Christmas/Diwali/Thanksgiving present ideas for the geek in your life

Slightly off topic, but here are some present suggestions for the geek in your life.

Computer on a stick

It’s easy to install an operating system on a USB stick or flash Thumb Drive. Your portable operating system can then be taken with you, and run from any computer that can boot from the USB flash device. This means you can bring your applications, files, email, bookmarked favourites and games with you, when you’re travelling light.

How to do it

Cost:£5-10

Network Attached Storage drive

A Network Attached Storage (NAS) drive is a large hard drive that you connect to your router in order to keep all your content in one place on your home network and to create your own personal cloud.

Having your own personal cloud enables you to share files, stream media and access your content anywhere. If you can access the Internet from a computer or mobile device, you can access your media and files securely anywhere in the world – in a hotel, around your parents’ house, at the railway station, in the gym etc. If you’d forgotten to update your MP3 player, you’d still be able to access your music.

Western Digital offers free WD 2go remote Web access with its NAS devices. Once you log in, WD 2go mounts the NAS to your computer like a local drive and your remote folders are available. There’s a free app for Android and iPhone devices, for accessing it as well.

Cost: £100-£150 (1Tb-3Tb)

Active speakers

Active speakers contain an internal amplifier, which means you just need to plug in your MP3 player, computer or mobile phone to create a music system.

The Audio Engine A5 is a set of audiophile quality speakers loud enough to rattle the tea cups, but small enough to sit on a bookshelf.

Cost:£200-£250

What other presents would you suggest?

The gamification of assistance (aka How to boast about your Help)

Gamification is the integration of game dynamics into any medium such as a Web site, Help file or community, in order to drive a positive response, participation and engagement from a target audience. It’s used by lots of organisations: airlines via Frequent Flyer Programmes, Google via AdWords, as well as more recognisable games software, such as Farmville.

It’s claimed that games are a powerful way of affecting user behaviour, so could game theory be applied to the provision of online Help to increase its uptake?

In The Role of Status Seeking in Online Communities: Giving the Gift of Experience, Joseph Lampel and Ajay Bhalla discovered that status was a key motivator in online communities and games. Users are motivated to be awarded “badges”, such as “Premier Executive Club” membership with an airline. So could we award badges to motivate users to use the Help? If so, what actions would we want to encourage, and how would we track and measure these actions?

There might be a badge for users who:

  • have read the relevant Help page, before they contact Support regarding an issue (gaining the entitlement to make the call)
  • have read a number of pages of the Help (though this might imply the software is hard to use or the user is stupid!)
  • have assisted someone else who had a problem
  • have used the software in an advanced way.

Reading the Help could be a badge of honour. Indeed, there could even be points indicating how many people have been reading the online Help in a particular week (so the organisation can boast about the usefulness of your Help). There could also be “badges” for the Subject Matter Experts who share their knowledge to the Technical Author (or share their knowledge on the company intranet).

Such a system requires the ability to track user behaviour – whether they have read a particular Help page, for example. This suggests it’s more likely to be implemented where the Help is delivered via software such as Mindtouch, where user activity can be tracked and their input can be rated by other users.

There are challenges with this concept – defining the right behaviours you want to encourage, keeping people engaged in the activity, avoiding people being able to bend the rules, for example. There’s also a lot of overlap with Training and Support. However, gamification is appearing in many different places, so why not in User Assistance as well?

Take the Cherryleaf quiz on Technical Communication

For the holiday season, we’ve created a simple six question quiz for you to try. It includes questions on some of the topics we’ve covered in our blog during 2010:

It’s just for fun, but if you’d like to tell us how you fared, please comment below.

An innovative approach for a user manual from Samsung

Here is a very innovative approach to providing a user guide, from Samsung :

According to Vitamin Design:

These books actually contain the phone. Each page reveals the elements of the phone in the right order, helping the user to set up the sim card, the battery and even slide the case onto the phone. The second book is the main manual – the phone actually slots into this and becomes the center of attention. Arrows point to the exact locations the user should press, avoiding confusion and eliminating the feeling of being lost in a menu.

It’s a interesting example of user documentation as an emotional experience. (Thanks to Gareth Williams and Adam Wohl for spotting this.)

UK Govt says “RTFM” to new fathers

Yet another sign that quick reference cards are back in fashion:

Plans to be set out in the Families Green Paper will propose better advice and information for couples and address the balance between work and childcare by considering ways to make public services more “family friendly”.

Under the Green Paper, new fathers will be given a manual to help them adjust to the role.

The “dads’ guide”, put together by the Fatherhood Institute, will include an explanation of breast­feeding and tips on how to support their partner.  (Source: BBC News)

The ‘Dads’ Guide To…’ cards are A6 sized quick reference cards printed on both sides with important messages for dads and male carers about their child’s development and how they can get more involved in their child’s life and learning.  

Sadly, one question asked by many new fathers remains still unanswered: where do you take the baby’s batteries out?

Book is cool with SMS

The way language evolves – if you send a SMS text message on your mobile phone, using predictive text, and you choose to use the word “cool”, the word will initially be displayed as “book”. Both words require pressing 2665 on the keypad of a mobile phone.

Because many people cannot be bothered (or should that be bovvered?) to go back and correct this, they leave it as “book”.

Which leads to messages like “That YouTube video is so book”, and a new meaning for book entering the language. These are known as T9onyms.