Shopping Online = Playing a Virtual Reality Game?

While declaring that  “Content is King” is dead, the UK based Travolution Magazine is recommending a stiff dose of “User Experience Redesign” for Online Travel Agencies in the US as the way out of the current industry-wide stagnation in online travel sales. 

The editor, Kevin May has this to say

Research from Forrester a few months back indicated that online bookings in the US are falling despite an increase in the number of visitors to corresponding website. This is a disturbing trend.

[Consumers]  are also asking for more from the providers of services during their time on the web.

This is a problem for the travel industry because, until very recently, it has been focused primarily on the transactional elements.

So-called ‘user experience’ has invariably been left to ensuring accessibility guidelines are complied with (or not, as is often the case) and sizeable sums of money being spent on flashy designs

A concerted effort by travel companies to improve user experience on websites can only benefit their consumers, and the sector as a whole.

With virtual reality video games and online worlds like Second Life – not to mention the cool animated movies that have been topping the box offices for a few years now – expectations from an online experience are increasing. Add to the mix the fact that a Travel Purchase is essentially purchasing an experience – not a book that you order from Amazon and get to stack on your nightstand. The customer is expecting a preview of the experience as a key ingredient to the purchase decision-making process.

Speaking of buying boxes, Amazon and Best Buy sites treat customers the best according to a recent survey. Amazon just wrapped up its best season ever. The Wall Street is certainly very happy.

It’s time to start borrowing ideas from the video-games and the movie industry to make travel shopping an ‘immersed’ experience. Remember The Matrix and the Matrix Online game? Just my personal favorites! Your mileage may vary…

Going Mobile with Everything!

I have been on my faithful Blackberry for almost two years now. Email, Calendar and Internet were the basic building blocks for being productive while mobile. My project planning and task management was on my laptop strung together among Microsoft Project, MindManager and Microsoft OneNote – with the occassional sync to Blackberry Tasks.

Early last year I installed ToDoMatrix from RexWireless on my Blackberry as a better way to manage Projects and Tasks – with reasonable success. I was still juggling with multiple tools on the laptop and trying to get to a single picture of my commitments and plans.

Then, ToDoMatrix was upgraded a few months ago to ‘7-Dimensions’ that supports Getting Things Done (GTD) Methodology, along with support for a lot of other customizations. After experimenting with a new workflow using ToDoMatrix, I am finally discarding the chain to my laptop. I can now do all my planning and execution on my Blackberry. MindManager will still be a standalone brainstorming tool; Microsoft Project will still schedule and manage Enterprise Projects, and OneNote will still be the prime sketching tool. But they will not hold the one version of truth. The truth is now Mobile and free!

Sketching Ideas and the Future

My fascination with sketches and white-boards is a perpetual target for jokes and comments from friends, family and colleagues. We could be discussing the most complex bit of business or systems architecture …. or just trying to agree upon a decision criteria to choose the new television for the living-room… Boxes, Circles, Arrows and 2×2 Matrices will start appearing on convenient surfaces at hand – mostly in color if I can manage it (4 colors are best, in my opinion)!

I view my impulse to sketch as a fairly non-hazardous idiosyncrasy – as long as the people around me are willing to be patient while I try to get everyone (and my understanding) literally on the same page. Most of the time we end up with a more focussed discussion, a much clearer understanding and a more comprehensive action-plan, solution or whatever was the goal of the gathering. Sometimes, people run for the hills!

Sketching works for me and I use it as a crutch/tool for thinking all the time. So, I was delighted to find from the Bill Buxton of Microsoft Research that I am following in the traditions of good designers. I have just read his book, ‘Sketching User Experiences’, and came away impressed by his thesis that to create a practical view of the future you need to ‘sketch’ out relevant pictures for all users who you hope would participate in that future.

Getting Things Done with Blackberry

I have been a fan of Getting Things Done philosophy for personal (and organizational?) productivity for a long time. Perfecting the system for my own use took almost a year…but I was able to stay on track despite falling off the wagon a few times for short periods. Now, I am glad to be on the GTD bus for more than two years.

As I shifted from my HPCompaq PPC handheld to a new Blackberry, I was disappointed with the tool sets available on the BB. Then I ran into a nice article on implementing GTD using Blackberry…experimented a little bit…and came up with my own implementation, using BB exclusively for GTD. No other tools needed! Will write about that sometime soon…

Fuzzy Logic Systems are Evolved Structures

One could argue that fuzzy logic systems…that learn through their own ‘experience’ do not have a structure…

Look carefully and you realize that the difference lies in composition vs behavior. These systems are composed of elements based on well thought out architecture and structure; but at the same time their intended behavior is to evolve without pre-defined structure.

So there is underlying architecture masked so effectively that you could believe that it does not exist….sounds like a perfect definition of architecture, doesn’t it?

The Whiteboard Sketch

I am constantly amazed at how powerful the simple act of reaching for a white board marker is. When I see someone flip over the cocktail napkin and reach for a pen, I feel the same anticipation…here is a new idea and a brain dump on its way, more powerful in presentation, more focussed and therefore more persuasive….all because there is a ’structure’ to it, there is a framework to the sketches and all components of the idea are organized clearly relative to each other.

Architecture in the making, I say.