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Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook & The Internet

Envision individuals in creating nations thinking Facebook is the passage to the Internet. They might log into Facebook to gain access to email, Wikipedia pages, climate data, and sustenance costs. In the event that they needed extra administrations like the capability to stream motion picture, they can purchase it with a basic navigate Facebook.

That is Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for Internet.org.

At the Mobile World Congress on Monday, Zuckerberg outlined some of his arrangements for making headway with Internet.org, the activity headed by Facebook to carry Internet connectivity to poor nations around the globe.

While Zuckerberg touted the philanthropic vision of his organization’s objective to associate the following one billion individuals, its vital to note that the task isn’t right for the sole purpose of carrying fundamental administrations to those that don’t have it, but instead carrying a huge number of extra eyeballs to Facebook and its promoters.

“[we are] making it with the goal that we can build the measure of up-offers to memberships when they’re utilizing these fundamental administrations,” Zuckerberg said in his keynote. “They will go to a connection that isn’t incorporated in the essential administrations bundle; a popup that says, alright in the event that you need to expend this, you need to purchase this information plan.”

Facebook is making a long haul guarantee to both information bearers and promoters Zuckerberg said the following one billion individuals to accomplish Internet access won’t be as well-off as those as of recently on Facebook, in this way making it harder to adapt the organization’s administrations. Zuckerberg said the interpersonal organization will sponsor Facebook, Messenger, and different administrations like climate or fundamental news and data, and after that give up-offers in requisitions to convey the entire bundle like a door drug. Those up-offers are the place transporters and Facebook profit.

“The motivation behind why they’re not on [the Internet] is they don’t know why they might need to get access to it,” Zuckerberg said. “[we will show] individuals why its objective and bravo to use the restricted cash that they have on the Internet.”

How Whatsapp Fits Into Internet.org

Facebook as of late used $19 billion to get the versatile informing provision Whatsapp, a requisition Zuckerberg cases will be one of the few administrations to store up a billion clients later on. He guaranteed that, without anyone else present, Whatsapp is worth more than what the organization paid for it.

In creating nations like those Internet.org is focusing on, numerous individuals depend on SMS correspondences because of an absence of information administrations. Whatsapp is as of now prevalent in numerous developing markets, incorporating those in South America and Asia where Facebook’s development was stagnating.

While blasting in fame, Whatsapp was confronting weight to adapt. It as of recently had a membership based plan of action, yet keeping in mind the end goal to handle the onrushing of clients, Whatsapp would’ve required to keep tabs on building out a plan of action. With the Facebook obtaining, Whatsapp was given the chance to center only on development without stressing over income models, since Facebook is taking care of everything.

The Next One Billion

“Joining the world” is Facebook’s vision—one that can’t be attained without the backing of different associations, including the six telecom organizations it collaborated with for the Internet.org activity.

Zuckerberg said the association is searching for an extra three to five accomplices to carry ready for, that will wager huge that Facebook subsidies of social administrations will pay off by up-offering their information plans. In most immature nations, 2g and 3g information systems are as of now accessible; individuals simply don’t comprehend the quality of the Internet yet.

“One thing I think is not difficult to underestimate is that most individuals on the planet don’t have admittance to the Internet,” he said.

In place for Facebook’s technique to work, it will make Internet moderately competitive, and furnish motivating forces like free Facebook access—for individuals to utilize it. Less expensive base, simpler openness and up-offering extra information utilization will at last develop the organization into a worldwide Internet supplier.

A Facebook telephone may have fizzled in the U.s., however it may very well work in universal markets. By utilizing Facebook as an on-incline to the Internet, the following one billion individuals will utilize social logins to control different applications, as well as their whole Internet utilizat

What I gained from working at Tumblr

December 2010

December 2010

Whew. Yahoo’s $1B acquisition of Tumblr has brought a lot of commentary, opinions and analysis out of the woodwork. It seems everyone has something to say about the event.

This will not be a top 5 list. I don’t have lists of top 5 things I’ve learned, or mistakes Tumblr made, or microbrews the engineers like. This is a meandering series of observations that I am trying to work out with myself — they’re lessons, yes, but they’re also the causes that effect me to view technology, product development and company culture as a petri dish of immense fascination.

It’s about being the only person to have worked at Yahoo, at Flickr and at Tumblr.

It’s seeing the ways that small actions can be a great force for right or wrong, how personalities can have an immense effect on a company, and in turn, on millions of users across the world, and how no matter what the press simplifies as the cause for major events, the reality is nuanced, given to movement in inches that topples the boulder rather than a Herculean push.

This is my first Medium post. I figured if there’s a place for introspective ramblings, it’s this platform.

