We’re in the battle for the net.

An important message from battleforthenet.com:

On May 15, 2014, the Federal Communications Commission proposed rules that would permit rampant discrimination online, undermining Net Neutrality. The FCC’s proposal would be a huge boon for the cable companies and would undermine the Internet as we know it.

Under the proposed rules, cable giants like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon would be able to create a two-tiered Internet, with slow lanes (for most of us) and fast lanes (for wealthy corporations that are willing pay fees in exchange for fast service).

Cable companies would have the power to discriminate against online content and applications — they could pick winners and losers, shake sites down for fees, block content for political reasons, and make it easier for Internet users to view cable content. (For instance, Comcast owns NBC, and so has incentives to make it easier to view NBC content than that of other providers.)

Service of Terms

When I visited Tumblr last night to write my post, I was presented with their new terms of service. While I typically just click the box and go on, not bothering to read a word, this time, I really did care about something: ownership of the content I have been writing for nigh on seven years. I decided to slog through the legalese to find what I needed to know and was pleasantly surprised.

Yes, the necessary, nearly impenetrable text was there, but somebody at Tumblr apparently does care about their writers. Each section was followed by a clear description of what was said. These paragraphs were called out by a gray background, so I was able to quickly scroll down and find them.

This is the way to treat your users. Thank you, Tumblr.

A Public Service Announcement

I don’t tend to get very involved in politics, but occasionally there are issues that irk me enough to act. There are two internet censorship bills: The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is in the House, and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) is in the senate. If you care about net neutrality, freedom of speech on the internet, and the future of web innovation, you should educate yourself about these acts. The RIAA and media companies have been lobbying hard for SOPA, and it’s on a fast track with a surprising amount of support.

Fortunately, we’re fighting back. Yesterday, over 6,000 sites, such as Boing Boing, Tumblr, and Mozilla, participated in American Censorship Day, which was organized by organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Creative Commons. As a result, over 1,000,000 email messages, 3,000 handwritten letters, and 87,834 phone calls were sent to Congress.

But the fight’s not over. Here are some links where you can find more information. Don’t let our government break the internet.

  1. What’s On the Blacklist? Three Sites That SOPA Could Put at Risk
  2. SendWrite
  3. Electronic Frontier Foundation
  4. American Censorship Day
  5. Mozilla
  6. Creative Commons
  7. Demand Progress
  8. Public Knowledge

Outlaw Driving

There have been several studies recently claiming that talking on a phone while driving is as dangerous as driving drunk. Psychology Professor Marcel Just used brain imaging to show a 37% drop in driving-associated brain activity while listening to a cell phone. According to a report on CMU’s website, “Just and his colleagues showed that simply listening to a cell phone while driving can cause drivers to commit errors as if they were under the influence of alcohol. New findings by Carnegie Mellon researchers show making the devices hands-free or voice-activated is not sufficient in eliminating these distractions.”

Okay, I can believe that talking on a hands-free phone does draw some attention away from driving, but I find it hard to believe that it is equivalent to driving under the influence. Furthermore, I would argue that singing along with music or listening to a good audio book should have the same effect. The CMU article also states:

Other distractions, such as eating, listening to the radio or talking with a passenger, also can divert a driver. Though it is not known how these activities compare to cell-phone use, Just said there are reasons to believe cell phones may be especially distracting.
“Talking on a cell phone has a special social demand, such that not attending to the cell conversation can be interpreted as rude, insulting behavior,” he noted. A passenger, by contrast, is likely to recognize increased demands on the driver’s attention and stop talking.

This sounds like pure conjecture. I don’t buy it. From my own experience, I would have to argue the opposite. When I’m talking to my wife on my way home from work, for example, I often will ask her to repeat what she said, because I had tuned it out while paying attention to other drivers at an intersection. And I know that when I’m having a discussion with a co-worker on the way to lunch, I frequently feel the need to look at them, taking my eyes off of the road. I never divert my eyes from the road while talking on the phone.

Another study by researchers at the University of Utah specifically claims that cell phones distract drivers more than passengers do. I must question their proof as well.

Two videos from the study show the dangers of driving while phone-chatting. In one, drivers using a hands-free device to talk on the phone inadvertently pass a highway exit that they had been instructed to take. In another, the drivers aren’t on the phone, but rather are chatting with a passenger. These drivers successfully take the rest-area exit because their passengers alert them to do so.

They claim that a chatty passenger is less distracting because they can point out hazards or remind drivers of exits. Now, the last time I checked, missing an exit is annoying and inconvenient, but it’s not dangerous. I’ve missed exits for many reasons, including conversing with passengers.

