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All posts by Joseph C Lawrence: Columnist

Joseph C Lawrence is the lead UX and Interaction Designer at his company Clickshape, and has run the gauntlet of e-commerce businesses and digital agencies in London, Taiwan and South Africa, last working as a UX Designer at Quirk in Cape Town. He likes to explore the ways in which we interact with technology, software and the web, especially the role that psychology and our evolutionary history has on the decisions we make, and the way we experience things
  • Wireframing is out, prototyping is in: here’s why

    OK, so it is a bit of an inflammatory title for an article, but I think for a lot of web development projects, it is now true. A few years ago, the standard process for building a decently complex website involved an initial stage of producing wireframes. These were generally static, greyscale 'blueprints' for the layout of the website, illustrating where content would be positioned, what kind of UI (User Interface) elements are to be used, and how data will be input by users, and displayed when output. It's conceptually an essential part of a successful website development project,...

  • The human body as interface, and a new language of interaction

    As it stands, we have moved through a few core paradigms in terms of how we interact with computers and software. From the earliest days of physical levers and punchcards, through text (DOS etc.), onto the GUI and windows/Mac OS type interfaces, and recently now touch, gesture and voice. These last three have signaled a major shift towards a more natural way of interacting -- making use of the kinds of behaviours we understand intuitively, either because we have evolved to perform them, or because we learn them from a young age, as useful behaviours in a range of...

  • How will Google+ make money?

    Google+ is clearly Google’s most successful foray into the social web thus far, and it looks set to get a lot of usage. One thing puzzling many commentators, however, is the business model. Google have stated that they will not be putting advertising on Google+, so its primary business model is seemingly being foregone. Other very successful Google services and products, like Google Docs also don’t have advertising on them, but Google Docs is by no means as obvious a choice for advertising space as Google+ is. So…what’s the deal? There is no doubt that the choice not to put...

  • The importance of listening to expert users

    It has always been the case that customers can end up knowing more about a business than its owners. In the world of modern web based businesses with vast user bases however, it is so much more prevalent and significant that it should form an integral part of business strategy. Smart web businesses do this, as do smart 'offline' businesses with the help of their web presences. This user expertise can take many forms, and can be leveraged in many ways, three of which I will explore in this article — APIs, product expertise and crowdsourcing. APIs If your web business...

  • Why can’t Google win at social?

    The number of times that Google has failed at delivering a successful ‘social’ product is in danger of rising to an embarrassing degree. Google Wave is no longer actively developed for use; Buzz has experienced low usage, and seems to most to yield little value; Latitude never gained traction like Foursquare has; Orkut (Google’s Facebook like social network) is perhaps its most successful project but can claim little popularity outside of Brazil...

  • Google builds its energy business with $100M wind farm investment

    For a long time now, the company that built its business on search and advertising has been rooting around in the electricity and energy arena. In February 2010, Google was granted an order by the US government allowing it to buy and sell energy at market rates. At the time, the line from Google was that it was not interested in becoming an energy supplier, but rather in buying clean, green energy and using the green credits it would get to help offset other carbon emissions. Now the story is becoming more interesting. Google will invest US$100-million in what will be...

  • Is the internet making us more peaceful?

    The modern, real-time web allows us to get instant notification of news and events around the world. More often than not, the stories that are newsworthy enough to spread quickly through the social web are ones of dramatic turmoil, and disaster. Even in the past two months we have seen the important role that social media has played in spreading information about the unrest in the Middle East, and the Tsunami in Japan. Despite what we see every day, we humans are actually living in the most peaceful time of our history. Is it possible that the modern, social...

  • The Dark Side of Virality

    Not too long ago, the only application of the word ‘virus’ in the context of IT and the internet was a malicious piece of code that wreaked havoc with your computer. Fast forward a couple of years, and whilst ‘virus’ still means the same thing, it is overshadowed by ‘Viral’ – the mystical holy grail of online marketing. Every online marketer and content creator dreams of creating something that ‘goes viral’, spreading like wildfire through the web: a snowballing meme gathering millions upon millions of views. Perhaps however there is a dark side to this phenomenon. Perhaps the system -...

  • Apps vs. The web: A big debate

    Not long ago, the ‘apps vs. the web’ debate only really made sense in the context of mobile. Now, at the initiative of companies like Apple, the issue is spreading not just to tablet computers, but to the desktop as well. Apple’s App Store has ported the concept of low cost or even free Apps from the mobile arena to the desktop, and brought with it the same controversies for both users and developers. What is an App? The term ‘App’ obviously has a fairly broad definition. The kinds of apps that are most pertinent to this debate however, are the...

  • New Facebook messaging: The good, the bad & the ugly

    Facebook started rolling out its new messaging platform at the end of 2010, adding new functionality as well as a new interface to the service. One of the most widely mentioned new functions is the option to get an ‘@facebook.com’ email address, allowing friends (and of course people who don’t know you at all) to send a message into your Facebook messages inbox via email. Another key new function is the addition of text messaging integration – a service with a lot of potential value in developing countries without widespread usage of smart phones. The Facebook messaging facelift brings...

  • Do no evil? The Google & JC Penney controversy

    We usually associate black hat Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) tactics with spammy sites selling get rich quick guides, or porn, or any other slightly dubious online business. This is why it is so surprising (and intriguing) when a major US retailer gets caught with its SEO pants down. The New York Times has released an article describing how black hat SEO tactics allowed American retailer JC Penney to rank first on Google’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for a large number of keywords. JC Penney, which has very successful offline and online business, was ranking in the top spot across...

  • Is digital marketing becoming the new traditional?

    One of the "Big Discussions" in advertising at the moment concerns the growth of digital, and the effect it is having on the industry as a whole, as well as the agencies that belong to it. So-called "traditional" agencies are expanding into the digital space, while the digital agencies that started off on the more geeky side of online marketing are becoming more creative by the day. A fantastic example of a creative triumph by a digital agency occurred recently at the hands of South African digital agency, Quirk. A video produced for the web as part of a greater...

  • Online anonymity – what’s the big deal?

    Online anonymity is an issue fraught with emotion. It often inspires passionate arguments from both sides and opens windows into the deeper and darker aspects of our societies. So what, exactly, is the big deal? Firstly, it is important to clarify exactly what online anonymity is. It is very closely related to the issue of personal privacy. While the matter of personal privacy online relates to companies using so called ‘private’ data for advertising profiling purposes (to give one example), personal anonymity relates more to situations that an internet user enters into voluntarily. Whether or not companies should be using...

  • 4 ways tablet computing is influencing web design

    The future popularity of tablet computers was predicted more than ten years ago, but it took the genius of Apple to bring it to the mainstream. It's the same trend we’ve seen many times before: Apple makes a groundbreaking innovation and within a fairly short space of time it becomes the norm, as we are now seeing with the iPad and tablet computing – a trend which looks to be far more important than the "flash in the pan" of netbooks. Tablet computing presents some major changes in user interface, and this is already taking effect in the world...

  • 5 trends that will define the tech space in 2011

    2010 has been filled with overwhelming tales of growth and innovation in all things digital. Many people the world over have become more involved in online activities than they would have ever dreamed of. What can we expect to see from businesses and innovators in 2011? Here are five trends to watch out for: 1. Mobile interfaces becoming app-like sites 2010 will be thought of as the year that mobile internet transitioned from being "the next big thing", into "THE big thing". There are already a plethora of innovative mobile websites and services and creative platform-specific apps that use internet services...