Archive:
July 2018

Broadband speed map reveals Britain’s new digital divide

It turns out that it is not just rural areas that are suffering due to BT/Openreach’s inability install broadband infrastructure fit for the 2010s, never mind the future.

The UK’s status as a fibre laggard has been the subject of intense debate within the telecoms industry, with only 4 per cent of residential and small business premises connected to full-fibre networks capable of delivering ultrafast speeds, compared with 80 per cent of units in Portugal.

It transpires that some of the slowest postcodes are within our largest cities, including London and Edinburgh.

With rural areas and second cities saying they have been left behind in the race to install ultrafast broadband networks, it is surprising to see that areas of London, including Kensington, Millwall on the Isle of Dogs and Rotherhithe, have clusters of postcodes with average speeds below the minimum required by the government. Central Manchester is a broadband blackspot, as is the Baltic Triangle in the heart of Liverpool, according to the postcode-level data.

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From tomorrow, Facebook will stop allowing automated posts to personal Facebook profiles. Dodgy ads, fake news and inflammatory content are all still allowed of course. But that’s how Facebook make their money. So normal people’s automated updates is what they’re clamping down on.

As a result, updates from my blog have stopped appearing on my Facebook profile.

In the words of an email WordPress.com have sent out about this:

We believe that eliminating cross-posting from WordPress is another step back in Facebook’s support of the open web, especially since it affects people’s ability to interact with their network (unless they’re willing to pay for visibility).

Funny that. 🤔

So if you would like to stay up to date with me on Facebook, I have now set up a page for my website — where it will still be possible for the updates to be pushed out to Facebook.

Follow Duncan Stephen on Facebook

However, I would encourage you to stay up to date another way. I don’t push everything out to Facebook. So the only way to be updated on everything I post is to subscribe to the RSS feed or email notifications.

Since this was pretty much all I used Facebook for by now, my Facebook profile will probably become very quiet.

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Designing the UI of Google Translate

I’m not too keen on user interface design showcases, because they usually boil down to: “look me make shiny thing”. But I really enjoyed this case study of how Google Translate redesigned their interface to make people more aware of some of the app’s most useful features.

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Annoying online ads cost business

Results from a study of users of Pandora has quantified the effect of shoving adverts in users’ faces. As part of the experiment, a section of users were served fewer ads than normal, and another section were served more ads than normal.

…after 1.5 years of being exposed to the experimental conditions, people did use the service more, the fewer ads they were served. At the end of the experiment:

  • The low-ad group listened for 1.7% more hours weekly than the control group.
  • The high-ad group listened for 2.8% fewer hours weekly than the control group.
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Guardian Media Group digital revenues outstrip print for first time

The company’s annual report, which covers the 12 months to April 2018, shows the Guardian website attracted an average of 155m monthly unique browsers, up from 140m the year before, with an increased focus on retaining regular readers rather than chasing traffic by going viral on social networks.

Digital revenues — which include reader contributions and online advertising income — grew 15% to £108.6m, as income from the print newspaper and events business fell by 10% to £107.5m.

Could it be that — shock horror — focusing on quality rather than vapid clickbait is the sustainable business model journalism was looking for all along?

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What is this thing called design?

I got out of bed and, in roughly an hour, hammered out a kind of primer on UX/UI design, which I’m publishing below. It’s a very unformed, rambly screed that I won’t pretend is at all definitive or even fully accurate. In fact it’s still basically a first draft; I literally typed it out in bullet point form, as shown below, a trick I used in order to absolve myself of the responsibility of writing a fully articulated essay.

Despite Khoi Vinh’s self-deprecation here, I think this is an excellent attempt at explaining what design is. For those who are frustrated about having to explain that design isn’t (just) about making things pretty, this blog post provides an excellent introduction to why — as well as helpfully explaining why this perception exists in the first place. Not bad for an hour’s work.

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Do British cities have grid systems? We used science to find out

A neat way of visualising how closely a city layout relates to a grid.

Includes the revelation that Milton Keynes isn’t actually as grid-like as you might think.

The designers decided that the grid concept should apply but should be a lazy grid following the flow of land, its valleys, its ebbs and flows. That would be nicer to look at, more economical and efficient to build, and would sit more beautifully as a landscape intervention.

