TEDxToronto 2010 Coming Soon


This year I got involved with TEDxToronto2010, an independently organized TED event held in the great city of Toronto. If you’ve never seen a TED event, go watch a few talks online. You’ll be inspired.

The theme for Toronto’s 2nd annual TEDx conference is “A Call to Action”. We, the organizers, want to see real change come out of the event. We want speakers to challenge attendees and we want attendees to challenge themselves and each other. A Call to Action is our challenge to everyone who comes across TEDxToronto to be passionate, excited and driven to make positive change happen.

So far, we’ve got an extremely good lineup of inspirational speakers who are doing magnificent things. The line-up (so far) includes:

My role in this event is to help drum-up some sponsorship activity. After all, what company or organization doesn’t want to be affiliated with thought leadership, passionate and driven individuals and folks that change the world?

We are currently seeking sponsors for the following categories:

  • Innovation Sponsor: $10,000+
  • Inspiration Sponsor: $6,000+
  • Conversation Sponsor: $4,000+
  • After-Party Sponsor: $2,000+

Most companies and organizations choose to sponsor TED events because they want to leverage ideas, technologies, design, and education to help create a better future; because they will be investing in the creation of a community who believe in the power of ideas worth spreading; and because they believe in bringing together corporations and individuals who want to be change agents surrounding remarkable thinking and ideas.

Please contact me or leave a comment below with your contact details if you’re interested in sponsoring this year’s TEDxToronto event. I’ll make myself available to answer any questions, concerns or comments that you have and make sure that your organization gets the spotlight it deserves at the conference!

More info @ TEDxToronto 2010 Announcement

Effectively Communicate Mission-Critical and Relevant Data


Whether you are a CEO, VP Product or a Web Developer, you are constantly evaluating your progress through a series of metrics or analytics, and generally against pre-defined goals. But, are you using the right dashboard to track your metrics day-to-day, and does your dashboard contain rich enough data to allow you to act proactively to ensure you reach your goals?

I recently read the book called Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data by Stephen Few. Although it took some digging to find real value, there were great nuggets of wisdom scattered throughout.

Getting back to the sole premise of a dashboard – its purpose is to act as a visual display of the most important information (note: not ALL information) needed to track progress toward your stated goals. In designing your dashboard, it is extremely important that the information is consolidated onto a single screen so that each metric being tracked can be viewed together – at a glance – so that the user can pick up on any trends and relationships between metrics and overall goals.

The book cites two great quotes that drives this concept home and explores a new facet of this equation, our visual perception:

“Dashboards and visualization are cognitive tools that improve your ‘span of control’ over a lot of business data. These tools help people visually identify trends, patterns and anomalies, reason about what they see and help guide them toward effective decisions. As such, these tools need to leverage people’s visual capabilities.” (Source: Richard Brath and Michael Peters, Dashboard Design: Why Design is Important)

“[We should be interested in visualization because the human visual system in a pattern seeker of enormous power and subtlety. The eye and the visual cortex of the brain form a massively parallel processor that provides the highest-bandwidth channel into human cognitive centers. At higher levels of processing, perception and cognition are closely interrelated. However, the visual system has its own rules. We can easily see patterns presented in certain ways, but if they are presented in other ways, they become invisible… If we can understand how perception works, our knowledge can be translated into rules for displaying information. Following perception-based rules, we can present our data in such a way that the important and informative patterns stand out. If we disobey the rules, our data will be incomprehensible or misleading.” (Source: Colin Ware, Information Visualization: Perception for Design, Second Edition)

Limitations of Man

Unfortunately, even the best of us are limited by our biological construct. Humans have limited short-term memory capacities and this is the main reason why information that belongs together shouldn’t be fragmented across multiple pages or dashboards. Once one set of information is no longer visible, it loses its position in short-term memory (unless you have a photographic memory, I suppose); on the flip-side, if all information is within one field of view, your brain can rapidly process information to and from your short-term memory. [HR Moment: If you’re hiring, consider those with photographic memories for data analyst positions!]

Effective Design

To design a most-effective dashboard, ensure to only include information that you absolutely need, in its most summarized form (without the loss of crucial value). This is where the KISS principle (”Keep It Simple, Stupid”) shines bright. The information should be well organized, condensed, specific to its audience/objectives and displayed concisely and clearly with emphasis on the data itself and not on background graphics or fancy designs (which tend to lose meaning and value quickly).

In reading the book, there were a few graphs that I found used space in a very effective way, whilst also allowing the dashboard reader to effectively take in a number of data points in a glance. The first of those graphs is called the “Bullet Graph” (details of how it works in diagram):

The second graph is called a “Pareto Chart” and below is demonstrated in a sales capacity, which quickly shows off what proportion of overall sales is contributed to by each product. Think about measuring the sales quota of each sales employee as a percentage of total sales (this will help sales managers know who to keep and who to let go using a clear and measurable decision-making tool:

My favourite graph, however, is the Sparkline. Its simplicity is unmatched and its span can be adjusted according to the scale you which to present. It is also great for summarizing large datasets into a small graphics that can be displayed alongside each other in dashboards. Sparklines are particularly good for analyzing trending data. In fact, this is used by Google in its Google Analytics product (below, Sparklines on the left of data and represent 3-month trending curves).

