All posts in Media

Flash Fight – h.264 Free for Five More Years

The MPEG Licensing Authority (MPEG LA) announced yesterday that it would extend the royalty-free period for use of H.264 for free streaming video through 2015.

This is just the latest punch in the fight for online video codec ubiquity. Last month both YouTube and Vimeo posted beta tests of their HTML5/h.264 offerings.

Last week Steve Jobs flaunted his Flash-less device around the Yorba Linda stage. Blue lego after blue lego paraded across the shiny iPad screen, as Apple took another not-so-subtle shot across the bow of their ex-BFF; Adobe.

There are over 30-million Flash-free iPhones around the world. Even with a few million more high profile Apple devices about to hit the street, the rumors of impending death to Flash are greatly exaggerated.

The extension of free h.264 licensing did not impress the open source community. John Lilly, CEO of Mozilla, tweeted this prophetic warning regarding the announcement; “It’s good they did it, but they sort of had to. But it’s like 5 more years of free to lock you in 4ever.”

This should be an interesting year for fans of video streaming codec legalities (all 12 of you.)

Does the iPad fill a much-needed gap?

With Apples reveal of the long-rumored iPad touch tablet, tech pundits and mainstream press alike shift from predictions to post-announcement reaction. Skepticism abounds regarding the need for this “third category” device.

The iPad is a perfect solution to an unknown problem. It is likely to spark the next revolution in personal computing and user interface. But it could just as easily turn out to be summarized by Moses Hadas’ famous phrase; “It fills a much needed gap.”

Tablet computers have been around for years, but have mostly been repackaged versions of the existing Microsoft Windows user experience. All have failed to capture the mass interest or imagination of the public in general. Apple’s approach brings fresh thought to the space by defining the use (some might say dictating), and refining the user experience.

Apple has a history of success in taking over existing markets with innovation in these areas. The iPod captured virtually the entire portable music player industry from successful predecessors, none of whom names come to mind. The iPhone brought smart phones to a wide consumer audience that had no interest in the devices … until they did.

Creating a new industry from scratch is another order of magnitude in difficulty and expense. But history shows that innovations in User Experience Design (UX) can open new markets, as well as create them.

John Dessauer struggled for years to build a working prototype of his plain paper copier. Without funds to manufacture and market the device, in 1956 he took it to IBM. But rather than build units or user test the never-before-seen product, they commissioned an 18-month viability study. The study conclusively proved that there was no market for a plain paper copier.

Two main issues; there was no volume market for copies, and the mimeograph process, which the study chose for comparison, was 10 times less expensive.

Mimeograph copies required the user to first “cut a stencil.” Waxed paper mounted on stiff cardboard was inserted into a with a ribbon-less typewriter. Forceful typing created the stencil holes. The resulting stencil would be affixed to an ink-filled drum which was hand cranked to turn out fuzzy purple copies; a process that Gutenberg himself would have found familiar.

Long story short: Dessaur and Chester Carlson, the inventor of electrostatic photography later called xerography, founded their own company. Changing the user experience of inexpensive printing from an ink-stained hand-cranking to push button simplicity sparked a multi-billion dollar industry.

User Experience – Invent, Test, Repeat

As User Experience Design (UX) continues to mature into the twenty-first century, the practice evolves from guessing game to repeatable process. Many practitioners have histroically approached UX as an exercise in clairvoyance; pseudo-psychically connecting to unknown masses of users and predicting their future actions.

Several factors play into this choice of process; from time, budget, and resource limitations to designer arrogance or even corporate risk aversion. Alan Kay, one of the fathers of graphic user interface, illustrates the necessity of risk in this story from his days at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) research.

I remember in the early days of PARC–during one of the many visits by Xerox executives–when I had just come up with the idea of overlapping windows. We had implemented a test version of it, and I showed this to the executive who was there that day. I wound up the demonstration saying, “What’s even better is that this idea only has a 20 percent chance of success; we’re taking risks just like you asked us to.” And the executive looked me right in the eye, and said, “Boy, that’s great, but just make sure it works.”

Kay famously said; “…the best way to predict the future is to invent it.” The researchers at PARC however never lost sight of user experience design as a proactive and reactive practice; proactive in predictions while reactive to user testing.

Steve Krug is one of the leading thinkers in usability testing. Through his consulting firm, Advanced Common Sense (which he refers to as a “fictional, one-person DBA company”), his books, website and public speaking, he evangelizes the need for user interface testing.

Steve’s excellent first book, Don’t Make Me Think, revealed “everything I know about Web usability.” His second, Rocket Surgery Made Easy, is a how to guide DIY testing. A usability testing expert teaches how to avoid hiring a usability testing expert. The video clip below explains why he chooses this anti-sales approach and demonstrates much of the testing process.

New Media Expo 2008 – Speakers Notes

newmediexpo_logo.thumbnail.jpgLast year I was invited to speak at the 4th Annual New Media Expo in Las Vegas. The Expo, now known as BlogWorld, is a hands-on, learning event for independent content creators. Each year they offer a variety of “how-to” conference sessions on producing online video and audio content.

I presented a workshop called “Interviews – Top 10 Production Techniques,” where I  explained and demonstrated various recording techniques and equipment setups.

A few attendees have asked for a digital copy of my handout and lecture notes. I have compiled these with my presentation slides and included them here for download. The PDF also has the URL’s mentioned in the class. It does contain all the info from the live presentation, but it should serve as a handy reminder for those that attended. If there is any interest, I may publish a more comprehensive version.

Click here to download Interviews – Top 10 Production Techniques

And here is an overview of the seminar from Kevin Hunt’s blog. Thanks Kevin!