I joined Tumblr as the 2nd wave of hires, as the 10th or 11th employee. I consider the 1st wave to be Jacob, Peter, and John as well as a few others. The first wave had helped David build Tumblr to be this gorgeous and addictive thing that was growing fast. Marco had just left to start Instapaper. Jared moved on to build GroupMe. And Meaghan had decamped to Kickstarter. There would be 3rd and 4th and 5th waves and so on. But in the early days, when it was 10 to 20 people, there was something really really special – we were on a rocketship changing engines in mid-flight..

SXSW house – picture by David.

I came to the job as a fan. I had emailed Tumblr on a whim, telling them of my admiration and absolute belief that it was going to be the next big thread in the social fabric of the Internet:

As I find myself discovering daily Tumblr awesomeness, I thought, “This is exactly the place where I want to help build and make better.”

A few months later, John called me on the phone while I was in Argentina and a few weeks later, I met David and the team and instantly felt at home.

I joined to take the product further, to help David execute his vision as he took on the large responsibilities of being the CEO. Tumblr was growing fast and David was needed to build out the engineering team, to scale operations, to manage fundraising and marketing and — basically, according to Marco  — all the things he didn’t really like to do. And I was brought in to handle the one thing he did like to do, which was to envision the product and design. (Whoa!) I thought I was going to teach the guys a lot, having worked for years at building another pretty cool platform, Flickr. Instead, it was me to learned tons, mainly from David himself.

Walking from USV’s office because we ran out of meeting space.

It was humbling to work with David. And sometimes challenging to my ego. He has an incredible way of bringing you into his orbit. Even with all of the other things he had to worry about — the downtimes, decisions to bring in senior level management to control parts of his baby that he never had to worry about before, orienting Tumblr around creators instead of being a mass-market blogging tool, figuring out the international markets and growing community vectors like fashion, arts, music and so on — he was so on top of product that on most days it felt like I was two steps behind thinking through all the ways in which people would love or hate the features that we planned to push.

And important to me, we were all friends when the company was small. We went to lunch together, we played card games after work — the guys even went to my wedding in the middle of nowhere, Maryland. I was changing the world with a bunch of people I could go have drinks with — and we did! So many features and ideas came around the dinner table in those months. I got kind of fat.

Last hurrah at our wedding

More than anything, I loved the quiet hours, after everyone had gone home. David would sit on the couch and sketch in his notepad. Then he would walk by my desk and asked, “Hey, can we catch up on product stuff?”

Invariably, hours later, we’d both get stupid excited about the new stuff that we could build. I’d suggest things, and I can count on one hand when David hadn’t thought about it already.

David was perpetually excited about Tumblr. I have never seen his enthusiasm wane . Everyone who worked at Tumblr were all in love with the product and used it every moment — but David had us all beat. He lived and breathed the product.

Matt Hackett & David Karp

Looking back, some of the things we built were awesome – and I’m glad to have added a bit of Flickr DNA to the features — kind of funny considering now Tumblr will be Flickr’s cousin in the Yahoo family.

The EXIF information attached to each photo – that was a refraction of my obessession with an image’s contextual data. Having curators for the tag program – that was a reaction to Flickr’s Explore feature, where algorithmns can only turn up so many similar HDR images before human sensibilities have to take over. Reworking the photoset to show all the images instead of a lightbox photo – another reaction to the standard lightbox/slideshow experiences that were in vogue at the time. Starting a developer/API program – also a useful lesson I learned from Flickr.

There were some things that I wished I had done differently, had pushed for harder or done more forcefully. Controlling our own mobile destiny faster is one of them, and I’m happy to see Tumblr rolling out so many awesome updates on their apps recently. It’s also a measure of satisfaction to see so many items on the roadmap that we talked about getting shipped by a bigger, stronger and talented team of 175 people.

Lunch on most days.

In the end, Tumblr is David and David is Tumblr. From every word on the blog post (e.g. he hated to use “best”) to the sheen on the dashboard’s buttons, David’s imprint is all over the company. It’s hard to have two strong visions at play, and the way the team is structured now, with product engineering building things and product design visualizing things — makes a lot of sense for the company’s growth. From all reports, if Marissa is true to her word to give David the independence to dream his great dreams, I think Tumblr’s best days are ahead.

Tumblr – as with any company or product – isn’t about a featureset or even the numbers.. or in some cases, even the users. It starts with the people who dream up something different, who love what they’re doing and can’t wait to share with the world their crazy ideas. It’s the engineers and designers and support staff and salespeople and office managers and marketers who come to work each day to build something better. And at the heart of Tumblr is a founder who is also its hardest working employee.

Camp Tumblr, picture by David

David also gave me the itch to chase after my vision. And now, starting on my own journey to build something new, I’m even more amazed at what Tumblr has accomplished.

Building something new is hard.

Doing anything that you can to keep it growing and going and persisting is something else entirely. And I have high hopes for Tumblr’s place in the world.

