CS3216 Lecture (Week 4)

Date of Lecture: 2 September 2013

Summary and feelings of the day:
Facebook Seminar was held on this particular day with 12 teams giving their thoughts on their selected Facebook or iPad app. There has to be not more than 20 slides and each slide has to strictly adhere to a duration of only 20 seconds. My team consisted of Joel, Zetong, Yos and I. We almost missed the deadline for slides submission by a few seconds last Friday. Thankfully, Zetong submitted our draft version while I was still tying up some loose details. We were pretty lucky that the draft and finalized versions weren’t that different except for the lack of auto-advance into the last slide. Joel, Zetong and Yos put up most of the content while I am pushed to be represented speaker. Hopefully my time on stage did not put NUS Business School to shame.

As part of Assignment 2, I am required to give a critique on one of the application presented so here it goes…

According to Team 6, Flipboard is a modern magazine that was launched in 2010 with over 20 millions users now. The app allows its users to customize their content page and further engages them with intelligent layout and intuitive swipe gestures. There is also a seemingly deep integration with social networks. Team 6 resented Flipboard’s duplicated functions with two buttons doing the same thing. To improve the app, they suggested incorporating a pre-loading function because “nobody likes to wait”. In their opinion, Flipboard was developed through a dedicated RSS feed and its flip function was designed using Cocoa Touch. There is also an algorithm behind the deletion of other unimportant contents or advertisement as Flipboard drew contents from the webpage. To improve the business model, Team 6 recommended a subscription-based model.

During the question & answer session, someone questioned if encompassing a duplicated button is necessarily a bad thing. At the back of my mind, I was having the same thought. All this while, Flipboard’s main selling point lies in its beautiful and seamless integration of news, and the button definitely did absolutely no damage to the app’s reputation. I would think that a duplicated button is indeed not a big hindrance to my user experience too, as the key focus of the app is to act as a personal magazine. Also, there is validity in the questioner’s stand – the duplicated button could be dedicated to different user groups. It is possible to believe that the replica could be a mistake during app’s designing process and when the developers were notified of the problem, they decided to do naught about it. Or maybe it is an attempt to make their app looks more sophisticated. Having only one duplicated button is fine, but having many may confuse its users. This section allows me to sink into the importance of UI and how every button can have a possible impact on an app.

As I don’t possess the presentation files of Team 6, it is hard to ascertain if I heard them correctly. They said that Flipboard could be using an algorithm to facilitate the deletion of unimportant contents and advertisements before streaming them to their apps. I feel that it was done differently. Flipboard probably gets its data from the different media’s APIs and there is no need for any algorithm to delete any non-related content. /*add-ons*/ Actually after downloading the slides and taking a look at their implementation slide, I realized that content extractor actually do exist and most Mac users would find it as Safari’s “reader” at the URL bar. In essence, the algorithm does not facilitate the deletion of useless information, but rather, only sieve out the more important ones. Apparently, there is an open source called Readability project (created by Arc90) that functions in a similar way.

Last but not least, I would like to comment on the areas of improvement suggested by Team 6. I like how they recommended having a pre-loading feature and how true it is that no one likes to wait. This feature is easy to integrate and has been used by apps such as New York Times. However, it would be great if they considered other aspects of pre-loading. For example, how much space will be taken up in the phone and how this problem would be solved. /*add ons*/ The comment by Guo Xiang made me doubt my entry so I tried searching for “Pre-loading feature iOS” on Google. I realized that pre-loading feature has to be strategic. For example, does the app pull the data every hour or more? Will the feature drain the mobile’s or tablet’s battery? This feature is something that I should ponder about, especially when I’m learning to be a technical person.

In my opinion, Team 6’s presentation animations were superb and I enjoyed the presentation. However, I felt that they focused too much on the swipe gestures. It felt like I was given a tutorial on Flipboard instead of listening to their analysis of the app. They also did not discuss about the pertinent issue on the limitation of the feed loading. There is a limit on how far back a user can view a feed and that is definitely an issue that would bug its users, well, at least for me.

Gems of the day:
Colin’s strategy to send out our designated team to critique on only after the class is commendable. It forced me to listen to all 12 presentations, something that I would have never done if I was given a choice. Because of this, I picked up numerous terms that I would otherwise not hear of. Things such as XAMP server to broadcast messages, OpenGL for 3D maps, Cocoa Touch to create the flipping effects and other creative business models.

Additional comments:
After the lesson, our group (for assignment 1) stayed behind for a short discussion which lasted for an hour. Not so short after all. And even though I am the team leader, I felt that Civics is the main driver behind the team. She is always there to remind us of the uncompleted tasks and the deadlines. I am very grateful for her contribution to the team and at the same time, felt ashamed at my incompetence. Guess that’s one good lesson learnt!