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Four modes of seeking information and how to design for them

This is an old article, but some good brain food for those information architects out there. A good primer on some different ways people try to find content.

In my work on intranets and complex websites, I noticed a range of situations where people didn’t necessarily know what they needed to know. Additionally, when I opened my browser history to look for examples from recently-visited sites, I noticed that the majority of my own time was spent trying to find things that I had already discovered. These two modes didn’t fit into the concepts of known-item and exploratory information seeking. I call these “don’t know what you need to know” and re-finding.

I spent a while letting this rattle around my head, talking with IAs and designers, and realized that most only thought in terms of known-item searching. When discussing the other types of tasks, they’d ask with a horrified look, “So how do you design for that?”

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Thermostats, locks and lights: digital tools of domestic abuse

How smart devices are being used by perpetrators of domestic abuse.

We are becoming increasingly aware of some of the darker side of technology. Perhaps this is a challenge to designers and technologists — to ensure that their products can’t be used in this sort of way.

The people who called into the help hotlines and domestic violence shelters said they felt as if they were going crazy.

One woman had turned on her air-conditioner, but said it then switched off without her touching it. Another said the code numbers of the digital lock at her front door changed every day and she could not figure out why. Still another told an abuse help line that she kept hearing the doorbell ring, but no one was there.

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‘How we made Now That’s What I Call Music 100’

BBC News discovers how the 100th edition of Now That’s What I Call Music was compiled. Amazingly, the whole process seems to involve just three people, and takes only a day.

Like many people, Now That’s What I Call Music was a key gateway into music for me when I was young. I bought two of them.

The first was Now 30, which was released in April 1995. I don’t really remember why I bought it. I probably liked a handful of the songs, and I figured out that this was cheaper than buying all the singles.

Interestingly, it contains at least two tracks that I didn’t fully appreciate until I was much older — Protection by Massive Attack and Glory Box by Portishead. That they are hammocked between Eternal and Oasis speaks to the eclectic nature — and variable quality — of a Now album.

I had Now 30 on cassette, so I never digitised it. As such, the tracklist is less familiar to me than the other Now I bought.

That was Now 32, which came out in time for Christmas 1995, when I got a CD player. There are some seriously strong tracks on that album — but perhaps that’s my rose-tinted glasses.

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Could architecture and design do anything to alleviate walmartism?

How architecture is used to place poorer people in harsher environments.

Texture is a class thing. The more money you have, the more texture you get. The reverse is true of lighting and sound: the more money you have, the less of both of those you get.

These are not universal rules, but a return from a month spent in Europe to the United States, which is always much harsher in its economic realities than the countries over there, made it evident to me how prevalent the reality of texture discrimination is. Let’s call it walmartism: the transformation of the spaces used by those with the least means into boxes devoid of texture.

A more extreme example of a similar phenomenon is where a tower block such as Grenfell is re-clad to make it more pleasant for the rich people outside the building to look at, but more dangerous for the poor people living inside it.

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You’re so intelligent

This is an 11 year old article that has just recently come to my attention, but it resonates today. It describes how graphic designers have protested about being seen as the ones that make it pretty; how they have sought to be given more respect, as if being tickled in the tummy.

I found myself at a design conference listening to still another demand that clients give us designers that coveted place at that legendary table where all the big decisions are made. Sitting next to me was one of my favorite clients, someone I treasure for her levelheadedness and good humor. “I’ve spent hours at that table,” she whispered to me. “It’s not that great, you know.”

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The England v Colombia World Cup reports you were never meant to see

The Independent provides a peek behind the curtain of football match reporting with a tight deadline. Here are two unused match reports written for completely different outcomes of the England v Colombia match.

It’s interesting how both examples almost completely fizzle out after what is deemed to be the pivotal moment of the match is dealt with:

…a scoreline they saw out comfortably over the rest of the second half.

That was the moment that England lost this game and were knocked out of the World Cup…

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How come I end up where I started?

Adriaan Pels ran the popular Radiohead fan site At Ease for 20 years. The costs of running the website got out of control before his web host unexpectedly pulled the plug last year.

