Category Archives: Uncategorized

Facebook Settings and UX as a Profession

Originally published at but is reproduced here as it was pointed to me that the accessibility was not great.

A user deletes the word facebook from a mobile phone screen using a stylus

Did the usability and UX professionals stand up to their level concerning Facebook Privacy Settings?

We failed. Hard.

As usability and UX professionals our profession has failed, both before and during the Facebook Privacy crisis. Most importantly, we did not only fail our professional reputation and practice, but we failed the users.

I am not writing here to blame specifically UXers at Facebook: I am not aware of their situation, their time and budget restrictions, or the pressure they may have received from other departments on what to prioritise. Maybe some have even quit because of this. Someone though must have seen the studies on their privacy settings usability, firstly because they can be easily found on your favourite search engine by typing “facebook privacy settings usability”, and secondly because they were fast to implement changes when the crisis arose, implying they had given it some thought, even casually. These studies date back from 2011, and it is possible they have made changes before (I wouldn’t know as I am not on Facebook). I think there may or may not be a partial responsibility of some individual Facebook UX folks, but this isn’t where we failed collectively.

We failed at a couple of points, as a profession. We have failed to make usability a requirement and explain its ROI. During the April 2018 Facebook Congressional hearings there were questions about the End User License Agreement (EULA) and how few people read it: it was our job to explain to our bosses why they would prefer a simple and transparent EULA and happy users over legal trouble. We also failed to explain to users that they have a duty to actually read the EULA. I personally received an invitation to join Facebook on 2009, read the EULA, was not happy with their data management policies, and clicked “I do not agree”. Foolish me thought I would get a different option where I would have the opportunity to start a private account and control my data to a finer degree of granularity, but I was just driven out of the website and never joined instead. I was part of the (potentially outdated by now and thus proverbial) 8% who read EULAs. We need to do better than that. The studies are out there for people to implement better EULAs. That’s not a Facebook problem, that’s a tech industry problem.

Moreover, we failed at a different, and maybe more important way. I watched ten hours of Facebook’s Congressional hearings last week, and when various Senators asked about the privacy settings and if they obscured the users’ ability to safeguard their privacy, none of them even imagined to ask: do you have any numbers to back your reply up? I am not talking about them mentioning usability by name, or user research by name. I don’t expect them to know what the relevant ISO may be, or SUS. I am talking about them mentioning how constituents kvetch to them about the privacy settings, then asking Zuckerberg about it, to receive the technically-correct-but-not-that-useful answer that there has been no drop in usage so people shouldn’t be too upset about it. And none of them asked, have you actually asked your users about it? Get your team to show us some numbers behind your claim. They should have asked, but they didn’t even imagine to do so.

Because we are invisible. What we do is not visible enough for a Senator to refer to it even without its proper name. Artificial Intelligence was mentioned by name, Software Engineering was mentioned by name, but it seems that we are not yet a thing. Settings difficulties were treated just as a matter of opinion, where no scientific method can be of assistance—it’s all subjective and fuzzy and personal.

I do not have yet any big counterproposal, I just know that we failed. We can lead by example, like Mozilla, or we can try to explain what we do and why it is important; however we do it, we need to break the tech bubble, and we need to do it fast, or we will keep failing.

The (educational) case for Exchange Dublin

This is the first post that is not directly about some aspect of a user interface or other interactive technology. Rather, it’s a post about something that just happened in Dublin. Dublin City Council decided to close Exchange Dublin. The reason given was “anti-social behaviour“. You can sign the petition if you wish to see it alive; if you don’t have a clue what it’s all about, you can just read the comments by the people who signed the petition. They say how awesome a cultural space Exchange has been.

Education and “21st Century Skills”

Since all these people say a lot about the contribution of Exchange to culture, and since I’m no artist, I’ll talk about what I personally know. Exchange has helped young people with some things which are key skills, as experts say: working with others, communicating, and being creative. And, if the Irish State is going through all this work to reform the curriculum to follow these principles, shouldn’t Dublin City provide its young residents with the opportunity to practise these key skills?


Processing Dublin was a monthly event in Exchange Dublin where student got to talk and showcase creative technology projects, per Dublin City Council “anti-social behaviour”.

How do I know that this behaviour took place there? It’s because I’ve participated in organising a couple of events there. One, called Processing Dublin (part of the Processing Cities project), was a monthly meeting organised by myself and @saorog (to whom I haven’t talked about this blog post and might as well be disagreeing with whatever I’m saying here). It was about creative technology, and myself, Stephen, or students were talking about or showcasing projects on graphics, data visualisation, or other interactive audiovisual applications.

Thus, I personally know that students there were engaged in creative technology, and with each other. The skills that the NCCA is just starting to apply for the junior and senior cycles, were already there. Of course, these skills were partly there, as it’s one thing to have a meetup of already interested in technology students, and it’s different to try to work with every student. And that’s why Exchange is awesome, because interested students can could get together and make a creative project happen. And Dublin City Council appears not to want this.

Double Standards

The Council say that they appreciate Exchange’s work but that they worry about “anti-social behaviour”. To begin with, define “anti-social behaviour”. No concrete explanation was given, but the assumption at last Wednesday’s weekly open general meeting at Exchange was that it was about some loud people by Cow’s Lane, totally unrelated to Exchange itself. No incident inside Exchange, an open, no-alcohol, social space happened that would be considered by any sane person as anti-social.

However, let’s assume for the sake of the argument, that there had been an incident in Exchange. Shouldn’t the Council see to addressing the incident rather than closing down the space? Whenever there is an incident in Dublin they close down the place where it happened? If drunk people fight in a pub do they close the pub down? No they don’t. If there is confirmed massive abuse by the Church do they close the Church down? No they don’t. They try to address each incident separately. And rightly so.

