Off the Top: User-Centered Design Entries

March 28, 2015

Inviewed on Shift Podcast

On Friday I had the pleasure of spending about an hour with two of my favorite people, Euan Semple and Megan Murray on the wonderful podcast, Shift. We covered tagging, taxonomies, meaning, power, and the future that we are all hurtling towards.

I am a big fan of their interviews (as their conversations between them are familiar from past conversations between us) with other. I still have a few to get to.

March 17, 2015

Mobile Apps and Enabling Content Use and Reuse

This morning I read Dave Winer’s “When will the 140-char wall come down” that aside from the focus of the piece is the secondary focus on mobile. The part that caught my attention is the section that mentions Facebook’s discussions with content publishers.

David Carr ran an article in the NY Times last October that previewed the pitch we'll likely hear. They want publishers to post full content to Facebook. In return they are willing to share ad revenue with the publishers.

The reason this is so important? In a mobile environment, clicking on a link to read a story is a very big price. We all know that mobile is where Facebook’s growth is coming from. News reading on mobile can become much more fluid. That's what Facebook wants to do.

This pulling content into large commercial social platform’s mobile apps is also problematic. While I really understand the value of not having the users click out of the service and keeping ad revenues pegged to a higher level, it is this lock-in that creates problems. For those of us who value content and being able to refind content and easily quote it and pull it together in links (as is done in this post) these walled gardens of social platforms have rather overbearing walls that make ease of personal information management a giant chore. Many of the social platforms offer some connection to bookmark, send to a full browser, and / or to other apps on the mobile device. Each service is different, most offer some means of getting the content out to functional tools or providing them within their app, but some (like LinkedIn offer nothing, which is really painful and horribly thought through).

The Value to Publishers of Connecting Content

Why should publishers care about their content in a commercial social platform like Facebook? As Dave Winer points out it is about mobile access and what apps and services to people spend time in. A common adage and mindset is to place your content were people are and can see your content. This makes sense to be in the commercial social platforms. Also people share in these social platforms things they find of interest. But, the downside is the lack of ease for people to share out into other social platforms and hold on to content for greater value add outside one platform.

The ability and ease of getting content out of the social platform’s mobile app and into a browser has value, as the browser often have user’s bookmarklets to tuck things into services to read things later (like Instapaper), bookmark it in services (like Pinboard) or a work service (like KnowledgePlaza), or grab an interesting snippet for later (in something like Evernote). All of these not only add personal value to the reader using these services, but most often this content is easily shared to others who follow the link and go read the publisher’s content. If the content is not linked to the publisher’s site and to the social platform, that often hinders people from going.

As publishers consider going this route they need to understand the referral value from power readers and how social platforms currently add friction to that model of value generation.

February 16, 2015

Design and Business Leadership Snippets

There have been quite a few pieces lately on the importance of design and design leadership. The importance of design is getting to the true understanding of what the problems are and thinking about solving out from there without preconceptions of solutions, but letting solutions evolve form the need. Different and well fitting solutions often result from this approach, which is real innovtion and not copying someone else’s solutions for your use as innovation approach.

Matt Milan’s “It’s never been more important for design firms to think differently” is the cornerstone for this thinking differently approach and its deep value. I’d add to this is knowing not only the current state of where the various mediums, systems, and devices are sitting, but where they are headed in the next year or two, so to openly plan for adaption and keep the potential integrations as open possibilities.

Brian Zmijewski’s The Design Leadership Gap and Lead by Design are two really good pieces that take a look at the need for strong design leadership.

Kai Brunner’s Is DevOps Driving the Future of UX Design? is a great look at how to mix and have success with design and DevOps. The two prodominant models don’t really work well and how to work to get to a more optimal model.

November 12, 2014

New Adoption Points

One of those things where, yet again, realize you have a really quick personal adoption threshold when a new device fills in and you start wondering why everything can’t be logged into with a fingerprint. Then there is the, “why are you calling me on my payment device?”

It has been over 30 years of having new devices arrive at semi-regular pace and quickly disrupting things for workflows around devices and interactions, which is followed often by relatively quick adoption and getting used to a new mental model that makes things a little easier. This is really true for software that is buggy and never really fixed and where I (as well as other humans are the human affordance system).

The Software Counter Model to Quick Change Adoption

As much as new physical hardware and software interaction model shifts largely causes little difficulty with changing for more ease of use, the counter to this with software with a lot of human need for grasping mental models. It is particularly difficult when structuring mental models and organization structure before using software is something required.

There have been some good discounts on Tinderbox across podcasts I listen to or websites around Mac productivity I read, so I nabbed a copy. I have had long discussion around Tinderbox for over a decade and it has been on my want list for large writing and research projects. I have had quite a few friends who have been long time users (longer than I have been a DevonThink user), but I don’t seem to have one in my current circle of colleagues (I you are one and would love to chat, please reach out).

I have a few projects that I think would make great sense to put into Tinderbox, but not really grokking the structure and mental model and flows - particularly around what I wish I would know when I have a lot of content in it. It is feeling a lot like trying to read Japanese and not having learned the characters. I also wish I had kept better notes a few years back when I was deeply sold on a need for Tinderbox, but didn’t capture a detailed why and how I thought it would work into workflow.

Some Tools are Nearly There as a Continual State

I have some software and services that I use a fair amount with hope that they will get much much better with a few relatively small things. Evernote is nearly always in this category. Evernote is a good product, but never gets beyond just good. The search always falls apart at scale (it was around 2,000 objects and had about doubled that scaling threshold pain point) and I can’t sort out how to script things easily or remotely drop content into the correct notebook from email or other easy entry model. There are a lot of things I wish Evernote would become with a few minor tweaks to support a scalable solid no (or very few faults tool), but it never quite takes those steps.

Their business tool offering is good for a few use cases, which are basic, but getting some smart and intelligence uses with better search (search always seems to be a pain point and something that DevonThink has nailed for 10 years) would go a really long way. Evernote’s Context is getting closer, but is lacking up front fuzzy, synonym, and narrowing search with options (either the “did you mean” or narrowing / disambiguation hints / helps).

We will get there some day, but I just wish the quick adoption changes with simple hardware interaction design and OS changes would become as normal as quickly with new other knowledge and information tools for personal use (always better than) or business.

November 1, 2014

Being Makers

Oh, there is so much great fodder in Dan Hon’s most recent Tiny Letter, but today’s dosage meted out Episode One Hundred and Eighty One: It’s Too Hot; Monitor This is a gem. The piece that really got me going is midway through section “2.0 Monitor This”, as follows:

I’ve been in meetings like this.

I don’t know what the brief would've been. But given that it went to Jam in the first place, I’m sure it was something to do with “let’s do something on social or mobile”. And it's exciting to think, as a creative team, that you've come up with an “app” that can “solve a problem”.

Well, part of the f*cking problem is this: those creative teams have most commonly *never shipped* an “app” or a “service” before. And the skills required in actually making a good application or service are vastly different from those involved in creating compelling creative communications. Because, you know, one of these things is used and the other one isn’t. That’s not to say that good apps and services *can’t* be informed by the kind of taste and direction that informs well-performing advertising creative communications work. But the two things are different!

This is why, for example, good producers try to find people who’ve actually done something in the relevant area before, so you’re not playing a f*cking crap shoot.

Pants on Fire

This scenario is not only creative agencies, but most any non-serious product organization. I see this a ton where people are just guessing the way forward. It doesn’t matter if they are in UX and don’t understand the medium they are working in with any depth (they don’t prototype and can’t build), they are analysts who have never built nor managed a scaled environment and been responsible for it, or are a consultant that never stuck around to be responsible for what they delivered so never learn how to do anything close to properly.

Largely it comes down to depth and experience dealing with things for a long haul. The best experience is not only doing, but being with it long term and responsible for things after they are delivered. The best experience in this set is being the person, or one of the people, whose pants catch on fire when things don’t go well.

These “pants catch on fire” folks are most often gems, particularly if they are keep building and working to innovate and iterate (with all the research and digging for more depth) so to understand it better and get it right. These people are also the ones who can break things down to the “it depends” elements and walk through the questions needed and know what to do with the answers. Far too many want the answers without knowing how to think it through or go through the questions but not understand what the answers mean.

SXSW Started with Makers

A lot of this reminds me of the progressions of South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive. I first went in 2001 to not only listen and learn, but to meet and thank some of the people who helped me deeply by the lessons they learned and shared themselves and by others on shared in the service they offered. I learned much of what I knew in the early web years (1994 to 2001) from people sharing what worked, but also what didnt work (and what they did that didn≱t work in a situation) [I also had relied heavily on my formal learning as a communication major undergrad and public policy (econ and social quant) from grad school]. I wanted to say hello to Jeffrey Zeldman for A List Apart, Jeffrey Veen for Webmonkey and HotWire, and Nathan Shedroff for sharing all they did at Vivid Studio (one of the first web design shops that predated UX, but took all the methods I learned in designing communications and applied it to the web and digital matter and connected the long used methods to new terms for the same things).

That 2001 SXSW was a lot of people who were building, making, and working deeply to understand what worked, what didn≱t work, to improve what they were making so it could be used by others who needed it to work. It was a sea of design and developer hybrid explorers.

By 2005 SXSW had shifted from purely makers to include those talking about things made and how to use what has been made, while not really understanding what goes into making it. These were the “Clickers”.

In 2006 and 2007, we had shifted from the Makers, to the Clickers, to many talking about the Clickers, but not really understanding the Clickers as they weren’t really using things, but talking at an abstraction layer about what the Clickers said. There was some nascent value in these “Talking about Clickers” folks, but a lot of it was off target as they didn’t understand the underlying elements that were being used, not the mindset and the needs of the Clickers all that deeply - the exceptions to these are deep researchers who actually could and did make and spent time in with the Makers and Clickers.

By 2008 the abstraction at SXSW got really crazy. It had a huge number of talks by people “Talking about those Talking about Clickers” otherwise known as social media gurus. It was an utter mess. There was a severe lack of depth and nobody had a clue about much of what they were talking about. Their understandings were based on mis-understandings. There was a small contingent of Makers still speaking and some Clickers who had good depth of understanding by this point, but most of what was on the program was horrid blather. Much of the draw that had makers drop into Austin to see friends and colleagues and share and work through understandings to hone the way forward stopped going. At 2008 I had enough of it and stopped going as the value derived is next to nothing.

SXSW in about eight years went from being Makers, to Clickers, to Talking about Clickers, and to Talking about those Talking about Clickers. It became a gathering of nothingness. It became a conference of what Dan is talking about, people trying to do something without having any interest in understanding what they are doing. They want answers without understanding the question.

For the Love of Makers

I love the Makers and making. The mindset and drive to understand how to build things better for the Clickers and to make things more usable and needed. Working with other Makers and people with Makers’ mindset in the development, design, and product side is fantastic. There is a whole lot of “we don’t understand this well enough” mindset. As nothing is perfect and everything has gaps (products and humans) we need Makers to understand and build a way forward.

April 29, 2013

Broken Decade Precedes It Works Decade

I had long forgotten this Carl Steadman response to Michael Sippy’s “Just One Question - What do you want for Christmas”, but the response from 1997 is fantastic and frames the 1990s as the broken decade. (I’ll wait for you to go read it)

I’m not so sure that Carl’s broken decade got better in the first half of the 2000 decade, but it really started to. We are much farther along now. Our consumer world started to improve quite a bit and slowly business systems and services are slowly improving. The initial part of Carl’s rant focusses on the number of steps to get something going. Once it is working the steps are still clunky.

Carl gets in a great rant about time and how broken it was in the 90s within technology (calendaring and syncing is still a beast and likely to for a bit longer - you understand the problem sets and pain points if you have ever tried to build syncing). With calendaring and its related activities we now have Tempo, which is freakishly close to the next step scenario I used in many of the Come to Me Web presentations and Personal InfoCloud presentations from 2003 through 2007 (I’ve been getting requests to represent them as this is what more and more developers and designers are dealing with today and need to have a better foundation to think through them). There was an internal Yahoo presentation (and follow on day of deep discussions and conversations) with a version of the Personal InfoCloud and Come to me Web flow that is nearly identical to the Tempo app video scenario and ones spelled out in Robert Scoble’s interview with Tempo CEO, which is utterly awesome that it is getting built out some 10 years later (we had the technology and tools to do this in 2004 and beyond).

Carl’s rant gets worn away over time though consumer devices, services, and applications. The refocus on ease of use and particularly the use through mobile, which requires a very different way of thinking and considering things. It thinking through design, the dependancies, and real user needs (all while keeping in mind the attention issues, screen size, networking, and device limitations). The past couple years mobile finally caught on with mainstream users and people doing real work on the mobile and tablets - Box 40% mobile access of files stored there over the last couple years. Many other business vendors have had mobile use rates of their services from mobile over the past two years. When talking to users they opt for mobile solutions over their full enterprise tools as they are much easier to use, which quickly translates into getting more work done. As Bernd Christiansen of Citrix stated in an onstage interview the employee’s most productive part of the day is often the walk from their car to the front door of the office working on their mobile devices.

This world is not fully better and fully easy to use from the days of Carl’s rant, but it is getting better. We still have quite a ways to go.

October 7, 2011

A World without Steve Jobs

The news of the passing of Steve Jobs came as I turned on my iPad arriving at the BWI airport. It caused a gasp from me. Much of the prior 90 minutes were filled talking with my seat mate about the future of technology and our finding ease in using the tools we have today and their near future incarnations and beyond. The conversation kicked off with a question about iPad and differences between iPad and iPad2.

Today, what really struck as I woke today was not as much on what Steve Jobs inspired and shipped, but what didn't ship. I have had some long discussions with folks from Apple about things that got stuck in the Steve Jobs review and how to potentially get a feature or product beyond that hurdle. The attention to detail was stunning as to what the CEO focussed on and how each thing fit in not only the whole stretch of Apple products, but also all the touch points where people experience Apple. On rare occasion something that has been a bit of a clunker shipped from Apple, but mostly it is shipping great products that are well designed, well engineered, and very well built.

Having a leader understand this whole of the ecosystem of experience and making decisions to remove things that could dent that whole of the experience is essential Steve Jobs. One thing in particular sticks out is Apple not shipping is Flash in the iPhone. At the time many other smartphones included a Flash player in their devices, but it was never a good or passable experience, even when it wasn't locking up the device or crashing it. Jobs and Apple took a lot of heat for this decision, but it was geeks that cared about Flash in phone and those who only understand checkboxes when making device selection that were having the lack of understanding. The lack of Flash in iPhone and other iOS based products is one key to their ease of use and uptime, which lead to high user satisfaction of the devices.

American companies in recent years have been competing on price not quality, and therefore have largely been shipping mediocre products. The financial success of WallMart is founded on getting brands to make a cheaper more mediocre product so people own a brand that once mattered, but the product is deeply lacking in the quality they bought for a low price. The Steve Jobs Apple did not give in to shipping junk, their products may cost more than other devices, but once you add similar components to what Apple didn't cut corners on the price is rather close if not much more for the competing products. Jobs turned Apple around from a company that had become focussed on price and mediocrity and returned it to a company that focussed on "Boom" and quality with forward thinking products. Jobs shifted the focus from following to bringing the future to today with quality.

When we consider Pixar, Tim Berners-Lee inventing the web on Steve Jobs' Next Cube computer, changing the music industry with iTunes and iPod, disruptively moving the mobile phone marketplace, and countless other drastic changes one man and his companies made it is tough not to stop for a moment and be thankful and know we have been blessed with one who dreamed of greatness for the world around him and delivered it though passion and flair.

Now it is our turn not to give into mediocrity and accept the merely acceptable, but measure what we do and bring into our world and lives the greatness that should be there.

March 30, 2011

Designing Advanced Deisgn - Julian Bleeker notes from Kruzeniski Workshop

Every now and then I run into a post that brings back that passion and understanding at what is at my core. A post that I wish I wrote or had been able to express what is there at the core. A post with so many great bits that if I high lighted the great parts the whole thing would be yellow (not that I highlight much in yellow (more of orange, pink, and blue sort of guy).

Julian’s Notes from the Workshop on Designing Advanced Design

But enough expounding, what tickled my interest is Julian Bleeker's IxD 2011 Designing Advanced Design Workshop blog post which are notes from Micke Kruzeniski's IxDA workshop (you know, like the title says). The workshop exercise is interesting, but there this post really is enjoyable for me are the insights and everything that follows.

The focus on optimization and efficiency at a set size for certain processes and outcomes is critical. Once you scale beyond that efficiency decreases and costs rise. This lesson is one I see many small and smallish companies run up against. This can be really interesting to watch with internet-based products as it takes many people to keep something up and running and optimized, even when the design, functionality, purpose, and interactions with the service really haven't changed with the only change being there are many more people hitting and using the service than there were prior. In theory you are not producing any more of anything as it is all a copy of digital internet thing “X”, which sole ingredient is energy to appear as an interactive (or even static) internet object or interface elsewhere.

I also like this illustrative piece in the workshop as it brings to the forefront something I continually ponder as a differentiation crack between the US and Europe (possibly elsewhere in the world, but I don't have those examples) on production of things. In the US the common push is to get big and dominate, but in Europe, there are so many people who produce at a scale that gives them optimal quality and they do not move beyond that scale. As long as the crafts people can create a product at a scale that they can make a living and have the product be the best it can be without sacrificing quality they know their production threshold and where to stop. They have perfection in their mind and they have no or little interest in moving beyond that strict measure. (This European sense of quality is surfacing in locally grown food and artisan food circles in the US and other crafts.)

Krizeniski's 3 Approaches to Advanced Design

The Kruzeniski's workshop put a focus on 3 approaches to advanced design, which really require skilled designers who deeply understand their specialization, depths knowledge of materials, and the process of creation in that field. (A theme that surfaces in the BBC's Genius of Design, which I reviewed).

The three approaches are: 1) the Outlier, which works in “what if?” scenarios; 2) The Pantry that builds and iterates and tucks all of these steps and creations away to have on hand at some later point; 3) The Northstar, which takes a long view at the potential in the future and works toward that over time (see the Audi incremental iterations from future concept car to real product in the R8 that is used as an example).

There is so much more in Julian's collection of notes and insights found and shared in the workshop, that the whole piece is well worth a read.

Late to Realizing Ovi Maps Does Exactly What I Wish

I been a big fan of Nokia's mapping solution built into its smart phones, Ovi Maps as it provides the best mobile turn by turn directions I've seen on any mobile device. But, this is largely because Nokia owns Navteq, which has long been the leader for on board mapping and driving solutions.

That FINALLY! Moment Reached

While I have been incredibly impressed with the Ovi mapping on my Nokia E72 device and often use the Ovi resources on the web, I hit that finally, somebody got this right moment with Ovi over the weekend. While, many web mapping solutions allow you to save favorites on the web getting those to sync to your mobile device, with your directions has been left out of most of these solutions (I have been complaining to friends at Google, Yahoo, and elsewhere for many years that this is a no-duh next step). Well, it seems Ovi figured this out quite a while back. (I noticed Google Mobile Maps provided this at the end of 2009, but have never been able to get it to work, even on my supported Symbian device.)

The simplicity and ease with with Nokia's Ovi pulls this off is rather stunning. With this aha moment, I feel like I was the last one to see this and sort it out, but in chats with other mobile maps and navigation users, they have been pained waiting for exactly this functionality, as most people it seems will get a location link and add it to their desktop maps (particularly for travel) but that does them little good as they don't take their desktop or open laptop into the car with them, they take their mobile. Understanding context of use is incredibly valuable.

Now may be a good time to check your device's capability, although iPhone does not seem to have this functionality supported by Google maps (surprised?).

February 22, 2011

The Genius of Design - BBC Series Overview

This past Summer (2010) the BBC (BBC 2) showed a five part documentary series on design, called The Genius of Design (TGoD). This series is similar to Gary Hustwit's Objectified, but TGoD goes much broader and deeper offering a better reflection of the reality of design only seen through that depth. Think of Objectified as a taste sampler of TGoD. There are some people in common between the two whom are interviewed and focussed upon, but life is breathed into architecture, process, visual, industrial, and many more slices of the design world that bring design to life in TGoD. It is a wonderful look at the real nature of design.

The Five Episodes of The Genius of Design

The five episodes are: 1) Ghosts in the Machine; 2) Designs for Living; 3) Blueprints for War; 4) Better Living Through Chemistry; 5) Objects of Desire. The core focus is on the deep consideration and understanding that goes into design. It is this rigor of understanding and working through to final product all based on a core objective. Throughout the five series the focus on a deep understanding the materials deeply, use, impact on the people interacting with what has been designed, and development processes (as well as optimizing them).

Standout Themes

The obsession to understand the materials used and objects being design with depth and breadth is not the only standout theme. Many other themes and take away ideas stood out not only when watching, but also now many months later.

Focus on End Use and People Using Product of Design

One major reoccurring theme throughout is the focus on end use. The the products not only should be pleasing nearly (possibly to the point of being emotive), but they must also be usable, and do what it is intended to do very well. A continual focus on the person using what is designed is one of the central tenets of design and with out this it is something other than design.

Breadth of Design Disciplines and Roles

To the point of design having a focus on the person using what is designed, the breath of roles within design was brought up. Wonderfully, Peter Boersma's T-Model was directly mentioned in when discussing the breadth of expertise with required depth and roles in design that are required to all come together to optimally create a final product that is please and usable for the person who engages with the final product. While watching the whole series the focus on various disciplines and roles is very evident and when listening to the designers talk about their own focus and discipline (all largely falling under the moniker of design) as it relates to final crafting of the final object) it is they all have depth in their own discipline, but understand the materials deeply and the class and required needs for the final product very well.

Every Designer Has A Chair In Them

Another reoccurring thread, that gets depth of focus a few times, is the idea that every designer has a chair in them (this has become a meme in the broad design community from the near instant this was uttered mid-Summer). The chair is emblematic of the need for utility (purpose, comfort, durability, etc.) as well as providing style. A chair that collapses is not well designed. The chair also often has requirements beyond basic sitting, which can include long term comfort, ability to stack and store it, be environmentally friendly, and many more possible variations. This intersection of use, style, material, and production around the chair leads to a lot of the depth of understanding required to get to a final product prototyped, tested, and into production. This depth and breadth that designers put in is often not considered by people outside the design community, but also the depth and rigor involved in design is missed in some disciplines that are tangential to design, but do not consider themselves purely in the design profession.

Process Design and Optimization

Within the Blueprints for War episode the focus of designing the process was often repeated. The episode focussed on Britain in World War II and the need to have mass production of goods needed for the war that worked for their purposes, but there were limitations of materials and time needed to get mass amounts of goods in military personnel’s hands. Streamlining production and simplifying the goods became essential, but as well thinking of solutions seemed like their was expansive production (dummy planes, etc.) and alternate facilities (fake factories) were included in the design mix.

Wishing for More

In all this was a fantastic series for those in and around the design profession, those who intersect with design, and just fans of design.

February 10, 2011

January 2011 Books Read

My monthly list of books read is something I have had in mind for a long time. I was inspired by Matt Webb's book list which he was doing for a while years back. Not only is the sharing out with others helpful, but it also helps me finish reading a book.

Books read January 2001 with short summaries.

Shibumi: A Novel by Traviathan
A really good thriller set in Japan and Europe. Not only was the story good, but the details and a good cultural view of Japan during World War II. This book caught and held my attention early and I really enjoyed it.
Halting State by Charles Stross
This thriller set slightly in the future where MMORPGs start intertwingling with life. A bank robbery occurs in the game which starts the whole story rolling. The interplay and storyline between virtual games and physical life interwoven with its pervasive digital layers we depend on today is really well done.
Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur
Business Model Generation is a surprise gem in that I had heard very good things about it and a quick skim of it in a bookstore convinced me to pick it up. But, the design, layout, and thoughtful thinking of how it steps through the model for understanding and thinking through business models is nothing short of stellar. The stuffy, staid, and often broken world of business models got tipped on its ear through design and understanding that makes walking through creation of a business model a sane process, but also leads to rethinking existing models for whole organizations or parts. It is a great way to look to see where software and services can have a positive impact when mapping out an organizations model.
Smart Things: Ubiquitous Computing User Experience Design by Mike Kuniavsky
Smart Things is a fantastic walk through design considerations and methods for information interfaces for and streams from physical products. This book is very well thought out, well written and augmented with examples and very well produced. Not only is this a great book for designers, but for people working through ideation, iterations, and innovations for improving information use in, from, and with the world of things around us.

October 22, 2010

Nokia to Nip Its Ecosystem?

First off, I admit it I like Nokia and their phones (it may be a bit more than like, actually). But, today's news regarding Nokia further refines development strategy to unify environments for Symbian and MeeGo is troubling, really troubling. Nokia is stating they are moving toward more of an app platform than software. It is a slight nuance in terms, but the app route is building light applications on a platform and not having access to underlying functionality, while software gets to dig deeper and put hooks deeper in the foundations to do what it needs. Simon Judge frames it well in his The End of Symbian for 3rd Party Development.

Killing A Valued Part of the Ecosystem

My love for Nokia is one part of great phone (voice quality is normally great, solidly built, etc.) and the other part is the software third party developers make. Nokia has had a wonderfully open platform for developers to make great software and do inventive things. Many of the cool new things iPhone developers did were done years prior for Nokia phones because it was open and hackable. For a while there was a python kit you could load to hack data and internal phone data, so to build service you wanted. This is nice and good, but my love runs deeper.

When my last Nokia (E61i) died after a few years, its replacement was a Nokia E72. I could have gone to iPhone (I find too many things that really bug me about iPhone to do that and it is still behind functionality I really like in the Nokia). But, the big thing that had me hooked on Nokia were two pieces of 3rd party software. An email application called ProfiMail and a Twitter client called Gravity. Both of these pieces of software are hands down my favorites on any mobile platform (BTW, I loathe the dumbed down Apple mail on iPhone/iPod Touch). But, I also get to use my favorite mobile browser Opera Mobile (in most cases I prefer Opera over Safari on iPhone platform as well). This platform and ecosystem, created the perfect fit for my needs.

Nearly every Nokia user I know (they are hard to find in the US, but most I know are in Europe) all have the same story. It is their favorite 3rd party applications that keep them coming back. Nearly everybody I know loves Gravity and hasn't found another Twitter client they would switch to on any other mobile platform. The Nokia offerings for email and browser are good, but the option to use that best meets your needs is brilliant and always has been, just as the unlocked phone choice rather than a carrier's mangled and crippled offering. If Nokia pulls my ability to choose, then I may choose a phone that doesn't.

Understanding Ecosystems is Important

Many people have trashed Nokia for not having a strong App Store like Apple does for iPhone. Every time I hear this I realize not only do people not understand the smartphone market that has existed for eight years or more prior to iPhone entering the market, but they do not grasp ecosystems. Apple did a smart thing with the App Store for iPhone and it solved a large problem, quality of applications and secondarily created a central place customers could find everything (this really no longer works well as the store doesn't work well at all with the scale it has reached).

While Apple's ecosystem works well, most other mobile platforms had a more distributed ecosystem, where 3rd party developers could build the applications and software, sell it directly from their site or put it in one or many of the mobile application/software stores, like Handango. This ecosystem is distributed hoards of people have been using it and the many applications offered up. When Nokia opened Ovi, which includes an app store with many offerings, many complained it didn't grow and have the mass of applications Apple did. Many applications that are popular for Nokia still are not in Ovi, because a prior ecosystem existed and still exists. That prior ecosystem is central what has made Nokia a solid option.

Most US mobile pundits only started paying attention to mobile when the iPhone arrived. The US has been very very late to the mobile game as a whole and equally good, if not better options for how things are done beyond Apple exist and have existed. I am really hoping this is not the end of one of those much better options (at least for me and many I know).

June 27, 2009

Social Design for the Enterprise Workshop in Washington, DC Area

I am finally bringing workshop to my home base, the Washington, DC area. I am putting on a my “Social Design for the Enterprise” half-day workshop on the afternoon of July 17th at Viget Labs (register from this prior link).

Yes, it is a Friday in the Summer in Washington, DC area. This is the filter to sort out who really wants to improve what they offer and how successful they want their products and solutions to be.

Past Attendees have Said...

“A few hours and a few hundred dollar saved us tens of thousands, if not well into six figures dollars of value through improving our understanding” (Global insurance company intranet director)

From an in-house workshop…
“We are only an hour in, can we stop? We need to get many more people here to hear this as we have been on the wrong path as an organization” (National consumer service provider)

“Can you let us know when you give this again as we need our [big consulting firm] here, they need to hear that this is the path and focus we need” (Fortune 100 company senior manager for collaboration platforms)

“In the last 15 minutes what you walked us through helped us understand a problem we have had for 2 years and a provided manner to think about it in a way we can finally move forward and solve it” (CEO social tool product company)

Is the Workshop Only for Designers?

No, the workshop is aimed at a broad audience. The focus of the workshop gets beyond the tools’ features and functionality to provide understanding of the other elements that make a giant difference in adoption, use, and value derived by people using and the system owners.

The workshop is for user experience designers (information architects, interaction designers, social interaction designers, etc.), developers, product managers, buyers, implementers, and those with social tools running already running.

Not Only for Enterprise

This workshop with address problems for designing social tools for much better adoption in the enterprise (in-house use in business, government, & non-profit), but web facing social tools.

The Workshop will Address…

Designing for social comfort requires understanding how people interact in a non-mediated environment and what realities that we know from that understanding must we include in our design and development for use and adoption of our digital social tools if we want optimal adoption and use.

  • Tools do not need to be constrained by accepting the 1-9-90 myth.
  • Understanding the social build order and how to use that to identify gaps that need design solutions
  • Social comfort as a key component
  • Matrix of Perception to better understanding who the use types are and how deeply the use the tool so to build to their needs and delivering much greater value for them, which leads to improved use and adoption
  • Using the for elements for enterprise social tool success (as well as web facing) to better understand where and how to focus understanding gaps and needs for improvement.
  • Ways user experience design can be implemented to increase adoption, use, and value
  • How social design needs are different from Web 2.0 and what Web 2.0 could improve with this understanding

More info...

For more information and registration to to Viget Lab's Social Design for the Enterprise page.

I look forward to seeing you there.

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March 12, 2009

Catching Up On Personal InfoCloud Blog Posts

Things here are a little quiet as I have been in writing mode as well as pitching new work. I have been blogging work related items over at Personal InfoCloud, but I am likely only going to be posting summaries of those pieces here from now on, rather than the full posts. I am doing this to concentrate work related posts, particularly on a platform that has commenting available. I am still running my own blogging tool here at I wrote in 2001 and turned off the comments in 2006 after growing tired of dealing comment spam.

The following are recently posted over at Personal InfoCloud

SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools

SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools focusses on the myriad of discussions I have had with clients of mine, potential clients, and others from organizations sharing their views and frustrations with Microsoft SharePoint as a means to bring solid social software into the workplace. This post has been brewing for about two years and is now finally posted.

Optimizing Tagging UI for People & Search

Optimizing Tagging UI for People and Search focuses on the lessons learned and usability research myself and others have done on the various input interfaces for tagging, particularly tagging with using multi-term tags (tags with more than one word). The popular tools have inhibited adoption of tagging with poor tagging interaction design and poor patterns for humans entering tags that make sense to themselves as humans.

LinkedIn: Social Interaction Design Lessons Learned (not to follow)

I have a two part post on LinkedIn's social interaction design. LinkedIn: Social Interaction Design Lessons Learned (not to follow) - 1 of 2 looks at what LinkedIn has done well in the past and had built on top. Many people have expressed the new social interactions on LinkedIn have decreased the value of the service for them.

The second part, LinkedIn: Social Interaction Design Lessons Learned (not to follow) - 2 of 2 looks at the social interaction that has been added to LinkedIn in the last 18 months or so and what lessons have we as users of the service who pay attention to social interaction design have learned. This piece also list ways forward from what is in place currently.

January 25, 2009

Optimizing Tagging UI for People & Search


One of my areas of focus is around social tools in the workplace (enterprise 2.0) is social bookmarking. Sadly, is does not have the reach it should as it and wiki (most enterprise focused wikis have collective voice pages (blogs) included now & enterprise blog tools have collaborative document pages (wikis). I focus a lot of my attention these days on what happens inside the organization’s firewall, as that is where their is incredible untapped potential for these tools to make a huge difference.

One of the things I see on a regular basis is tagging interfaces on a wide variety of social tools, not just in social bookmarking. This is good, but also problematic as it leads to a need for a central tagging repository (more on this in a later piece). It is good as emergent and connective tag terms can be used to link items across tools and services, but that requires consistency and identity (identity is a must for tagging on any platform and it is left out of many tagging instances. This greatly decreases the value of tagging - this is also for another piece). There are differences across tools and services, which leads to problems of use and adoption within tools is tagging user interface (UI).

Multi-term Tag Intro

multiterm tag constructionThe multi-term tag is one of the more helpful elements in tagging as it provides the capability to use related terms. These multi-term tags provide depth to understanding when keeping the related tag terms together. But the interfaces for doing this are more complex and confusing than they should be for human, as well as machine consumption.

In the instance illustrated to the tag is comprised or two related terms: social and network. When the tool references the tag, it is looking at both parts as a tag set, which has a distinct meaning. The individual terms can be easily used for searches seeking either of those terms, but knowing the composition of the set, it is relatively easy for the service to offer up "social network" when a person seeks just social or network in a search query.

One common hindrance with social bookmarking adoption is those familiar with it and fans of it for enterprise use point to Delicious, which has a couple huge drawbacks. The compound multi-term tag or disconnected multi-term tags is a deep drawback for most regular potential users (the second is lack of privacy for shared group items). Delicious breaks a basic construct in user focussed design: Tools should embrace human methods of interaction and not humans embracing tech constraints. Delicious is quite popular with those of us malleable in our approach to adopt a technology where we adapt our approach, but that percentage of potential people using the tools is quite thin as a percentage of the population.. Testing this concept takes very little time to prove.

So, what are the options? Glad you asked. But, first a quick additional excursion into why this matters.

Conceptual Models Missing in Social Tool Adoption

One common hinderance for social tool adoption is most people intended to use the tools are missing the conceptual model for what these tools do, the value they offer, and how to personally benefit from these values. There are even change costs involved in moving from a tool that may not work for someone to something that has potential for drastically improved value. The "what it does", "what value it has", and "what situations" are high enough hurdles to cross, but they can be done with some ease by people who have deep knowledge of how to bridge these conceptual model gaps.

What the tools must not do is increase hurdles for adoption by introducing foreign conceptual models into the understanding process. The Delicious model of multi-term tagging adds a very large conceptual barrier for many & it become problematic for even considering adoption. Optimally, Delicious should not be used alone as a means to introduce social bookmarking or tagging.

We must remove the barriers to entry to these powerful offerings as much as we can as designers and developers. We know the value, we know the future, but we need to extend this. It must be done now, as later is too late and these tools will be written off as just as complex and cumbersome as their predecessors.

If you are a buyer of these tools and services, this is you guideline for the minimum of what you should accept. There is much you should not accept. On this front, you need to push back. It is your money you are spending on the products, implementation, and people helping encourage adoption. Not pushing back on what is not acceptable will greatly hinder adoption and increase the costs for more people to ease the change and adoption processes. Both of these costs should not be acceptable to you.

Multi-term Tag UI Options

Compound Terms

I am starting with what we know to be problematic for broad adoption for input. But, compound terms also create problems for search as well as click retrieval. There are two UI interaction patterns that happen with compound multi-term tags. The first is the terms are mashed together as a compound single word, as shown in this example from Delicious.

Tag sample from Delicious

The problem here is the mashing the string of terms "architecture is politics" into one compound term "architectureispolitics". Outside of Germanic languages this is problematic and the compound term makes a quick scan of the terms by a person far more difficult. But it also complicates search as the terms need to be broken down to even have LIKE SQL search options work optimally. The biggest problem is for humans, as this is not natural in most language contexts. A look at misunderstood URLs makes the point easier to understand (Top Ten Worst URLs)

The second is an emergent model for compound multi-term tags is using a term delimiter. These delimiters are often underlines ( _ ), dots ( . ), or hyphens ( - ). A multi-term tag such as "enterprise search" becomes "", "enterprise_search" and "enterprise-search".

While these help visually they are less than optimal for reading. But, algorithmically this initially looks to be a simple solution, but it becomes more problematic. Some tools and services try to normalize the terms to identify similar and relevant items, which requires a little bit of work. The terms can be separated at their delimiters and used as properly separated terms, but since the systems are compound term centric more often than not the terms are compressed and have similar problems to the other approach.

Another reason this is problematic is term delimiters can often have semantic relevance for tribal differentiation. This first surface terms when talking to social computing researchers using Delicious a few years ago. They pointed out that, social_network, and social-network had quite different communities using the tags and often did not agree on underlying foundations for what the term meant. The people in the various communities self identified and stuck to their tribes use of the term differentiated by delimiter.

The discovery that these variations were not fungible was an eye opener and quickly had me looking at other similar situations. I found this was not a one-off situation, but one with a fair amount of occurrence. When removing the delimiters between the terms the technologies removed the capability of understanding human variance and tribes. This method also breaks recommendation systems badly as well as hindering the capability of augmenting serendipity.

So how do these tribes identify without these markers? Often they use additional tags to identity. The social computing researchers add "social computing", marketing types add "marketing", etc. The tools then use their filtering by co-occurrence of tags to surface relevant information (yes, the ability to use co-occurrence is another tool essential). This additional tag addition help improve the service on the whole with disambiguation.

Disconnected Multi-term Tags

The use of distinct and disconnected term tags is often the intent for space delimited sites like Delicious, but the emergent approach of mashing terms together out of need surfaced. Delicious did not intend to create mashed terms or delimited terms, Joshua Schachter created a great tool and the community adapted it to their needs. Tagging services are not new, as they have been around for more than two decades already, but how they are built, used, and platforms are quite different now. The common web interface for tagging has been single terms as tags with many tags applied to an object. What made folksonomy different from previous tagging was the inclusion of identity and a collective (not collaborative) voice that intelligent semantics can be applied to.

The downside of disconnected terms in tagging is certainty of relevance between the terms, which leads to ambiguity. This discussion has been going on for more than a decade and builds upon semantic understanding in natural language processing. Did the tagger intend for a relationship between social & network or not. Tags out of the context of natural language constructs provide difficulties without some other construct for sense making around them. Additionally, the computational power needed to parse and pair potential relevant pairings is somethings that becomes prohibitive at scale.

Quoted Multi-term Tags

One of the methods that surfaced early in tagging interfaces was the quoted multi-term tags. This takes becomes #&039;research "social network" blog' so that the terms social network are bound together in the tool as one tag. The biggest problem is still on the human input side of things as this is yet again not a natural language construct. Systematically the downside is these break along single terms with quotes in many of the systems that have employed this method.

