Dopplr's Matts on designing sites that no-one has to visit
Over on 38minutes, the creative community I helped create for Scottish and Northern Irish webpreneurs, I've been blogging a lot about what makes online services, communities, apps and APIs attract, retain and turn into some kind of value the interactions of the people out there.
The last post I wrote was a summary of some gems of wisdom in the two Matts (Biddulph and Jones) behind travellers' site Dopplr.com, lifted from the transcript of their talk at last year's dConstruct conference (you can listen along, too). Here are my own highlights that potential 4iP developers and those working on web-based services for young people might bear in mind as they develop their ideas and products:
On a web of data
"Flickr is a mainframe. It's a big, giant machine that stores loads of stuff, and by storing lots of stuff in the same place, we get economies of scale out of it.
"And from there, we come to pretty much where we are now, which is having seen the power of combining massive amounts of information from many sources—the enormous, sort of easy group-forming power, the zero-coordination power of things like tagging, and linking, and all these things used properly—is we get to this realization of the original vision of the web, which is the web is not just a sort of teletext or view data system.
"It's a web of data. It was designed as that right from the start. And everyone's dear friend Tom Coates talks in wonderful detail about the way that we are now starting to design not just for our web sites, not just for that little bit you're seeing in your browser, but for the re-use of data, and realizing that data crosses the boundaries of sites. And sites open up access to that data and allow the easy recombination of it with other sites, are themselves benefiting from it.
"And to quote another of our—this is a friend's quote, a talk, by the way—another of our respected friends, Matt Webb. He's been talking recently about movement as a paradigm for the way the web is going. "So the web, when we started out, the web was a physical thing. You went to a site, you hang out on a forum. We had destinations, and people tried to build portals, places that could be almost physical sort of arcologies—places you could go and put your online life.
"And then we moved from this web page era into the era of web applications—the sort of the power-lifter, the Internet as magnifier of your individual capabilities—gives you superpowers and power-ups, and lets you do things over great distances, access knowledge that you can't immediately access from your physical environment.
"And that's the stuff that's evolving now. But as we are able to move from site to site, we get away from the arcology—the individual approach to sites. We are moving around sites, as is our data. And something that Matt said in a presentation recently, which I think is a really wonderful concept, is that your web service is a finite-state machine that executes on your users."
On distributable media
"And the example that he used, which stuck with me for ages, was the rubber duck. If you go into a hotel room and there's a rubber duck already in there. You will go, "Oh, rubber duck. Cool." If you go into the hotel room on your second night there when you had been shopping all day and it's been raining. And you are naked and you really want to bat, and there's a rubber duck. You will be incredibly delighted. At least that's the theory. So we are always trying to find the rubber duck that we can put into the experience where we can.
"And one of the things that I really like about the logo is that, almost entirely dependably, people don't notice that the colors are changing until like two or three months in. And they go, "Oh! The colors are changing. Why are the colors changing?" And you set up all your vanity alerts on Dopplr on surmise and things like that. And they go, "Oh, just nice, the colors are changing" and, "Why are the colors changing?"
"So then we go and talk to them and say, "Hey, this is why the colors are changing. It reflects what you are doing around the world. And these are city colors that are referring to where you are around the world. They go, "Ah, that's really nice. I really like that."
"And then apparently another month later they go, "And you did it in the favicon.""
On the language of 'Friends'
"And all of the things that he was talking about—I mean, very fantastic things to be able to do with information. But using that word "friend" just kind of takes it to something in our monkey brain, kind of just goes, "Oh, I need to collect a dollhouse of friends, or I need to be very careful about how I handle this."
"So I'm kind of thinking very carefully about this at the moment. One of the things that we started off at Dopplr—when we started off Dopplr, we tried to keep to it—is that we never use the word "friend." We always talk about the informational relationship. We talk about the kind of switchboard pipe that you're connecting to somebody that you trust.
"And we talk about the information that's going, and we talk about the level of trust, and we talk about what's going to happen, but we don't judge whether that is your friend, your bank manager, your boss, your archenemy, whoever it is. And it just makes life a hell of a lot easier."
Really. Seriously. If you're making any kind of online platform in the coming months go and read/listen to it all. I'll be asking questions later... ;-)
Other posts you might like:
- Adam Gee on the challenges of commissioning web-only platforms and content
- Matt Locke's Commissioning for attention