Moving on…

Posted in all posts by coleman yee on May 11, 2009

After over 2 years at PebbleRoad, it’s time for me to move on.

My ride there as a Design Consultant has been nothing short of incredible. The challenging projects and problems, the stimulating debates and conversations – these have added up to become an intensive learning experience and journey.

For a small company, PebbleRoad’s achievements are disproportionate to their size (the rather unbelievable client list should give some indication of their abilities). I highly recommend their services (no, I’m not getting an extra bonus for saying this!).

What next?

I’m pretty fortunate as I’ve already been approached by a few people and companies interested in working with me, despite the current economic situation.

As of now, I’m keeping my options wide open and exploring whatever opportunities that are coming along.

So if you know of any opportunities that I should be considering, do drop me a note at colemanyee at gmail dot com.

P.S. now that I have a bit more time, my blogging frequency should increase!

Barcamp Singapore 3

Posted in all posts, events, IA, powerpoint, presentation by coleman yee on February 28, 2009

Despite my heavy schedule these few weeks, I had to attend and speak at Barcamp Singapore 3 because it was held at my previous workplace – the Teaching & Learning Centre at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. My presentation was entitled “How to bluff your way through an interview on Information Architecture”, which was really just to introduce what IA is, why it’s important and what kind of value it adds, and a little on how an information architect goes about doing their work. The slides are on slideshare – make sure that you’re viewing the Notes tab below the slides, otherwise it won’t make much sense. Slideshare: How to bluff your way through an interview on Information Architecture Brian Koh liveblogged my session, and had a very nice comment at the end:

That’s it! From the people next to me. “That’s the most educational talk i’ve heard at Barcamp.” “IA is awesome!”

All I hoped for was for more people to know about IA, because I believe it’s important – I never expected anyone to think that IA is awesome. It was also great that quite a number of people came up to me to thank me after the presentation. These were all really nice. Later on towards the evening, I decided to do another presentation, since there was a free slot. It was an old presentation I used to do on the use of Powerpoint, entitled “The Princess, the Witch, and the Powerpoint“. That one never fails to entertain. Updates: Chin Yong has a great summary of my session. He also mentioned:

The presentation style of Coleman was entertaining and educational. I give him a two thumbs up. And of course, he already given himself 2 thumbs up pointing at himself everytime he mention “Good Information Architect”

The pointing at myself part was just me trying to be funny. At sgentrepreneurs, Ian Timothy had some very generous comments:

This was, perhaps, the most educational session I ever experienced at any of such events. Coleman isn’t just knowledgeable, he is charming and a great presenter with the right amount of humor. If there was a way to attach an affiliate link to the polar bear book and for the audience to purchase the book on the spot, Coleman would have cleared a fair amount of commission that day. Yes, he was that good.

Like I said, he was very generous. Just in case you can’t find the notes on slideshare. The notes start from slide 2.

Make sure you view the notes!

Make sure you view the notes!

Just starting my IA presentation – my first slide (photo by sgentrepreneurs):

IA presentation

Me showing a content inventory during the IA presentation (photo by Claudia Lim):

During my IA presentation - showing a content inventory

IA presentation

My audience at my IA presentation (photo by Lagoona Loire):

The people at my IA presentation

 IA presentation audience

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What makes a sustainable social networking site

Posted in all posts, social software, web by coleman yee on January 3, 2009

Over the past couple of years, the successes of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace have captured the imagination of many. Maybe too many.

In the past year or so, I’ve met quite a number of people building or working on social networking sites.

Most of those sites aren’t too compelling, even if some of them are enjoying moderate success now. If I were an investor, most of them wouldn’t get a single cent from me. Maybe just two cents – in the form of advice.

So, which types of social networking site would I invest in?

To put it another way, what kinds social networking sites are truly sustainable?

Sustainable #1: All-Inclusive Social Network

These are the social networks that try to cater to the largest and widest audience, to include anyone and everyone, and they probably hope to have everyone in the world on their site.

Like Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, and many others.

If I were to invest in a social network, I would consider investing in an All -Inclusive Social Network. But it had better be good. Really good. In fact, before users will consider flocking over to it, that new social network has to be at least an order of magnitude better than Facebook, like how Facebook is better than Friendster, with Facebook’s far superior usability and extensibility (where developers can create Facebook apps to extend its functionality).

