Thursday, November 19, 2015

Great Form (@AmericanExpress)

I love this email subscription/preferences form from American Express.  When you click "Unsubscribe" in a newsletter, it shows you the item you just changed (not shown here), and then says "While you're here, here's some other subscriptions you can change.")

When you move your mouse over an option, a box appears around the option, a detail link appears to give you more information and the switch itself wiggles to let you know that it's something to interact with.  (Not sure how it works on mobile which lacks mouseover but am too lazy at the moment to test.  I assume that touching anywhere in the space draws the box and offers up the details link.)

(click to enlarge)
I proposed something similar about four years ago at a previous job where we were exploring a potentially confusing and complex series of newsletter choices.  It wasn't 100% the same (mine used red/green and didn't include the words "on" and "off") but it was pretty clear from those who used it, which newsletters you were subscribed to, which ones you weren't.

I demoed my prototype on an iPad so that people could see how subscribers might interact with it on a mobile device.  The iPad was still pretty new but I figured on/off toggles would make their way to the web because it just made sense.  Checkboxes for newsletter subscriptions usually work, but occasionally you'll get some insane website where it's like "check the box to tell us which newsletters you don't want" or some other such nonsense that makes it hard to trust any checkboxes.  But on/off - super simple.  I was shot down.  Two years later when I left, it was still an all-or-nothing subscription system.  In retrospect, I was simply too early.  (Is this an "I told you so?")

Kudos to American Express for bringing granularity (better to be able to turn individual pieces on and off) without complexity (easy to see what's out and learn more about each choice).  The only thing I don't like is that these don't function like a switch - unlike a light switch, these selections don't actually apply until/unless you also click "Save" at the bottom of the page.  I bet a lot of people neglect to do that and don't understand why they're still receiving email.

And for being a bit of validation and encouragement for me.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Recent Reads

Here's what I've been reading recently...

Jennifer Government by Max Barry - One day recently it occurred to me that if I'm still talking about Lexicon (and what the author wrote in the dust cover about librarians) years later (my review), then the author must have written some other stuff and I should be reading it.  So off to the library (website) to download some books to my Kindle.  Jennifer Government exists in a world where the government has been somewhat sidelined by the special interests of major corporations.  Your identity is so wrapped up in your employment that you now take the last name of your employer. So goes the tale of Jennifer Government vs. John Nike, the father of Jennifer's child and a maniacal dastardly marketer who realizes he can make billions off his latest shoes and drive up their price if he orchestrates a mall shooting. He cooly rationalizes the costs, the insurance and any fines if discovered against the profit margins of a shoe that costs nothing to make and sells for thousands due to artificial quantity limits. This turns out to be one of the first forays into a corporate war between two factions rallying behind corporate loyalty programs and between the companies and the U.S. Government culminating in actual literal shots fired (missiles) between the corporations.  The book has great movie potential, but doesn't work well, never quite lifting itself to the level of epic it strives for and the characters are a little disappointing. (Amazon)

Syrup by Max Barry - In the small-world category, Scat finds himself in a game of corporate one-upmanship with his (former) roommate in this interesting book that wants to be a critique of corporate America but seems to live in its own fantasy world. Is this supposed to be fictional commentary? Is this supposed to feel plausible? Is this supposed to make Coke look stupid, or would the book be any different if the author had chosen Pepsi or IHOP?  Is it supposed to be an inside joke about marketing that I only sort of get?  I don't know, but... eh.  I didn't find the characters relatable and the weird format of the book and its foreshadowing didn't remain novel.  I believe this one has, ironically (if you read the book) become a movie. (Amazon)

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - it's about 30 years into the future and civilization has gone into deep decline.  Well, in real life, that is.  Fortunately, everyone has the OASIS to escape to.  Food is hard to come by, the government has largely failed, everyone is broke.  Except for two companies, that is.  One is the company that runs OASIS.  While it's free to use, there are plenty of ways within the worlds for the company to make money (like teleporting and other means of travel).  The other is a large company that provides internet (and OASIS) access to much of the population.  When the creator of OASIS dies, he leaves behind a challenge: within OASIS, there is a game, nay, a quest. Find the golden egg and receive the entire fortune of the creator. Solve the riddles, complete the challenges and you could come out ahead. Fail and your avatar gets reset and you start over in OASIS with nothing. For years, there's no activity and it's largely believed to be a hoax.  And then there's a breaththrough - and the race is on, pitting a few individuals against the large internet provider who wants to gain control of OASIS so that they can monetize more of it and make even more money for themselves.  Oh, and the creator was a big fan of the 1980s, so all the quests and challenges are a chance for the author to namedrop lots and lots of 80s culture. This had originally been featured in Entertainment Weekly and been on my list for awhile.  It was an interesting read, but not one I'd put on my "you should read this" list.  (Amazon)

In This Rain by S.J. Rozan - This book was interesting but way too long. Knowing nothing about New York City politics, this felt really believable/credible. The main character didn't have a consistent voice. There's tailoring your conversation to your audience and then there's this character - almost a different character with each person they were with, more about the author being creative and clever than about defining and grounding the character, in my opinion. The most frustrating thing was the introduction of someone 62% in that you knew was somehow ultimately going to become central. The new character wasn't believable in their relationships with black and white characters when the rest of the book goes to great lengths to portray a fragile and regretable/lamentable rift between blacks and whites. Her introduction also threw the book into the "the world isn't really this small" territory. It was ok. I wouldn't say "Don't read this!" but I would say, "yeah... a bit long." (Amazon)

Top Secret Twenty-One (Stephanie Plum) by Janet Evanovich - I really like how this series has mellowed over the years.  In the earlier books, characters were more one-note and so much more was over-the-top.  But as the series as progressed, characters have become more fleshed out, events more believable, like the characters (mostly) have become wiser with time. The ending seemed a little rushed and unpredictable, but it was still a good read.  Only one true gross/groan moment (involving Bob the dog) and lots of loud-out-loud situations.  In one aspect it feels like the author has almost painted herself into a corner with one element of the ongoing saga that is Stephanie Plum's life but it's better than the fake drama the situation used to cause.  (Amazon)

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Cake > Pie

The other day I saw something on the internet that was wrong and I had to fix it. The intent is to show that some parts of the cost structure are fixed but some are not.  This was in response to complaints that all of the revenue was going to out-of-state companies.  (Two of the slices are, in fact, handled by out-of-state companies but those companies both have their operations established locally and are employing local in-state employees to run them.)

But it also tried to show that as the toll rises, that means more money going back to the fund that's set aside for further improvements to the area being tolled.

Anyhow, why should you care?  You might not (but thanks for reading down this far), or you might take away from this that if you're trying to use a chart to get your point across, be careful to choose the chart that best tells your story.

The pie chart on the left is 42.86% of the size of the pie chart on the right, but they're presented as equals, meaning that 20 cents on the left looks much larger than 20 cents on the right.

Cakes may make a better comparison in this case:

Most of the layers stay the same.  But as the rate goes up, more goes back into future improvements. Sort of.  The fact that they lump "Enforcement, Transponders and Future Improvements" into a single category is a bit troubling but maybe they'll address that in a future post.

I know, I know.