Weeknotes #231

This week I did:

Annual Review 2020

I looked back over the year and wrote a bit about the things that went well and that didn’t. It helped me focus on my goals for next year.

900 Digital Tools

The Ultimate Digital Tools List now has 900 products and tools. Next target is one thousand.

Panta Rhei

I wrote and sent my second Digital Nomad Newsletter, and this one was actually read by my three subscribers. I’m getting a better idea about how I want to use the newsletter. It’ll be a bit about my experiences of being a digital nomad, places I’ve visited, etc., but mostly it’ll be about the underpinning thinking for the lifestyle and mindset of digital nomads, remote and flexible workers

Message me

Added smallchat to my website. Its a cool integration with Slack so when anyone messages me on my website I can chat back from my phone. It’s especially cool because no one is going to message me, so I can play with things like this without being bothered.


And thought about:

Meetings

I was thinking about how much we complain about meetings, but other than some ideas on asynchronous communication, we don’t really have any good ideas for replacing them. I wonder if it’s because meetings tackle different problems for different people in different situations, but we don’t call out what any particular meeting is meant to achieve. I don’t mean that each meeting should have an agenda, and that that would fix it all. I mean that when people started working in offices meetings solved a communication and coordination problem because getting people in a room together was the only way to do it, there was no technology that could solve those problems. Then, there was a period where we did have the technology but continued to put people in a room together, and now we put people in virtual meetings together. I wonder if we think meetings are still solving the coordination challenge that work ultimately is, when maybe they are solving other problems, possibly social connection problems. Do we have meetings because we want to be in the in crowd, don’t want to feel like we’re missing out on anything, don’t want to feel lonely at work. Perhaps understanding and decoupling those problems could lead to solving them in different ways.

Repetitions

I thought about Craig Burgess’, “Make the focus tighter and the repetitions more frequent”. It works as a solution to a particular problem, but it isn’t a starting point. Intuitively it make sense, especially if you have any pre-existing agile conditions. Feedback loops are really important. Just doing the same thing more isn’t going to achieve very much if you’re doing the wrong thing. How you build feedback mechanisms into the things you do, and use those to course correct seems far less understood. It also made me think about how so many wisdom-tweets are at a point in time, for a particular person, in a particular context, with a particular history, and with particular prerequisites.

One hundred innovation ideas

I was wondering if I’ve learnt enough about innovation, from an academic perspective and in practice, to write one hundred short blog posts. I thought it might be an interesting and challenge-ified way to revise and recap my knowledge. I wonder if I’ll ever have time to do.


And read:

Remote work

I read Exploring the opportunities of asynchronous communication and the (conscientiously) written word and Did A Virus Just Bring About The End Of The Office? as part of my interest in WFA

Midweek nudge

I read the Midweek Nudge Compilation by Deepansh Khurana from his newsletter. It’s interesting to me for a number of things, a) how useful the knowledge (expressed as information) is in all of these kinds of things, and as a side-project

Reading list

I put together my reading list for the module I’ll be studying this term on Digital Creativity and New Media Management. It’s about art and creativity and the use digital technology, so it should be really interesting.


Tweets read:

Liquid employment

I tweeted that “Liquid employment is going to revolutionise knowledge transfer“. Liquid employment is the idea that as employees don’t need to be in an office for eight hours a day it frees them up to work multiple part-time jobs for multiple employers. If employers are smart about this they’ll encourage the knowledge transfer between themselves and other firms and utilise it in competitive ways.

GDPR

Oikos Digital tweeted about the “changes for me and my clients regarding data protection when the UK leaves the EU“. It’s a really useful primer to make you think about the impact Brexit is going to have on data protection.

Indie economics for good

Traf tweeted, “A few things I’ve learned this year from building a small, profitable internet business from zero to $100k ARR in 8 months.” Apart from my interest in the indie maker economy, I’m keen to figure out some ideas about how charities can learn from this kind of thing, and where the overlaps are in the economics of what charities provide and how makers make money.

2020 Annual Review

Fifty years ago Alvin Toffler and Adelaide Farrell wrote a book called Future Shock. They defined the term “future shock” as a psychological state where individuals and entire societies experience “too much change in too short a period of time”. They could have been writing about 2020.

Our world suddenly became one of health catastrophe, economic collapse, post-truth populist politics, post-geographic post-industrial work, isolation, loneliness and unpredictable change.

