LINE App: Software Above the Level of a Single Device

LINE is a proprietary instant messaging application initially released for smartphones in June 23 2011, and has since expanded to desktop computers and other mobile phone such as Blackberry, Windows phone and Nokia Asha after its tremendous hit and popularity among 230 countries. In addition to basic text messages, LINE allows users to send images, video and audio message and make free VoIP calls. The company has further launched a platform, LINE Channel which integrates more service and even native apps to provide more fun and enriching user experience.

The great success of LINE can be attributed to the pervasiveness of smartphones and the company’s design strategy: building a “Smartphone-life platform” and an ecosystem (economic zone) by “offering various content and services developed by its external business partners for the 45 million users worldwide.” The concept of “Smartphone-life platform” aligns well with Tim O’Reilly’s web2.0 principle, software above the level of a device.

The principle can be clearly elaborated by Microsoft developer David Stutz in his Advice to Microsoft regarding commodity software, which is cited by Tim O’Reilly as well, that:

Useful software written above the level of the single device will command high margins for a long time to come.

So let’s take a look at 7 awesome practices that LINE has employed to fully utilize this principle:

As mentioned above, LINE was initially designed for smartphones like Android and iOS platforms but soon with its rapid success, the application now is available on multiple operating systems including: Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Blackberry, Windows Phone and Nokia Asha with up to 10 languages.

Benefit: allow the app to be accessed anytime, anywhere.

LINE app requires user’s permission to access location data for specific functions such as LINE camera, “Shake it” and QR code scan for adding friends (see picture below), and location sharing with contacts (see picture below). Users can take further social interaction like get direction to where the contacts are or send the location info to another chat. More location aware features like coupons will be released in the near future.

Benefit: Location aware contents is essential for personalization.
Suggestion: Location aware interaction such as QR code coupon or place check-in can make the service more personalised and open up new business opportunity with local business owners.

LINE has successfully turned the mobile into a social platform for instant message, multimedia sharing, and even contents creation through LINE Camera. In attempt to reach a “Smartphone-life platform”, LINE Channel has introduced service and function including: Line Tools, Time Line (Like Facebook TimeLine for status update), LINE Game, LINE Talk Novel, LINE Fortune, LINE Coupon, LINE Sounds Shop and LINE Coin (virtual currency).

Initially, LINE adopted Redis as the app’s primary storage and data structure server and after the integration of Time Line feature, they switched to HBase for accommodating increasing workload and exponential growth patterns such as Time Line data.

The client contact data is stored on LINE server for easy access and data migration to another device, which make the process of synchronization between different devices easier and more efficient.

LINE Camera, LINE Brush and LINE Card allow users to generate and personalise the contents easily with their simple UI and fascinating functions. All the contents can be shared and exported to other app or social media.

LINE features several simple, one-click functions such as “Shake it” to add friends and one-click sharing. The purchase at its sticker shop is nearly one-step as well, despite the process of entering password for Apple account. LINE Camera also features one-click photo sharing on other social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Sina Weibo, Tumblr and etc.

LINE allows users to seamlessly store, access and synchronize data across devices such as smartphones and desktop computer. Though there’s still an issue that only the contact data is stored and can be retrieved from the server while the conversation log is stored in device. Another problem is that once users link LINE app with their mobile phone number, the app can only be activated on one mobile device (PC version is not affected).

Suggestions: In my case, I have LINE installed on both iPhone and iPad Mini, it happened to me so many times that all my conversation data was completely deleted on one device when I activated another one. Though the chat data synchronization between PC and mobile version is quite reliable and real-time, I still wish that I can access the app across multiple mobile devices.The other concern with “Smartphone-life platform” is the accessing speed. Most of the features require a bit long responding time than other apps. For example, a lot of users have been complained about the message sending speed of LINE is not as good as its arch-rival, Whatsapp.

List of references applied in the article:
1. Japan’s Line App Evolves into Platform, Expands into… Um… Everything, Rick Martin, July 3, 2012
2. Line messaging and VoIP app adds ‘timeline’ and ‘home’ features, throws in new platform for app integration, Mat Smith, Engadget, Jul 3, 2012
3. Software Above the Level of a Single Device, by Tim O’Reilly, Nov 28, 2007
4. LINE Storage: Storing billions of rows in Sharded-Redis and HBase per Month, by Shunsuke Nakamura, April 26, 2012
5. Advice to Microsoft regarding commodity software, by David Stutz, 2003

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6 Best Approaches for Rich User Experience by ASOS!

Being as the UK’s biggest online-only fashion and beauty retailer, ASOS is slowly but steadily increasing its market share in the international markets through the combination of extensively deploying insightful marketing strategies and, more importantly, constantly improving its user experience.

In this article, we are going to examine ASOS as an online retail platform with O’Reilly’s Web2.0 pattern – Rich User Experience and its best approaches.

Let’s take a look at the interface of ASOS website:


Interface design combines the bests of desktop and online experiences:

The interface offers very clear and visible guidance which facilitate the navigation process. Links and tabs provide instant response and information on mouse hover, by which creates a rich interactive and responsive user experience like desktop application.

Usability & Simplicity first

Through appropriate compartment of multimedia contents and global navigation, ASOS gives us a good example of achieving rich user experience without sacrificing the efficiency and usability.

Simplifying and integrating related contents into pop-up menu also helps to improve the process of navigating users to desired contents.

Match the technology usage to the requirements

ASOS was the first UK online store to launched catwalk in 2006. Now it gets virtual. Users no longer need to run their imagination about: does the dress look good on me? Even though the catwalk is no more than a promotional gimmick, it is always better to watch video than pictures.

