When your app hits a snag, how do you treat your users?

Google+ site errorI really don’t mind being patient with Google+ site errors, but I really would prefer an accurate error message to being given a list of all the things it *could* be.

But let’s talk about our own websites, and how they could work better when errors pop up.  You should ensure that your users are given a direct path to fixing whatever just happened.  And for bonus points, consider providing users a simple, clickable path to recommended resolutions so that they spend as little time as possible dealing with these kinds of unfortunate interruptions when they do happen.  In my case with Google+ just a few moments ago, if I were given an error message that properly reflected the problem that I was encountering, I may have been able to resolve things myself and keep on keepin’ on.

Instead, this is what happened:

  • I was reading a good WordPress blog post and decided I’d +1 it. (Still sounds weird … but so did “like” at first.)
  • I clicked on the +1 button, and was shown a little red box with an exclamation point. No indicator of what happened, and mousing over it still did not give me an error message.
  • I clicked on it again and got a popup to their help docs with a variety of reasons for why the error could occur. Still don’t know what happened so I can take the next step to fix it.
  • I blogged about what happened.
  • I “liked” the blog post I was reading using the Facebook widget just to the right of the +1 🙂

And while this was a small, inconsequential issue that I enountered (I wasn’t submitting a resume or banking online, or anything like that), I think it’s a good reminder for designers and developers to give users a graceful experience when their websites get the hiccups. I understand that it’s often the last thing on your project’s to-do list, and might be your clients’ lowest priority, but be careful that proper error handling doesn’t fall of the radar completely.

Think about the web sites you’ve used yourself, and how your experience when that site encountered errors compares to what you expected it to be. And while you should remember that form always follows function, consider spending some extra time making your error handling a little more charming and funny! I’m a huge fan of funny 404 pages (this is a personal favorite), and you could certainly create a similar experience when your users hit a snag anywhere else on your site.

Contextual help and obvious resolutions make all the difference to a user when they encounter an error within your application, and getting those people back on track quickly will directly affect the successful adoption of your website!

Making QR Codes Mainstream

You are fascinated by a painting you’ve discovered, and want to see more of the artist’s work.  You’ve been pricing a new toy at Best Buy, but need to see which stores carry it in hot pink.  You are walking past a billboard for the hippest band in town and want to add it to your digital calendar without skipping a beat.  Maybe you’re even reading an article about QR codes on your laptop, and want to quickly take it with you and share with a friend.  Manufacturers and marketers have been steadily dropping more of these blocky barcodes all around us, but do you know how to use them yet?

Scanning this QR code will take you to https://grantnorwood.com/.
Scanning this QR code will take you to https://grantnorwood.com/.

A QR code (quick response code) is a simple 2D barcode that holds 4 to 10 times the information compared to that of the standard barcode format.  And while QR codes were first used for tracking inventories in Japan, the uses of this openly standardized barcode format have become almost limitless, especially in the marketing world.  QR code readers are available for most every smartphone platform (for free), and with a simple point and snap with your phone’s camera, you can be transported to a URL to find out more about a new product or automatically add a colleague to your contacts list.

So if QR codes are so easy to use, and extremely useful to most anybody with a smartphone, why doesn’t everybody use them in their daily life?  Simple, we haven’t crossed that chasm yet.  In “Crossing the Chasm”, a marketing book by Geoffrey A. Moore, he describes 5 primary segments of technology adopters, each having their own traits, and each called to action by something different.  Technology Adoption LifecycleThey adopt changes to the technology in their life at different rates, each segment building on top of the momentum created by previous segments.  And while there is already huge value to using QR codes across the web, print, mobile and social mediums, we’re still very much in the early adopter phase.  This is no different than the advent of CDs or the daily usage of Facebook.  How long does it take you to switch over to what’s new, and how does that compare with others around you?

As a developer for interactive marketing agency Springbox, we most recently used them to announce our free holiday-themed wallpapers for mobile devices, and often pitch QR codes to clients who are looking for the coolest new way to connect with both new and existing customers, and quickly direct public interest to their campaign.