The challenge of life became one of adapting to change, for the entire world, and for me.

What didn’t go so well

Let’s get the things that didn’t go so well out of the way first.

Exercise & physical health

I started studying Krav Maga, which I really got a lot out of. Pandemics, not enough time, and not being in one place made it impossible to continue.

Indie maker side projects

I started lots of side projects, didn’t finish any of them. Mostly that’s ok though as the projects were more about learning about the indie maker community and approaches to side projects. The side project I worked most on was the Ultimate Digital Tools List. There are lots small lists on nocode products and the like but I wanted to create as a comprehensive a list as possible with the idea that it could be used by indie makers to figure out the best tech stack for their business.

I joined Visualise Value, a paid community of indie makers, but never gave it enough time to get the most out it.

Reading

I wanted to read books. Actual books. But I never had the time. Any time I could of spent reading I choose to spend studying. Rightly so, because it’s more of a priority but it meant all those books remain unread.

What went well

I’m grateful that so many things went well this year.

Work

I started a new role at the Prince’s Trust in January. And I’ve really enjoyed it. It hasn’t been without its challenges, but that’s where the fun is, in figuring out how to navigate the things that get in the way. I’m lucky to have a manager who is clear about what he wants to achieve and what he wants me to achieve. I’m even luckier to be part of a team that wants to learn how to build things that help young people achieve.

Volunteering

I continued to be a trustee of a small mental health charity. For some time I’ve wondered whether I should resign, whether I have anything of value to add. Then, one day one comment from one person and I realised what I bring. I’m the only one on the board who works in the charity sector, so although I don’t have experience in investing or property management I can offer some perspective on what I see happening across the sector and how these might be relevant to our charity and work.

Education

I finished the first year of my masters and started the second year. I’ve really benefited from the change its had on my thinking. It has made me be more critical, connect things into the history of ideas that helps us understand them, and given me a sold foundation for my thinking in the future. It has taken more time than I thought it would but been less intellectually demanding.

Carer

For the past seven years I’ve been a carer for a family member with serious mental illness. It was the most difficult challenge I’ve ever faced and most stressful experience of my life. But we made it. All that hard work paid off. By the middle of this year she was well enough to not need me as a carer anymore. Even though I hardly ever talked about it, or how it affected me, being a carer was a big part of my identity, and not being a carer is a big change. But a positive one. It opens up opportunities for me. I feel proud of her, of all that she has achieved, and all that she will in the future.

Friends

I’m grateful that old friends could turn to me when they needed help. I may not be the kind of friend that stays in touch and grabs a coffee every week but I’ll never turn away from someone asking for help.

Reflective practice

I continued to write Weeknotes every week (230 in a row by the end of this year). I find them a really useful way of reflecting on the things I’ve been doing, thinking about and reading.

Blogging

I wrote quite a few blog posts, mostly about digital charity and innovation. I completely get that they aren’t the kinds of blog posts most people want to read. Most of them are more like badly written essays that have been poorly researched and sprinkled with a few of my random ideas than they are blog posts that might be useful to someone.

Walked

I finished walking the Ridgeway. My brothers and I had been gradually (very gradually, it’s taken us years) walking the full length from Ivinghoe to Avebury and we finally finished it. The Ridgeway is considered one the oldest roads in Europe, which makes it a bit more special than just any national path or long walk.

Digital charity

I tried to be more a part of the digital charity community on Twitter. I met and chatted with some fantastic people, got mentioned in the 3rd sector newsletter, did a buddy chat video, took part in Charity Hour conversations about innovation, tried to start a fundraising campaign, and did some product advisor work.

Inputs & processes

I tired to improve my inputs, so rather than just randomly scrolling through Twitter I read newsletters, set up daily search term alerts, and increased my note-taking.

Digital nomad

I became a digital nomad, living and working in my car, and started an email newsletter about it.

So much happened this year. Part of me hopes that next year will be calmer, but I don’t expect that it will.

The most important thing I learned in 2020: Let it go

What am I going to work on next year?

Same goals, more work. Do good work at work to help direct the products we build to meet the needs of the people we want to help. Finish my masters. Contribute more to the digital charity community. Carrying on being a digital nomad. Improve my inputs and optimise how I process them. I have more detailed goals for 2021, but the ultimate goal is always to be more resilient to the changes that will inevitably occur.

“The only difference between you and the victim is the attitude with which you enter the water.”

