Length of Podcast Episodes

I ask for feedback on my podcasts on a regular basis in order to further improve them. One recurring theme relates to the optimal length of individual episodes. I typically aim for a length of about 30 minutes in length for episodes that I'm doing by myself and normally about 45 minutes to an hour for episodes that involve a guest. Listeners have suggested having longer and shorter episodes and a number have also indicated that they're fine with the current length. Recently a listener wrote me to suggest that I do a quick poll on the topic to get the range and average preference from a representative number of listeners. I've done that before regarding things like the ideal frequency so decided to do it again regarding the length. I've created a poll using a new (to me) service called Wufoo. I've included a widget at the bottom of the right column of this website that you can use to complete the poll. Feel free to make any comments here too on the topic. Thanks!   

Frequency of Podcasts

I've been a podcaster for more than two years now, producing the UXDesignCast and Life Habits podcast series. I've often wondered at what frequency listeners would like to have the podcast delivered. My ideal frequency, and the frequency I like to receive the podcasts I listen to, is weekly. I listen to a lot of podcasts in a week and typically get through them all in the week. I get a fair bit of feedback from listeners, especially from those who listen to the Life Habits series. Of the feedback that concerns the frequency of episodes, listeners who write in generally ask for more frequent delivery of them. Of course, it could be the case that the people who write in are into the podcast the most and, as a result, want more episodes faster. Podcast download statistics aren't really much use in this regard because subscribers have the episodes delivered to them automatically as soon as they become available and it isn't possible to know when they actually listened to the episodes that were downloaded.  I therefore decided to put up a quick poll to ask the question, "How frequently would you like to have podcast episodes made available?" with the response alternatives of "weekly", "every two weeks", "monthly", and "other". The results indicate that 54% of respondents prefer weekly episodes, 33% every two weeks, and 13% monthly. So, the vast majority of 87% would like to have episodes within a two week period and the majority of those prefer them to appear weekly. This tells me that I should continue to try to deliver on a weekly basis but, if circumstances prevent that and an episode comes out in two weeks, it will still satisfy most listeners.  Of course, I do target putting out weekly episodes, particularly for my Life Habits podcast series.  I'll continue to do that then and will try to increase the frequency of the UXDesignCast ones as well. Of course, feel free to provide any additional feedback you may have on this via the comment feature of this site.

Mobile Usage Trends

I've noticed a dramatic change in how I use technology. I used to have a desktop computer many years ago but then switched to a notebook computer exclusively (mostly a ThinkPad). Over the past few years I've increasingly used a hand-held device as well (first an iPod Touch and then an iPhone). In addition to these changes, most of the data I work with is now stored in the "cloud". All of this has resulted in my being able to do certain types of tasks on either of my devices while some are still done better on one or the other device. I find this amazingly liberating.

Most of the tech pundits I read and listen to also talk about this type of transition in their use of technology. However, I wondered how pervasive or representative this change in usage was. As I often do, I decided to turn to Twitter to ask the followers of my @ibmdesign account to take a brief poll answering the question, "Please indicate the devices you use to do your e-mail during a typical day (check all that apply)" and giving the options of "Desktop Computer, Notebook Computer, Smartphone, and Other". I chose e-mail given that it can be done reasonably well on any of these devices.

The poll was completed by 228 people (thanks to those who responded!) and the results showed that 39.5 percent of e-mail was done using a Notebook Computer, 38.2 percent was done using a Smartphone, and only 22.4 percent was done on a Desktop Computer. Although there was an "Other" category, most of the responses could have been placed into the other categories so I did that to simplify the analysis. So it appears that Notebook Computers and Smartphones are used almost equally and Desktop Computers are used relatively little. Who would have thought just a few years ago that we'd be doing half of our e-mail using our phones? It's important to point out that the poll asked respondents to "check all that apply" so the results shouldn't be interpreted as indicating that 38.2 percent of respondents exclusively use their Smartphones for doing e-mail. In reality, most people likely do some of their e-mail on a Smartphone and leave a certain portion of it to a time when they have a Notebook or Desktop Computer at their disposal. I find that I don't deal with e-mails that are more involved, have extensive attachments, or require me to write a lengthy reply on the iPhone but leave those to deal with on my ThinkPad.

It'll be interesting to see what will happen to these trends when Apple's iPad is introduced into the mix. How do you think these trends will change as a result? Please use the comment mechanism to provide your thoughts on this.

