Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram is the ultimate start-up success story: two guys create a photo sharing app, attract an incredibly passionate and active user base and, in less than two years, sell for an insane $1 billion to the world’s largest social network.
But before you could say Zuckerberg, Twitter and the blogosphere exploded with less-than-happy Instagram users reacting to the news. From accusations of selling out to encouraging others to start using a new photo app, it seemed congratulatory messages were few and far between.
Now to be fair, I’m one of the rare people on the planet who still uses a BlackBerry so I’ve yet to experience the magic of Instagram for myself. But I suppose that for the Instagram loyalists the Facebook acquisition is pretty similar to when that awesome band/ restaurant/ designer you discovered soooooooo long ago suddenly gets super popular. On the one hand, they succeeded and hey that’s great. I mean isn’t that the point of all this? But on the other there’s still that whole notion of being in the know before x was cool, before x was mainstream, before x sold out.
I’m sure Mark Zuckerberg had plenty of reasons to shell out the $1 billion – whether it was Instagram’s user base, UX design, staff, or just a massive way to trump Google’s acquisition of Picnik. I’m also sure that the Instagram founders had a good reason for selling, astronomical payday aside.
What I’m not quite sure of is the reactions people have had. Available for free to anyone with an iPhone (and now Android), Instagram was far from a small and exclusive community. Not to mention, its 40 million users had the ability to share their photos across other platforms, including good old Facebook. Yet somehow the app managed to cultivate the feeling of a close-knit community amongst its millions of users – a stark contrast to the mess of ads, pokes and spam messages that are becoming more and more synonymous with the Facebook experience.
They say it’ll be business as usual at the Instagram camp, which should appease the Instagram loyalists for now. My guess is that it’ll only be a matter of time until The Photo Network hits theatres.
Speaking of ethnographic homework, one of the reasons I enjoy travelling is discovering the simple differences in cultures, how people live their day-to-day. Maybe you also share a similar appreciation? If you do, I have some snack-sized bites of culture to share from Hong Kong, beyond honey mustard Pringles, blueberry ice-cream Oreos and lychee Mentos.
Escalators before stairs, buses before streetcar trams
From the moment I took my first step on an airport escalator, I felt a jolt of speed under me. Every time I visit Hong Kong, it catches me by surprise. “Wow, ok, I’m in Hong Kong,” I think to myself. After adjusting to the speed, I think back to escalators at home in Toronto and visualize them moving in what feels like slow motion.
During my visit, I witnessed a few bouts of local residents getting their hate on for stairs, verbally or completely shunning them. The New Town Plaza mall has stairs about five times as wide as an escalator…untouched.
When it comes to getting from A to B, speed is king. I learned this time that the public transit pecking order goes: subway, minibus, bus, tram (equivalent to ancient, petite, wooden streetcars). I might be missing some, but that’s the gist. All this time, I’ve regarded subways as No. 1, streetcars as No. 2, then buses. Going to Hong Kong helped me get over a mental block around streetcars vs. buses and realize that streetcars can be a lot slower than buses and a lot less versatile. Let’s just say I’ve come back appreciating buses much more.
I also took many a trip on minibuses – it’s preferred by many because it’s on-demand (you can hail them like a cab) and fast. They are like enlarged minivans and have limited seats, so chances are you won’t have many stopovers along the way. I loved taking them…like taking a community bus, as scary as it could be at times.
When parking, always back in nicely and neatly
Parking lots have grassroots governance going on. In the spirit of collective efficiency, drivers can report each other if someone parks in a way that makes it difficult for others to maneuver a nearby space. In fact, I saw it from start to finish…folks are really righteous and diligent about reporting poor parking skills…the outcome being that a driver can end up getting double-charged for the space they knowingly took and the one they obstructed.
Paying is the easiest thing ever
No wonder it’s such a consumerism culture…maybe? On my way back to Toronto, we made a stopover at MUJI-to-go where I was able to effortlessly make a split payment, clearing my Octopus Card balance and paying the rest in cash. (The Octopus Card is a smartcard that folks use to pay for transit fare among other things. The literal translation is something like “able to work in eight places/channels”).
Inclusive design awareness
On many of the floor surfaces in Hong Kong, you’ll find textured pathways designed to help you find your way. Some stations also play special music to indicate where ticket kiosks are located, primarily for the vision-impaired. I found it useful as a visitor really…inclusive design, when done well, can deliver more value than expected.