― USCG AST Manual

Reviewing the Oxfam app

Oxfam recently launched a new app. It was billed in the Guardian as being about building trust with supporters as it puts the control of their contact preferences in the hands of the supporter.

Here are a few of my observations:

Registration

The app allows social login with Facebook and Google, which is good, but then requires Email and Mobile number to complete your registration. I can go into settings to change my preferences, but then I find out that I have been opted-in to Phone, Text and Email communications, which I wasn’t told about during registration. I can change these communication preferences to opt out of contact by phone, text or email, but if this is about building trust the journey is around the wrong way. It should allow me to register with the minimum of information and then later add my phone if I want to opt-in to phone or text contact.

Once the initial permission settings have been selected they are locked for an unknown amount of time whilst they are (presumably) recorded in Oxfam’s database. I can appreciate the technical reasons for this but it doesn’t offer a great customer experience as it could make a person feel locked in to their earlier selection. It might be better to allow the changes to be made on the app at any time and then be sent to the CRM database with scheduled frequency and provide information saying that the changes may take a given number of days to take effect.

Working offline

App should always be built to work offline first, and this app isn’t. Mobile connectivity isn’t just a first world problem and although the app is clearly built for western world supporters it should still aim to follow best practices and provide basic functionality even if the user is not connected to the internet.

Menu

Contact Preferences are in Settings. In fact they are only thing in Settings, so why not call it Contact Preferences rather than settings, again building trust that the charity takes the supporters right to choose how they are contacted seriously?

The rest of the menu looks like a micro version of the organisation with buttons to sections like Get Involved, Support Now, and Shop. I wonder what kind of user testing was done to find out what supporters want in an app or whether the app developers just added stuff because they could.

Content

It certainly looks like a lot more thought has been put into the storytelling content on the app as the content is formatted specifically for the app rather than just wrapping the mobile site for sections like Shop. The cause-related storytelling uses a timeline to show stories in the order they are added. This makes a certain amount of sense as it fits with the use of scrolling on mobile phones, but I wonder if a timeline is the best way to tell stories. It might be interesting to test filtering of the stories by country, by issue, and by ask to better understand how supporters are consuming the stories. I think it would also be really interesting to test stories about supporters alongside the stories of the people Oxfam is helping. The stories could show why this person made that donation and perhaps help others supporters identify better with being an Oxfam supporter.

Support Now

The Support Now section that was clearly designed for the app. It allows supporters to easily select between the three methods of payment (card, paypal, text), and uses an on-screen dial to enable the supporter to select the value of their one-off gift up to a maximum of £500. The starting value on the dial is £50, and I wonder what the average value is for online donations and how close it is to £50. As the amount is changed on the dial the image and text explaining what the gift could buy changes too. The dial is a really nice way of getting user interaction and works better on a mobile screen than perhaps a slider would or asking the user to type in the amount, and showing the impact of the donation. It could even go a step further and show what the value of the donation means to the supporter along with what it means to the people Oxfam is helping, e.g. ‘£20 is a cup of coffee each day for a week to you, but to Brian it’s six jerry cans to provide water for his village.’

It’s also interesting that the app avoids the word ‘donate’ and uses ‘gift’ and ‘support’ instead.

Gift History

The Gift History section was still being updated with my history but in the Guardian article says that “users can track how much they have donated through sponsorship, items donated to shops, or cash payments, and can adjust their monthly donations.” That’s quite a technical challenge and relies on the supporter participating by providing their details each time they do something offline to support the charity like donating stock to a shop or giving a cash donation. It’s difficult to imagine how that might be made to work effectively, but if it isn’t then users could quickly lose faith in an app that promises to show all of their support in one place.

Shop

The Shop button opens a wrapper around the mobile site. This is a good way to test introductory use and find out if people want to shop using the app and then consider the best way to implement a better shopping experience on the app.

However, if you scroll to the bottom of the wrapped mobile site and select the Desktop version of the site, that version is served through the app. I couldn’t find a way to switch back to the mobile version so now I’m stuck with the app continuing to serve the desktop version of the shop every time I open the app. And because the desktop version doesn’t fit within the wrapper the Basket button is off the screen meaning I can’t checkout.

Being stuck on the desktop version of the site also affects the Get Involved section.