At the end of the book, Few shows a few sample designs of dashboards. I think these are among the best dashboards I have ever seen from a design, usability, trending and notifications standpoint. I have included images of dashboards for both sales managers and CIOs below, as designed by Stephen Few and presented in the book.

Sales Dashboard

(Source: Information Dashboard Design, by Stephen Few)

CIO Dashboard

(Source: Information Dashboard Design, by Stephen Few)

Reward Systems that Drive Engagement (via Amy Jo Kim)


Amy Jo Kim, CEO of Shufflebrain, gave a talk at Game Developers Conference 2010 and focused on the web-meets-gaming world (called metagame design). This is the practice of applying game-like reward and feedback systems to non-game applications for the purpose of driving loyalty and engagement. This slide deck (embedded below) focuses on three levels of metagame design: points tables, feedback and rewards, and viral outreach. She also reviews the pros and cons of metagame reward systems like levels, badges, leaderboards, spotlights, and quality ratings. AJK was kind enough to post those slides online for the community — thank you!

Metagame Design – Presentation Transcript

  1. MetaGame Design Reward Systems that Drive Engagement Amy Jo Kim CEO, Shufflebrian
  2. What is a Metagame?
  3. Using out-of-game info or resources to affect in-game decisions Gaming definition
  4. Layering an rewards system onto an existing activity
  5. Metagames are Everywhere
  6. Collecting Complete Collections — Gain Status, Access, $$
  7. Behavior Chart Collect Stickers — Earn Privilege or Prize
  8. Karate Develop Skill — Earn Rank, Prestige, Powers
  9. Scouting Complete Tasks — Earn Badges, Rank, Prestige, Powers
  10. Frequent Flyer Programs Spend Money — Earn Points — Redeem for Flights
  11. Arcade Spend Money — Earn Points — Redeem for Items
  12. Text RPG Complete Missions — Earn Points — Redeem for Items
  13. Contest/Raffle Take Action — MAYBE Win Item
  14. Contest/Raffle Take Action — Maybe Win Item
  15. Tournament Play Sport — Enter Tournaments — Earn Ranking/Trophies Leagues & Teams are part of this
  16. Tournament Play Sport — Enter Tournaments — Earn Ranking/Trophies
  17. So how do you design a Metagame?
  18. Metagame Design Framework Viral Outreach Feedback & Rewards Points
  19. Metagame Engagement Loop Post updates, give gifts, send taunts Get feedback, earn rewards Take actions, earn points
  20. Act React Customize Create Earn Spend Step 1: Assign points to actions Viral Outreach Feedback & Rewards Points
  21. Which ACTIONS earn points?
  22. Which REACTIONS earn points?
  23. 3 Types of points
    • Experience Points (XP) – earned directly via players’ actions – track & reward socially/economically useful player actions
    • Skill Points (Score, Rank) – earned via interacting with the system – based on mastery of the activity or game
    • Influence Points (Rating, Reputation) – earned via the actions of other players – proxy for quality/reputation/influence – track & reward socially valuable contributions & actions
  24. Is your points system tracking skill, experience, or both?
  25. Is your points system assigning ratings to people or objects?
  26. Can you Spend your points?
  27. Levels Leaderboards Roles Reputation Missions Challenges Achievements Collections Step 2: Add Feedback & Rewards Viral Outreach Feedback & Rewards Points
  28. Levels are shorthand for participation and achievement
  29. Leaderboards identify, motivate and reward your most devoted players
  30. Social Leaderboards drive competition and enable missions
  31. Leaderboards can cause problems – don’t be afraid to remove/hide/change
  32. Missions tell players what to do next
  33. Mission-driven engagement loop Post updates, give gifts, send taunts Get feedback, earn rewards Accept Mission Update Mission List Take actions, earn points
  34. Reputation and Ratings track quality/skill + motivate contributions
  35. Achievements provide short-term goals + sense of progression
  36. Motivate newbies with easy-to-earn rewards
  37. Motivate power-users with scarce resources
  38. Motivate contributors with a rating system
  39. Updates Gifts Sharing Invites Step 3: Grow through Viral Outreach Viral Outreach Points Feedback & Rewards
  40. What are the ‘social moments’ in your game?
  41. Competition Bragging, Taunting, Challenging
  42. Cooperation Sharing, Helping, Gifting
  43. Self-Expression Check out my character/outfit/farm/page
  44. Case Study: Farmville
  45. XP + coins earned by completing tasks
  46. Customize your character
  47. purchase seeds
  48. Plant & Harvest Crops
  49. Help Neighbors
  50. Design & Develop Your Farm
  51. Buy exclusive items with $$$
  52. Tutorial introduces pts, levels, rewards
  53. Earn coins, level up, buy more stuff
  54. Leaderboards facilitate social interactions
  55. Achievements come early & often
  56. Achievements displayed as collections
  57. Achievements displayed as collections
  58. Help your neighbors, then brag about it
  59. Many opportunities for self-expression
  60. Gifting pulls people into the game
  61. Case Study: Stack Overflow Technical Q&A site w/crowd-sourced moderation
  62. Ask/answer good questions to build Reputation
  63. Leaderboards for Reputation score
  64. Earn badges by performing basic site tasks
  65. Question: why no viral outreach?
  66. 5 Tips for Designing a Compelling Metagame:
    • Create a coherent experience that unfolds over time
    • Define a points system (XP, social pts, redeemable pts) that supports your purpose and audience
    • Introduce feedback and rewards that motivate newbies, enthusiasts, and contributors
    • Design rewards that players will be eager to share
    • Use “game pacing” to grant rewards over time

