RMIT Building 91, 110 Victoria Street, Carlton SouthLink: http://luv.asn.au/meetings/map
Ruby is a currently popular programming language that is powerful and easy to learn. It supports several major programming techniques: imperative, functional, and object-oriented programming. It has an active community and a large library of components that make it easy to build on the work of others and share your own work. Ruby also makes it easy to write tests to ensure your software works as intended and to include documentation along with your programs.
Linux Users of Victoria Inc., is an incorporated association, registration number A0040056C.May 16, 2015 - 12:30
Yesterday I stumbled across the wogrammer project by Erin Summers and Zainab Ghadiyali, which will hopefully seed the media—and our collective perception—with real images and stories of women in tech.
A photo posted by Erin Summers Zainab Ghadiyali (@wogrammer) on May 6, 2015 at 11:42am PDT
- In The Pastry Box this week, Eric Meyer reminds us: “In every heart, a secret calendar.” As more and more of our lives are recorded on the web, we have to build better, more human, tools that help us remember (and forget) our secret calendars on our own terms. —Marie Connelly, blog editor
- Luke Wroblewski adds another layer to the “fold or no fold” debate. What make this worth checking out is that he’s looking at the issue of the fold from a position of metrics and data, which provides a bit more context to the debate. —Erin Lynch, production manager
- Last week Mozilla announced that it is “setting a date after which all new features [in Firefox] will be available only to secure websites”—that is, those that use https instead of http. Mozilla’s heart is in the right place: it wants to minimize security threats to users and the web. But we wonder what impact this will have on sites that can’t, won’t, or don’t know to convert to https—especially if other browsers follow suit. A low barrier is what keeps the open web open. —Jeffrey Zeldman, founder and publisher
- Reverse OCR is Darius Kazemi’s ace record of what happens when a young bot tries to write words; “stunted chicken scratch” is pretty generous. Or, try your own hand at static bots—built in Google Sheets with no programming. Allison Parrish gives the rundown. Let’s make some toys. —Tina Lee, contributing editor
- “But no one really needs an Apple Watch!” Or do they? Deafblind advocate Molly Watts’s detailed account of her first five days with an Apple Watch will challenge your assumptions about why, how, and when people use all kinds of devices. —Sara Wachter-Boettcher, editor-in-chief
Proposals are due by June 5th, and accepted speaker notifications will go out by June 12th.
LSS 2015 will be held over 20-21 August, in Seattle, WA, USA.
Last year’s event went really well, and we’ll follow a similar format over two days again this year. We’re co-located again with LinuxCon, and a host of other events including Linux Plumbers, CloudOpen, KVM Forum, and ContainerCon. We’ve been upgraded to an LF managed event this year, which means we’ll get food.
All LSS attendees, including speakers, must be registered attendees of LinuxCon. The first round of early registration ends May 29th.
We’d like to cast our net as wide as possible in terms of presentations, so please share this info with anyone you know who’s been doing interesting Linux security development or implementation work recently.
See the stories behind the Campaign’s success
One of the first steps is getting is getting Mac OS X installed under VMWare.
I had some issues with regards to stalling on boot until I tried the following fix inside of the relevant vmx file.
smc.present = "TRUE" -->> smc.present = "FALSE"http://osx86.boeaja.info/2010/01/installing-snow-leopard-on-vmware-7-for-windows/http://www.ifans.com/forums/threads/tutorial-how-to-install-mac-osx-10-6-snow-leopard-as-a-guest-virtual-machine-in-windows-7.348981/
Then it's a case of installing the application itself. Sounds simple, but there are a few things we need to do in order to get this to work. First, is circumventing requirements checking so that it will install in spite of not being able to fulfil certain hardware requirements.
1) Mount "Logic Studio.dmg"
2) Copy "Install Logic Studio" package from mounted drive to another folder
3) Right click -> Show original
4) Right click on "Logic Studio.mpkg" -> Show Package Contents
5) Delete "\Contents\Resources\Requirements Checker.app"
6) Install Logic =)
You'll also need to be able to circumvent the version checking to allow the application to run. The steps are as follows.
