Monthly Archives: April 2013

Tweet meets – the new world is much smaller than it used to be!

My wife and I attended a wedding reception last Friday evening, for a lovely young couple.That in itself isn’t particularly unusual. Although I didn’t know either the bride or groom, my wife has been friends with the bride for about a year. Again, nothing unusual there. But what was a new experience for me is that the wedding reception was the first time that my wife and the bride actually met!

Let’s backup about a year. My wife participates in weight watchers and on achieving a particular goal she had posted a tweet. Another weight watcher participant messaged her a congratulatory tweet and they started to talk. Roll on 12 months and they are like best friends, talking daily and making another friend on the way as well. So we arrived at the wedding reception, having never met either the bride or the other twitter friend before. But the moment they met it was like they had known each other their whole lives, hugging and chatting away as only women can.

For me, working in digital and being fascinated with ‘network’ media (social media), this was a significant moment. I was experiencing the result of the world taking another step forward and become that little bit smaller. The power of sites like Facebook and Twitter to bring people together is quite amazing and these three women, meeting in person for the first time but acting like the oldest of friends, are proof that the rules of engagement have evolved. We know longer need to meet someone physically in order to start developing a friendship.

Of course, this trend is something which isn’t particularly new. My own marriage is evidence to the power of the internet to bring people together. I met my wife on an internet dating site. We got to know each other via instant messaging, text messages, emails and phone calls before finally meeting. The rest is history. And there are countless others like us who have done the same. The internet brought us together. But the key difference between then and now is that with internet dating the online piece is a lead up to the meeting but the actual relationship really starts when you meet the person. Now, with social media sites, the actual meeting doesn’t need to take place for the actual relationship to begin. In fact, the bride even said that she felt she knew these two twitter friends better than many of the other guests, which is testament to the ability of social media to not just maintain friendships but to create them as well.

For my part, I haven’t yet met anyone through these networking sites, but I do use them to maintain friendships that would otherwise have drifted away. It allows me to keep in touch with my cousin in the USA and watch her daughter grow, even though I haven’t actually seen them in 6 years. Because we can trade pictures, talk instantly and conveniently it allows us to have relationships that are the next best thing to being in the same place. In fact, in some ways it allows an even better relationship because it doesn’t require us to be in one place at a set time. In a word, it is a relationship that is more convenient.

Of course there is another side to this new world as well. The media have widely publicized the use of these sites to arrange flash mob appearances, or on the darker side, to arrange riots and gang fights. Again, this isn’t new, before Facebook and Twitter these were done via SMS. But again the social sites allow more convenient avenues to arrange these sorts of things. It brings strangers together and allows them to interact, whether their intentions are good or bad. This is the same thing that allows people the anonymity of not being face to face to be insulting or ‘troll’ others as well.

Undoubtedly the world is changing. My experience last week showed that people can become the best of friends without the need to meet each other and by and large that is a great thing. It allows people with similar interests and outlooks to meet when they would previously not have. It allows people to stay in touch and preserve relationships that would otherwise fade away, to be replaced by awkward reunions filled with small talk on the odd occasions they would actually meet. The most fascinating thing for me though is that it also closes the generation gap. The age difference between my wife, the bride and the other twitter friend is quite significant and yet you wouldn’t know it when they met. They were instantly so alike when they were together and getting on like a house on fire. Social media sites allow people to have these relationships when in the past it would probably have been harder for people from different generations to interact and relate.

The world has changed, it has evolved and online friendships are a result of this. Friendships created and maintained online are already happening and people from different walks of life are being brought together. I’m sure that there will be people soon who have best friends they have never met and possibly never will meet. The cloud does not just apply to pieces of hardware and software, clearly it applies to us and our friendships as well.

It’s all in the game

I recently read an article on BBC News that bought back a lot of good memories. Years ago, in the dim and distant past when floppy disks were the mechanism of loading games on a computer and Windows 3.1 was the norm, I was a fan of the Monkey Island computer games. Created by LucasArts, these games were the evolution from the old strategy text games and presented a crafted story of humour, brain teasers and action in a point and click cartoon world. From the log in process, which involved using a card cypher that you twisted to match strange symbols and discover the password, to the witty action sequences that involved choosing the best insults rather than actually controlling the sword action, Monkey Island was a captivating world that enchanted my pre-teen mind.

Looking back now, the graphics of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge would seem practically stone aged to my children, who are used to HD television and retina displays, but the content stands the test of time. For me, the appeal was the same as the appeal of a good Jonathan Creek episode – the challenge of the puzzle. It was quite easy to lose not just an evening, but a whole week, in the game and find your mind wondering back to the latest puzzle you had encountered.

But these games are unfortunately becoming more of a thing of the past, largely due to changing attitudes about gaming. One of the reasons that games like Monkey Island were probably so appealing in their day is because the alternatives were not particularly good. It wasn’t possible to create realistic fast action games in those days so it was a choice between blocky shoot em’ ups like Wolfenstein and Doom, strategy games such as Lemmings, which whilst entertaining is limited in its appeal, or platform games (in my case Keen).

So filling that void, for those who wanted a little more, was the likes of Monkey Island. But the world now is a different place. People’s tastes have moved on and reflect the change in our entertainment expectations. Now that it is possible to create immersive, realistic action games and the TV and film industry is increasingly filling our world with crazy action films, it seems that the in depth strategy games have faded away. There are new games now that try and fill the void, for example the game Plague Inc. This game pits you as a Pathogen that has to destroy the world through a strategy of evolving symptoms, resilience and abilities to try and evade the race for a cure. This game is not quite on the same epic scale as the novel like  games of the past, indeed you can complete it in a couple of hours, but it does require a level of calculation and cunning to do well.

