On Engagement, Retention, and Distribution

This is a whole new category of study for me. Here are few sources that are getting me started.

Keith Schacht writes an amazing detailed how-to for analyzing your product’s customers entitled Web and Mobile Products: Understanding your customers, while defines the term viral loop and how to build your own viral loop in his article What’s your viral loop? Understanding the engine of adoption.

“Regardless of a company’s earlier success, thriving in the new mobile app economy depends on engagement and retention. After acquiring users, the real battle to keep and ultimately monetize consumers begins”, from App Engagement: The Matrix Reloaded.

“the power of the network effect is fading, at least in its current incarnation. Traditionally defined as a system where each new user on the network increases the value of the service for all others, a network effect often creates a winner-takes-all dynamic, ordaining one dominant company above the rest ..” from The Network Effect Isn’t Good Enough.

“A viral product derives much of its growth from its current users recruiting new users. A user could recruit another through a simple invitation (“Check out this product, it’s cool/useful/entertaining!”), or directly through using the product (“I want to send you money on PayPal!”)”, from How to Model Viral Growth: The Hybrid Model.

More than a century and a half before our modern malady of confusing productivity with purposefulness and the urgent with the important, Thoreau wrote in an entry from the last day of March in 1842:

The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure. There will be a wide margin for relaxation to his day. He is only earnest to secure the kernels of time, and does not exaggerate the value of the husk. Why should the hen set all day? She can lay but one egg, and besides she will not have picked up materials for a new one. Those who work much do not work hard.


Detour: Location-Aware Audio Walks

Detour is a brand new way to experience the world. Gorgeous audio walks in San Francisco that reveal hidden stories, people and places all over SF. Each hour-long Detour takes you at your own pace, your own schedule, alone or synced with friends.

Lovely idea, an “immersive location-aware audio walk service”, perfect for people like me who might land in a place alone and might appreciate a guide to the more interesting places off the beaten path. Similar to something I explored before.

A redesign of the iOS notification center

Some nice ideas but in practice I doubt I would use them. People prefer to do most of their interaction within the app itself. Notifications are simply alerts and as such don’t need to be interacted with. Launching the app that sent the alert is only a swipe away, that should be efficient enough.

Arnold Lund’s Expert Ratings of Usability Maxims

I’ve been doing allot review/reading lately, visiting dog-eared old books, and looking through my Evernote bucket for tidbits of user experience wisdom. I came across this list of 34 maxims (this format was at one time particularly popular) created by Arnold Lund. I find lists like this particularly useful for mapping to past learning and experience. Created in 1997, it’s still as relevant today as it was then, and it serves as a useful reminder and a great guide for future work.

  1. Know thy user, and YOU are not thy user.
  2. Things that look the same should act the same.
  3. Everyone makes mistakes, so every mistake should be fixable.
  4. The information for the decision needs to be there when the decision is needed.
  5. Error messages should actually mean something to the user, and tell the user how to fix the problem.
  6. Every action should have a reaction.
  7. Don’t overload the user’s buffers.
  8. Consistency, consistency, consistency.
  9. Minimize the need for a mighty memory.
  10. Keep it simple.
  11. The more you do something, the easier it should be to do.
  12. The user should always know what is happening.
  13. The user should control the system. The system shouldn’t control the user. The user is the boss, and the system should show it.
  14. The idea is to empower the user, not speed up the system.
  15. Eliminate unnecessary decisions, and illuminate the rest.
  16. If I made an error, let me know about it before I get into REAL trouble.
  17. The best journey is the one with the fewest steps. Shorten the distance between the user and their goal.
  18. The user should be able to do what the user wants to do.
  19. Things that look different should act different.
  20. You should always know how to find out what to do next.
  21. Don’t let people accidentally shoot themselves.
  22. Even experts are novices at some point. Provide help.
  23. Design for regular people and the real world.
  24. Keep it neat. Keep it organized.
  25. Provide a way to bail out and start over.
  26. The fault is not in thyself, but in thy system.
  27. If it is not needed, it’s not needed.
  28. Colour is information.
  29. Everything in its place, and a place for everything.
  30. The user should be in a good mood when done.
  31. If I made an error, at least let me finish my thought before I32. have to fix it.
  32. Cute is not a good adject33. ive for systems.
  33. Let people shape the system to themselves, and paint it with their 34. own personality.
  34. To know the system is to love it.