1. Open Terminal.2. Type sudo nano -w /System/Library/CoreServices/SystemVersion.plistDoes the file path look familiar from my last tutorial?3. Press Enter. You will be prompted for your password. Type it in. You won't see it on your screen. Press Enter again.
4. Use the arrow keys to navigate to the end of the 10.6.2 under ProductUserVisibleVersion and erase the version number. Enter in a version number of your choice.
5. Repeat for the version number displayed under ProductVersion.
6. Press Control key iconX (Control-X) to exit. It will ask you if you wish to "save modified buffer." Press y. It will then ask for a file name to write. Press Enter to accept the default.
7. Exit Terminal.
If you're curious I looked at trying to get Logic X running under Mac OS X but there are substantial intermiate requirements that need to be fulfilled. Moreover, I only have an old version of Mac OS X available so I only tried with Logic 9.
xar -x -f /path/to/OSInstall.mpkg
xar -c -f OSInstall.mpkg *.*
sudo mv OSInstall.mpkg OSInstall_orig.mpkg
“I’m going to talk about privilege,” I replied when my wife asked what I’d be publishing for my next column.
And then I stared at the screen for an hour. Thankfully, my Facebook timeline saved me with Dogs Who Fail At Being Dogs.
What’s odd about this particular flavor of writer’s block I’ve suffered for years now is that I have no shortage of opinions when it comes to social issues. Ellen Pao. Freddie Gray. Dinesh D’Souza. TSA. Geist. Gun Control. Immigration. India’s daughters. Don’t even get me started.
But ask me to write a few hundred words—something, anything—about one of these social issues, all of which directly or indirectly affect our industry, and me specifically or by association, and I feel paralyzed.
I’m a brown, Indian citizen who moved to the United States at the age of 20. Even as of this writing, I’ve lived more years in India than I have anywhere else in the world, including the United States. What’s more, I have relevant experience. For instance, I completely Americanized my spoken accent over a summer during my time in Indiana because I felt it would earn me more privilege. It did, and continues to. (As a side note, the show “Fresh Off the Boat” just aired an episode that pretty much sums up my experience.)
Coming back to the point, you would think that it’d be somewhat easier for me—what with having some ability to piece a sentence or two together, having my own little corner on the internet to publish—within reason—whatever suits me, and having a relevant background—to type a few thoughts on the topic from my own inevitably unique perspective.
But evidently it’s not. Because even if my perspective is inwardly impassioned, outwardly it is positively devoid of ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.
For instance, on the topic of the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson a few months ago: I am interested in talking about a lot of things. What doesn’t interest me as much is SHOUTING about whether it was motivated (at least partially) by systemic racism in the Ferguson Police Department. To me, it feels like debating the existence of gravity when you consider all the incriminating evidence, neatly topped off by the Department of Justice report on the Ferguson Police Department (a report about the government published by the government). If you’re not in the mood to read the entire report, read the section “Racial Bias” (pages 4-5). It starts off with, “Ferguson’s law enforcement practices overwhelmingly impact African Americans,” and only gets more depressing from there.
The problem is that you can’t really write or talk about Ferguson and other social issues without clearly shouting your outrage, either in support of the conclusion that racially motivated crimes by people in positions of power are still a thing, or in support of the idea that that’s just fiction fabricated by liberal white guilt. If you don’t believe me, go to any comment thread on the internet that has to do with Ferguson, and you’ll see an angry Red Sea parted neatly in the center as if by Moses himself. Let’s not even talk about the very articles that deal with the topic.
This is not to say that shouting with outrage doesn’t have its place. On the contrary, it plays a significant role in not only book-ending every revolution, but also punctuating it. It is the pulse of our collective existence, and quite literally so, if you are to believe Martin Luther King Jr. when he said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
But a sentence is more than the words it starts and ends with. Or the punctuation it comprises. Beyond a degree, there are diminishing returns to being a chest-thumping member of SHOUTERS, Inc. If what you’re interested in is the words that give the sentence its very meaning, then you have to not only be heard without typing in all caps, but also be resilient to abuse. Depending on what you’re saying, and who you are, the personal costs are anything from being, well, shouted at, to having your life threatened.
