PRO DESIGNED IOS CONTROLS. FULLY-FUNCTIONAL UX & CODE. COMPLETELY STYLABLE.
At Empirical, we noticed that every app seem share a lot of the same components, but for some reason these components haven't been standardized yet. These kinds of components are often complex both in UX and engineering, and honestly they only need to be solved once (until someone invents a new UX or login tech).
Our latest endeavor, ProControls, is a collection of professionally designed iOS controls made up of fully-functional UX, code, and style. We believe these controls can vastly reduce the cost and time of development. We're looking to attack core tasks like Login, Permissions, Chat, Profiles, Onboard, Timelines, and more.
All of our controls include entire UX flows, all graphic design, and a state machine-based architecture that exposes the right hooks for you to get in an override whatever you need to.
These are the components Apple should have built for iOS devs. They didn't, so we decided to do it.
Gather crafts intimacy by allowing people to share content privately with individuals or groups, where all comments are short video reactions rather than written text. This allows for more meaningful and intimate interactions because content sharing is directly targeted (this link was shared ONLY with me by you) and because the share is accompanied by a short video of you explaining why you shared it with me. Further, I can then respond with a short video of my reaction.
Every detail of this interaction flow was carefully designed, from the small size of the video and live filters (to reduce insecurity) to the lightweight but deliberate selection of recipients.
At a technical level, Gather features some fantastic work to achieve fast loading times, insanely small video file sizes for fast uploading and downloading on poor networks, robust interactions for recording and playing, and aggressive caching that creates a surprisingly snappy experience.
The original Gather allowed small groups/teams to share "folders" called Rooms. These rooms facilitate simple sharing and collaboration in a cross-media way that still isn't being done otherwise on mobile phones.
Principally, Gather (v1) made a series of major advancements to Dropbox shared folders (some of these features have been added to Dropbox since, such as chat). We took a standard Dropbox shared folder and added:
· Chat on top of files
· Ability to add files you couldn’t normally add (events, todos, etc)
· Ability to add files from your mobile phone
· Ability to receive notifications when JUST the files you’ve created/care about change
· Smarter/sexier ways to view your files
· Use Dropbox shared folders for planning in a post-file system universe
We found ourselves texting the same things over and over, many of which were quite structured in their workflow. Taking what we learned from the previous product, Comma, we built SmallTalk to be an intelligent chat app that gave you one-touch buttons for common communication flows.
For example, On my way in traditional texting typically went like this:
A: When are you coming home?
B: Leaving now
A: Whats your eta
B: I dont know like 20 minutes
B: running 15m late
We were able to create some novel UI around these kinds of flows, where on my way was a tap, and if you were in that state, you then had options for running late or im here or send my location. Running late gave you a quick dial for sending how many minutes, location gave you options for local look up or map coordinates, and so on.
We applied this lens to many flows, like getting food and directions.
It's still one of our favorite chat experiences.
Before SmallTalk, Comma was an ambitious app that fully structured communication in a non-chat way. It took workflows like On my way and turned them into full functioning app workflows that removed most of the common back-and-forth texting that became tiresome. It also did this for movies and food. Each communication flow began as the sending of a "card," such as an on my way card.
On my way
This card was designed to help coordinate meetups. You could send an on my way card to several people which allowed you to turn on location tracking for a short period of time. The card contained a map of the locations (if shared) of yourself and others on the card. It gave a high level summary of everyone's status (running late, eta 15m, arrived, etc), and gave simple actions to update your status. It also allowed for general commenting for all of those little details that are impossible to fully structure.
Starting the same way as an on my way card, one could invite others to see a movie; however, this card allowed you to browse currently playing movies, see showtimes, and watch trailers. That's not that special, but what is special is that it allowed you to choose the movies and times youd like to see and include them in the card. Others could then add their own movies (by watching trailers the same way you did), and vote on the suggestions anyone else made. This allowed for full negotiation of what to see, when, and where using this card. It was extremely powerful and dense - still the most complete execution of movie planning negotiation we've seen.