So here’s the lead, buried way at the end. What did I gain from working at Tumblr? Clarity of vision triumphs in the end. Build something new. Be original. Do what you love. Empty truisms? On most days, yes.. but when real life events punch you in the face with the reminder that “yes, ye skeptics, striving to be good can work out”, then I’m willing to pause a moment and listen.

Before You Build, Understand the Demand

I’m a huge fan of Lean Startup thinking and believe applying the scientific method to the design process is a profound and essential concept.

However, I have a minor beef with the popularization of the “Build > Measure > Learn” methodology, or at least its name:

Calling it “Build > Measure > Learn” leaves it open to the misinterpretation that something has to be built before you can measure or learn anything of value.

This is definitely not the case. Understanding the underlying demand a product exists to serve is crucial and much more important than understanding the effectiveness of the product itself.

Iteratively building out a product is just one of many, many ways to explore and define that underlying demand. If it’s the only one you’re using, you’re artificially limiting yourself to a single, lengthy and very expensive method of inquiry.

Building something is the most expensive way to validate your assumption that it should exist.

Lots of Ways to Understand Demand

Here’s just a small sampling of ways to quantify demand without having to actually build the thing to find out:

  • Pre-Sell It
    There’s no sound quite like a check being cut. If you can get someone to buy it before it’s even built, that’s a very strong indicator of demand.
  • Fake doors
    If the feature was built, where would they go to click through and use it? Add links in those locations as if it already existed and point them to “coming soon” screens. See how much engagement those links get.
  • AdWords Testing
    Run AdWords campaigns whose copy describes what your feature would do. Point them to landing pages designed to capture contact info. Measure demand in clickthroughs & signups.
  • In-App Surveys
    It is generally inadvisable to only pay attention to what customers say instead of what they do, but you can gather some great insights by asking people questions within the context of your app.

All of the above require either zero or minimal engineering hours to pull off. Some of them cost some money to carry out, but compared to the cost of actually developing something, it’s a paltry sum.

You may think taking these steps would slow your company down, but that would only be true if your definition of progress was something as limited as “building things”.

If you instead define progress as “delivering value to the customer”, you can see how these approaches actually speed things up by avoiding the time-suck of developing things that don’t have a demand.

Building is Investing

What these all have in common with iterative product development (the “build” in Build > Measure > Learn) is that they’re investments of time, money and effort applied to better understanding what it is that people want.

When “building” is thought of as an investment in understanding rather than an inevitable, necessary step, it becomes clear that it’s only one of many options, and not always the most desirable one at that.

To remind myself of this, I’ve stopped calling it “Build > Measure > Learn” and started calling it “Invest > Measure > Learn” instead.

This reframes the method to something that I feel is more accurate to its spirit, and serves as an ongoing reminder to always employ the most effective and efficient options to validate my ideas.

When I build, I’m placing a bet that I’ve accurately identified and understood a demand. Using all the tools in the “understanding demand” toolkit significantly increases the chances of that bet being a winning one.


I hope you enjoyed the article!
You can follow me on Twitter at @SamuelHulick to find out whenever others just like it come out.
I'm also writing a book on User Onboarding!

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50 Social Media Habits You Can Stop Doing Now

“Google doesn’t really have an algorithm to degrade content when it’s no longer good advice,” says David Spark, the founder of Spark Media Solutions, a writer, and a podcaster.

That means lots of bad advice continues to rank on Google search results.

A few years ago, for example, I advocated following back everyone who followed you or your brand on Twitter. Given the growth of spambots and proliferation of robo-DMs and increasing decibel of noise on social media, I now take a more nuanced approach.

Similarly, three years ago David wrote a white paper, “How to #Trend on Twitter,” in which he suggested repeatedly asking followers for retweets. “This is now officially horrible advice,” he said recently in a Q&A. “While we want to help our friends out, doing so repeatedly, like asking your friends to help you move, becomes a nuisance and is in no way a form of engagement.”

The realization that bad advice continues to badly influence online behavior inspired David to publish the ebook Hazardous to Your Social Media Health: 50 Previously Condoned Behaviors We No Longer Recommend.” He surveyed 56 social media industry influencers (including me) and asked us one question:

What was once considered smart advice that now you no longer recommend?

David then curated 50 of the items into his ebook, released earlier this month.

Not all of the advice is intuitive. Some of it (like “#5 from Charlene Li: Stop Posting to Your Personal Blog“) is counterintuitive and a bit controversial. But, together, the 50 points are meant to increase meaning and allow you to shed useless social activities this spring the way a Golden Retriever sheds his winter coat.

Some of my favorites:
“Stop wasting your time and your followers’ time by posting images with pithy statements, pointless ‘discussion’ questions (e.g., “What’s your favorite salsa?”), and photos of adorable pets,” David writes.