A few days ago I was re-reading Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s editorial note from almost exactly a year ago when #yesallwomen was trending. Toward the end, she wrote, “We’ll be spending more time talking about sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination, even if it makes some readers uncomfortable.” Yet, even with its hundreds of contributors, columnists, and bloggers, ALA has very little to show for this aspiration in a year (interestingly, what it does have to show was contributed almost entirely by women).
I make this point not to criticize ALA—if anything, as a columnist, I’d be really just pointing a finger at myself because ALA is, ultimately, a platform—but to highlight just how difficult it is to talk about difficult things even when you explicitly and publicly set the goal of doing so. What’s worse is that barely anyone in tech journalism has even set this goal, but that’s a rant for another day.
All that said, I believe in my heart of hearts that most of us not only want to talk about these issues, but we want to do so with the other side. We who’ve felt discriminated against because of our skin color want to hear from our white friends about what they think. We who’ve felt the effects of misogyny want to hear from men about what they think. We who have suffered any injustice because of the Stanford Prison Experiment that is life want to hear from our alleged—as SHOUTERS, Inc. has often led us to incorrectly conclude—foe. Maybe that’s a tall order right now, but I do have the recurring dream.
For now, it feels like the first step to overcoming this paralysis is to acknowledge our fear. As Taylor Swift said, “I think that being fearless is having a lot of fears, but you jump anyway.” Or, more appropriately, as she sang, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake it off.”
And since I’ve got the cursor, I’ll go first: SHOUTERS, INC. SCARES ME SHITLESS!
Maybe now I’ll be able to write about privilege.
I loved this book. The way the language works takes a little while to work out, but then blends into the background. The ideas here are new and interesting and I look forward to other work of Ann's. Very impressed with this book.
Tags for this post: book ann_leckie combat ai aliens
Related posts: Mona Lisa Overdrive; East of the Sun, West of the Moon; Count Zero; Emerald Sea; All The Weyrs of Pern; Against the Tide Comment Recommend a book
to match your fancy and quench your envy
setting a trap for your immediate attention.
a market to engage you
with the unlikely imagery of a commercial imagination
seeding questions and farming responses,
enhance your success, open your purse,
quench your need with our original, natural, blue pill
clinching a sale, a steal! closing a deal.
trusted partners reach into your address book,
praying for support, preying on conscience
any answer is bound to please.
a paragraph of detractor text, ragged pieces
from vintage novels, snuppets of wholesome language,
a block of literary noise to confuse the filters
these hold unexpected charm.
tissue of soft dust
despite eternal sweeping
a fragrant creeper
behind the red dahlia
bees searching pinwheels,
eyes with yellow lashes,
flowering gum tree
squeezed by distance
fence posts diminish, shadows
contrast, long and sharp
finely inked tattoos
spill piquant winding stories
cheap creamy cotton
striped with afternoon sunlight
warming my window
a dream of travel
not quenching my restlessness
just honing its point
cracked earth and dry thistles
the swamp is still thirsty
an ibis steps formally
her beak curves, deep
into the crevasses
the egret too is walking,
soft bluegrey elegance
as they taste their green hosts
in the garden a storm
of butterflies rises,
matching her slate colours,
but no longer hungry
The Tiv people of Nigeria tell a story about the early world, when things were different. It’s about Aondo, the Sky, and how he lost his relationship with humans. When the earth was still new, Aondo was close enough that people could stretch out their hands and touch him. For many years, he and the humans led a quiet existence, and everyone went about their business.
One day, though, everything changed. Aondo sat in his place above the earth, watching people come and go. And then: out walked the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Aondo was fascinated by her, so he crept closer—too close—to watch her cook. As she was cooking, all of a sudden, she accidentally struck him in the nose.
