Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Be encouraged; everyone starts somewhere

It's easy to become discouraged when you compare the work of successful companies to your own initial attempts.  But remember that the successful companies didn't start as successful.  Here's a sample of how some company websites have changed over time.  Take courage from their early... attempts.

All of these images come from the Internet Archive.

DigitalOcean (from 2001)

This is the oldest site that I looked at, and it shows.  Here's what the site looked like in 2001:

And here is today:

And here's all the ones in between:

Duolingo (from 2010)

 Duolingo's site has become the least friendly to being recorded by the Internet Archive.  Here's the first site featuring the owl mascot (does he have a name?) from 2010:

Here's today (but all stretchy):

Everything in between:

 GitHub (from 2008)

The early GitHub landing page featured beautiful briefcases.  Mmm... wonderful briefcases of 2008.

Watch it change over time.

 Heroku (from 2007)

Heroku has gone from light to dark to light, always maintaining the purple.  (It started out bluer).  Here's their earliest home page from 2007:

And here's the evolution:

Stripe (from 2011)

Stripe is kind of the discouraging exception to this group (at least as far as website design is concerned).  They started out with this beautiful site in 2011:

And didn't fundamentally change it until late 2013:

The latest version isn't too different:

So, keep trying.  Don't worry too much about being perfect now.  Any other great "ugly ducklings" you know of?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dear Weather.com

I like how weather.com organizes their site.  Here's what a typical view looks like.  Hi, Flo.

And here I've outlined the distinct regions of the page:

I need, somehow, to train my muscle memory to type something other than "weather" when I want to see the weather.  Something like "wunder."

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Who is this?

One problem I have when looking at my family tree is that I get lost.  I end up looking at the details of a person and forget how I'm related to them.  I think there's probably a way to make visualizing and exploring family trees clear, orientable and memorable, but we're not there yet (or at least I'm not satisfied yet).

Maybe one way to fix the "how am I related to this person, again?" problem is with a graph that's really easy to display succinctly.  Here are some ideas:

All of the above drawings represent my dad's mom's dad's dad's mom.  The first three are nice because they vary in two dimensions (and seem easy to grasp at a glance).  The last two are nice because they have a uniform height.

1. Without color, the gender of the person on the left is ambiguous (unless you know it's you).
2. Could you extend this to show cousin/sibling relationships?  Maybe something like:
A: My mom's mom's sister's child.
B: My dad's brother's son (here the lines on the left without dots indicate gender)
C: My mom's mom's sibling (gender is ambiguous unless a dot-less left line was included on the leaf dots).

After drawing the MMFMMF one from above, I thought, "How about a series of interlocking Ms and Ws?"
Voila! :)

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Do UTA a favor

I think I've figured out why no one takes the bus in Utah County.  Let me explain:

I love riding the bus.  It's slower, kind of inconvenient and kind of expensive (since I already have a car).

But taking a bus gives me a little thrill -- I get more exercise (3.4 miles walking to/from work) and time to think.  And I feel like I'm doing my civic duty and saving the environment.  When I dump my quarters into the slot, I feel like I'm doing my community and UTA a favor and that my fare is a generous offering to a good cause.  It feels good.

And that is exactly why no one rides the bus.  The situation is backward.

Certainly there is a list of specific problems, but

No one will ride the bus until they feel like the bus is doing them a favor (not the other way around).
That is the principle that should guide decisions at UTA: instead of making us feel like we're doing you a favor, do us a favor and make riding the bus way better than using our cars.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Gaming Family History

I had an idea last night.

Pop Quiz

In your scriptures, where on the page is John 3:16?

Right page, first column, near the top.  I know right where it is.  If you read the Bible, you likely do too (though it might be in a different spot in your scriptures).

The tangible page provides a frame of reference that jives well with my memory.  The same is not true of digital scriptures in their current state.

Driving v. Riding

The act of driving a car to a destination solidifies how to get there much more than simply riding in the car.  I'm not sure of all the reasons for this, but something about the tangible interaction makes it more memorable.