What begins with a simple helpful prompt...:

 SlideShare Tag Input UI

Still often can end up breaking as follows (from SlideShare):

SlideShare quoted multi-term tag parsing

Comma Delimited Tags

Non-space delimiters between tags allows for multi-term tags to exist and with relative ease. Well, that is relative ease for those writing Western European languages that commonly use commas as a string separator. This method allows the system to grasp there are multi-term tags and the humans can input the information in a format that may be natural for them. Using natural language constructs helps provide the ability ease of adoption. It also helps provide a solid base for building a synonym repository in and/or around the tagging tools.

Ma.gnolia comma separated multi-term tag output

While this is not optimal for all people because of variance in language constructs globally, it is a method that works well for a quasi-homogeneous population of people tagging. This also takes out much of the ambiguity computationally for information retrieval, which lowers computational resources needed for discernment.

Text Box Per Tag

Lastly, the option for input is the text box per tag. This allows for multi-term tags in one text box. Using the tab button on the keyboard after entering a tag the person using this interface will jump down to the next empty text box and have the ability to input a term. I first started seeing this a few years ago in tagging interfaces tools developed in Central Europe and Asia. The Yahoo! Bookmarks 2 UI adopted this in a slightly different implementation than I had seen before, but works much the same (it is shown here).

Yahoo! Bookmarks 2 text box per tag

There are many variations of this type of interface surfacing and are having rather good adoption rates with people unfamiliar to tagging. This approach tied to facets has been deployed in Knowledge Plaza by Whatever s/a and works wonderfully.

All of the benefits of comma delimited multi-term tag interfaces apply, but with the added benefit of having this interface work internationally. International usage not only helps build synonym resources but eases language translation as well, which is particularly helpful for capturing international variance on business or emergent terms.


This content has come from more than four years of research and discussions with people using tools, both inside enterprise and using consumer web tools. As enterprise moves more quickly toward more cost effective tools for capturing and connecting information, they are aware of not only the value of social tools, but tools that get out the way and allow humans to capture, share, and interact in a manner that is as natural as possible with the tools getting smart, not humans having to adopt technology patterns.

This is a syndicated version of the same post at Optimizing Tagging UI for People & Search :: Personal InfoCloud that has moderated comments available.

August 28, 2008

Tale of Two Tunnels: Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0

Yesterday I made a few comments in Twitter that prompted a fair amount of questions and requests for more information. The quips I made were about the differences between Web 2.0 (yes, an ambiguous term) and Enterprise 2.0 (equally ambiguous term both for the definition of enterprise and the 2.0 bit). My comments were in response to Bruce Stewart's comment The whole "Enterprise 2.0" schtick is wearing thin, unless you've been monitoring real results. Otherwise you're just pumping technology.. In part I agree, but I am really seeing things still are really early in the emergence cycle and there is still much need for understanding of the social tools and the need for them, as well as how they fit in. There are many that are selling the tools as technologies with great promise. We have seen the magic pill continually pitched and bought through out the history of business tools. (For those new to the game or only been paying attention for the last 15 years, a huge hint, THERE IS NO MAGIC PILL).

Tale of 2 Tunnels

One comment I made yesterday is, "the difference between Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 is like the difference building a tunnel through rock and tunnel under water".

That this is getting at is Web 2.0 takes work to build to get through the earth, but once built it can suffer from imperfections and still work well. The tunnel can crack and crumble a little, but still get used with diminished capacity. We can look at Facebook, which has a rather poor interface and still gets used. Twitter is another example of a Web 2.0 solution that has its structural deficiencies and outages, but it still used as well as still loved (their Fail Whale is on a t-shirt now and a badge of pride worn by loyal users).

The Enterprise 2.0 tunnel is built under water. This takes more engineering understanding, but it also requires more fault testing and assurances. A crack or crumbling of a tool inside an organization is not seen kindly and raises doubts around the viability of the tool. The shear volume of users inside an organization using these tools is orders of magnitude less than in the open consumer web world, but faults are more deadly.

The other important factor is perceived fear of the environment. Fewer people (by pure numbers - as the percentages are likely the same, more on this later) are fearful of tunnels through land, they may not have full faith in them, but they know that they will likely make it safely on all of their journeys. The tunnels under water have greater fears as one little crack can cause flooding and drowning quickly. Fears of use of social tools inside an organization is often quite similar, there may be many that are not fearful, but if you spend time talking to people in organizations not using tools (it is the majority at this point) they are fearful of open sharing as that could lead to trouble. People are not comfortable with the concept as they are foreign to it as they are lacking the conceptual models to let them think through it.

Enterprise 2.0 is not Web 2.0

Another statement yesterday that garnered a lot of feedback was, "Web 2.0 does not work well in enterprise, but the approaches and understandings of Web 2.0 modified for enterprise work really well." The web is not enterprise or smaller organizations for that matter. The open consumer web has different scale and needs than inside organizations and through their firewalls. A small percentage of people using the web can get an account on a tool have have appear to be wildly successful correctly claiming 70 million or 100 million people are or have used their tool. But, even 100 million people is a small percentage of people using the web. Looking at real usage and needs for those tools the numbers are really smaller. Most darlings of the Web 2.0 phase have fewer than 10 million users, which is about 5% of the open consumer web users in the United States. On the web a start-up is seen as successful with 500,000 users after a year or two and is likely to have the capability to be self sufficient at that level too. Granted there are many players in the same market niches on the web and the overall usage for link sharing and recommending for Digg, Mixx, or Reddit is much higher across the sum of these tools than in just one of these tools (obviously).

These percentages of adoption and use inside organizations can make executives nervous that their money is not reaching as many employees as they wish. The percentages that can be similar to the web's percentages of high single digit adoption rates to the teens is seen as something that really needs more thinking and consideration.

Enterprise 2.0 is more than just tools (see my Enterprise Social Tools: Components for Success for better understanding) as it also includes interface/interaction design for ease of use, sociality, and encouragement of use. The two biggest factors that are needed inside an organization that can receive less attention on the web are the sociality and encouragement of use.

Understanding sociality is incredibly important inside an organization as people are used to working in groups (often vertical in their hierarchy) that have been dictated to them for use. When the walls are broken down and people are self-finding others with similar interests and working horizontally and diagonally connecting and sharing with others and consuming the collective flows of information their comfortable walls of understanding are gone. A presentation in Copenhagen at Reboot on Freely Seeping Through the Walls of the Garden focussed just on this issue. This fear inside the enterprise is real. Much of the fear is driven by lacking conceptual models and understanding the value they will derive from using the tools and services. People need to know who the other people are that they are sharing with and what their motivations are (to some degree) before they have comfort in sharing themselves.

Encouraging use is also central to increased adoption inside organizations. Many organizations initial believe that Web 2.0 tools will take off and have great adoption inside an organization. But, this is not a "build it and they will come" scenario, even for the younger workers who are believed to love these tools and services and will not stay in a company that does not have them. The reality is the tools need selling their use, value derived from them, the conceptual models around what they do, and easing fears. Adoption rates grow far beyond the teen percentages in organizations that take time guiding people about the use of the tools and services. Those organizations that take the opportunity to continually sell the value and use for these tools they have in place get much higher adoption and continued engagement with the tools than those who do nothing and see what happens.

Gaps in Enterprise Tools

The last related statement was around the gaps in current and traditional enterprise tools. At the fantastic Jive Enterprise UI Summit in Aspen a few weeks ago there was a lot of discussion about enterprise tools, their UI, and ease of use for employees by the incredible collection of people at the event. One of the things that was shown was a killer path of use through a wide encompassing enterprise toolset that was well designed and presented by SAP's Dan Rosenberg who has done an incredible job of putting user experience and thinking through the needed workflows and uses of enterprise tools at the forefront of enterprise software planning. Given the excellent design and incredible amount of user experience thought that went into the tools behind the SAP toolset in the scenario (one of the best I have seen - functioning or blue sky demoed) there are still gaps. Part of this is identifying of gaps comes from traditional business thinking around formal processes and the tools ensure process adherence. But, the reality is the tools are quite often inflexible (I am not talking about SAP tools, but traditional enterprise tools in general), the cost of time and effort is beyond the gain for individuals to document and annotate all decisions and steps along the way. The hurdles to capture information and share it are often too large for capturing one to 10 quick sentences of information that can be retained for one's own benefit or shared with other where it is relevant.

There is another gap in business around the collective intelligence that is needed, which can lead to collaboration. Most businesses and their tools focus on collaboration and set groups, but at the same time wonder why they do not know what their company knows and knowledge is not all being captured. First there is a difference between collective and collaborative activities and the tools and design around and for those different activities is more than a nuance of semantics it is a huge barrier to capturing, sharing, and learning from information that leads to knowledge if it is not understood well. Enterprise has gone through its phases of knowledge management tools, from forms for capturing information, forums for sharing, and up to enterprise content management systems (ECM) that encompass document management, content management, knowledge management, and information harvesting. But, the gaps still exist.

These existing gaps are around conversations not being captured (the walls of the halls have no memory (well today they do not)) and increasingly the ubiquitous communication channel in organizations, e-mail, is being worked around. Quick decisions are not being documented as it is not enough for a document or worth completing a form. As the iterative processes of development, design, and solution engineering are happening at quicker and smaller increments the intelligence behind the decisions is not being captured or shared. This is largely because of the tools.

As has always been the case large enterprise systems are worked around through the use of smaller and more nimble solutions that augment the existing tools. Even in Dan's incredible demo I saw gaps for these tools. The quick tools that can fill these gaps are blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, tagging, Twitter type sharing, Veodia type video sharing, instant messaging, etc. There are many avenues to quickly capture information and understanding and share it. These tools get out of the way and allow what is in someone's head to get digitized and later structured by the individual themselves or other people whom have had the information shared with them in a community space. This turns into flows through streams that can be put into many contexts and needs as well as reused as needed.

Another point Dan stated at the Enterprise UI Summit that is dead on, is organizations are moving out of the vertical structures and moving to the horizontal. This is having a profound effect on the next generation of business tools and processes. This is also an area for Enterprise 2.0 tools as they easily open up the horizontal and diagonal prospects and tie into it the capability for easily understanding who these newly found people are in an organization through looking at their profiles, which eases their fears around sharing and unfamiliar environments as well as their related tasks.

[Comments are open and moderated at Tale of Two Tunnels: Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 :: Personal InfoCloud]

August 19, 2008

Stewart Mader is Now Solo and One to Watch and Hire

There seems to be many people that are joining the ranks of solo service providers around social tools. Fortunately there are some that are insanely great people taking these steps. Stewart Mader is one of these insanely great people now fully out on his own. Stewart Mader's Wiki Adoption Services are the place to start for not only initial stages of thinking through and planning successful wiki projects, but also for working through the different needs and perspectives that come with the 6 month and one year realizations.

Those of you not familiar with Stewart, he wrote the best book on understanding wikis and adoption, Wikipatterns and is my personal favorite speaker on the subject of wikis. Others may have more broadly known names, but can not come close to touching his breadth nor depth of knowledge on the subject. His understandings of wikis and their intersection with other forms and types of social tools is unsurpassed.

I welcome Stewart to the realm of social tool soloists experts. I look forward to one day working on a project with Stewart.

June 11, 2008

"Building the social web" Full-day Workshop in Copenhagen on June 30th

Through the wonderful cosponsoring of FatDUX I am going to be putting on a full-day workshop Building the Social Web on June 30th in Copenhagen, Denmark (the event is actually in Osterbro). This is the Monday following Reboot, where I will be presenting.

I am excited about the workshop as it will be including much of my work from the past nine months on setting social foundations for successful services, both on the web and inside organizations on the intranet. The workshop will help those who are considering, planning, or already working on social sites to improve the success of the services by providing frameworks that help evaluating and guiding the social interactions on the services.

Space is limited for this workshop to 15 seats and after its announcement yesterday there are only 10 seats left as of this moment.

June 4, 2008

Lasting Value of Techmeme?

Tristan Louis has a post looking at Is Techmeme Myopic, which is a good look at the lasting value that Techmeme surfaces. This mirrors my use of Techmeme, which is mostly to have a glance at what is being discussed each day. Techmeme has a very temporal value for me as it is a zeitgeist tool that tracks news and memes as they flow and ebb through the technology news realm of the web.

Personally, I like Techmeme as it aggregates the news and conversations, which makes it really easy to skip the bits I do not care about (this is much of what flows through it), but I can focus on the few things that do resonate with me. I can also see a view of who is providing content and I can select sources of information whose viewpoint I value over perspectives I personally place less respect.

May 30, 2008

Speaking at the International Forum on Enterprise 2.0 Near Milan, Italy

Under a month from now I have the wonderful pleasure of speaking at the International Forum on Enterprise 2.0, this is just outside of Milan in Varese, Italy on June 25, 2008. I am really looking forward to this event as there are many people whom I chat with on Skype with and chat with in other ways about enterprise and the use of social tools inside these organizations. It is a wonderful opportunity to meet them in person and to listen to them live as they present. Already I know many people attending the event from the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Spain, and (of course) Italy. If you are in Europe and have interest this should be a great event to get a good overview and talk with others with interest and experience. Oh, did I mention the conference is FREE?

I will be presenting an overview on social bookmarking and folksonomy and the values that come out of these tools, but also the understanding needed to make good early decisions about the way forward.

I look forward to meeting those of you who attend.

Enterprise 2.0 Boston - After Noah: What to do After the Flood (of Information)

I am looking forward to being at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston from June 10 to June 12, 2008. I am going to be presenting on June 10, 2008 at 1pm on After Noah: Making Sense of the Flood (of Information). This presentation looks at what to expect with social bookmarking tools inside an organization as they scale and mature. It also looks at how to manage the growth as well as encourage the growth.

Last year at the same Enterprise 2.0 conference I presented on Bottom-up Tagging (the presentation is found at Slideshare, Bottom-up All the Way Down: How Tags Help Businesses Organize, which has had over 8,800 viewing on Slideshare), which was more of a foundation presentation, but many in the audience were already running social bookmarking services in-house or trying them in some manner. This year my presentation is for those with an understanding of what social bookmarking and folksonomy are and are looking for what to expect and how to manage what is happening or will be coming along. I will be covering how to manage heavy growth as well as how to increase adoption so there is heavy usage to manage.

I look forward to seeing you there. Please say hello, if you get a chance.

May 7, 2008

Enterprise Social Tools: Components for Success

One of the things I continually run across talking with organizations deploying social tools inside their organization is the difficultly getting all the components to mesh. Nearly everybody is having or had a tough time with getting employees and partners to engage with the services, but everybody is finding out it is much more than just the tools that are needed to consider. The tools provide the foundation, but once service types and features are sorted out, it get much tougher. I get frustrated (as do many organizations whom I talk with lately) that social tools and services that make up enterprise 2.0, or whatever people want to call it, are far from the end of the need for getting it right. There is great value in these tools and the cost of the tools is much less than previous generations of enterprise (large organization) offerings.

Social tools require much more than just the tools for their implementation to be successful. Tool selection is tough as no tool is doing everything well and they all are focussing on niche areas. But, as difficult as the tool selection can be, there are three more elements that make up what the a successful deployment of the tools and can be considered part of the tools.

Four Rings of Enterprise Social Tools

Enterprise Social Tool: Components for Success The four elements really have to work together to make for a successful services that people will use and continue to use over time. Yes, I am using a venn diagram for the four rings as it helps point out the overlaps and gaps where the implementations can fall short. The overlaps in the diagram is where the interesting things are happening. A year ago I was running into organizations with self proclaimed success with deployments of social tools (blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, forums, etc.), but as the desire for more than a simple set of blogs (or whichever tool or set of tools was selected) in-house there is a desire for greater use beyond some internal early adopters. This requires paying close attention to the four rings.


The first ring is rather obvious, it is the tools. The tools come down to functionality and features that are offered, how they are run (OS, rack mount, other software needed, skills needed to keep them running, etc.), how the tools are integrated into the organization (authentication, back-up, etc.), external data services, and the rest of the the usual IT department checklist. The tools get a lot of attention from many analysts and tech evangelists. There is an incredible amount of attention on widgets, feeds, APIs, and elements for user generated contribution. But, the tools do not get you all of the way to a successful implementation. The tools are not a mix and match proposition.

Interface & Ease of Use

One thing that the social software tools from the consumer web have brought is ease of use and simple to understand interfaces. The tools basically get out of the way and bring in more advanced features and functionality as needed. The interface also needs to conform to expectations and understandings inside an organization to handle the flow of interaction. What works for one organization may be difficult for another organization, largely due to the tools and training, and exposure to services outside their organization. Many traditional enterprise tools have been trying to improve the usability and ease of use for their tools over the last 4 to 5 years or so, but those efforts still require massive training and large binders that walk people through the tools. If the people using the tools (not administering the tools need massive amounts of training or large binders for social software the wrong tool has been purchased).


Sociality is the area where people manage their sharing of information and their connections to others. Many people make the assumption that social tools focus on everything being shared with everybody, but that is not the reality in organizations. Most organizations have tight boundaries on who can share what with whom, but most of those boundaries get in the way. One of the things I do to help organizations is help them realize what really needs to be private and not shared is often much less than what they regulate. Most people are not really comfortable sharing information with people they do not know, so having comfortable spaces for people to share things is important, but these spaces need to have permeable walls that encourage sharing and opening up when people are sure they are correct with their findings.

Sociality also includes the selective groups people belong to in organizations for project work, research, support, etc. that are normal inside organizations to optimize efficiency. But, where things get really difficult is when groups are working on similar tasks that will benefit from horizontal connections and sharing of information. This horizontal sharing (as well as diagonal sharing) is where the real power of social tools come into play as the vertical channels of traditional organization structures largely serve to make organizations inefficient and lacking intelligence. The real challenge for the tools is the capability to surface the information of relevance from selective groups to other selective groups (or share information more easily out) along the way. Most tools are not to this point yet, largely because customers have not been asking for this (it is a need that comes from use over time) and it can be a difficult problem to solve.

One prime ingredient for social tool use by people is providing a focus on the people using the tools and their needs for managing the information they share and the information from others that flow through the tool. Far too often the tools focus on the value the user generated content has on the system and information, which lacks the focus of why people use the tools over time. People use tools that provide value to them. The personal sociality elements of whom are they following and sharing things with, managing all contributions and activities they personally made in a tool, ease of tracking information they have interest in, and making modifications are all valuable elements for the tools to incorporate. The social tools are not in place just to serve the organization, they must also serve the people using the tools if adoption and long term use important.

Encouraging Use

Encouraging use and engagement with the tools is an area that all organizations find they have a need for at some point and time. Use of these tools and engagement by people in an organization often does not happen easily. Why? Normally, most of the people in the organization do not have a conceptual framework for what the tools do and the value the individuals will derive. The value they people using the tools will derive needs to be brought to the forefront. People also usually need to have it explained that the tools are as simple as they seem. People also need to be reassured that their voice matters and they are encouraged to share what they know (problems, solutions, and observations).

While the egregious actions that happen out on the open web are very rare inside an organization (transparency of who a person is keeps this from happening) there is a need for a community manager and social tool leader. This role highlights how the tools can be used. They are there to help people find value in the tools and provide comfort around understanding how the information is used and how sharing with others is beneficial. Encouraging use takes understanding the tools, interface, sociality, and the organization with its traditions and ways of working.

The Overlaps

The overlaps in the graphic are where things really start to surface with the value and the need for a holistic view. Where two rings over lap the value is easy to see, but where three rings overlap the missing element or element that is deficient is easier to understand its value.

Tools and Interface

Traditional enterprise offerings have focussed on the tools and interface through usability and personalization. But the tools have always been cumbersome and the interfaces are not easy to use. The combination of the tools and interface are the core capabilities that traditionally get considered. The interface is often quite flexible for modification to meet an organizations needs and desires, but the capabilities for the interface need to be there to be flexible. The interface design and interaction needs people who have depth in understanding the broad social and information needs the new tools require, which is going to be different than the consumer web offerings (many of them are not well thought through and do not warrant copying).

Tools and Sociality

Intelligence and business needs are what surface out of the tools capabilities and sociality. Having proper sociality that provides personal tools for managing information flows and sharing with groups as well as everybody as it makes sense to an individual is important. Opening up the sharing as early as possible will help an organization get smarter about itself and within itself. Sociality also include personal use and information management, which far few tools consider. This overlap of tools and sociality is where many tools are needing improvement today.

Interface and Encouraging Use

Good interfaces with easy interaction and general ease of use as well as support for encouraging use are where expanding use of the tools takes place, which in turn improves the return on investment. The ease of use and simple interfaces on combined with guidance that provides conceptual understanding of what these tools do as well as providing understanding that eases fears around using the tools (often people are fearful that what they share will be used against them or their job will go away because they shared what they know, rather than they become more valuable to an organization by sharing as they exhibit expertise). Many people are also unsure of tools that are not overly cumbersome and that get out of the way of putting information in to the tools. This needs explanation and encouragement, which is different than in-depth training sessions.

Sociality and Encouraging Use

The real advantages of social tools come from the combination of getting sociality and encouraging use correct. The sociality component provides the means to interact (or not) as needed. This is provided by the capabilities of the product or products used. This coupled with a person or persons encouraging use that show the value, take away the fears, and provide a common framework for people to think about and use the tools is where social comfort is created. From social comfort people come to rely on the tools and services more as a means to share, connect, and engage with the organization as a whole. The richness of the tools is enabled when these two elements are done well.

The Missing Piece in Overlaps

This section focusses on the graphic and the three-way overlaps (listed by letter: A; B; C; and D). The element missing in the overlap or where that element is deficient is the focus.

Overlap A

This overlap has sociality missing. When the tool, interface, and engagement are solid, but sociality is not done well for an organization there may be strong initial use, but use will often stagnate. This happens because the sharing is not done in a manner that provides comfort or the services are missing a personal management space to hold on to a person's own actions. Tracking one's own actions and the relevant activities of others around the personal actions is essential to engaging socially with the tools, people, and organization. Providing comfortable spaces to work with others is essential. One element of comfort is built from know who the others are whom people are working with, see Elements of Social Software and Selective Sociality and Social Villages (particularly the build order of social software elements) to understand the importance.

Overlap B

This overlap has tools missing, but has sociality, interface, and encouraging use done well. The tools can be deficient as they may not provide needed functionality, features, or may not scale as needed. Often organizations can grow out of a tool as their needs expand or change as people use the tools need more functionality. I have talked with a few organizations that have used tools that provide simple functionality as blogs, wikis, or social bookmarking tools find that as the use of the tools grows the tools do not keep up with the needs. At times the tools have to be heavily modified to provide functionality or additional elements are needed from a different type of tool.

Overlap C

Interface and ease of use is missing, while sociality, tool, and encouraging use are covered well. This is an area where traditional enterprise tools have problems or tools that are built internally often stumble. This scenario often leads to a lot more training or encouraging use. Another downfall is enterprise tools are focussed on having their tools look and interact like consumer social web tools, which often are lacking in solid interaction design and user testing. The use of social tools in-house will often not have broad use of these consumer services so the normal conventions are not understood or are not comfortable. Often the interfaces inside organizations will need to be tested and there many need to be more than one interface and feature set provided for depth of use and match to use perceptions.

Also, what works for one organization, subset of an organization, or reviewer/analyst will not work for others. The understanding of an organization along with user testing and evaluation with a cross section of real people will provide the best understanding of compatibility with interface. Interfaces can also take time to take hold and makes sense. Interfaces that focus on ease of use with more advanced capabilities with in reach, as well as being easily modified for look and interactions that are familiar to an organization can help resolve this.

Overlap D

Encouraging use and providing people to help ease people's engagement is missing in many organizations. This is a task that is often overlooked. The tools, interface, and proper sociality can all be in place, but not having people to help provide a framework to show the value people get from using the tools, easing concerns, giving examples of uses for different roles and needs, and continually showing people success others in an organization have with the social tool offerings is where many organization find they get stuck. The early adopters in an organization may use the tools as will those with some familiarity with the consumer web social services, but that is often a small percentage of an organization.


All of this is still emergent and early, but these trends and highlights are things I am finding common. The two areas that are toughest to get things right are sociality and encouraging use. Sociality is largely dependent on the tools, finding the limitations in the tools takes a fair amount of testing often to find limitations. Encouraging use is more difficult at the moment as there are relatively few people who understand the tools and the context that organizations bring to the tools, which is quite different from the context of the consumer social web tools. I personally only know of a handful or so of people who really grasp this well enough to be hired. Knowing the "it depends moments" is essential and knowing that use is granular as are the needs of the people in the organization. Often there are more than 10 different use personas if not more that are needed for evaluating tools, interface, sociality, and encouraging use (in some organizations it can be over 20). The tools can be simple, but getting this mix right is not simple, yet.

[Comments are open and moderated at Enterprise Social Tools: Components for Success :: Personal InfoCloud

April 16, 2008

Explaining the Granular Social Network

This post on Granular Social Networks has been years in the making and is a follow-up to one I previously made in January 2005 on Granular Social Networks as a concept I had been presenting and talking about for quite some time at that point. In the past few years it has floated in and out of my presentations, but is quite often mentioned when the problems of much of the current social networking ideology comes up. Most of the social networking tools and services assume we are broadline friends with people we connect to, even when we are just "contacts" or other less than "friend" labels. The interest we have in others (and others in us) is rarely 100 percent and even rarer is that this 100 percent interest and appreciation is equal in both directions (I have yet to run across this in any pairing of people, but I am open to the option that it exists somewhere).

Social Tools Need to Embrace Granularity

What we have is partial likes in others and their interests and offerings. Our social tools have yet to grasp this and the few that do have only taken small steps to get there (I am rather impressed with Jaiku and their granular listening capability for their feed aggregation, which should be the starting point for all feed aggregators). Part of grasping the problem is a lack of quickly understanding the complexity, which leads to deconstructing and getting to two variables: 1) people (their identities online and their personas on various services) and 2) interests. These two elements and their combinations can (hopefully) be seen in the quick annotated video of one of my slides I have been using in presentations and workshops lately.

Showing Granular Social Network

Granular Social Network from Thomas Vander Wal on Vimeo.

The Granular Social Network begins with one person, lets take the self, and the various interest we have. In the example I am using just five elements of interest (work, music, movies, food, and biking). These are interest we have and share information about that we create or find. This sharing may be on one service or across many services and digital environments. The interests are taken as a whole as they make up our interests (most of us have more interests than five and we have various degrees of interest, but I am leaving that out for the sake of simplicity).

Connections with Others

Our digital social lives contain our interests, but as it is social it contains other people who are our contacts (friends is presumptive and gets in the way of understanding). These contacts have and share some interests in common with us. But, rarely do the share all of the same interest, let alone share the same perspective on these interests.

Mapping Interests with Contacts

But, we see when we map the interests across just six contacts that this lack of fully compatible interests makes things a wee bit more complicated than just a simple broadline friend. Even Facebook and their touted social graph does not come close to grasping this granularity as it is still a clumsy tool for sharing, finding, claiming, and capturing this granularity. If we think about trying a new service that we enjoy around music we can not easily group and capture then try to identify the people we are connected to on that new service from a service like Facebook, but using another service focussed on that interest area it could be a little easier.

When we start mapping our own interest back to the interest that other have quickly see that it is even more complicated. We may not have the same reciprocal interest in the same thing or same perception or context as the people we connect to. I illustrate with the first contact in yellow that we have interest in what they share about work or their interest in work, even though they are not stating or sharing that information publicly or even in selective social means. We may e-mail, chat in IM or talk face to face about work and would like to work with them in some manner. We want to follow what they share and share with them in a closer manner and that is what this visual relationship intends to mean. As we move across the connections we see that the reciprocal relationships are not always consistent. We do not always want to listen to all those who are sharing things, with use or the social collective in a service or even across services.

Focus On One Interest

Taking the complexity and noise out of the visualization the focus is placed on just music. We can easily see that there are four of our six contacts that have interest in music and are sharing their interest out. But, for various reasons we only have interests in what two of the four contacts share out. This relationship is not capturing what interest our contacts have in what we are sharing, it only captures what they share out.

Moving Social Connections Forward

Grasping this as a relatively simple representation of Granular Social Networks allows for us to begin to think about the social tools we are building. They need to start accounting for our granular interests. The Facebook groups as well as listserves and other group lists need to grasp the nature of individuals interests and provide the means to explicitly or implicitly start to understand and use these as filter options over time. When we are discussing portable social networks this understanding has be understood and the move toward embracing this understanding taken forward and enabled in the tools we build. The portable social network as well as social graph begin to have a really good value when the who is tied with what and why of interest. We are not there yet and I have rarely seen or heard these elements mentioned in the discussions.

One area of social tools where I see this value beginning to surface in through tagging for individuals to start to state (personally I see this as a private or closed declaration that only the person tagging see with the option of sharing with the person being tagged, or at least have this capability) the reasons for interest. But, when I look at tools like I am not seeing this really taking off and I hear people talking about not fully understanding tagging as as it sometimes narrows the interest too narrowly. It is all an area for exploration and growth in understanding, but digital social tools, for them to have more value for following and filtering the flows in more manageable ways need to more in grasping this more granular understanding of social interaction between people in a digital space.

Social Tools for Mergers and Acquisitions

The announcement yesterday of Delta and Northwest airlines merging triggered a couple thoughts. One of the thoughts was sadness as I love the unusually wonderful customer service I get with Northwest, and loathe the now expected poor and often nasty treatment by Delta staff. Northwest does not have all the perks of in seat entertainment, but I will go with great customer service and bags that once in nearly 50 flights did not arrive with me.

But, there is a second thing. It is something that all mergers and large organization changes trigger...

Social Tools Are Great Aids for Change

Stewart Mader brought this to mind again in his post Onboarding: getting your new employees cleared for takeoff, which focusses on using wikis (he works for Atlassian and has been a strong proponent of wikis for years and has a great book on Wiki Patterns) as a means to share and update the information that is needed for transitions and the joining of two organizations.

I really like his write-up and have been pushing the social tools approach for a few years. The wiki is one means of gathering and sharing information. It is a good match with social bookmarking, which allows organizations that are coming together have their people find and tag things in their own context and perspective. This provides finding common objects that exist, but also sharing and learning what things are called from the different perspectives.

Communication Build Common Ground

Communication is a key cornerstone to any organization working with, merging with, or becoming a part of another. Communication needs common ground and social bookmarking that allows for all context and perspectives to be captured is essential to making this a success.

This is something I have presented on and provided advice in the past and really think and have seen that social tools are essentials in these times of transition. It is really rewarding when I see this working as I have been through organization mergers, going public, and major transitions in the days before these tools existed. I can not imaging thinking of transitioning with out these tools and service today. I have talked to many organizations after the fact that wished they had social bookmarking, blogs, and wikis to find and annotate items, provide the means to get messages out efficiently (e-mail is becoming a poor means of sharing valuable information), and working toward common understanding.

One large pain point in mergers and other transitions is the cultural change that brings new terms, new processes, new workflow, and disruption to patterns of understanding that became natural to the people in the organization. The ability to map what something was called and the way it was done to what it is now called and the new processes and flows is essential to success. This is exactly what the social tools provide. Social bookmarking is great for capturing terms, context, and perspectives and providing the ability to refind these new items using prior understanding with low cognitive costs. Blogs help communicate people's understanding as they are going through the process as well as explain the way forward. Wikis help map these individual elements that have been collectively provided and pull them together in one central understanding (while still pointing out to the various individual contributions to hold on to that context) in a collaborative (working together with one common goal) environment.

Increasing Speed and Lowering Cost of Transition

Another attribute of the social tools is the speed and cost at which the information is shared, identified, and aggregated. In the past the large consulting firms and the slow and expensive models for working were have been the common way forward for these times of change. Seeing social tools along with a few smart and nimble experts on solid deployments and social engagement will see similar results in days and a handful of weeks compared to many weeks and months of expensive change management plodding. The key is the people in the organizations know their concerns and needs, while providing them the tools to map their understanding and finding information and objects empowers the individuals while giving them knowledge and the means to share with others. This also helps the individuals grasp that are essential to the success and speed to the change. Most people resent being pushed and prodded into change and new environments, giving them the tools to understand and guide their own change management is incredibly helpful. This decreases the time for transition (for processes and emotionally) while also keeping the costs lower.

[Comments are open and moderated as always in the post at: Social Tools to Efficiently Build Common Ground :: Personal InfoCloud]

April 11, 2008

YouTube New Interface and Social Interaction Design Santiy Check

YouTube has released a new design for the site and its individual video pages. This gets shared in Google Operating System :: User Inferface Updates at YouTube and TechCrunch :: YouTube Updates Layout, Now with Tabs and Statistics. While the new design looks nice and clean, it has one design bug that is horribly annoying it has mixed interaction design metaphors for its tabs or buttons.

Broken Interaction Design on Buttons or Tabs

YouTube New Video Interface As the image shows the Share, Favorite, Playlists, and Flag buttons or tabs all have similar design treatment, but they do not have the same actions when you click on them. Three of the items (Share, Playlists, and Flag) all act as tabs that open up a larger area below them to provide more options and information. But, the Favorites acts like a button that when clicked it marks the item as a favorite.

This is incredibly poor interaction design as all the items should act in the same manner. If the items do not have the same action properties they really should not look the same and be in the same action space. Favorites should be a check box or a binary interface for on and off. That interaction patter more closely matches the Rate section and seems like it should have been there rather than showing a lack of understanding interaction design basics and confusing people using the site/service.

Social Sites Seem to Share a Lack of Interaction Understanding

This should have been a no brainer observation for a design manager or somebody with a design sanity check. YouTube is far from the the only site/service doing this. Nearly all of the services are not grasping the basics or are broadly applying design patterns to all user scenarios when they really do not fit all scenarios and user types (nearly every service I talk to know exactly the use type a person fits into but never takes this into account in optimization of design patterns that match that use need). Facebook really falls into this hole badly and never seems to grasp they are really making a mess of things the more features and functionality they are bringing into their service without accounting for the design needs in the interface.

My seemingly favorite site to nit pick is LinkedIn which I use a lot and has been a favorite, but their social interaction additions and interactive interfaces really need much better sanity checks and testing before they go into production (even into the beta interface). LinkedIn is really trying to move forward and they are moving in the right direction, but they really need better design thinking with their new features and functionality. Their new design is ready to handle some of the new features, but the features need a lot more refining. The new design shows they have a really good grasp that the interface needs to be a flexible foundation to be used as a framework for including new features, which could benefit from treating them as options for personalization. LinkedIn has pulled back many of the social features and seems to be rethinking them and refining them, but they really need some good sanity checks before rolling them out again.

Social Interaction in Enterprise Tools

The befuddled interaction understanding is not germane to commercial or consumer public social web sites, but it also plagues tools aimed at the enterprise. This is not overly surprising as many of the social enterprise (enterprise 2.0) tools and services are copying the public web tools and services to a large degree. This is a good thing, as it puts the focus on ease of use, which has been horribly missing in business focussed tools for far too long. But, the down side for enterprise focussed tools is they are not for the public web they are for business users, who most often do not have familiarity with the conventions on the public web and they have a large cognitive gap in understanding what the tools do and their value. There is less time for playing and testing in most business people's worklife. This means the tools need to get things right up front with clear understanding of the use needs of the people they are building for in business. This seems to be lacking in many tools as there is much copying of poor design that really needs to be tested thoroughly before launching. Business focussed tools are not hitting the same people as are on the web, which will work through poor design and functionality to see what things do. It is also important to consider that there are a wide variety of types of people using these tools with varying needs and varying interaction understandings (this will be another blog post, actually a series of posts that relate to things I have been including in workshops the last six months and presenting the last couple).

[Comments are available and moderated as usual at: YouTube New Interface and Social Interaction Design Santiy Check :: Personal InfoCloud]

April 10, 2008

Denning and Yaholkovsky on Real Collaboration

The latest edition of the Communications of the ACM (Volume 51, Issue 4 - April 2008) includes an article on Getting to "we", which starts off by pointing out the misuse and mis-understanding of the term collaboration as well as the over use of the practice of collaboration when it is not proper for the need. The authors Peter Denning and Peter Yaholkovsky break down the tools needed for various knowledge needs into four categories: 1) Information sharing; 2) Coordination; 3) Cooperation; and Collaboration. The authors define collaboration as:

Collaboration generally means working together synergistically. If your work requires support and agreement of others before you can take action, you are collaborating.

The article continues on to point out that collaboration is often not the first choice of tools we should reach for, as gathering information, understanding, and working through options is really needed in order to get to the stages of agreement. Their article digs deeply into the resolving "messy problems" through proper collaboration methods. To note, the wiki - the usual darling of collaboration - is included in their "cooperation" examples and not Collaboration. Most of the tools many businesses consider in collaboration tools are in the lowest level, which is "information sharing". But, workflow managment falls into the coordination bucket.

This is one of the better breakdowns of tool sets I have seen. The groupings make a lot of sense and their framing of collaboration to take care of the messiest problems is rather good, but most of the tools and services that are considered to be collaborations tools do not even come close to that description or to the capabilities required.

[Comments are open at Denning and Yaholkovsky on Real Collaboration :: Personal InfoCloud]

April 6, 2008

Selective Sociality and Social Villages

The web provides wonderful serendipity on many fronts, but in this case it brought together two ideas I have been thinking about, working around, and writing about quite a bit lately. The ideas intersect at the junction of the pattern of building social bonds with people and comfort of know interactions that selective sociality brings.

The piece that struck me regarding building and identifying a common bond with another person came out of Robert Paterson's "Mystery of Attraction" post (it is a real gem). Robert describes his introduction and phases of getting to know and appreciate Luis Suarez (who I am a huge fan of and deeply appreciate the conversations I have with him). What Robert lays out in his introduction (through a common friend on-line) is a following of each other's posts and digital trail that is shared out with others. This builds an understanding of each others reputation in their own minds and the shared interest. Upon this listening to the other and joint following they built a relationship of friendship and mutual appreciation (it is not always mutual) and they began to converse and realized they had a lot more in common.

Elements of Social Software Build Order What Robert echos is the Elements in Social Software and its build order. This build order is common in human relationships, but quite often social software leaves out steps or expects conversations, groups, and collaboration to happen with out accounting for the human elements needed to get to this stage. Quite often the interest, ideas, and object (all social objects) are the stimulus for social interaction as they are the hooks that connect us. This is what makes the web so valuable as it brings together those who are near in thought and provides a means to connect, share, and listen to each other. I really like Robert's analogy of the web being like university.

Selective Sociality of Villages

The piece that resonated along similar threads to Robert's post is Susan Mernit's "Twitter & Friend Feed: The Pleasure of Permissions". Susan's post brings to light the value of knowing who you are sharing information with and likes the private or permission-based options that both Twitter and FriendFeed offer. This selective sociality as known Local InfoCloud of people and resources that are trusted and known, which we use as resources. In this case it is not only those with whom we listen to and query, but those with whom we share. This knowing who somebody is (to some degree) adds comfort, which is very much like Robert Patterson and Luis Suarez#039; villages where people know each other and there is a lot of transparency. Having pockets where our social armor is down and we can be free to share and participate in our lives with others we know and are familiar to us is valuable.