“While cheap ‘Likes’ and comments will increase your Klout and Kred scores, they do nothing to build your brand or business.”

The implied reciprocity of LinkedIn testimonials can feel compulsory, devaluing their overall trustworthiness and usefulness, David writes, adding, “Implied reciprocity is not the backbone of trustworthy recommendations.”

I’m the first one to talk about the opportunity of social media to put a human face on a corporate edifice. But this is sane advice from Joe Chernov, who suggests things have gone a little too far:

“‘Humanize the brand’ was sound advice initially—when too many brands were too ‘corporate’ on social media—but today I see brands sharing absurdist memes or making politically charged statements, and I realize it’s time to reintroduce a measure of sobriety into our corporate feeds.”

Gamified “check-ins” with Foursquare, Facebook Places, and other “check-in” apps were fun at the beginning, but now they are tiresome manual chores with little inherent value for the one checking in.

This one is mine—since I’ve gone from being a Foursquare fiend to Foursquare foe in the last few years. (One of my colleagues actually messaged me at one point during the height of my Foursquare fervor to call BS: “Come on! You can’t legit be the mayor of an airport taxi line!”)

Download the full ebook here (note: registration required), and check out of 50 things you can stop doing to lighten your own social load.

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Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs and the co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules: Wow to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business. Want more? Take a stroll over to AnnHandley.com

Posted by:Ann Handley

When Founders And Investors Split Over An Acquisition Offer

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Editor’s note: Tomio Geron is head of content at startup Exitround. This is part of a series of posts on the tech M&A market. Follow him on Twitter @tomiogeron.

For one founder who recently sold his startup, it was the culmination of a long journey. At the same time, the founder, who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, had problems during the acquisition process, feeling bullied by a venture investor.

The investor argued against a sale of the startup, and then after agreeing to the sale, proceeded to call the buyer and yell about terms of the deal. The investor also pushed for certain terms that the founder felt were unfair and benefited the investor.

The founder was pleased with the outcome but felt powerless to stop this investor from essentially steamrolling the process.

“They didn’t want to sell because, for them, the deal was too small,” the founder says. “Eventually our investors inserted themselves into the negotiations. They actually screwed things up for us because they demanded more and actually offended the buyers.”

This type of story rarely gets publicly told in Silicon Valley, since founders and investors don’t want to reveal how the sausage is made in negotiations — and more importantly don’t want to criticize each other in public and break Silicon Valley’s unspoken rule of positivity. But because of how venture capital is structured (more on this below), and because of the many startups that will need to sell without being able to raise more funding in the current environment, these types of situations are bound to come up.

Negotiating with a buyer is a challenge for founders in an acquisition. But negotiating with one’s own side — the investors — can be just as difficult, if not more so. These disagreements typically arise when startups get an offer to sell and the founders and venture investors disagree about what to do. These offers, even if relatively small in Silicon Valley terms — say $10 million or $20 million — can be “life-changing” for founders. But for venture investors, particularly with big funds ($300 million, $400 million or even $1 billion), smaller exits are not appealing. To explain why, we need to look at how traditional venture funds are structured.

Fund Economics

VCs typically want a good venture fund to make 3-5x their money. In other words, a fund with $250 million invested would have to return $750 million to $1.25 billion from the fund’s companies that are acquired, IPO, or are otherwise sold off in some form. A 4x return would net about a 2.5x distribution to the fund’s limited partners after fees to the general partners. So VCs depend on massive “home run” exits. For a $250 million fund, VCs would require at least three to four exits of $1 billion or 10 exits of $400 million. (This assumes a VC fund would get 20 percent of the exit price.)

As a result, smaller sub-$100 million exits aren’t that attractive to most large VCs, particularly if they have made a large investment. Many would rather not sell, and instead they roll the dice and hope for a larger outcome. “VCs often look at return on their money as opposed to IRR (as a metric). The fact that they made 4x (return) on $5 million over nine months on a $500 million fund: who cares?” says Villi Iltchev, EVP of corporate development at LifeLock.

To be clear, I’m not saying that all VCs are mistreating startups or behaving badly. I’m not even arguing that the investors’ actions described above are necessarily wrong. (Though it does explain why some founders privately complain about VCs.) And of course, unlike the investor described above, many investors do let their founders make the call on acquisition offers without pressuring them at all.

Aligning Interests

So while many VCs don’t like to talk about it, their immediate economic interests can diverge from their startups, particularly in smaller acquisitions, Iltchev says. “For founders, especially those who are not independently wealthy, their tolerance for risk is usually lower. VCs are in the business of managing risk on a portfolio basis. For founders an exit can be a once in a lifetime chance to change their life for their family. For investors the same transactions may be immaterial.”