Aondo was hurt and embarrassed, so he retreated. Farther and farther, until he was far above the earth. That is why, the Tiv people say, you cannot touch the sky.Pixel Fable is a collection of interactive African children’s stories.
For instance, I could’ve built two versions, based on the same HTML, split into the woman’s point of view and Aondo’s. The competing narratives would frame readers as detectives, exploring and contrasting details to figure out the whole tale. Or, I could’ve incorporated data visualizations to reflect Aondo’s mood: by combining weather data like thunderstorms and temperature with a “Sky Mood Indicator,” I could’ve designed Aondo’s emotional state as a separate, visual facet.
Either route offers a way to twist or fragment the story, to add layers to the central narrative—to transform the original Tiv tale into a nonlinear, more nuanced, and linked experience, much closer to how the web itself works.
I want to do that for Pixel Fable, and I want to show you how to do it, too. That means venturing beyond our basic scrolly-telling. But first, let’s take a deeper look at what nonlinear stories do.The role of nonlinear narratives on the web
The web operates in ways that can conflict with our traditional view of what a “story”—with a set start, middle, and end—is. Content is chunked, spread across various channels, devices, and formats. How do we define story lines, characters, interactions, and the role of the audience, given this information sprawl?
Cue nonlinear narratives. They’re collections of related content, organized around a story. They comprise video, text, links, audio, maps, images, and charts. Their chunked, compartmentalized nature gives them incredible flexibility, and makes them the perfect vehicle for how we explore online, jumping from one piece of information to the next.
Even though they don’t necessarily follow classic story structure, they still have many of the same parts: heroes, villains, locations, plots. It’s how these are developed and connected that may seem unexpected. One of nonlinear narratives’ superpowers is how they let you build on and refine them over time. For example, Vox’s cards and story streams help us aggregate information on complex news stories by posting relevant bits as they develop—whether it’s a Q&A on the human exploration of Mars that provides context in bite-sized form, or a stream of more info on a disease outbreak. These updates over time allow designers and creators to react to audience feedback.
Nonlinear narratives also offer audiences more agency. People want to learn, be surprised or intrigued, or entertained—and nonlinear stories prompt participation. Their fragmented structure needs an audience; without readers or viewers, the narrative cannot be experienced as a meaningful whole. In turn, this forces us to design stories that work with, not against, the fluid nature of the web (or what Frank Chimero calls the “edgelessness”).
Say you have an idea for one of your own. How do you link those disparate elements in a cohesive way? You can start by choosing two or three parts and combining them into a larger block, which then forms a core part of your digital story. This block can be displayed anywhere, anytime, as the story demands. For example, one Pixel Fable story in the works pairs a Google map with images and text to define key places (like the birthplace of a mad baddie) or give the factual history of a setting.
So those are the bones of a nonlinear narrative, but they come in a range of forms. Let’s take a closer look.Types of nonlinear narratives
This format isn’t exclusive to the web. From Scheherazade’s ancient tales, which weave together multiple story lines, to the movie Memento, which mimics hypertext structures, we see plenty of effective nonlinear structures outside the internet. The same is true of Pixel Fable’s inspiration—but what started hundreds of years ago as interlocking oral histories takes new shape online.
As we examine these new forms, I encourage you to note the story’s structure, how elements are linked, and how they grab your attention. You might ask yourself:
- What does the site or app ask the audience to do? Look at the UI and copy: is the experience active (prompting visitors to do specific online/offline actions) or passive (asking only for their attention)?
- How do elements relate to one another? Do they reinforce the central story, or do they offer a counterpoint? What content types appear to be “natural fits” with one another? How are elements ordered—do the interactions between pieces of content create a sense of rhythm?
- What’s the smallest collection of content you could see and still understand the narrative?
