Marvin – Personalized and Smart Virtual Assistant

Over the last two years, I’ve been buying into Internet of Things (IoT) devices. While the devices themselves may be smart, they do not make a smart home.  In comes Marvin.  Unlike many who have gone for Jarvis as a name, I chose the name Marvin from Hitchhiker’s Guild to the Galaxy. Marvin has a brain the size of a planet, which is fitting considering the information it will be processing.
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What about these electric cars? Are they really worth the hype?

Following up on my last post, which was more focused around Google and the driverless car comes this post. Tesla too, created by a very smart and ambitious Elon Musk. Not that I am harping on the accomplishments or the vision, however a lot of what comes out of Tesla in my opinion seem to be repeating the past.  We all know about “Who Killed the Electric Car”.  Has Tesla learned from that? Are they doing things differently?

In my opinion, of which has been formulated based on facts, is that Tesla is repeating some of the same mistakes as GM did in the 90s.  Electric cars carry something called range anxiety.  Replacement batteries are expensive. Charging your battery takes much longer than filling up your tank with gas. These aren’t easy problems to address, but ones that require a lot of money and effort to solve.

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Why is the tech industry desperate to disrupt the auto industry if it doesn’t know what is all about?

Technology blogs and journalists are praising the likes of Google, Tesla and many others.  This is great, those companies are creating terrific products. They are innovating in a market that has been relatively slow to turn around and that has been plagued with various degrees of problems. So why you wonder am I writing this after the title I put up? The short answer… Google, Tesla, and others are NOT the solution or the disruptors of the auto industry.

I’ve gone off on several rants on Facebook, Google+ and in some cases on Twitter.  I really do not want to discredit the advancements Google has made on self driving cars. I also am not looking to discredit Tesla for releasing an electric car. But those products are only scratching the surface of what a full car that can fully disrupt the industry should be. I know, you are probably saying “well Tesla is selling cars”. Yep, you are right. They are good cars. But let me ask you this, are they available to anyone? Is it an inconvenience for you to buy one?

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Great design and user experience for smiles

I’m taking a bit of a break from writing my contextual series to address a few crucial problems that I’ve been seeing on a daily basis. That is the lack of a good user experience. On any given day, I visit close to 50 different sites and use over a dozen apps.  Of those I would say that 75% of them I would not visit or use if they had decent competitors.  The biggest problems with sites and apps these days is that they like to bombard the users with information.  I get that you want to make money from your ads, but displaying them elegantly will yield better results.  Design is also crucial, these days the simple look works and it looks great.

I’ve built my site around the same principles that I talk about. Yes my blog has ads, but I in no way try to distract my readers from the content. I push users to signing up to my newsletter in a box that appears in the top right. That box is set only to be seen once a week.  As for the look and feel, I kept things simple with no fancy logos, gradients, etc. While I may not get a huge amount of traffic, I am sure this design and approach could be used with great success from more popular bloggers.

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Contextual Series: Gathering User Information

This is the third part of my contextual series which will focus on a few technical details on how to gather user information.  I cannot stress this enough, be wary of the user’s privacy.  Make sure that anything you do is covered under your privacy policy and that the data you gather is done with the user’s consent.  As soon as a user considers their experience with your product as being creepy, you have lost the user.

Social networks like Facebook provide us with a wealth of data.  Social networks are a great way to get a user to consent to data without having to get them to fill in forms.  The information these social networks provide to you are bound by terms of service, terms of user and of course a privacy policy. Make sure you keep these in mind while thinking of ways you can use the data.

Before considering social networks as your primary source for data, keep in mind that with the modern web and native applications, your product may already have access to a lot of data that may be useful to you, especially regarding the user’s location. More specific information on a user, like age and gender will require input methods. If the user’s social connections are important to your product or you don’t want to submit users to numerous input fields social networks would be important.

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Contextual Series: User Engagement

In the second part of the contextual series, I will be continuing from where I left off last time with User Onboarding. I’ll be covering how to make your application relevant after the user has gotten past their initial experience.  The goal is to engage with the user in a way that will retain them and have them spend money.

The first few minutes of the user trying your product is crucial. In that short period of time they will decide whether they will uninstall it and move on or keep trying it out. But the next 30 minutes are also just as important. Like a drug, you want the user hooked to your product, you want them to feel as though they are dependant of it.  The most common way products get you addicted is through social engineering by getting you to engage with people you know. While it is something I would recommend each product would do, the product should be able to stand on it’s own even if the user has no friends.

Let’s assume that your product is capable of tracking a lot of data, including basic user profiles to narrow down their demographics and activity history. The data can be used to improve your analytics, determine business logic, and can be used to feed into your contextual engines.

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Contextual Series: User Onboarding

Over the past few years I’ve been working with new technologies and working new techniques for approaching user experience problems. Companies have routinely approached the problem of providing segmented user experiences by selling different products or services. Those who don’t have the resources to do so pick one segment and focus on them while alienating all other users who are trying out their product. I am not a fan of either solutions and there are others who aren’t either.

The proper solution for ensuring that users are happy is by providing a product or a service that feels as though has been built for them. When a user comes to your newspaper site and you know that they like cars, you shouldn’t start giving them news about fashion.  They will see this and leave immediately, likely to never come back. First impressions are everything. But even with that great first impression, if you can’t keep the user interested and engaged, you’ve also lost them.

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Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all!  Hope you have a wonderful time with family and friends.

The holiest of all holidays are those
Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
The secret anniversaries of the heart,
When the full river of feeling overflows;—
The happy days unclouded to their close;
The sudden joys that our of darkness start
As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart
Like swallows singing down each wind that blows!Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Forget marketing if you cannot provide unparalleled support

2013 has been a year where my brand loyalty has gone out the window. A lot of the products and services I used to love have lost me as a customer and a supporter.  Why?  Because I’ve experience poor support.  There were also certain scenarios where I chose to buy a competitive product or service to the one I was considering because their sales and support team made me feel welcome.

This is certainly not a new theory by any means. Companies are hiring agents to man their Twitter and Facebook channels for users complaining.   Having been on both sides of the coin, it isn’t an easy.  As a user, you are frustrated that you aren’t getting what you expected, whether or not expectations are reasonable.  With sometimes unreasonable users, providing may sometimes feel like a lost cause. Let me tell you that it is not, I will share my GoDaddy experiences later.

There are companies that I have been very loyal to over the past 10 years. I’ve praised their product, chanted their name and also showed my support with my wallet.  I’ve also supported brands in general, regardless of the product they released.  When something doesn’t work as expected or breaks, support is the first line of contact. Some bend over backwards trying to make you feel comfortable, even if you are wrong. Then there are others who feel like they just read you an answer from a manual without care of you moving on.  This year, my worst experiences have all been with services, namely Lunarpages, GoDaddy and Spotify.

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Why Lunarpages is no longer my hosting provider

I’ve been with Lunarpages now for nearly 10 years.  Of those 10 years, the last year has been terrible. There have been several instances along the way that were bad. I was more patient then.  I have paid for their services on a yearly basis. I would essentially be paying for 10 months per year. The downside was that I was locked in and had no where to go.

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