11 thoughts on “CS3216 Lecture (Week 4)

  1. Hi, we are both blogging about Flipboard, you post is more like a review of the presentation besides the compliant to Colin at last :P, I agree with you about the pre-loading suggestion, and in additional I think it’s hard for application to determine when to pre-load the next page, for example, if I only want to read the news in cover page, I don’t think user need pre-load any other addtional page. Just to let you know the presentation is in the dropbox ‘CS3216 Assignment 20Slides’ folder in case if you want to refer again, if you don’t have permission ask https://www.facebook.com/yangshun for help. πŸ˜€

  2. Nah, I think you did pretty well for the presentation. I screwed up the Q&A πŸ™‚

    wrt Flipboard: I’ve not used it myself, but I liked the fluidity of the app (just looking at screen caps! that’s how good they are!) I think that contributes a lot to the success of the app, moreso than I felt before. Flipboard did many things right, but as I’ve recently learnt, you can get many things right, but screw up your last mile, and that gives you a really bitter taste.

    • Hey Joel! I think you nailed the Q&A so don’t worry too much. I had some user experience with Flipboard and it was a pretty good app, except for the fact that I’m not an avid news reader. In the past, I would launch the Flipboard app for Facebook newsfeed, but I soon realized that it is better to stick to the Facebook app because of the different functionalities that comes together with it. For example, I can’t message my friend through Flipboard. Still, I wouldn’t discredit Flipboard for its beautiful UI.

      • So, is this a case of the app wanting to be too many things at once, and not having enough resources around to get sufficient polish? We kinda had that for assignment 1, too many features we want, and kinda overextended ourselves, when we should have just focused on a core set, and drive those home.

  3. You definitely did not put business school to shame. Everybody laughed when you said “next slide please”, many people used your same trick after that :P. I think the success of flipboard was mainly cause of their good UI. Well actually i feel that UI is a very important thing for any mobile app. How to get the best experience to the user within the confined space of a tablet or handphone. That’s why the team spent so much time talking about it! I agree that they could put more analysis into other aspects e.g. commercial potential or ideas generated while using flipboard. Interesting to hear of new technologies like safari reader(i don’t use mac so i’ve never heard of it) and readability that does the same thing! There are indeed many technologies to learn out there. Even as a computer engineer I’ve trouble recognizing and making use of them. Anyway, being on the same team on assignment 1, I’ve to say you do have a flair for programming although you are business trained! I believe you will learn fast!

  4. Hi, for the duplicate button, Flipboard does confuse me, not sure about other user though. They have a lot of different “Setting” page that confuse me too. Even until now, I am still not sure where to click on to perform some seldom used action.

    For the preloading feature, that are many way to implement it. For Flipboard, instead of pulling data for every short period, I think what should be done is only pull data for one or two following page, and pull more when user is connected to Wifi. I think this can be done and it helps smoothing user experience a lot when they just want to flip through magazine.

    Not sure if I understand you correctly but I cannot really answer your feeding issue problem though. As I never flip that far. I guess user is only interested with the most updated article and they just want to know what happening. The limitation probably resides at how much article and how much database storage they have.

    Side notes: No offence, but I can comment on Facebook with my Flipboard for iPhone and iPad version. I just want to remind what need to be done cause I got a feeling that we are far behind because of assignment 2. I am very ganjiong person haha…

  5. Hey Genevieve, I enjoyed reading your thoughts about the Flipboard presentation. Personally, I am a huge fan of Flipboard and have been using the app daily since the day they launched. It’s the go to wake up app on my iPad. Wake up-> Take iPad -> Launch Flipboard and browse through what’s the latest buzz on twitter, facebook and other news/content sources I care about. Love this app to bits, I’ve at least spent >300 hours browsing Flipboard on my iPad since 2010.

    Honest, IMO there is nothing wrong with having duplicate buttons if it is done right. Occasionally it could just make sense to place the same button at 2 different places because there are equally large group of users that expect the button to be in both places. If done well, there is nothing wrong with this.

    Also, good catch on your part about pre-loading on mobile devices. This is exactly why iOS had no ‘true’ multitasking for 7 years until iOS7. It’s always an issue about battery when it comes to mobile devices. in iOS7, Apple has claimed to solve the issue of multitasking on the iPhone by being ‘super’ intelligent about it. The iPhone will actually track what apps you open and browse through at what time and pre-load data from those apps accordingly. Say for example, every Monday-Friday you launch the NYTimes app at 9am to read news and you launch the app again at 2pm during your lunch break. After doing this for a few days, iOS7 will actually *learn* your behaviour and pre-emptively get NYTimes to update it’s data at 855am and 155pm respectively so that once you launch the app, the latest content is just there, wait for you.

    Pre-loading content is never an easy problem to solve. Preload too much and the user will complain about wasted extra data usage & battery drain. Preload too little and the user complain about how he has to wait for every action. Maybe using smart heuristics and ‘guessing’ the user’s behaviour may be the right way to go here.

  6. Hey Gen, I didn’t realise that we’re critiquing on the same app πŸ™‚ I think that your presentation was great! It was clear cut and concise.

    Back at Flipboard, I do suppose that one duplicated button is not harmful and like you mentioned, it could be there to cater to a different set of user who would expect the button to be in that position.

    In my opinion though, I’m a little iffy about the duplication as it hints at a lack of standardization. Like Civics mentioned, it could also be a little confusing. As a first time user, I would be confused about the two buttons and be wondering if they actually serve different purposes despite both being share buttons. Actually clicking the button would solve this confusion, yes, but whether there is a need to create this confusion in the first place should be taken into consideration by the designer in the first place.

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