Extra-narratives combine one central story or topic with lots of tangents. National Geographic’s “The Serengeti Lion” features a central theme: life for the Vumbi pride. Videos, images, and commentary are branches that enrich that story, allowing you to see—and hear—life on the plains, offering things like aerial views from a drone or the sounds of the pride crunching on zebra bones.You can quickly hop from branch to branch via contextual links, scrolling, or an index.The Serengeti Lion. Disjointed narratives
While disjointed narratives revolve around a common theme, the connections are much looser. They’re typically a series of chaotic vignettes. Documentaries about large, complex places are a good fit for this kind of narrative, and “Lagos Wide & Close” does this excellently. With a variety of content blocks forming multiple perspectives, interviews, and locations, the site evokes the dusty, jumbled vastness of the Lagos metropolis, both up close and from afar. The city acts as the central character, and the different interviewees and locations become vignettes about a wild megacity.Lagos Wide & Close.
As the name says, these show two stories happening at the same time, often with competing goals and conclusions—which makes parallel narratives ideal for contrasts.Moon.
Moon, by UNICEF, follows the parallel lives of two kids. Each wakes in the morning and goes about their life: one ends up working in a factory for a living, while the other goes to school and becomes an astronaut. After you enter a short code to link the desktop site to your smartphone, your phone becomes a controller. When you rotate your phone, you flip the desktop screen 180° to watch that child’s life unfold.
It’s a clever use of tech, and the story itself makes a clear point about poverty, wealth, and educational inequality. (I know, there’s a particular irony in interacting with a story about poverty on two expensive digital devices.)Database narratives
These are perhaps closest to the types of work designers and developers do every day. Database narratives use metadata, ARIA roles, and tagged content to auto-generate content. They’re most commonly deployed in data visualizations, where a story’s meaning often comes from the explanatory framing (via copy) and juxtapositions of data.Subway-inequality map from the New Yorker.
For instance, the subway-inequality map from the New Yorker builds an elegant, interactive narrative on wealth disparities, out of seemingly impartial census data. Visitors can click to see how income varies—sometimes dramatically—across subway lines and stations, and their neighborhoods. Database narratives are an effective way to convey a lot of data in a small space.Micro-narratives
Sometimes we want to tell small, self-contained stories that, at most, may only share an interface with other micro-narratives. The focus is on the individual story—you can view micro-narratives on their own, with no loss of reference or concept. This structure is especially useful for user-generated content (like collections).Hi.
The site Hi does this wonderfully. It’s a platform for capturing and writing about different moments in real time. Visitors explore stories of photos and text—bookended with optional private comments from readers—on places all over the world. Each story is also added to a Google map; this extra layer of shared functionality gives the site a more cohesive feel, while still allowing each story to stand on its own.
Okay. We’ve covered the building blocks of your narrative toolkit. Now, let’s consider what really makes any of them truly meaningful: your audience.Audience participation and feedback loops
Digital narratives depend heavily on the audience experience. With so many potential entry points to your story, you must define the role you want the audience to play. One constant source of tension is who controls the story: you (as the author), or your audience? Whatever narrative form you’ve chosen, it’s something you’ve designed to achieve a specific goal. Your audience, however, probably won’t be content to sit in front of a screen and follow you around. Your visitors want the ability to choose their own paths—what they see, and the order in which they see it—into your content blocks. It’s up to you to design situations and narratives that take this into account.
Happily, we have a few strategies to help you do so—and balance the tension between author and audience.Encourage exploration
This approach draws on nonlinear narratives’ strengths—meaningful tangents over time. Create a framework with plenty of content branches, leaving your visitors free to choose what most interests them. Discoverability is key here; your job is to offer enough guidance so visitors know what to do, and then get out of their way. Clearly mark possible routes with instructional labels, animations, and even color-coding. Provide menu structures that prioritize choice over simple information retrieval. For example, group similar narrative blocks in a large slideout menu, or pair questions and thumbnails, instead of relying only on text links. As you develop more content, add it to the framework as a new offshoot to explore.Seven Deadly Digital Sins.
For instance, the Guardian’s “Seven Deadly Digital Sins” features an incredibly complex set of stories and dispersed content. The loose layout, which displays the sins in grouped thumbnails, and the slow, measured music encourage people to experience the narrative at their own pace.Prompt the audience to play a part
Or, give your visitors even more agency. Build them into your story. With this approach, you take your framework and then set parameters for audience contributions.Flight Paths.
