The problem with mobile app "Pretenders"

So true:

The iPhone browser already has a back button

This is a great explanation of why mobile web apps shouldn’t simply try to emulate a native app:

Users of pretender apps get an experience that falls squarely in the uncanny valley — it looks like a native app, but something isn’t quite right. Perhaps it doesn’t respond as expected or it doesn’t quite follow the conventions of a native app. Often pretender apps have both of these problems and then some. They simply don’t feel “at home”.

Another problem which we’ve heard in usability: non-iPhone users are put-off when they encounter mobile websites that “look too much like an iPhone”. There are interaction problems: should the Android user tap the glossy button or the hard back button to move to the previous page? There are also visual design problems: when a page screams “designed for iPhone,” non-iPhone users feel like they’re being treated as second-class citizens. Not good, considering that many users consider their choice of phone to be a mode of self-expression.

Recommendation: Focus less on “I’ve fooled them all into thinking this is native!” and more on “This is a great user experience.” A few tips:

  • Keep it clean & quick to load (consider your use of images, animations, etc.)
  • Streamline key workflows: keep in mind that each time the user navigates to another page, they run the risk of encountering slow load times
  • Optimize layout & visual elements to be appropriate for a small screen size (look to native apps for best practices about font size, line height, tap area, etc.)
  • By default redirect users to the mobile-optimized version of your site, but include a link to the full version of the website

Facebook as a means of self-socialization

I was doing a bit of reading about the social psychology theories behind Facebook, and stumbled across the concept of “peripheral awareness.” Resnick (2001) describes this as the phenomenon of people learning more about their community in order to increase their social capital. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but perhaps this is why people spend so much time simply “browsing” Facebook. Although a part of it may be based on the desire to (for lack of a better word) “stalk” individuals, a larger motivation may be self-socialization.

Consider the concept of “people watching.” Although this may be in-part motivated by curiosity and a desire for amusement, another part of it is consciously observing others as a way for us to understand our own place in the world. On Facebook, we are free to people-watch without any danger of getting “caught.” This allows us to spend large amounts of time understanding the average and deciding who we want to be more/less like. Having observed and discussed Facebook usage amongst my classmates and friends, I’ve found that most people spend a significant amount of time browsing two types of people: those they are close with, and those they are jealous of or wish to belittle. Could it be that while watching the lives of others, we are simultaneously deciding how we will change ourselves in response to them? By viewing the trends of the majority, can we not better learn how to express ourselves in a way that helps us to become the people that we wish to be?

Blogging to evade social norms

I recently had a discussion with a friend about how we are living in an “extremely narcissistic time.” Reading some of the academic literature on motivations for blogging, this claim seems like it has some validity to it. Many of the motivations for blogging seem tied to a desire for one-sided self-expression and indulgence.

A 2004 paper by Nardi et al. includes some interesting excerpts from blogs that are particularly telling. When bloggers write about events that happened during their day (typical “diary style” fodder), part of the motivation may be to look back on it for future enjoyment. Part may be for gaining personal insight by reflecting on past events. However, why use a public blog rather than a private diary? It seems that many bloggers are motivated by the knowledge that others may read and form impressions about the blogger based on their words. If the blog is entertaining, it suggests that the blogger is an entertaining person. If it teaches a skill, it suggests that the blogger is very skillful. If it captures life events that seem interesting or glamorous, then it suggests that the blogger is an interesting person. Self-projection, then, is key. Can we say that this is a form of Narcissism?

This seems to have strong similarities to the Facebook mini-feed phenomenon. When