Reference: Lund, A M (1997) “Expert Ratings of Usability Maxims.” Ergonomics in Design: The Quarterly of Human Factors Applications, Volume 5, Number 3 (July) pp. 15-20.

If something that seems like work to other people doesn’t seem like work to you, that’s something you’re well suited for.


The stranger your tastes seem to other people, the stronger evidence they probably are of what you should do.


What seems like work to other people that doesn’t seem like work to you?
Paul Graham

Finding a replacement for iA Writer

Image from iA Writer press kit

Image from iA Writer press kit

Microsoft Word was deleted from my computer many years ago, it possessed far more features than my needs required, and it’s ridiculously heavy handed interface was painful to use. Since then I’ve experimented with a number of different solutions, from the robust Nisus Writer to the simplistic Textedit. I also created prototype for a “universal text box” from which all data could be sent, much like Drafts 4 or Editorial on iOS today, but I lacked the programming ability to make it work. Eventually, I settled on BBEdit and Textmate for a long period of time for both writing words and mark-up. Then along came iA Writer and despite a particularly rough start, whereby it didn’t support Chinese, it has been my go to tool for writing text of all lengths ever since.

I love the simplicity, the bundled typeface and the fact that I can open the app. on my iPhone, start typing almost immediately, come home, finish where I left off on my Mac, and later edit on my iPad. Markdown support means I don’t have to remove my hands from the keyboard. There is also the oft promoted concept of distraction free writing, which has value, but until you block Facebook, distraction is still only a keystroke away. There are a number of other subtle decisions they have made that make using the app. a joy, including how it saves with an automatic title in case I forget to.

iA Writer is an important part of my workflow, enough so, that any email that requires a thoughtful response, beyond my usual short blunt replies, particularly anything written in Chinese, is first written in iA Writer.

There are a multitude of dedicated note taking apps. which might be better suited to the majority of what I do, Notational Velocity, Evernote, and Apples bundled notes app. come to mind but I prefer to do as much of my writing in one environment as possible.

Unfortunately, lately I’ve noticed a couple shortcomings with iA Writer which I surprisingly hadn’t noticed in the past.

First, after you have written your document, you need to do something with it, save, send and print are the usual choices (“what can you do next” are natural questions you might record in testing). Unfortunately, iA Writer has extremely limited options in terms of where you can “send” the document. On the iOS version you can email the formatted doc. from within the app., which allows you to send it to Evernote or to an email recipient. Using the Mac version you can open the saved files in other software that supports the exported format. There isn’t a publish to services like WordPress or Evernote feature, which seems like an odd exclusion for an app. designed in an age where many never sent their writing to print. In iOS 8 you can use the open in service to send to Evernote but it’s saved as an attached file and unusable. Cut’n’paste is the quickest way to use the text you have written, but cut’n’paste is still painful in iOS. This in itself isn’t a deal breaker, but this lack of any real publishing options takes away from the overall utility of the software.

Bug: an annoying new behaviour of hiding the text behind the extended keyboard.

Bug: an annoying new behaviour of hiding the text behind the extended keyboard.

Second, and most disastrously, you cannot search text inside an iA Writer document. At least not using iA Writer and not using Spotlight on the Mac (Spotlight doesn’t index Markdown files). I realised this recently when I received an email thanking me for my interest in an opportunity, and asking to set a time to come to their company to discuss. Well, I didn’t remember sending an email to this person, but I did recognise a name in the email chain, and tried to search my past correspondence for any mentions. There were none, in fact no results appeared for any common search terms in iA Writers iCloud folder. I thought it was some bug in OS X, of which there are an increasingly large number of late, but iA Writer support graciously informed me via twitter that it was a limitation of Spotlight. They gave me a possible solution which didn’t work. On iOS you can’t search content inside a different app.’s database (one possible work around for iOS is to abandon iCloud and switch to Dropbox, thereby allowing others apps. access.) Siloing peoples data inside your app. seems like a huge mistake and judging by their support forum, it’s a mistake they don’t seem to be in any rush to rectify. iA Writer is not a good place to leave your data.