In 2001, the Guardian reported a sad, gruesome story. The body of a man fell out of the sky and landed in the parking lot of a home-goods store in the UK. It turns out he was a Pakistani stowaway who hid himself in the wheel well of a Boeing 777 out of Bahrain. Long since frozen to death, he had fallen out of the wheel well as the plane landed.
Some years later, Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph created Flight Paths, based on this and similar stowaway events. After devising a setup around the life of a fictional stowaway named Yacub, they invited about 70 readers to add images, video, and text to what they called a “networked novel.” They continue to develop the narrative, most recently with an API, which packages and publishes that nightmarish story in a variety of formats.
It is a great example of how an internet community created an extra-narrative in bits and pieces. Your audience may feel more invested in a story they helped construct. However, it’s important to be clear about what your participants can expect. You’ll want to model the types of content you’re most interested in receiving (include specific prompts, give sample copy, etc.) You’ll also want to work out questions of attribution, ownership, and payment beforehand. For Pullinger and Joseph’s experiment, some potential contributors rightly asked if Flight Plans would be “monetized” and, if so, what was their work worth? Make sure you supply those answers in your terms and conditions.What is vs. what if
In all this, understand the difference between what is and what if. When I first started Pixel Fable, I wanted the audience to see my story, characters, and action through my eyes. I wanted to determine what IS. But the internet asks us to give the audience control over essential aspects of the story so they don’t lose interest and move elsewhere. Remixes are another way to keep visitors entertained. By designing narrative blocks for the audience to repurpose, we enable users to ask themselves “what if”—which results in new fan art and digital tangents we may never have dreamed of. It’s a powerful thing.Midsummer Night’s Dreaming.
In Midsummer Night’s Dreaming, a collaboration between Google and the Royal Shakespeare Company, the audience was invited to participate in a live performance. Using Google+ as the digital “stage,” people could post videos acting out their favorite scenes, costumes, observations, and fan art. They could imagine alternate scenarios and endings for Shakespeare’s famous characters. The project let anyone who loved A Midsummer Night’s Dream answer the question, “What if I were center stage?”Creating narrative goals (friction points) and narrative threads
So, you’ve designed collections of content for a story, perhaps even split them across sites or platforms. You have specific events you want the audience to interact with, ones that deepen their experience. Although the entrances and exits to your story are largely up to the audience, we can help their journey by defining clear narrative goals, or points of friction: places your audience will be compelled to stop, explore, and interact with key narrative elements.
What does an effective narrative goal look like? Perhaps it’s a climactic event, fascinating images and videos, or even a puzzle to solve. What part of your experience will make people look further and fit some of the disparate pieces together? In the New Yorker’s inequality map, one primary goal is getting the audience to find their home station and discover the median income. Finding their neighborhood, or a place they recognize, is a task that forces the audience to slow down and view the data. The resulting visual contrast, in this case (relative) wealth and poverty, becomes the point of friction.
Narrative threads are the pathways between your goals; they move the audience from one content block to another. A thread can be a simple link between two HTML pages, or perhaps a more complicated geotagged location on a map. In “Lagos Wide & Close” and “The Serengeti Lion,” we see these threads displayed as UI. The forward and back buttons, the location-selector menus, and other interface elements act as connectors. On the Hi site, the categories beneath each captured moment allow visitors to jump from story to story.A place for nonlinear narratives
The internet continues to grow. As we design larger and more diffuse experiences, we need to make sure they are connected and accessible to our audiences.
My experience with Pixel Fable has forced me to look beyond traditional story formats. I know the stories I want to tell. That’s where these ideas on nonlinear narrative come in. I can identify the content chunks I want, the points of friction and participation for the audience, and the way to use narrative threads to link them—all to create immersive, nuanced digital experiences.
Throughout this article, we’ve looked at specific concepts and structures that you can adapt for your work. Entertain, surprise, and above all, engage your audience—encourage them to ask what if, as they navigate the worlds you’ve spun.