If it’s hard to imagine a social network that’s an order of magnitude better than Facebook, it’s even harder to build one, not to mention terribly risky as well.

We thus might want to consider more palatable alternatives, like Exclusive Social Networks.

Sustainable #2: Exclusive Social Network

I’m using “exclusive” for lack of a better word (I almost wanted to use “repellent”).

An Exclusive Social Network is one where members or insiders don’t want to mix with non-members or outsiders, or don’t want outsiders to know who they are.

Exclusive Social Networks would include those for the rich, famous and powerful, like aSmallWorld, where the members don’t really want to many mere mortals like us to be bothering them with friend requests; or the US spy social network (A-Space).

A child porn network would be a good example too (although I don’t know of any), as are social networks for other kinds of secret societies.

Closely related and somewhat overlapping with the Exclusive Social Network is the Alternate Persona Social Network.

Sustainable #3: Alternate Persona Social Network

Again, “alternate persona” is not ideal, but will have to suffice for now.

An Alternate Persona Social Network is one where the member takes on a persona that is different or even incompatible with their persona used in the All-Inclusive Social Network.

Examples include:

  • LinkedIn, where members display their professional personas, versus their drunken party Facebook personas.
  • SecondLife, where members use their fantasy personas (hardly anyone there is short, fat, or balding).
  • Ridemakerz, where members become custom toy cars (for kids) – fantasy personas as well.
  • Dating sites, where members may project a different side of their personalities. Dating sites could also fall under the previous (“exclusive”) category, if they don’t want friends to know they are trawling the internet for more “friends”…

Unsustainable: Niche Social Network

This is really the flamebait part of my post, as those people working on Niche Social Networks probably won’t like my ideas here.

Niche Social Networks are social networks that cater to a certain niche, but don’t fall into any of the sustainable categories mentioned above.

They may have special features, or cater to specific audiences or activities, like social networks that center around

  • photos (like Flickr)
  • videos (like Seesmic)
  • mobile phone access
  • books
  • sports
  • etc.

Take Flickr for example. While not considered a social networking site by everyone, it is certainly one of the most popular photo sharing sites around. Except that Facebook has already overtaken it in terms of photos uploaded.

That’s despite Flickr having more useful photo features, like hi-res photos, more powerful tagging, and so on. If Facebook implements some of these features, Flickr’s position will be further threatened.

Same with the other Niche Social Networks – much of their success depends on Facebook’s deficiencies – which puts them in a rather precarious position.

The unfortunate thing is, most of the social networks that I see people working on now belong to this category. Some of them have pretty decent products with great features backed by great technology. I wouldn’t bet on them.

Which reminds me of someone I know who developed a really nice book-centered social networking site, BookJetty. I was a happy user of it, until I added a book sharing app on Facebook, which was when I stopped using BookJetty. This is despite the fact that that Facebook app is far inferior in terms of features and usability.

If you can’t beat em…

There’s still hope for the Niche Social Network.

One way to survive or even thrive is just to develop a Facebook app to complement or replace the Niche Social Network.

For instance, if Flickr had a well-integrated Flickr Facebook app that is as fast and as easy to use as Facebook’s native photo features, but with the additional Flickr features, I’d use it. And because Flickr is focused on photo features, it won’t be hard for them to stay a step ahead of Facebook’s native photo features.

Or if my BookJetty friend started a Facebook app early on (and how I wish that he did), I would have stuck with it. If he were to do it now, I would switch only if it could easily import all my books from the current book app I’m now using, and if my reading friends would switch along with me.

With Facebook’s growing popularity, it won’t be a surprise to anyone when it eventually becomes the top social networking site in the world, making it quite sensible to ride on its extensive reach, as it marches towards world domination.

Except that it world domination is harder than it looks…

Why there won’t be an Super All-Inclusive Social Network

The reality is that we live in a culturally uneven world, and this will likely be the case for a very long time to come, so it will be difficult for Facebook or any other All-Inclusive Social Network to dominate every country in the world.

Which is why All-Inclusive Social Networks like Facebook and MySpace are making little headway into places like China, Japan and South Korea, which already have their own native social networks.


