protopinions

What is the Point of the Stock Market?

Posted in Uncategorized by Protopop on October 8, 2011


I think The stock market in its current incarnation is having a negative impact on society. I”m not an economic expert, so this is based on my common sense  experience as a 39 year old reasonably intelligent person. And please, if you know better feel free to educate me , without any insulting lip.

The IPO

From what I understand the IPO is the equivalent of selling your soul for a price. Companies only make money when they first sell their stock. After that it’s investors who benefit, not the company. And I’ve seen many stories about investor profit becoming the main goal of any company after that. Why would you let people who have nothing to do with your company basically dictate it’s direction?

Real Money

Furthermore, it’s not real Money. The wealth of the stock is a valuation that is not concrete. It isn’t earned by working for it. Your money grows while you sleep. And according to the economics of opportunity cost,  that wealth is coming from somewhere. Wealth comes from someone’s hard work somewhere whether it’s from you or not.

Active Investors

What the stock market needs is more active engaged investors who truly care about the company they are supporting, who don’t expect huge returns out of line with the average,  and are educated about their investments. I can’t believe an investor with a portfolio of thousands can truly be knowledgeable about the day to day workings of every company in their portfolio.

So, aside from generating profits for disengaged investors and giving them a huge say in the company, what is the point of stocks? Of course for some people that may be reason enough.

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Tide Commercial exploits Gender Norms

Posted in Uncategorized by Protopop on August 2, 2011

It’s clever, and it had the potential to deliver a much more positive message. But in the end this commercial for Tide detergent dissapoints with its exploitation of gender norms for comedy.

It’s these subtle messages that shape our society into something damaging to anyone who falls even slightly outside the status quo. In this commercial, the little girl is obviously at peace with her decision to play with blocks ‘like a boy’ instead of wear pink as per her mothers wishes. The fact that the young girl is exhibiting stereotypically masculine instead of feminine behavior is the crux of the joke.

It’s 2011. Isn’t it time we let people live their lives the way they do naturally without making fun at their expense? Why not show the mother much more positive about her daughter’s behavior? Oh, because then it wouldn’t be funny? If that’s the truth, sit back and think about what that means.

Procter & Gamble, the makers of Tide, is a Fortune 500 American multinational corporation. This is the message they throw their considerable weight behind? If this is the message Tide detergent wants to put out into the world, so be it. In the meantime, I’ll be spending my hard earned money on products from ecologically friendly, progressive and open minded companies.

The 185,000$ domain name game

Posted in Uncategorized by Protopop on June 18, 2011

Brand owners will soon be able to part with 185,000$ to create their own top level domains in a move that no one asked for.

As we wait for the rush of .coke, .bmw and the ‘rolls-off-the-keyboard’ .glaxosimthkline web addresses to come off the presses, we’d be well served by taking a closer look at what this accomplishes.

Until now, people and businesses had to be satisfied with plain old .com, the less sexy .orgs and .nets, or a related country code like Canada’s good old .ca.

Apparently, Big Brands that do not purchase their domain names as suffix do so at their peril. Why exactly? Are there millions of cyber squatters waiting to pay the 185,000$ pleasure of buying .apple? I don’t think web surfers are chomping at the bit to go there when apple.com works just fine.

Also, the companies that do apply are among the most “active, aggressive and articulate members of our society”.

Fear and flattery will get you everywhere.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/17/us-internet-names-idUSTRE75G49W20110617

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/17/us-internet-names-idUSTRE75G49W20110617

Google News on the iPad

Posted in iPad, Uncategorized, UX Design by Protopop on July 16, 2010

In June Google launched a redesigned Google News U.S. edition, a design that immediately  came under fire for its busy layout and 1 column design. Users are forced to sign in if they want to customize the page for a more usable experience.   And while the new experience on the desktop has disappointed , the Google News redesign has become an inefficient multi-step process  on the iPad.

The Original Google News on the iPad

Google News originally has a two column page spanning layout that worked well for many years. Headlines were easy to scan bold type. Columns were fluid and adapted to your browser page width. The page was highly readable without having to sign in. I can still access this old layout by visiting the Canadian version of Google news.

On the iPad, reading this layout is a 1 step process

Step 1 – The Original Layout (via Google News Canada)

Screenshot of Google News Canada on the Apple iPad

Screenshot of Google News Canada on the Apple iPad

The original layout is ready to read from the get go. The 2 column layout is very readable and fluid. Bold headlines are consistent down the page and easily read. News items are grouped into sections as in traditional newspapers. The option to customize the page is subtle and non intrusive. Since the focus of the page is news stories, and not the power of customization, this enhances the usability of the page. As soon as I arrive on this page I’m ready to browse it. As usual, Google has done an excellent job and provided a clean, much needed service.

The Google News Redesign on the iPad

The Google News redesign on the iPad forces me to undergo extra steps every time I reach the page before it is ready for scanning. Google has also backtracked somewhat by reintroducing the option for a 2 column layout. However, since the immovable right column  remains, what we really have is a cramped three column layout (with one non-fluid right column and wasted whitespace on the left) that I can’t imagine will satisfy many people.

Step 1 – Close the Personalization box (1 click)

Google News US edition on the Apple iPad

Step 1 - visit Google News US

If you clear your cookies or have cookies disabled in Safari on the iPad, the rather large personalization box will appear each time you visit Google News.  With the wasted space , intrusive personalization and weather boxes, I am still a few steps away from settling in to scan the page. Please note that I’m using the terminology “click’ here to refer to the ‘touch’ action on touchscreens that is the analogous to mouse clicks action on desktops.