I am found these two pieces quite comforting as they reflect much of what I see in the physical community around me as well as the work environments I interact with of clients and collaborators. The one social web service I have kept rather private is Twitter and I really want to know who someone is before I will accept them as a connection. This has given me much freedom to share silly (down right stupid - in a humorous way) observations and statements. This is something I hear from other adults around kids playgrounds and practices of having more select social interactions on line in the services and really wanting to connect with people whom they share interests and most often have known (or followed/listened to) for sometime before formally connecting. Most often these people want to connect with the same people on various services they are trying out, based on recommendation (and often are leaving a service as their friends are no longer there or the service does not meet their needs) of people whom they trust. This is the core of the masses who have access and are not early adopters, but have some comfort with the web and computers and likely make up 80 to 90 percent of web users.

[Comments are open (with moderation as always) on this post at Selective Sociality and Social Villages :: Personal InfoCloud]

February 22, 2008

Remote Presentation and Perception Matrix for Social Tools

This post is also found at: Remote Presentation and Perceptions Matrix for Social Tools :: Personal InfoCloud with moderated comments turned on.]

Today I did something I had never done before (actually a few things) I sat in my office in my home and gave a live web video presentation to a conference elsewhere on the globe. I presented my nearly all new presentation, Keeping Up With Social Tagging to the Expert Workshop in: Social Tagging and Knowledge Organization - Perspectives and Potential that was put on by the Knowledge Media Research Center in Tübingen, Germany.

Remote Presentation Feelings

While the remote video presentation is normal for many people inside their large organizations and I have presented at meetings and conferences where my presentation was provided to other location on live video feed (my recent Ann Arbor trip to present at STIET was HD broadcast to Wayne State in Detroit), this home office to conference presentation was new to me. The presentation and video link used Adobe Connect, which allowed me to see whom I was talking to, manage my slides, text chat, and see myself. This worked quite well, much better than I expected. I did have my full slide presentation in lightroom view set up in Keynote on my external monitor on the side and used Awaken on the side monitor as well to help with timing.

The ability to get feedback and watch the attendees body language and non-verbal responses was insanely helpful. I have given webinars and done phone presentations where I had not visual cues to the audience responses, which I find to be a horrible way to present (I often will expand on subjects or shorten explanations based on non-verbal feedback from the audience). Adobe Connect allowed this non-verbal feedback to be streamed back to me, which completely allows me to adjust the presentation as I normally do.

One thing that was a wee bit difficult was having to change focus (I suppose that comes with use and experience), but I would watch audience feedback while presenting, peek to the side to see where I was with time and slides (to work in the transitions), but would then try to look at the camera to "connect". Watching myself on the video feedback the moments I would try to connect through the camera I would open my eyes wide as if trying to see through my iSight and boy does that come across looking strange on a close range camera. I also (unknown to myself until recently watching a video of another presentation I had done) use a similar facial expression to add emphasis, I am realizing with a camera as close as it is for web presentation also really looks odd. I am sort of used to listening to myself (normally to write out new analogies I use or responses to questions), but watching myself in playback from that close of a range is really uncomfortable.

One thing I really missed in doing this web video presentation was extended interaction with the attendees. I rather enjoy conferences, particularly ones with this focussed a gathering as it makes for great socializing with people passionate about the same subjects I am passionate about. I like comparing note, perceptions, and widely differing views. It helps me grow my knowledge and understandings as well as helps change my perceptions. Live face-to-face conversation and sharing of interests is an incredibly value part of learning, experiencing, and shaping views and it is something I greatly enjoy attending conferences in person. I am not a fan of arriving at a conference just prior to a presentation, giving the presentation, and then leaving. The personal social interaction is valuable. The video presentation does not provide that and I really missed it, particularly with the people who are so closely tied to my deep interest areas as this workshop was focused.

New Content in Presentation

This presentation included a lot of new content, ideas, and concepts that I have not really presented or written about in as open of a forum. I have received really strong positive feedback from the Faces of Perception, Depth of Perception, and Perception Matrix when I have talked about it with people and companies. I have included this content in the book on social bookmarking and folksonomy I am writing for O&Reilly and pieces have been in public and private workshops I have given, but it was long past time to let the ideas out into the open.

The components of perception came about through reading formal analysis and research from others as well as not having a good models myself to lean on to explain a lot of what I find from social computing service providers (web tools in the Web 2.0 genre as well as inside the firewall Enterprise 2.0 tools) as tool makers or service owners. The understandings that are brought to the table on a lot of research and analysis is far too thin and far too often badly confuses the roles and faces of the tool that are being reviewed or analyzed. In my working with tool makers and organizations implementing social tools the analysis and research is less than helpful and often makes building products that meet the user needs and desires really difficult. I am not saying that this conceptual model fixes it, but from those who have considered what it shows almost all have had realizations they have had a less than perfect grasp and have lacked the granularity they have needed to build, analyze, or research these social tools.

I am hoping to write these perspectives up in more depth at some point in the not too distant future, but the video and slides start getting the ideas out there. As I have been walking people through how to use the tools I have been realizing the content needed to best us the model and matrix may take more than a day of a workshop of even a few days to get the most complete value from it. These tools have helped me drastically increase my value in consulting and training in the very short time I have used them. Some are finding that their copying of features and functionality in other social services has not helped them really understand what is best for their user needs and are less than optimal for the type of service they are offering or believe they are offering.

February 11, 2008

Challenges as Opportunities for Social Networks and Services

Jeremiah Owyang posts "The Many Challenges of Social Network Sites" that lays out many of the complaints that have risen around social networking sites (and other social computing services). He has a good list of complaints, which all sounded incredibly familiar from the glory days of 1990 to 1992 for IT in the enterprise (tongue firmly planted in cheek). We have been through these similar cycles before, but things are much more connected now, but things also have changed very little (other than many of the faces). His question really needs addressing when dealing with Enterprise 2.0 efforts as these are the things I hear initially when talking with organizations too. Jeremiah asked for responses and the following is what I posted...

Response to Challenges of Social Network/Services

The past year or two, largely with Facebook growing the social networks and social computing tools have grown into the edges of mainstream. Nearly every argument made against these tools and services was laid down against e-mail, rich UI desktops (people spent hours changing the colors and arranging the interfaces), and IM years ago.

Where these tools are "seemingly" not working is mostly attributed to a severe lack of defining the value derived from using the tools. These news tools and services, even more so those of us working around them, need to communicate how to use the tools effectively and efficiently (efficiently is difficult as the many of the tools are difficult to use or the task flows are not as simple as they should be). The conceptual models & frameworks for those of us analyzing the tools have been really poor and missing giant perspectives and frameworks.

One of the biggest problems with many of these tools and services is they have yet to move out of early product mode. The tools and services are working on maturity getting features in the tools that people need and want, working on scaling, and iterating based on early adopters (the first two or three waves of people), which is not necessarily how those who follow will use the tools or need the tools to work.

Simplicity and limited options on top of tools that work easily and provide good derived value for the worklife and . As the tools that were disrupters to work culture in the past learned the focus needs to be on what is getting done and let people do it. Friending people, adding applications, tweaking the interface, etc. are not things that lead to easy monetization. Tools that help people really be social, interact, and get more value in their life (fun, entertainment, connecting with people near in thought, filtering information from the massive flow, and using the information and social connections in context where people need it) from the tools is there things must head. We are building the platforms for this, but we need to also focus on how to improve use of these platforms and have strong vision of what this is and how to get there.

[This is also posted at Challenges as Oppotunities for Social Networks and Services :: Personal InfoCloud with moderated comments turned on.]

February 8, 2008

Getting More Value In Enterprise with Social Bookmarking

The last few weeks I have been running across a few companies postponing or canceling their social computing or Enterprise 2.0 efforts. The reasons vary from the usual budget shifts and staff changes (prior projects were not delivered on time), and leadership roles need filling. But two firms had new concerns of layoffs or budget cuts.

To both firms I pointed out now was the exact time they really needed to focus on some Enterprise 2.0 efforts, particularly social bookmarking as well as wikis and blogs. These solutions help gather information, find value across the organization, capture knowledge, build cohesiveness for members of the organization in time where there there is uncertainty. One of the biggest reasons that these tools make sense is their cost to deploy and receive solid value. As Josh Bernoff  (and others in from Forrester) points out in the Strategies For Interactive Marketing In A Recession free report from Forrester, the cost to deploy is in the $50,000 to $300,000 range (usually more expensive for large and more complex deployments).

Social Bookmarking has Great Value in the Enterprise

Every organization needs to know itself better then they currently do. The employees and members of the organization are all trying to do their job better and smarter. The need to connect people inside an organization with others with similar interest, contexts, and perceptions is really needed. I am a huge fan of social bookmarking tools to help along these lines as it helps people hold on to information they have need, want, or have interest in (particularly with future uses) and put things in their own context and perception. Once people understand the value they derive from using the tools to hold on to information out of their vast flow and streams of information and data that run before them each day they quickly "get it". As people also share these bookmarks in the organization with their tags and annotations, they also realize quickly they are becoming a valuable conduit to helping others find information and they grasp the value they will derive from being a resource that adds value in the organization. Other people derive value from information in the organization and outside it being augmented with individual perspectives and context. When this is pair with search, as Connectbeam does with their social search that pairs with existing FAST, Google Search Appliance, and others in-house search engines, the value the whole organization receives is far beyond the cost and minimal effort people are putting into the tools to get smarter, by more easily holding on and sharing what they know.

Nearly every attendee to the workshops I have put on around this subject quickly realizes they undervalued the impact and capability of social bookmarking (as well as other social computing tools) in the enterprise. The also provides a strong foundation for better understanding social computing to increase the derived value for all parties (individuals, collective users, collaborative users, and the organization).

Is is time for your enterprise to get smarter and provide more value inside and out?

[This is also blogged at Getting More Value In Enterprise with Social Bookmarking :: Personal InfoCloud with moderated comments turned on.]

February 5, 2008

Social Computing Summit in Miami, Florida in April, 2008

ASIS&T has a new event they are putting on this year, the Social Computing Summit in Miami, Florida on April 10-11, 2008 (a reminder page is up at Yahoo's Upcoming - Social Computing Summit). The event is a single-track event on both days with keynote presentations, panels, and discussion.

The opening keynote is by Nancy Baym. I have been helping assist with organization of the Social Computing Summit and was asked by the other organizers to speak, which I am doing on the second day. The conference is a mix of academic, consumer, and business perspectives across social networking, politics, mobile, developing world, research, enterprise, open social networks (social graph and portable social networks) as well as other subjects. The Summit will be a broad view of the digital social world and the current state of understanding from various leaders in social computing.

There is an open call for posters for the event that closes on February 25, 2008. Please submit as this is looking to be a great event and more perspectives and expertise will only make this event more fantastic.

January 14, 2008

Ma.gnolia Goes Mobile

On Friday Ma.gnolia rolled out a mobile version of their site, M.gnolia - Mobile Ma.gnolia. This had me really excited as I now have access to my bookmarks in my pocket on my mobile. Ma.gnolia gives a quick preview in their blog post Ma.gnolia Blog: Flowers on the Go.

What Mobile Ma.gnolia Does and Does Not Do

First, off the mobile Ma.gnolia does not have easy bookmarking, which is not surprising given the state things in mobile browsers. I really do not see this as a huge downside. What I am head over heals happy about is access to my bookmarks (all 2800 plus). The mobile version allows searching through your own tags (if you are logged in). It currently has easy access to see that is newly bookmarked in Ma.gnolia groups you follow, your contact's bookmarks, popular bookmarks, your own tags, and your profile.

Mobile Site Bookmarks

One thing that is helpful for those that use mobile web browsing is having easy access to mobile versions of web sites. Yes, the iPhone and many smartphone users (I am in the Nokia camp with my well liked E61i) can easily browse and read regular web pages, but mobile optimized pages are quicker to load and have less clutter on a smaller screen. The iPhone, WebKit-based browsers (Nokia), Opera Mini, and other decent mobile web browsers all have eased mobile browsing use of regular webpages, but having a list of mobile versions is really nice.

Yesterday, Saturday, I created a Ma.gnolia Mobile Version Group so people can share web pages optimized for mobile devices (quicker/smaler downloads, smaller screens, less rich ads, etc.). One of the ways I was thinking people could use this is to find sites in this group then bookmark them for their own use with tags and organization that makes sense for themself. The aim is just to collect and share with others what you find helpful and valuable for yourself. This group will be monitored for spam as the rest of Ma.gnolia is (Ma.gnolia uses "rel="no-follow"" so there really is little value to spammers).

Ways You Can Use Mobile Ma.gnolia

This means if you tagged a store, restaurant, bar, transit site, or other item that has value when out walking around it is really nice to have quick access to it. It can also be a great way to read those items you have tagged "to read" (if you are a person that tags things in that manner) so you can read what you want in the doctor's office, bus, train, or wherever.

I have a lot of content I have bookmarked for locations I am work, live, and visit. When I come across something I want to remember (places to eat, drink, learn, hang, be entertained, etc.) I often dump them into the bookmarks. But, getting to this information has been painful from a mobile in the past. I am now starting to go back to things I have tagged with locations and add a "togo" tag so they are easier for me to find and use in the Ma.gnolia mobile interface. I have already added a bookmark for an museum exhibit that I really want to see that is not far from where I am. When a meeting is dropped, postponed, or runs short near the museum I can make a trip over and see it. There is so much information flowing through my devices and it is nice to be able to better use this info across my Personal InfoCloud in my trusted devices I have with me and use the information in context it is well suited for, when have stepped away from my desk or laptop.

I am looking forward to see where this goes. Bravo and deep thanks to the Larry and others at Ma.gnolia that made this happen!

January 10, 2008

Posting Elements of the Social Software Stack

I have been working for quite on finding a good way to explain the elements in the social software stack (or most of the important ones). I have blogged the result of the work as The Elements in the Social Software Stack (comments are open there).

In my public and in-house workshops I have worked through various graphics from others and my own to work as a foundation for talking to and through the subject. In November I finally sat down (in a hallway open space) the day before my workshop at the IA Konferenz in Stuttgart, Germany. It had all the elements that are part of a solid foundation, in progressive order:

  1. Identity
  2. Object (social object)
  3. Presence
  4. Actions
  5. Sharing
  6. Reputation
  7. Relationships
  8. Conversation
  9. Groups
  10. Collaboration

This and one other post that is in the works are becoming the corner stones for my work helping start-ups and enterprise work through social software (social computing) to properly solve their problems and address the issues at hand. It has also been the foundation for rethinking (mostly more clearly thinking about) social bookmarking and folksonomy. I am rewriting the work I have done toward the book based on these two pieces as it is making the communication of concepts clearer.

Who Does This Help?

People looking at the social software services should have a solid idea of the central elements, identity and the social object. After that it is a building process to account for the other elements leading up to the services full offerings. Social bookmarking (folksonomy related services) should get up to or include conversation. Tools like Ma.gnolia go up to groups for their social bookmarking service and they cover the elements leading up to that end point.

There is more that can be fleshed out in this, but it is a foundation and a starting point. The next piece will build on this posting and should be a good foundation for understanding.

Still here? Go read The Elements in the Social Software Stack :: Personal InfoCloud and offer constructive feedback. Thank you.

November 3, 2007

Can Facebook Change Its DNA

I wrote and posted Can Facebook Change Its DNA as a follow-up to for Business or LinkedIn Gets More Valuable regarding the changes needed in Facebook if it wants to be valuable (or have optimal value) for the business world.

August 25, 2007

Reading Information and Patterns

The past few weeks and months the subject of reading, analysis, and visualization have been coming up a lot in my talking and chatting with people. These are not new subjects for me as they are long time passions. Part of the discussion the past few weeks have been focussed on what is missing in social bookmarking tools (particularly as one's own bookmarks and tags grows and as the whole service scales) as wells as group discussion monitoring tools, but this discussion is not the focus of this post. The focus is on reading, understanding, and synthesis of information and knowledge.

Not that Reading

I really want to focus on reading. Not exactly reading words, but reading patterns and recognizing patterns and flows to get understanding. After we learn to read a group of letters as a word we start seeing that group of letters as a shape, which is a word. It is this understanding of patterns that interact and are strung together that form the type of reading I have interest in.

Yesterday, Jon Udell posted about analyzing two gymnasts make turns. He was frustrated that the analysis on television lacked good insight (Jon is a former gymnast). Jon, who is fantastic at showing and explaining technologies and interactions to get to the core values and benefits as well as demoing needed directions, applied his great skill and craft on gymnastics. He took two different gymnasts doing the same or similar maneuver frame-by-frame. Jon knew how to read what each gymnast was doing and shared his understanding of how to read the differences.

Similarly a week or so ago an article about the Bloomberg Terminal fantasy redesign along with the high-level explanations and examples of the Bloomberg Terminal brought to mind a similar kind of reading. I have a few friends and acquaintances that live their work life in front of Bloomberg Terminals. The terminals are an incredible flood of information and views all in a very DOS-looking interface. There is a skill and craft in not only understanding the information in the Bloomberg Terminal, but also in learning to read the terminal. One friend I chatted with while he was working (years ago) would glance at the terminal every minute. I had him explain his glancing, which essentially was looking for color shifts in certain parts of the screen and then look for movement of lines and characters in other areas. He just scanned the screen to look for action or alerts. His initial pass was triage to then discern where to focus and possibly dive deeper or pivot for more related information.

The many of the redesign elements of the Bloomberg Terminals understood the reading and ability to understand vast information (in text) or augmented the interface with visualizations that used a treemap (most market analysts are very familiar with the visualization thanks to SmartMoney's useage). But, the Ziba design was sparse. To me it seemed like many of the market knowledge workers used to the Bloomberg Terminal and knew how to read it would wonder where their information had gone.

Simplicity and Reading with Experience

The Ziba solution's simplicity triggers the need in understanding the balance between simplicity just breaking down the complex into smaller easy to understand bits and growing into understanding the bits recollected in a format that is usable through recognition and learned reading skills. The ability to read patterns is learned in many areas of life in sport, craft, and work. Surfers look at the ocean waves and see something very different from those who do not surf in the ebb, flow, breaks, surface currents and under currents. Musicians not only read printed music but also hear music differently from non-musicians, but formally trained musicians read patterns differently from those who have just "picked it up". There has been a push in business toward data dashboards for many years, but most require having the right metrics and good data, as well as good visualizations. The dashboards are an attempt to provide reading information and data with an easier learning curve through visualization and a decreased reliance on deep knowledge.

Getting Somewhere with Reading Patterns

Where this leads it there is a real need in understanding the balance between simplicity and advanced interaction with reading patterns. There is also a need to understand what patterns are already there and how people read them, including when to adhere to these patterns and when to break them. When breaking the patterns there needs to be simple means of learning these new patterns to be read and providing the ability to show improved value from these new patterns. This education process can be short video screen shots, short how-to use the interface or interactions. Building pattern libraries is really helpful.

Next, identify good patterns that are available and understand why they work, particularly why they work for the people that use then and learn how people read them and get different information and understanding through reading the same interface differently. Look at what does not work and where improved tools are needed. Understand what information is really needed for people who are interested in the information and data.

Facebook | GroupsAn example of this is Facebook, which has a really good home page for each Facebook member, it is a great digital lifestream of what my friends are doing. It is so much better at expressing flow and actions the people I have stated I have social interest in on Facebook than any other social web tool that came before Facebook. Relative to the individual level, Facebook fails with its interface of the information streams for its groups. Much of the content that is of interest in Facebook happens in the groups, but all the groups tell you is the number of new members, new messages, new videos, and new wall posts. There is much more valuable information tucked in there, such as who has commented that I normally interact with, state the threads that I have participated in that have been recently updated, etc.

This example illustrates there needs to be information to read that has value and could tell a story. Are the right bits of information available that will aid understanding of the underlying data and stories? It the interface helpful? Is it easy to use and can it provide more advanced understanding? Are there easy to find lessons in how to read the interface to get the most information out of it?

July 24, 2007

Sharing and Following/Listening in the Social Web

You may be familiar with my granular social network post and the postings around the Personal InfoCloud posts that get to personal privacy and personal management of information we have seen, along with the Come to Me Web, but there is an element that is still missing and few social web sites actually grasp the concept. This concept is granular in the way that the granular social network is granular, which focusses on moving away from the concept of "broad line friends" that focus on our interest in everything people we "friend", which is not a close approximation of the non-digital world of friend that we are lucky to find friends who have 80 percent common interests. This bit that is missing focusses on the sharing and following (or listening) aspects of our digital relationships. Getting closer to this will help filter information we receive and share to ease the overflow of information and make the services far more valuable to the people using them.

Twitter Shows Understanding

Twitter in its latest modifications is beginning to show that it is grasping what we are doing online is not befriending people or claiming friend, but we are "following" people. This is a nice change, but it is only part of the equation that has a few more variables to it, which I have now been presenting for quite a few years (yes and am finally getting around to writing about). The other variables are the sharing and rough facets of type of information we share. When we start breaking this down we can start understanding the basic foundation for building a social web application that can begin to be functional for our spheres of sociality.

Spheres of Sociality

Spheres of Sociality The Spheres of Sociality are broken into four concentric rings:

  1. Personal
  2. Selective
  3. Collective
  4. Mob

There are echos of James Surowiecki's Wisdom of Crowds in the Spheres of Sociality as they break down as follows. The personal sphere is information that is just for one's self and it is not shared with others. The selective sphere, which there may be many a person shares with and listens to, are closed groups that people are comfortable sharing and participating with on common interests (family, small work projects, small group of friends or colleagues, etc.). The collective sphere is everybody using that social tool that are members of it, which has some common (precise or vague) understanding of what that service/site is about. The last sphere is the mob, which are those people outside the service and are not participants and who likely do not understand the workings or terminology of the service.

These sphere help us understand how people interact in real life as well as in these social environments. Many of the social web tools have elements of some of these or all of these spheres. Few social web tools provide the ability to have many selective spheres, but this is a need inside most enterprise and corporate sites as there are often small project teams working on things that may or may not come to fruition (this will be a future blog post). Many services allow for just sharing with those you grant to be your followers (like Twitter, Flickr, the old Yahoo! MyWeb 2.0, and Ma.gnolia private groups, etc.). This selective and segmented group of friends needs a little more examination and a little more understanding.

Granular Sharing and Following

Unequal AccessThe concepts that are needed to improve upon what has already been set in the Spheres of Sociality revolve around breaking down sharing and following (listening) into more discernible chunks that better reflect our interests. We need to do this because we do not always want to listen everything people we are willing to share with are surfacing. But, the converse is also true we may not want to share or need to share everything with people we want to follow (listen to).

In addition to each relationship needing to have sharing and listening properties, the broad brush painted by sharing and listening also needs to be broken down just a little (it could and should be quite granular should people want to reflect their real interests in their relationships) to some core facets. The core facets should have the ability to share and listen based on location, e.g. a person may only want to share or listen to people when they are in or near their location (keeping in mind people's location often changes, particularly for those that travel or move often). The location facet is likely the most requested tool particularly for those listening when people talk about Twitter and Facebook. Having some granular categories or tags to use as filters for sharing and listening makes sense as well. This can break down to simple elements like work, play, family, travel, etc. as broad categories it could help filter items from the sharing or listening streams and help bring to focus that which is of interest.

Breaking Down Listening and Sharing for Items


Where this gets us it to an ability to quickly flag the importance of our interactions with others with whom we share information/objects. Some things we can set on an item level, like sharing or just for self, and if sharing with what parameters are we sharing things. We will set the default sharing with ourself on so we have access to everything we do. This follows the Spheres of Sociality with just personal use, sharing with selective groups (which ones), share with the collective group or service, and share outside the service. That starts setting privacy of information that starts accounting for personal and work information and who could see it. Various services have different levels of this, but it is a rare consumer services that has the selective service sorted out (Pownce comes close with the options for granularity, but Flickr has the ease of use and levels of access. For each item we share we should have the ability to control access to that item, to just self or out across the Spheres of Sociality to the mob, if we so wish. Now we can get beyond the item level to presetting people with normative rights.

Listening and Sharing at the Person Level

Granular ShareYesNo
Geo Listen/FollowYesNo
Geo ShareYesNo

We can set people with properties that will help use with default Sphere of Sociality for sharing and listening. The two directions of communication really must be broken out as there are some people we do not mind them listening to the selective information sharing, but we may not have interest in listening to their normal flow of offerings (optimally we should be able to hear their responses when they are commenting on items we share). Conversely, there may be people we want to listen to and we do not want to share with, as we may not know them well enough to share or they may have broken our privacy considerations in the past, hence we do not trust them. For various reasons we need to be able to decide on a person level if we want to share and listen to that person.

Granular Listening and Sharing

Not, only do we have needs and desires for filtering what we share and listen to on the person level, but if we have a means to set some more granular levels of sharing, even at a high level (family, work, personal relation, acquaintance, etc.). If we can set some of these facets for sharing and have them tied to the Spheres we can easily control who and what we share and listen to. Flickr does this quite well with the simple family, friends, contacts, and all buckets, even if people do not use them precisely as such as family and friends are the two selective buckets they offer to work with (most people I know do not uses them precisely as such with those titles, but it provides a means of selective sharing and listening).

Geo Listening and Sharing

Lastly, it is often a request to filter listening and sharing by geography/location access. There are people who travel quite a bit and want to listen and share with people that are currently local or will be local to them in a short period, but their normal conversations are not fully relevant outside that location. Many people want the ability not to listen to a person unless they are local, but when a person who has some relationship becomes local the conversation may want to be shared and/or listened to. These settings can be dependent on the granular listening and sharing parameters, or may be different.

Getting There...

So, now that this is out there it is done? Hmmm, if it were only so easy. The first step is getting developers of social web and social software to begin understanding the social relationships that are less broad lines and more granular and directional. The next step is a social interaction that people need to understand or that the people building the interfaces need to understand, which is if and how to tell people the rights granted are not reciprocal (it is seems to be a common human trait to have angst over non-reciprocal social interactions, but it is the digital realm that makes it more apparent that the flesh world).

July 21, 2007

Inline Messaging

Many of the social web services (Facebook, Pownce, MySpace, Twitter, etc.) have messaging services so you can communication with your "friends". Most of the services will only ping you on communication channels outside their website (e-mail, SMS/text messaging, feeds (RSS), etc.) and require the person to go back to the website to see the message, with the exception of Twitter which does this properly.

Inline Messaging

Here is where things are horribly broken. The closed services (except Twitter) will let you know you have a message on their service on your choice of communication channel (e-mail, SMS, or RSS), but not all offer all options. When a message arrives for you in the service the service pings you in the communication channel to let you know you have a message. But, rather than give you the message it points you back to the website to the message (Facebook does provide SMS chunked messages, but not e-mail). This means they are sending a message to a platform that works really well for messaging, just to let you know you have a message, but not deliver that message. This adds extra steps for the people using the service, rather than making a simple streamlined service that truly connects people.

Part of this broken interaction is driven by Americans building these services and having desktop-centric and web views and forgetting mobile is not only a viable platform for messaging, but the most widely used platform around the globe. I do not think the iPhone, which have been purchased by the owners and developers of these services, will help as the iPhone is an elite tool, that is not like the messaging experience for the hundreds of millions of mobile users around the globe. Developers not building or considering services for people to use on the devices or application of their choice is rather broken development these days. Google gets it with Google Gears and their mobile efforts as does Yahoo with its Yahoo Mobile services and other cross platform efforts.

Broken Interaction Means More Money?

I understand the reasoning behind the services adding steps and making the experience painful, it is seen as money in their pockets through pushing ads. The web is a relatively means of tracking and delivering ads, which translates into money. But, inflicting unneeded pain on their customers can not be driven by money. Pain on customers will only push them away and leave them with fewer people to look at the ads. I am not advocating giving up advertising, but moving ads into the other channels or building solutions that deliver the messages to people who want the messages and not just notification they have a message.

These services were somewhat annoying, but they have value in the services to keep somebody going back. When Pownce arrived on the scene a month or so ago, it included the broken messaging, but did not include mobile or RSS feeds. Pownce only provides e-mail notifications, but they only point you back to the site. That is about as broken as it gets for a messaging and status service. Pownce is a beautiful interface, with some lightweight sharing options and the ability to build groups, and it has a lightweight desktop applications built on Adobe AIR. The AIR version of Pownce is not robust enough with messaging to be fully useful. Pownce is still relatively early in its development, but they have a lot of fixing of things that are made much harder than they should be for consuming information. They include Microfomats on their pages, where they make sense, but they are missing the step of ease of use for regular people of dropping that content into their related applications (putting a small button on the item with the microformat that converts the content is drastically needed for ease of use). Pownce has some of the checkboxes checked and some good ideas, but the execution of far from there at the moment. They really need to focus on ease of use. If this is done maybe people will comeback and use it.

Good Examples

So who does this well? Twitter has been doing this really well and Jaiku does this really well on Nokia Series60 phones (after the first version Series60). Real cross platform and cross channel communication is the wave of right now for those thinking of developing tools with great adoption. The great adoption is viable as this starts solving technology pain points that real people are experiencing and more will be experiencing in the near future. (Providing a solution to refindability is the technology pain point that solved.) The telecoms really need to be paying attention to this as do the players in all messaging services. From work conversations and attendees to the Personal InfoCloud presentation, they are beginning to get the person wants and needs to be in control of their information across devices and services.

Twitter is a great bridge between web and mobile messaging. It also has some killer features that add to this ease of use and adoption like favorites, friends only, direct messaging, and feeds. Twitter gets messaging more than any other service at the moment. There are things Twitter needs, such as groups (selective messaging) and an easier means of finding friends, or as they are now appropriately calling it, people to follow.

Can we not all catch up to today's messaging needs?

June 17, 2007

Stitching Conversation Threads Fractured Across Channels

Communicating is simple. Well it is simple at its core of one person talking with another person face-to-face. When we communicate and add technology into the mix (phone, video-chat, text message, etc.) it becomes more difficult. Technology becomes noise in the pure flow of communication.

Now With More Complexity

But, what we have today is even more complex and difficult as we are often holding conversation across many of these technologies. The communication streams (the back and forth communication between two or more people) are now often not contained in on communication channel (channel is the flavor or medium used to communicate, such as AIM, SMS, Twitter, e-mail, mobile phone, etc.).

We are seeing our communications move across channels, which can be good as this is fluid and keeping with our digital presence. More often than not we are seeing our communication streams fracture across channels. This fracturing becomes really apparent when we are trying to reconstruct our communication stream. I am finding this fracturing and attempting to stitch the stream back together becoming more and more common as for those who are moving into and across many applications and devices with their own messaging systems.

The communication streams fracture as we pick-up an idea or need from Twitter, then direct respond in Twitter that moves it to SMS, the SMS text message is responded back to in regular SMS outside of Twitter, a few volleys back and forth in SMS text, then one person leaves a voicemail, it is responded to in an e-mail, there are two responses back and forth in e-mail, an hour later both people are on Skype and chat there, in Skype chat they decide to meet in person.

Why Do We Want to Stitch the Communication Stream Together?

When they meet there is a little confusion over there being no written overview and guide. Both parties are sure they talked about it, but have different understandings of what was agreed upon. Having the communication fractured across channels makes reconstruction of the conversation problematic today. The conversation needs to be stitched back together using time stamps to reconstruct everything [the misunderstanding revolved around recommendations as one person understands that to mean a written document and the other it does not mean that].

Increasingly the reality of our personal and professional lives is this cross channel communication stream. Some want to limit the problem by keeping to just one channel through the process. While this is well intentioned it does not meet reality of today. Increasingly, the informal networking leads to meaningful conversations, but the conversations drifts across channels and mediums. Pushing a natural flow, as it currently stands, does not seem to be the best solution in the long run.

Why Does Conversation Drift Across Channels?

There are a few reasons conversations drift across channels and mediums. One reason is presence as when two people notice proximity on a channel they will use that channel to communicate. When a person is seen as present, by availability or recently posting a message in the service, it can be a prompt to communicate. Many times when the conversation starts in a presence channel it will move to another channel or medium. This shift can be driven by personal preference or putting the conversation in a medium or channel that is more conducive for the conversation style between people involved. Some people have a preferred medium for all their conversations, such as text messaging (SMS), e-mail, voice on phone, video chat, IM, etc.. While other people have a preferred medium for certain types of conversation, like quick and short questions on SMS, long single responses in e-mail, and extended conversations in IM. Some people prefer to keep their short messages in the channel where they begin, such as conversations that start in Facebook may stay there. While other people do not pay attention to message or conversation length and prefer conversations in one channel over others.

Solving the Fractured Communication Across Channels

Since there are more than a few reasons for the fractured communications to occur it is something that needs resolution. One solution is making all conversations open and use public APIs for the tools to pull the conversations together. This may be the quickest means to get to capturing and stitching the conversation thread back together today. While viable there are many conversations in our lives that we do not want public for one reason or many.

Another solution is to try to keep your conversations in channels that we can capture for our own use (optimally this should be easily sharable with the person we had the conversation with, while still remaining private). This may be where we should be heading in the near future. Tools like Twitter have become a bridge between web and SMS, which allows us to capture SMS conversations in an interface that can be easily pointed to and stitched back together with other parts of a conversation. E-mail is relatively easy to thread, if done in a web interface and/or with some tagging to pull pieces in from across different e-mail addresses. Skype chat also allows for SMS interactions and allows for them to be captured, searched, and pulled back together. IM conversations can easily be saved out and often each item is time stamped for easy stitching. VoIP conversations are often easily recorded (we are asking permission first, right?) and can be transcribed by hand accurately or be transcribed relatively accurately via speech-to-text tools. Voice-mail can now be captured and threaded using speech-to-text services or even is pushed as an attachment into e-mail in services as (and similar to) JConnect.

Who Will Make This Effortless?

There are three types of service that are or should be building this stitching together the fractured communications across channels into one threaded stream. I see tools that are already stitching out public (or partially public) lifestreams into one flow as one player in this pre-emergent market (Facebook, Jaiku, etc.). The other public player would be telecoms (or network provider) companies providing this as a service as they currently are providing some of these services, but as their markets get lost to VoIP, e-mail, on-line community messaging, Second Life, etc., they need to provide a service that keeps them viable (regulation is not a viable solution in the long run). Lastly, for those that do not trust or want their conversation streams in others hands the personally controlled application will become a solutions, it seems that Skype could be on its way to providing this.

Is There Demand Yet?

I am regularly fielding questions along these lines from enterprise as they are trying to deal with these issues for employees who have lost or can not put their hands on vital customer conversations or essential bits of information that can make the difference in delivering what their customers expect from them. Many have been using Cisco networking solutions that have some of these capabilities, but still not providing a catch all. I am getting queries from various telecom companies as they see reflections of where they would like to be providing tools in a Come to Me Web or facilitating bits of the Personal InfoCloud. I am getting requests from many professionals that want this type of solution for their lives. I am also getting queries from many who are considering building these tools, or pieces of them.

Some of us need these solutions now. Nearly all of us will need these solutions in the very near future.

June 13, 2007

Folksonomy Provides 70 Percent More Terms Than Taxonomy

While at the WWW Conference in Banff for the Tagging and Metadata for Social Information Organization Workshop and was chatting with Jennifer Trant about folksonomies validating and identifying gaps in taxonomy. She pointed out that at least 70% of the tags terms people submitted in Steve Museum were not in the taxonomy after cleaning-up the contributions for misspellings and errant terms. The formal paper indicates (linked to in her blog post on the research more steve ... tagger prototype preliminary analysis) the percentage may even be higher, but 70% is a comfortable and conservative number.

Is 70% New Terms from Folksonomy Tagging Normal?

In my discussion with enterprise organizations and other clients that are looking to evaluate their existing tagging services, have been finding 30 percent to nearly 70 percent of the terms used in tagging are not in their taxonomy. One chat with a firm who had just completed updating their taxonomy (second round) for their intranet found the social bookmarking tool on their intranet turned up nearly 45 percent new or unaccounted for terms. This firm knew they were not capturing all possibilities with their taxonomy update, but did not realize their was that large of a gap. In building their taxonomy they had harvested the search terms and had used tools that analyzed all the content on their intranet and offered the terms up. What they found in the folksonomy were common synonyms that were not used in search nor were in their content. They found vernacular, terms that were not official for their organization (sometimes competitors trademarked brand names), emergent terms, and some misunderstandings of what documents were.

In other informal talks these stories are not uncommon. It is not that the taxonomies are poorly done, but vast resources are needed to capture all the variants in traditional ways. A line needs to be drawn somewhere.

Comfort in Not Finding Information

The difference in the taxonomy or other formal categorization structure and what people actually call things (as expressed in bookmarking the item to make it easy to refind the item) is normally above 30 percent. But, what organization is comfortable with that level of inefficiency at the low end? What about 70 percent of an organizations information, documents, and media not being easily found by how people think of it?

I have yet to find any organization, be it enterprise or non-profit that is comfortable with that type of inefficiency on their intranet or internet. The good part is the cost is relatively low for capturing what people actually call things by using a social bookmarking tool or other folksonomy related tool. The analysis and making use of what is found in a folksonomy is the same cost of as building a taxonomy, but a large part of the resource intensive work is done in the folksonomy through data capture. The skills needed to build understanding from a folksonomy will lean a little more on the analytical and quantitative skills side than the traditional taxonomy development. This is due to the volume of information supplied can be orders of magnitude higher than the volume of research using traditional methods.

May 22, 2007

Getting to the Ultimate City Guide

This past week I was in Mexico City for work. My approach to the trip was filled with apprehension as I had never been there and much of the word of mouth and news of Mexico City was on the side of "express kidnappings and other non-cheery events. I pinged my Twitter friends and a couple people responded that they had been to Mexico City in the past year and offered great insights and advice (mostly not to hail taxis on the street and the usual advice for large cities (stay in busy areas, etc.)).

I did not have a lot of time to explore, but I really did enjoy my trip there. But, I was really not well prepared for the trip (mostly because it was rather last minute in a rather busy stretch of other non-related work).

The second day of my trip I felt far more comfortable as I had walked around my busy neighbohood getting a feel for it as I searched for food (there were many options, but I wanted local food not Korean or Argentinian). Walking around there were many offers for taxi rides, table dances, and flat-out prostitution offers. I had a fairly good shield of ignoring the individuals, but some were quite persistent. I found the early morning helped ground me a little better and found the buildings and architecture similar in a way to Bastia, Corsica. This tiny bit of grounding helped connect me to some understanding and provided a connection.

Most travel guide work better for me after I have been some place and preparing me for things I want to discover the next trip, than for preparing me for the first trip.