Design and Layout

The design of the interface is on brand as you would expect. The most designed sections are the cause-related storytelling, which uses a timeline to show stories in the order they are added, and the Support Now section which, has the dial to select the value of the donation. As each of these sections has its own look and feel (almost like they were designed by different designers who didn’t talk to each other) I wonder if they could be made more visually similar and use the same interactions, e.g. the storytelling section could have an image of the world which the user moves around like the donations value dial to show Oxfam’s work around the world.

There is no landscape version of the app. It may be that it is only intended for mobile phones which are mostly used in portrait format, and perhaps that decision is based on solid analytics and user testing but it would seem obvious to design the app to work on tablets used in landscape.

Summary

Creating an app that works well is a challenge in itself, but even after the app is built comes the challenge of getting people to download it and use it regularly. Taking that use a step further and getting people to make regular donations must be a real challenge.

Launching an app at the end of 2016 given the rise of bots is an interesting choice. This app isn’t leading edge in technology, approach to storytelling or customer experience. Perhaps Oxfam have validated the need for an app of this nature with their supporters, or maybe they look at having an app as just another broadcast channel to get their message more directly into the hands of their supporters and drive occasional donations, and maybe/hopefully that will indirectly improve trust from their supporters.

I’d like to see the data on number of downloads, registrations, stories read, donations made, etc. And I’d love to see the user testing on whether it really does make supporters feel the Oxfam are being more transparent and trustworthy.

Trampa Speed Demon Review

Review of the Trampa Speed Demon Brakeboard

Finally had a chance to ride the Trampa Speed Demon (as I’m calling it cos it’s black and red) with built-in go-faster stick (that’s a brake for the uninitiated).

Trampa Brakeboard Review

My normal everyday freeride-in-the-woods board is a short Trampa, but I also ride a noSno brake board, so I was interested to see how this board fits in between the two. It didn’t disappoint. In fact it made me question what I thought I knew about brake riding.

Normal wisdom for riding with brakes is that you need nine inch tyres, you need to be going really fast down mountains to justify having them, and they need to be on the front. This board has eight inch tyres, I was jumping it around tight mountainbike singletrack in the woods in the dark, and it was set up for goofy which meant the brakes were on the back.

So, does size matter? The majority of mountainboarders ride with eight inch wheels. Having brakes that can be used with eights not only opens up a huge market for selling these boards/kits, but it also makes it an easier step for more mountainboarders to get into the kind of freeriding and downhilling that requires brakes. And with more downhill comps on the horizon, more people are going to want brakes. The other big advantage of riding with eights rather than nines is the weight. I ride my noSno with nines and brakes on the front and eights on the back so I can kick the back end around in tight turns. Riding eights all round makes that so much easier to get it into tight turns and the brakes didn’t add any noticeable weight.

Are brakes for going slower or going faster? There’s a reason we call them go-faster sticks. In fact there are two reasons; one, being able to slow when you need to means you can avoid sliding out, and two, they can give you a bit of confidence to ride a little faster knowing you can stop if you need to. So brakes aren’t just for riding long alpine passes, they can enable more mountainboarders to ride more terrain than they might otherwise. Whether that is mountainbike single track in the woods in the dark (which I can thoroughly recommend) or a middle-aged guy who wants to ride at centres with his son but doesn’t like to idea of getting down into powerslides. Riding with brakes doesn’t have to be all about going fast.

Brakes go on the front, right? The science says so. As you brake your weight goes forward onto the front wheels and so adds traction to the tyres increasing braking performance. But I had the brakes on the back. I rode some tight singletrack and tarmac and didn’t notice any real loss in performance. And maybe for my kind of riding having brakes on the back makes some sense. A lot of my speed control comes from scrubbing (which obviously I do with the back of the board) so adding another speed control technique to the back means I can work them together. If you’ve got brakes I recommend trying them on the front and the back, and seeing what works best for you.

Also, whilst I’m on the subject of traction, the Trampa Speed Demon has Primo Alpha tyres. I’m not usually a fan of these tyres. For my kind of riding I find that they have loads of traction up to a point, and then, when sliding, they lose it all at once with no warning. But when it comes to maximum traction for braking in a straight line I’m betting Alphas are the right choice. Set them up hard on the front and bit softer on the back and don’t slide them into corners (use the brake instead).

To sum up, I loved the Trampa Speed Demon! If you have a Trampa and want brakes, these are for you. If you’re thinking of getting a brakeboard, these are for you. If you want brakes but don’t want loads of extra weight, these are for you. If you’re getting your first proper mountainboard and want brakes for a bit more confidence, these are for you.