Similar to movie planning, food planning allowed people to search for and suggest the restaurants they'd like to eat at. Others on the invited card could vote on those restaurants and add their own suggestions. These cards offered quick actions to call the restaurant, see their reviews on yelp, and look at the menu.
Iris is the idea that got Empirical funded. The core concept was to take traditional email and "upgrade" each message into a type that was smarter. A confirmation email for a flight would look like a plane ticket with new actions like "Check-in" and "Flight status." Tracking emails would strip out all of the extraneous information and just show the current status and the item that was being shipped, as well as contact information for the carrier. Bills would allow for direct payment or autopayment and would look like a bill. All email would be sorted and "cleaned" to strip away unwanted excess information and create a dashboard of only the important stuff.
Glimpses of this idea have been implemented in Google's Inbox and Now, but we have yet to see this idea executed as we envisioned it. We built much of this concept, but underestimated the difficulty of the project just to attain parity with traditional email.
The idea was scrapped when our projected timeline extended beyond reason and it became clear that creating a new email client not the right direction to push primarily because we didn't have enough email data to mine / engineering resources.
This led us to Comma, our next application.
Stateless was an experiment in rethinking the web browser for touch-based interfaces.
We did away with all the traditional chrome and focused on browsing and workflow. The most important change was two have two main screens: a visualization of our history and the zoomed in actual webpages themselves.
The overview, first pictured here, provides a much more visual way to literally see what we've been browsing, not just scroll through them in a giant list. Clustering around 'sessions', we can toggle back and forth between different searches or research activities to create piles that represent the actual time spent on any page, as well as any other meaningful attribute such as being marked interesting or snoozed. Because of the size of the tiles we can add additional visual indications such as logos or include dominate photos that represent a given page.
The name, Stateless, implies that we have the ability to freely flow between pages across clusters zooming in and out of them. Once inside, the typical chrome is replaced in favor of a simple header that includes the only controls: share, snooze, and marking a page as interesting. The share itself works with a built in list of friends such that the most common people in your life are a quick tap away. Snoozing provides the ultimate workflow of bringing pages back when you have time, and interesting provides lightweight bookmarking without forcing organization or curation of some giant mega-list because the context is always preserved (the larger session).
We want the ability to visually navigate back and forth by having the context above and the history below, supporting simple direct manipulation-centric taps to the content we wanted. Thus you see where you came from in the space above the current page, and as you click on further links they come up from the bottom occupying the new majority spot. It is easy to go back and forth between pages without loosing visual context where you came from or where you're going.
2011. MIT Press.
MIT Press approached me as I was graduating asking for a modern eBook-as-an-app made specifically for the iPad. As John Palfrey wanted a cutting edge book no other platform (like iBooks) at the time did what we created.
The book was accompanied by a number of video interviews to be integrated directly into the reading experience, as shown in the screenshots. They provided one way of of several ways of diving deeper into subject matter. Recognizing the not all IP terms are accessible to the general population, we wrote scripts to cross-link the terms in the glossary as they appeared throughout the text to provide inline definitions without losing the larger context by splitting the text in place. Additional areas had callouts to outside researches on the web for an in-app browsing experience, as well as links to relevant case studies with the ability to easily navigate back to the main book.
However my favorite feature was actually an easter egg -- the ability for John Palfrey to sign the book itself! eBooks lack the ability for authors to sign their works, so we created a special gesture that would turn the touchpad into a drawing surface. The signatures would be unique to a given app purchase and stored in the cloud so they could be restored in the future. Thus they truly approximated what authors have been doing with physical books for centuries.
2010-2011. MIT Media Lab.