Browser Design

Operating systems are becoming less important and browsers more important as data move into the cloud and virtually all our interactions whether we're using a computer or a smart phone are through a browser. Even though we often read market share numbers for the various browsers in the press, I was interested in learning what readers of this blog and followers of my Twitter accounts used. Readers of this blog are three times more likely to use Firefox as they are to use Internet Explorer or Safari and those browsers are used about equally by the blog readers. Chrome is about half as popular as IE and Safari. Opera use hardly registers. Let's now look at browser use by the followers on Twitter. As shown in the pie chart, Firefox is used by 61% of followers, Chrome by 12%, Safari by 11%, IE by 10%, and Opera by 4%. Firefox leads by a large margin is browser use when considering blog readers or Twitter followers. Safari and IE are clustered together in second place and Chrome is in that pack based on the Twitter results too. Opera doesn't appear to be in the running.

What leads to these results and why are they so different from the numbers typically reported in the press? Many argue that the higher numbers in the press reported for IE are due to users of computers running Windows who simply haven't or don't know how to use a browser other than the one that came installed on their computer. Readers of this blog and followers of the Twitter account are likely more advanced users who have made a choice of which browser they want to use. Incidentally, the Safari numbers are likely increasing due to the increase in Macs, iPhones, and iPod Touches with the latter two having only Safari available as a browser and Macs have the choice currently of Safari and Firefox (with half the blog readers who use Macs using Safari and half Firefox). Interestingly, only one reader in the past month used Safari on Windows.
If the readers and followers are more discerning, what are they using as their primary criteria for choosing a browser. I asked my Twitter followers to list their top three criteria and here's what they said:
  • easy and clear GUI, low memory usage, amount of available addons that are useful
  • speed, tabs, does it behave with applications like a web meeting
  • Internet Explorer 6, Internet Explorer 7, Internet Explorer 8, in other words standards based
  • speed, speed, and speed
  • speed, organization of my info such as downloads/history/bookmarks, and lack of Microsoft influence
  • availability of add-ons, speed, tab browsing
  • speed, fewer buttons, customized extensions (zotero); as a result I am most often using FF, and waiting for zotero on chrome
  • security, speed, compatibility with the sites I visit (aka adherence to web standards)
  • starts fast; loads pages fast; flash and java support
  • my company standard (IE), what my web visitors use (IE), habit (IE). Chrome is nice but IE has my cookies
  • it's not IE, it's not IE, still not IE
  • it is what my users use based on web logs, same, same (always ends up as IE)
  • speed, security, apps
  • speed, reliability, developer tools. only since chrome have I considered speed to be really important
  • that it's not written by Microsoft, speed, support for social services (delicious, twitter etc)
A pretty interesting set of responses. There are a few common themes. The importance of speed was mentioned 12 times and people tend to feel pretty strongly about IE both positively and negatively. Web standards was mentioned several times and, interestingly, as a reason to use IE. Add-ons and extensions were a factor too and mostly in relation to Firefox.
I personally haven't used IE for a number of years other than for the one or two applications that I need to use which only work in IE. I've used Firefox as my primary browser on Windows and Mac until very recently when I've moved to Chrome on Windows and am waiting for it to be made available on the Mac. The speed of Chrome, particularly in rendering JavaScript, the single search/address bar, the minimal browser UI especially in application mode, and the addition of themes recently motivated me to make Chrome my default browser. I'm very pleased with it. I hope that all those who develop browsers will follow Google's lead with its Chrome browser. As always, I'd very much appreciate it if you would use the comment feature of this blog to share any thoughts you may have on this. Thanks.


Open Source Design

Open Source Software (OSS) is an interesting phenomenon. The idea of having many developers working individually and together for free to create an offering for others to use is truly intriguing. I'd recommend reading Chris Anderson's new book, "Free: The Future of a Radical Price" for an explanation for the motivation behind this type of free contribution. I've been interested for some time in the aspects of Open Source software that are done well and the aspects that aren't done as well. I've also been interested in the related issue of the relative contribution to Open Source projects by developers versus designers. Let's first start with the general interest in Open Source Software. I asked my Twitter followers to take a poll asking them what type of software they preferred and fully 65% indicated that they prefer open source software. The reasons given included the fact that it is free and that they like the philosophy behind it. However, the reasons often given for preferring proprietary/commercial software is better design and support. When I asked the followers who are designers whether they had contributed to an open source project, only 11 percent said that they had and 95 percent were of the view that we needed a better system for having designers contribute to open source projects.

Many of the open source projects I've seen do need help in the area of user experience design. There are exceptions but most of those involve design contributed from a company that directly funds that work and often that results in a commercial offering. In fact, some would argue that it is the addition of good user experience design that provides the business value to create a commercial product from an open source project. Is that the only way to improve the design of open source projects? I'd very much appreciate it if you would use the comment section below to provide any ideas you may have on how to improve the design of open source software.