Step 2 – Close the Weather Widget options (3 Clicks)

Google News US - closing the Weather Widget

Google News US - closing the Weather Widget

Much better. Questionable design elements like non-bold headlines outside the top stories, lack of subject grouping and wasted whitespace remain. But thanks to an update today, we can now get rid of the weather widget on the right. Incidentally, the weather widget determines your location and delivers temperatures in Fahrenheit. If you are reading the page in most countries other than the United States, you will still see the temperature in Fahrenheit even though you use the metric system, Celsius. If the box is smart enough to figure out my location, it should return the results in units that hold relevance to me. That said, to close the weather widget

  1. click on the ‘edit’ link on top of the weather box to open the options
  2. deselect ‘show weather for this location’ in the options
  3. click on ‘save changes’ button to close the options

Step 3 – Enable Sections (1 Click)

Google News US without Personalization or Weather Boxes

Google News US without Personalization or Weather Boxes

Now we have a news page that has no personalization or weather boxes. However there is no grouping of news items by subject. Essentially the page is one big smorgasbord of stories. Why does this matter? Compare the original Page grouping with the current ones

Original Google News Groupings

  • Top Stories (analogous to a newspaper front page)
  • World
  • US
  • Business
  • Sci/Tech
  • Entertainment
  • Sports
  • Health

These are based on near universal groupings of some of the largest human disciplines. It has worked well for newspapers for over a century. And while I don’t think that the physical pulp and paper aspect of newspapers will be around much longer, I do think that many of the journalistic and organizing principles that newspapers have fine tuned and honed over the years are very valuable, and have value in the Google News format as a way to organize stories by subject matter.

Current Google News Groupings (iPad Default)

  • Top Stories
  • Recent
  • Local
  • Spotlight
  • Most Popular

For me, the difference between these grouping is far less powerful that the original ones. There is more difference between, say, SciTech and Business than there is between ‘Top Stories’ and ‘Recent’. In fact, if I were trying to simplify things, I’d argue that the differences between ‘Top Stories’ and ‘Recent’, as well as’ Spotlight’ and ‘Most Popular’ are negligible in comparison and quite arbitrary. It’s as if Google News is giving us a page full of arbitrary stories so that we’ll be encouraged to sign in just so we can maintain a personalized experience that has some semblance of organization, something we were originally getting for many years without signing in.

Armed with the ‘why’ of ‘why we need to enable sections’, we can now do it by clicking on the ‘sections’ button in the ‘News for you’ area. Unfortunately this will only organize the stories below by topic, the immutable right column remains organized by the vague topics above.

5 Clicks Later

So what does 5 clicks get you on the iPad? Let’s compare the original and new layout (with our clicks applied)

Google News Comparison - Old vs New Layout

Google News Comparison - Old vs New Layout

In my opinion, the original provides a better news browsing experience on the iPad.

  • I need to go through 5 clicks upon visiting Google News US  every time I clear my cookies or have cookies disabled on the iPad in order to get something that resembles the usability of the original Google News
  • I need to go through 1 click if cookies are enabled and i have preciously closed the personalization and weather boxes. 1 Additional click every time i visit Google News US adds up
  • The resulting layout still does not serve me as intuitively as the original

The 2 Column Option Returns

When I read this morning that Google had relented and provided a 2 column option I breathed a sigh of relief.  However, the implementation is near useless on the iPad. Since the immutable right column remains, what we essential get is a very cramped 4 column layout. A better option is for the 2 column to really mean 2 column, not 2 with  side columns. For some reason Google is very adamant about the presence of their new right fixed width, random story column. Until they become flexible on this point we won’t have the true 2 column usability of the original.

2 Column option on Google News actually creates a cramped 4 column layout

2 Column option on Google News actually creates a cramped 4 column layout

Cookies and New Pages

It’s worth mentioning one more time that all of these personalizations are useless if you are not signed in and clear your cookies and/or have cookies disabled. Upon revisiting Google News US you’ll be presented with the default layout again, including the lack of sections, intrusive personalization box and weather box. Opening a new page in Safari will also reset the ‘Sections’ to the default ungrouped layout upon returning to the Google News page.

Summary

Google is great. It’s not a stretch for me to say this. Google News. Search. Gmail. Google Earth. Google has provided us with so many terrific services for free. But now we seem to be getting to a point where signing in is becoming an increasing necessity in order to get usable services. This is completely within Google’s rights as a for profit company, but it’s not what i signed up for, and is not what attracted me to Google in the first place.

I am perfectly happy to sign in when it’s necessary – I sign into Gmail, Twitter and Facebook all the time and am glad to do it. But those services REQUIRE personalization (ie sign in) in order to function because my emails and tweets are my own. Reading news should not require personalization.  It even brings with it sizable and problematic philosophical issues about reading only what we want to read and limiting our exposure to new ideas.

The hobbled usability of Google News is in my opinion a painfully transparent attempt to force personalization and sign in where the need did not exist in the first place. I hope Google will learn from this just as I learn from them, and implement a solution that will leave users impressed and gasping for more. Most of us are or have been Google fans at one point or another. Let’s hope they are able to continue the tradition of simple, usable and useful services.

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