The good news is that QR code technology is simple to use, and it’s free!  With free apps like ZXing’s Barcode Scanner for Android, Ricoh’s iCandyMobile for iPhone and iPod Touch, or BeeTagg for BlackBerry, there are few obstacles to being able to scan codes easily from a mobile device.

All of us can be consumers of QR codes, but there is a chasm between early adoption and the beginning of mainstream.  This is where exponentially rapid adoption becomes a requirement to cross over to the Early Majority phase, or risk fizzling out.  Barcodes are not human-readable, so they may appear difficult to use.  But the action of snapping a QR code can save precious moments many, many times over.  It’s the difference between the grocery clerk manually ringing up every item’s price on paper, or scanning your cart’s items using a sophisticated barcode and reader.  And in the marketing world, fast engagement is key to staying relevant to the customer and improving conversion rates.

When users discover how they can create their own QR codes from major websites like Google’s ZXing project and Kaywa, or send them as coupons in their email newsletters using MailChimp, they will not only better understand what is available to them, but innovators will keep pushing the envelope with what the technology is capable.  This is demonstrated simply by the evolution that has already occurred, where barcodes for scanning automobile parts have been repurposed for other industries and consumed by the general public on advertisements, hockey game programs, t-shirts, and not surprisingly, food.

So if you want to help take QR codes from “that’s cool” to “I gotta have it”, just start scanning!

Show your friends and your family what you’ve learned, and help them get a reader on their device so they can enjoy showing up early to the party this time.

Be a champion amongst your co-workers by suggesting some of the many business applications of 2D barcodes, and proving how much value QR codes create for your company and your customers.

SXSWi 2011: My Topics of Interest

Springbox is sending a dozen employees to this year’s SXSW Interactive festival. So we asked them: “What topics are you interested in learning more about at SXSW Interactive?” Here are Senior Developer Grant Norwood’s topics of interest.

I’m going to take the non-profit route at this year’s SXSWi. I volunteer my time and talents to several non-profit organizations because I share a belief in their causes and I support the ways in which each execute upon their respective missions. But more than that, during SXSWi, I want to narrow my focus within the almost overwhelming choices of panels offered.

I’ve spent much of my career in the enterprise and product development worlds and I’m programmed to keep an eye on increasing revenue and reducing costs within any business environment.  By eliminating the distractions of my natural interests with my non-profit strategy at SXSWi, I’ll have a comfortable and comprehensive list of panels I can attend without feeling spread too thin. Here are my overall areas of interest:

Non-Profit Branding

It’s no surprise that every non-profit needs to market itself in order to be successful. I’m looking for answers to these questions:

  • How does one take their charitable organization from a moderately successful size with loyal users to one with exceptionally rapid growth and a fully mainstream presence?
  • How does a non-profit organization build and leverage public partnerships with other successful brands and personalities to better achieve its mission?
  • How does partnering with other for-profit organizations benefit the partner, and how does one best approach those partners for their support?

Attracting Talent and Growing a Team

Whether you’re building the next great product or saving the whales, a talented team of individuals can make or break your organization and its endeavors, and how are teams of volunteers are managed differently than those made up of paid employees.

Measuring Success

How does one know when their efforts are paying off, when their message has been received and where they can improve? I’m not just talking donations and ROI here; I want to know more.

Article originally published by Springbox at http://www.springbox.com/insight/post/SXSWi-2011-Grant-Norwoods-Topics-of-Interest.aspx.

Could Apple be making nice with developers?

Apple has released a surprising statement that seems to relax restrictions on both developers and the tools they use to create apps.  BlackBerry has long been an open and easy environment to write code, and Google Android‘s approach is even more so.  Apple risks losing market share if they can’t make developers happy, and I’m one of them.  They also released more information on the guidelines they use to approve apps in the App Store.  It’s hard to believe they were so secretive about the rules they used to judge new applications and were notorious for rejecting apps with no concrete broken rule given.