Not everyone in online public settings seeks rich discussion. Often, casual users seek to quickly scan through a forest of interaction to get a quick understanding of what the contributors are saying; a difference that should be reflected in the design. But how can this be solved as the Internet increasingly inches towards Borges' Library of Babel (1941)? The high connectivity of the web affords an ever-increasing number of points of view, "true" facts, "false" facts, and tangential commentary and reactions for any given situation. Current media do not sufficiently allow easy comprehension of such a large amount of data, providing little context or summary. Reverse chronological and its approximations seem to be the staple of presentation. It is difficult enough to quickly ascertain the breadth of viewpoints that exist and their thought process or validity, let alone any community-centric information about the posters and what viewpoints are typical for them. Hiltz and Turoff (1978) long ago foresaw the desire and positive possibilities that could arise from shared online dialogue across heterogenous audiences. Now that this dream has become a reality in 2011, current asynchronous forums and commenting systems resort to paging long linear lists. With the increasing volume of opinions and article sharing, current interfaces aremust rethink the list.
Defuse attempts to do so, focusing on improving our ability to understand participants and the crowd. It uses various statistical and natural language processing methods to summarize subjects by their commenting history, and aggregates it even further for each article. Observers are given an interactive portrait of the crowd by the found demographics, that facilitates faceted drilling down into the raw comments. A data portrait of each author accompanies their messages. It demonstrates that machine learning of users’ digital footprints can facilitate the social and sociological navigation of crowds. These prototypes satisfy goals and curiosities that are political and demographic in nature.
Contained in Paper
Zinman, A. Me, Myself, and My Hyperego: Understanding People Through the Aggregation of Their Digital Footprints. PhD Thesis. Department of Media Arts and Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. September 2011.
Konbit helping organizations source local labor instead of relying on their internal employees. After natural disasters, many NGOs flood developing countries with outside help but have little ability to plug into the local community for employment despite their needs. In a country like Haiti, where over half the population is literate and 70% have never had a job, the lack of interface with locals is a giant missed opportunity and highly problematic.
After the Haitian earthquake, myself and Greg Elliott sought to help by creating Konbit. Natives (illiterate or literate) call our automated service and we help them record their skills based upon their life experiences as compelling, story-like messages. These messages become transcribed and translated by Haitians in Haiti, and uploaded to our servers at MIT to be search by NGOs.
We worked with Marli Lalanne of Konbit for Haiti - a local community center in Miami to beta test our service. Prof. Michel DeGraff of MIT helped us create our original prompts. Digicel launched and hosted the service for free in Haiti, and Haitian radio personality Bob Lemoine to record the final prompts as well as the Haitian public radio announcement.
Winner of the MIT IDEAS competition, 2010.
PBS · Huffington Post · ReadWriteWeb · Cisco newsroom · Public Radio International's (BBC+NPR) The World · Fast Company followup, Post-launch article on ReadWriteWeb · Konbit on MIT Global Challenge Notebook · Konbit on US/ICOMOS · Miami Herald radio story · JustMeans highlights Konbit · Konbit wins first prize at MIT IDEAS Competition · MIT Technology Review · Fast Company · MIT News - Story 3 · MIT News - Story 2 · MIT News - Story 1
Personas is a component of the Metropath(ologies) exhibit, originally on display at the MIT Museum by the Sociable Media Group from the MIT Media Lab. It has been shown in 7 exhibits around the world since, from Peru to Italy. It uses sophisticated natural language processing and the Internet to create a data portrait of one's aggregated online identity. In short, Personas shows you how the Internet sees you.
Enter your name, and Personas scours the web for information and attempts to characterize the person - to fit them to a predetermined set of categories that an algorithmic process created from a massive corpus of data. The computational process is visualized with each stage of the analysis, finally resulting in the presentation of a seemingly authoritative personal profile.
In a world where fortunes are sought through data-mining vast information repositories, the computer is our indispensable but far from infallible assistant. Personas demonstrates the computer's uncanny insights and its inadvertent errors, such as the mischaracterizations caused by the inability to separate data from multiple owners of the same name. It is meant for the viewer to reflect on our current and future world, where digital histories are as important if not more important than oral histories, and computational methods of condensing our digital traces are opaque and socially ignorant.
Landscape Built of Words: Topic Modeling of an Online
May 31st, 2008
Submitted to the NSF Visualization Contest
Alex Dragulescu & Aaron Zinman
Advisor: Judith Donath
Sociable Media Group
MIT Media Lab
Twitter is a popular microblogging site in which over 1 million people post short answers to the question “what are you doing?” 3 million of these messages (“tweets”) are posted each day. How can we discover the patterns of interest as they ebb and flow with time? How can we make sense of individual inhabitants and their networks?