Of course, they cannot do such a thing with Exchange, because no such incident happened. That’s why the double standards. At the end of the day, I don’t think that creative people will take it, I’m sure that a new space will be found to house Exchange’s activities. However, it’s a shame that the Council gets in the way of activities it should seek to promote. It’s a shame that the Council shuts down a space whose activities have been one step ahead of national educational strategy.

Why the latest brain study you read is probably wrong

There are many articles lately which claim that behaviour xyz has been confirmed by some brain study. For my PhD research and for my UX work I have looked at a lot of these studies, and I can point to a number of issues I have come accross a lot. Like, really, really, a lot.

  • Reporting: Many articles do a lousy job on understanding brain studies or report the results inappropriately.
  • The WEIRD Effect: Sometimes these brain studies are biased, as plenty are performed on WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) sample sources. Usually, a researcher will use undergrads of their department in a country of the “West” and draw conclusion from this sample. The researcher or others (see “Reporting”) might wrongfully generalise these conclusions to a broader sample. So, yes, we don’t really know how the brain of non-Westerners functions in the same detail as we do for Westerners.
  • Neuroplasticity: Our brain is not static; rather, it is very flexible and its flexibility awards established patterns. These patterns may vary over time and accross cultures.


Thus, many epistomological mistakes might be applied by a combination of the above. In plain terms, if in one culture the people have dessert and coffee at the end of each meal, the brains of these people will want to automate this feature. Thus, the neurons of the areas related to the meal, the dessert and coffee, will change how they wire in order to be firing together (neuroplasticity). That is, if you do some things together a lot, then your brain will group this things together, in order to save energy/resources. Because these neurons are now grouped together, if you now have a meal, you will also want dessert and coffee because the related neurons are going to fire together.

That is, our brain structure depends on our customs, as our brain structure changes over time. Now, if one takes many people from the same culture (who also have dessert and coffee), they will most probably have the same wiring/grouping in their brains, too (because they’re used to doing the same things). If one scans their brains, it’s probable that the same brain signal patterns will occur, since the same habits will have formed the same brain patterns (the WEIRD effect).


Many popular examples show this issue. Apart from myths like the left/right brain division, other myths have wider implications. For example, a myth says that {happiness = achievementsexpectations}. There’s nothing but opinion to support that pseudo-equation. This might appear to be true for a generation of people from country X; fair enough: how is that relevant to humanity?

It’s not. It’s culturally biased opinion, and it’s easy to see behind the smoke and mirrors. In a culture where effort is valued more than achievements or expectations, we would see people there having trouble to see how expectations are meaningful. In the same way that in many countries wasting time doesn’t make any sense.

Imagine if you scan the brains of people from various cultures. Now that you know about neuroplasticity and the WEIRD effect, what do you think would happen?

Bad Philosophy

Not just popular reporting but also science has its issues. In bad epistemology we can add the misunderstanding of philosophical underpinnings of science. Some have gone so far as to say that humans have no free will because choosing between a red and a green button during an experiment is done at a subconscious level.

The assumption here is that these researchers apparently consider the human subconsious as something extra-human; if they understood the subconscious as a human trait then subconscious desicions would still be considered free will, wouldn’t they?

In addition, these experiments about how a WEIRD sample behaves in order to choose this or the other coloured button in a split second seem to have little effect on the discourse about free will. How is the decision to push a button similar to meaningful and important decisions in our life? I am certain that apart from any subconscious processes, I also consciously thought about practicing a profession, or about being with a partner. A brain scan would show the effect of both conscious and subconscious processes in my brain; what effect would that have on free will?

Finally, let me clear that hear I’m not arguing in favour or against the existence of free will. All I’m saying, is that brain scans of 20th-21st century Westerners are not an argument for or against its existence. In the same way that colours don’t have specific meanings but their perception is culture specific.

Resource: “Color” Tag Printable Cheat Sheet

Lately, I have started using more and more D3 for visualisations. Having used it at work for various projects, we had to adjust the colour palette of each project accordingly. Since D3 uses SVG for graphics, I started looking at the <color> tag.

Apart from the tag definition, W3C provide a list of keywords one can use instead of RGB values; this is extremely useful, as one can use the following to produce code that makes sense the moment you look at it:

var colours[lightsteelblue, lightskyblue, deepskyblue];

A list of keyword per RGB <color> is here. That was very useful, but I needed more than a list on the web. I looked for a cheat sheet on the web but didn’t find any. So, I did the following.

Firstly, I wanted to colour-sample when building mockups, so I made the following images (feel free to download):

Color tag and keywords - page 1

Color tag and keywords – page 1

Color tag keywords - page 2

Color tag keywords – page 2

Moreover, I wanted to look at this list even before turning my computer on, during sketching phase. So, I put the images above in a printable color-keywords cheat sheet [pdf].

Enjoy these resources! 🙂

Seminar: Crowdsourcing and Enterprise Social Media

On Wednesday 24th November at 14:30, we will be hosting a seminar on recent applications of crowdsourcing and social media in enterprises. Crowdsourcing has been defined as the outsourcing of tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a crowd) through an open call.

The presenters are listed below and the venue will be Lloyd Institute room 1.07. All are welcome. [map]

1. Mikhail Timofeev (Symantec/TCD) “Identifying Leaders in Consumer Community Forums”

2. Georgia Demetriou (University of Manchester) “Benefit-Driven Participation in Open Organisational Social Media Platforms: The Case of the SAP Community Network”

3. Anna Kleszcynska (Lingotek/TCD) “Applications of Crowdsourcing in Translation: Motivations and Outcomes in Five Organisations”

For more information contact Dr. Simon McGinnes, Information Systems Discipline, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

Irish Day of Action for Arts


[click the logo to find out more]

I support! ♥