From ATMs to Siri to the button text in an application user interface, we “talk” to our tech—and our tech talks back. Often this exchange is purely transactional: we input commands; the machine complies. Newer predictive technologies like personal assistant apps have renegotiated this relationship, preferring to relate to us as peers, even friends. Scarlett Johansson’s flirtatious operating system in Her brought this idea to a lifelike apex, simulating love, even orgasm—all digitally mediated.
As technology becomes more pervasive and gains access to greater amounts of our personal data, how can we design successful human-machine conversations? Should user interface text approximate the lilt, flow, and syntax of human speech? Or does humanizing UI conversations create a false intimacy that distances even as it attempts to foster familiarity?
The answer, of course, is that it depends. Most of us have encountered voice-automated customer service systems. Some of them, in an effort to make their robot customer reps less droid-like, feature voices that try to approximate human diction. A calm, often female voice pauses, suggests brightly, bridges her prompts with almost-ums. Her attempts at realness further underscore the fact that she is fake, blocking you from an actual human encounter.
A computer that cheerfully calls you by your first name can either delight you or creep you out, depending on the circumstances. Just as robots enter the uncanny valley when they seem too human, a user interface that’s too familiar can push people away. The copy needs to strike the right balance.Consistency within diversity
Until recently, I was a UX writer and content strategist at Google. Specifically, I worked on Google Apps: Gmail, Docs, Drive—all of the productivity tools that help people work and communicate. Writing for a large, entrenched company poses particular challenges because the sheer array of products and experiences offered can make it difficult to achieve consistency in tone and style.
Our audience included people who use Google tools at work. People at work are obviously a very different market from, say, a teenager absentmindedly browsing a consumer app like YouTube for video clips (though that isn’t to say that YouTube browsing doesn’t happen under the guise of work). But work tools should be as intuitive and (dare I say) delightful as the best consumer apps. They should help you be more productive and creative. You shouldn’t have to spend brain power figuring out how to deploy them.
Consider, too, the many modes of work. Some people are desk-bound, whereas others are constantly mobile. Some companies have huge IT departments that can provide support; at others, workers have to learn to use products on their own, often without much technical background. This can be overwhelming. Most workers want to spend time getting stuff done, not learning to use Google Apps. So the experience, and thus the text, must serve the overall usability and ease of the product.
There are ground rules that can guide the writing for all of these interfaces, though they exist in very different contexts and geographies. The YouTube-browsing teen can be in Osaka or Indianapolis. Modifying Chrome settings should be easy and seamless, whether in Farsi, Tagalog, or Italian.
While we can strive for an overarching level of consistency defined by some core principles—be friendly, be helpful, don’t use jargon or technical language—each product carries slightly different conventions, expectations, and contexts. Yet they all have to be reconciled within a domain that is recognizably Google, in over 50 languages. Keeping text brief and scannable, and including only the most essential words, will smooth a user’s journey.“OK Google, search for Thai restaurants.”
One particular UI conversation that Google may continue to fine-tune is how it initiates a voice search on a smartphone. “OK Google” is the voice prompt Google suggests for striking up interactions on mobile devices. This phrasing suggests that our relationship with both our phone and Google is informal and familiar, even chatty.
If you ever actually “OK Google” your smartphone or wearable device, though, you’ll probably find that doing so feels forced and cheesy at best. I’d personally rather just say “Call Trevor” or “Find nearby Thai restaurants” and stick to semantic, if utilitarian, commands.
“OK Google” is awkward because it insists that we’re chums with the search behemoth. Google is less a company in this recasting than a helpful friend. Yet this same Google also upholds “Focus on the user” as one of its founding pillars. “User” implies both a certain ascetic distance and an unpleasantly parasitic relationship. How can I simultaneously be buddies with and just a “user” to the same company?