During one of the conversations I had with a local about her hatred for stairs, she righteously exclaimed something to the effect of, “how are the old folks supposed to get around with the escalator broken?! This is horrible disgrace for the elderly, ugh.” I was kind of amused, but also really appreciative of the awareness she had around the design of our surroundings and the impact on the elderly, despite being a 30-something-year-old who doesn’t work in a design-related field.
A world of feature phones, iPhones, and Androids
On the whole, relative to North America, I found that there was a smaller ratio of smartphones to feature phones. I also found that Blackberries were a rarity and that Android users were mostly on Galaxy S II’s…so much that when we went electronics shopping, Galaxy S II phone cases were second after iPhone 4 cases (and there was definitely a sea of iPhone 4 cases).
I learned that one of the ways people type on their phones is via brushstrokes assigned to their numeric keypads. Predictive brushstroke entry! It blew my mind a little; it takes advantage of the conventional sequence of brushstrokes.
Service is serious stuff
Aside from the eagerly attentive retail service staff at many stores in Hong Kong, I was surprised to find a “service rating machine” at the immigration desk when visiting ShenZhen for a day trip. It had several buttons on a scale about the length of service time (too long, just right, etc.) complete with happy to angry emoticons.
Do you have any cultural snack bites to share?
We’re not picking sides in the smartphone war… but we do love this ad!
Illustration: Dondy Razon
A little while ago the Boston Globe featured an article, Weapons in the battle, demonstrating how computers can improve our daily lives.
Boston winters are quite harsh, and the roads consequently take a beating. The city purchased a truck called the Pro-Patch Pothole Patcher that drives up and down the streets looking for potholes in need of repair. This led to the development of Street Bump, a prototype app that uses a GPS and accelerometer in smartphones to automatically report potholes to the city by sensing when a car has hit one. As such, the city would have access to an up-to-date, real-time map that shows where the potholes are and their level of priority based on how many cars have hit them.
The use of information that a smartphone could generate and transmit might help improve many facets of our daily lives. Where are the traffic jams? Is the post office busy? Once we open the door to the common good, ideas of how to use information abound.
But, are we ready to offer up this extremely personal data in order to build a collective intelligence? The anxiety that iPhones and Androids would transmit our location to Apple and Google at regular intervals illustrates just how sensitive a question this is. The marketing imagination of brands and start-ups has also demonstrated that many people are ready to provide information if they perceive a direct, personal advantage. What is an indirect collective advantage?
It would be unfortunate if ideas like the pothole detection app in Boston did not come to fruition due to a lack of confidence surround the legitimacy of data transmission. Imagine a neutral program or instance (something with a strong, clear objective relating to a common good) that’s role it would be to make projects of general interest, derived from anonymous data transmitted from our telephones, available on a voluntary basis.
There is a precedent on a different level: the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) is an open-source platform for distributed computing that allows scientists to utilize the calculating power of personal computers worldwide. With the permission of the individual, this platform taps into the processing power of the individual’s computer when it’s not being used for other purposes. What’s more, the individual gets to choose which projects the computer’s processing power will be given.
Read more from Jean Pascal at A Nos Vies Numériques.
Over the past few months, I’ve noticed a change in the boardroom, couch-surfing and online shopping activities and behaviours of my iPad-connected friends. Surreptitious emailing, texting and headline scanning on their iPhones has given way to overt browsing and shared social interactions around their tablet devices.
From a consumer-behaviour perspective, the iPad is neither a larger iPhone nor a smaller iMac. Yet many iPad developers and retailers have ported their apps from the iPhone to the iPad, missing out on the underlying differences in human behaviour that make the iPad a fundamentally different digital experience.
To satisfy my own curiosity (I still haven’t jumped on the tablet bandwagon) I’ve spent the past few weeks informally observing and talking with friends and colleagues about their evolving mobile behaviours and expectations.
Here’s what I observed:
While I don’t believe my initial observations reveal anything overtly surprising, they do serve as a simple reminder to retailers who hope to engage their customers in the mobile space: don’t create a one-size-fits-all mobile strategy across all mobile platforms. Instead, acknowledge the different needs of your customers, their physical surroundings and their perceived constraints across different mobile platforms.
These are obviously my own local observations, and I’m also curious to understand from a global perspective how mobile behaviours are shifting, so for all the smartphone and tablet users out there, how have your mobile behaviours changed as a result of having access to a tablet device?