This isn’t to say VCs (or founders) are necessarily at fault. The different economic interests are inherently part of the venture model. Other structures may evolve but this is now the dominant model. That certain investors don’t adhere to these fund economics and let founders make their own decisions is a credit to them and their long-term thinking to try to keep founders coming back to them for future investments.

There are also things that venture firms have done to better align interests of founders and investors. Founders Fund created Series FF stock, which gives founders more flexibility to sell shares. And many venture firms now allow founders to take a small percentage of “money off the table” in a secondary transaction to reduce the financial need for founders to sell early.

Different Investors

Of course, not all investors have the same interests. The larger a VC fund, and the more of their money they have invested in a company, the less likely they are to like a smaller exit. Smaller seed investors or micro-VC funds, which are proliferating, don’t need billion-dollar exits to return their funds, so they are happier with smaller exits — what Dave McClure calls a “Moneyball” model. This makes sense, since about 88 percent of tech acquisitions in the last five years with announced prices were less than $100 million, according to Capital IQ. Also, sites like AngelList and FundersClub enable more individuals to invest, and these individuals typically don’t push for massive exits.

Despite the potential conflict of interest I’ve described (i.e. founders want to sell but investors don’t), some venture investors will help negotiate a deal. Particularly for younger, less experienced founders, investors will get actively involved. And some smaller angels or micro-VC investors have less incentive to oppose smaller acquisitions so there can be less of a conflict. For example, seed stage investor Manu Kumar, founder of K9 Ventures, has negotiated acquisitions for a number of his startups.


For founders it can be difficult to disagree with an investor on a sale. In particular, first-time founders often feel indebted to investors for taking a chance on them. So to turn around and say, “No we don’t agree with you,” can be hard to do.

Many VCs have rights they can use to try to block an acquisition. But most rarely use them, particularly if a founder makes a good case for a deal as the best possible outcome for a company. VCs do not want to be known as  “not founder friendly,” even if they hate a deal and feel it is unfair. But they’ll complain privately. Like the anonymous founder mentioned above, Iltchev has received calls and been yelled at by investors who are unhappy with a deal.

Buyer View

For buyers, of course, it’s complicated when sellers and investors aren’t on the same page. Buyers don’t want to negotiate with multiple parties in the same company. On the other hand, if a VC is calling a buyer, that can mean the founder has already decided to take the deal. “If the investor is calling me to negotiate terms, it is probably because they have already lost the battle with the founder and they are just trying to beat me up,” Iltchev says.

At top Silicon Valley buyers, it is standard to treat investors well, even if they don’t technically have to. For example in an acqui-hire – where a buyer just wants the team but not the product or IP — a buyer could just hire a startup team and not pay the investors anything. But most big Silicon Valley buyers want to stay on good terms with investors — who, after all, send them companies to buy — so they will try to make investors happy by paying back their original investment, if not more. (Non-Silicon Valley buyers do not necessarily play by these rules.)

I will be extremely cautious before ever accepting VC investment again and would only do it on my terms.

Founder Choices

The anonymous founder mentioned above, reflecting on the experience, says, “My advice would be to make sure you have someone who will stick with you not just when things are going well, but during the inevitable struggle that all startups face. It’s fine to have a strong investor who pushes you and fights for what they think is best for the company, but hopefully it’s not just what’s best for them. That said, I will be extremely cautious before ever accepting VC investment again and would only do it on my terms.”

For founders the best way to avoid these problems is to choose the right investor. Vet your investors and have honest conversations before they invest. Ask them what their return profile is and what kind of exit they’re expecting for your company, says Ursheet Parikh, former CEO of StorSimple, which was acquired by Microsoft, and a new partner at Mayfield Fund.

“Some investors may not appreciate you talking to any large companies early because they are concerned that these strategic buyers may either be a distraction or try to buy you early on the cheap,” he says.

That’ll give you an idea of what you are expected to deliver and whether you’re ready to accept that money and the strings attached. And have an honest conversation with the investor about what would happen if you disagreed with him or her on an acquisition offer. The more honest and transparent they are with you the better. Ultimately the more you prepare while choosing your investor, the better position you’ll be in when acquisition offers come in.

Image by Shutterstock


Responsive Design: Why and how we ditched the good old select element

How rethinking the way users make complex selections across devices completely changed our design.

We’ve all seen this and know what it does:

The standard select element as rendered in Chrome/OSX

It’s the HTML select element. The invention of select dates back to 1995 with the introduction of the HTML 2.0 specification. So most of us have never experienced designing for web without select as an option. But it can be a really, really frustrating component to let into your designs. Let me tell you why.

Good things first

By using the select element it’s a no-brainer to create a list of selectable options. It’s easy and it’s cheap. It’s supported by all new and old browsers in use, and it comes with a lot of nice features, such as grouping options, keyboard navigation, single and multi select and reliable rendering across platforms without me having to put on my thinking hat. It just works!