The following is the statement from Apple, as you must have a developer account to access the actual URL:

We are continually trying to make the App Store even better. We have listened to our developers and taken much of their feedback to heart. Based on their input, today we are making some important changes to our iOS Developer Program license in sections 3.3.1, 3.3.2 and 3.3.9 to relax some restrictions we put in place earlier this year.

In particular, we are relaxing all restrictions on the development tools used to create iOS apps, as long as the resulting apps do not download any code. This should give developers the flexibility they want, while preserving the security we need.

We are continually trying to make the App Store even better. We have listened to our developers and taken much of their feedback to heart. Based on their input, today we are making some important changes to our iOS Developer Program license in sections 3.3.1, 3.3.2 and 3.3.9 to relax some restrictions we put in place earlier this year.
In particular, we are relaxing all restrictions on the development tools used to create iOS apps, as long as the resulting apps do not download any code. This should give developers the flexibility they want, while preserving the security we need.

This has 2 big impacts on my world as an iPhone developer and user.  First, it gives me back the tools to create mobile apps across platforms faster, and with better quality and stability.  Code toolsets like Appcelerator Titanium and PhoneGap are amazing examples of integrating languages, platforms and technologies to produce mobile software for multiple devices!

The second impact is on myself as a user, and the fact that my iPhone web browsing experience is often crippled by error messages where Adobe Flash content should be running.  While Apple is still leaving its restriction on Flash within the Safari Mobile browser in place, Adobe tools like Packager – which can convert Flash apps into iPhone apps – are now being approved for the App Store.  The product’s web page up until now has had a “discontinued” message after Apple started playing some really hard ball.

So, assuming this huge announcement is genuine and represents a real change in my relationship with them, I’ll say thanks to Apple.  Keep it up – this is how we want you and the entire mobile market to behave.  We’ll see where this all goes, of course, but given your previous history with developers, I’ll keep an eye on them for future threats to my choice of toolsets.  But without a doubt, my heart grew 3 sizes after reading about this move.

Apple releases iOS 4.1 to iPhone and iPod

Today, Apple released the latest version of the operating system behind the iPhone, iPod and iPad, iOS v4.1.  Of course, the iPad still only runs iOS 3.2 which is a little disappointing.  However, also announced was a status update on the future iOS 4.2, which will bring multitasking, folders, and other functionality to the iPad, will be here in November.  Finally!

I hadn’t downloaded iTunes 10 yet, so I had to sit and wait a bit.  iTunes 10 is an improvement in the look n’ feel, so that’s a plus.  I’m not the biggest iTunes fan in the first place after often losing photos, overwriting contacts, and other disasters that never happened with my BlackBerry Pearl.  Not even once.  And with this latest version also comes support for Apple’s new music-related social networking service, “Ping”.  More on that as it evolves.

iOS 4.1 has a few new features:

 

  • Updated Game Center
  • HDR photos
  • HD video uploads over WiFi
  • TV show rentals

I can’t wait to try out the TV show rentals feature, though mostly just to test out the technology.  My eyes wouldn’t last long staring at any phone’s relatively small screen for 30 mins or more at a time.  The HDR photos addition is arguably one of the cooler features, however I can’t give it a test drive with my 3GS, it’s for iPhone 4 owners only.  There’s a great tutorial on the subject of HDR photography at Ars Technica and how to use the new feature.  Some may argue that the method in which iOS implements the feature is “not true HDR”, which is an interesting point.  I’ll take a look at some of the third party apps for comparison before I render judgement on the quality of the resulting image, though.

The iOS 4.1 installation to my iPhone went smoothly, just as I expected.  There are rarely huge problems updating the iPhone operating systems, but always remember to do a separate backup of your device before you start any update as a best practice!  The best improvement with the update was the extra speed on my 3GS.  From applications to animations, and even resuming from it’s “locked” state, my phone runs perceivably faster.

I do recommend that everybody grab this latest update to your phone, it’s a safe and quick installation.