Task-oriented usage

Image representing iPhone 3G as depicted in Cr...
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I’m constantly surprised by the frequency with which something that I have long thought/assumed/believed, but rarely considered, is articulately and cogently explained to me. This happened not long ago when a friend described how many people online are task-oriented. That is to say, people go online with a specific objective in mind and the way they engage with the Internet is tied to that objective.

More recently, I read a line that said (I’m paraphrasing), data and services, and not pages, are what’s central to the Web.

When you put those two thoughts together — task-oriented usage and the centrality of data and services — it instantly explains why some sites work so well and some are so terrible. Those that use data and services (enabled by high-quality design) to enable people to execute the task at hand are successful. Those that don’t, aren’t.

Think of some of the tasks that might drive people online:

  • I want a sports score
  • I want to know what’s happening right now
  • I want to see my fantasy league stats
  • I want to see how my money is doing
  • I want to see what the reaction to Obama’s speech was
  • I want to learn more about this “cellulosic ethanol” stuff
  • I want to see what Kanye did
  • I want to see what my friends are up to
  • I want to know what people are talking about
  • I want to find out what Apple just released
  • I want to find out what movie to see tonight and where it’s playing and buy tickets for it

Data and services do that. Pages do not. Extend that another layer into the mobile space. I’ve long been critical of the term “mobile” because for so long it didn’t serve these purposes (connecting objectives with successful outcomes). Rather, they served mobile carrier’s interests via terrible interfaces. But now, thanks to devices like the iPhone, people are now easily able to do the above kind of stuff whenever they think of it, no matter where they are at. That’s the killer app of mobile. Location awareness is a great feature, but the “now-ness” of mobile is key.

The challenge for news organizations is to a) have ideas in this space and b) orient ourselves so that we can bring them to life. Most news organizations are specifically not oriented to think and act this way. They are oriented to write stories (a.k.a, pages). See the problem?

I very much like the idea that data and services, rather than pages, are central to the Web.
That gets at one of the points I’ve heard you make, Amy, about how task-based people are… not just with the Web, but with anything.
– I want a sports score
– I want to know what’s happening right now
– I want to see my fantasy league stats
– I want to see how my money is doing
– I want to see what the reaction to Obama’s speech was
– I want to learn more about this “cellulosic ethanol” stuff
– I want to see what Kanye did
– I want to see what my friends are up to
– I want to know what people are talking about
– I want to find out what Apple just released
– I want to find out what movie to see tonight and where it’s playing and buy tickets for it
Data and services do that. Pages do not.
The thing about mobile is that it enables people to do this stuff when they think of it, no matter where they are at. That’s the success of the iPhone, in a nutshell.
The challenge for us (and others) is how to have these ideas and then bring them to life. In our case, we are not oriented to think and act this way. We are oriented to write stories (a.k.a, pages). That’s it.

iPhone Apps Update

To my surprise, a colleague told me recently how much he enjoyed my “what’s on my iPhone” posting. So, I thought I’d update it with some new apps I’ve recently gotten:

AllRecipes: Just what it sounds like — an online recipe lookup. I haven’t really used it. I think my wife downloaded it.

Analytics: A great and beautiful iPhone app that taps into Google Analytics, so I can see how few people are actually reading this… right now.

BurnBall: A totally fun game that is kind of like the Tron cycle game, only with motion sensing and cute balls.

Drop7: A fun math-meets-Tetris game. Love it.

FallingBalls: In the spirit of LineRider, this simple game looks like what I would create if I tried to create an iPhone game, except this is both fun and a little macabre.

GPS Lite: GPS directions for your iPhone. Works a lot better if you have GPS (I don’t).

Grocery IQ: A wicked grocery store list manager. I just wish it had a desktop component. And the ability to share lists with other members of the household.

Lights Off: A fun toggle-like game in which every square you touch makes other squares light (or go off). Goal is to turn all the squares off. Fun!

LoveJigSaw: Cute jigsaw puzzle game.

Mint.com: A beautiful and free iPhone interface for the beautiful and free Mint.com site.

NPR Mobile: Not sanctioned by NPR, this allows for streaming of NPR content. Nice!

ShapeWriter: Um… not sure.

Tower Free: An amusing game.

Yelp: The iPhone version of Yelp! I have to admit, I don’t really use it.