One soon realizes that the business of social networks isn’t an easy one.

If you build it, they may not come.

To create an All-Inclusive Social Network that can outdo Facebook will take a lot of inspiration and genius. And that’s just to get started.

Alternate-Persona Social Networks aren’t easy as well. Besides starting with a compelling idea, it’ll likely require custom technology that probably isn’t easily available (like SecondLife)

Probably the easiest to succeed are the Exclusive Social Networks – just identify the right audience (cannibals?), and have a good strategy to reach that audience. The technology is mostly already there.

Just don’t fall into the trap of doing a Niche Social Network. Or if you read this too late, turn it into a Facebook app first thing tomorrow morning.

* * *

Thanks to Bernard Leong on whom I tested these ideas over coffee one afternoon.

Sisyphus revisited

Posted in all posts, books by coleman yee on December 18, 2008
Sisyphus revisited

Sisyphus revisited

This cartoon by Tom Fishburne will no doubt resonate with anyone who’s done a large project for a large client.

I’m thankful that my company hasn’t experienced anything extreme like in the cartoon, mostly because we defend our work pretty well (at least that’s what I’d like to think), and that mostly because our work is usually based on research and evidence and a lot of thinking.

The cartoon first appeared in Fishburne’s blog post, sisyphus revisited, but I first came across it in his highly-entertaining book, This One Time, at Brand Camp.

Every page has a cartoon, on the dysfunctional side of the marketing/branding industry.

Hilarious stuff, but it would have been funnier if the stuff in there weren’t true. Then again, it’s funny precisely because it’s also true. Sad but true.

Our response to the AIMS report

Posted in all posts, Singapore, web by coleman yee on December 2, 2008

Update – press coverage:

Tap civil servants’ views on policy: Panel (Straits Times, 3rd Dec 2008) – Lee Siew Hua mentions us and quotes me in her report.

* * *

The Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS) has released the AIMS report earlier today. They didn’t announce this over the AIMS blog so I didn’t know about it until someone from the media called to ask for my comments.

I was asked for comments because a few of us sent in some feedback to the AIMS committee some time ago.

Since then, some of us have been flooded with calls and requests for comments. Since many of us are not available to be interviewed, I’m putting a response on behalf of the group, in a Q&A format.

What group is this?

In the report, we’re referred to as a “group of academics and government employees”. We normally call ourselves the “media socialists”. See our previous FAQ for a further explanation (no we’re not political).

What are your comments on the AIMS report?

We appreciate that AIMS has taken our feedback and added it to their recommendations. Our feedback is available here: Beyond the Govt / Citizen Dichotomy: Our Response to AIMS.

How far do you think the government will go in implementing the recommendations of the report?

We prefer not to speculate.

Any other comments?

Not really. Most of what we have to say is already in our feedback itself (Beyond the Govt / Citizen Dichotomy: Our Response to AIMS) and in the FAQ (Social media “activists” response to AIMS – frequently asked questions).

A different PowerPoint format

Posted in all posts, events, powerpoint, presentation, teaching by coleman yee on November 12, 2008

In my last post “Blogging, Podcasting, or Youtube? Choosing the right medium” – Podcamp Singapore, I talked about my experience as a speaker at Podcamp Singapore. For a long time, I wanted to try out a different way of using PowerPoint – using both the whiteboard and PowerPoint concurrently without having to move the projection screen up and down – and Podcamp was a great opportunity to do that.

Coleman presenting at Podcamp

Presenting at Podcamp

Notice that I was only using the top third of the screen for the PowerPoint slide. Which meant that I could use both the whiteboard and my PowerPoint slides at the same time.

How I did it

I used a black background on my PowerPoint slide, so that the projection wouldn’t interfere with the whiteboard. The text (in white) occupied only the top quarter of the slide. I could have used a lighter background for the top part of the slide, but black was easiest. My original plan was to pull the projection screen a third down, but the technology was too smart – the screen could only go all the way up (and the projector would turn off automatically), or all the way down. Thankfully I could slide the projection screen behind the whiteboard, resulting in a sloping screen, but it turned out fine. Here’s a shot of another slide.

Presenting at Podcamp - another slide

Presenting at Podcamp - another slide

Thanks to the Podcamp Singapore organisers for these shots.