Trip Preparation and Pre-mapping

The trip was not the only trip I was not well prepared for, my trip to Berlin in Fall 2005 was much the same. But, with the Berlin trip I read and had many travel guide and nothing was really sticking (it too was in a busy travel and work schedule).

The travel guides really do not work well for me as I have nothing for the information to stick to. I have no reference point of familiarity for the information to adhere. Once I gain a foothold of perspective and foundation the information about a place starts making sense. All it takes is a drop of knowledge and the ripples of understanding and familiarity start taking hold.

What I really seem to need is that core grounding point. I have tried Google Earth and other satellite enhanced mapping systems (I am increasingly a fan of Microsofts Live Maps for this as its 3D models are quite helpful), but they still need some level of reference for the info to stick. Information combined with some 3D and 360 views of areas would help. Once I have a point I can hold onto I can then easily expand the knowledge.

The small bit of understanding makes unrolling surrounding areas and deeper understanding easier. For me the thin connection to Corsica helped put the architecture in context. This bit of context is like a Google Map showing an area then pre-loading other near and related information to unpack and apply quickly.

Personally, I like to have cultural understandings of things that are fixed and malleable. Fixed are things like phone systems (GSM) and ease of getting wifi or solid internet access, along with usual cost. Malleable are things that have options like places to eat, things to see and do, etc. Cultural components, like taking many photos in a neighborhood is something I like to understand, do people think a white guy (I was one of a handful I saw in my couple days) taking pictures of buildings and building details is a threat to them? Does this make me a sure target? Is it culturally improper?

Finding Guides that Fit Context

One of my issues is I am often traveling from a business context and need the fixed information. I find the Economist City Guides really good for the basic worklife understanding. I also have cultural (often sub-cultural) interest along the lines of use of technology, food, street art, local information design, social interaction patterns, etc., which seems to come from shared personal experience rather than printed resources.

Ultimate Guide

I think my optimal wish it to have an immersion guide experience prior to traveling, based on the location I will be staying. Then once I am in a location have information rolled out based on context, such as time to eat the food options based on my interest and level of adventure with which I am comfortable. Unrolling understanding and background based on surroundings for where I am and what is around the corner (literally and figuratively) would be fantastic.

This is a familiarity I now have with Amsterdam and parts of London. Some of this familiarity came from having a personal guide take me through those cities nearly 20 years ago. This provided me with an understanding of layout, core elements (transportation systems, cultural understanding, food, etc.), and comfort with a feel for the cities.

Most of the time I am ready for my first trip after going to a city once or have a fellow traveler guide me through their understanding of the city along with a local resident.

February 1, 2007

Lessons in Identity

There is much consternation and gnashing of teeth today over the Flickr requiring a Yahoo! login from here forward, it has even made it to the BBC - Flickr to require Yahoo usernames. One of the Flickr co-founders, Stewart Butterfield, provided rationale that would have been a little more helpful up front. The reasons from Stewart are good, but are not solid value propositions for many.

Identity Lessons

There are some insanely important lessons in this dust-up. These lessons revolve around product versus mega-brand/mega-corporation; personal management of identity; and brand trust.

Product Brand versus Mega Brand

One of the primary issues in the Flickr and Yahoo! identity merging involves the love of Flickr the brand and what is stands for in contrast to the perception of the Yahoo!. Flickr was a feisty independent product that innovated the snot out of the web and bent the web to its will to create a better experience for real people. Yahoo is seen as a slow mega corporation that, up until recently, could not sort out how to build for the web beyond 1999. Much of the change in Yahoo is credited to the Flickr team and some others like Bradley Horowitz.

The change in Yahoo! has been really slow as it is a really large company. It seems to be moving in a positive direction with the changes to Yahoo! Mail (came from buying another company who got things right) and the new Yahoo! front door, but the perception still hangs on. Similar to Microsoft's operating system and software, changes to the corporation are like trying to turn a battleship under full steam forward. It is tough changing inertia of a corporation, as not only is it internal technologies and mindsets, but brand perceptions and the hundreds of millions of user perceptions and experience that are going to go through the change.

Take the hulking beast of Yahoo and pair that with a new product and brand Flickr, which is seen as incredibly nimble and innovative and there is a severe clash in perceptions.

Personal Management of Identity

There are a couple issues that are tied up together in the Flickr and Yahoo branding problem involving identity. First, there is the issue of being personally associated with the brand. There are many people who strongly consider themself a "Flickr" person and it is an association with that brand that makes up a part of their personal identity. Many of the "Flickr" people believe they are part of the small lively and innovative new web that Flickr represents. The conflating of the Flickr brand with the Yahoo! brand for many of the "Flickr" people is schizophrenic as the brands are polar opposites of each other. Yahoo! is trying to move toward the Flickr brand appeal and ideals, but again it is turning that battle ship.

The tying one's personal identity to Yahoo! is very difficult for many "Flickr" people. Even within Yahoo! there are battles between the old core Yahoo! and the new upstarts that are changing the way things have always worked. Unfortunately, with the flood of start-up opportunities the Yahoo employees who embrace the new way forward are the people who are seemingly moving out to test the revived waters of web start-ups. This makes turning the battleship all that much harder from the inside.

Second, is managing the digital identity and having personal control over it. Many people really want to control what is known about them by one entity or across an identity. I know many people who have more than one Yahoo! account so to keep different parts of their personal life separate. They keep e-mail separate from search and photos out of their own personal understanding of privacy. Privacy and personal control of digital identity is something that has a wide variation. This required mixing of identity really breaks essential boundary for people who prefer (mildly or strongly) to keep various parts of the digital lives segregated. Many people do not want to have one-stop shopping for their identity and they really want to control who knows what about them. This wish and desire MUST be grasped, understood, and respected.

Brand Trust

All of this leads to people's trust in a brand. People have different levels of trust with different brands (even if the brands are treating their information and privacy in the same manner). Flickr greatly benefited by being a small company who many of the early members knew the founders and/or developers and this personal connection and trust grew through a network effect. The staff at Flickr was and is very attentive to the Flickr community. This personal connection builds trust.

Yahoo! on the other hand is a corporation that has not had a personal touch for many years, but is working to bridge that gap and better connect with its communities around its many products (some of this works well, but much is neglected and the bond is not there). The brand trust is thinner for a larger organization, particularly around privacy and control over digital identity. Many of the large companies make it really difficult to only have one view of your identity turned on when you log in (myYahoo, Mail, and movie ratings are on and all other portions are not logged in - for example).

Conversely, there are those who would like to use their Yahoo! identity and login for things like OpenID login. Recently, Simon Willison (a recent ex-Yahoo) did just this with And, yet others would like to use other external to Yahoo! logins to be used as a single sign on. Part of this is single sign on and another part is personal control over what digital parts of one's live are connected. It is a personal understanding of trust and a strong belief for many that this perception of trust MUST be respected.

One approach that should NEVER happen is what Google is doing with Dodgeball. This past two weeks I have been contacted by a few people using Dodgeball (I use this service), which was bought and is owned by Google. I was getting contacted by people who found my Dodgeball account by entering my Gmail identity. The problem is I never connected my Gmail to Dodgeball and was going to drop Dodgeball over the required joining of the identities. Google in this instance flat out failed at protecting my identity and privacy, but it does that regularly (personally believe that Google is not Evil, but they are not competent with privacy and identity, which is closely tied with Evil). Had Yahoo! done this with Flickr it would have been really over the top. [I have introduced people at Google to the Digital Identity Gang to better understand digital identity and privacy issues, which is a great sign of them knowing they need to do much better.]


There are a lot of tangents to identity, brand, and personal association that seem to have been left out of the equation in the Yahoo! and Flickr identity merger. A more mature approach to identity at Yahoo! would not have required Flickr members to change over, as for many the changes to value added by conflating the identities is not of interest to those who have not done so yet. For many of those that are feeling hurt it is part of their personal identity that is bruised and broken. Hopefully, Yahoo! has grasped this lesson and will treat other acquisions (Upcoming,, and particularly My Blog Log (among others)) differently.

January 31, 2007

It is Finally IT and Design in Enterprise (and Small Business)

My recent trip to Northern California to speak at the UIE Web App Summit and meetings in the Bay Area triggered some good ideas. One thread of discovery is Enterprise, as well as small and medium sized business, is looking at not only technology for solutions to their needs, but design.

IT Traditions

Traditionally, the CIO or VP IT (and related upper management roles) have focussed on buying technology "solutions" to their information problems. Rarely have the solutions fixed the problems as there is often a "problem with the users" of the systems. We see the technology get blamed, the implementation team get blamed (many do not grasp the solution but only how to install the tools, as that is the type of service that is purchased), and then the "users need more training".

Breaking the Cycle of Blame and Disappointment

This cycle of blame and disappointment in technology is breaking around a few important realizations in the IT world.

Technology is not a Cure All

First, the technology is always over sold in capability and most often needs extensive modification to get working in any environment (the cost of a well implemented system is usually about the same as a built from scratch solution - but who has the resources to do that). Most CIOs and technology managers are not trusting IT sales people or marketing pitches. The common starting point is from the, "your tool can not do what you state" and then discussions can move from there. Occasionally, the tools actually can do what is promised.

Many, decision makers now want to test the product with real people in real situations. Solution providers that are good, understand this and will assist with setting up a demonstration. To help truly assess the product the technical staff in the organization is included in the set-up of the product.

People and Information Needs

Second, the problems are finally being identified in terms of people and information needs. This is a great starting place as it focusses on the problems and the wide variety of personal information workflows that are used efficiently by people. We know that technology solutions that mirror and augment existing workflows are easily adopted and often used successfully. This mirroring workflow also allows for lower training costs (occasionally there is no training needed).

Design with People in Mind

Third, design of the interaction and interface must focus on people and their needs. This is the most promising understanding as it revolves around people and their needs. Design is incredibly important in the success of the tools. Design is not just if it looks pretty (that does help), but how a person is walked through the steps easily and how the tools is easy to interact with for successful outcomes. The lack of good design is largely what has crippled most business tools as most have focussed on appealing to the inner geek of the IT manager. Many IT managers have finally realized that their interface and interaction preferences are not remotely representative of 95 percent of the people who need to or should be using the tools.

It is increasingly understood that designing the interaction and interface is very important. The design task must be done with the focus on the needs of real people who will be using the product. Design is not sprinkling some Web 2.0 magic dust of rounded corners, gradients, and fading yellow highlights, but a much deeper understanding that ease of use and breaking processes into easy steps is essential.

Smile to Many Faces

This understanding that buying a technology solutions is more than buying code to solve a problem, but a step in bringing usable tools in to help people work efficiently with information. This last week I talk to many people in Enterprise and smaller businesses that were the technical managers that were trying to get smarter on design and how they should approach digital information problems. I also heard the decision managers stating they needed better interfaces so the people using the tools could, well use the tools. The technology managers were also coming to grips that their preferences for interfaces did not work with most of the people who need the tools to work.

Technology Companies Go Directly to the Users

I have also been seeing the technology tool makers sitting with their actual people using their tools to drastically improve their tools for ease of use. One President of a technology tool maker explained it as, ":I am tired of getting the blame for making poor tools and losing contracts because the technology decision makers are not connected with the real needs of the people they are buying the tools for." This president was talking to three or four users on problems some of his indirect clients were having with a tool they really needed to work well for them. This guy knows the tech managers traditionally have not bought with the people needing to use the tools in mind and is working to create a great product for those people with wants and needs. He also knows how to sell to the technology managers to get their products in the door, but knows designing for the people using the product is how he stays in the company.

December 15, 2006

Ghosts of Technology Past, Present, and Future

The past two days have brought back many memories that have reminded me of the advances in technology as well as the reliance on technology.

Ghost of Rich Web Past

I watched a walk through of a dynamic prototype yesterday that echoed this I was doing in 1999 and 2000. Well, not exactly doing as the then heavy JavaScript would blow up browsers. The DHTML and web interfaces that helped the person using the site to have a better experience quite often caused the browser to lock-up, close with no warning, or lock-up the machine. This was less than 100kb of JavaScript, but many machines more than two years old at that time and with browsers older than a year or two old did not have the power. The processing power was not there, the RAM was not there, the graphics cards were not powerful, and the browsers in need of optimizing.

The demonstration yesterday showed concepts that were nearly the exact concept from my past, but with a really nice interface (one that was not even possible in 1999 or 2000). I was ecstatic with the interface and the excellent job done on the prototype. I realized once again of the technical advances that make rich web interfaces of "Web 2.0" (for lack of a better term) possible. I have seen little new in the world of Ajax or rich interfaces that was not attempted in 2000 or 2001, but now they are viable as many people's machines can now drive this beauties.

I am also reminded of the past technologies as that is what I am running today. All I have at my beck and call is two 667MHz machines. One is an Apple TiBook (with 1 GB of RAM) and one is a Windows machine (killer graphics card with 256MB video RAM and 500MB memory). Both have problems with Amazon and Twitter with their rich interfaces. The sites are really slow and eat many of the relatively few resources I have at my disposal. My browsers are not blowing up, but it feels like they could.

Ghost of Technology Present

The past year or two I have been using my laptop as my outboard memory. More and more I am learning to trust my devices to remind me and keep track of complex projects across many contexts. Once things are in a system I trust they are mostly out of my head.

This experience came to a big bump two days ago when my hard drive crashed. The iterative back-ups were corrupted or faulty (mostly due to a permission issue that would alter me in the middle of the night). The full back-up was delayed as I do not travel with an external drive to do my regular back-ups. My regularly scheduled back-ups seem to trigger when I am on travel. I am now about 2.5 months out from my last good full back-up. I found an e-mail back-up that functioned from about 3 weeks after that last full backup. Ironically, I was in the midst of cleaning up my e-mail for back-up, which is the first step to my major back-up, when the failure happened.

I have a lot of business work that is sitting in the middle of that pile. I also have a lot of new contacts and tasks in the middle of that period. I have my client work saved out, but agreements and new pitches are in the mire of limbo.

Many people are trying to sync and back-up their lives on a regular basis, but the technology is still faulty. So many people have faulty syncing, no matter what technologies they are using. Most people have more than two devices in their life (work and home computer, smart phone, PDA, mobile phone with syncable address book and calendar, iPod, and other assorted options) and the syncing still works best (often passably) between two devices. Now when we start including web services things get really messy as people try to work on-line and off-line across their devices. The technology has not caught up as most devices are marketed and built to solve a problem between two devices and area of information need. The solutions are short sighted.

Ghost of the Technosocial Future

Last week I attended the University of North Carolina Social Software Symposium (UNC SSS) and while much of the conversation was around social software (including tagging/folksonomy) the discussion of technology use crept in. The topic of digital identity was around the edges. The topic of trust, both in people and technology was in the air. These are very important concepts (technology use, digital identity, and trusted technology and trusted people). There is an intersection of the technosocial where people communicate with their devices and through their devices. The technology layer must be understood as to the impact is has on communication. Communication mediated by any technology requires an understanding of how much of the pure signal of communication is lost and warped (it can be modified in a positive manner too when there are disabilities involved).

Our digital communications are improving when we understand the limitations and the capabilities of the technologies involved (be it a web browser of many varied options or mobile phone, etc.). Learning the capabilities of these trusted devices and understanding that they know us and they hold our lives together for us and protect our stuff from peering eyes of others. These trusted devices communicate and share with other trusted devices as well as our trusted services and the people in our lives we trust.

Seeing OpenID in action and work well gave me hope we are getting close on some of these fronts (more on this in another post). Seeing some of the great brains thinking and talking about social software was quite refreshing as well. The ability to build solid systems that augment our lives and bring those near in thought just one click away is here. It is even better than before with the potential for easier interaction, collaboration, and honing of ideas at our doorstep. The ability to build an interface across data sets (stuff I was working on in 1999 that shortened the 3 months to get data on your desk to minutes, even after running analytics and working with a GIS interface) can be done in hours where getting access to the wide variety of information took weeks and months in the past. Getting access to data in our devices to provide location information with those we trust (those we did not trust have had this info for some time and now we can take that back) enables many new services to work on our behalf while protecting our wishes for whom we would like the information shared with. Having trusted devices working together helps heal the fractures in our data losses, while keeping it safe from those we do not wish to have access. The secure transmission of our data between our trusted devices and securely shared with those we trust is quickly arriving.

I am hoping the next time I have a fatal hard drive crash it is not noticeable and the data loss is self-healed by pulling things back together from resources I have trust (well placed trust that is verifiable - hopefully). This is the Personal InfoCloud and its dealing with a Local InfoCloud all securely built with trusted components.

November 1, 2006

No Personal or Work E-Mail to My Gmail Address

If you want to send an e-mail that gets my attention, please use an address other than my Gmail address. I mostly use that address for listserves. The ability to search, parse, and scan e-mail in Gmail just does not work for me and things I really want to follow-up with only get addressed if I forward them to myself at an other address. [Granted the amount of e-mail I am getting and daily communication is more then I can normally keep-up with at the moment. I deeply apologize if I owe you a response. I need to better embrace the DTD model as my GTOMG model leave too many things left unaddressed.]

Filters, Labels, and Tags

The Gmail interface does not work well for me personally to highlight, track, and respond to the mail. I had a lot of hope for Gmail and its ability to tag (or in Google terms, "label"), but its interface is really poor for doing this with anything more than 10 or 15 labels. When I want to manually applying more than one label the interface is really poor (at best).


I have looked at the GTDGMail mail as a solution, as its interface is much much better than what Google has churned out. While the GTDGmail is a vast improvement the remainder of Gmail for personal or work mail does not scale to meet my needs on that front. If you are unpleased with the Gmail labelling, as most I know are, you owe it to yourself to look at GTDGmail.

October 27, 2006

Yahoo! Bookmarking and Broken Roadmap

[Update: [This response came from Nathan Arnold an engineer on the Bookmarks/Social Search team

It would seem that either we've under-communicated the roadmap ideas, and you've gotten the wrong impression of what's going on.

No MyWeb user is being forced to use Bookmarks or just yet. continues to stand on its own, and MyWeb and Bookmarks continue to share your data. If you save something in Bookmarks, it will be private in MyWeb. If you save something in MyWeb, it will show up in Bookmarks and you can edit it their (bookmarks being private, only you can access it).

The eventual roadmap is to migrate users off MyWeb only when the good social elements of MyWeb have been integrated into the bookmarks product. Until that time, users can continue to use MyWeb as they see fit. When we do shut the switch off to MyWeb, the same features will be available on Bookmarks.

At that time, they will ALSO have the option of migrating content to

Hope that clears it up...]

I have received a lot of response to one item from yesterday's post, Yahoo! Bookmarks Beta (or Alpha), which looked at the new bookmarking replacement from Yahoo!. The response has been rather harsh and critical of one move, that is pulling the MyWeb 2 content into the Bookmarks Beta. Most IMs and e-mail are from people who are really livid that their social bookmarking content is pulled into a closed system. Had Yahoo been smart and clearly stated they were doing this on the Bookmark Beta page it would not have helped it seems as they took people's information from one context and are breaking that context. Not grasping this essential component has be questioning if Yahoo really has thought this through. Yesterday I focussed on the design and development problems, today I am focussing on the product issues.

Bookmarking Beta

Yahoo! drastically needed to update their Bookmarking tool. It is a tool that is widely used and was really clumsy in today's web works. The ease of use of the new tool and adopting MyWeb 2's saved pages and adding tagging to folders was essential. Bookmarks is a closed system as it always has been, but some elements of sociality are integrated that are seemingly familiar and comfortable for regular people.

Bookmarking Beta has a good overview video highlighting some of the new functionality and possibly helpful help pages (ironically the link for help is broken in Safari and the in Firefox you can get to the help page, but the content is not viewable). The marking and explanation around the new Bookmarking tool is good and is needed.

Breaking Social Bookmarking

Yahoo! moving the the small base of people using MyWeb 2 into Bookmarking Beta was flat out foolish. I thought so yesterday, but there were so many other things that needed addressing I lumped it in with the rest. The livid responses I received about this one made me realize it really needs more focus. Yahoo! never explained or marketed MyWeb 2 well, if at all. It is a rather good tool that did some things really well. One of the things that was quite good was its ability to share and recommend items from your friends and contacts. This was a component that oddly was well ahead of and was in the product before Yahoo! acquired The potential for great social interactions, recommendations, and interactions was central for most of the people that used MyWeb 2 regularly. For others it was a more friendly interface to a social bookmarking tool than (I will get to this in more depth in a moment).

Moving MyWeb 2 content, which is content with intent to be social into a tool that is not social is really backwards thinking. The strong reactions by people who use the tool prove this out. Connecting those dots to begin with deeply has be questioning if Yahoo! gets what they are doing. It is an old web mistake, a really poor old web mistake.

Shrinking 3 to 2

The stated roadmap for MyWeb 2, Bookmarks, and del.icious has Yahoo! moving three main products into two. Two are similar and one is different. Bookmarks is different as it is not traditionally a social tool (not saying it could not or should not be, if done well). MyWeb 2 and are similar tools in that they are both social bookmarking tools. While they are similar the audiences for both are vastly different and the I am really not sure they will or even should mix.

Yahoo! Innovation and Focus on Regular People

Yahoo! in recent years has bought some incredibly innovative companies. There was a whole lot of questions about integrating products that were innovative into the standard Yahoo! offerings. The first of these companies was Flickr, which was a product that was (and is back to being) incredibly innovative. Flickr was vastly different than Yahoo! Photos and many questioned how Yahoo! would integrate them. What Yahoo! did with Flickr is take some of their innovations and integrate them into their mainstream Photo product. What Yahoo! did that was brilliant was leave Flickr as a its own product and let them innovate and test the waters. The Flickr team has grown and they are back to doing insanely brilliant things. Integrating a Flickr into Photos would not have been good for either product. Photos is aimed at regular people who love the product and it serves them well. Flickr is a different beast as it is very social and it is very emergent and it has a fan base that gets that. Flickr has passionate users that love the new features, functionality, and sociality. It has an interface that meets those passionate fans.

Yahoo! has an incredibly large user base (around 70 million people). Its focus is on regular people and serving their needs really well. It is currently going through upgrades to its interfaces for many products, see the Yahoo! homepage for a sample of the great interfaces that are aimed and working really well for regular people and are seemingly being brought to other products, like Bookmarks. These regular people are not the alpha geeks and followers of the innovative products, they want products that work as they expect and they are comfortable with allowing them to do what they want and need. Yahoo! gets this really well and are marrying the innovation and improved design that will work across browsers for these regular people. Yahoo takes time and care ensuring that the products are as smooth, bug-free, and usable as any product or company out there (possibly better than most). They build real products that real people can use.

Innovation and

The big problem I see, which is far worse than the big mistake of moving MyWeb 2 into Bookmarking Beta, is taking an innovative product like and pushing it mainstream. Currently, has about 1 million users. These users are not the normal Yahoo! regular people users, they are ones that will use and enjoy innovative products. The interface is one that many of the regular people understand or like (I have done a decent amount of user testing around this) as it seems very "geeky" and I have heard comments along the lines of "I never liked DOS". This is fine as many of those that use and passionately love enjoy the interface. The interaction design, like the compound tag terms are really foreign to regular people, who more easily understood the comma separated tags with spaces between real words (as that is how most regular people write a string of terms). It has a completely different base of people using it than regular people.

Yahoo! really needs to keep innovating. Joshua Schacter and his team are doing incredible things and they need to keep trying new things and pushing the envelope. Yahoo! really needs a, just like it needs Flickr to remain a distinct product. I have constantly wondered why never took on Yahoo! branding like Flickr or Upcoming, but of late I had thought it was letting innovate and be free, which makes a lot of sense.

Poisoning the Water

What the Yahoo! roadmap seems to be doing is poisoning the water. Bringing into the mainstream will piss off many of those people who are passionate about and its innovation. There were fears of this with Flickr, but Yahoo! proved that leaving Flickr alone was valuable to the company as a whole. Either Yahoo! does not care about the innovation or the passionate users that help provide feedback on social bookmarking to Yahoo! or they don't get what they have. There are two very different sets of people using Yahoo! products and those using Mixing the two will more likely alienate the passionate users or not be a product that will work well with regular people. Like Flickr and Photos they are two separate groups of people. Yahoo! needs both groups of people to maintain is regular people using Yahoo! and to keep the innovation going.

What Roadmap?

It really makes no sense to poison by pushing it mainstream. So what roadmap? It seems like Yahoo! should have a self supporting tool with with a revenue neutral product (at least revenue neutral) that is ad supported. It needs that quick moving testing and innovation platform (it also needs them for many other products, like calendaring, address book, file storage, etc.) to keep the pipeline filled with good well tested ideas that work with people who are understanding of emergent systems. These good ideas can then flow into testing for the tools for regular people and see if they work there. Yahoo! needs its social bookmarking advocates that love, they can not afford to lose their eyes, interest, or input.

So where does the social bookmarking tool or features for regular people go? Yahoo! needs its new and improved Bookmarking tool and it needs Changing to go mainstream would be a monumental screw-up. Bringing more sociality into the regular Bookmarking tool, would be a better option. Yahoo! already screwed up by putting content from a their social bookmarking took into a non-social bookmarking tool. The failures of MyWeb 2 were largely no marketing and no iteration to fix the many rough bits.

New ideas explaining and time. Innovation takes time to become integrated into use by regular people. Innovation and understanding of new constructs and concepts get adopted through reading the manual (FAQ or Help), watching a demonstration, reading about it in their normal media streams, watching friends and co-workers, and recommendations of friends. Yahoo! is beginning to take these steps with Bookmarking Beta, they never did this well for MyWeb 2. Bringing the new tools of sociality into the regular Bookmarking tool with highlighting the need for it (triggering the lightbulb moment) and various means of educating would make sense. The social networking tools should become part of the mainstream. Tying these interactions and relating them to known social constructs in peoples lives for sharing information with some groups and not all is something many regular people get. It takes explaining it in terms that regular people understand. Yahoo! does this explaining very well in many other places, why is it so difficult to grasp for social networking?

One avenue for introducing social bookmarking into the mainstream is sharing bookmarks with Yahoo! Groups that they already belong to. Many people have their bridge club in Groups or their kid's soccer (football) team. They have groups of people that they are comfortable sharing links and other information with already. Limiting the new Bookmarks tool to e-mail and SMS is fine, but it seems like there is a ready audience waiting for a well explained tool that would solve technology problems they already have, which is sharing links and bookmarks with people they already know and trust. Yahoo! really needs to use what they do well in various contexts and various audiences that use it.

October 26, 2006

Yahoo! Bookmarks Beta (or Alpha)

Yahoo! has released it fourth or fifth public bookmarking site, Yahoo! Bookmarks Beta to go along with Yahoo! Bookmarks,, and two versions of Yahoo! MyWeb. This new version seems aimed at being a long needed replacement for the relatively ancient Yahoo! Bookmarks. But, as the post on Better Bookmarks, Better Toolbar this new Bookmarks will do away with Yahoo! MyWeb, as MyWeb will be bundled into This for me seems really odd as MyWeb2 was much better with the social network than has been. I am going to focus on the new Bookmarking site, because there are some things I like, but there are things that are quite broken and should have been caught with a decent quality assurance test or a decent interaction design heuristic test (some of the things that are broken have been broken in MyWeb 2 for months and it seems to have been imported here). I am normally a big fan of what Yahoo! does, but this release is horribly bumpy and would to be better suited with an Alpha moniker.

Y! Bookmarks Beta Good Things

Yahoo! Bookmarks has been needing an overhaul for years. It is great to see that the six or seven year old product is finally getting attention. Keeping the folder metaphor is good for those that have lived in that realm is a good thing and including tagging as well is a great step forward for this product (oddly, an odd interface for adding tags is used, but that is for later and a rather minor thing compared to the bigger bumps). Having the video for an introduction is a great step forward and would have been a great asset for MyWeb 2 (not so sure it would help adoption with as its interface seems to be a stopping point for regular people using the web) as it would illustrate the lightbulb moment for people to understand why MyWeb 2 is important and useful.

The basic interaction design improvements are very good, with the drag and drop (there are usability/accessibility limitations with drag-and-drop and it would seem like the click-and-stick would have been much better, but that is another long post). The three view options for the bookmarks is helpful too as it provides a nice visual interface with helpful information or ones that are more scannable for people. The layout of the full view is a really nice improvement over the existing MyWeb 2 interface. Another great step forward is the URLs are readable links in the status bar not the hash or unfriendly to human links that were in MyWeb 2.

The URLS overall are well designed in Bookmarks Beta. They can be guessed and edited easily. This is a wonderful change from MyWeb 2.

Bookmark Homepage Oddities

As mentioned above there are some (many) places that need help or some attention to detail in the new Bookmarks. I am using screen captures to help illustrate the points and the images are on Flickr and notations are there. Some of this seems snarky at times, but I am rather shocked that so many details and blatant errors made it public. I am a huge Yahoo fan, for a long list of reasons, but this does get me to question the attention to detail and care that goes into design and development. This was likely hundreds of hours of work by a team and a lot of testing. Just really surprised.


When I first came to the new Bookmarks Home page I was surprised to see all of the content. My expectation was it was going to be my old bookmarks that were included in My Yahoo! pages, which I update and are extensions of bookmarks from 1999. There was no clue on the page that the content had come from MyWeb 2, it took some digging and the "imported delicious" in my tags was the clue. There is no explanation how the bookmarks would be integrated into My Yahoo (I don't want my 2,400 some MyWeb bookmarks in My Yahoo).

The interface on Bookmarks Beta, while nice is difficult to find the sorts and folder/tag view modification as the typeface is very small. The "Sort by:" does not state was the default sort is. The sort is a toggle between date and title (presumably title by alphabetical sort, but my assumptions seem to be off on many things on the site).

The tools bar with view selection, add, edit, move, send, and delete was a little confusing. Some of the tools relate to making a check box selection in the bookmarked items, but that is not clear. While, other tools are not related (view selector and add). I easily understood view, add, edit, and delete were. Move has an icon that indicates moving out of a folder, but I was not clear where a "move" would put the selected items. Was it going to a folder, into My Yahoo sidebar, into, etc. Where was it moving things to? Send had similar problems as one could send by e-mail (should it state e-mail instead?) Why not use the really helpful convention in Yahoo! Local, which is really clear as to where things can be sent? Lastly, I found out that deleting something from Bookmarks removes the item from MyWeb 2 and that should not happen, unless it is made clear in the page that your bookmarks are being pulled from that repository, which Bookmark Beta fails to do.

Edit Bookmarks Broken


The Edit Form page was where I began to think that the Bookmark Beta was more an Alpha. I had first thought it was my using Firefox 2 as a browser, but the same if not worse problems also exist in my Safari browser. The edit bookmark screen is missing labels for the form fields, but it is also missing the existing content. It seems that this could be caused by relying on JavaScripting rather than a server generated page, as this page does not degrade well at all. Additionally the tag fields are empty, where the tag I want to edit should be. If the tag had been in the text box field I would have had a far more painful time separating the multi-term tag into its intended single term tags. Yahoo MyWeb 2 did this really well with a convention called commas. The social bookmarking site, Raw Sugar also uses this common convention and has wonderful affordance for assisting people with their comma separate string of tags. Having text box fields limits the ability for scaling, even if the interface populates the screen with a new text box when the five offered are filled it is still a really clumsy interaction it seems (I know Yahoo! test the living daylights out of their interfaces, which is a great thing, and I would love to know how this interface ended up in the public). Oddly, the one thing missing from this screen is the ability to add this bookmark into a folder. The new Bookmark tool is keeping the folders or is it not? Should not all of the possible interactions be available from the edit view?

Additionally, in a second view of the bookmark edit screen you will see the selected entry is not next to the bookmark edit screen. This likely means that the item being edited, if selected from the lower portion of the page, will not be anywhere near the editing box. There really must be closer. There is a lot of JavaScript being used on the page already, why not hide the items not selected for editing to provide a better proximity for people editing?

Bookmark Search Missing Items or Poor Sort

Y! Bookmark Beta Search Results

I tried "Search bookmarks" to get "tech" items. This search is supposed to query tags, titles, descriptions, etc. The resulting set was missing the first item from my default view, which is tagged "tech" is not in this set returned. This set is set for a sort order by date, which should put the item at the top of the returned set. This was something I really wanted to try in search as a similar returned set has been the result in MyWeb 2 and for at least a couple months. The algorithm is horribly off or the the sort is off. The good thing in the Bookmark Beta is it lets you know the sort order (the state in the default result is called out correctly),and lets you select a different sort order. Unfortunately, the search is broken as it is elsewhere. When I ran the search on tags (in the tag view portion of the page) the proper result set was returned with the most recently added item with a "tech" tag right at the top of the date order sort.

The labeling of the page and the type of search is missing from the page. The heading for the results states "Search Results 1-10 or 572", but it does not say what type of search I just ran. A proper heading should be should be "Search Your Bookmarks Results 1-10 of 572".

Add Bookmark Screen

Y! Bookmark Beta Add Bookmark Screen

This page has few oddities. The thing that stands out on this add bookmark page is the "My Tags" area. In the folder view of that content object you can drag-and-drop an item into a folder. The convention has been set that there is a drag-and-drop connection between that content object and my bookmarks. But in the tag view you can not drag one of the 20 tags into an empty (or filled) tag text field. The convention that was set, does not extend.

More troubling is the "My Tags" content object has find functionality stating "Type Tag here" in the text field next to the find button. When I have the add screen open I am not expecting that to take me to a new screen. Since the add tag interface does not have type ahead from by tag set, I would think had been hopeful that I could drop in a tag and have other related tags I have used on bookmarks would surface. What does get returned is a tag search result page and my add bookmark screen is blown away. I realize that the convention for what happens with tag search/find is already set, but since the convention for drag-and-drop is broken from folders, other things could be emergent as well.

All My Tags

Y! Bookmark Beta All My Tags

This page is held back by poor labeling with the "All Tags" label, but it is actually "All My Tags" or some similar convention, as they are not all the tags from all of the users. The tags are semantically well structured in the XHTML as they are an unordered list, which is easy to parse mechanically or for accessibility reasons. The layout of the tags would benefit from having the list be full justified, which would provide a little more space around the tags leading to easier scanning of the page full of tags.

It is odd that the page has a handful of weighted tags, the flat list of tags alphabetically is easier to scan than a weighted tag cloud but these five tags that are most often used seems to be rather odd. I am quite happy not to see a full tag cloud.

Recommended Bookmarks

Y! Bookmark Beta Recommended Bookmarks

The Recommended bookmarks tab is the old unuseful default page from MyWeb 2, also known as the Interesting Today page. Ironically, there has never been anything interesting on this MyWeb 2 page. Yahoo Bookmarks has a really good clue as to what I find interesting (or any other person using the tool) or pay attention to, it is our bookmarks. We make an explicit statement each time we bookmark something as to what we have an interest in. This can easily be paired to find people who have bookmarked the same items (this identifies people who may be good sources for new bookmarks to recommend) and what vocabulary they have used to call that bookmark something (if they use the same terms to describe the bookmark it can be easily and most often correctly deduced that we do really have similar interests) and we have a few similar matches like this that person, their terms, and bookmarks can be used to build a list of things I would be interested in. If you take that list and parse it against things I have already bookmarked you will have a killer list of things to recommend me that I will care about. This can be server intensive, but the matching and pairing does not need to be done on the production server for the bookmarks, it can be chugging away in the background and serving up recommendations. This flows directly out of the presentation I have given to Yahoo! Tech Dev and have had many long discussions about at Yahoo! Since this is part of a public presentation I give all of competitors to Yahoo! have the information and most are putting it to use in various ways.


Some of this seems harsh, but it is a public release by Yahoo! with a Beta moniker thrown on to it. But, much of this information Yahoo! already has as they have asked for the feedback before and received it. Things just don't get fixed. Some of these things are minor, but others are not details, they are big glaring errors. Yahoo has some of the best brains, designers, and developers on the planet and they should be producing products, even with Beta moniker that are not this rough. This is much closer to a Google product that is launched and is really rough around the edges and will likely not get fixed. At least I know with Yahoo things normally get ironed out, or at least they did.

None-the-less this has promise and it should be more accessible to regular people than MyWeb 2, but it seems really silly to throw out MyWeb 2 as it does many things better than, but does many things insanely well. Seeing the two products mixed will be a really tough challenge as it could easily break the fan base in or make a social bookmarking site like MyWeb 2 less approachable by putting a more geek-centric interface on it.

[I have added a follow-up to this focusing on the Yahoo! Roadmap for Social Bookmarking.]

September 19, 2006

Update and Austrialia Preparations

Things here are a wee bit busy of late. I have been getting myself accustom to local time again and doing final preparations for the trip to Austrialia to speak at Web Directions and the OZ IA. I will be presenting "IA for Web Designers/Developers" as well as "IA for the Come to Me Web" at Web Directions (a few tickets may still be available, check soon - I could not urge you enough to go to Web Directions as the quality and subject matter is stellar and well worth the price) and a Folksonomy and Tagging that works presentation at OZ IA.

If you are in the Australia region and heading to the event or just want to meet-up, please let me know (using thomas at this domain as an e-mail address). I will be around in Sydney through Labor Day.

I have also been tightening the schedule for Fall work at InfoCloud Solutions, please contact me soon as I have some limited time still available.

September 14, 2006

Trip and d.construct Wrap-up

I am back home from the d.construct trip, which included London and Brighton. The trip was very enjoyable, the d.construct conference is a pure winner, and I met fantastic people that keep my passion for the web alive.


The d.construct conference had Jeff Barr from Amazon talking about Amazon Web Services, Paul Hammond and Simon Willison discussing Yahoo and its creation and use of web services for internal and external uses, Jeremy Keith discussing the Joy of the API, Aral Balkan presenting the use of Adobe Flex for web services, Derek Featherstone discussing accessibility for Javascript and Ajax and how they can hurt and help the web for those with disabilities, myself (Thomas) discussing tagging that works, and Jeff Veen pulling the day together with designing the complete user experience.

Jeff Barr provided not only a good overview of the Amazon offerings for developers, but his presentation kept me interested (the previous 2 times my mind wandered) and I got some new things out of it (like the S3 Organizer extension for Firefox.

Jeremy was his usual great presenting form (unfortunately a call from home caused me to miss the some of the middle, but he kept things going well and I heard after that many people learned something from the session, which they thought they knew it all already.

Paul and Simon did a wonderful tag team approach on what Yahoo is up to and how they "eat their own dog food" and how the Yahoo Local uses microformats (Wahoo!).

Aral was somebody I did not know before d.construct, but I really enjoyed getting to know him as well as his high energy presentation style and mastery of the content that showed Flash/Flex 2.0 are fluent in Web 2.0 rich interfaces for web services.

Derek was fantastic as he took a dry subject (accessibility) and brought it life, he also made me miss the world of accessibility by talking about how JavaScript and Ajax can actually improve the accessibility of a site (if the developer knows what they are doing - this is not an easy area to tread) and made it logical and relatively easy to grasp.