We use LDA to compress the semantic space into meaningful clusters of "topics" using statistical distributions of words in the corpus (5 million posts from 60K users).
Building the Landscape:
Multiscale dimensional reduction of the kullback-lieber distances of the topic distributions over the documents gives us a 2D landscape. Over time, topic mountains rise and fall according to the frequency of topic membership in the corpus.
These visualizations show the distribution of topics over a year of twitter. They help us understand and compare individual users. And see them in the context of their local social networks.
2008. MIT Media Lab.
Despite the rise in new clients like Slack that combine outside services with new expressions like animated gifs, the fundamental tenants of instant messaging have changed little in the past 20 years. Conversations are linear, immutable, and susceptible to errors in turn-taking and referent resolution. Problems of incoherency occur with high frequency, yet no design has emerged that alleviates these problems in discourse sufficiently to achieve commercial adaption. Signs aimed to bring new ideas into the space.
Signs is an instant messaging design philosophy and implementation. We aim to reduce confusion while increasing expressive power. In Signs, the mutation of persistent discussion spaces facilitates repair of sequencing problems and functions as a proxy for new communication acts.
2007. MIT Media Lab.
Is Britney Spears Spam? is an investigation in redefining spam and the role of the spam filter in the context of Social Networking Services (SNS). Users of these sites risk being overwhelmed with unsolicited communications not just from e-mail spammers, but also from a large pool of well intending, yet subjectively uninteresting people.
Those who wish to remain open to meeting new people must spend a large amount of time estimating deception and utility in unknown contacts. Our goal is to assist the user in making these determinations. This requires identifying clear cases of undesirable spam and helping them to assess the more ambiguous ones. Our approach is to present an analysis of the salient features of the sender’s profile and network that contains otherwise hard to perceive cues about their likely intentions.
As with traditional spam analysis, much of our work focuses on detecting deception: finding profiles that mimic ordinary users but which are actually commercial and usually undesirable entities. We address this within the larger context of making more legible the key cues presented by any unknown contact.
We have developed a research prototype that categorizes senders into broader categories than spam/not spam using features unique to SNS.
2005. MIT Media Lab.
Free software projects are a growing and important source of software. They range in size from one develop to hundreds. Unlike traditional models of software development, they use the Internet to collaborate in a decentralized, self-organizing fashion. It is important to understand how such communities can prosper without traditional centralized control.
Open Sources is a visualization that operates on existing code bases and mailing list archives in order to understand the relationship between the community's communication patterns and the code. It attempts to reveal characteristic signatures that may result in successful projects, as well as the locally hidden history behind code and mailing list archives.
The images here represent the history over many years of the FVWM project.
RadioActive allows large-scale audio-based conversations on mobile phones. It functions as a mobile audio forum, where users leave posts by recording voice messages. Other users can navigate through, listen to, and respond to these messages using the audio or optional visual interface. RadioActive's chat space is persistent, allowing users to drop in and out of discussion as they wish. The combined interface is unique for persistent audio chat spaces, and provides an easy way to navigate at a global level. An automated playback mode also allows users to put the device in their pocket and listen passively.
RadioActive's prinicipal focus is to support public discussions within an urban context. By becoming the communications foundation to the eLens project, RadioActive chat rooms can be created for specific buildings or sites tied to visual markers, dynamically formed social groups, and disparate communities.
Zinman, A., RadioActive: Enabling Persistent Mobile Communication for Groups. Alt.CHI 2007, April 28 - May 3 2007, San Jose, CA
Zinman, A., RadioActive: Enabling Large-Scale Asynchronous Audio Discussions on Mobile Devices. MS Thesis, MIT, 2006
Zinman, A., Donath, J. Navigating Persistent Audio. Proceedings of CHI 2006, April 21-24 2006, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Zinman, A., Donath, J. RadioActive: enabling mobile-based audio forums. CHI 2005 Beyond Threaded Discussion Workshop.