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“Blogging, Podcasting, or Youtube? Choosing the right medium” – Podcamp Singapore

Posted in all posts, events, internet by coleman yee on November 1, 2008

Podcamp Singapore turned out to be quite fun, with some interesting conversations that I hope to blog about soon.

This post is about my thoughts as one of the speakers.

My session

I titled my session “Blogging, Podcasting, or Youtube? Choosing the right medium”.

A more accurate title would have been “Text, audio, or video? Issues to consider in choosing the online medium”, but I would have gotten only half the audience.

I chose this topic because I’ve seen too many people and organizations create a podcast or a video blog without understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the medium.

They may have started a podcast simply because it’s the cool thing to do, not realizing that there are a lot more subtleties involved in creating a good podcast.

It was these subtleties that I wanted to explore during the session.

The format

I was actually a facilitator rather than a speaker. I called the format a “virtual wiki” (a wiki is online, so a virtual wiki is offline) – where the audience gave their input and ideas while I tried to distill their thoughts onto the virtual wiki page (the whiteboard).

The content was audience-constructed, with virtually no contributions from me (although I did lead the discussions in certain directions).

This meant that there were some points that I had in mind that weren’t raised by the audience, but it didn’t matter. What I wanted more was to guide the audience through this thinking process and experience, and I think I was successful in that.

The actual content

Since the actual content wasn’t from me, I don’t have a copy of it. Thankfully some of the audience were busy blogging during the session. Derrick Kwa covered the session live while Claudia covered my session as well as the other sessions live. Unfortunately they didn’t contribute to the discussion because they were too busy blogging about it.

(Update: Shalabh Pandey blogged about the content as well.)

There was also some plurking around in the background by Brian and some others, with one of them wanting to throw cheesecake at me. Thankfully I wrote on the whiteboard before I starting, “NO CAKE-THROWING”.


Knowing that people tend to be reluctant about giving negative feedback, I asked a lot of people “what are the 3 things you liked and 3 things you disliked about the session” (later reduced to 2 things because most people had a hard time coming up with 3).

Most enjoyed the discussions. With very smart and knowledgeable individuals in the room, you can never go wrong letting go and giving them the freedom to converse.

However, not everyone was used to the lack of structure. During the discussions, there wasn’t always a clear direction, and the discussions often digressed. It was disorienting for some.

Furthermore, when the session ended, there were more questions than answers. Not everyone liked the lack of closure.

What I would have done differently

First, I would have framed the issue more clearly. I had some assumptions which weren’t shared by everyone, so the scope of the discussion went too broad at some points.

I should have also prepared the audience better for the lack of structure and closure.

Many of us are too used to the comfort of structure and guidance and we want to be given the correct or model answer. While I wanted to raise questions more than to give answers, it would have worked better if the audience was expecting it.


Despite all the flaws, I’m generally satisfied with how it turned out. I hope others will also be encouraged to try out a similarly participatory or even constructivistic session in the future.

PebbleRoad is hiring

Posted in all posts by coleman yee on October 25, 2008

PebbleRoad (where I work) is hiring. If you want to be my colleague, here’s your chance 🙂

I joined close to 2 years ago, and it’s been an exhilarating experience of learning and creating for me. I’m now doing things I never thought I could do (imagine trying to reorganize a messy website with a few thousand pages into something actually intuitive and easy to use).

Here’s the official announcement – we’re hiring – User Experience Lead

PebbleRoad is actively looking for a User Experience Lead to join the team in Singapore. PebbleRoad is a design firm specializing in design research and strategy. Projects include intranet redesigns, large corporate websites, web applications and e-learning.

The person should be able to:

  • Plan and conduct design research activities
  • Sketch and brainstorm ideas and scenarios
  • Create prototypes and test them out
  • Present design to clients

Experience in information architecture and interaction design is definitely a plus. But what is more important is having a passion for problem solving and learning and taking the responsibility to engage the client and deliver a quality service.

If you are in Singapore or even in the US or Europe and looking for a fast-paced and exciting stint, send a message to maish-at-pebbleroad.com. Here’s more about Singapore.

If you don’t qualify for the above but you have some of those abilities and you’re keen to intern with us, let us know too.

