Take a few hours a week to spend time with your kids without the Japanese parent. Great bonding experience and learning time.
  • Avoid yes/no questions. Instead, you might want to offer a choice and have them choose the answer in your language.
  • Read bedtime stories in your language everyday. Try to make it as much of an interactive activity as possible. Ask questions, highlight pictures and words, try to relate some of the story bits to real-life situations your kids came across recently.
  • Replace morning TV by DVDs in your language (something they like and doesn’t make you cringe too much.)
  • Avoid faking not understanding their questions in Japanese to force them to rephrase in your language. It just doesn’t seem to work. Instead, repeat their question in your language and ask them to confirm whether this is what they were asking.
  • Play games. For example: have them try to repeat what your partner just said in Japanese in your language. Or try a projective technique: use a favorite stuffed animal as a proxy : “Oh, the little monkey doesn’t understand Japanese today, let’s try to speak to him in <your language>.”
  • Sing to/with them. Kids are very receptive to songs in any language. Find a songs DVD in your language, notice the ones your kids seem to be most into and learn them in your spare time (download on iTunes, learn during commute) so you can sing to them (and progressively with them) during bath time, before sleep etc. They’ll have fun with you, be impressed you can sing the songs from the DVD, learn new vocabulary and also gain confidence in their pronunciation.
  • Find other parents with the same language configuration and organize playgroups where the only language spoken around and to the kids is your own.
  • If you are uncomfortable with the “1 parent = 1 language” technique and both parents are bilingual, you may want to try the “1 language at home (usually the minority language) / the other language outside” technique.

I hope it’s helpful. Don’t hesitate to share more tips or recommended reading in the comments.

Currently Hooked On

I’ve just updated the Hooked On section of my site.
For my 3 latest addictions, check aka.me‘s top page.

I was previously Hooked On:


Music > More Hazards, More Heroes


Gear > Olloclip


App > My ASICS

Ri Xing, The Last Type Foundry in Taiwan

Photo of Paul entering RiXing Type Foundry in Taipei by Tomomi Sasaki, on Flickr

It all started with the background image for an exhibition poster in Taipei during our week-long trip there early December with Tomomi and Naoki. The detailed photo of a lead type foundry shelf struck a cord in all of us and no one could resist adding such singular destination to the masterfully planned visit of the island prepared by our friend Leonard. This single photo sent us on a multi-day quest which ended at Ri Xing Typography (日星鑄字行), the last type foundry in Taiwan.

We visited the tiny factory building on a nondescript side street near Taipei’s main station on our last day in Taipei. The picture above is me walking through a corridor lined up with metal type cast from the purported last complete set of traditional Chinese character copper molds in the world.

The owner’s wife told us that in 2007, the now only remaining factory from the 5000 or so 40 years ago, started an effort to preserve this important piece of Taiwan’s cultural legacy and promote letterpress printing to younger generations. The Ri Xing Letterpress Rehabilitation Project is currently composed of a group of volunteers who meet regularly to prepare awareness campaigns (日星鑄字行 Rixing Type Foundry on Facebook), letterpress printing training, and font preserving activities (the main font named Kaishu 楷書 is being digitized for reproduction and distribution).

The factory (now more of a working museum) is open nearly daily and visitors are free to roam the corridors and buy the lead type casts as souvenirs for friends etc. At the beginning of our visit, we were handed a little booklet containing a preview of the different fonts available (Chinese, Roman and even Japanese Katakana and Hiragana) and spent an hour hunting all of our friends’ names and favorite Chinese characters. Individual lead type cost between NT$30~80 per piece and our gifts created a sensation when brought back to Japan.

Address: 13, Ln 97, Taiyuan Rd, Taipei City (台北市太原路97巷13號) Telephone: (02) 2556-4626

A selection of photos from Tomomi’s Flickr:

Oink Oink, Rating Rating Apps

In the midst of an accelerating race to have us review not only the restaurants and shops of the world but every book, music track, and menu item from our mobile devices, three rating apps have caught my attention lately. All three have adopted a unique approach that’s propelled them ahead of the pack.
I’ve tried them out and am turning the tables on them to review the best & worse points of the trio. I looked at how easy it is to make an account, find friends, share/rate content and what pulls me back into the app.

Tiny Review (App Store)

Tiny Review app screen

An app currently following the 500 Startups accelerator program. It’s like an Instagram for reviews. Their tagline says it all: “3 lines + 1 picture”.

The Best

  • Two-tap sign up process using Facebook.
  • The app forces users to write something, anything. That’s the killer feature of this app. Too many rating apps are content with a small pic and a thumbs-up. On the contrary, this app is building a huge collection of valuable content: witty, fun to read, bite-size reviews.
  • Your review must fit in three lines of text (often more like three words), written over the picture. It encourages people to think about what they are going to write, makes it impossible to write long-winding reviews, keeps it straight to the point and never boring.
  • People seem to enjoy it also as an actual alternative to Instagram where they get a chance to write captions on top of their photos and often forget (and nothing bad here) to “review” anything. I don’t mind this actually!