I can not comment on my own presentation, other than the many people what sought me out to express appreciation, and to ask questions (many questions about spamming, which is difficult if the tagging system is built well). I was also asked if I had somebody explain the term dogging (forgetting there was a rather bawdy use of the term in British culture and using the term as those people who are dog lovers - this lead to very heavy laughter). Given the odd technical problems at the beginning of the presentation (mouse not clicking) things went alright about 5 minutes or so in.

Lastly, the man I never want to follow when giving a presentation, Jeff Veen rocked the house with his easy style and lively interaction with his slides.

I am really wanting to hear much more from Aral and Derek now that I have heard them speak. I am looking forward to seeing their slides up and their podcasts, both should be posted on the d.construct schedule page.

London Stays

The trip also included an overnight stay in London on the front and back end of the conference. Through an on-line resource I had two last minute rooms booked at Best Western Premiers that were great rooms in well appointed hotels. The hotels even had free WiFi (yes, free in Europe is a huge savings), which was my main reason for staying at these hotels I knew nothing about. I really like both locations, one near Earls Court Tube Station and the other Charing Cross Road and SoHo. The rooms were well under 200 U.S. dollars, which is a rarity in central London. I think I have a new place to track down then next time I visit London.

London People & Places

I had a few impromptu meetings in London and an accidental chat. When I first got in I was able to clean-up and go meet friends Tom and Simon for lunch at China Experience. We had good conversations about the state of many things web. Then Tom showed me Cyber Candy, which I have been following online. I was then off to Neal's Yard Dairy to pick-up some Stinking Bishop (quite excellent), Oggleshield, and Berkswell. I then did a pilgrimage to Muji to stock up on pens and all the while using Yahoo Messanger in a mobile browser (a very painful way to communicate, as there is no alert for return messages and when moving the web connection seems to need resetting often).

That evening I met up with Eric Miraglia for a great chat and dinner, then included Christian Heillmann (who has a great new book (from my initial read) on Beginning JavaSctipt with DOM Scripting and Ajax) in our evening. The discussions were wonderful and it was a really good way to find people of similar minds and interests.

On my last day in London I ended up running into Ben Hammersley as he was waiting for a dinner meeting. It was great to meet Ben in person and have a good brief chat. Somehow when walking down the street and seeing a man in a black utilikilt, with short hair, and intently using his mobile there are a short list of possibilities who this may be.


My trip I had a few full English breakfasts, including one in Brighton at 3:30am (using the term gut buster), which was my first full meal of the day. The breakfast at the Blanche House (the name of the hotel never stuck in my head and the keys just had their logo on them, so getting back to the hotel was a wee bit more challenging than normal) was quite good, particularly the scrambled eggs wrapped in smoked Scottish salmon. The food the first night in Brighton at the Seven Dials was fantastic and a great treat. Sunday brunch at SOHo Social in Brighton was quite good and needed to bring me back from another late night chatting, but the fish cakes were outstanding. The last evening in London I stopped in at Hamburger Union for a really good burger with rashers bacon. The burgers are made with only natural fed, grass-reared additive free beef. This is not only eco-friendly, but really tasty. I wish there were a Hamburger Union near where I work as I would make use of it regularly.

Too Short a Visit

As it is with nearly every trip this year, the time was too short and the people I met were fantastic. I really met some interesting and bright people while in Brighton and I really look forward to keeping in touch as well as seeing them again.

September 1, 2006

Domain of Digital Design Includes Strings

Many of us around the digital design profession consider visual pixels our domain, information as content and its structure is our in our domain, and the ease of use as part of our domain (all of this depending on what label or design community we align with). Strings do not fall into the design camp. By strings I mean data strings, which include date stamps, URLs, identity strings, etc. These often fall through the cracks.

In the last year or so these have become quite important to me as I look at the URLs on this site ( and they are not as friendly, readable, or guessable as they should be. There is no understanding what will lead to. Do people actually care about this?

Attention to Strings

I find not everybody cares about data strings, but some people do and many devices and services do too. We know many people do not pay attention to their address bar when surfing the web, but when they copy a link to send to a friend or IM a friend, they often look at the URL as a double-check. This is where confusion comes in, they have no idea that blog62 is the post they are wanting to share and it takes them out of a simple flow if they want to make sure it is the right thing.

Not only do people care by devices and services care about what is in strings. When a site is scraped by a search engine one of the important components in weighing the validity is the words in the string. If "blog62" were some thing that I wanted to ensure had optimal opportunity to surface in any of the major search engines I would want to ensure some key terms were in the URL that was being scraped and used. To the search engines 1862 means very little.

Human Readable

The goal is to have these data strings human readable, which leads to text that machines can read and used in algorithmic and automated filters and optimization tools. Not only do URLs need help, but so do date strings. Date strings should be easily understood and they should be labeled with relevant time zone if time is displayed as well.

Ground Control to Major Thomas - Where Are You

Again I turn to my own blog and its less than optimal state of being for my fodder. Since Fall of last year my site has been hosted in Australia (a wonderful hosting company Segment Publishing (SegPub)). Part of this means that my time stamp for posting my blog entries grabs the local date and time. Since last Fall I have been blogging from the future, or so readers have been thinking. In a couple weeks I may actually be blogging from a the local timezone for my blog, but it is something I need to change.

One complication I have is I post content from various timezones. I could make all dates local to where I post, or choose the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as a default and label it properly as such. One of the things that the date and time stamp for posts does get mostly right is it is understandable. Many times we see sites with the tech generic "2006-7-23T2:44:03Z" rather than a more easily human readable "7 July 2006 2:44:03AM GMT".

Data Strings Design Worthy Too

I hope these examples from my own site (a self-built blogging tool that I have not touched much since 2001 or 2002, which I use but not fix or move away from) help illustrate the confusion unattended to date strings play. If we care about the experience for people coming to our sites we build and design we need to care about the little things, the details, like URLs and date strings.

[Yes, I will fix my site eventually. I have been waiting for that magical downtime to sort through porting all my posts and related metadata into a real blogging tool, as I really do not see me finding the time or desire to start tackling all that I want and need to fix in my own dear little tool.]

August 22, 2006

Clearleft in Brighton Looking for an IA

If there are any information architects out there reading that are looking to work with a fantastic web design and interaction firm, Clearleft in Brighton, England is looking for an IA. This is for those IAs that I love that do XHTML wireframes as well as the other IA practices. They are looking for people who can also get their hands a bit dirty in XHTML/CSS when needed.

Working with Clearleft will give you exposure to great projects as well as help boost your skills to the next solar system.

The Tension of Sharing

In today's culture there is a serious tension between creative types, publishers & owner of rights, and other creative types. Society and culture has traditionally been handed down through generations and each innovation is built upon. Today we are living in a world that is trying to monetize this sharing and handing from one creator to another, which is placing money as a higher value than advancing culture and society. Today in the New York Times the latest iteration of the clamping down is presented in the article, Now the Music Industry Wants Guitarists to Stop Sharing, which is about sharing guitar tabs online.

We Can Advance Culture and Society Faster Today Than Ever Before

This sharing of guitar tabs has always been around, as has sharing most other music insights from one musician to another. This sharing is how nearly all of us have learned, embraced, and improved our skills. Not only do musicians learn this way, just as they always have, but it also how designers learn and share. The web not only made this quicker and easier, but web designers and developers have always been able to peek at the under pinnings of each others markup and design. This sharing helped move the web along more quickly than many technologies and mediums that came before it. The web is built on a creative culture mindset of free sharing. Part of this extension is nearly all creative cultures have advanced in recent years because of the web. Creativity has been democratized and the ability to get from zero to 7 is made very easy. It has been a time of immense innovation and a vast spreading of innovation.

One of the odd things is the corporate culture, which does not move at as fast of a pace (look at the ironic juxtaposition of Microsoft, which enabled innovation and was incredibly innovative, often by using the innovation of others (bought or "borrowed") is not a big corporation that is very slow moving and more reactive than innovative (on a whole, as I do realize there are some incredibly innovative segments inside Microsoft - particularly in the Live area and things that Ray Ozzie touches). It is the corporate culture of those that do not create but try and "own" what is the result of the creative process that are trying to stand in the way of traditional sharing in society and culture. It is ironic that what they spend their time suing to inhibit is what created the items of value they are claiming they are protecting.

Creativity Needs Sharing and It will Find Ways Around Control

There are many ironies in the top-down control industry, in that they are trying to kill what makes them money. The RIAA has tried to kill peer-to-peer sharing, but with the horrible state of radio the best way to learn about new music is to use peer-to-peer services. Recent studies show nearly all of the music on in iTunes and iPods is actually owned by the person using that device. Research around how people find the music they purchase points to open sharing of that music. That is how I do it and many of the others that I know.

Let me illustrate... Recently I ran across a Steely Dan making of Peg video on YouTube, which I really enjoyed. It was about the deep geek side of musicians sharing how they recorded and produced their hit song Peg. They were sharing their secrets, for a small price. But in this instance it was free on YouTube. I doubt that Steely Dan or anybody related to the DVD that this video came from authorized its use. But, because of watching the YouTube segment I bought the Steely Dan Aja DVD. I would have never known about it had I not run across the sample on YouTube. Not only did I buy it but in my circle of friends I know seven others that did the exact same thing, watched it on YouTube and then bought it.

This is a story of free sharing about musicians sharing their craft with others so to improve upon the whole of the craft. This is the thing that the New York Times article highlights as being a problem. But, it is the corporations around creativity that have put a noose around their prospective industries by getting their friends in U.S. Congress to regulate sharing and creativity and make it a crime in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (PDF).

I am finding that much of the music I enjoy is not coming out of the corporations, but the creators and innovators who are connecting with their audience directly. Last evening I watched a video on YouTube that we are interested in picking up. I clicked a little bit on YouTube and discovered The Dualers from London, who I am quite impressed with. The Dualers are a ska/raggae duo/band who do not have backing of a record company, but made it into the pop charts in 2004 and stayed there for a bit. Ska/raggae is a type of music that is out of fashion with the record companies, but still has a large following. It is music that still resonates not too far out in the long tail. YouTube is one of the means that The Dualers promote their works. They have sold over 35,000 CDs, which is atleast $350,000 if they are sold for $10 a pop, which would be much better than a deal a record company could offer them starting out.

How to Ease the Tension?

A large part of fixing the current problem is fixing the laws and getting people in upper management and in control of the media companies organization that litigate rather than adapt. We need to return to embracing creativity and sharing. We need to do this in a manner that creators can make a living, which may include cutting back on the role of the middle men. I see a shift toward media outlets that can innovate, iterate, and help support the creators as well as support the media outlets. The radio industry is in serious trouble in its current iteration and may need to move to a more segmented and broader distribution like XM and/or Yahoo Music and LastFM and MySpace as social means of finding new music and connecting directly with bands/creators.

I have been quite interested in some of the stories about EMI and how they have added value, creativity, and innovation for Gorillaz and even Coldplay. It seems that EMI pays attention to the community and lets the artists connect with their audience, which then helps shape their music and creativity. This sounds like the smart leadership that is needed. I have only heard these stories anecdotally, so I am not sure how much is really done by the community with interest or the artists. But, I can hope.

August 21, 2006

Acceptance of Innovation Takes Time

This past week Boeing cancelled its in plane internet connection services, called Connexion. The service has been in development for six years, but only in limited service for about 18 months. Boeing stated it did not get the acceptance and use of the service it expected. While Boeing was using satellites, which produce solid quality, its competitors are using less expansive and more fickle cellular approaches.

Acceptance Takes Consistency and Ubiquity

If I remember right it was only two or three airline carriers (Luftunsa) that had this service only on some of their planes. The people who I knew who used Boeing's services on airlines loved it, but they were never sure if the plane they were flying on would have access. This lack of consistency lowered the expectations of those who loved the service. These early adopters were reluctant to encourage others as the service may not be available. There are many people that want this type of service and to the level of bullet-proof service Boeing provided.

Air travel (like many others in the service industry) is an industry that is build around habits. Heavy travelers all have very set patterns and even well patterned alternate habits. They have certain airlines they fly (affinity programs encourage this), what airlines they use, hotels, and rental car they depend upon. The big mantra is no surprises and consistency. Packing their travel bags and gear with expectations of that they will need, with a big nod to what will not be needed so it is not packed (lighter travel is better than heavy travel). Depending on internet connection on the plane for many was not consistent and could not planned around.

Be Patient

How would Boeing get to the expected customer base? As a start they should take a lesson from Amazon, which puts innovative ideas in place all the time, but then lets the users catch-up to the tools. With Amazon their early adopters will use and play with their innovations (around which Amazon uses the feedback and iterates the products). Did Amazon announce their gold box? No, they put it out there and tested it and over a couple years it has become a staple that many people use as part of their regular Amazon experience. Amazon is doing similar things with tagging on their product pages and it is growing slowly.

Tagging is another area that is a slow growth. Currently there is less than .5 percent (half of one percent - comprised from Nielsen estimate of 750 Million people on the web and a compiles number of 2 to 4 million people using tagging services, not including blog categories as tagging) of people on the web tagging. Even with all of the hype tagging is still out in the long tail, and is an edge activity. Will tagging hit the next phase of innovation growth and spike in usage, the hockey stick curve, in the near future? It will take patience, consistency, iteration, and much better light bulb moments (quick a ha moments for those not using tagging).

Broadband In Planes Doomed?

It sounds like there are other technologies that are doing similar things to what Boeing was trying, but not as solid. These technologies are less expensive to implement and lower costs for those that fly. Can a poorer technology take off? The VHS (a greatly inferior product to Betamax) took the market.

It seems there is a future for broadband for those companies that can stay for the long run and help build demand and wait for demand to catch-up to innovation.

August 16, 2006

Quick and Intense Usability Interations

Last evening I was chatting with Nate Bolt who mentioned he had done some usability studies with a large client who brought their developers with them to watch the studies live. He mentioned that the developers would go back every evening an code the site/tools they were testing and then test the new site the next day. Others that were chatting thought this was nuts, which a year or two ago I would have thought the same.

A couple years ago I started talking to people doing development and usability sprints that start-ups, open source projects, and small development teams had been trying.

Usabilty Test Built into Sprints and Hack Days

In the past year I have talked with at least three teams working on projects that are doing one-day to four-day sprints or hack days to gather information from usability tests regarding how people use or are unable to use their products as well as collect wish-lists of desired product improvements. In the multi-day sessions some of the identified front-end tweaks and quick development tasks are knocked out, tested with people who use the product, and iterated a few times. The instant feedback on tweaks is very helpful and allows for rapid product development.

Quick Fixes and Long Term Tasks

The time between the intense sessions are used to build the deeper and more wide spread changes. These release cycles are now quicker and more on target. One project also has done usability sessions in addition to the intense sessions to catch some of the more subtle issues (with people new to the sites/tools as well as those with long term use).

Listening and Fixing Before Their Eyes

I definitely see the strong advantages of the intense sessions mixed with the usual longer term development. Finally it seems a broad section of the development world is finally learning that the best way to build out stuff is to sit with the people that use it, see their pain and frustration. But, even better is fixing that pain overnight. These intense iterations build positive feedback for the developers and designers on the projects, the business owners seeing quick improvements, and the people who want and need to use the products. The people using the tools will most likely go away and become evangelists for the products as the developers and designers not only listened to their needs, but fixed it so it worked better for them right before their eyes.

What It Takes

This approach not only takes solid developers and designers, but smart project managers that can assess (more accurately triage) the needed fixes, prioritize the short term and long term solutions, assign and manage these quick solutions. Smart and passionate people is the key to these solutions as well as nimble teams.

Small Projects Get It, Will Enterprise?

I am wondering if the quick intense iterations will be where we are going. I definitely see it for the small and nimble. But, can enterprise iterate this quickly? Or will the hands that need to bless the iterations have to stay involved with meeting cycles that will slow down the progress?

I have been impressed with the discussions around Yahoo! Hack Days and Yahoo is a large enterprise with many meetings, but they "get it" (or are in the process of internalizing "getting it"). I think Yahoo is showing enterprise can get there. But getting there will take faith that the enterprise has hired well and have the right people working for (and with) them and the right managers in place that trust their developers and designers, but most importantly trust their customers and people that use, as well as want to use, what they produce.

July 30, 2006

Are We There Yet? - The Need to Easily Shift Medium

People & Medium Preferences

Talking to people about the peeves about the flood of information they deal with in their lives there is a trend that seems completely unaddressed. This is the understanding that people have preferences for voice, text, and/or media. If you leave a text person an voicemail they do not process it well. IMing a voice person will frustrate them.

Medium Is the Attractor

I am ever more sure Marshall McLuhan is as valid as ever with his maxim, "The Medium is the Message". But, more importantly the medium is the attractor (or detractor). The voice people love other voice people and tend to ignore text people and their text attempts to interact with them and visa versa. Text people tend not to get into podcasts. When using news sites text people get frustrated with no text version of a video and media people like video over text.

Closing the Gap?

What needs to be done to fix this? I have not seen easy voice to text and text to voice solutions pop-up that will solve the message leaving problems to match information consumption preferences. There are tools out there, but they are not filling into the mainstream and not easily integrated into the tools people regularly use.

The solution for content creators is to provide more than one medium. I keep hearing complaints from friends and others in airports (my favorite place to interact with regular people) about CNN only having text or video versions of their stories and not both side-by-side. It seems like CNN is making a lot of changes lately, so hopefully this will get resolved (as well as their videos not playing on Mac easily, or PCs for that matter if the airport population of regular people is any indicator).

July 28, 2006

Platial Turning it Up

A few months ago a couple of friends pointed me to Platial a social geo-annatation site that is build on top of the Google map API. As luck would have it I met up with the creators and developers of Platial while in Amsterdam at XTech 2006. I was in deep "just got off an overnight flight" syndrome, but really enjoyed talking with them non-the-less.

Platial is headquartered in Portland, Oregon and on my recent trip I stopped in to say hello. Not only do they have killer developers and staff, an incredible workspace, but great things are coming to Platial. I left even more impressed with the tool and the direction it is heading than I was prior.

If you have not tried it, head on over and give it a try. Remember to keep coming back as they have more killer stuff in the pipeline.

June 30, 2006

Technosocial Architect

Those of you that know me well know I am not a fan of being labeled, yes it is rather ironic. A large part of this is a breadth of focus in the lens, from which I view the world. I am deeply interested in how people interact, how people use technology, and the role of information in this equation. My main interest is information and information use, when to people want it and need it, how people acquire it. I am utter fascinated by how technology plays in this mix and how important design is. I look at technology as any mediated form of communication, other than face-to-face communication. The quest began in the technology "quot;paper age" looking at layout and design of text and images on the printed page and the actual and latent messages that were portrayed in this medium. I also dove into television and video as well as computer aided visualizations of data (Tufte was required reading in quantitative methods class (stats) in the early '90s in grad school).

Well, this life long interest only continued when I started digging into the web and online services in the early 90s. But, as my interest turned professional from hobby and grad student my training in quantitative and qualitative (ethnographic) research were used not for public policy, but for understanding what people wanted to do with technology or wished it would work, but more importantly how people wanted to use information in their life.

Basis for Digital Design and Development

As I have waded through web development and design (and its various labels). Most everything I have done is still based on the undergrad training in communication theory and organizational communication. Understanding semantics, rhetoric, layout, design, cogsci, media studies, cultural anthropology, etc. all pay a very important part in how I approach everything. It is a multi-disciplinary approach. In the mid-80s I had figured everybody would be using computers and very adept by the time I finished undergrad, that I thought it was a waste to study computer science as it was going to be like typing and it programming was going to be just like typing, in that everybody was going to be doing (um, a wee bit off on that, but what did I know I was just 18).

People Using Information in Their Life

The one thing that was of deep interest then as it is now, is how people use information in their life and want and need to use information in their life. To many people technology gets in the way of their desired ease of use of information. Those of us who design and build in the digital space spend much of our time looking at how to make our sites and applications easier for people to use.

Do you see the gap?

The gap is huge!

We (as designers and developers) focus on making our technology easy to use and providing a good experience in the domain we control.

People want to use the information when they need it, which is quite often outside the domains we as designers and developers control.

Designing for Information Use and Reuse

Part of what I have been doing in the past few years is looking at the interaction between people and information. With technology we have focussed on findability. Great and good. But, we are failing users on what they do with that information and what they want to do with that information. One question I continually ask people (particularly ones I do not know) is how are you going to use that information. When they are reading or scanning information (paper or digital it does not matter) I ask what is important to them in what is before them. Most often they point to a few things on the page that have different uses (an article referenced in the text, an advertisement for a sale, a quote they really like, etc.). But, the thing that nearly everything that they find important is it has a use beyond what they are reading. They want to read the article that is referenced, they want the date and location for the sale (online address or physical address and date and times), they want to put the quote in a presentation or paper they are writing.

End-to-end is Not the Solution

Many companies try to focus on the end-to-end solution. Think Microsoft or Google and their aim to solve the finding, retaining, using, and reusing of that information all within their products. Currently, the companies are working toward the web as the common interface, but regular people do not live their life on the web, they live it in the physical world. They may have a need for an end-to-end solution, but those have yet to become fully usable. People want to use the tools and technologies that work best for them in various contexts. As designers and developers we can not control that use, but we can make our information more usable and reusable. We have to think of the information as the focal point. We have to think of people actually connecting with other people (that is individuals not crowds) and start to value that person to person interaction and sharing on a massive scale.

Our information and its wrappers must be agnostic, but structured and prepared in a manner that is usable in the forms and applications that people actually use. The information (content to some) is the queen and the people are the king and the marriage of the two of them will continue the reign of informed people. This puts technology and the medium as the serf and workers in that kingdom. Technology and the medium is only the platform for information use and reuse of the information that is in people's lives. That platform, like the foundation of a house or any building must not be noticed and must serve its purpose. It must be simple to get the information and reuse it.

Technology and Design are Secondary

Those of us that live and breathe design and development have to realize what we build is only secondary to what people want. It is the information that is important to regular people. We are only building the system and medium. We are the car and the road that take people to Yosemite where they take pictures, build memories, bond with their travel companions, etc. What is created from this trip to Yosemite will last much longer than the car or road they used to get them to the destination. We only build the conduit. We have to understand that relationship. What we build is transient and will be gone, but what people find and discover in the information they find in what we build must last and live beyond what we control and can build or design. We must focus on what people find and want to use and reuse while they are using what we are designing and building for them.

Information as Building Blocks

All of what is being described is people finding and using information that an other person created and use it in their life. This is communication. It is a social activity. This focus is on building social interactions where information is gathered and used in other contexts. Information use and reuse is part of the human social interaction. This social component with two people or more interacting to communicate must be the focus. We must focus on how that interaction shapes other human interactions or reuses of that information garnered in the communication with an other and ease that interaction. If you are still reading (hello) you probably have something to do with design or development of technology that mediates this communication. We are building social tools in which what is communicated will most likely have a desired use for the people interacting outside of what we have built or designed.

Technosocial Architects

People who understand the social interactions between people and the technologies they use to mediate the interactions need to understand the focus is on the social interactions between people and the relationship that technology plays. It is in a sense being a technosocial architect. I ran across the word technosocial in the writings of Mimi Ito, Howard Rheingold, and Bruce Sterling. It always resonates when I hear technosocial. Social beings communicate and inherent in the term communication is information.

Focus on People, Medium, and Use

Just above you see that I referenced three people (Mimi, Howard, and Bruce) as people who used a term that seems to express how I believe I look at the work I do. It is people, more importantly, it is individuals that I can point to that I trust and listen to and are my social interpreters of the world around me. These people are filters for understanding one facet of the world around me. People have many facets to their life and they have various people (sometimes a collective of people, as in a magazine or newspaper) who are their filters for that facet of their life. There are people we listen to for food recommendations, most likely are different from those that provide entertainment, technology, clothing, auto, child care, house maintenance, finance, etc. We have distinct people we learn to trust over time to provide or reinforce the information we have found or created out of use and reuse of what we have interacted with in our life.

Looking at many of the tools available today there is a focus on the crowd in most social tools on the web. Many regular people I talk to do not find value in that crowd. They want to be able to find individual voices easily that they can learn to trust. Just like I have three people I can point to people in social software environments look at the identity (screen name many times) as their touch point. I really like Ask MetaFilter as a social group "question and answer" tool. Why? Mostly because there are screen names that I have grown to know and trust from years of reading MetaFilter. The medium is an environment that exposes identity (identity is cloaked with a screen name and can be exposed if the person so decides in their profile). People are important to people. In digitally mediated social environments the identity is that point of reference that is a surrogate for name in physical space. In print the name of the writer is important as a means to find or avoid other pieces or works. We do the same in movies, television news, television shows, online videos, podcasts, blogs, etc. the list does not end.

Our social mediums need to keep this identity and surface the identity to build trust. People use identity as gatekeepers in a world of information overload. When I look at Yahoo! Answers and Yahoo! MyWeb (my absolute favorite social bookmarking tool) I get dumped into the ocean of identities that I do not recognize. People are looking for familiarity, particularly familiarity of people (or their surrogate identity). In MyWeb I have a community (unfortunately not one that is faceted) where I trust identities (through a series of past experience) as filters for information in the digital world around us, but I am not placed in this friendly environment, but put in an environment where I find almost nothing I value presented to me. This is the way Yahoo! Answers works as well, but it does not seem like there is the ability to track people who ask or answer questions that a person would find value in.

The tools we use (as well as design and build) must understand the value of person and identity as information filters. The use of information in our lives is one explicit expression of our interest in that subject, the person who created the information, or the source what housed that information. Use and reuse of information is something we need to be able to track to better serve people (this gets in to the area of digital rights management, which usually harms information use more than it enables it, but that is another long essay). The medium needs to understand people and their social interaction people have with the information and the people who create the information and the desired use. This use goes well beyond what we create and develop. Use requires us understanding we need to let go of control of the information so it may be used as people need.

Need for Technosocial Architects

Looking at the digital tools we have around us: websites, social computing services and tools (social networking sites, wikis, blogs, mobile interaction, etc.), portals, intranets, mobile information access, search, recommendation services, personals, shopping, commerce, etc. and each of these is a social communication tool that is based on technology. Each of these has uses for the information beyond the digital walls of their service. Each of these has people who are interacting with other people through digital technology mediation. This goes beyond information architecture, user experience design, interaction design, application development, engineering, etc. It has needs that are more holistic (man I have been trying to avoid that word) and broad as well as deep. It is a need for understanding what is central to human social interactions. It is a need for understanding the technical and digital impact our tools and services have in mediating the social interaction between people. It is a need for understanding how to tie all of this together to best serve people and their need for information that matters to them when they want it and need it.

June 21, 2006

Still Thowing Out the User

There is much buzz about getting rid of the term user these days. Don Norman talks about using the term person, PeterMe picks up on this, and others are not happy with the term "user generated content", like Jon Udell who would like to use "reader-created content", Robert Scoble who believes it is screwing the Long Tail, and Jeff Veen who talks about people writing the web. I have to agree, well I did more than agree.

Throwing Out the User

More than a year ago I got fed up with the user and wrote about saying Good Bye to the User. In years prior I have watched people having painful moments in usability testing. These people felt sorry that they could not easily use what we built and designed. They had empathy for us, but we just lumped them in the category "user". User is not a good word, it is a dirty four letter word. Far too many times designers and developers blame the "user". We tried to solve the user's problems. It was not the problem of the user, it is a real person's pain.

As designers and developers we know deep inside that technology is complex and difficult to use, but we often forget it. The term user has stood in the way. But using person or people, we can see the pain and feel the pain. Many of us consider ourselves users and we do not have these problems, but we are über users, who at one point had the same pain and struggles.

People are different, we have learned this early in life. We can take some characteristics and lump groups of people together, but there are so many important facets that that make us who we are it is difficult to lump people across facets. The only way to lump people separating ourselves as designers and developers out of the equation and putting the focus on regular people. If you are reading this, you are most likely not a regular person who has problems using technology as they wish or need to. It is real people with pain. It is real people who worry about privacy, identity issues, easy access to needed info for themselves and some easy access for some people they know but impossible access for most everybody else, etc. But, the problem with this is these real people do not know this is what they want or need until they do not have it an it becomes painfully aware to them.

Generating Content

I like approach of Jeff Veen and Jon Udell who focus on person-created content. In a hip world of popularity engines like Digg where the masses or crowd bubble up information we forget that most people listen and trust individual voices. We have done this with mass media for years. We trusted certain news anchors and certain reporters on television. We read and trusted certain journalist, columnists, reviewers, and opinion writers. This trust was not always to the wrapper of the communication, like a paper or the whole network news offerings. It comes down to people trusting people. Individuals trusting individuals.

Those of us who have been blogging for nearly a dog year or more understand it is about the individual. We are individual people creating content. We are individual voices. We may be part of a collective at times, but people trust us the person and over time may come to trust people we trust, whom our readers do not know and do not trust yet.

Bringing People Together with People

So what do we need in these social computing environments? We need to see the person. We need to have the ability to find the person similar to us. We want to find those whom are near in thought to us. This may not be the most prolific person on a subject or the most linked to, but their interests match our interests and or vocabularies are similar (often a very good sign of commonality). In the popularity engines we should be able to find those who have "liked" or "dug" things similar to that which we have the same feelings and/or interests.

Doing Without the User

The past year I have been asked many times how easy it is not to use the term user. Well, at first it was hard to transition because it was a term I just used with out thinking. It was also hard because many of my clients and customers I worked with liked using the term user (they also have had many of the problems that come with the term user). But, over time I have a few clients using people and the empathy for the pain that the people who use their products feel is felt and it is reflected in their work products.

One benefit that came from focussing on the person and not the user has been being able to easily see that people have different desired uses and reuses for the data, information, media, etc. that the products I am working on or my clients are developing. I can see complexity more easily focussing on people than I could the user. Patterns are also easier to see looking at the individual people as the patterns resemble flows and not steps. When we focus on the user we try to fit what we built to pre-determined patterns, which we have broken into steps. We can determine steps that are roughly common points of task changing in the flows (changing from seeking to recognizing in a search task it part of an iterative flow, which we can determine is a separate step, but whether that leads to the next step or iterates a few more times is part of a person's information workflow.

Steps are Broken

One of the steps that is getting broken by real people is that around process. People use tools in different ways. For years we have been looking at a publish and subscribe model. But, that is missing a step or two when we look at the flows. People create content and publish it, right? Well, not quite. We are seeing people skipping the publish and pushing it straight to syndication. There is no single point where it is published and has a definable address. The old publish and subscribe model assumed publishing would syndicate the information (RSS, ATOM, RDF, etc.). But, we all know that syndication has been a really slow adoption for traditional media. It was many years after those of us blogging and syndicating information saw traditional media pick-up on the trend. But, traditional media has always understood going straight to syndication with columnists, radio, and television shows. It was the blogging community and personal content creators that were late to understanding we could just syndicate the information and skip the publishing step in the flow.

Getting to Watching People and Flows

How do we not miss things? We watch people and we need to pay attention to their flows. Each individual, each of their desires, each of their different personal information workflows, across each of their current devices, and how they wish they could have what we build inflict less pain on their person.

The person should not feel empathy for those of us building and designing tools and systems, we must feel the person's and peoples pain and feel empathy for them. Where have we stood in their way of their desired flow? Now we must get out of the way, get rid of the user, and focus on people to build and design more effectively.

June 9, 2006

System One Takes Information Workflow to a New Level

While at Microlearning Conference 2006 Bruno and Tom demonstrated their System One product. This has to be one of the best knowledge/information tools that I have seen in years. They completely understand simplicity and interaction design and have used it to create an information capture and social software tool for the enterprise. Bruno pointed me to a System One overview screen capture (you do not have to login to get started) that features some of the great elements in System One.

One of the brilliant aspects of System One is their marketing of the product. While it has easily usable wiki elements, heavy AJAX, live search, etc. they do not market these buzzwords, they market the ease of use to capture information (which can become knowledge) and the ease of finding information. The simplicity of the interface and interaction make it one of the best knowledge management tools available. Most knowledge management tools fall down on the information entry perspective. Building tools that are part of your workflow, inclusion of information from those that do not feed the KM tool, is essential and System One is the first tools that I have seen that understands this an delivers a product that proves they get it.

The enterprise social software market is one that is waiting to take off, as there is a very large latent need (that has been repressed by poor tools in the past). System One tool is quite smart as they have built e-mail search, file access, Google live file search (you type in the wiki (you do not need to know it is a wiki) and the terms used are searched in Google to deliver a rather nice contextual search. This built in search solves the Google complexity of building solid narrow search queries, but the person using the system just needs to have the capability to enter information into the screen.

Those of us that are geeks find Google queries a breeze, but regular people do not find it easy to tease out the deeply buried gems of information hidden in Google. Surfacing people who are considered experts, or atleast connectors to experts on subjects is part of the System One tool as well and this is an insanely difficult task in an enterprise.

My only wish was that I worked in an organization that would be large enough to use this tool, or there was a personal version I could use to capture and surface my own information when I am working.

You may recognize System One as the developer of retreivr, the Flickr interactive tool that allows you to draw a simple picture and their tool will find related photos in Flickr based on the drawing's pattern and colors. It is a brilliant tool, but not as smart as their main product.

May 28, 2006

An Overview of the Local InfoCloud is Available

I have finally posted a write-up on Exposing the Local InfoCloud, which explains the attributes and components that comprise the Local InfoCloud. This is a write-up of an explanation that has been bubbling for a couple years and I finally put into a presentation last Fall for Design Engaged. The Local InfoCloud include resources that are familiar to us and can often be the social software elements with which we interact as trusted resources.

During a recent symposium on social software (I attended virtually) there was much grumbling around the term "community" and when I stated I was going to try and redact that term from my usage, I was quickly asked what I was going to replace it with. Community is broadly used and for most of my uses the components in the Local InfoCloud are more distinct pointers to what people can mean when they discuss community. The components are also can help us describe the human and digital resources that bring data, information, and media objects closer to us.

When I have chatted with people about the attributes and components in the past it leads to more questions and wonderful discussions. The point of this piece is to clarify the framework for the Local InfoCloud and capture discussion. I have incorporated the feedback from chats I have had, where it was convincing, relevant, and I was happy with how it jelled. I am looking for more feedback and discussion, which is part of the reason it is posted at the Personal InfoCloud (comments and trackback capabilities are available, but moderated, there).

May 25, 2006

Developing the Web for Whom?

Google Web Developer Toolkit for the Closed Web

Andrew in his post "Reading user interface libraries" brings in elements of yesterday's discussion on The Battle to Build the Personal InfoCloud. Andrew brings up something in his post regarding Google and their Google Web Developer Toolkit (GWT. He points out it is in Java and most of the personal web (or new web) is built in PHP, Ruby [(including Ruby on Rails), Python, and even Perl].

When GWT was launched I was at XTech in Amsterdam and much of the response was confusion as to why it was in Java and not something more widely used. It seems that by choosing Java for developing GWT it is aiming at those behind the firewall. There is still much development on the Intranet done in Java (as well as .Net). This environment needs help integrating rich interaction into their applications. The odd part is many Intranets are also user-experience challenged as well, which is not one of Google's public fortés.

Two Tribes: Inter and Intra

This whole process made me come back to the two differing worlds of Internet and Intranet. On the Internet the web is built largely with Open Source tools for many of the big services (Yahoo, Google, EBay, etc.) and nearly all of the smaller services are Open Source (the cost for hosting is much much lower). The Open Source community is also iterating their solutions insanely fast to build frameworks (Ruby on Rails, etc.) to meet ease of development needs. These sites also build for all operating systems and aim to work in all modern browsers.

On the Intranet the solutions are many times more likely to be Java or .Net as their is "corporate" support for these tools and training is easy to find and there is a phone number to get help from. The development is often for a narrower set of operating systems and browsers, which can be relatively easy to define in a closed environment. The Google solution seems to work well for this environment, but it seems that early reaction to its release in the personal web it fell very flat.

13 Reasons

A posting about Top 13 reasons to CONSIDER the Microsoft platform for Web 2.0 development and its response, "Top 13 reasons NOT to consider the Microsoft platform for Web 2.0 development" [which is on a .Net created site] had me thinking about these institutional solutions (Java and .Net) in an openly developed personal web. The institutional solutions seem like they MUST embrace the open solutions or work seamlessly with them. Take any one of the technical solutions brought up in the Microsoft list (not including Ray Ozzie or Robert Scoble as technical solutions) and think about how it would fit into personal site development or a Web 2.0 developed site. I am not so sure that in the current state of the MS tools they could easily drop in with out converting to the whole suite. Would the Visual .Net include a Python, PHP, Ruby, Ruby On Rails, or Perl plug-in?The Atlas solution is one option in now hundreds of Ajax frameworks. To get use the tools must had more value (not more cost or effort) and embrace what is known (frogs are happy in warm water, but will not enter hot water). Does Atlas work on all browsers? Do I or any Internet facing website developer want to fail for some part of their audience that are using modern browsers?

The Web is Open

The web is about being browser agnostic and OS agnostic. The web makes the OS on the machine irrelevant. The web is about information, media, data, content, and digital objects. The tools that allow us to do things with these elements are increasingly open and web-based and/or personal machine-based.

Build Upon Open Data and Open Access

The web is moving to making the content elements (including the microconent elements) open for use beyond the site. Look at the Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the open APIs in the Yahoo Developer Network. Both of these companies openly ease community access and use of their content and services. This draws people into Amazon and Yahoo media and properties. What programming and scripting languages are required to use these services? Any that the developer wants.. That is right, unlike Google pushing Java to use their solution, Amazon and Yahoo get it, it is up to the developer to use what is best for them. What browsers do the Amazon and Yahoo solutions work in? All browsers.

I have been watching Microsoft Live since I went to Search Champs as they were making sounds that they got it too. The Live Clipboard [TechCrunch review] that Ray Ozzie gave at O'Reilly ETech is being developed in an open community (including Microsoft) for the whole of the web to use. This is being done for use in all browsers, on all operating systems, for all applications, etc. It is open. This seems to show some understanding of the web that Microsoft has not exhibited before. For Microsoft to become relevant, get in the open web game, and stay in the game they must embrace this approach. I am never sure that Google gets this and there are times where I am not sure Yahoo fully gets it either (a "media company" that does not support Mac, which the Mac is comprised of a heavily media-centric community and use and consume media at a much higher rate than the supported community and the Mac community is where many of the trend setters are in the blogging community - just take a look around at SXSW Interactive or most any other web conference these days (even XTech had one third of the users on Mac).

Still an Open Playing Field

There is an open playing field for the company that truly gets it and focusses on the person and their needs. This playing field is behind firewalls on Intranet and out in the open Internet. It is increasingly all one space and it continues to be increasingly open.

