Sunday, October 30, 2011

Twitter and 140 characters. It's not about content.

The idea I want to expose is probably nothing new, but still I think worth to explain again - in a different light given the recent moves from Facebook and Google+.

In this post I argue that the 140 character limit has not so much to do with the fact that such short texts are fast and easy to read. Neither that it limits "chatty" comments. Rather, I think it has all to do with the visual flow. 140 characters allow to display content in boxes of very similar and regular size, and it allows to display a flow even on smaller mobile devices.

So let's discuss first how I discount the importance of text size:
- To get around the short size, people are using all kinds of hashtags, using lots of abbreviations, squeezing punctuations. That makes tweets actually hard to read. For a matter of facts, I often see people not familiar with Twitter looking at my timeline and saying "I don't understand what they write". The keyword here is obfuscation. Sure, when you're using Twitter a lot, that helps, but for the average user, that makes tweets no faster to read that longer, but clearer ones.
- Is 140 character a sanity limit against too chatty people? Probably not, they write just much more tweets to compensate (You're probably in the 10% if you know that story from 2009).

So now why has Twitter been so successful? I'll argue that its decisive advantage against Facebook and MySpace is the visual design. More specifically, it's table design. In short, Twitter is like Excel. And it's no coincidence that Excel is still one of the most popular software out there.

Table are quick to proceed, and an extremely efficient way to navigate through information - even if it's text. You can also see that with the popularity of the table in HTML since it's early days. If tag clouds were more efficient to parse, they would have dominate the web. But they are not efficient, so they stay as a neat gadget out here.

In current visual design, grids are everything. And are the base for visual consitency. The iPhone resolution is based on the grid that widgets based on. So it's really rooted into the device.

So now take a look at those screen captures:

This is Google Plus. I can only see one and a half post, and those are relatively small ones. Some post may cover many screens. Also the bottom bar is taking up more space.

This is Twitter. Despite two posts being very near 140 characters, 4 tweets are fitting on one screen. There is a difference in height between a one liner and a full 140 characters tweet, but it's not that big.

So if your goal is to follow quite a big quantity of different sources, Twitter is definitely more efficient, because it enables such a fast raster between tweets. Google is more seeking depth and content richness, which is fully ok, but in my opinion the reason Twitter is not going to disappear yet.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My IAA Report

This post comes a bit late as I have been kept quite busy lately by private stuff... So finally here it is, with a few weeks delay:

So again this time, I went to the IAA in Frankfurt. This is the biggest motor show in the world, so I thought it would be worth getting there again. And of course, I'm interested in cars, so I wanted to see the last developments.

There's a lot to report about. And I didn't try that hard to seek information. So I'll go over a few different aspects of the show.


Like last time, I was impressed by the sheer size of the marketing involved. Millions invested in making huge boots, with huge screens, loud music, and all the like. Well, this time again. I'll describe that in the booth section. Going there a Friday, I was surprised of the crowded attendance. It seem to have been quite a successful year for the show. So let's begin with the report:


Some things have changed obviously since two years ago. Going by some brands, my impressions:
- Audi got outside with a mega-booth that was quite impressive from an architectural view. They have an integrated driving circuit in the building, which has its effect, but the expo space inside was quite limited. It was incredibly crowded, so it was hard to even see entire cars. Two years ago, it was almost quiet at the Audi booth.

- Mercedes had a HUGE booth. It's gigantic. Very impressive scenery, actually mimicking their Stuttgart Museum. Lots of people there, but enough space to enjoy the models and go into the cars:

- BMW presented something similar to two years ago, slightly modified. They seem to still run on the investment they made two years ago - also on the environment side. No big new things there.

- Porsche had a booth open to everyone - in contrast to other luxury & sport brands like Ferrari or Aston Martin. You may argue that those are more luxurious, I think partly this has to do with the desire from Porsche to be in the hearts of the nation. They're proud to be considered a popular car maker. I was told by friends "you can drive to work with a Porsche, not with a Ferrari". So kudos to Porsche on that. I could step in a Panamera by the way, where the brown leather on the console was quite blending the outside view. Better take that boring black, it's mostly used for a reason!