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User Generated Content and misguided strategies

Posted in all posts, events, internet by coleman yee on October 16, 2008

I was at the Singapore Digital Media Festival 2008 pre-event dinner just today, where we had a pretty interesting discussion about user generated content.

I won’t go into all that we discussed, but I’ll highlight some interesting points.

What’s “user generated content”?

They even have an acronym for it – UGC. When we talk about user generated content, we tend to think of content on sites like YouTube. It’s amateurish, it costs little to produce, and it’s produced by some unknown individual (before they get famous).

But what if it’s a professional-quality video on YouTube that costs thousands to produce? And produced by some large corporation? Is it still considered user generated?

Or what if it’s amateurish, costs little to produce, on YouTube, but created or funded by some large company? Is that video considered user generated content?

I’m being a little pedantic about definitions here, but I found that some of the discussion wasn’t too productive because everyone was using the same term but with different definitions in mind.

The inability to properly define user generated content may lead to unprofitable discussions; the inability to understand its appeal leads to unprofitable endeavors – which is far more costly.

The appeal of amateurism?

Ben Koe made the observation during the discussion that user generated content tends to be amateurish, and there is some appeal in that.

But many a large media company has made the unfortunate mistake of thinking that producing something amateur-looking would make it appealing the way a funny home video on YouTube is.

The funny home video on YouTube appeals not because it’s amateurish, but because it’s authentic.

We’re forgiving of the shaky camera handling of the amateur because we know it’s done by someone who can’t do any better. It’s real.

But amateurish-looking videos produced by Big media don’t have the same appeal because we see them as professionals pretending to be amateur (I’m thinking of RazorTV). They aren’t authentic.

Those that still manage to be successful are successful because they have very good content, or they are good enough for the viewer to suspend judgment, despite being inauthentic.

In other words, they still have to be really good.

Thus, Big media should do what they’re good at and have the resources to do – produce top-quality content that is beyond the capabilities of grandma. There are too many grandmas and grandpas and moms and dads and everyone else out there producing content – don’t compete with them. Don’t compete with everyone.

The cheapening of content?

During the discussion, Daniel Goh observed that people are less willing to pay for content, and in many areas, content is expected to be free. I completely agree.

People love music, but kids these days don’t believe in paying for them. The same goes for video content, which is why BitTorrent is using up a significant amount of internet bandwidth – people are using it to music and videos for free.

While people are paying less for content, they will pay for experience.

While kids can download movies over BitTorrent, they still pay to watch the movie in a cinema. Many bands are coming to terms with this trend, realizing that they actually make more money through their concerts and events, and not through CD sales.

Or more recently in Singapore, people were willing to pay ridiculous amounts of money (in my opinion) to watch the Formula 1 race at the track, having to endure crowds and other hassles and getting their eardrums hurt, when they could have watched it live in the comfort of their own homes. Crazier are those who flew over here from Europe or the US just to experience the race.

But the overwhelming reaction from those who were there was that it was worth every cent. Hearing the deafening roar of the race cars blasting away the eardrums was an exhilarating experience, even for those who weren’t F1 fans.

What then?

Companies are missing out on these trends at their own peril.

Many are still clinging on to their content-for-sale model, while others that realize the need for change jump onto the amateurish track instead of the authentic one.

I’m planning to attend the Singapore Digital Media Festival (was invited), and I hope to see some enlightened companies there.

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Napkin from PSFK Conference Asia 2008

Posted in all posts, events by coleman yee on October 10, 2008
Purple psfk napkin on the food table

Purple psfk napkin on the food table

Besides having unique purple napkins during the tea breaks, the PSFK Conference Asia 2008 turned out really great, with many really good speakers – one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended.

It helped that the 11 sessions were only half an hour each, meaning that those who weren’t so great didn’t get to take up too much time, and those who were really great left you thirsting for more. Yes, the latter is a good thing as well.

There were so many insights and ideas and food for thought but I won’t blog about them now – I still need time to digest so they can help fuel some thoughts and ideas I already have.

For now, here’s a nice quote quoted by one of the speakers:

“I don’t know what the secret of success is, but I know the secret to failure – it’s trying to please everyone” – Bill Crosby

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