Visualise your audience

I love the buzz of a big crowd.  It’s exciting to soak up the atmosphere created when lots of people are all in the same space at the same time.

If you’re lucky enough to be the band, or sports team or speaker who is the focus of the crowds attention, then that is quite powerful.

(Or terrifying, I suppose, depending on their mood!)

If you design or develop software it’s much harder to get feedback like this.

But, it’s still useful to think of crowds to help you visualise the audience of people who are using what you’re building.

This was the idea behind the photo I use in the header this site.

Another from the same shoot is below, for those of you reading via my feed:

Idealog Stadium

These come from a 2006 article about Trade Me in Idealog, and were taken at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington on a wet and wild day (hence the slightly damp windswept look and the Icebreaker jacket).

The stadium seats about 35,000 people when it’s full.  At the time there were about that many people online at once every evening on Trade Me.

(As I type there are over 80,000 online, showing how much it has continued to grow since then!)

When you think of that many people all in one space together, and the noise and activity they generate, it changes the way you think about the people using your site.

One of the things that software developers do all the time is dismiss a percentage of their audience as unimportant for one reason or another, without thinking of them as a distinct group of people.

If you don’t think you need to worry about people stuck using IE6 (for whatever reason) or a dial-up connection, or people who struggle to read small fonts, or people who are colour blind (or completely blind), or people who don’t know how to use a command line, or people who are still nervous (paranoid or otherwise) about entering their credit card details into a website, or people who want help from a real person, or people who use Firefox on a Mac … because on a percentage basis they are not that many … calculate just how big that group is (take your unique visitor count and multiply by the percentage, however small), and then imagine standing up in front of that group and telling them to their face that they don’t matter to you.

If you don’t think it’s a big deal for your site to be broken or off line while you make changes … think of all of the people who happen to be visiting at that point and imagine what it would feel like to have them all in the room with you while you flick the switch.  No matter how small the number it would probably feel like a lot of people.  And, you might be motivated to get the site back up more quickly if they were all standing behind you impatiently looking over your shoulder.

You can use the same technique to help put other numbers in perspective.

It’s amazing the difference it makes when you start thinking of your metrics as real people.

For example…

  • 2 people = your mum and dad!
  • 5 people = a car full
  • 15 people = a rugby team
  • 30 people = a school class
  • 100 people = a bus full
  • 120 people = a parliament full of MPs (actually 122, to be precise)
  • 380 people = all of the passengers on an Air NZ 747-400
  • 550 people = the audience at Webstock earlier this year
  • 1,500 people = capacity of the Aotea Centre in Auckland
  • 2,500 people = all of the students at Auckland Grammar school
  • 6,000 people = capacity of the TSB Arena in Wellington
  • 10,000 people = population of Gore :-)
  • 12,000 people = capacity of the Vector Arena in Auckland
  • 18,000 people = all of the students at Otago University
  • 20,000 people = population of Levin
  • 25,000 people = the crowd at Augusta National each day this week
  • 35,000 people = capacity of Westpac Stadium in Wellington
  • 60,000 people = capacity of Eden Park in Auckland, post-renovations
  • 100,000 people = capacity of MCG in Australia (also, incidentally, approx. the number of people who voted for NZ First at the last election)
  • 250,000 people = capacity of St Peter’s Square in Rome
  • 475,000 people = population of greater Wellington region
  • Etc, etc.

Help me out with some more examples…

Two Small Email Improvements

On the surface email seems like a mature application, without any obvious ways to make it better.

At least that’s what everybody thought until Gmail came along, with a bunch of excellent innovations: threaded conversations, automated archiving and labels rather than a folder structure, etc, etc.

So, what would you do to improve email even further?

Here are two simple ideas that would make email much better for me:

1. Hide until

This would simply allow me to “hide” a selected message until some date in the future.  Then on that date the message would re-appear in my inbox.

I try and keep my inbox empty.  In practice, that means at any given time my inbox contains a handful of messages which need a response.  It would be nicer, where I’m waiting on somebody else, or need to respond, but not straight away, to be able to get that message out of the list temporarily.

This seems like it would be pretty easy to implement.

2. Auto-scan for forgotten attachments

This would scan each message when I click “send” and if the body of the message includes the words “see attached” or something similar and there is nothing attached, it would stop and confirm that I didn’t forget to actually attach the document.

If I had a dollar for each time I had to follow-up with a “doh – actually attached this time” message …

Likewise this doesn’t seem that hard (famous last words, those!)

What do you think?

Would those be useful to you too?

Perhaps they already exist?

What other little ideas do you have for improving email and some of the other tools you use everyday?

Related:

Where do I find Google?

