The future of airline sites

This video demo of a mocked-up airline website of the future is stunning. A lot of people are focusing on this as a way of airlines to play travel agent, since there are city guides and hotel information, but the essence of what makes this demo great is the simple ease of use of planning air travel. I’ve gone from round-trip to one-way tickets in searches and lost all my data, having to start over from scratch (in the demo it’s a single click to change). The way multi-city searches are built is also slick and way easier. Of all the parts of this demo I think are worth building, I’d say just the basic new flight search being quick and easy would be a game changer for the industry.

Satellite Eyes = awesome

Coronado, San Diego, CA via Satellite Eyes

The app Satellite Eyes is a great little addition to any traveler's mac laptop. It automatically figures out your location then fetches map tiles of where you are located at that moment, and makes them your desktop background. It offers several options of mapping, either full satellite photos, terrain maps, simplified black and white line maps, and finally watercolor.

Watercolor is the killer part of the app here. It was already a beautiful option that could be used in interesting ways when added to Open Street Maps a few months ago, but it's truly amazing when you are traveling and you get an unexpected gorgeous desktop out of it like the one pictured above. Last week, I opened my laptop up at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, California and took a screenshot. I love it when software offers unexpected delights such as this one and I can't recommend this app enough for those on the go (on a desktop it will never change which is a bit blah).

Oh, and I'm using the app WeatherMin (also download worthy) to display the outside temp on the desktop in the screenshot above.

Quick thoughts on Pinboard

I've been a Delicious.com user since late 2003, back when it launched. I was happy when it was sold to Yahoo as it meant (what I thought would be) a secure future. Recently, Yahoo revealed that they would like to shutter/sell the site and a rush for alternatives pushed a lot of people towards Pinboard.

I actually signed up for Pinboard about six months ago, intending to use it as a backup archive of my stuff on Delicious, with the hopes of someday using it natively. I recall being impressed that Pinboard could also pull my links out of Twitter, since I often feel guilty throwing interesting links into the wind of Twitter (Twitter is terrible at archiving and finding old tweets so I ask myself why I don't just use delicious instead of Twitter every time I drop a link there). It also pulls stuff I mark at Instapaper and stuff I share at Google Reader. Along with automatic Delicious backups, Pinboard works amazingly as a personal archiving service that lets me find old interesting sites using a variety of tags and search.

Always a but

But the site bills itself as "anti social networking" and "bookmarks for introverts". I understand some of the backlash over weird twitter/screenshots/popularity integration at Delicious, but like Twitter, on Delicious you choose your followers and once you find a couple dozen amazing web surfers marking up interesting out-of-the-way places before anyone else does, you might find like me that the /network/ feature of Delicious is a killer once-a-day visit that often leads to half a dozen interesting finds. It's odd to me that one of the principal features at Pinboard called out on their "Delicious vs. Pinboard" page is NOT being able to identify who is following you even though Pinboard will tell you how many people follow you. I found quite a number of interesting Delicious users from people that were "fans" of mine (I always liked that use of the word at Delicious, better than "follower" or "subscriber"). After the great exodus from Delicious to Pinboard last week, someone built a tool to try and locate people that migrated from one service to another, but it would have been nice if that was native to Pinboard itself.

Like I said, I can understand the reluctance to make Pinboard into yet another social media platform and I made a lot of arbitrary decisions in designing MetaFilter so that it's not gamed by morons but as a user of Delicious for the past 7 years, I've grown accustomed to the subtle network effects for the purposes of discovery and some of the features purposefully lacking in Pinboard rob it of some of that utility.

Two headed beast

So the thing I keep coming back to in thinking about Pinboard is that it's trying to be both a bookmark organizer and archive/storage place for your personal use but also a networked viewer of what your friends are saving (while lacking some functionality). It's a conflicting message to see the homepage of the site say it's anti-social and for introverts but the first few options in the site's navigation are pages of bookmarks from others: network, popular, recent.

Using the site, I find my /network/ view to be less than 100% useful, thanks to the cool archiving options mentioned earlier. If I follow someone on twitter and also at Pinboard, I'll often see links and tweets reproduced that I've read hours earlier. I've had to unfollow several people that elected to do the Twitter integration because of this, even though I myself set my account to do this (and for useful personal archive reasons). I look at my own Pinboard feed and imagine someone else reading it and there are tons of useless things in there, Twitter @replies to personal friends where I was sharing a link to something that makes no sense outside of me and that one other person on earth. Comparing my own Delicious feed to my own Pinboard feed I see this theme repeated: my Pinboard feed is personally useful, but socially uninteresting.

