Is it Google’s plan to index the world’s information, or to curate it?

I just heard (via @montymunford) that Google will start ranking mobile websites lower in search results when they use a “download our app” popup on the page. Read about it here.

One of Google’s justifications is that the experience of seeing a pop-up banner may be ‘disruptive’ to the user experience.

Is it Google’s job to play User Experience police to the whole internet?

It’s one thing to deprioritise sites with poor or duplicate content. But to de-rank sites based on user interaction decisions of the developers? Isn’t that taking it a bit too far?

Some argue that it’s a good thing… that it helps us find better content. Maybe that’s true… but where would it end? What if Google started de-ranking sites because the navigation was unclear? Or because there was no ‘about’ page?

It’s a slippery slope.

Google already controls access to a huge proportion of the internet. They are the gatekeepers… the ones who decide what we get to see, and what not. To me, consolidating all of this power in one gate puts the freedom and openness of the internet at risk.

What Stalin learned about incentives (and how most companies are still doing it wrong)

In the 1930’s, in the very early days of the Soviet Union under Stalin, the communist leaders knew they had a problem.

The process of Stalinist Industrialisation forced the majority of the Russian population, most of whom had lived in the countryside, into newly constructed settlements based around factories and industry. People were dispossessed of their land and belongings (which then became property of the state) and were put to work in new industry for the glory of the Soviet state and economy.

Although there were many efficiency gains created by the reallocation of resources to industry and the introduction of new tools and processes to factories, Stalin found that economic growth beyond that created by manual allocation of labour was essentially non-existent.


Stalin had uncovered the critical flaw of the communist system: incentives. His entire population had been dispossessed of their lands and property and put to work for a stipend salary and subsistence diet, with the entire profit going to the state. Where was the motivation to work hard?

Stalin had an incentive problem.

As early as 1931 Stalin realised that the dream of a society of citizens intrinsically motivated to work hard purely for the glory of the Socialist Party would never be a reality, and he gave up on the idea of creating “socialist men and women” who would work hard without incentives. So Stalin introduced two kinds of incentives:

1. Fear – of being imprisoned, tortured, sent to a gulag in Siberia or shot; and
2. Monetary incentives.

Keeping people working was enforced by the absenteeism law, which defined absenteeism as any twenty minutes of unauthorised absence or idling on the job. Even giving the perception of idling was sufficient. But even Stalin appreciated that fear will only get someone to their job such that they do the bare minimum. You can’t scare someone into being extra productive, much less innovative.

And yet, it turns out fear didn’t work so well after all. 36 million people – about one third of the adult population of the Soviet Union – were found guilty of absenteeism at least once between 1940 and 1955. Of these, 15 million were sent to prison and 250,000 were shot.

It seems that fear will only take you so far.

Stalin also experimented with various monetary incentives. For example, he introduced monthly bonus payments to individuals and companies who exceeded their production output target, and penalties for coming in under. (Sound familiar?) It seemed like the perfect way to motivate workers to produce more.

So what happened? Stalin saw that while in some cases output targets were exceeded, it was relatively seldom, and simultaneously levels of innovation dropped. Why?

One problem was that the monthly targets were always based on the previous month’s achievement – so although people may have been incentivised to exceed their target, they certainly weren’t interested in exceeding it too much, or their next month would only be tougher.

Innovation requires time, effort and resources… resources that would necessarily have to be taken away from producing output for the monthly target. As a result, little extra effort was invested in innovative creative idea creation. Furthermore the monthly targets kept people focussed very much on the present, where innovation necessarily requires investing today in things that will not pay off until tomorrow or next year.

The point is – we’ve known for years that the stick (fear) doesn’t do a great job at incentivising people. The conventional wisdom is to use the carrot. The problem, as this example shows, is: the carrot is broken too, and money is a poor motivator – a fact which countless studies have also shown. (Read the book ‘Drive’ by Daniel Pink).

So why do we keep getting it wrong?

Companies who motivate through fear (fear of a bad performance evaluation, fear of not getting that promotion, fear of losing my job), and poorly constructed monetary incentives, will at best achieve only a short-term production increase. These motivators are not, as Stalin has shown us, sustainable for a long period.

It’s time for a new incentive structure. How about: everyone believes in what you are trying to achieve, and is motivated intrinsically by the challenge, the vision, and the passion to win? (Which is, incidentally, exactly the first thing Lenin, Stalin, Kim Jong Il and countless others took away from their people).

Device fatigue and the next connected device form factor

A pile of devices
Photo: Wikimedia

I suffer from device fatigue.

Not just the kind where I cannot deal with the sheer number of connected devices, gadgets and gizmos being released every day – but the kind where I am overwhelmed with the number of devices that I actually already own.

I have a Macbook Air, a Sony Vaio running Windows 8, a Surface Pro tablet, a Nokia Lumia 920, a first-generation iPad and a Kindle, and in my living room I also have an XBOX 360.

And that’s not counting devices that I have temporarily for testing or benchmarking… the iPads, the Galaxies, the Kindle Fires…

Now, I like devices, and I work for a device company and my job is building device software, so i’m trying to build them into my life… but I just cannot deal with having so many different devices. The basket under the bookshelf where I put old devices is overflowing with dead, partially working or even fully functional devices that I just can’t find a good reason to carry anymore.

They all have their specific use cases and particular strong points: the MacBook’s power and good quality hard keyboard; the tablet’s big screen but relative portability; the smartphone’s ultra-portability and LTE connection… But the real problem is that there is maybe 80% crossover in the use cases and usage contexts of the different form factors, and this is frustrating and tiring.

I want one device that does everything – but I don’t want to trade the specific benefits of particular form factors, like the portability of my Lumia 920 and its amazing camera, or the stylus/drawing input of the tablet, or the physical keyboard and relative horsepower of my Macbook.

One of the greatest challenge now facing connected device manufacturers I think is the next form factor. The form factor that truly converges the fragmented connected device space.

While the last 5 years or so since tablets started their meteoric blast into consumers’ living rooms the focus has been on device divergence – building devices of every conceivable form factor, with increasing household incomes (in first-world markets) driving a huge increase multi-device ownership.

The next 5 years will be about device convergence. The search for the next form factor that unites your devices into a single, adaptable and flexible touchpoint.