Why The Nook Isn’t a Kindle-Killer

First, I have to say that I’m a very happy Kindle owner who tends to read about 6 books a month. That might make my opinion bias when it comes to the Kindle itself, but as reader – I still exist as a consumer of information and books.

The Kindle’s innovation came first with it’s connectivity and delivery platform. It simplified the searching, downloading, and let’s not forget purchasing ease of getting books on the go. Never again did you have to make a trip to the airport bookstore while traveling. Its black and white interface using strict E Ink itself wasn’t innovative, it didn’t reinvent the way people read books. However, Amazon has taken a route taken by Nike and Apple, the long-term iterative improving experience. While the Kindle itself still has it’s limitations (to which many might point to its position on data openness), the constant changes that Amazon does allows the Kindle to adapt, keeping it competitive.

Many Kindle readers already know they can purchase and read books on their iPhone, but there is something that was announced a little more quietly. Amazon now has http://kindle.amazon.com – which at first sight is a bit mediocre. Its initial explanation for its existence too, is a bit… weird. Praising how many customers love their notes and highlights, I can’t imagine that reading the information out of context provides some level of insight in the thought process someone had while making the annotation within the book. This could instead be a preview for online and community shared book notes and annotations. Imagine sharing your books with friends and being able to read the notes each other thought were the most important about a book? Now that’s what will convert traditional readers.

What the Nook has done is something that is a necessary step in the evolution of ebook readers – like CDs, it will change the way things are done from this point forward – though it hasn’t envisioned anything extraordinary. The built in Wi-Fi connection means nothing to the everyday user. Why would they care to configure an additional connection when the always-on 3G network can take care of things without any additional configuration. Adding the idea that people are going to come to Barnes and Noble with their Nook because of the “Free Wi-Fi” is just asinine. The point of having a digital book reader is to reduce trips to a bookstore. Sure there is a touch screen – but it’s for navigation, and yes you can lend to friends for 14 days. When I loan a book my friends typically take it for more then that… but to each his own.

For an ebook reader to truly be a Kindle-Killer they are going to need to change the way people read and communicate about books. Book readers have a connection to the tangible feeling behind books, the feel, the smell of the paper. There is more there then just pages. You are going to have to combat history by changing the conditions of what reading means. Bring people together in either book sharing, long distance book clubs that can allow users to read everyone else’s comments and annotations, or simplifying book publishing. Amazon themselves, while they have ways to publish quickly on the device really drops the ball when it comes to supporting would-be authors with real information about publishing to the device.

Maybe Apple has something that will really shake things up?

Time will tell. Anyone considering making the switch from either a Sony Reader or Kindle to the Nook? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Advertisements

Is The iPhone The New Idea Napkin?

Lo-Fi Wireframe Creating with Brushes on iPhone
Lo-Fi Wireframe Created with Brushes

Last week I was at dinner with a colleague and I was trying to communicate an idea I had. Like many people I’m a visual thinker, so I always look for a pen, and most of the time I have a little notebook in my pocket. I had nothing with me at the time, there were a few napkins on the table but grabbing the only pen used at the register for people to sign their receipts didn’t seem like something I was comfortable doing.

I remembered hearing about an App on the iPhone/iTouch called Brushes [App Store Link], they designed the newest New Yorker cover with it, so I heard anyway. I pulled out my phone and looked it up on the App Store, it was $3.99. I’m already one of those people that area accustomed to the 99¢ apps, but I bought it anyway. I immediately started sketching my idea. I’ve now used it at least once a day to communicate an idea to someone. People already ask me what the app is. It’s small enough on the iPhone that you can put it in the middle of table and collaborate with a small group on ideas. Brushes has quickly changed the way I talk about ideas with my colleagues and prospects. After talking with someone about an idea of their’s I send the image to them over email so they could have a copy of it themselves. That is something I was never really able to do with my napkin sketches.

The End of Bullhorn Salesmanship

A few days ago, I was at the car dealership having some routine service done on my car. I was sitting in the waiting area quietly reading. Five other people joined me in the room, some reading, some chatting, you get the idea – they were all generally self-entertained and seemed comfortable.

A pudgy gentleman comes into the waiting area to partake on the coffee machine. Coffee in hand, turns to everyone and asks, “Any decisions been made on the television?” A closer look at the gentleman revealed a name tag for the car dealership. Most people didn’t really understand what he meant about the television. “Would you like the television on?” Again, most people there were quietly reading, only two were talking amongst themselves, and all of us just looked at him and shrugged, not really offering a solid decision either way. “Any arguments to not turn it on?” Some gentle mumbles of, “not really” were revealed from the group. So he walks over and turns on the news. With a new look of accomplishment he looks back to all of us and inquires, “So who here is interested in looking at some new cars while you wait?” Most people didn’t really take it seriously. One person did explain, “my car is pretty old, but it has low mileage.” She talked briefly to him about her car, but said she wasn’t really interested. “We have some great deals”, he offered. To which she gently nodded and declined.

As he turns back to refill his coffee another woman announced, “what a salesman!”, in a similar tone as if she was using it as a synonym for “gentleman”.

I looked at him and teased, “perhaps offering to refill her coffee and at least introducing yourself could have helped?” (as I noticed the woman he was speaking with had an almost empty cup of coffee next to her). “Time is money”, he said. To which I argued back, “looking at things that way will likely assist you in losing more then just that sale.” He nodded, and walked off.