There was also a Mythbusters episode in which they confirmed the myth that talking on a cell phone while driving is just as dangerous as driving under the influence. However, they weren’t using a hands-free headset—they were holding the phone and driving one-handed—and the conditions were unrealistic. They were on a course laid out with traffic cones, rather than on city streets, and they were being quizzed over the phone, having to figure out math problems and the like. When I’m talking on the phone while driving, the most difficult question I’m answering is “What should I fix for dinner?”

The studies mentioned above seem to me that they are trying to prove that talking on cell phones is dangerous, rather than taking an objective approach. I want to see a study that performs like testing on singing with music, eating, listening to an audio book or news broadcast, navigating menus on an in-dash display, and dealing with unruly children. I’m betting that many of these would be worse than talking on a hands-free phone. How many laws should we make about what drivers can’t do?

Maybe we should outlaw driving altogether. That would reduce traffic accidents by 100%, and nobody would miss an exit!

U.S. National Design Policy Initiative

Back in November, a two-day National Design Policy Summit was held in Washington D.C. with participants from most of the major U.S. professional design organizations, design education accreditation organizations, and the Federal government. The results of the meeting have just been published as a policy brief, Redesigning America’s Future, which lays out ten policy proposals.

  • Proposal 01  Formalize an American Design Council to partner with the U.S. Government.
  • Proposal 02  Set guidelines for legibility, literacy, and accessibility for all government communications.
  • Proposal 03  Target 2030 for carbon neutral buildings. 
  • Proposal 04  Create an Assistant Secretary for Design and Innovation position within the Department of Commerce to promote design.
  • Proposal 05  Expand national grants to support interdisciplinary community design assistance programs based on human-centered design principles. 
  • Proposal 06  Commission a report to measure and document design’s contribution to the U.S. economy.
  • Proposal 07  Revive the Presidential Design Awards to be held every year and use triple bottom-line criteria (economic, social, and environmental benefit) for evaluation. 
  • Proposal 08  Establish national grants for basic design research.  
  • Proposal 09  Modify the patent process to reflect the types of intellectual property created by designers.
  • Proposal 10  Encourage direct government investment in design innovation. 

Dr. Elizabeth Tunstall, who organized the summit, has put out a call to action:

The Call to Action is for people to go to the U.S. National Design Policy Initiative website, http://www.designpolicy.org to leave comments about individual policy proposals or offer official endorsements of the Initiative and the ten design policy proposals. […] People have gone and downloaded the publication, but without leaving comments or endorsements. We need them in order to demonstrate to Congress and the incoming Obama Administration popular support for the Initiative and the policy proposals.

A number of other countries, including Japan, Korea, and the Netherlands, have instituted national design policies. I believe that a few of the proposals could have a significant positive impact on our country’s performance in the world market, as well as the experience of our citizens. I’m especially concerned with the current state of the patent laws, which one of the proposals begins to address.

I’m a firm believer in the power of design to affect positive change in our society. These policies will put our industry in a better position to do so.

From the Mouths of Babes

A couple of weeks ago, we had unusually high winds resulting from the hurricane down south. The power flickered several times before staying off for six hours or so. Once power was restored, the kid’s iMac wouldn’t start up. I figured out that the hard drive was physically damaged (thanks DiskWarrior!) and had it replaced. I got all of the software and settings back in order, including the parental controls with authorized websites.

Yesterday, my eight-year-old daughter tried signing into Webkinz. The cookie that stores acceptance of their terms and conditions was, of course, missing. She called Mommy in, because a screen “with a whole bunch of words” came up, and she didn’t know what to do. She explained that she had started trying to read it, but she was having a hard time, and there was too much.

I know the feeling. I recently installed a large update to World of Warcraft. The next time I signed in, I was once again presented with their terms and conditions. Did I read them? Certainly not. I wanted to play the game, not sit there for thirty minutes deciphering legalese. It forced me to scroll to the bottom of the text before the “agree” button enabled, as if that would make it any likelier that I would read it.

This is one area in which the concerns of the user are still not being met. If users are really expected to read these agreements, they should be written concisely in understandable verbiage. Now, I understand that very explicit explanations must be written for legal reasons, but there is nothing to stop them from writing a human-readable summary that refers to various parts of the lawyer-speak for unarguable detail.

I was planning on writing this post today after chuckling at my daughter’s attempt at reading the terms and conditions, and as it happens, this very topic became a discussion on the IxDA list. So, if you are interested in reading more about this issue and the “plain language” movement, check it out.