See Amy Jo Kim’s profile on GDC 2010.

Designing the Perfect Mobile Application Store


I briefly touched on application stores as part of my last post, Creating a Better BlackBerry Experience. After re-reading the post and reflecting on some of the comments, I felt that a more in-depth follow-up was required to discuss why the overarching design of a mobile application store is paramount to its adoption, usability and ultimately, success.

This post will focus on how I believe the design of BlackBerry App World (“BBAW”) can be improved for both enterprises and consumers.

BlackBerry App World for Enterprises

When BBAW was first released, many BES-connected users had problems downloading applications due to permission-based issues. RIM can’t do much to change corporate policies, but RIM can implement a highly-anticipated BBAW for the enterprise. I am proposing that RIM creates an enterprise app store, similar to the app store announced by MobileIron in December 2009. MobileIron’s enterprise app store allows enterprises to create a repository of approved content and apps, which employees can then download and use with the full blessing of IT. In addition, an enterprise can create device or employee categories with permissions for certain types of content. As mentioned by Kevin Fitchard of Connected Planet, “Salesmen, for instance, would find Salesforce.com’s app in their approved storefront, while a field engineer would not. Both field engineers and salesman could have access to vehicle navigation services, and while a desk jockey might be able to download that same application, the company could set usage restrictions limiting when he or she could use it (say, business trips) or require the employee to pay the monthly service fee in a separately generated bill.” To me, this concept sounds like an app store that would help RIM sell more BlackBerry devices to enterprises, help IT administrators and make employees more productive (and happy) when mobile. Obviously, a more tidy billing mechanism will have to be in place, since I’d reckon the majority of enterprise won’t want to pay via PayPal.

BlackBerry App World for Consumers

In creating v2.0 of BBAW, RIM has a lot of work to do. My last post discusses a few elements that need improvement including the billing systems, pre-loads and fewer bugs. I’d like to add a few more points to the discussion. To begin with, the billing system needs to be more dynamic and allow customers to attach credit cards to their profile for frictionless billing. The billing systems should also be flexible enough to power additional business models for application developers including subscription billing and in-application micro-transactions. Why not bring the minimum price-point to $0.99 as well?

Steven Berkovitz chimed-in to mention that with BES 5.0, there’s a full-blown web version of desktop manager; it uses an ActiveX control to connect to your Blackberry for operations requiring a physical connection and personal data is sync’d over-the-air (“OTA”). However, this functionality doesn’t yet extend to previously installed, licensed and configured applications. As a consumer, wouldn’t it be nice to buy your next BlackBerry, insert your SIM card, load your user profile from within an OTA-driven application and click “Restore Profile” to then have your data, applications (auto-detect new BlackBerry OS and download proper build for the new device) and configuration settings loaded onto your new device OTA? That is one step towards a BlackBerry device that can compete with future iPhone models in delivering the experience sought after by the ever-smarter and bells-and-whistles-seeking consumer today.

Many users are also confused by not being able to find certain apps in BBAW that show up for their friends or colleagues. By design, RIM only shows its users the apps available for their device. In a future version of BBAW, it would be nice to show users all the apps and allow users to be notified (by push, email, SMS, etc…) when the app is launched for their specific OS and device model. This could also give developers a sense of what devices are generating the most demand for their product so that they could focus their development efforts on the makes/models and locations that are going to yield that greatest financial rewards or user adoption.

Ubiquitous Access

BBAW needs to come pre-loaded on all (new) handsets. End of story. In cases where mobile carriers have a contractually dominant position over RIM on controlling content or applications available to mobile devices, RIM should provide those carriers with sufficient access and privileges to formally reject specific applications for use by their subscribers for their own reasons. In concert with these changes, RIM should enter into a formal revenue sharing agreement with carriers so that revenues generated from application one-time sales, subscriptions and micro-transactions can be shared. Once these deals are signed, RIM (or the mobile carrier) should push App World down to all BlackBerry devices. IMHO, this would be a win-win-win scenario for RIM, carriers and consumers.

If you were RIM, how would you design BlackBerry App World v2.0?