May 24, 2006

The Battle to Build the Personal InfoCloud

Over at Personal InfoCloud I posted The Future is Now for Information Access, which was triggered by an interview with Steve Ballmer (Microsoft) about the future of technology and information. I do not see his future 10 years out, but today. I see the technology in the pockets of people today. People are frustrated with the information not being easily accessed and use and reuse not being as simple as it should. Much of this is happening because of the structure of the information.

Personal InfoCloud is the Focus

One thing that struck me from the article, which I did not write about, was the focus on Google. Personally I find it odd as Yahoo is sitting on the content and the structure for more than 90 percent of what is needed to pull off the Personal InfoCloud. Yahoo is beginning to execute and open access to their data in proper structures. Ballmer lays out a nearly exact scenario for aggregating one's own information and putting it in our lives to the one I have been presenting the last few years. Yahoo has the components in place today to build on top of and make it happen. Google is not only lacking the structure, but they are not executing well on their products they produce. Google does the technically cool beta, but does not iterate and fix the beta nor are they connecting the dots. Yahoo on the other hand is iterating and connecting (they need to focus on this with more interest, passion, and coordinated direction).

The Real Battle

I really do not see the battle as being between Google and the others. The real battle is between Yahoo and Microsoft. Why? Both focus on the person and that person's use and need for information in their life and with their context. Information needs to be aggregated (My Yahoo is a great start, but it goes deeper and broader) and filtered based on interest and need. We are living in a flood of information that has crossed into information pollution territory. We need to remove the wretched stench of information to get back the sweet smell of information. We need to pull together our own creations across all of the places we create content. We need to attract information from others whom have similar interests, frameworks, and values (intellectual, social, political, technological, etc.). The only foundation piece Yahoo is missing is deep storage for each person's own information, files, and media.

Microsoft Live Gets It

Microsoft has the same focus on the person. I have become intrigued with the Microsoft Live properties (although still have a large disconnect with their operating systems and much of their software). Live is aiming where Yahoo is sitting and beyond. Microsoft has the cash and the interest to assemble the pieces and people to get there. Live could get there quickly. Looking at the Live products I saw in January at Search Champs with some in relatively early states and what was launched a few months later, the are iterating quickly and solidly based on what real people want and need in their lives (not the alpha geeks, which Google seems to target). Live products are not done and the teams are intact and the features and connections between the components are growing. They are leaving Google in the dust.

Can Yahoo Stay Ahead of Microsoft?

The question for Yahoo is can they keep up and keep ahead of Microsoft? Google has the focus in search as of today (not for me as the combination of Yahoo! MyWeb 2.0 and Yahoo! Search combined blow away anything that Google has done or seemingly can do. Yahoo! does need to greatly improve the simplicity, ease of use, and payoff (it takes a while for the insanely great value of MyWeb 2.0 to kick in and that needs to come much earlier in the use phase for regular people).

I am seeing Microsoft assembling teams of smart passionate people who want to build a killer web for regular people. It seems Ray Ozzie was the turn around for this and is part of the draw for many heading to work on Live products. The competition for minds of people who get it puts Live in competition with Google, Yahoo, EBay, Amazon, and even Apple. I am seeing Live getting the people in that they need. Recently (last week) Microsoft even started changing their benefits and employee review practices to better compete and keep people. It seems that they are quite serious and want to make it happen now.

Yahoo Under Valued

Recent comments about Yahoo being under valued in the long term are dead on in my view. A recent Economist article about Google pointed out how poorly they execute on everything but their core service (search). This waking up starts to bring a proper focus on what those of us who look at regular people and their needs from information and media in their lives have been seeing, Yahoo gets it and is sitting on a gold mine. Yahoo has to realize that Microsoft sees the same thing and is pushing hard with a proper focus and passion to get there as well.

Google Overvalued

What does this mean for Google? I am not sure. Google is a technology company that is focussed on some hard problems, but it has to focus on solutions that people can use. Google aims for simple interfaces, but does not provide simple solutions or leaves out part of the solutions to keep it simple. They need a person-centered approach to their products. The addition of Jeff Veen and his Measure Map team should help, if they listen. Google has some excellent designers who are focussed on usable design for the people, but it seems that the technology is still king. That needs to change for Google to stay in the game.

May 7, 2006

Final Cut Pro Site is Stunning

I am not sure when this started, but Apple has started showing its product stories for Final Cut Pro in stunning video. I have been watching and saving down the movies. They are so much better than text for getting me sucked into the story and the pitch. They are each so stunning. So very Apple. Finally!

Apple Pro tools are some of the best on the market and not only put others to shame, they are much less expensive. I have been playing with the movie capabilities in iMovie HD this past week. In 10 minutes I can shoot a movie of my son, edit, and publish to a web page that I can mail those I want to see the page. That to me was hands down incredible. I am not dealing with HD quality video, but the capability is fully there. I just wanted to share a clip with friends and family quickly and get back to work.

Yes, 10 minutes. I have had iMovie for a few years and never played with it much. When I moved to a faster PowerBook this last year I started realizing the potential that was in my hands.

I am continually in awe of Apple for its simplicity, power, beauty, and potential it puts in my hands.

April 7, 2006

CIO Magazine Gets Tagging and Folksonomy

CIO magazine has a wonderful article by Michael Fitzgerald on The Name Game: Tagging tools let users describe the world in their own terms as taxonomies become "folksonomies.". I get quoted in the piece, but aside from that the editorial is very good. Michael gets that putting information in each person's vocabulary is important. We loose so much information and having the means to pull it all back in and refind it is an incredible tool to have with in our reach.

February 20, 2006

Ma.Gnolia Review and Color Me Disapointed

I have been digging around Ma.gnolia since it became public and I am finding it missing a lot of things. It is closer to Yahoo! MyWeb2 than but not doing things as well. The design is nice to look at, but there is too much white space and it requires a lot of scrolling. Watching people use, MyWeb, and the many other social bookmarking tools I see scrolling inhibits finding information, as having bits of information in the same line of focus draws lines of connection for the person using the site and this is a great value for the person using the tool.

Rating Bookmarks and Retention Modes

The rating bookmarks is something people say they want, but it is not used to often. People only bookmark what they like, they do not bookmark things they have no interest in. In spending time talking to people using social bookmarking tools they have two or three retention modes: self-interest, others have interest whom the individual values that the person uses as a filter for their attention, and community tagging.

Private Bookmarks and Community

Ma.gnolia has two modes for privacy, on and off. MyWeb2 adds community, which is extremely valuable. MyWeb2 even needs refinement on this front to make that more granular to greatly help findability and valuable community filtering. Not including these social aspects leaves Ma.gnolia behind in the field with a lot of catching up to do.

API, Walled Garden, and In-site Findability

Lacking an API is a serious problem, but it may be in the site somewhere, but the information is really not easily found on the Ma.gnolia site. This seems to be a nice gesture that Ma.gnolia wants to be their own user community, but that is the thinking of two or four years ago. Communities are opening up and walled gardens are opening to let the information and beauty get discovered.

There is Good

All is not needing improvement. I love the beauty of the site. The broad folksonomy well, as the person tagging is clear, the object tagged is clear, and the tags are clear. The ability to pivot when using two of the objects to find the third. I do like the Ma.gnolia approach of marketing by using visible celebrities tagging on their site.

Saving Bookmarks and Wrap-up

Lastly, Ma.gnolia touts their saved pages, but many social bookmarking services provide this service (well, accept as it is missing this component). It seems Ma.gnolia was targeted as a alternative, but those are a dime a dozen. There is nothing new in Ma.gnolia and many things that could have been and should be done a lot better. As I read the Ma.gnolia site is sounds like it is believed to be fully baked at this point, which I deeply hope it is not as this should be a start of the project and quickly fix the project and listen to users.

January 16, 2006

Hindsights for Moving Forward

The follow list of 10 lessons learned in the Guy Kawaskaki Hindsights blog post I have found to be outstanding. Last week I forwarded it to a few friends, but realized everybody could benefit from reading it. I fully embrace the list and by matter of chance I have largely lived this way. It is well worth a read at any age.

The real kick in the butt I got last year was from the Steve Jobs commencement speech at Stanford University (the audio of the Steve Jobs commencement speech is also available). This speech combined with a death in our family made the time in front of me look much shorter.

The passion for technology and seeing it become more usable so that information can be reusable so that people can actually use it in their lives took focus. This is now my full-time job. We as designers and developers need to look beyond the cool to the useful, the need, and breaking down the barriers for use of information and technology. I have a strong belief that technology can greatly assist us and ease or lives so to give us more freedom. It can also help us make smarter decisions to help others, ourselves, and protect the world around us. It can help us find communities of those with like minds, which helps us feel connected and empowered. But, with these benefits we must also be mindful that the sword of technology is double edged and we must understand how to protect ourselves and society from its properties that are not so beneficial.

January 11, 2006

Real Time Flight Tracking Site for Your Mobile

Thanks to Tim Boyd I found a wonderful Mobile Flight Tracking Tool (the flight tracking tool is described by Jon Gales the developer. Tim took a photo of the flight tracking tool running on his Treo.

This is exactly the right tool to do the job that many need. Everybody complains about the lack of mobile interfaces to flight on-time information when they are needing to meet somebody at the airport. The airlines solutions either do not exist, are not detailed enough, or have interfaces that are cluttered (even on a Treo). Airlines suggested arrival times are a joke as they are trying to compensate for their tendencies for late arrivals, which they get penalized on. This has lead to a 45 minute flight from Washington to New York being stated at a flight time of 2 hours or more. On-time flight is not anything close to an efficient guide.

Most of the airline sites only think of the desktop for decent information, but where real-time flight arrival information is important is when you are on the go. Jon Gales's application solves a real life information need in the context of life. A standing ovation for his work is in order. I wish more apps like this were in existence, information solutions for people's real lives (we do not sit at our desktops and most do not carry their laptops where ever they go).

When designing for the mobile (this app horizontally scrolls on my Nokia 3650 and solving that is a relatively easy solution) we need to cut out the clutter. We need to understand the information need and the information that can be provided on that small screen. Paring away what is not essential is a vital task. Getting to what is important is also important. What is important is accurate and useful information for people's given the context that people wanting to use the information on the go face.

January 1, 2006

For Many AJAX is Not Degrading, But it Must

A little over two months ago Chad Dickerson posted one of the most insightful things on his site, Web 0.1 head-to-head: 37Signals' Backpackit vs. Gmail in Lynx. You are saying Lynx? Yes! The point is what 37Signals turns out degrades wonderfully and it is still usable. It could work on your mobile device or on a six year old low end computer in Eritrea in a coffee house or internet cafe (I have known two people who have just done that in the last year and found Gmail did not work nor did MSN, but Yahoo did beautifully).

Degrading is a Good Thing

Part of my problem with much of the push towards AJAX (it is a good, no great thing that XMLHTTPRequest is finally catching on). But, it must degrade well. It must still be accessible. It must be usable. If not, it is a cool useless piece of rubbish for some or many people. I have been living through this with airline sites (Continental), commerce sites (Amazon - now slightly improved), actually you name it and they adopted some where in this past year. In most cases it did not work in all browsers (many times only in my browser of last resort, which by that time I am completely peeved).

When Amazon had its wish list break on my mobile device (I (and I have found a relatively large amount of others this past couple years doing the same thing) use it to remember what books I want when I am in brick bookstores and I will check book prices as well as often add books to my wish list directly) I went nuts. The page had a ghastly sized JavaScript, which did some nice things on desktops and laptops but made the page far too large to download on a mobile device (well over 250 kb). In the past few weeks things seemed to have reversed themselves as the page degrades much better.

Is There Hope?

Chad's write-up was a nice place to start pointing, as well as pointing out the millions of dollars lost over the course of time (Continental admitted they had a problem and had waived the additional phone booking fee as well as said their calls were up considerably since the web redesign that broke things for many). Besides Chad and 37Signals I have found Donna Mauer's Designing usable rich internet applications as a starting point. I also finally picked up DOM Scripting: Web Design with JavaScript and the Document Object Model by Jeremy Keith, which focusses on getting JavaScript (and that means AJAX too) to degrade. It is a great book for designers, developers, and those managing these people.

I have an awful lot of hope, but it pains me as most of us learned these lessons five to seven years ago. Things are much better now with web standards in browsers, but one last hurdle is DOM standardization and that deeply impacts JavaScript/DOMScripting.

December 29, 2005

Mobile Search is Not Interested in Mobile

One of the things that has been bugging me for a while is mobile search. I mostly use Google mobile search on my mobiles for search. It is not the interface, but the results that get me.

Mobile search should return mobile site results. I gave Google a huge clue as to my usage, "I am on a mobile device", which they have yet to find as a helpful part of their algorithm. If I search for information I on my mobile I should be able to get the search results pointing to mobile ready content. If not by default, let me set this as a preference (not that I want to with Google as they have this wonderful way of poorly allowing me to manage my identity (there is no way to manage your own identity on Google).

I would love to have mobile search engine give me mobile sites. Why? Many sites have moved to flooding their pages with rich interfaces (AJAX and Flash) for no value added to the customer. This turns a 25kb or even a (formerly large page) 60kb into a 200kb or even a 450kb page. Much of this added interface is of little value other than it is cute or cool on a desktop, but on a mobile device it make the page and the information on it inaccessible.

Myself and many people I talk with who use mobile search often have not tucked the information we want into our bookmarks or sent it to ourselves for easy access. I know what site had the information I am seeking or what site I would like to have inform me while I have a little downtime away from home or the office.

December 21, 2005

Delicious Lesson and Social Network Ecosystems

Joshua Porter brings up a wonderful point he is calling the "Delicious Lesson". The Lesson is incredibly important, as it is one thing that many tools and implementations of the social web do not get. The person must get value for their interaction in the service or it will fade.

I see so much focus on the technology, the interaction components, the network effect, etc. But, the driver for these services that are successful is that they have a direct primary value for the person choosing to use them.

A Little Effort for Greater Personal Payback

Jeff Hawkins (the inventor of the Palm device and pen-based writing language (Graffiti) Palm used) talks about the most important point for people to adopt and learn Graffiti was it gave the person value. Jeff points out that learning Graffiti took a little bit of time, but people could see value of learning Graffiti as it made for a quicker input of information. There was personal value that did not take a lot of initial effort to learn, which returned a much greater value.

Social Network Ecosystems

In social networks and personal interaction with web applications and their associated communities there is a ecosystem. The social networks have value chains. I have been playing with this idea for a few months (mostly with in the intersection of the Personal InfoCloud and the Local InfoCloud. I have been using it on some personal projects and it is weaving its way into my consulting practice (but with focus on the full ecosystem and values).

The personal interaction with the system/application/service and value derived is a viable measure, particularly when there are two points of value for the person. The first personal value is derived from the service returning direct value to the person for their interaction. In it is making one&039;s own bookmarks/favorites more easily refindable, the ability to expand one's own bookmarks/favorites beyond the functional restrictions of the browser, and having access to the bookmarks/favorites from any browser anywhere one has web access. The second value is the network value, which can be a feeling of digital philanthropy (doing it out of goodness), personal attention (being an authority, coolness, building points for alphaness, etc.), a driver for monetary reward (recognition increases clicks to an site with ad revenues, builds attention for a business, etc.), etc.

Attention is Value

Attention for those providing development, like in the widget communities for Yahoo! Widgets and Apple Dashboard is very important. In the podcast of the Niall Kennedy and Om Malik interview with Kevin Burton regarding APIs this issue gets brought up (beginning at 15:19 into the podcast). The example discusses Konfabulator (the original product name for Yahoo! Widgets) and Apple Dashboard. Kevin Burton (I believe) states Apple Dashboard has larger exposure than Konfabulator does at the moment and Apple could offer the developers more attention to get more people writing widgets for them. Here the initial value for the developers is attention, as is pointed out in the podcast. The developers are passionate about what they do (personal value in a platform for their expression of their development prowess), but the secondary value received is attention. In a limited pool of developers (not only for widgets, but APIs, and other open development arenas) value to the developer is attention, which can lead to monetary value. This value to the developer is going to be a driver for which service they provide their services (a secondary driver is ease of development). The value to the network is more widgets equal more cool things for the service, but the primary reason the developers are there, is often the value to themselves.

October 31, 2005

BBC Knocks Audio Annotating Out of the Park

Tom Coates shows off the BBC's Annotatable Audio Project. Tom gave me a preview early on Saturday and I was ecstatic. You see, what the tool does is provide an interface to annotate and segment audio on the web. Yes, podcasts can be easily segmented and annotated. This has been my biggest complaint with podcasts over the past year, okay since they started getting big (that is big for an early early adopter). I complained to people I knew at Odeo about the problem and they said they were working on it. I mentioned this to podcast enthusiasts at Yahoo! about nine months to a year ago and they said if they did podcasting that would be one of the first things in it as it was a big complaint. Did they? No, they made a product not too indistinguishable from every other product out there? Where is the innovation?.

Why is this Huge

The reason I am so excited about this is voice/audio is not easily scannable, like type. I can not easily skip ahead in a 30 or 45 minute podcasts to find that which I am interested in. Many friends will forward me links to a podcasts stating I have to hear what somebody says. Finding that segment usually means listening to much of the whole podcast.

The other downside is if I hear something stellar in a podcast my mind will mull over that item for a little bit. This means the minute to five minutes that follow in the podcast are lost on me. This is not a problem with written materials as I can skim back through the content and pick-up where my mind drifted (it is usually in these moments of drifting that I find the best solutions to things that have bugging me - the Model of Attraction came out of one of these).

A couple other items of note about this product. It is great interface design as it is interactive helps the person using the product know exactly what they are doing. The second is the segmentation is a great asset. With segmentation I can easily see writing a script to grab items of interest (27 seconds for here and 36 seconds from there, etc.) and having an automated audio stream built for me. Not only do I have a personalized audio stream, but since the originals are annotated and I can keep track of where the information is extracted from I can easily point others to the spot so they (or I) at some later point can go back and listen to more so to get better context (personally I don't think people are against attribution, it is just that we have made it so hard to do so in the past).

Voice and Audio is a Common Problem

The last couple time I have travelled in the USA I have run across people quite similar to me. None of us like voice. We are not particularly fond of the phone, for much the same reasons as I have problems with podcasts. Too much information gets lost. In phone conversations I am often saying, "I am sorry can you repeat that", in part because I did not hear, but the something that was stated just triggered a good though process for me and I missed what came after that moment. (What would be a great application is Tivo for the phone.) I continually am running new ideas and thoughts through what I believe and see how they may change it. It is the examined life - I enjoy living.

So what Tom and his cohorts did was make podcasts and audio more usable. It makes it searchable. One thing that would be a very nice addition is to have those annotating the information each have their own distinct layer. Just like with folksonomies, the broad folksonomy where each individual and each annotation on a distinct element provides a richer understanding and richer layer. (Such things would be really nice in Wikipedia so that I could remove the people who I do not think add any value to entries (in not polite terms - those who I know are wrong and are polluting the value of Wikipedia, which is far too much noise for me on the entries I would love to point to), or conversely to use a "white hat" approach and subscribe to the annotations of people and the distinct tags or terms they use in annotations. I have many people whose opinions and view I value, but on rare occasions it is everything a person has to say.

Filtering information in a world of too much information to keep track of is a necessity. Filtering is a must. It is about time we got here.

Thank you Tom. I hope your new team can innovate as much as you were allowed at the BBC, which has been the most innovative large enterprise going.

June 12, 2005

Designing with a Solution is the Problem

I finally put my finger on it. There has been growing frustration within me with where I work and as well with some of the leaders in the web design community of late. The problem and the solution has been known to me, but scattered in pieces and I did not pull all the pieces together until today. Why today? Well, it took a little doing, but I finally got my hands on this month's issue of Fast Company - June 2005, which I had been subscribed to until the May issue. It took a little bit of time to track down the issue as it was to the point in the month when the next months issues are getting put out. But, having that issue in hand (having read some on-line) I stumbled across my tipping point in the Be Cooler by Design column. I did not make it past the fouth paragraph when it hit.

It Begins with a Canyon

The paragraph has a header, "Show Them the Canyon" and discusses a designer at Ford, Giuseppe Delena, who would say, "Don't tell me you need a bridge, show me the canyon!" This was aimed at marketing people who would ask for specific design solutions, but not explain the problem.

That is my tipping point. Having to start with somebody's solution to design problems (most often solutions to the wrong problem). Not having the problems put forward, but an answer. An answer without anybody showing their work to how their arrived at the solution. For nearly four years I have been working, for the most part, with the end results of the work of others who started with a solution and worked that as a starting point, while never considering the problem (or in nearly all cases the multitude of problems they needed to solve). They did not understand the problems nor do they understand or know the standards and requirements that their end result must meet. Lastly they do not understand the medium in which they are working. In short it is a string of considerable messes that our team deals with continually. The sad complication is this is taxpayer money being spent (often quite nice sums) for end products that require incredible fixing to meet minimum standards and be usable on the web.

It is not my direct customer, who is in the same boat I am in as we support him (and he is one of the very few that really get what they are doing), but the "customer service" management and the management signing off on these projects that have become the problem. With the web, the business customer is not always right, the user is, as without the user their is no business customer. In our situation, by-and-large, the web being built is using what works for print and for multi-media, neither of which are solutions for text on the web. The business customer requires solutions for the wrong medium, which (as those who have sat through usability test find out) the tan text on brown background and all of the animated bits make using the information as is it is intended, nearly impossible.

Designers Must Explain Design Better

In part the design world is to blame as we have done a very poor job of educating the rest of the world as to what we do. We solve problems. We have spent an inordinate amount of time on learning everything we can about our medium, how people think, how people interact with our medium, how people interact with their devices (desktop, laptop, PDA, mobile, etc.) as they are all different, how to organize and structure for people interacting with what we design, how to build for people to give them freedom to choose the solution that is best for them, how to build for ease of use by people, and how to build for people to easily reuse what we provide (the list goes on). Yes, it is not a short list and I do not know a good designer who will truly claim they are done learning all of these aspects. We know what works best with everything we do know for the problems before us and we test everything we do and we iterate through our designs while always striving to make things better. Every designer I know loves to show how they got to their solution and document it for others to do, as their joy in designing is not repeating, but problem solving and innovating to better solutions. As designers we are always trying to learn what others do, so the good designers share in as much detail so others may learn what to follow and what to modify for even better solutions down the road.

In my current situation the lack of time to document and show our work is a major problem. The lack of documentation (or deliverables) is part of where the problem lies with the problems up the food chain (not that there are skilled designers or people that would understand up the food chain). If we had the time to show our work we could hand it to those at the beginning of the process so we could get better products with fewer problems when we receive them (although it is a very rare occasion that any of what we have produced for these purposes is ever followed). Many of the places up the food chain have sold a bridge with out ever seeing the canyon it is just a cookie cutter. It is rare when we get to solve the problems, either at the beginning or the end, we just get to fix it so it will just pass the minimum requirements, which are horribly low.

Understand and Explain the Problem First

This frustration has also flowed over to the web design community of late as there is excitement in the web community again. The excitement is not bad, actually it is great. But some of the new solutions are being framed as new wonder solutions without framing the problem they are solving. In the world of design (as it is with many other things) it is a realm where the answer to most every question is, "it depends". What is the solution? It all depends on many factors in the problem. Teaching how to understand problems and to walk through the decision process to get to the solution (or more correctly, one of many possible right solutions) is what raises the profession.

What has been happening of late in the web design/development community is looking at solutions that may be terrific implementations for a certain problem in a set environment, but proclaiming what is new is "the new way". For those that are not good designers or even designers at all, this approach reaches a problem point very quickly. It was not long after XMLHTTPRequest was coined AJAX that customers, and those I advise from farther away, started asking for their solutions to be AJAX. There are right places for AJAX, as it is just one of many solutions for problems where it may be one of the solutions. It is quite similar to aura around Flash as a solution, but AJAX has its benefits and detractors when compared to Flash.

Where the problem around the AJAX solution got tough was when AJAX was tied to a whole new exitement around the web. It was at this point the AJAX solution was being demanded from customers. I was hearing if from many corners, this great solution touted, was for customers the only way they would accept their final products. AJAX had quickly become the cure-all in customer's eyes, much like Flash had years before.

Our Responsibility

What we have to realize as designers, is people do listen and people want to believe there is one simple solution for all of their web problems, all of the information problems, etc. We know there is not a simple solution as of yet. In fact the digital information world is far more complex than it ever was, as Europe and Asia will attest, with the influx of mobile handheld use. (Europe and Asia have things a little better than the U.S. right now, as they have much less of a population that believes build for desktop (including laptop) solutions is the one way all design is heading.) Europe and Asia understand the world is far more complex and information far more useful when it can be used in context on a mobile device. The expanding of the devices and the realm of possibile solutions with their benefits and detractors across the many variables we monitor componded the problems we are solving. Simplicity is many designer's goal, but getting there is ever harder today and we must embrace the complexity (thank you Mike for turning that light on for me) and work through it. We also need to communicate the complexity to our customers so everybody understands it is not as simple as it seems.

It is this complexity of convergence around devices is also compounded by the flood of information people are experiencing, which is what has me loving the work I get to do around the Personal InfoCloud (and the Model of Attraction and folksonomy that are intertwined with it). This work is satisfying as it is not only defining the problems and working through possible solutions, but more importantly laying out frameworks to design and build solutions that others can use. There are increasingly people (who may become customers) that are coming and asking the right questions from the right perspective around the Personal InfoCloud, which may be another reason I really like working on it (we all love people asking smart questions). People are asking how to cross their canyon while describing the canyon and many times showing me the canyon they would like a solution designed for.

I think we all know what the next step is. It will not be happening tomorrow, but every day that passes makes the frustration that much worse. Knowing there is one point around which much of my frustration revolves may help me deal with it better.

April 27, 2005

Opening Old Zips and Finding Missing Passion

Tonight I finally got my old USB Zip drive to work with my laptop (I have not tried in a couple years) and it worked like a charm. I decided to pull most of the contents of my old Zips into my hard drive, as it is backed-up.

I started opening old documents from a project from four and five years ago and the documentation is so much better and detailed that what I have these days. The difference? Focus and resources. On that project I was researching, defining, iterating, and testing one project full-time. I was working with some fantastic developers that were building their parts and a designer that could pulled everything together visually. We each had our areas of expertise and were allowed to do what we enjoyed and excelled at to the fullest. Our passions could just flow. The project was torn apart by budgets and politics with the real meat of it never going live. A small piece of it went live, but nothing like we had up and running. But, this is the story of so many killer projects and such is life.

What is different between now and then? Today there is no focus and no resources to develop and design. I am in an environment overseeing 2,000 projects a year across 15 funding areas (most of the work done centrally is done on 5 funding areas), it is project traffic management, not design, not research design, not iterating, just balancing high priority projects (mostly it is 9 of us cleaning up others poor work). The team I work with is fantastic, but we have few resources (mostly time is missing) to do incredible work.

The looking back at the volumes of documents I wrote laying out steps, outlines of design elements, content assessments, schematics, data flows, wireframes, and Flash animations demonstrating how the finished tools would function I realize I miss that, deeply. I miss the passion and drive to make something great. I miss being permitted to dream big and solve problems that were untouchable, and best of all, go execute on those dreams. When I see members that made up that old team we reminisce, much like guys do about high school sports champion teams they were on. We had a great team with each of us doing what we loved and changing our part of the world, the digital world.

It was in that project that the seeds were planted for everything I love working on now. Looking at old diagrams I see hints of the Model of Attraction. I was using scenarios around people using and reusing information, which became the Personal InfoCloud. These elements were used to let others in on our dreams for that project and it was not until my time on the project was winding down (or there was no desire to move more of the whole product live and therefore no need for my skills) that I could pull out what worked well on project that made it special. Now others are getting to understand the Personal InfoCloud and other frameworks and models I have been sharing.

April 25, 2005

State is the Web

The use and apparent mis-use of state on the web has bugged me for some time, but now that AJAX, or whatever one wants to call "XMLHttpRequests", is opening the door to non-Flash developers to ignore state. The latest Adaptive Path essay, It's A Whole New Internet, quotes Michael Buffington, "The idea of the webpage itself is nearing its useful end. With the way Ajax allows you to build nearly stateless applications that happen to be web accessible, everything changes." And states, "Where will our bookmarks go when the idea of the 'webpage' becomes obsolete?"

I agree with much of the article, but these statements are wholly naive in my perspective. Not are they naive, but they hold up examples of the web going in the wrong direction. Yes, the web has the ability to build application that are more seemless thanks to the that vast majority of people using web browsers that can support these dynamic HTML techniques (the techniques are nothing new, in fact on intranets many of us were employing them four or five years ago in single browser environments).

That is not the web for many, as the web has been moving toward adding more granular information chunks that can be served up and are addressible. RESTful interfaces and "share this page" links are solutions. The better developers in the Flash community has been working to build state into their Flash presentations to people can link to information that is important, rather than instructing others to click through a series of buttons or wait through a few movies to get to desired/needed information. The day of one stateless interface for all information was behind us, I hope to hell it is not enticing a whole new generation of web developers to lack understanding of state.

Who are providing best examples? Flickr and Google Maps are two that jump to mind. Flickr does one of the best jobs with fluid interfaces, while keeping links to state that is important (the object that the information surrounds, in this case a photograph). Google Maps are stunning in their fluidity, but during the whole of one's zooming and scrolling to new locations the URL remains the same. Google Map's solution is to provide a "Link to this page" hyperlink (in my opinion needs to be brought to the visual forefront a little better as I have problems getting people to recognize the link when they have sent me a link to rather than their intended page).

Current examples of a poor grasp of state is found on the DUX 2005 conference site. Every page has the same URL, from the home page, to submission page, to about page. You can not bookmark the information that is important to yourself, nor can you send a link to the page your friend is having problems locating. The site is stateless in all of its failing glory. The designer is most likely not clueless, just thoughtless. They have left out the person using the site (not users, as I am sure their friends whom looked at the design thought it was cool and brilliant). We have to design with people using and resusing our site's information in mind. This requires state.

When is State Helpful?

If you have important information that the people using your site may want to directly link to, state is important as these people will need a URL. If you have large datasets that change over time and you have people using the data for research and reports, the data must have state (in this case it is the state of the data at some point in time). Data that change that does not have state will only be use for people that enjoy being selected as a fool. Results over time will change and all good academic research or professional researchers note the state of the data with time and date. All recommendations made on the data are only wholly relevant to that state of the data.

Nearly all blogging tools have "permalinks", or links that link directly to an unchanging URL for distinct articles or postings, built into the default settings. These permalinks are the state function, as the main page of a blog is fluid and ever changing. The individual posts are the usual granular elements that have value to those linking to them (some sites provide links down to the paragraph level, which is even more helpful for holding a conversation with one's readers).

State is important for distinct chunks of information found on a site. Actions do not seem state-worthy for things like uploading files, "loading screens", select your location screens (the pages prior and following should have state relative to the locations being shown on those pages), etc.

The back button should be a guide to state. If the back button takes the user to the same page they left, that page should be addressable. If the back button does not provide the same information, it most likely should present the same information if the person using the site is clicking on "next" or "previous". When filling out an application one should be able to save the state of the application progress and get a means to come back to that state of progress, as people are often extremely aggravated when filling out longs forms and have to get information that is not in reach, only to find the application times out while they are gone and they have to start at step one after being many steps into the process.

State requires a lot of thought and consideration. If we are going to build the web for amateurization or personal information architectures that ease how people build and structure their use of the web, we must provide state.

April 15, 2005

Two new Entries at Personal InfoCloud

Over at Personal InfoCloud there are some new postings. Good Bye to the User and Focus of Startups were both posted this week.

April 12, 2005

Entering the Bubble

Today my copy of John Thackara's In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World arrived. I have read through 10 pages so far and it seems like it may live up to what I had hoped it would, my next book I obsess over. The last book was Digital Ground. Digital Ground took rough edges off many of the ideas I had been working through for a few years. It also extended me limited view to a much broader horizon. It is with this expectation that I read In the Bubble.

I will keep you apprised of my adventure through the pages.

March 26, 2005

Yahoo360 and the Great Interaction Design Yardstick

Jeremy Zawodney talks about a Yahoo preview of Yahoo360 to which they invited "influencers" to provide honest feedback (Danah Boyd provides her wonderful view too).

What I really like about Jeremy's post is the repeated reference to Flickr when explaining things. The key thing is that Flickr (yes it is now owned by Yahoo) knocks the snot of of other's interaction design. Flickr set the standard and it is what many other web-based products are truly lacking. Getting the interface and interaction right is not half the battle, it is the battle. So few do it well and very few execs around the industry get that. What is lacking in so many products is design that creates, not just an ease of use, but a fun successful experience.

Flickr makes refindability of the pictures a person posts much easier by using tags that make sense to the person providing the tags. The interface for providing the tags is simple and does not take the user away from the interface (thanks to Ajax). The rest of the options are done simply from a person using the site's perspective. Everybody I know gets completely immersed in Flickr. This is something I can not say about Ofoto or other photo sharing sites, one goes to these sites to see the pictures somebody you know has taken. Flickr can be the most efficient photo sharing tool for uploading and managing one's own photos too.

Simply it is make things easy to accomplish tasks, focussing on what the person wants and need from the product. Accomplish this feat at the same time make it fun. There is no harm in making life enjoyable.

March 11, 2005

IA for the Personal InfoCloud

At the IA Summit 2005 (Montreal) I spoke on IA for the Personal InfoCloud, which seemed to go over quite well. The presentation of the slides of IA for the Personal InfoCloud (2.64MB PDF) can be downloaded. The time to present this was rather short, but I added a scenario to walk through a possible scenario that runs across environments (work, mobile, and home) with two contexts for each.

There is a lot I still have not presented on this that makes it more usable today in many environments. It is particularly helpful if you are designing across devices, building for personal management of the information, and/or designing for information use and reuse. If anybody would like me to present the full presentation and help them understand this better, please contact me (e-mail is above or use vanderwal on the address).

I was asked about the cloud a few times. The Personal InfoCloud is the rough cloud of information that follows us as we go from place to place, this cloud keeps all the information the person wants to be kept nearby.

Dan Willis offered, not only great advice on my visuals, but replacement visuals. I will work to use these excellent replacements in the coming presentations.

February 28, 2005

Jef Raskin has Passed Away

In sadness and condolence to his family, Jef Raskin passed away. Jef was an inspiration to nearly every designer and developer, by helping us to aim to make products that were intuitive and extremely useful. It is my hope that is vision lives on in the lives and minds of all those he inspired and still inspires.


February 21, 2005

Explaining and Showing Broad and Narrow Folksonomies

I have been explaining the broad and narrow folksonomy in e-mail and in comments on others sites, as well as in the media (Wired News). There has still been some confusion, which is very understandable as it is a different concept that goes beyond a simple understanding of tagging. I have put together a couple graphics that should help provide a means to make this distinction some what clearer. The folksonomy is a means for people to tag objects (web pages, photos, videos, podcasts, etc., essentially anything that is internet addressable) using their own vocabulary so that it is easy for them to refind that information again. The folksonomy is most often also social so that others that use the same vocabulary will be able to find the object as well. It is important to note that folksonomies work best when the tags used to describe objects are in the common vocabulary and not what a person perceives others will call it (the tool works like no other for personal information management of information on the web, but is also shared with the world to help others find the information).

Broad Folksonomy

Let's begin with the broad folksonomy, as a tool like delivers. The broad folksonomy has many people tagging the same object and every person can tag the object with their own tags in their own vocabulary. This lends itself very easy to applying the power law curve (power curve) and/or net effect to the results of many people tagging. The power terms and the long tail both work.

The broad folksonomy is illustrated as follows.
visualization of the text on broad folksonomies that follows
From a high level we see a person creates the object (content) and makes it accessible to others. Other people (groups of people with the same vocabulary represented people blobs and noted with alphabet letters) tag the object (lines with arrows pointing away from the people) with their own terms (represented by numbers). The people also find the information (arrows on lines pointing from the numeric tags back to the people blobs) based on the tags.

Digging a little deeper we see quite a few people (8 people) in group "A" and they have tagged the object with a "1" and a "2" and they use this term to find the object again. Group "B" (2 people) have applied tag "1" and "2" to the object and they use tag terms "1", "2", and "3" to find the information. Group "C" (3 people) have tagged the object with "2" and "3" so that they can find the object. Group "D" has also tagged the object with tag "3" so that they may refind the information this group may have benefitted from the tagging that group "C" provided to help them find the information in the first place. Group "E" (2 people) uses a different term, "4", to tag the object than others before it and uses only this term to find the object. Lastly, group "F" (1 person) uses tag "5" on the object so that they may find it.

Broad Folksonomy and the Power Curve

The broad folksonomy provides a means to see trends in how a broad range are tagging one object. This is an opportunity to see the power law curve at work and show the long-tail.
Shows tag 2 with 13 people tagging, tag 1 with 10 people, tag 3 with 5 people, tag 4 with 2 people, and tag 5 with 1 person
The tags spike with tag "2" getting the largest portion of the tags with 13 entries and tag "1" receiving 10 identical tags. From this point the trends for popular tags are easy to see with the spikes on the left that there are some trends, based on only those that have tagged this object, that could be used extract a controlled vocabulary or at least know what to call the object to have a broad spectrum of people (similar to those that tagged the object, and keep in mind those that tag may not be representative of the whole). We also see those tags out at the right end of the curve, known as the long tail. This is where there is a small minority of people who call the object by a term, but those people tagging this object would allow others with a similar vocabulary mindset to find the object, even if they do not use the terms used by the masses over at the left end of the curve. If we take this example and spread it out over 400 or 1,000 people tagging the same object we will se a similar distribution with even more pronounced spikes and drop-off and a longer tail.

This long tail and power curve are benefits of the broad folksonomy. As we will see the narrow folksonomy does not have the same properties, but it will have benefits. These benefits are non-existent for those just simply tagging items, most often done by the content creator for their own content, as is the means Technorati has done, even with their following tag links to destinations other than Technorati (as they initially had laid out). The benefits of the long tail and power curve come from the richness provided by many people openly tagging the same object.

Narrow Folksonomy

The narrow folksonomy, which a tool like Flickr represents, provides benefit in tagging objects that are not easily searchable or have no other means of using text to describe or find the object. The narrow folksonomy is done by one or a few people providing tags that the person uses to get back to that information. The tags, unlike in the broad folksonomy, are singular in nature (only one tag with the term is used as compared to 13 people in the broad folksonomy using the same tag). Often in the narrow folksonomy the person creating the object is providing one or more of the tags to get things started. The goals and uses of the narrow folksonomy are different than the broad, but still very helpful as more than one person can describe the one object. In the narrow the tags are directly associated with the object. Also with the narrow there is little way of really knowing how the tags are consumed or what portion of the people using the object would call it what, therefore it is not quite as helpful as finding emerging vocabulary or emergent descriptions. We do find that tags used to describe are also used for grouping, which is particularly visible and relevant in Flickr (this is also done in broad folksonomies, but currently not to the degree of visibility that it is done on Flickr, which may be part of the killer interactive environment Ludicorp has created for Flickr).