Alive Family

Before I met my (now) wife's family, I had a hard time remembering who was who when my wife would talk about them.  I couldn't remember who was married to who, what their kids were named or where they were from.  It was a big muddled puddle in my head.

But after I met them in person I didn't have trouble anymore.  (You'll be proud to know that I still know all the names of my in laws and their spouses and children).

After I'd met them, I had a reference.

Dead Family

I have a similar problem with the people in my own family that I've never met -- my ancestors who have long since passed.  But unlike my wife's family, I can't meet them in person.  I have no way to create a reference for remembering details about their lives.  To help provide some kind of reference people have made visualizations:

Pedigree chart
Fan chart
These charts make it easy to see the names and some vital data about a person's direct ancestors.  The first chart has details on 4 generations, while the second has basic information about 8 generations.  Both are excellent at emphasizing incomplete information: blanks are easy to see.  Both also have some deficiencies:
  1. Adding more generations requires exponential space.
  2. Limited space prevents showing siblings and descendants for each person.
  3. There are no photos or stories -- there's no life -- for these once-living, real people.
  4. The charts misrepresent time.  Not all my 4th great grandparents lived at the same time (but the chart leads me to think they did).  These people have an interesting solution for this.

2D v. 3D

Since a big limitation (and benefit) of paper is its 2D nature, I've tried to imagine how 3 dimensions might help.  3D printers are becoming more common.  Maybe you could print a family tree with detachable branches?  (Someone please do this!)

(from http://www.3ders.org/)
But a tangible 3D object will still become exponentially unwieldy at some point.


Another limitation (and benefit) of paper is that it is not interactive.  I can't "click" a link on a piece of paper to get more information.  The lack of interactivity is partially what enables the remembering-scripture-location trick, but the Internet and its hyperlinks have shown how valuable interaction can be.  Also, it's the very interaction while driving that makes a trip more memorable.

I think interaction will need to be part of a good solution.  All this leads me to:

Video Games

Before you balk, consider that people have done real things with video games, such as protein folding research.

Also consider all the ten-year-olds (and 30-year-olds) in your neighborhood who play Minecraft.

Have you watched them play?  (have you played yourself?)  If you haven't, go find someone who plays and watch them for a few minutes.  One thing you'll notice is that they know their way around the virtual world.  They know right where the secret door to their mansion is and where their sheep farm is.  They know this because of landmarks that provide reference and because of the memory of creating many of the world's interesting features.

My own personal village?

What if your family history was represented as village of houses in Minecraft?  There could be a cemetery with gravestones on the edge of town near the lake (complete with birth and death records).  You could visit your grandparents house over the hill to the east.  Inside you find pictures of them on their walls and books full of their stories.

Oh, you discovered the name of your 5th great uncle?  Build him a house by the quarry.

What about Earth?

There's a small problem with this Minecraft model.  If I (Matt) build the village, I will know where everything is, but no one else would know why I decided that Great Aunt Heloise's house should be on an island in the middle of a lava pit.  I could unintentionally (or intentionally) lose valuable information.

Incidentally, this problem is prevalent with people's personal piles of family research, organized (or not) according to their system and out of reach to everyone else.

So what if, instead of a fictitious virtual world, we used a fact-based virtual world: Earth?  An earth inhabited only with my ancestors and their descendants?

From Google Earth
There could be a gravestones on the earth in the spot where a person died, a house where they lived, a crib where they were born, etc...  In each home, there could be a list of children born to a couple; you select a person and the HUD will tune the compass to point toward significant places in a person's life.

And instead of clicking links to go from place to place, you walk or swim across the earth.  It wouldn't be practical to walk at the speed of a human, but you might lose the benefit of the memorable journey if you flew like bird.  Maybe you could grow to giant size, climb over mountains and jump over oceans?  Like an MMO, people could "play" at the same time and talk and collaborate.

There are lingering questions (e.g. what if we don't know where a person was born?) but it's a start.  And such a visualization of family history data wouldn't solve every problem, but it would certainly make it easier for me to remember.

Anyway, tell me what you think of the idea.