He seemed to be completely disconnected from the people he was trying to sell on something. Starting with the television, if he was paying attention he would have seen that most of us were wrapped up in other things. Saying, “anyone NOT want me to turn on the television” seems almost humorous. Rarely would anyone speak up at that, in my opinion anyway… I mean who am I to tell someone that they can’t watch television? But no one was saying they wanted it on, he turned it on anyway. Then he immediately jumped on us about wanting to buy something. I didn’t even know this guy’s name yet. He didn’t earn my trust yet so what makes him think I would want to talk with him about buying something? It is no wonder why car salesman get such a bum rap.

These people weren’t cattle, and he wasn’t offering anything we needed. We all had cars. A coffee refill, and introduction with a kind smile, and a business card had a better chance at closing that sale, it would have just taken a little time.

Building a Relationship

I guess I’m a little old-school when it comes to these things. I believe business relationships are built on trust, and trust is built through reputation and word of mouth. I might not know this guy now, but I bet if he made it a habit of introducing himself to the waiting area and passing out some cards it would have been a step closer. Additionally learning peoples names that come in often for oil changes and whatnot tells me that he enjoys talking to me (even if he might not) and isn’t just trying to sell me something (even if he really is). If I just learned from the Service Manager that I was going to have to pay for a new transmission, the last thing on my mind in the waiting area might have been how much money a new car would have cost me (or hey, maybe it would have been the first).

About 6 years ago I was doing some freelance web development work. I had about 15 clients that I worked with somewhat often. I was the type that took impeccable notes about each client and kept the information in my address book about them. Everything down to the names of their children, spouse’s name, sports their kinds played, conflicts they were having… anything and everything. When I saw them I would ask about them, or just send them a quick note via email, “I hope the issue with (blank) worked out, you seemed pretty stressed.” I built a relationship with my clients. When I saw something in an article online that I thought would interest them, I would send it over. If it was in the paper – I would fax it. Not everyday, nor every week. But when I saw something that I knew would be genuinely helpful, I would send it. The trust grew. When I was then starting to work in other areas of development, they were interested in hearing what I had to say and how it might help them. I would tell them straight up if I thought something would help or not. They trusted me to help them make the right decision because they knew I valued their success in business just as much as they did, and it was true, because I honestly did.

I still do this today with business contacts using Highrise. All of my notes about my contacts go in there. Anytime I’m about to email or meet with them about something I look at my notes to see what they were up to the last time we chatted. A solid connection is made, and people typically prefer to do business with people they like and trust, rather then someone just trying to get something out of them or sell them something. The experience a client or prospect has with you is a big deal, in every interaction they have with your company, so don’t let it be the last thing you think about.

Card Sorting Your Way to an Improved User Experience

The Internet really brings some great benefits in further making information that normally wouldn’t be easy to find more accessible to the masses. The phrase “information in power” is often quoted, and just as with power, with great information comes great responsibility to those users who might need to find something amongst that information. Card sorting is a common practice in information organization that has been used in the web by information architects and designers since the mid 90’s.

All of us have our own way of looking at multiple items and categorizing them into groups, often times however the people we might be categorizing them for would have sorted them a far different way. This is where card sorting plays it’s role, it offers us a peek at how the users of a website might categorize (and thus search for) information on an ecommerce or large-scale information rich website.

It’s really simple to get started; a card sorting session doesn’t need to be overly technical by any means and is very cheap to execute. A Sharpie or pen and a stack of index cards are all the supplies you will need. Then there are the participants… if you have a physical store, ask some of your repeat customers. If it’s a company or organization, ask your clients or members. The key rule is, if you are a stakeholder in the website you aren’t allowed to do any sorting. Just watch and listen.

Using the index cards, write the names of the items you are trying to sort on the cards. Use only one item per card. For example, if I am making a cooking website perhaps I want to sort recipes, so my first card might read, “Lasagna”. Then for each additional recipe I would continue to write the name of a recipe down on it’s own individual card.

card-sorting-web.jpg

TWO TYPES OF CARD SORTING EXERCISES
With your cards ready to go there are two primary ways a participant might work with the cards:

Open Sorting is a session in which there are no pre-established groupings. It is up to the participants themselves to determine the groups of items and the names they would call the groups. If you can, this is by far the best way that you will understand how a user of your website will be looking for information. You will be able to gather far better results if you ask them to sort the items without restriction.

Closed Sorting is a little less helpful in my personal opinion as you have already created pre-established groups for the participant to sort their items into. For example, on my fictitious cooking website I might have told the participant to sort them into groups of “Italian”, “Mexican”, “Desserts”, and “Other”. To really mix things up I could add groups of “Pasta”, “Pastry”, and “Poultry” to give them some options that might give me a further understanding on how people might use my cooking website. Most designers and architects, myself included, do not encourage closed sorting because of the general restrictions on the results gathered.

The procedure is really just that simple. Take your stack of index cards and ask your participant to sort the items on the cards, as they feel most comfortable. There are no rules, or wrong answers. Don’t give clues of, “well that item has pasta in it, are you sure you want to put it there?” Just hand them the cards, and get out of their way. When the sorting is over feel free to ask questions to better understand their approach so you might best understand your website users behavior when looking through your products or information.

Remember also that your results will vary. You might find in some cases that your various participants are very consistent in their organizational style, while other times you might find that they vary widely. Don’t get discouraged, and realize that this is just a tool to help you understand your users, it is not a silver bullet to perfect organizational design and it may not apply as well to all websites being developed. No one is grading you here, so take your time and have fun with it.