And there in lies the rub: Pinboard extends the functionality of Delicious to any links you drop in Twitter, sites you choose to read later at Instapaper, and interesting things you share at Google Reader, but like Instapaper, that works best as a personal archiving appliance that you use personally to dig up a story about raising kids you read six months ago at the New York Times. But when you combine extensive personal archiving with a public view mixed into a network of shared links from dozens of friends, you get a mish-mash of bookmarks, jokes from twitter, and wacky sites someone liked in Google Reader. As a personal archive tool, it's pretty impressive, as a shared space to find interesting bookmarks, it's problematic.

In the end, I'll likely continue using Delicious to track bookmarks with Pinboard as a backup/archive tool that I'll gladly continue to pay for. For now I'll continue to hit my Delicious network page to find new things and occasionally check in with the Pinboard network and popular pages to try and find stuff though I find them less useful than Delicious.

The mobile design cargo cult

The iPhone has done very well, outselling expectations and overall
giving every user a good experience. I have to say it's the most
exciting and useful gadget I've bought in many years, to the point
where I don't know what I'd do without it, given that it offers stuff
like knowlege of traffic ahead of me, every contact from my computer,
can pinpoint my location almost anywhere on earth, and is easily
upgradable and endlessly extensible through third party apps. Like Matt Jones said, it makes me feel like I have superhero powers (at least for information).

I've noticed in airports and magazines and fast-forwarded commercials
that every phone carrier seems to be making an iPhone competitor now. You can always tell because they look like an iPhone, therefore they should be just as good as one, right? Have you seen these things? (ex: LG, Blackberry, Samsung)

It's my hypothesis that the powers that be in the mobile phone world are essentially a cargo cult. Somewhere in a boardroom 1-2 years ago a CEO screamed "make it black and touchscreen, then put a chrome bezel around it and the masses won't know the difference."

iStockphoto ends up on a license plate!


My new license plate, originally uploaded by mathowie.

I love my new Share the Road license plate that is now offered here in Oregon. It's only $10 as a one-time fee and half goes to the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and half goes to Cycle Oregon, both bike-friendly organizations I support.

I noticed it looked familiar when it showed up. I've been a casual user of iStockphoto for some time and I recently designed a site for a race series a friend was throwing (first race is this Saturday and I'll be there in the beginner class!) and I used iStockphoto to get that cool outline of Oregon and the cyclist profile (I used a slightly different illustration). When I opened the DMV envelope I instantly recognized the cyclist, because it's this file, just reversed, and with the water bottle removed from the outline.

I'm not faulting the designer, iStockphoto is a great place to get super cheap illustrations and I use them all the time, rather, I'm more stoked that an illustration there ended up working all the way up to an optional state license plate.

Layer Tennis this week

I went to the dentist last week and while I was still high off the fumes, I mistakenly said “yes” to doing commentary for this Friday’s upcoming Layer Tennis match. I’ve spent the better part of today reading up on old matches and following Rafe’s excellent guide to judging.

This week they’re doing video with After Effects and since I know virtually nothing about actual motion production, I promise to be a completely clueless flailing treat to everyone.

Boing Boing redo

I gotta say that I’m enjoying the Boing Boing redesign so much that I’m actually breaking down and making a real blog entry about it (as opposed to a witty twitter quip, or simple delicious link, or a lowly screenshot posted on flickr).

I thought the old design was showing its age and the ad layouts were very distracting (the jokes about it looking like NASCAR weren’t too far off). I even sent a mockup of a cleaner layout to Xeni and Cory a couple years ago, but I never thought it would change and assumed it would putter on for several more years in its previous state. I don’t know what prompted the change, but the new look is a great improvement. It’s way cleaner, easier to read, and the ads are no longer distracting. I disagree with Nelson on the change (though I agreed with his previous assessment). At this point in the lifespan of Boing Boing (one million dollars!), I no longer compare them to other blogs and instead to major media outlets, so I’m cutting them slack on three ad zones. Look at any page at even nicely designed media sites like the New York Times and you’ll see 3-5x more advertisements. So among top-shelf media sites, their advertising is barely noticeable.

I’m also happy to see a new gadget blog that’s unlike all the other million gadget blogs out there. It helps that it’s authored by my all time favorite gadget blogger, a man that deserves a medal for getting hired to write a regular column on Gizmodo, only to get fired after Gawker editors and readers took his first essay way too personally and seriously. It’s clear from day one of this new Boing Boing blog that this won’t be another shopping or wishlist gadget blog. Free from all the pointless gadget lust that powers other sites, this looks like it’ll be more along the lines of “interesting crap someone built that looks cool/works in a cool way.”

Bottom line, it was a great surprise to see Boing Boing’s new layout and direction today and I think it’s a huge positive change (and adding comments was nice too).