- Renault had a quite laid back, well organized booth. And it was full of elegance. Simple but beautiful cars, with original but very trendy colours. Also they have a lot going on on the green side. More on the next section. What I also really liked on their booth is both their attention to design, with quite a few concept cars that are much more original than the German ones, as well as their attention to the past. Mercedes used the history trick in the former IAA, Renault presented a fantastic R4 this year:


There were not many breaking new designs to see. One effect I could notice is that corners are now a property of very expensive cars. May there be Lamborghinis, Rolls Royce, or Mercedes.
Mini is going bold with the new coupé serie. VW presented quite some interesting variations of the Up, but those are just artist works that will never land in a store.


Of course, everyone is doing a pitch on environment. Except maybe Rolls Royce. Still, I saw nothing completely new. On the evolution side though, there quite some changes to observe. For one, there were a whole hall reserved for alternative energies, said the entry panel at least (well actually, once I was in, there was only a half hall).
Personally, I think the big change now is that major cars company are now selling electric cars. Yes, Renault, I'm looking at you! Renault comes with 4 different models, some from scratch, other basing on existing traditional models. Not all are available now on the market, but should soon. Renault was by far the big company putting its electric strategy in the forefront, but Opel was there also with the Ampera, which is now available for sale, based on the Chevy Volt.
There are also some new accessories appearing: SolarWorld makes a product called the SunCarport, and as its name suggest it, it's a carport with a roof made of solar cells. So you can park your car under it, and the carport produces clean energy that can be either fed into the utilities or used to recharge the car. We'll see how that second use case goes as people usually drive away with their car at day.
Outside the "electric hall" there were a small fleet of e-cars for test drives. It struck me how silent those cars are, especially when driving slow. Sure additional sound will be needed to make them secure for pedestrians.


Actually, while there were not that much breaking news on the green side, for the me the great novelty was the explosion of driving assistants. Mercedes was doing a live demo with a full simulator to present its concept while showing a car driving on the highway.
What is very interesting here, is that a few companies now do have a technology for self driving car. Audi was mentioning the technology but I didn't see any demo.
IBM had a small booth around Smarter Transportation (disclaimer: I work there). I wonder why Google wasn't there with their self-driving technology. Tech is invading the real world. Actually, it is quite interesting that car makers are telling a lot "We're not taking you the control", because in many cases they have. Many of the tech presented on the show is actually very near self-driving tech. Audi lane assist, for example, was recently shown on TV more or less taking the car alone through a curve. We're going to see much more discussion around that in the next few years.

Also the cars do now have a very impressive connectivity. All kinds of players are connectible by default, many cars propose WLAN in the car, etc. The iPads and iPhones are invading the in-car electronics. How long before an entertainment system or even car information goes on the smartphones or tablets? Not long, I think. It's happening right now in the planes, but that's a topic for another post.

Sunday, October 09, 2011


Thanks to Blogger, this blog is now accessible from mobile devices - smartphones, iPods and similar. Tablets should be able to use the usual desktop formatting. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Plain HTML: Back to the Roots

Forget application servers, content managers, JSF, ruby on rails... When I work on a web page or small web app for me, I try as far as possible to go with plain HTML and JavaScript. I think I need to justify myself now to why I'm mostly sticking to that tech.

- It's elegant. Probably my favorite reason - the code is all consistent because there's no other dependency than the browser. So the code can be capitalized correctly and formatted properly. It's very compact, so it has probably less bugs than in some more chatty format that many frameworks usually produce.
- It keeps you in contact with the underlying technology. And the web technology is advancing fast. Chance is your plain content will be able to do always more (CSS animations anyone?) with so less code than a non-native framework. Why using any framework function when the browser can do it alone? It's often faster and more reliable with the browser technology, and that way also doesn't need bridge technologies like external renderers (Flash! Silverlight!). Often, frameworks are a bit behind, so it's always good to be up to date and know when to do simpler.
- You can use your usual tooling. You never know when a framework will need a strange compiler or Java library that is cumbersome to get and use. That risk just isn't there with plain HTML/CSS/JavaScript. You can just start your favorite editor and push updates to the server with any tools you're comfortable with, from the file manager to an automated rsync script.

Of course, almost the same could be said of Unix tools - except that the Unix command line doesn't have ground-breaking changes anymore...

Edit 10/08/2011:
Thinking back about this post remembered me how Amazon made EC2 available as a static page host platform. Of course, EC2 doesn't imply a back to the root approach - you could use GWT's compiler, over even a homebrew code generator to produce a static site from dynamic data - but it fosters it. Github is also proposing static page hosting.