Language reveals social landscapes and highlights power struggles, and can shed light on intimacy or distance. When writing for an interface, the smallest words reveal relationship dynamics and cue motivations, even emotions. The microtext on, say, a button can alter the tenor of the interface conversation. Whether you label a button “Got it” or “Continue” signals more than just information conveyance. “Got it” connotes a certain confidence and informality, and assumes agency on behalf of users. “Got it” asks them to own their comprehension and acceptance of whatever information is presented before moving along, rather than merely assenting to “Continue.”
Another common copy example: “enable” versus “turn on.” “Enable” feels unnecessarily technical and implies a subtle hierarchy between the enabler and enabled. The softer “turn on,” by contrast, could indicate the flow of water from a faucet, or—depending on where the mind goes—a sexy precursor to further action. When aiming for “friendly,” where is the line between cloying and mechanical?Brevity with soul
Being conscious of words doesn’t mean that one needs to make UI language purely functional. Balancing well-placed, clever copy with short, concise text can add delight and magic to an experience. Note Chrome’s “Aw, snap” for a page-load error, or the sly personality that suffuses the airfare purchase flow on Virgin America’s site:
Virgin’s brand voice is flirtatious, fun, and irreverent. Their approach resurrects an earlier age when air travel promised a thrilling luxury rather than a cramped seat, broken pretzels, and the purgatory of airport security. They don’t take themselves too seriously and their approach injects brassy humor into a task as lackluster as flight booking.
That tone comes through in small ways, such as this playful modal dialog about additional upgrade charges. The button is labeled not with the expected “Okay,” but with “I understand, let’s do this.”
When a user enters her name while booking a flight, the form field greets her with a sly bit of text: “Hey there.” Subtle winks like this can humanize an interface without being intrusive, yet aren’t so colloquial that they’re alienating.
Text should inform readers and help them along—and then it should get out of the way. A well-written UI recedes into the background, imbuing—but never overpowering—the user experience. There’s poetry in writing for the web, but it isn’t the luxuriant run-ons of Whitman. Rather, it’s the economy of poet Masaoka Shiki’s haiku—so spare it’s almost missed.Friendly but functional
The popularity of “digital detoxes” hints at a growing frustration with our reliance on tech interactions. The future may well contain more unobtrusive and silently helpful technologies, rather than intimate human-machine relationships à la Her.
As such, UX writers and designers might consider how we can keep conversations friendly but functional. We can provide signposts without the baggage of a relationship. Sue Factor, a former colleague and Google’s first dedicated UX writer, taught me that short text is often the best text. Although I earn a living writing for the web, I don’t flatter myself that anyone opens an app to carefully read and savor my language. We’ve all got better things to do. As Shiki writes:My life —
How much more of it remains?
The night is brief.
Zoe celebrated her 5th birthday a day early with a lovely party at Sarah's house, with a bunch of her friends from Kindergarten, Prep and beyond. This birthday also means she's been living in two homes for as much of her life as she's lived in one. On that front, mercifully, she seems to be doing as well as one could possibly hope for. This is her normal, as much as it breaks my heart.
She's doing fabulously well on all fronts, really. She's grown into a lovely little girl that I always enjoy spending time with. She's finally figured out how to ride a bike, so I've bought her a bigger bike for her birthday. I believe her swimming is going really well (I haven't seen her in action for a while because she does her swim classes via after-school care, but I'm fortunate to have one of my Thermomix consultant team members be her swim teacher, so I get some feedback from time to time).
We had parent-teacher interviews at the end of last term, and from all reports there, Zoe seemed to be doing well in Prep. Her sight-words are going pretty well. She's got the hang of phonics. She can write her name. She seems to have made friends with lots of the kids in her class. We've had a few of them over for dinner. I feel very connected with the school community.
I'm really grateful that I got about 5 weeks at the start of Prep before I returned to work. I got to be really involved with school for a little bit. I helped out with her school swim classes. I helped out with a literacy group. I did Tuckshop a couple of times. It was lovely. I wish I could be a stay at home parent so I could do that sort of thing all the time, but that's just not possible (at the moment, anyway). The school clearly relies quite heavily on parent helpers.
Five (and the lead up to it) seems to be a pretty fantastic age. I'm loving being her Dad now just as much as any other time.