The narrow folksonomy is illustrated as follows.
vizualization of the text on narrow folksonomies that follows
From a high level we see a person creates the object and applies a tag ("1") that represents what they call the object or believe describes the object. There are fewer tags provided than in a broad folksonomy and there is only one of each tag applied to the object. The consumers of the object also can apply tags that help them find the object or describe what they believe are the terms used to describe this object.

A closer look at the interaction between people and the object and tags in a narrow folksonomy shows us that group "A" uses tag "1" to find and come back to the object (did the creator do this on purpose? or did she just tag it with what was helpful to her). We see group "B" also using tag "1" to find the object, but they have tagged the object with tag "2" to also use as a means to find the object. Group "C" uses tag "1","2", and "3" to find the object and we also note this group did not apply any of its own tags to the object as so is only a consumer of the existing folksonomy. We see group "D" uses tags "2" and "3" to find the objects and it too does not add any tags. Group "E" is not able to find the object by using tags as the vocabulary it is using does not match any of the tags currently provided. Lastly, group "F" has their own tag for the object that they alone use to get back to the object. Group "F" did not find the object through existing tags, but may have found the object through other means, like a friend e-mailed them a link or the object was included in a group they subscribe to in their feed aggregator.

We see that the richness of the broad folksonomy is not quite there in a narrow folksonomy, but the folksonomy does add quite a bit of value. The value, as in the case of Flickr, is in text tags being applied to objects that were not findable using search or other text related tools that comprise much of how we find things on the internet today. The narrow folksonomy does provide various audiences the means to add tags in their own vocabulary that will help them and those like them to find the objects at a later time. We are much better off with folksonomies than we were with out them, even if it is a narrow folksonomy being used.


We benefit from folksonomies as the both the personal vocabulary and the social aspects help people to find and retain a tether to objects on the web that are an interest to them. Who is doing the tagging is important to understand and how the tags are consumed is an important factor. This also helps us see that not all tagging is a folksonomy, but is just tagging. Tagging in and of its self is a helpful step up from no tagging, but is no where near as beneficial as opening the tagging to all. Folksonomy tagging can provide connections across cultures and disciplines (an knowledge management consultant can find valuable information from an information architect because one object is tagged by both communities using their own differing terms of practice). Folksonomy tagging also makes up for missing terms in a site's own categorization system/taxonomy. This hopefully has made things a little clearer for all in our understanding the types of folksonomies and tagging and the benefits that can be derived.

This entry first appeared at Personal InfoCloud and comments are open for your use there.

February 20, 2005

The Future of Newspapers

A state of the newspaper industry article in today's Washington Post tries to define what people want from newspapers and what people are doing to get information.

Me? I find that newspapers provide decent to great content. Newspapers are losing readers of their print versions, but most people I know are new reading more than one paper, but online. The solutions I see from my vantage are as follows.


The articles rarely have ads that relate to the stories, foolishly missing ad revenues. The ads that are available are distracting and make for an extremely poor experience for the reader. News sites should ban the improperly targeted inducements that rely on distracting from reading the article, which is the reason the person is on that web page. The person has an interest in the topic. There are monetary opportunities to be had if the news outlets were smart and advertisers were smart.

How? If I am reading an article on the San Francisco Giants I would follow and may pay a little something for an ad targeted to this interest of mine. I like to buying Giants tickets, paraphernalia, a downloadable video of the week's highlights, etc. If I am reading about an airline strike a link to train tickets would be a smart option. A news article about problems in the Middle East could have links to books by the journalist on the subject, other background books or papers, links to charitable organizations that provide support in the region. The reader has shown an interest, why not offer something that will also be of interest?

We know that advertisers want placement in what they consider prime territory, the highly trafficked areas of the site. Often this is when the non-targeted ads appear. This is an opportunity to have non-targeted ads pay a premium, say five to 20 times that of targeted ads. The non-targeted ads have to follow the same non-disruptive guidelines that targeted ads follow. This is about keeping the readers around, without readers selling ads does not make any sense.


One area the news site are driving me crazy is access to the archives. The news sites that require payment to view articles in the archives are shooting themselves in the foot with this payment method and amount required to cough up to see an article that may or may not be what the person interested is seeking. The archives have the same opportunity to sell related ads, which in my non-professional view, would seem like they would have more value as the person consuming the information has even more of an interest as they are more than a casual reader. Any payment by the person consuming the information should never be more than the price for the whole print version. The articles cost next to nothing to store and the lower the price the more people will be coming across the associated advertising.

Blogging and personal sites often point to news articles. Many of us choose whom we are going to point to based on our reader's access to that information at any point in the future. We may choose a less well written article, but knowing it will be around with out having to pay extortionist rates to see it is what many of us choose. Yes, we are that smart and we are not as dumb as your advertisers are telling you. We, the personal site writers are driving potential ad revenues to you for free, if you open your articles for consumption.


Loyalty to one paper is dead, particularly when there are many options to choose to get our news from. We can choose any news source anywhere in the world. Why would we choose yours? Easy access, good writing, point of view, segment coverage (special interests - local, niche industries, etc), etc. are what drive our decisions.

I often choose to make my news selections to include sources from outside my region and even outside my country. Why? I like the educated writing style that British sources offer. I like other viewpoints that are not too close to the source to be tainted. I like well researched articles. I like non-pandering viewpoints. This is why I shell out the bucks for the Economist, as it is far better writing than any other news weekly in the U.S. and it pays attention to what is happening around the world, which eventually will have an impact to me personally at some point in the future. I don't have patience for mediocrity in journalism and the standards for many news sources have really slipped over the past few years.

News sources should offer diversity of writing style and opinion of one source will attract attention. The dumbing down of writing in the news has actually driven away many of those that are willing to pay to read the print versions. Under educated readers are not going to pay to read, even if it is dumbed down. Yes, the USA Today succeeded in that, but did you really want those readers at the loss of your loyal revenue streams?

Loyalty also requires making the content available easily across devices. Time and information consumption has changed. We may start reading an article in the print edition (even over somebody's shoulder and want to follow-up with it. We should be able to easily find that article online at our desk or from our mobile device. Integration of access across devices is a need not a nicety and it is not that difficult to provide, if some preparation is done with the systems. Many of us will pull RSS feeds from our favorite news sources and flag things for later consumption, but the news sites have not caught on how to best enable that. We may pull feeds at one location, but may have the time and focus to read them at another location, but we may not have the feeds there. Help those of us that are loyal consume your information in a pan-medium and pan-device world that we live in.

February 16, 2005

All the Blog that is Fit To...

From the blog realm. Elise Bauer provides an excellent overview of available blog tools. This is a very good article on the business of weblog tool development and what the tools offer.

The fine folks at Six Apart launched their redesign today. Not only is there a new look, but the navigation is improved and is now consistent. All of the Six Apart properties are now united, which is also very helpful. Their site is looking less like a blog and more like a professional software company, but the secret it is their sites are run by their blogging tools. Great job 6A and Mule who did much of the work!

December 31, 2004

Books Read in 2004

I bought and read one standout book this year, Malcolm McCullough's Digital Ground mixed in with many more that I enjoyed. Digital Ground stood out as it combined a lot of things I had been thinking about, but had not quite pulled together. It brought interaction design front and center in the ubiquitous computing and mobile computing spectrum. I have been working on the Personal InfoCloud for a few years now and this really moved my thinking forward in a great leap. I considering better questions and realizing there are many next step, but few of these next steps the design community (in the broad user experience design sense) seems ready for at this time. One of the key components that is not was thought through is interaction design and the difference place makes in interaction design. It was one book that got my highlighter out and marking up, which few books have done in the past couple years.

I greatly enjoyed the troika of books on the mind that came out in 2004. The first was Mind Wide Open by Stephen Berlin Johnson, which was a relatively easy read and brought to mind much of how we use are minds in our daily lives, but also how we must think of the coginitive processes in our design work. Mind Wide Open focussed on improving one's attention, which is helpful in many situations, but I have had a running question ever since reading the book regarding focus of attention and creative problem resolution (I do not see focus of attention good for creative problem resolution).

The second book was On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins. On Intelligence is similar to Mind Wide Open, but with a different frame of reference. Hawkins tries to understand intelligence through refocussing on predictive qualities and not so much on results based evaluation (Turing Test). I really like the Hawkins book, which throws in some guesses in with scientifically proven (unfortunately these guesses are not easily flagged), but the predictive qualities and the need for computing to handle some of the predictive qualities to improve people's ability to handle the flood of information.

Lastly, for in the mind book troika I picked up and have been reading Mind Hacks by Tom Stafford and Matt Webb. This is one of the O'Reilly Hack series of books, but rather than focussing on software, programming, or hardware solutions these to gents focus on the mind. Mind tricks, games, and wonderful explainations really bring to life the perceptions and capabilites of the grey lump in our head. I have been really enjoying this as bedtime reading.

Others in related genres that I have read this year, Me++: The Cyborg Self in the Networked City by William Mitchell, which was not a soaring book for me, mostly because Ihad just read Digital Ground and it should have been read in the opposite order, if I had cared to. Linked: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What it Meands by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi was a wonderful read, once I got through the first 20 pages or so. I had purched the book in hardback when it first came out and I was not taken by the book in the first 20 pages. This time I got past those pages and loved every page that followed. Barabasi does a wonderful job explaining and illustrating the network effect and the power curve. This has been incorporated into my regular understanding of how things work on the internet. I have learned not to see the power curve as a bad thing, but as something that has opportunities all through out the curve, even in the long tail. On the way back from Amsterdam I finally read Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, which was quite a wonderful end to that trip.

I picked up a few reference books that I enjoyed this year and have bought this year and have proven to be quite helpful. 250 HTML and Web Design Secrets by Molly Holzschlag. CSS Cookbook by Chris Schmitt. More Eric Meyer on CSS by Eric Meyer.

On the Apple/Mac front the following reference books have been good finds this year. Mac OS X Unwired by Tom Negrino and Dori Smith. Mac OS X Power Hound by Rob Griffths.

Two very god books for those just starting out with web design (Molly's book above would be a good choice also). Web Design on a Shoestring by Carrie Bickner. Creating a Web Page with HTML : Visual QuickProject Guide by Elizabeth Castro.

The year started and ended with two wonderful Science Fiction romps. Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow. Jennifer Government by Max Barry.

Update: I knew I would miss one or more books. I am very happy that 37signals published their Defensive Design for the Web: How To Improve Error Messages, Help, Forms, and Other Crisis Points, as it is one of the best books for applications and web development on how to get the little things right. The tips in the book are essential for getting things right for the people using the site, if these essentials are missed the site or application is bordering on poor. Professionally built sites and applications should work toward meeting everything in this book, as it is not rocket science and it makes a huge difference. Every application developer should have this book and read it.

December 28, 2004

Information Waste is Rampant

Fast Company published costs facing business. The top four relate to poor design and information use: Poor knowledge harnessing ($1.4 Trillion); Digital publishing inefficiencies ($750 billion); Data quality problems ($600 billion); and Paper-based trade processes ($400 billion). That is 3.15 Trillion U.S. dollars down the tubes with no benefit.

The solutions are not that difficult, but everybody seems happy to use the rear view mirror to view the future.

Christina stated, "What me worry" about design and business. The whole CIO is a sham as the CIO is a technology driven person, which is tangentially related to information and technology still hinders information flow if not planned for properly (more on this is coming in the near future here on this site). There needs to be a chief level position that cares about the information, the people using it, and the people who create the information. To Christina's post I responded with the following on her site (posted here so I can better keep track of it):

It seems like the 80s all over again. The focus on design in the to late 80s, mostly with unified branding and creative practices formally brought in-house. There was a lot of push around design, mostly labelled branding (nearly the exact same discussions, but slightly different terms). Much of this was around the brandhouses like Landor. The business community embraced the results and tried to incorporate the creative culture as part of their own.
What happened? The innovators were bought by large advertising or public relation firms and the firms changed their industry term to communication companies. Companies created corporate communication divisions (comprised of adversising, PR, branding, and other creative endevors) and had high level management visability.
By the early 90s the corporate environment had largely subsumed the communication into marketing and business schools that has embraced the creative mindset followed suit. Today marketing is often what trumps design and there is no creative in marketing. The creative departments by the late 90s had been gutted by the web craze. This left business types with little creative craft understanding as those driving what was once good.
It is not suprising that currently named "design" is taking off, as what was good about the creative was gutted and most companies lack central design plans. There is tremendous waste in cross medium design, as few sites are built with an understanding of the digital medium, let alone cross platform design or true cross media design. Part of the problem is far too few designers actually understand cross-platform and/or cross-media design. There is millions wasted in bandwidth on poor web design that is using best practices from the late 90s not those from today. There is no integration of mobile, with a few exceptions in the travel industry. There is still heavy focus on print, but very little smart integration of design in the digital medium. This even applies to AIGA, which is a great offender of applying print design techniques on the web. How can we expect business design to get better if one of the pillars of the design profession has not seemed to catch on?

There are large problems today and we need to break some of our solutions were have been trying to get to solutions that work. Not only do today's solutions not work today, they will not work tomorrow as they are only stop gaps. Cross-platform, cross-device, and cross-medium design solutions are needed, but technology is not here to deliver and few that I have run across in the design world are ready for that change as they have not made the change to today's world.

Today's designer focusses on getting the information in front of the user and stops there. They do not consider how this person or machine may reuse the information. There is so much yet to improve and yet the world is progressing much faster than people can or want to change to keep up. There are designers and developers who will not build for mobile (it is not that hard to do) because they do not see them in the user logs. They fail to see the correlation that their sites suck for mobile and mobile users may test once and go somewhere else for their information. The people that are seeing mobile users in their logs are the ones that have figured out how to design and develop for them properly (most have found that it is relatively inexpensive to do this). This is not rocket science, it is using something other than the rear view mirror to design for now and the future.

December 26, 2004

Flickr and the Future of the Internet

Peter's post on Flickr Wondering triggers some thoughts that have been gelling for a while, not only about what is good about Flickr, but what is missing on the internet as we try to move forward to mobile use, building for the Personal InfoCloud (allowing the user to better keep information the like attracted to them and find related information), and embracing Ubicomp. What follows is my response to Peter's posting, which I posted here so I could keep better track of it. E-mail feedback is welcome. Enjoy...

You seemed to have hit on the right blend of ideas to bring together. It is Lane's picture component and it is Nadav's integration of play. Flickr is a wonderfully written interactive tool that adds to photo managing and photo sharing in ways that are very easy and seemingly intuitive. The navigations is wonderful (although there are a few tweak that could put it over the top) and the integration of presentational elements (HTML and Flash) is probably the best on the web as they really seem to be the first to understand how to use which tools for what each does best. This leads to an interface that seems quick and responsive and works wonderfully in the hands of many. It does not function perfectly across platforms, yet, but using the open API it is completely possible that it can and will be done in short order. Imagine pulling your favorites or your own gallery onto your mobile device to show to others or just entertain yourself.

Flickr not only has done this phenomenally well, but may have tipped the scales in a couple of areas that are important for the web to move forward. One area is an easy tool to extract a person's vocabulary for what they call things. The other is a social network that makes sense.

First, the easy tool for people to add metadata in their own vocabulary for objects. One of the hinderances of digital environments is the lack of tools to find objects that do not contain words the people seeking them need to make the connection to that object they are desiring. Photos, movies, and audio files have no or limited inherent properties for text searching nor associated metadata. Flickr provides a tool that does this easily, but more importantly shows the importance of the addition of metadata as part of the benefit of the product, which seems to provide incentive to add metadata. Flickr is not the first to go down this path, but it does it in a manner that is light years ahead of nearly all that came before it. The only tools that have come close is HTML and Hyperlinks pointing to these objects, which is not as easy nor intuitive for normal folks as is Flickr. The web moving forward needs to leverage metadata tools that add text addressable means of finding objects.

Second, is the social network. This is a secondary draw to Flickr for many, but it is one that really seems to keep people coming back. It has a high level of attraction for people. Part of this is Flickr actually has a stated reason for being (web-based photo sharing and photo organizing tool), which few of the other social network tools really have (other than Amazon's shared Wish Lists and Linkedin). Flickr has modern life need solved with the ability to store, manage, access, and selectively share ones digital assets (there are many life needs and very few products aim to provide a solution for these life needs or aims to provide such ease of use). The social network component is extremely valuable. I am not sure that Flickr is the best, nor are they the first, but they have made it an easy added value.

Why is social network important? Helping to reduct the coming stench of information that is resultant of the over abundance of information in our digital flow. Sifting through the voluminous seas of bytes needs tools that provide some sorting using predictive methods. Amazon's ratings and that matching to other's similar patterns as well as those we claim as our friends, family, mentors, etc. will be very important in helping tools predict which information gets our initial attention.

As physical space gets annotated with digital layers we will need some means of quickly sorting through the pile of bytes at the location to get a handful that we can skim through. What better tool than one that leverages our social networks. These networks much get much better than they are currently, possibly using broader categories or tags for our personal relationships as well as means of better ranking extended relationships of others as with some people we consider friends we do not have to go far in their group of friends before we run into those who we really do not want to consider relevant in our life structures.

Flickr is showing itself to be a popular tool that has the right elements in place and the right elements done well (or at least well enough) to begin to show the way through the next steps of the web. Flickr is well designed on many levels and hopefully will not only reap the rewards, but also provide inspiration to guide more web-based tools to start getting things right.

December 23, 2004

Mobile in Suburbia

Last weekend I stopped in one of our local malls to do a little shopping before Christmas. The mall, White Flint, is a decent small suburban shopping mall. The mall has just gone through a minor renovation. One of the things that was added were small sitting areas in the center areas of the mall. They are nice little conversation areas to stop and rest your feet, etc.

One of the things in nearly every hand in the lounge areas was a mobile device. The age range was 30s to 60s and nearly every person had a device in their hands. There where some mobile phones, but most of what I saw were BlackBerry's and Treos. I don't know what tasks these people were doing, whether it was e-mail, games, checking shopping lists, price comparing on the web, text messaging, or what.

It dawned on me. Suburbia is onto mobile. Coming back from Europe in November I was down about how far behind the U.S. is with mobile (and personal technology use in general). One of the things that gets a lot of attention is urban use of mobile devices, but much of the U.S. is not urban it is out in the 'burbs. Molly presented a view of suburbia at Design Engaged and it has had me thinking about how people deal with information and how they use personal technology in suburbia. The mobile devices at the mall was an eye opener (granted I do not live in test market America as a mall with valet parking may not count as representative of the rest of anywhere). The mobile uses in Japan are reported as largely during commutes and walking time. In Europe I witnessed similar trends. In the U.S. we are married to the car (for better or worse), but we do go to the mall and leisure activities for families in suburbia revolves around kids sporting events, extra curricular activities, shopping, and waiting in lines. There is a lot of down time and it seems mobile has an opportunity to be the snack entertainment and information consumption time.

The trick is how to integrate mobile into the rhythms of the suburban life. How to use mobile to check and reset Tivo settings, get store and price information for items on the mobile user's or their family's Amazon wishlist. There are uses for pointers about cheapest gas when your car is getting low or a nearby car wash just after it rains. The mobile device can make easy work of this and it does not require much computing power, only some location and predictive web services.

There is so much more that could be done, but the carriers are completely clueless in the U.S. about services. It seems like it is prime target area for a Yahoo, Google, or Amazon that can integrate related information and provide quick responses to the users of their service. It much be effortless and painless. It must be a benefit but unobtrusive. It must respect the person and their desires for sharing information about them, but still provide predictive input for the person's uses.

I think we just expanded the Personal InfoCloud one more rich layer.

November 25, 2004

Personal Mobile Usage Pattern

One of the things that bubbled up while using a phone other than my usual phone on my trip to Amsterdam was my normal use patterns. I use my mobile phone (Palm Treo) not only to communicate with others, but also to communicate with myself.

I often send myself e-mails with ideas for projects or articles. I also send e-mails to myself on things to spend time thinking about later or to research later. I had one of these moments in talking with Peter Bogaards about Paul Otlet, whom I have problems remembering. I started reaching for my tool to send a note and had a different phone, which took a little more effort, but got the job done.

I also SMS myself with the cross streets of where I parked my car, or what garage level and other metadata. This solves an ongoing problem, particularly in Georgetown, where my normal parking patterns are ousted, I am parking in a completely new location, or parking in long term at an airport. All part of my mind occasionally not being on the task at hand or I am just deep in thought and did not make a conscious effort to remember where I parked.

One other usage I have is taking a photo of my radio display in my car or the song name and performer. This mostly happens when listening to XM Radio (satellite) as the options are broad and deep, which works wonders for coming across new music I like. The radio in my car does not have a means to save the song name, or even better would be to e-mail me the song info, a link to listen to a snippet, and buying information. I resort to the tools at hand. Yes, I only (well usually) take photos while stopped. I usually have 5 to 10 photos of my radio on my mobile at any one time. It makes it handy when I go into a music store or wait until I can put it in a wishlist online. I use my Amazon Wishlist to find items of interest in a store or to add to my Wishlist and having that live access has made things far better for me as a consumer (my only desire is to have a better mobile interface to one's own Wishlist on a mobile it would seem to have immense benefits for Amazon).

I also browse the web and read articles that I save down to my device to I have access in no-signal zones or zones that I do not have MMS or web access and just phone (DC METRO while underground). I often save down Boxes and Arrows articles for such trips. I also push articles and presentations I am working on to my mobile as back up as well as for review in down periods.

How do you use your mobile?

November 23, 2004

Cranky Interface to Bits and Bytes

Been a little cranky around these parts the past week or so. Much of it having to do with having personal observations of the web and design world fortified by my trip to Europe. The market I work in is somewhat behind what is going on in the U.S. in the design and information development is concerned. But, some of the problems I have been seeing as I have been working on Model of Attraction and Personal InfoCloud projects is a severe lack of understanding the cross device problems that users are running into.

My trip to Europe solidified the my hunch that others outside the U.S. are actually working to solve some the user cross device problems that occur. It seems the European market is at least thinking of the problems users face when going from a work desktop machine, to laptop, to mobile device and trying to access information. The U.S. is so desktop and laptop centered they are seemingly blind to the issues. Some of the problems everybody is facing are caused by the makers of the operating systems as the problems with syncing often begin with the operating system. Apple is definately ahead of others with their iSync, but it still has a ways to go.

It is painful to see many sites for mobile products in the U.S. that can't work on mobile devices because they are poorly designed and some even use FrontPage to throw their crud up. I have been finding many mobile users over the past year, across locations in the U.S., that find that lack of sites that will work on a mobile device appalling.

On the other side of the market I hear developers stating they do not develop for mobile users because they do not see them in their access logs. How many times do you think a user will come back and fill your user logs if your site does not work for them? Additionally we are talking about the internet here, not U.S. only information access points, and the rest of the world is mobile they are living in the present and not in the past like the U.S. I am being a little over the top? Not by much if any.

Part of the problem is only those around urban in the U.S. and ones that have usable public transit have the opportunity to use mobile devices similar to the rest of the world. Although mobile media streamed of a mobile is a killer application for those stuck in the commute drive (Fabio Sergio's From Collision to Convergence presentation at Design Engaged really woke me up to this option).

Getting back to information following the user... Providing mobile access to information is one solution and designers and developers have been making the web harder to use by not sticking to the easiest means of presenting information across all devices, XHTML. Information is posted in PDF with out notification that the information on the other side of the link is a PDF. After a lengthy download the mobile user gets nothing at best or their device locks up because it is out of memory or it can not process the PDF. This practice is getting to be just plain ignorant and inexcusable (ironically the U.S. Federal Communications Commission follows this practice for most of its destination pages, which only shows how far behind the U.S. truly is).

Another solution is to make it easier to sync devices across distance (not on the same network) or even have one's own information accessible to themself across the internet. Getting to the point of solving these problems should be around the corner, but with so many things that seem so simple to get and have not been grasped I have dented hope and frustration.

November 6, 2004

Model-T is User Experience Defined

Peter Boersma lays out Model T: Big IA is UX. I completely agree with this assessment and view. The field of Information Architecture is very muddled in the eyes of clients and managers as those pitching the services mean different things. Personally I think Richard Saul Wurman's incredible book on information design labeled "Information Architecture" caused a whole lot of the problem. The little IA was evident in the Wurman book and there are many concepts that were delivered to the IA profession from that book, but it was largely about information design.

Getting back to Peter Boersma's wonderful piece, the Model-T hits the correlated professions and roles dead on. This is essentially how things are organized. There are some of us that go deep in more than one area and others that are shallow in most, but also tend to provide great value.

September 5, 2004

Emerging Class Divide with Technology

Ben Hammersly does a wonderful job of highlighting the current state of The Emerging Two Cultures of the Internet and extends it in More on the Emerging Two Cultures. The two cultures are the geeks and real people. There are many tools and means to access digital information on the internet, but these are mostly available to the geeks that are early adopters or in some cases the adopters. Ease of use has not hit many of our friends and relatives.

Ben looks at the web as an place that again takes increasing knowledge and understanding of the arcane to get through the mire of spam, nefarious pop-ups, and viruses. There are some of us that understand how to go about doing this dance (or bought a Mac to make the whole thing easier) and do not find it difficult, but many would like to have the hours back to work on things more fun. The average person does not have the capabilities or time to stay on top of all these things. Ben's description of the Windows XP SP2 pitfall is right in line with the diverging communities. There is not a need for these, if things were done better in the first place.

Easing the Digital Realm

We have a system of tools that make information creation easy in digital formats. These tools may not be our best friend as of yet as many tools may be seemingly easy to use, but the tools are lacking when trying to easily develop information in an optimal format to ease the use of the information by the person consuming or interacting with that information. As people accessing information we find a lot of information, we may not always find the information we desire or need.

But, once we get the information and try to consume that information by copying parts into our reference notes for our work we run into difficulties. We also have problems storing the information so we can have it at the ready when we need it. It is very difficult, not impossible, to have information follow us in our Personal InfoCloud, which is our repository of information we want following us for our easy use and reuse.

Unfortunately those of us that can wrangle and have the time to wrangle with the tools to get them to easily, efficiently, and accurately perform in a manner that makes our lives easier are relatively few. There should not be two classes of people, things need to get better. The focus needs to get on the people using information and trying to reuse it.

September 1, 2004

Gordon Rugg and the Verifier Method

In the current Wired Magazine an article on Gordon Rugg - Scientific Method Man (yes, it is the same Gordon Rugg of card sorting notoriety). The article focuses on his solving the Voynich manuscript, actually deciphering it as a hoax. How he goes about solving the manuscript is what really has me intrigued.

Rugg uses a method he has been developing, called the verifier approach, which develops a means critical examination using:

The verifier method boils down to seven steps: 1) amass knowledge of a discipline through interviews and reading; 2) determine whether critical expertise has yet to be applied in the field; 3) look for bias and mistakenly held assumptions in the research; 4) analyze jargon to uncover differing definitions of key terms; 5) check for classic mistakes using human-error tools; 6) follow the errors as they ripple through underlying assumptions; 7) suggest new avenues for research that emerge from steps one through six.

One area that Rugg has used this has been solving cross-discipline terminology problems leading to communication difficulties. He also found that pattern-matching is often used to solve problems or diagnose illness, but a more thorough inquiry may have found a more exact cause, which leads to a better solution and better cure.

Can the verifier method be applied to web development? Information Architecture? Maybe, but the depth of knowledge and experience is still rather shallow, but getting better every day. Much of the confounding issues in getting to optimal solutions is the cross discipline backgrounds as well as the splintered communities that "focus" on claimed distinct areas that have no definite boundaries and even have extensive cross over. Where does HCI end and Usability Engineering begin? Information Architecture, Information Design, Interaction Design, etc. begin and end. There is a lot of "big umbrella" talk from all the groups as well as those that desire smaller distinct roles for their niche. There is a lot of cross-pollination across these roles and fields as they all are needed in part to get to a good solution for the products they work on.

One thing seems sure, I want to know much more about the verifier method. It seems like understanding the criteria better for the verifier method will help frame a language of criticism and cross-boundary peer review for development and design.

August 3, 2004

UXnet Aims to Unite the Splinters

Having trouble figuring what group will help you in your carreer as as a web designer that keeps information architecture, usability, interaction design, experience design, etc. in your toolbelt?

It seems there is a group that has come togther to help be the glue and bring all of these splintered groups together. UXnet aims to be the glue that draws the groups together. Many designers and UX/IA/ExD/Etc folks are lost in finding one good home and one or two good conferences. There are many resources, too many is what much of these designers and researchers say. Many of us wear many hats and need a good cross pollination to get better.

I have hope that UXnet will help close the chasm that keeps everybody apart. There are representatives from many groups as a part of the team pulling things together.

June 30, 2004

The User's Mind and Novelty

My commute-time reading of Steven Berlin Johnson's book, Mind Wide Open included the discussion of attention today, toward the end of Chapter 5, as Steven pointed out that Dopamine regulates the "novelty-seeking" axis. I began to think about MTV, Web development, advertising, and other entertainments. It seems much of the creative force in entertainment and design is aimed at triggering the novelty-seeking part of our brain to draw attention. I throw Web development in there as there is a desire for over decorating and using cool Flash (I love Flash, but it is often used as a container for content, which inhibits the easy consumption of the information) where it is not best used.

This also reminded me of a rough theory about executives and content owners and their understanding of Web design. The content owners and managers that get involved with their Web development want exciting and flashy sites developed because they are bored with their content. They have been working with their content for years and it is not interesting to themselves any longer, in short it is work not fun and the Web is fun. There seems to be a correlation to the formality of the content and the desire for Flash and over-the-top visual design. The finance and budget people want a banker lamp with words moving out of them. The legal department wants highly-graphic backgrounds for their text.

The cure for this injection of excitement is turning the focus to the users of the content, that are not bored with the information and need to find the information and are often craving the information. Focussing the content owner on how to make the words that are important and the text of desired information easy to consume helps turn the situation from decoration that distracts the user. The next step is to user test and show the roadblock, if not worse, that stands between the user and their desired information.

In terms of "novelty-seeking" for the users, their desired information is often the novelty. On information sites the users what to come and get what they want easily and quickly. Providing clarity to help the user get that which they need is the best service. The design should not be boring, but should be well though out to help direct the user's attention to what will help them the most. Information design skills and a solid understanding of how to use the medium well will benefit the user greatly as it will the content owners.

June 17, 2004

Malcolm McCullough Lays a Great Foundation with Digital Ground

Today I finished reading the Malcolm McCullough book, Digital Ground. This was one of the most readable books on interaction design by way of examining the impact of pervasive computing on people and places. McCullough is an architect by training and does an excellent job using the architecture role in design and development of the end product.

The following quote in the preface frames the remainder of the book very well:

My claims about architecture are indirect because the design challenge of pervasive computing is more directly a question of interaction design. This growing field studies how people deal with technology - and how people deal with each other, through technology. As a consequence of pervasive computing, interaction design is poised to become one of the main liberal arts of the twenty-first century. I wrote this book because I ran into many people who believe that. If you share this belief, or if you just wonder what interaction design is in the first place, you may find some substance here in this book.

This book was not only interesting to me it was one of the best interaction books I have read. I personally found it better than the Cooper books, only for the reason McCullough gets into mobile and pervasive computing and how that changes interaction design. Including these current interaction modes the role of interaction design changes quite a bit from preparing an interface that is a transaction done solely on a desktop or laptop, to one that must encompass portability and remote usage and the various social implications. I have a lot of frustration with flash-based sites that are only designed for the desktop and are completely worthless on a handheld, which is often where the information is more helpful to me.

McCullough brings in "place" to help frame the differing uses for information and the interaction design that is needed. McCullough includes home and work as the usual first and second places, as well as the third place, which is the social environment. McCullough then brings in a fourth place, "Travel and Transit", which is where many Americans find themselves for an hour or so each day. How do people interact with news, advertisements, directions, entertainment, etc. in this place? How does interaction design change for this fourth place, as many digital information resources seem to think about this mode when designing their sites or applications.

Not only was the main content of Digital Ground informative and well though out, but the end notes are fantastic. The notes and annotations could be a stand alone work of their own, albeit slightly incongruous.

June 2, 2004

Amazon Plog

Amazon is offering a "Plog" (personalized weblog) of offerings and order information as my front page to their site. I have a link to an order and offerings, which tell me what I rated or ordered in the past to get the offering.

I sort of like this front page as it has the info I am interested in, particularly why I am recommended a product and order info. I am not a fan of the "Plog" moniker. It is too much trying to "be" something, which it is not. Now if they could not return Dummies books when I search for DVDs or CDs.

June 1, 2004

E-mail I Can Use

I picked up a Gmail account over this long weekend. What , how did I get it? I bought it. Yes, I know they are free and I know it is still in beta. Yes, I got it from an auction site. No I do not think I am crazy.

  1. I subscribe to a lot of lists and I also get an incredible amount of e-mail to my personal address
  2. I do not have external SMPT access during the work day to post queries to lists or to quickly respond to mail.
  3. I did not have a Web mail account that allowed me to search or organize the e-mail as I wanted (searching through months if not years of list services is very helpful)
  4. I wanted to make sure I got a specific name
  5. I can use my mobile account to deal with personal e-mail and forward all other e-mail to Gmail
  6. I don't mind the advertising and having targeted ads is better than the garbage I don't care about

So far I am quite impressed with the interface. There are some things with the application that I was not expecting, such as spelling. I was also not expecting the labels for e-mails rather than silly folders. The labels allow for more than one category for each e-mail and the mail is not buried in a folder somewhere.

May 28, 2004

Apple Design Guidelines

Apple has published its Apple design guidelines, which are a great resource for anybody building an application. For many of us there is not much new, but it is a great resource to show clients and managers who are not sure about your user-centered development process.

April 11, 2004

Stitching our Lives Together

Not long ago Jeffrey Veen posted about Will you be my friend, which brought up some needs to better stitch together our own disperse information. An excellent example is:

For example, when I plan a trip, I try to find out who else will be around so I have people to hang out with. So my calendar should ask, "Hey, Jeff says he's friends with Tim. Will he be in New York for GEL?"

This example would allow up to interact with our shared information in a manner that keeps it within our extended Personal InfoCloud (the Personal InfoCloud is the information we keep with us, is self-organized, and we have easy access to). Too many of the Web's resources where we store our information and that information's correlation to ourselves (, LinkedIn, etc.) do not allow interactivity between online services. Some, like Upcoming and Hilton Hotels do provide standard calendaring downloads of the events and reservations you would like to track.

Some of this could be done with Web Services, were their standards for the interaction. Others require a common API, like a weblogging interface such as Flickr seems to use. The advent of wide usage of RSS feeds and RSS aggregators is really putting the user back in control of the information they would like to track. Too many sites have moved toward the portal model and failed (there are large volumes of accounts of failed portal attempts, where the sites should provide a feed of their information as it is a limited quantity). When users get asked about their lack of interest in a company's new portal they nearly always state, "I already have a portal where I aggregate my information". Most often these portals are ones like My Yahoo, MSN, or AOL. Many users state they have tried keeping more than one portal, but find they loose information very quickly and they can not remember, which portal holds what information.

It seems the companies that sell portal tools should rather focus on integration with existing portals. Currently Yahoo offers the an RSS feed aggregator. Yahoo is moving toward a one stop shopping for information for individuals. Yahoo also synchs with PDA, which is how many people keep their needed information close to themselves.

There are also those of us that prefer to be our own aggregators to information. We choose to structure our large volumes of information and the means to access that information. The down side of the person controlling the information is the lack of common APIs and accessible Web Services to permit the connecting of Upcoming to our calendar (it can already do this), with lists of known or stated friends and their interests.

This has been the dream of many of us for many years, but it always seems just around the corner. Now seems to be a good time to just make it happen. Now is good because there is growing adoption of standards and information that can be personally aggregated. Now is good because there are more and more services allowing us to categorize various bits of information about our lives. Now is good because we have the technology. Now is good because we are smart enough to make it happen.

April 1, 2004

Why Content Managment Fails

Adaptive Path's Jeff Veen explains Why Content Management Fails. It comes down to a people problem in his book, which I agree with.

It also comes down to poor initial analysis, poor product choice based on the initial analysis, poor implementation, and trying to solve a people and process problem with technology, which often just compounds the problem.

Also take a look at Peter's comments on Enterprise Content Management. Peter is Jeff's partner and has some great insights that I have experienced also. The framing the issue as a technology problem is one of the common failures and difficulties I have run into in the past seven years dealing with CMS. It did not take me long to figure out it is an information problem, process, and mostly a people problem. I seem to continually deal with people that do not understand the variables in the equation.

In my current role I am always witnessing managers on the client side wanting the glitzy and having little and&047;or poor quality content. Just as a content management technology will not solve content generation problems or turn your ragged tabby cat into a beautiful tiger, having a beautiful site will not solve the lack of good content. Hiring technologists to solve information and people problems is pouring money down a hole. The approach to the problems will not discover the problems as the right questions have not been asked, the right discovery methods have not been used, the right analysis has not been done, the right deliverables are not produced, which does not lead to success.

January 27, 2004

Project Oxygen Still Alive

Project Oxygen has progressed quite well since we last looked in (Oxygen and Portolano - November 2001). Project Oxygen is a pervasive computing system that is enabled through handhelds. The system has the users information and media follow them on their network and uses hardware (video, speakers, computers, etc.) nearest the user to perform the needed or desired tasks. Project Oxygen also assists communication by setting the language of the voicemail to match the caller's known language. The site includes videos and many details.

Project Oxygen seems to rely on the local network's infrastructure rather than the person's own device. This creates a mix of Personal Info Cloud by using the personal device, but relies on the Local Info Cloud using the local network to extract information. The network also assists to find hardware and external media, but the user does not seem to have control over the information they have found. The user's own organization of the information is important for them so it is associated and categorized in a manner that is easy for them to recall and then reuse. When the user drifts away from the local network is their access to the information lost?

This project does seem to get an incredible amount of pervasive computing right. It would be great to work in an environment that was Project Oxygen enabled.

January 23, 2004

Keeping the Found Things Found

This weeks New York Times Circuits article: Now Where Was I? New Ways to Revisit Web Sites, which covers the Keep the Found Things Found research project at University of Washington. The program is summarized:

The classic problem of information retrieval, simply put, is to help people find the relatively small number of things they are looking for (books, articles, web pages, CDs, etc.) from a very large set of possibilities. This classic problem has been studied in many variations and has been addressed through a rich diversity of information retrieval tools and techniques.

This topic is at the heart of the Personal Information Cloud. How does a person keep the information they found attracted to themselves once they found that information. Keeping the found information at hand to use when the case to use the information arises is a regular struggle. The Personal Information Cloud is the rough cloud of information that follows the user. Users have spent much time and effort to draw information they desire close to themselves (Model of Attraction). Once they have the information, is the information in a format that is easy for the user or consumer of the information to use or even reuse.