The world is now focussed on either games consoles or app based games. Lemmings has been replaced by Angry Birds, a global phenomenon with all ages, whilst the long play style of games most comparable to any sort of story seem to be The Sims and Sim City (a new incarnation of which has just launched with incredible levels of detail). But I can’t help but feel that these all lose some of the movie like storytelling ability that these wonderfully crafted games of the past had. Perhaps we just don’t have the time to sit down and engage in deep thought any more? Most people who are avid gamers these days are the World of War Craft type crowd, and the rest of us only play in passing on our tablet apps. In my view it is a real shame that the world has moved on and left this genre of game behind, consigned to the shelves of the digital museum for youngsters to scoff at and laugh and the blocky graphics. For me though, it will forever be one of the reasons I feel in love with storytelling and particularly with the pirate era of history. I will always favour the well crafted story, that challenges my brain, to the simplistic (albeit very entertaining) action shoot em’ ups. Maybe I am becoming a relic as well, or maybe in the future we will see a reprise of these games at some point. After all, fashions do come around again. I hope this one will.

You are the Apple of my eye

Forgive this post as being a bit of a product review. For a while I had been thinking of writing a blog article comparing the Samsung Galaxy Tablet and the Apple iPad (the new / 3rd one), looking at practicalities. For years I have resisted being a Apple fan boy, under much pressure from good friends of mine who are some what blinkered to anything non-Apple. But in recent years I have found myself (and my family) becoming more and more Apple focused and I so I thought it would be more interesting to look at why this has been the case.

UX (User eXperience)

Like it or not, Apple are exceptionally good at creating very usable experiences, which are consistent across almost ever facet of their interfaces. One of the ways this is most noticeable is in the way apps are created for the app store. As Apple have a set of guidelines (both technical and design) that have to be met before an app is approved this means that all the apps in the store are, by and large, easy to use. There are no doubt exceptions that crept through the net, but apps in general feel well crafted and designed. In contrast, the Google Play store doesn’t seem to have the same level of checking and as a result my experience has been that apps on the android simply don’t have that extra level of class and usability.

The way the Apple screen is set out is also incredibly easy to understand. My 4 year old daughter was using it, unaided, to find and play her apps when she was 3 with no problems at all and the consistent nature of icons only on the main screens helps with this. One thing I do like about the Galaxy tablet is the ability to have widgets on the homepage as well as icons, but in a lot of cases they seem not to refresh without manual prompting, which is frustrating.

Above all of this, one of the things I like the most about the Mac system is that it is so customisable. I can set up my tracking pad on my laptop to do thing that I want to do so that I can zip around the programs with ease. Apple seem to have taken the view of ‘let’s put the user in charge’ where as Microsoft seem to have said ‘let’s show the user how it is done’.

Responsive

The Galaxy Tablet lacks the crisp responsiveness that the 3rd gen iPad provides. Both the iPad and iPhone are incredibly quick to respond to touch whereas the Galaxy often lags. Whilst the Galaxy S3 mobile is much better it lacks the edge that Apple have long established in their models.

Cloud

Once you have more than one Apple device then the main selling point is the iCloud. There are, of course, similar services now out their for non-Apple users that do a similar job, but because Apple devices can easily be linked to each other it makes the running of our lives so much easier. We now forego an up to date wall calendar as my wife uses the iPad and her iPhone to keep up with iCal and I use my iPhone and Mac Book to maintain my half of it. We know what is going on all the time so it is easy to make decisions. Sharing becomes much easier as well and photos / videos (the main stay of our record as our children grow up) are backed up automatically. Facetime means that if one of us is away then we can see the other for free and talk to our children, who are too young to really get how to use a phone. Of course there are plenty of non-Apple apps out there that do the same thing, but once you are on the Apple network everything is at your finger tips, so it is just easy.

Cost

One big problem with Apple is the cost. Whilst you could legitimately argue that you get what you pay for, and Apple products are superb, the cost is often disproportionate to the alternatives that other brands can offer. The story of the Magic Mouse is a good example, in that I simply cannot justify spending that much for a mouse when the only major selling point over other brands is that “it is cool”.

Brand

The fact that Apple products are cool is a key selling point. Apple’s biggest asset is that people aspire to own their products. There is a techy class system emerging and Apple is the equivalent of the upper class in many ways. I know a lot of people who own the iPhone simply because it is an iPhone, rather than because it will serve their personal needs better. From my point of view, it was the iCloud which made my decision when actually I think the Galaxy in many ways is a better phone. But the wider Apple package means that for me there was only one choice. And if I am honest, I also think that Apple products are really cool!

Summary

Albeit a very brief overview, one thing I have tried to establish is how easy to it is to get sucked into the Apple whirlpool, probably never to escape. Brand aside, what Apple have done is create a whole suite of integrated products that allow ease of use and convenience in running almost every facet of your technical life. I started out with every intention of staying quite agnostic to brand, but I have increasingly found myself falling in love with the world Apple have created, even if I am not in love with their prices. The biggest change for my family is that now, through Apple devices, we have started to create our family network. And this is quite key, because the world in the future will be like this. We, as family units, will have a network of devices that we need to talk to each other, share information and keep us in contact with one another. So far Apple is the only brand that provides this easily and under one seamless banner, but others will no doubt come. For me, the most significant thing is the consistency of their experience across their devices and software. You don’t need a user manual because you already know how to use them and they are often so  intuitive that a child can do it without instructions. We are an Apple household at the moment because it is easy to be one…although I still have my Samsung Galaxy Tablet to keep me grounded!