Another great hit by ASOS is the campaign of digital equivalent queue before the summer sale started in 2012, which achieved an overall ROI of more than 2000%. Through a series of games and viral marketing
on social media platform to encourage users to digitally ‘elbow’ to the head of the queue for early entry to the sale, ASOS successfully turned the existing users into brand evangelists and achieved a new level of engaging
user experience.

Search over Structure

ASOS offers a precisely categorized content structure for user to easily access desired information. All items can be found through submenu links, search box and its comprehensive search refine options.

The search history also offers a certain degree of adaptive personalization to improve the efficiency and convenience of browsing the website.

Preserve content addressability


The website uses XML and Javascripts as scripting languages while the API is RESTful and employs JSON exclusively for both requests and responses, by which ensure the content addressability.

Not to mention that ASOS is the best performing website on natural search among other online retailers.

Deep, adaptive personalization

In order to present personalized information, the application constantly learns from user’s behaviour through recording and analysing each action and preference (“Recent viewed” box, see below picture) then deliver the relevant contents accordingly (“We Recommend” box, see picture below), and even further anticipate users’ need (“buy this look” button, see picture above).

Any room for improvement?

Sure.

First of all, the font size of submenu is too small for users with poor eyesight. Plus there are too many options to search from, which somehow poses a problem for efficiency. And according to the Eye Tracking research in Human Computer Interaction, users tend to skim through a group of words without carefully examining the contents. I will suggest ASOS to enlarge the font-size of drop down menu, or simply highlight some major categories for users to choose from, thus to improve the visibility.

Secondly, the user experience can be further enriched by employing more prompt and responsive interaction/feedbacks to the links or multimedia contents. The typical mouse hover responses like colour change or slight movement are not enough. Providing concise information on mouse hover about the contents which the link will direct to can effectively save time and improve the usability.

However, while most of the websites with rich user experience may suffer from poor performance and long loading time, ASOS successfully trounced the speed competition by applying the performance testing tool to effectively improve platform performance through complex and functionality rich test and simulating the diverse behaviour of online users. As a result, ASOS has risen from 49th to 9th faster retail site in the UK.

References:

asos.com – Case studies in The Times 100, by The Times 100 Business Case Studies
ASOS is king of natural search among fashion retailers, by David Moth, 30 April 2012
User Experience Review – ASOS, by Jamie, January 2010
Asos -“Life” Section Review>, by User Vision, 7 May 2010
Expedia, ShopNBC, ASOS enhance mobile sites via HTML5 platform, by Rimma Kats, 10 May 2011
Client Portfolio – ASOS, intechnica, retrieved 31 March 2013

Data makes the difference-Yelp and its story

Starting as an online local business directory service with basic social networking feature in 2004, Yelp has successfully attracted 100 million unique visitors in one month period, January 2013. With more than 22 million user-generated reviews (in 2011), Yelp gained its fruit of victory through pivoting and a set of effective data strategies.

The initial yelp website was not easy-to-use and only received few visitors and reviews. But soon after Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons, co-founders of Yelp, noticed that an increasing number of users are using the function to leave reviews without being urged, they relaunched the website in February 2005 and pivoted on building a unique and irreplaceable database of authentic, user-generated reviews.

Yelp’s success comes from acknowledging that “Data is the next Intel Inside”, one of the least understood Web2.0 principles from Tim O’Reilly. The pattern is concisely elaborated by Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP, in an interesting interview, she confessed that:

having access to large amounts of data is in many instances more important than creating great algorithms.

So what else does Yelp do to further enhance its data strategy?

      • Creation strategy: set the network effect by default and build up the unique, hard to recreate database by accumulated user-generated contents.
      • Enhance the core data by allowing users to participate in the creation of data: user reviews, review voting, ratings
      • Let users control their own data: users can post their reviews, vote for other reviews and even share them through the integration of social networking sites such as Facebook. User-generated content can further be enhanced by the power of reputation system of Yelp’s online community.
      • Share the control with users: while Yelp owns the content of the website, users are responsible for their own contents
      • Design data for reuse: Yelp offers RSS for users to easily track recent reviews in the newsreader, publish reviews to their blogs or Facebook accounts and invite friends to follow

However, Yelp still received criticism over its review filtering system which claims to identify illegitimate reviews and remove them. The fairness of both negative and positive reviews and how Yelp decides to display on each business’s page is remained ambiguous and unclear.

Who owns the data?

Yelp introduced a feature in 2008 for business owners to manage their listing and keep the information up to date with moderator approval. Though business owners still don’t actually own the data, they cannot edit or delete any contents or negative reviews without the agreement from Yelp moderator.

How to keep the review stay authentic?

Yelp was accused for asking business owners to pay for hiding negative customer reviews on the their business listing in 2009 and in response to increase the data transparency, Yelp added a feature which lists reviews which are filtered.

As an online community providing unsolicited review writing, it is very essential to keep the content stay genuine and unbiased. Underhand review manipulation will not only lose the trust from users, but also pose a severe impact on the collaboration with advertisers.

What can Yelp do to avoid dishonest review and deliberate defamation?

Yelp’s reputation system us like a double-sided sword. We trust the reviews written by Yelp Elites, those Yelp Evangelists who actively generate authentic and useful reviews. But what would happen if business owners pay those Elites or offer free products for them to write the reviews? Are those reviews still true and unprejudiced?

While the concern is more about the morality than legality, I would suggest that Yelp:

  1. Add specific recognition mechanism to make the identity of review authors more transparent. (e.g. connect with Facebook, LinkedIn or other social media identity)
  2. A due process which requires the user to confirm that the state respects all legal rights owed to a person, may be considered as well