Google has published their list of the top search terms for the year:

Top 10 searches on google.co.nz in 2008

  1. games
  2. bebo
  3. youtube
  4. trade me
  5. lyrics
  6. google
  7. map
  8. hotmail
  9. tv
  10. weather

Half of these are site specific brand names (in bold) – meaning that rather than using Google the person doing the search could have simple added .com or .co.nz to the term and entered the URL directly into their browser and found the site they were looking for directly.

(the same trick would actually also work with most of the other terms too, but it’s not so obvious that people searching for these things were after the corresponding .com)

The one that will really surprise many web developers, I suspect, is “Google” itself – the sixth most popular search this year.  

How do you explain that?  What’s the mental model those users have of the web and of search engines specifically?

Most technology people will, I suspect, find it difficult to understand the sort of person who does this sort of search, but that’s exactly what we need to do if we’re going to build products these people will like to use and will tell their friends about.

Now Hiring: Web Designer

Interested? Check out the job description.

Credit, where credit is due

I was quick to complain about Contact Energy when I found their online billing frustrating.

How about something more positive …

Here is an email I got recently from Telecom:

The best thing about this? 

I don’t have to visit the website because the email contains all of the information I’m most likely interested in – the amount I owe and the date that the payment is due. 

As long as that looks right, I’ll delete the email and move on.  If not, the most prominent link takes me straight to the online bill, rather than dumping me in a maze of a marketing site.

The email is also signed by a real person, which is nice.

If I wanted to be really picky:

  • They could use fewer words – i.e. the first sentence only needs to say “Your latest online bill has arrived”. 
  • The URL for the link to the bill could be more human-readable – interestingly the link they provide direct to the bill at the bottom of the message is much nicer, so why not use that I wonder?
  • They could include the standard text that appears on the bill to explain that a direct debit is setup for this payment.

But, those are all small things. 

This is a much nicer user experience.  Full credit!

And, what’s really interesting about this … I’m now much more likely to be receptive to appropriate marketing messages that might be included in the future in this sort of email, or on the associated web site.

Thou shall not

Earlier this week I found myself in the Koru lounge at Wellington airport waiting for a delayed flight.

I was using the time to arrange an upcoming trip, and was quite surprised to see this brick wall when I tried to access TripIt.com:

Koru Club Fail
 

The “Your organisation…” is a bit misleading. I was just using the free wifi point.

If anybody from Air NZ is reading … what?

I realise it’s been a few years since I worked in a big corporate, so I might just be unaccustomed to being treated like a little kid by an IT department, but seriously what are you trying to prohibit here. You don’t want me to visit travel related websites while I’m in the Koru lounge?

What’s worse, you actually allow me to do it, but you want to make me feel naughty in the process? As it was I just clicked the “Use Quota” button and it let me straight through. What other sites you don’t think are acceptable, I wonder?

Quite weird.

By the way, speaking of Air NZ and TripIt…

Has anybody else run into problems with the new format e-tickets emails that Air NZ have introduced recently? I’m using Mail.app on OS X and am having a problem with the attachments:

The item in the inbox has 9 attachments, but the message itself has only 6. The 3 that are missing are the PDFs with the booking details.

When I forward to TripIt it is no longer able to automatically add the booking as it has in the past.

When I look at the same message through gmail.com it has all 9 attachments and works fine when I forward to TripIt, so it would seem to be a Mail.app problem.

Is this just me, or have others seen this too?

UPDATE (13-Oct): 

Kim from AirNZ added this comment.  Good news!

“Air NZ recently updated the design of its e-tickets, at the same time upgrading the system which generates the email and attached documents. The PDF and calendar appointment missing from the email when viewed in the Apple Mail client is a teething problem which is being actively closed down. We hope to have a fix in place later in the week.”

Find the link…

I’ve signed up to receive our power bill via email.

So, I get an email telling me our latest bill is now available online.

Here is the page I’m redirected to.

It’s not the bill.  

It’s a landing page full of noise.  

See how long it takes you to find the link to the bill.

(click for larger size)

There are actually two links.  Neither of them exactly jump out at you.  

I never even noticed the link in the top-right until I took this screen shot.  This is not especially surprising as this position is so often used for advertising that people will just block it out.

It’s reasonable to assume that the link would be somewhere in the body of the page, but as you scan that area everything which looks vaguely like a link says “Find out more >”.  More about what, exactly?  

Why don’t they link directly to the bill, I wonder?  

Or even better simply include the important information (e.g. total amount owed and due date?) in the email itself and let me avoid this hassle altogether.

Is online billing about making things easier for customers or creating opportunities for the marketing department?