I used to be a very active participant on the At Ease forums, but that probably ended when I became a more active blogger / studies took over / I got a proper job / whatever. I stopped reading the website at some point as well. I still looked in occasionally, but I could tell that Adriaan didn’t seem to have as much time as he needed to look after it properly.

I didn’t even realise that At Ease had disappeared off the internet. It’s so long since I’ve tried to visit.

But it was good to see this update from Adriaan, although I’m sorry he’s lost the whole website.

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The generous act of tunking

We found out that tunking (pronounced “toonking”) is a word this team uses for blunt critique, made with the intentions of the people on the receiving end uppermost in mind. It’s honest feedback.

The people doing the tunking don’t hold back. They say what they really think. They do this because they want the people being tunked to succeed.

I really like this. And it’s important to appreciate that giving honest feedback can be just as difficult as receiving it, if not more so.

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Cheese please.

Alex and I were very generously taken out for a lovely meal at Arras in York by good family friends Mary and David.

The highlight was this cheese trolley, expertly and theatrically introduced by the owner of the restaurant.

Alex was more interested in the petit fours.

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Six Lions

Nick Barlow reflects on the meaning of “football’s coming home”, and the differences between the original version of the song Three Lions and the 1998 version. I enjoyed reading this because I had found myself getting annoyed about the way people were saying “football’s coming home”, completely forgetting that there was a second version with a different meaning.

When Three Lions came out the first time, I was already a fan of the Lightning Seeds, and I think I had been a viewer of Fantasy Football League. I thought Three Lions was a good song. Which it obviously is, because everyone is still singing it 22 years on. So despite being Scottish, I was determined to buy a copy of the single — to my dad’s great disappointment.

I barely remember the 1998 version. As Nick reflects, it seems to be inherently different, and more dislikeable.

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Stylish browser extension steals all your internet history

If you use the Stylish browser extension, you ought to have a read of this. It might make you want to uninstall it immediately, as I did.

It appears that last year Stylish began collecting users’ data, including their full browser history, and even the contents of Google search results.

The above blog post explains exactly what is going on, and why it is a problem.

This is a great shame because Stylish provided a brilliant function enabling you to improve bad or unsuitable web designs very easily. I even created a style that improved the user interface for live timing on Formula1.com — which I still used up to last weekend, and has been installed by almost 500 others.

Not any more — I have uninstalled Stylish from my browser.

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✨🎧 tenori-off

I really love this take on the Tenori-on synthesiser, built in Javascript and very webby. I especially like how you can simply share the URL to send your music to someone else. 5/5 would Tenori-off again.

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Research: Women ask for raises as often as men, but are less likely to get them

The theory that women are paid less because they are less likely to ask for a pay rise appears to be nonsense.

The bottom line of our study is that women do “ask” just as often as men. They just don’t “get.”

Even we were surprised by the results. We had expected to find less asking by the females. Instead, we found that, holding background factors constant, women ask for a raise just as often as men, but men are more likely to be successful. Women who asked obtained a raise 15% of the time, while men obtained a pay increase 20% of the time. While that may sound like a modest difference, over a lifetime it really adds up.

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UX Scotland 2018 — my day-by-day notes

Some more follow-up to the UX Scotland conference, which I have published over on the University of Edinburgh Website Programme blog.

I set myself the challenge of writing a summary of each session I attended at UX Scotland, as a way of forming my own thoughts on each topic, and to make sure to follow up on everything I wanted to.

This resulting blog post is long. But I am sharing this on the basis that others might find it useful and seek to learn more about these topics, as I did.

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The art of deciphering Fernando Alonso’s Alonsospeak

Fernando Alonso is one of the most eloquent speakers in Formula One and one of the best at interacting with the media. But he can also use these opportunities to cultivate certain narratives. Four of his statements during the French Grand Prix weekend — one of the most miserable weekends McLaren has endured in recent years — were perfect examples.

It’s a shame, but this article is bang-on, and it needed to be said.

I am a huge admirer of Fernando Alonso. He is one of the few drivers whose driving is so expressive that it actually comes across on TV.

It is a complete tragedy that he only has two world championships, despite probably being the best driver on the grid. And yet it is probably entirely of his own doing.

In that context, you can understand Alonso’s desire to talk himself up. But it is also transparent, and more than a little bit sad.

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