So why not just use it?

At Tradeshift we’ve been working a few months on some soon-to-be-released updates for our user interface. Some of our core features include creation of invoices, quotes and purchase orders. It’s business documents with substantial amounts of data. Most often a human is involved in creating these business documents. Luckily, this human user has access to a lot of already existing data from various sources, which potentially makes document creation faster. All this data is predominantly represented as lists that the UI must enable the user to select from – efficiently and effectively – no matter the device.

Presenting option lists to users is most easily done by using checkboxes, radio buttons and by using select. However, some limitations in these components made the design team hit a wall for a number of reasons. Here’s an excerpt from a longer list of drawbacks of using select. The drawbacks would to some extent also apply to radio buttons and checkboxes:

  • The number of selectable options we have is often counted in hundreds which makes the standard select element hard to navigate.
    Example: When specifying the unit type on an invoice line, the complete list contains hundreds of possible units. It’s not just hours, meters, liters, kilos, pounds and pieces – but also crazy units such as hogshead, syphon, ‘theoretical ton’ and ‘super bulk bag’. Tradeshift deals with global trade and compliance and we must be able to provide all these options. Standard option selectors would turn into haystacks.
    A more common example is country selectors. I often find myself struggling to select United States in most selectors, no matter how smart the sorting of options has been done. For ‘popularity reasons’ United States is often found at the top of country list. Other times Afghanistan tops the list due to alphabetical sorting. Sometimes United States is far down the list, just after United Arab Emirates. Sigh! In addition to this, keyboard search is not available on most mobile devices. This forces the user to flick through the options manually. Searching is slightly better on desktop though, but it’s still limited to searching from the first letter onwards, so typing Emirates on your keyboard is not going to give you United Arab Emirates. You get it… and we’ve not even started talking synonyms yet.
  • The user often has to modify the options in the lists provided.
    Example: We provide a set of default taxes that the user can apply to each invoice line item. Often, however, legislation and taxes change and we must provide the flexibility for the user to add and change the default options. We don’t want the user to go to the engine room (aka settings pages) while creating an invoice. For a fluent workflow, users should update properties like these in context, else we risk the product becomes harder to use than say a word processor template. Unfortunately, the select list cannot technically be extended with inline interface for mingling with taxes. We could of course show a modal dialogue with an interface to modify the taxes list. We’d then return the user to the updated select element when editing options is done. It’s an option, but quite a UX derailment that we’ve seen cause confusion to less experienced users.
  • The same input value can be generated from different selection paradigms.
    Example: Payment terms can be expressed as a relative measure (e.g. Net 30 days), or an absolute value (e.g. Dec. 10th, 2013). One could imagine many solutions combining radio buttons, calendars and selects. None of them seems to provide the kind of simplicity we were aiming for. We don’t want two distinct inputs to select one value.
  • Select element UI interaction makes bad use of screen estate on mobile devices.
    Example: On an iPhone 4 the select element takes up 54% of the screen space (520pt of 960pt vertically). This allows barely five options to be visible in the list. This simultaneously limits gesture space to the same 54% of the screen (Android does a slightly better job in many cases, though).

More than half the space is taken up by barely five options in the select element. Flicking through many options is a pain.
  • Hierarchical data can be a real pain to deal with using the standard select element.
    Option groups which is a part of the select element’s features, have limited usage when you deal with complex hierarchies. Country selection offering sub-selection of states is an obvious example. Standard solutions typically involve lining up multiple select elements. So interaction goes like this: first the user picks one option in one list, then closes that list, interprets the UI adding or unlocking another select element, which must then be clicked, etc. Not totally insane on a desktop browser, but on mobile the pain grows and the visual/contextual relations are easily blurred. I recently heard the previous Principal Designer at Twitter, Josh Brewer, quote someone that Mobile is a magnifying glass for your usability problems which seems right, and in this case it definitely corresponds with Tradeshift’s own usability studies.
  • Styling the select element is poorly supported.
    There’s a whole bunch of reasons for the historically limited options for styling the select element – and even more scripts/hacks exist to overcome these limitations. Bottom line is that if you want your selectable options to fit nicely into your design in various browsers you’re pretty far into Hackland. And even if you go with one of these very nice styling scripts, you’ve not solved any of the interaction issues listed above – you may actually have added a few issues if your hack has changed the scroll wheel or touch behaviours or eliminated the standard “search feature”.

So in spite of the advantages mentioned initially, the many shortcomings we experienced in more complex scenarios simply left us frustrated with the standard select element.

So what can we do now that the cookie cutter solution does not make the cut?

