On a few different occasions this week I’ve started writing posts for Smarter Faster they’ve all ended up getting side tracked for a long list of reasons. Lost internet connections, hurrying off to the the next panel, or just the generally overwhelming pace of the week. So, on the final day I’m attempting to take a more low key approach to all the rushing around and actually finish a post.
As I said earlier in the week, in addition to giving my thoughts on the interesting panel discussions, I also wanted to keep everyone informed on the lighter side of being in Austin. There are a number of great restaurants and bars in the downtown area that have been overflowing with fellow nerds at all hours of the day. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen so many iphones and macs in one place, it’s kinda nice. I’ve enjoyed a lively mix of tex-mex and BBQ throughout the week, trying to alternate between the two to really get the most out of the local cuisine. After a few days of rainy, chilly weather, Monday finally brought some sunshine and warm weather. From what i’ve heard, the weather in Pittsburgh this week hasn’t been to bad though, go figure.
The nightlife during SXSW has been pretty lively throughout the week. On 6th street you can find a mix of bars and clubs that resembles a blend of Carson Street and The Strip District. Apparently it can get pretty wild, but i found myself gravitating to some of the more casual spots with better beer selections. Early in the week I asked one of the many ubiquitous pedicab riders where locals go to relax and have a beer. One spot in particular that I felt at home was LoveJoys. On a side street near the chaos of 6th Street sits this Taphouse and brewery that embodies the grungy, rock & roll attitude in everything from the bartenders to the bathroom decor. They feature a wide variety of microbrew beers as well as a few of their own craft beers brewed on premise. LoveJoys most definitely feels like one of the hidden gems of Austin.
LoveJoys Tap Room & Brewery
Of course, my time hasn’t been completely spent checking out what the local scene has to offer. I’ve also had the pleasure of listening to some of the smartest, most talented people in our industry discuss (and some times argue) about the technology we use, the emerging methods that we employ to reach consumers and the challenges that we face as marketers in a rapidly evolving market place.
As you’ve all been witnessing, the gang has been Twittering, or tweeting—like we’re in a Hitchcock movie—throughout the duration of this trip. While I started using Twitter a few weeks ago, I’ve never seen it utilized on such a massive scale. Using applications like TweetDeck you can easily aggregate a massive amount of content from customized criteria that allows you to follow an unbelievable amount of content. Not only does it give us the ability to follow the speakers and insights of the entire group, but it opens an entirely different perspective in to social communication with thousands of people doing the same thing. For those of you saying to yourselves: “I don’t need to let people know ‘what I’m doing’ all the time”, I emplore you to discover how much more Twitter has to offer even the casual user.
This brings me to the point of this post. One of the most interesting panel discussions that I’ve seen this week addressed the user interface design tools in games and how they can (and should) be utilized in certain applications, both online and in independent applications. One of the opening remarks stated that in games you’re presented with a limited number of tools, however, each tool has a broad number of uses. For example, in Super Mario Bros. the gamer has the ‘jump’ command. The ‘jump’ command has a wide variety of uses such as killing enemies, breaking blocks, collecting coins, and combination moves like run+jump in order to achieve certain functions. By comparison, in an application like Word, you are overwhelmed by a multitude of tools and functions, most of which you will never use, yet they are still presented to you from the moment you open the application. This is obviously the fundamental difference between games and productivity applications. In games the act of discovering the function of the tools you have available to you is what makes the game fun. In a productivity application or website, the act of discovery is seen as a problem, and thus results in less fun.
What the panel set out to prove is that, when done correctly you can create a user interface and experience that blends the act of intelligent discovery with out hindering access to necessary features. This approach acts to reward and encourage the user to want to learn more functions within the application. A minimalist, reward driven approach to something as simple as filling out form fields will encourage users to want to discover more features in an application or website and will result in additional visits, hits, and information upload.
I think Twitter is a great example of this approach in action, and it’s producing massive results. Twitter presents you with a blank form field and suggests that you write what you are doing at that time. At first the user only knows that you can enter information into that field and everyone on the web can see it. However, the more you use the one simple tool you have access to, you realize that there are a number of different commands that allow you to utilize the site in many different ways. The @twitteruser command allows you to respond to another persons post, #twittertopic allows you to apply a metatag to your post that is then searchable, and Dtwitteruser allows you to send a direct message to someone who is following your tweets. By providing these functions to the simple tool the user gains a feeling of empowerment when they discover the additional features. I think a few of the folks in this group (myself included) have gone from Twitter noobs to full on power users by being immersed in this tree of tweets and learning how to play the game.
Now its time for margaritas and the SXSW closing party. Maybe i’ll run into the rest of the gang? Have you seen them?
BTW sorry about the long post, but its only my second one of the week!