The Rest

  • Early app version I know, but the poor design is not encouraging me to stick around.
  • I only have a few active friends, and no nearby activity, I am bored. The app should make it easier for me to discover new people, in new places.
  • Not sure if this is an issue with the app or lack of imagination by the people I am following but I don’t feel comfortable rating anything non food related.
  • Help me seed content to my account when I have just joined. When I am adding a review, make my life easier and just suggest venues close to the GPS info embedded in most of my existing pics (like Instagram does). That would save me from having to remember location names at all. Hell, just show me my recent Instagram pics (or other similar services on which I am likely to have already uploaded pics of places I would want to rate on Tiny Review) and let me copy over a few interesting ones.
  • Don’t care to see my pics in my “Following” stream.
  • The app launches with the Nearby tab selected, which means that you always see the same picture at the top. First UX priority should be that I always get to see a new tiny review when I launch the app, even if not written by my friends. I would rather “Nearby and Recent but not by your friends” than “Same old nearby curry house review from 3 months ago”.

 

Stamped (App Store)

Google-backed NYC startup. The pitch: “Stamped is a new way to recommend only what you like best — restaurants, books, movies, music and more. No noise, no strangers, just the things you and your friends love.”

The Best

  • Sleek design overall and great font choice
  • Lovely personalisation touche: choose the colour of your stamp of approval
  • I like the fact that you are suggested a few personalities to follow (5).
  • I like the integration with Amazon on books recommended by friends but the screen’s a bit hard to find.

The Rest

  • Sign up form takes me back 5 years when I had to enter my name and phone number.
  • Judging from the number of written reviews I have seen in my stream, people enjoy stamping and not much else.
  • Integration with Google Places instead of the Foursquare locations Db makes it virtually impossible to find names of places in Japan.
  • I don’t really care for the To-Do (bookmarks really) feature.
  • With only a few friends using the app, I cannot see myself checking it on a regular basis. There should be a mechanism in place that would alert me when new stamps have been inked on items likely to be of interest to me even if out of my circle of friends.
  • Too many ratings possible. Where to start?!
  • I don’t find the limit of 100 stamps to be a motivation to rate only the best things around me.

 

Oink (App Store)

First project by Milk Inc., Kevin Rose’s new venture. The pitch: “Instead of just rating places, you rate the items inside.”

The Best

  • It’s easy the sign up and easy to find friends already on the service.
  • I like the fact that the app is about rating things inside places, not the places, because ultimately I am more likely to go to a restaurant because you recommend 1 or several items on the menu than just the restaurant.
  • Really like the Creds concept. It’s a great incentive to get users to add content. Instead of just rating anything aimlessly like Stamped, Oink tries to provide a guide by letting users choose Creds to specialize in. My creds are currently Dessert, Healthy, Museums, Tokyo.
  • The UI is beautiful.
  • Offers a few filters for the photos you take or add. Great touch to increase impact of the app’s content.

The Rest

  • Add interface feels totally backwards. It forces me to start by finding a location. Sure it suggests locations around me but what if I am oinking from inside my bed, in the evening, or the day after a visit to a great location as it often happens? Hook me into adding content by first securing the content I am trying to share (a picture of something) and then let me deal with the details of it (location etc.)
  • Too many steps to add anything. Choose a location, choose from a list of things already added or add a new one, then name it and add tags, then take or add a photo. Then when you think you’re done, you can add your own ratings upon which you are invited to leave a “mini-review” or a “comment” (apparently they are different), or even add a to-do (of something you are adding?!). Is there anything this app doesn’t do.
  • Like many rating apps, it forces you to remember to use the app while you are there or before you devore your food etc. The last cake pic I posted was of crumbs left on an empty plate. The cake was great though. ;)
  • I don’t care to see my oinks in my “Following” stream. I just want to see stuff from people I am following!
  • Help me seed content to my account when I have just joined. When I am adding a oink, make my life easier and just suggest venues close to the GPS info embedded in most of my existing pics (like Instagram does). That would save me from having to remember location names at all.
  • Why make me frame my pics in a square if the app will then recrop them in landscape?!

 

To wrap things up, I feel that both Oink and Stamped try too hard to make it sound like the whole world has caught “Rating Fever” with no vaccine in sight and that you’ve got no choice but to join the movement. Their elaborate UI feel like a knee-jerking contest and although dazzling at first, make me long for the simplicity of Tiny Review’s UX and Instagram.
Ultimately though, despite my likes and dislikes, I am most likely to stick with the app that will manage to catch on with the biggest number of contacts on my social graph. Oink has a clear advantage at the moment, if only my friends could start Oinking!!!

Updated – Hooked On

I’ve updated the Hooked On section.
For the 3 new ones, check aka.me‘s top page.

The previous Hooked On section:


Music > Tokumaru Shugo


Anime > No.6


App > Tweetbot

Things I’ll never build – Part MCLIV – WordPress Instagram Liked Plugin

This idea was inspired by one of my favorite Instagram features: see what pics have been Liked by my friends. Although there are already a number of Instagram related WP plugins, all of them are about displaying galleries of my own pics on my blog.
This one would, once a given span, post to my WordPress blog the last X instagram pics I have taken or liked. To be precise, it would:
  • let me choose the number of max pics it could post
  • show only my pics or also the ones I’ve recently liked
  • display the account name and link to the original photo
  • not show the pics that are set to private
  • let me choose the size of the photos and layout
  • post a notification to Twitter or FB.
I think that it’s a great way to:
  • turn non-users to users by showing them the beauty of Instagram
  • find new people to follow (turn non-followers to followers)
  • see cool photos taken by people connected to my friends without having to follow new users
  • give a second life to pics that have been taken a few days ago and that already have all but disappeared into the ether by sending them back in the loop via a blog post.
Well, I guess that it could also work as a standalone service (Instaliked?), like the ones I have detailed in this post on Instagram web apps round-up.
Anyway, here are 5 Instapics I like!
Oh, and since you’re asking, yes, there is a Things I’ll never build – Part MCLIII