We looked at many existing solutions, also the scripts that re-style the select element. We figured out we had to dig deeper. Please note: I don’t claim we’ve made big inventions in the following or that we invented the solution we ended up choosing. Variants of our final solution have been seen in many places. Also the solution we picked definitely has new shortcomings that we’re working on solving now – but most importantly, it allowed us much more freedom in working with user input and we can provide a consistent experience to our users across a number of scenarios and platforms. I only claim that we had a good critical process where we evaluated the most obvious options, found them insufficient and came up with a solution through a solid RITE process. A process of describing our needs (some listed above), ideating, prototyping and end-user/acceptance testing over and over. We wanted a new UI component that provided richer interaction options while completely replacing the select element, since we didn’t want a mixed user experience depending on what the user is selecting.

The solution

I’ll skip the process and describe what we ultimately ended up deciding on. Mostly by using screenshots – please be aware that these are somewhat early screenshots where copy is not final. To explain, I’ll use a few simple examples from the invoice creation feature, which requires a lot of selections by the user.

Basically the concept is to stack layers with the appropriate options providing ample space for rich interactions:

Phone size view of invoice creation: Stacking rich content layers allows the freedom in designing that we need

In the UI a subtle triangle indicates that there’s a list available for the field (full keyboard navigation is of course supported):

The indicator, here on the invoice due date field, tells the user, that the field must be populated via a picker.

Upon clicking a field with the triangle indicator, a panel sides in smoothly (in most browsers) and the page is darkened with an opaque overlay, which focuses attention on the panel; we call this panel a picker. In this example the user clicks the invoice due field and a list of standard payment terms are presented:

User clicked the invoice due field and gets default options with current one highlighted.

If none of the standard options satisfy the user there’s also the option to specify an absolute date by clicking the last option, specify date:

The second layer presents more fine grained options for specifying an exact due date.

This second layer presents more fine-grained options and is visually layered on top of the first layer, providing context to the user, keeping the user’s mouse and eyes in same position while also allowing back-navigation by closing the picker (escape key or clicking/tapping ‘x’). The visual layering provides an almost breadcrumb-style sense of navigational depth. What’s missing here on the screenshots is unfortunately the smooth horizontal animations further strengthening the sense of context.

Picking a date value closes all picker layers and sets focus back to the initial field activated, invoice due, and the user can tab on:

Focus is back, user can click or tab on…

Another example is clicking the unit type selector in an invoice line (the one that says PCS in screenshot above). Here the current value is highlighted in the picker:

Only four out of hundreds of possible options are listed. Search allows the user to select from the remaining hundreds.

As aforementioned the full list of unit types is counted in hundreds. Meanwhile many smaller companies only use a very limited set of unit types, so instead of presenting the full list we only show the most recently used ones and a search field. Searching, in this case for kilowatt, returns the options from the full set:

Searching quickly brings up options from the huge list.

Picking a value, here Kilowatt (KWT), closes the picker and returns the focus to the target field:

User picked a value and is now back at the initiating field.

Clicking a unit type field again now has Kilowatt hour (KWH) available as an option. Users who use a unit type once are very likely to use that unit type again, so this approach provides a settings free way of defining custom/individual lists:

Reopening the unit picker provides the newly used unit as an option in the short list.

There’s a ton of other examples with more complex dialogues – not least configuration of taxes – which keep the user in the context and don’t abstract away into who-knows-where settings pages. Our studies show that the user usually knows where to find, and how to use the values added, when it all happens in the same context.

Pickers first came up during discussions about dealing with complex selections on smaller devices. (Phone illustration: teehanlax.com)

The concept of pickers first appeared when we started designing the new Tradeshift from a mobile first perspective. I.e. not trying to squeeze the desktop experience into mobile, but more the other way around. On phone size devices we now also have entire invoice lines in pickers instead of presented in the “page body” as on tablet.

It adds some extra layers of pickers, but we’ve found out, that the visual clues provided for the user to establish a mental model of where things are going on, are sufficient to go at least three layers deep. Example of a three layer deep scenario could be: Invoice line (picker on mobile) > List of applicable taxes > Add new tax to list.

Obviously, we wouldn’t believe this could also be the the solution on desktop if we’d not tested it. But out of the different scenarios setup for complex selection of field values in the cases we have, this one won hands down, also on desktop. We’ve found out, that compared to using a series of select elements and modal dialogues, this solution decreases the cognitive load on the user significantly. This, by the way, reminds me of a comment Rebekah Cox (Quora’s first employee and designer) once made: “Design is what we don’t ask the user to do”. I couldn’t agree more. We should free up the users’ mind to work on their business not our tools.

This doesn’t mean there’s not room for improvement. For instance we’ve figured out we need some way to not stick the picker to the right edge of the browser on larger resolutions and keep it closer to the field.

Extended use

An extension made a bit later during the redesign process was using pickers to manipulate and navigate using objects (such as invoices) as “hubs” for navigation:

The invoice is here a hub for navigating and interaction/manipulation.

