Two Canadian apps to help you make informed decisions

I recently came across two apps coming from Canada that are designed to help the user make informed decisions.

The first is Democracy Link helps connect you to your elected representative and send them messages. A Google search would net you the same results but anything that removes a barrier to communicating with your representative is helpful. Over on this Reddit thread the creator answered some questions.

Over here in Vancouver we’re in the middle of a plebiscite on whether we want more public transit or not. Despite the fact that that whole previous sentence is ridiculous there has been some good that’s come from it. Moving Forward teamed up with Discourse Media to create a web app that tells you the costs, personal and societal, of your choice of transit for your commute. It’s a useful tool and lets me feel superior about my cycling. Too bad it’s buried under around 500 words. Pro tip: don’t bury the lead.

Why aren’t mobile games more reflective of their users?

TempleRunIf you’re even remotely interested in video games or feminism and use the internet then you know that any discussion of the two has inevitably turned into an absolute clusterfuck for the last 6 months. It’s a shame too because in all the controversy about controversy – and I don’t want to downplay the legitimate issues that are wrapped up in that – stuff like this recent Washington Post article are slipping through the cracks.

Of the apps that did have gender-identifiable characters, 98 percent offered boy characters. What shocked me was that only 46 percent offered girl characters. Even worse, of these 50 apps, 90 percent offered boy characters for free, while only 15 percent offered girl characters for free. Considering that the players of Temple Run, which has been downloaded more than one billion times, are 60 percent female, this system seems ridiculous.

This isn’t a malicious problem but it is a pervasive one – I mean the numbers show it. Take for example Temple Run, it’s created by a husband and wife team who, at least in the interviews I’ve read, seem like really nice people. I can’t imagine them twirling their mustaches at the idea of disempowering little girls. In fact, they have a version of the game that defaults to a female character (Temple Run: Brave). But it is indicative of an industry wide issue.

It’s like the Bechdel Test. The problem isn’t that one game charges for female characters, it’s that 85% of games charge for them if they even have them. That’s got to be disheartening and something that young kids, unfortunately, internalize.

It’s a shame we aren’t talking about this more. Not just because she has a point, but because a 12 year old doing something like this is something to be encouraged.

.com is 30 today

Things this website is older than: new Coke, the NES, Taylor Swift, Jurrasic Park the book, Jurrasic Park the movieThe .com domain, much like Back to the Future, turned 30 this year. In fact it turned 30 just on March 15th. That’s far enough back that the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine’s first logged version is from 1998 when the site was already a teenager. It even has a visitor counter! I haven’t seen one of those since the days of Geocities and Dogpile.

via Boing Boing

March is NSFW month on Ello

So, today I get this email from Ello announcing that March is NSFW month…

March is NSFW Month on Ello

Following Google’s decision to ban NSFW content from Blogger (followed by an awkward reversal), we decided to celebrate freedom of speech on Ello by naming March NSWF Month.

Now, if you head to their new new freedom of speech page you can see this message and get an instant invite:

Ello respects your right to free speech.

If you’re afraid you may someday get kicked off your social network or blogging platform because you post NSFW content, don’t sweat it. You’re always welcome on Ello.

Despite being declared dead many times since it was launched last year, and being criticised for its ‘inability’ to appeal to masses, the invite-only ad-free social network has been growing as a niche platform for designers and artists.

Ello plans to use alternative methods to generate revenue – an Ello Feature app store yet to be launched, and a t-shirt sale that sold “tens of thousands” of shirts.

Haters gonna hate. Meanwhile, enjoy your NSFW month!

I’m pretty sure Trust Engineer is a job title straight out of 1984

Over the last few months I’ve spent a lot of time working on usability and user experience in my day job since we’re in the middle of designing a new site. A lot of that time has been spent working on language and figuring out what words we can use to encourage people to take action.

Yesterday I listened to the most recent Radiolab podcast (embedded below) and it was a nice piece of serendipity. The podcast talks about the social engineers at Facebook and how their small tweaks to language and design can have big impacts on usability.

It’s amazing what the simple addition of the word “it’s” to a description of an emotion can have such a huge impact on the way that people perceive a tool.

via Radiolab

Someone at the Conservative Party of Canada is trying to justify all the time they spend on Buzzfeed at work

A few weeks ago a prominent Republican in the US published an article criticizing President Obama by using Taylor Swift gifs. The Buzzfeedification of the discourse was ridiculous but apparently not too uncommon as this picture recently popped up on Reddit.

CPC clickbait

A clickbait-y title like that on Facebook isn’t exactly out of place, and hey they work. What crops up further down in the comment thread though?

The Department of Foreign Affairs has, twice, published listicles on Buzzed as a community brand publisher. You can read 12 Ways Iran Is At War Over The Internet and 11 Myths Putin Is Spreading About The Crisis In Ukraine.

The DFATD talks Iran and the Internet

Maybe I’m just old fashioned but I find it hard to focus on a government sponsored listicle giving me the nuances of foreign policy when there’s an article promising to explain why people are sexually attracted to Simba from the Lion King giving me it’s siren call.

We live in a world where Taylor Swift gifs are seen as a valid form of political dissent…


I think we all just need to take a minute to appreciate that fact that the office of John Boehner – you know the guy 2nd in line to be in charge of the US after the VP – published an article on his website criticizing President Obama’s free college proposal, and that criticism took the form of 12 Taylor Swift gifs. I guess someone over there figured that if it works for Buzzfeed…

Actually here’s the thing, the article lists two authors, Deputy Communications Director and the Digital Communications Director of the office. That means that at least two people, probably more, sat in an office in DC and had a discussion about how they should connect with “youngsters” and that this was the result. I find it hilarious to think that the decision to use Taylor Swift was also probably very deliberate and thought out. 

On a more practical note the fact that they chose to use Taylor Swift gifs exclusively really hurt them. I can think of a few Kanye West gifs that really would have driven their point home more /s.

[infographic] The 3 most important words you should include in your title

Buzzfeed, and to a lesser extent Upworthy, get a lot of shit for the trend they started in attractive but uninformative titling. They deserve a lot of it but you can’t deny that their tactic works and that people can’t resist clicking on them.

Reddit user Minimaxir looked at around 60,000 Buzzfeed articles and tracked which 3 word phrases got the most Facebook shares. The answer will surprise you! (I couldn’t resist)

Buzzfeed 3-grams

Meshnet app takes off in Hong Kong

I saw an interesting article a couple days ago about FireChat taking off in Hong Kong because of the protests, a peer to peer chat program that uses a meshnet to work. That means that it doesn’t require any cell signal or wifi to work. Instead it creates a giant distributed network using everyone’s bluetooth.

The main benefit of this is that your ability to communicate can’t be shut down by outside sources (unless there’s some way to jam the bluetooth signal). The downside is that meshnets are by no means secure. I mean by default they’re about as insecure as you can get since they depend on a bunch of people creating a network with little in the ways of verification. So you’re particularly susceptible to what are called “man in the middle” attacks. Lot’s of meshnets use encryption to help deal with this but it’ll always be a worry.

On a (somewhat) related note, malware seems to be running rampant on mobiles in Hong Kong right now.