Bug 2: Often when I use iA Writer on my iPad I can’t bring up the sharing options or open another file. The bottom and top areas of the interface disappear when writing but often don’t want to reappear. Only doing the iOS equivalent of a force quit brings it back.

Because of this I have spent time looking at a number of different editors that support markdown, including: ByWord, iA Writer Pro (still no search), Typed, Desk, Daedalus and Ulysses.

I use Evernote a great deal but have never really enjoyed using it to enter text, it’s more of a collaboration tool and data bucket for me.

Byword wouldn’t work without internet connectivity the first time I opened the app., and there were some quirks with Chinese text. Importantly you can search! The publishing feature is great, if a bit unpolished, and will send your unformatted text straight to Evernote. If WordPress is your thing Desk on the Mac might be a better choice. It uses the default type choices on iOS which aren’t that great.

iA Writer Pro has a number of features that should be present in iA Writer, like night mode, plus adds a whole new workflow that at least initially places your files in different folders depending on the particular stage of writing you are in. The result tends to be confusion and even greater difficulty in finding past documents.

Typed looks promising but there isn’t an iOS version at present. I’ve tried apps. with soundtracks that supposedly help you get in the zone and I personally don’t see the need. Seems like a distraction to both the writer and the developer.

Desk is the one app. I haven’t tried but it does look very promising, especially with an enthusiastic developer and a growing community. Unfortunately there isn’t an iOS version and it’s current focus on WordPress makes it perhaps not an ideal choice. I will follow it’s development and recommend it to others when appropriate.

Daedalus main purpose appears to be as an iOS partner to Ulysses with a mental model of how to treat document management even more obtuse than iA Writer Pro. I wanted to like it but felt it’s forced metaphor got in the way.

Ulysses is far more extensible than my needs require but the complexity of the tool can be easily hidden. It’s extensive export options could prove to be valuable. Unfortunately it too doesn’t support web services, nor does it have iA Writer’s Nitti typeface, but there are work arounds. Importantly it supports full text search, including iA Writers files on iCloud, which may allow me to continue to use a different solution on iOS. That will mean I won’t be able to use apples oft touted “hand-off” feature but I have yet to see that work in any real world use case. It’s truly a wonderful app. to use.

Since I started writing this short piece, iA Writer for Mac has been updated with the ability to add links using Markdown. I love this stripped down approach to software, just adding what is absolutely necessary and not trying to appeal to all possible use cases. The fact that so many developers agree is great as it gives a range of choices. While I am still rooting for iA Writer to fix the above mentioned problems, it’s now a toss up between Ulysses and Byword, which though designed towards different needs, seem to both work well for me.

Experience Design is a team sport

Anyone can design experiences, the difficulty lies in designing and creating great user experiences – the latter requires a variety of disciplines and skills. This can prove difficult as we see departments and disciplines fighting over ownership of the ‘customer experience’ from design and IT through to marketing and branding. But designing great experiences is a team sport requiring responsive rugby squads rather than process driven relay teams. In this presentation Leslie will discuss why UX teams should look beyond the obvious UX players and create cross-departmental rugby teams.

Sunk Cost Effect

We’re reluctant to pull out of something we’d put effort into.

When we put time and effort into something, we’re motivated to make it work. We therefore often continue to invest into it even if it brings us losses. Examples include continuing to pump money into a failed business idea, or attending a play when sick only because the tickets were pre-purchased. Arkes, Hal R., and Catherine Blumer, “The psychology of sunk cost”, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Vol. 35, No. 5, December 1985, 124-140.

This characterises so much of my behaviour, from continuing to invest in Chinese studies, despite seldom needing anything above a very rudimentary level, to continuing to doggedly insisting on being an entrepreneur, despite not possessing the required capital, human or otherwise (I suppose continuing to live in Taiwan counts too).

Via Cognitive lode