This allows us to reuse a small-screen friendly design pattern already known by the user while not forcing the user reload another page to get the options.

Implications for the overall design

We’ve come to love the concept of pickers. We use them every time the user needs to populate a field from a set of options. We’ve done enough testing that we’re also confident that our users understand and prefer the pickers over complex select element combinations.

Using the pickers as navigation hubs allowed us to further simplify navigation and present options in-context without forcing the user into subpages or even worse, cluttering the UI into a non-decodable mess. Our lists are now cleaner, it’s easier prioritize the screens for end-user consumption and decision making, and synergies in desktop/mobile seem to pay off as users need to learn fewer patterns. Another benefit is that we technically have less different UI components to maintain.

If you had to start from scratch and the standard form elements didn’t exist, would you end up designing your “multiple options selector for any platform” as it’s implemented with the select element today? Maybe not, and for us this was reason enough to reconsider.

Further Reading

Responsive Design: Getting Advanced Filtering Right

 — A practical example

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How Statistics Get Abused in the Media

Televised sport has gone stats-crazy; now we have to learn which we can trust

When Google’s chief economist Hal Varian remarked that ‘the sexy job in the next ten years will be statisticians’, the producers of sports shows sat up and paid attention.

Nowadays, you can’t go five minutes of couch-dwelling without a slick graph or pie chart telling you what you simply need to know about Team X and Team Y — with the intention of guiding the viewer towards forming a conclusion. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, these statistics don’t paint the full picture. We’re going to take a little look at why and how the media mislead the general public with statistics.

Picture this (made-up) scenario:

FULHAM 9th in table after 34 games

ASTON VILLA 17th in table after 34 games

I am a big believer in utilising statistics when considering potential bets. They are a vital component of decision making. So when John Motson tells you that Fulham are unlikely to lose to Villa at their home ground because they have gone five games unbeaten there, it’s a lock that they’ll avoid defeat. Right?

In a Word…

No. It’s not a lock by any stretch. In this hypothetical example, what Mr Motson has stated is a fact. But then, there are facts and there are facts. He has entertained us with a catchy little nugget, whose relevance lies somewhere along a scale that ranges from so what? to great tip!

What if…?

For example, what if their previous five home games were three draws with other mid-table sides like Swansea, West Ham and WBA, plus two narrow wins against lower-league Bolton and Barnsley in the cups? And what if the two home matches prior to this sequence were defeats to Sunderland and Cardiff? Technically, they are five unbeaten at home, but we cannot infer that they are on a formidable run of form. The commentator has implied a conclusion that is as flimsy as a rag-doll in a rain-storm.

Statistics can be dressed up in a number of ways to suit all kinds of objectives. After all, Motty could just as easily have said ‘Fulham have lost two and drawn three of their last five league games at home’, including the Wigan and Sunderland fixtures while discounting as irrelevant the cup victories against lower-league opposition. No wins in five, versus unbeaten in five, depending on the evidence that the commentator chooses to impart. The facts are the same, however, their context and delivery can be manipulated to encourage the viewer to make a certain inference.

Statistically Speaking, a Lot is Irrelevant

The stats shared by commentators and pundits tend to be deemed worthy of broadcast precisely because of their unusual nature. Facts that are prosaic are not engaging and, simply, don’t get the public’s attention. As such, certain stats that make for snappy soundbites are proffered, with context being manufactured out of largely innocuous, unrelated facts. Despite the fact that they have been framed in a seemingly-meaningful manner, it is important that the viewer understands that not all statistics are relevant.

Which Statistics Can I Trust?

There is no hard-and-fast rule, but I tend to deem as more reliable the stats that are not conjured out of the air. If a number of facts and figures are displayed, rather than a solitary, attention-grabbing one, then it is logical to infer that the statisticians are more interested in trying to give the viewer the full picture, rather than cherry-picking those that will make a lightweight hypothesis appear robust (called selection bias).

When only one is stated, with no context or supporting evidence, then my default stance is one of scepticism until I have delved beneath the surface for more information. After all, ‘Fulham have no home league wins in five’ and ‘Fulham are undefeated at home in five’ are engaging and suggest meaningful patterns. ‘Fulham, a mid-table side, have no real significant run of home form, and anybody trying to splice together a pattern is probably selecting their evidence craftily’ is more accurate, but would probably get Motty into trouble with the BBC. Match of the Day loves a novel statistic, and so should the viewers. However, gamblers should be vigilant against rogue stats: don’t fall into the trap of believing that, because it’s stated on air, it must be significant!

So we have established that plenty of stats are meaningless at worst, and flimsy at best. Do us a favour and help us get our Medium stats up by recommending this article, following us, and spreading the word on Twitter and Facebook ;)

The Sportsrated team write extensively about the psychology of sport, competition, and gambling. Follow them on Twitter, and download their e-book for free.

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