January 12, 2004

Doing Paper Prototyping

Matt asks for examples of people doing paper prototyping and he receives. This brief post with a few comments provides a great overview of this successful method of design and user testing.

January 4, 2004

Victor Summarizes Recognizing Digital Genre

Victor provides an overview of Recognizing Digital Genre, which is very similar to Andrew Dillon's Shape of Information. The quotes and insights of Recognizing are quite interesting to me. When you perform a lot of user testing this becomes apparent as you watch users place their mouse where they expect information as they try to perform tasks. I am thankful for the link to research.

January 3, 2004

Mixed Feelings about Apple Store in Bethesda Maryland

Mac Network News is reporting an Apple store coming to Bethesda, Maryland in Montgomery Mall.

I have very mixed feelings about the Apple store coming. While I trek to the Tysons and Clarendon stores in Northern Virginia and would love a store 5 to 10 minutes from my house, I still feel a very close tie to the local Apple resellers. I am a huge fan of the Absolute Mac store as they have an extremely knowledgeable staff, great customer service, and quick turn around times on perfectly done repairs and upgrades (I am willing to make the 20 minute trek to the store on Saturdays -- no late weeknight hours). (Absolute Mac has also been a fantastic resource to the local business community that understands Apple products let them get their job done and not have the computer get in the way.) I am also a customer of Mac Upgrades here in Bethesda and enjoy the ability to drop in on my way home from work or as a walk-in while doing other errands.

The local Apple resellers have provided expertise beyond what the Apple stores have provided and have better turn around on service times. The local stores are also very tied to the local community. The Absolute Mac store has been pushing to start a chapter of the local MUG, Washington Apple Pi, which would be a great meet-and-share for the Maryland Apple fans, while Mac Upgrades is a sponsor of Apple Pi.

All this said, I look forward to the Apple store coming to Montgomery Mall (my guess is it is going in where the Eddie Bauer store just vacated, which is near the official Palm kiosk). The Apple stores do a great job of introducing Apple products to the frustrated uninitiated PC consumers. The Apple stores are great venues to sit and watch new Apple users, be it iPod, iTunes, or Mac computers, come in and rave about their new found joy in digital consumer products and great computing products that actually let them do their job. I don't know how many times I hear customers stating they no longer battle their computer to do their work and are no longer wasting time or a lot of money on support for their PCs. These folks have been hardcore software programmers, business managers, store owners, students, designers, stay-at-home moms, etc. The love affair for Apple product grows from new seeds in Apple stores. The stores also provides hands-on experience to third-party consumer products and a broad array of software and add-ons.

While the Apple stores are great outreach and expansion devices for Apple and its great computing resources for consumers and enterprise buyers, the support and feeding on the Apple community has been performed by the local resellers and authorized repair shops. It would be great to have the Apple store offer repair and other services from Absolute Mac and Mac Upgrades, where applicable. Apple really needs to foster these relationships that have maintained and grown fans of great products for years.

December 23, 2003

Tanya on Virtual Teams

Tanya offers up a wonderful brief discussion of virtual teams. This is a topic I really enjoy (I have products that I greatly favor (Groove and AIM/iChat) as it really helps productivity, but also the documentation process.

December 18, 2003

Headers for everybody

I am trying out visual enhancements on the Off the Top weblog display. I have added the header titles for each of the entries, which I have wanted to do for a long time. This should make the page easier to scan for information.

I have used the dark blue color for the type and given it shading in the CSS to offset the header from the date. Once the headers were added the dates were lost on the page, so I have given the pale orange background color to break up the page a little more. The pale orange background also seems to help the reader scan the page more easily.

Depending on feedback I may keep this and add it to the other multiple entry pages in Off the Top.

December 14, 2003


I stumbled across Widgetopia, a collection of Web widgets corralled by Christina.

Keep It Short - Users Do Not Want to Read

I was excited this past week, as I got to go to the National Cancer Institute's (NCI) Usability Lab to participate in testing one of my client's sites. NCI is also behind Usability.Gov. We have been working with Ginny Redish and I have learned a lot. I found this past week to be a blast, well the parts at the Lab were a blast.

This week was the first time I have been able to be involved with usability tests in a lab. Up until now I have always done them at a user's desk, at a conference, or some other guerilla method. The scenarios, note taking, and interaction were similar, but the lab really seemed to evoke more open responses.

In the past I had found most users do not read much while they are seeking information, but once they find the information they will spend more time reading on the screen, print it, or save it out. A couple years ago when I was testing often I kept finding that we constantly needed to trim content and restructure the content for easier browsing or scanning.

This past week I was floored at how little users actually read now. The habits of skimming and browsing have become stronger skills and ones that the users strongly prefer to reading long text. The user wants their information now and many users would grown and bemoan even the sight of what appeared to be long text.

Another redesign I am working on has text that has been too long and too dense and I have been digging for research to help support the shortening of the text. I asked Ginny about the shortening of text and looking for research. Ginny pointed to her own handout on writing for the Web Writing for the Web (PDF document - 500kb). There is an accompanying biography for this handout and many other wonderful handouts on Redish & Associates, Inc. handouts page.

In looking into the shortening of text on browsing pages (as opposed to end page) I looked at Jakob Nielsen's Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed for a reference I did find that nearly all the sites in his book had greatly shortened their browsing text on their pages. Amazon had decreased their text to a very minimal amount surrounding the links, but once you get to the actual product page the volume of information grows, but it the information is still well chunked and is easy to scan and find the bits that are of most importance to the user. The news sites offer a great guide to this skill also, BBC News and CNN are very good examples. The breadth of information on these last two sites and the ease to get to top news is fantastic, particularly at the BBC site, which is a favorite site to glean ideas.

December 3, 2003

Category Agreement Analysis

Jared Spool explains the CAA - Category Agreement Analysis in his most recent article. Jared believes this is a strong tool for Information Architects to have in their tool belt.

Testing the Three Click Rule

Josh Porter of UIE test the Myth of the Three Click Rule. Josh finds out that users will continue seeking what the want to find after three clicks as long as they feel they are on the right track and getting closer. Most users will not abandon their quest after three clicks as had been suggested.

Oddly I remember this three click rule from four to five years ago and when we tested it we found the users we tested did not give up. There were other studies at that time that backed up what we were finding. Now in the last couple of years folks that are new to the Web are pontificating the three click rule again.

As always it is always best to test and just follow blindly.

November 1, 2003

iPIM and Chandler have a chair at the Personal Info Cloud

There are two articles that are direct hits on managing information for the individual and allowing the individual to use the information when they needed it and share it as needed. Yes, this is in line with the Personal Information Cloud.

The first article, The inter-personal information manager (iPim) by Mark Sigal about the problem with users finding information and how the can or should be able to then manage that information. There are many problems with applications (as well as the information format itself) that inhibit users reuse of information. In the comments of the article there is a link to products that are moving forward with information clients, which also fit into the Personal Information Cloud or iPIM concept. (The Personal Information Cloud tools should be easily portable or mobile device enabled or have the ability to be retrieved from anywhere sent to any device.

The second article is from the MIT Technology Review (registration required) titled Trash Your Desktop about Mitch Kapor (of founding Lotus Development fame) and his Open Source project to build Chandler. Chandler is not only a personal information manager (PIM), but the tool is a general information manager that is contextually aware. The article not only focusses on Mitch and the product (due late 2004), but the open and honest development practices of those that are building Chandler at the Open Source Application Foundation for Windows, Mac, Linux, etc. distribution.

October 19, 2003

RSS on PDAs and information reuse

Three times the past week I have run across folks mentioning Hand/RSS for Palm. This seems to fill the hole that AvantGo does not completely fill. Many of the information resources I find to be helpful/insightful have RSS feeds, but do not have a "mobile" version (more importantly the content is not made with standard (X)HTML validating markup with a malleable page layout that will work for desktop/laptop web browsers and smaller mobile screens).

I currently pull to scan then read content from 125 RSS feeds. Having these some of these feeds pulled and stored in my PDA would be a great help.

Another idea I have been playing with is to pull and convert RSS feeds for mobile browser access and use. This can be readily done with PHP. It seems that MobileRSS already does something like this.

Content, make that information in general, stored and presented in a format that is only usable in one device type or application is very short sighted. Information should be reusable to be more useful. Users copy and paste information into documents, todo lists, calendars, PDAs, e-mail, weblogs, text searchable data stores (databases, XML respositories, etc.), etc. Digital information from the early creation was about reusing the information. Putting text only in a graphic is foolish (AIGA websites need to learn this lesson) as is locking the information in a proprietary application or proprietary format.

The whole of the Personal Information Cloud, the rough cloud of information that the user has chosen to follow them so that it is available when they need that information is only usable if information is in an open format.

October 15, 2003

Personalization is not a preference writes that a new Forester report states personalization is over rated. This comes from many of the portal tool developers who are trying to push the technology. In discussions with users, many like their one personalized site, ( or and they prefer to pull content into these single broad portals.

It seems like the folks selling the tools should be focussing on syndication rather personalization of everything. Syndication, such as RSS, can be pulled into what ever personalized interface the user desires. Anecdotally I have found users also like getting e-mail opt-in as a means to find out when information is updated.

The user does not really have control of the personalized information as it is maintained on an external resource and not one that is truly close to the user. Users often prefer to have the information come to them where they can control it and sort into a system that works for themselves. The one personalized site may fall into a user's personal info cloud as they have a central place to find information, but if every site is personalized it is the disruptive factor is still in place, which keeps the user from having the information that they need when they need it.

October 1, 2003

Apple love

Mark Morford explains why Apple deserve gushing adulation in his San Francisco Gate column. For me yesterday's plugging in a new digital video camera and having the video just seemingly show-up ready for viewing and importing into iMovie was another jaw-dropping simple it-just-works moment for me. There have been very few difficult moments for me and my Mac. And when they do occur I am tweaking at the command line and getting used to a slightly different syntax for the variant of UNIX that Apple uses. (Note: there is no need for me to play at the command line, but it is something I find fun and rewarding, in a sick build my own soda can sort of way.)

I was also able to use the a Firewire cable to connect to my video camera and have iChat sense it was attached and put me in video iChat mode automatically. Oddly the Sony camera did not come with an iLink (Firewire) cable, odd in that they own some of the rights to Firewire but do not use the superior technology out of the box, instead opting for the poorer quality USB product. The Sony camera came with a CD full of software for Windows machines and drivers so that Windows users can use the digital video output on their machines. My TiBook needed none of that, it just worked easily and wonderfully.

While I am off work for a few days to help Joy and Will adjust I get to fully live in a Mac world. I can get things done and fit work in easily, I have had no virus problems, bugs, halting interfaces, or connectivity problems that plague me at work. Having work environments standardize on Windows is akin to having them endorse non-productivity.

Needless to say I love my Mac and Apple's attention to detail. It is almost as if they care about me and the work I do, by just letting me do my work. Apple does not care if I am coding, programming, being creative, writing, or performing analytics it just allows me to be productive. The amount of money saved in using my Mac more than makes up any price difference (laughable in that there is not a comparable product in the Windows world) for a similar product.

September 9, 2003

Getting Site maps and Site indexes right

Chiara Fox provides and excellent overview site maps and site indexes in her Sitemaps and Site Indexes: what they are and why you should have them. This overview and is very insightful. Many experienced users find well developed site maps very helpful.

The odd thing is that for the great assistance site maps and site indexes provide, new users and even general users rarely turn to these assistive tools. In the past five years I have only seen one or two users click on the site map or index in user testing sessions. When questioned why the user often states they do not find the tools helpful (read Chiara's article to build better tools) or they did not know to look for the links.

Jess offers Searching for the Center of Design

Jess provides an excellent take on Searching for the center of design in Boxes and Arrows this month. Whether you develop "top-down" or "bottom-up" this is a great read and show great understanding. He really hits the nail on the head in that there is usually one person who chooses which direction to go, this is usually not a user group but a powerful stakeholder.

The best we can do is be well educated and bring a lot of experience and educate the stakeholder, if that is permitted. Add to your education by taking in Jess article.

July 24, 2003

Typeface indicates nice weather

The New York TImes Circuits section covers weather sensitive typefaces. The Dutch designers Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum of LettError developed a malleable typeface that changes the form based on weather conditions. This would enable a person to perceive changes in the weather as they were reading their news or other information, all this done to changes in the typeface, which is being read for other content.

Samples of this work can be seen at the University of Minnesota Design School where a twin typeface demo is available as well as the temperature sensitive typeface.

These tools are not innately learned but would take time and instruction to get the user to the sensing ability. This type of secondary communication (the primary channel of information expression is the information being communicated in the content that the typeface is spelling out. Those of us that use and are attuned to our computer's audible cues do not have to think there is an error in the system, but it is conveyed in an audible tone that we recognize and associate with some state of being or in condition. Changing typefaces would be another cue to the world around us.

July 20, 2003

Jeffrey Veen on the State of the Web

Digital Web interviews Jeffrey Veen who discusses the current state of Web development. This is must read to understand, to not only understand where we are today, but also how Web teams are comprised today.

Remember when Web sites used to have huge home pages constructed entirely out of images so that designers could have control over typefaces? Thankfully, thatĂ­s mostly a thing of the past now. We all understand that speed is crucial in usability and, therefore, success. The designers who are left nowĂłthe ones who have succeededĂłare the ones with an aesthetic that is based on what the Web is capable of, and not some antiquated notion of graphic art applied as decoration to some obscure technical requirements.
Also, specialization is creeping into our industry and thatís a great thing. Weíre seeing Web design split into disciplines like interaction design, information architecture, usability, visual design, front-end coders, and more. Even information architecture is subdividing into content strategists, taxonomists, and others. I think we can safely say that there is no such thing as a ìWebmasterî anymore.

There are many more gems in this interview, including the state of Web standards and poor job Microsoft is doing to allow the Web move forward. (Jeffrey Veen's observations can regularly be found at Jeffrey Veen's online home.

July 9, 2003

Adaptive Path redesign exposed

Doug Bowman discusses the Adaptive Path redesign. Doug provides good insight into the CSS based redesign, which can be seen at the Adaptive Path site.

July 6, 2003

Ozzie gets the personal info cloud

Ray Ozzie (of Groove) discusses Extreme Mobility in his recent blog. Ray brings up the users desire to keep their information close to themselves in their mobile devices and synching with their own cloud.

This is the core of the "rough cloud of information" that follows the user, which stems from the Model of Attraction. Over the last few weeks I have spent much time focussing on the "person information cloud". I have a few graphics that I am still working on that will help explain the relationship between the user and information. Much of the focus of Experience Design is on cool interfaces, but completely forgets about the user and their reuse of the information. A draft of the "MoA Information Acquisition Cycle" is avaiable in PDF (76kb).

Ozzie's Groove has had some very nice features for maintaining a personal information cloud, in that it would save copies of documents to the network for downloading by others you are sharing information with. Other people can include one's self on a different machine. One very nice feature was all information stored locally or trasmitted was encrypted. This could be very helpful in a WiFi world where security models are still forming. I have not kept up with Groove as my main machine at home is a Mac and Groove is now very tightly partnered with Microsoft. Groove was one tool I was sad to lose in my transition, but I am still very happy with using an OS that just works.

Big thanks to Mike for pointing this article out.

July 1, 2003

BogieLand lauches with Peter Bogaards

Peter J. Bogaards takes the bold step and launches BogieLand (BogieLand in Dutch), which is an information design and information architecture firm. This is a bold and yet wonderful move for Peter, we wish him well and know he will do wonderfully.

Peter has been the person behind my first outward click of the day, InfoDesign an ID, IA, Usability, UX, and UCD aggregation site.

June 27, 2003

iChat AV has spell check

One quick item of note: Not only does iChat AV have great sound and wonderful video (been privy to both), but it has spell check. Yes spell check in iChat! I have been waiting for this for so long. It does not seem to be documented anywhere that I have found, but when I mis-type the words get a red underline, just like spell check in Safari, and I have the option of fixing.

June 18, 2003

Phone butler learns your ways

The Beeb offers insight into the Phone Butler. This phone app learns what calendaring events the user will set and which she does not. The learning how the user thinks is the wonderful part. This could be a nice step forward for artificial intelligence (AI) if it would grasp the fine discriminators.

In the past I have opened up my calendar requests to a coworker to accept and reject invites for me. This was needed as many days I have back-to-back meetings and face-to-face time on my way back from meetings. An application that could do this and respond when there are overlaps in appointments and know which has priority would be great. If it could synch my work and outside life across five machines and devices and four Operating systems and six applications I would be in floating on clouds.

June 8, 2003

Kevin Fox lifts the covers on his redesign

Following a current trend of public redesign process by designers, Kevin Fox puts his laundry out to air. I did part of my redesign in public, but not to the extent Kevin is doing (or Zeldman or Joshua Kaufman has been doing). Even post redesign overviews and commontaries are helpful.

Kevin is showing the steps many of us go through as a professionals. His analysis of audience usage patterns and wireframes are very helpful first steps that will frame the decisions made down the road. Many of us consider these the most important steps, but many more important steps will follow.

Maybe I should post the wireframes for this redesign. I think I ended up straying from the wireframes a bit as the header came to life one night and changed many things.

June 6, 2003

Keith's Navigation Stress Test

I recently restumbled across Keith Instone's Navigation Stress Test. This will help greatly when trying to sort out browsing structure issues when thinking through how well the user from the whole in the eaves. This is a quick mental jog to ensure the user can find what they are looking for, which will help the site owner's whuffie

The user from the drainpipe

Jeff Lash has posted an on target article at Digital Web, How did you get here? Designing for visitors who don't enter through the home page. This has been issue for to encourage clients to look in their access logs. Most often 40 to 70 percent of a whole site's traffic has their entry point to the site at some other point than the front page. Many clients only think that people enter their site through a home page. The early Web years placed an insane amount of focus on the home page.

I have talked to Jeff about this a while back and he had the same experience with clients and in-house sponsors. Part of the change is eternal search has become much better. Many users head to Google to find what they are seeking rather than going to and clicking from their home page.

This focus shift requires sites to have browsing structures for their users. Test with outside users who are not familiar to the site by starting them in the middle. Check heuristics for each section and page. Does the user know where they are? Can the user find other related information?

Jeff nails this topic, which has more room to grow. Go read.

June 1, 2003

Usability of users who listen to Web sites

Ginny Redish and Mary Frances Theofanos have written Observing Users Who Listen to Web Sites article for the STC Usability SIG Newsletter. This article is a great insight into how blind and partially sited individuals interact with Web Sites that are being read to them by devices. This is a must read article.

This article helps developers understand how auditory reader users consume information. There are many similarities to users how use their eyes, but some of the devices we commonly use to assist auditory readers, like skip navigation, are not used as many developers think. The accessibility assistive technologies are still needed and still requested, as thie article points out. This article provides a great insight for those people who do not have a sight challenged user to learn from and to test their products with. Those who do not actually test their work or have never seen their work tested can only guess what is going on. This article helps developers get insight that helps us develop for accessibility from step one, which is where we must be thinking of accessibility.

May 29, 2003

Design for real users

Chad highlights an excellent design perspective, "design for real people". Real people are rushed (at least in the parts I am familiar with), tired, distracted, etc. It is not those in the perfect lab setting that are important, but those actually living life trying to find the information for a report that was due COB yesterday, while trying to arrange for a new print cartridge from the help desk that never seems to (not my life, but one I have observed).

Maybe when we are doing user testing we arrange for phone calls and messages to be hand delivered. When I was doing usability testing on a somewhat regular basis, I always did the testing at the user's desk to see their computer setup and other things that may be interfering with usage. I have noticed that pale colors do not work well in workspaces with direct sunlight, which visual designers have used darker color palettes and reduced "I can not find it" complaints.

May 10, 2003

Presentation switching demo with CSS at Zen Garden

The separation of content and presentation is and has been extremely important. There have been many developers and designers that have showed there CSS-wares for switching presentation over the past two or three years, but Zen Garden is one of my favorites. The Zen Garden is currently functional (many others have replaced their presentation switching sites for no option presentation in the past year) and it provides a wide variety of styles and layouts. I hope Zen Garden sticks around for a while so it can be used as a great showcase for what can be done.

I am also liking Zen Garden as the various styles provide insight into the placement of headers and content. Not only do the different presentations provide different styles, but the user interface with the information drastically changes from style to style. This differing interface showcase is a great tool to help people understand the importance of presentation and understanding the user. Different audiences may have strong preferences or attraction to the various presentations and testing of the various interfaces most likly would generate widely different results with various user groups. [hat tip Eric Meyer]

May 2, 2003

April 19, 2003

Indi on site navigation and keeping it under control

Indi Young provides a great guide for building browsing structures in her article Site Navigation: Keeping It Under Control.

Blurbs: Writing previews of Web pages

A February 2001 article by Dennis Jerz discusses Blurbs: Writing Previews of Web Pages, which is very helpful information that helps annotate links to ease and assist the users understanding what is behind "door number 2". The blurbs help the user by providing more than the short snippet in a link. This makes the browsing structures much more friendly.

April 10, 2003

Boxes and Arrows up for a Webby

I must mention Boxes and Arrows is up for a Webbie Award. Congrats to all the other alumni staff who helped get this wonderful resource off the ground and to the current staff that keep this great gift running and being so wonderful. Most of all to Christina Wodtke for having this crazy idea.

April 3, 2003

March 27, 2003

Questioning Evaluation Techniques

A healthy questioning of evaluation techniques in Henry Lieberman's Tyranny of Evaluation

March 26, 2003

PeterMe is free

In the joy of the moment and the agony of my cold I nearly forgot that PeterMe has opened up his practice again.

March 14, 2003

The Web, information use, and the failure of the spacial metaphor

Francis Cairncross' book title Death of Distance is a wonderful understanding of the world around us in many way and should now apply to spacial relationships on the Web. The idea of spacial relationships on the Web have been a stretch of the truth for a long time. Initially the idea of a person going out and "navigating" other spaces helped those new to the prospect of what the Web held grasp the Web concept.

The problem with spacial explanations of the Web is they do not work very well. The truth is we go nowhere on the Web, information is brought to us. The Web user is ego-centric and rightfully so, as the world of information and commerce on the Web revolves around the user. The Web is truly omnipresent. Information is everywhere at once. The Web can even follow the user on mobile devices. The user does not go out and explore different places, the artifacts of the places come to the user's screen based on what is of interest to the user.

I was reading David Weinberger's book Small Pieces Loosely Joined and it was painful to watch him twist and turn to get the spacial metaphor to work. A whole chapter in the book is devoted to Space [on the Web] (the book as a whole is very enjoyable and worth the time to read). Weinberger first discusses how we use the Web, using surf, browse, and go to a site. This is wrapped with an analogy explaining the Web is like a library where the user does not have access to the stacks of books, but a librarian (or clerk) goes and retrieves the book, based on the request the user made, and brings it to the user. He also states:

... this is perhaps the most significant change the Web brings to the world of documents: the Web has created a weird amalgam of documents and buildings. With normal paper documents, we read them, file them, throw them out, or sent them to someone else. We do not go to them. We don't visit them. Web documents are different. They're places on the Web. We go to them as we might go to the Washington Monument or the old Endicott Building. They're there, we're here, and if we want to see them, we've got to travel.

.... the odd thing is that, of course, we're not really going any place, and we know it.

This is just painful to follow. We keep bringing up this bloodied and battered spacial metaphor trying to make it work to explain more than the very tiny bit it did explain well. The spacial metaphor has long overstayed its welcome and it now hinders us as we try to build the future information interfaces, which include mobile information access and internationalization of information.

Yes, I am saying mobile information use is hindered by a spacial metaphor. It is more than hindered it is crippled by it. When prepare information now location is largely irrelevant, but access, device, application, and information form and highly relevant. Before we prepared information on paper and sent that information to people (which can be done today) and we largely knew how that information was going to be used. Today, with digital information the ease of information reuse and the user's ego-centric view of the information world, we must think of the user and how the information will be used. The proximity of the information to the user through access, storage, or personalization is what is paramount. Proximity is the only spacial element that has significance. This equally applies to internationalization as language and culture are the barriers to the information not space. A Brazilian may be sitting on the T in Boston and want to read the most recent information on rollout of WiFi in Rio. The user should not need to find the Brazilian neighborhood in Boston to get the information in the proper language (Portuguese) with familiar cultural inflections. The user can attract that information form easily, which can be brought to the user if that information and access have been prepared and enabled. The user may have come across a resource for this information while looking for a client's most recent press release and the user forwarded the link to her mobile device to read later. Access to information can and should be based on the users actions and choices.

The user can (and has been able to for some time) create their own metadata and retrieval structures. Communication with live people or machines that can and will convey useful information at the user's desire is not only the reality of the wired world, but what mobile use is all about. The user can set their proximity to information they have come across and connectivity conduits are enablers of that information they have yet to discover.

Up to this point the spacial metaphor only provided us with the navigation, but flat out failed us with what the user could do once they found what they were seeking. The user can browse, search, receive in e-mail (based on list subscriptions), read an information feed that brings to the user new information from sites the user likes or from aggregators, or a variety of other means. Once the user comes across information they have an interest in they want to keep that information attracted to themselves, via storage, putting it on a page that is accessible to a mobile or stationary device, and/or have the information delivered at a time that will be more convenient (getting a text message on your phone with the address and time of a party at an art gallery). Proximity also plays a role in location based services, such as bringing up restaurant listing and reviews when the GPS in our mobile device indicates we are near these establishments. The user should be able to identify favorites or preferences that can help provide "best options".

The realization of the failure of the navigation metaphor to provide for much other than a nice name for the grouped set of links that provide browsing options pushed me to investigate the Model of Attraction (MoA). The MoA is not perfect, but does provide a framework to think about information use and reuse as users currently interact with it. The MoA offers a method for us to work through how we allow the user to easily reuse information they found. The devices are just conduits for the attraction interaction to take place. MoA offers a framework that is also easy to understand, but is a literal description, which helps us see building, structuring, and preparing information and applications for the future.

Navigation -- R.I.P.

March 12, 2003

The future of UCD with attraction

Another snippet from Tanya from SXSW, this time from "Future of UCD" panel. Tanya picked out "users will not use item alone, but in a federation of devices", which is at the heart of the Model of Attraction (being presented at The IA Summit on Saturday March 22, 2003 right after the keynote). The future, which we are seeing pieces of now, gives more control to the user as to what they will do with the information and how the user wants to or will access the information. The body of research for Internet development has focussed too much time and effort on navigation (browsing is more encompassing or a term and more literal). Users not only browser for information, but search. The user is no longer constrained to a desk or building when they try to attract information they need to themselves and this difference greatly changes how we must think about providing solutions. It is long past time to retire navigations as a limiting metaphor and start working with a model that more closely represents what is literally happening. The navigation metaphor fails us as we try to encompass the future of information access, information use, and information reuse that has already begun to take hold around us.

One benefit of the Model of Attraction is that is provides a framework that includes information reuse. Many times an information application is built upon the perception that the output of the information form will be its only form. I have seen time and time again large organizations that have bought applications or built applications that only consider the initial output of information. That information form may be in a Flash movie, Acrobat PDF, PowerPoint presentation, Word document, dynamic Web site, or static HTML page (to name just a few options). What information creators do not consider is how the information will be reused. A PDF is great for printing or just reading, but pretty much fails for extracting information easily or having external pointers direct others to one piece of micro-content (a scentance, paragraph, or other delineated section). Each method of presentation of information has its own benefits and detractors. The one with the most legs is (X)HTML as is can be used on nearly all devices (desktop PCs, mobile handhelds, etc.) with little or no modifications, it is not the best medium for printing information, but if built to standards it can be easily converted and stored as the user desires. XML has the same promise, but one needs to work with a standard schema so that the information is widely useable and reusable.

Keep in mind the future is now. Our future needs metal models to help us build information applications and services for univeral usage.

March 10, 2003

A glimpse of SXSW for those too far away

It seems Heath Row is offering some great notes from SXSW Interactive (not as good as being there, but...). Photomatt is also covering SXSW offering SXSW photos, including kickball, and The Future: User-Centered Design Goes Mainstream. [hat tip Cory and Matt]

March 7, 2003

Favorite IA Books

The NY IA Salon offers their favorite books, as captured by Mike Lee. Most of my favorites were captured, but I would have to add John Cato's User-Centered Web Design, Jesse James Garrett's The Elements of User Experience, the Second edition of the Polar Bear, and possibly Accessing and Browsing Information and Communication (on of my current reads that I am in the midst of) upon my completion of the book I may add it to my permenant IA favorites list.

There are two books I hand out to novices in the IA realm The Elements of User Experience and Christina Wodtke's Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web. These two are easy to jump into and have a very good idea where things will be goind and why. This greatly eases the communication and understanding

Mike Lee points to a great snippet concerning dumb people with too much energy, which is from Mike's favorite Make it Bigger.

March 1, 2003

Depressed about not going to SXSW

I am a very bummed as I will not be going to SXSW Interactive this year. Things were not working out as there were too many things here going on and I will be away speaking at the ASIS IA Summit and attending the IA Leadership Summit

I am upset about SXSW as it is a wonderful learning experience and reassuring experience. SXSW has always provided the confirmation that I am on the right track as well as show where I can improve. SXSW provides a great social environment to not only learn in the sessions, but hang out with folks like yourself. The panels, which have just recently been fully fleshed out, seem to be some of the best in years (had this been out even a week ago I would have said screw it and gone).

I will greatly miss my frieds that I usually only see at SXSW and learn immense amounts.

February 24, 2003

Information Accessing and Browsing book

I am really enjoying Accessing and Browsing Information and Communication by Rice, McReadie, and Chang from MIT Press. I am less than 100 pages into this academic review and assessment of how people approach, find, assess, and retain information. The book is wonderful as it takes an cross section of academic disciplines and the research from them on browsing information and information use. The book is uncovering new pools of information in the library sciences, organizational communication, and knowledge management fields that help one better understand how people find and process information. There is a lot of information that is echoing the Model of Attraction approach to user and information relationships as well as helping to better refine the approach (there are some updates to the MoA that I have clarified in the last three weeks, and this reading is helping gell).

I may write a full review when I finish the book. I am reading the book on the train to and from work at the moment. I may need to read at home so I can check information that is being referenced.

February 21, 2003

Proposing a Cogitive Course

Rashmi proposes a Cognitive course. This is a course I would love to take. [hat tip Peter]

February 11, 2003

Build your ideal creative team and other articles

Boxes and Arrows serves up three great articles right now. George Olsen shares his R&D (Relevant & Desirable article discussing the need for vision driven design in user-centered design. Scott McDaniel offers up What's Your Idea of a Mental Model?. My favorite of this current bunch is Erin Malone's Modeling the Creative Organization in which Erin walks through how to put together her idea of an ideal creative team. Her discussion is provides insight into a great approach.

February 4, 2003

Fusebox FLiP's for user centered design approach

While going through the Fusebox application development site (a coding framework for ColdFusion, J2EE, PHP, and ASP that helps separate coding from presenation by building reusable components and templates) I stumbled upon FLiP. The Fusebox Lifecycle Process (FLiP) section focusses on application development and project management "best practices". FLiP the steps are Personas and Goals, Wireframe, Prototype / Front-End Development, Application Architecting, FuseCoding, Unit Testing, Application Integration, and Deployment.

I was so happy to see personas, wireframing, prototyping, and application architecting as well as the suggested order. This is the path I have found to provide the best path for success. I was introduced to this process in the very early 1990s when working on a project to replace a mainframe application and moving it to the PC. The approach seemed solid and achieved some quick results with few hiccups. That approach has stayed with me and the focus on the user being the extremely important. Application developers often want to jump right into the coding and interface designers want to start crafting the visual design. Doing either with out proper understanding can easily lead to complications that are costly to correct.

The field of information architecture structures its approach to development on these tasks and roles. A great overview for application development is wonderfully laid out in Jesse James Garrett's The Elements of User Experience. Many that build applications have become familiar with these steps. Those wanting to learn programming and application development have found this the user-centered design approach is a great preparation. Why? Once the users are defined, the information structure defined, the interaction elements outlined, the interface outlined, and the framework for the application decided upon the coding becomes easy to focus upon. The coding portion of development becomes much easier because the interactions for the users are defined and the coding solutions are largely pre-defined.

February 2, 2003

Tweaking the presentation layer for links

We are still doing some tweaking related to the recent redesign. This latest change includes the underlining of links. The style sheet now treats the distinct content area separately. The links page does not have any underlining on the links as the page is all links and the underlining tends to interfere with the user's scanning of the links and therefore the lack of underlining eases this pages use. The hover is identical for all the links through out the site, the hover provides an orange hue to tie the colors of the site together. The right content frame does not have any links either as the combination of the light orange background and the blue link has a little reading difficulty, but with the underlining there was strong reading hinderance. The links through the rest of the site are all underlined to ease the user's ability to discern that the links can be clicked. The links under the Off the Top remain grey with underlining with orange hover.

Let me know how these work for you.

January 23, 2003

Running a Design Critique

How to run a design critique from Scott Berkun at UIWEB. This not only includes who should be in the room, how often, but a list of items to cover with heuristics on it. This is looks to be worth digging back in and reading every word.

January 21, 2003

Understanding Visual Organization

Luke Wroblewski has a must read article, Visible Narratives: Understanding Visual Organization published at Boxes and Arrows. The article shows the importance of and how to visually structure information to assist the user with finding and focussing on content they are interested in. This lesson is one that is often missed in Web site redesigns.

A visual presentation of information is an essential tool to have in your tool belt. Lack of a usable visual structure can hinder your users from finding the information they are seeking. Many users come to a new site and perform a quick scan of the information available looking for something to attract their attention as it relates to terms, visual cues, or a vocabulary that will get the user to the nuggets they desire.

The user's eye needs resting places to guide them or help the user jump from topic to topic until the user finds one topic or link draws the user (as the user believes) closer to the information. Visual organization help facilitate the user's scanning and reading.

If the visual organization uses HTML markup's header tags and CSS for presentation the information has an underlying structure. The underlying structure can be used to assist bots (non-human search tools that scrape sites looking for information) in finding information. The automated scraping or searching is augmented by the markup as the information in the headers is often given greater value and can help the information get consumed by users interested in finding and using the information. With a little bit of scripting a properly marked-up Web page can generate a table of contents. This visual structuring eases the reuse of information, which is always a benefit.

January 14, 2003

Peel exposes layered storytelling

Design Interact examines the Seattle design firm Peel and their layered storytelling approach to information structures. Layered storytelling is explained:

Layered storytelling means that a site opens much like a film, with a splash of music, photography and animation, but not a lot of information. If you stay on the top level of the site, your experience is similar to watching a documentary on television. But if you click on any topic, you dive down into a more book-like experience, with long texts and additional background information. The idea is that a visitor skims along the surface until he or she finds something interesting and then digs in to read more.

This appoach provides the ability to have a one way interaction with the site as it entertains and informs, but when the user is attracted to a topic, idea, or visual cue they can interact and find out more. I have enjoyed the layered storytelling approach when I have encountered it. It does seem like it would have the same repeat user problems that other multi-media interfaces encounter, in that having to wait for load times before interacting or navigating is usually problematic. Providing an option to use the layered storytelling or providing it the first time by default (but if a user is like me and works with three or four browsers open or working from many computers, setting a cookie to track repeat use will not solve the issue).

This too is worth coming back to as it provides intamacy with the user and a topic. This can help break down some of the dry appearance of some dull topics that are difficult to unwrap, like sciences, urban planning, the history of duct tape, etc.

January 6, 2003

Dumbing down of computer and information design books

My trip to bookstores in Florida had me seeing what the person on the street sees as computer books, "Dummies" guides. There were eight shelves of Dummies computer books with a handful of Microsoft publisher books thrown in for color variation.

When I returned home I took a trip to Barnes and Noble and found the computer Web section filled with GUI tool books (Dreamweaver, FrontPage, GoLive, etc.) where there were shelves of HTML, DHTML, CSS, Perl, proper design (by Zeldman and Veen), or Information Architecture books. This trend worried me more than what I saw in Florida. The GUI books did not get into proper markup or understanding of information. The books were concerned with how to make better use of more bandwidth. Not one place in the many books I pulled off the shelf did I see any mention of the user or information use (let alone information reuse). The beauty of learning how to develop properly is knowing when the GUI tools are wrong, but better is knowing what is built properly will work well on broadband and on mobile devices. If the information is important and cared about it should be made available, accessible, and usable.

December 29, 2002

Up the kilt of the BBC redesign

Matt has posted a PDF of the detailed BBC redesign process, which is well worth the download time (7.3 MB plus). This is how the process should be done and is done often in places that care to do it right. This process takes time, which equates to money, but the reward is happy satisfied users.

At first I found it a slight bit odd that the Beeb would target their voice map (page 16) to the fun and highbrow side of the map. I understand highbrow, but fun over functional seemed odd at first (possibly since I work with clients that should be focussing on the functional and not so fun side of the map (some think of the fun at the detriment of functional). But, having the Beeb America channel help understand the fun side of the site. There is a lot of information that the Beeb produces and much of it is instructional/educational, which benefits from having the fun element. I have tended to think of the BBC as a resource for my news, and growingly so my information (gardening, etc) and entertainment.

December 12, 2002

Heuristic evaluation template for OmniOutliner

Michael post his OmniOutliner Heuristic evaluation template. This is going to be a well used template, too bad I don't have a Mac at work or it would really be well used.

For the unwashed, the OmniOutliner is a Mac outlining tool that is fantastic for todo lists, building outlines for work, us outlines with categories, etc. I tend to think in outline format when I really try to structure ideas as a foundation for easily understood communication. One of the great things about Outliner is the ability to output wonderful HTML from your hierarchial outlines. I have done this a couple times and pulled it into Dreamweaver MX code view to see beautiful XHTML with validating nested unordered lists. It was such a wonderful site to see an application that generates validating code and well structured information at that.

December 11, 2002

RSS feeds are very Clue Train friendly it seems

Not long after I posted my RSS disconnecting the creator and the user comments it started sinking in that it really does not matter. We it does to some part, but from a user's perspective the RSS allows a quicker more efficient method of scanning for information they have an interest in and easily see from one interface when new content has been written. I use other's blogs and digests to find information to post for my own reflection and to use as jumping boards to new ideas.

Yes, the interaction between creator and user is important, but it is not as important as getting informtion out. I began thinking that the whining about the lack of interaction on my part was rather selfish and very contrary to the focus I have for most information, which is having the abiltiy to access, digest, add to, or reformulate the information into another medium or presentation that will offer possibly better understanding.

I was self-taught in the values of the Clue Train so when I heard about it for the first time I was supprised so some large degree that the manifesto had resonance and turned on a light for many people, for myself and some others, I guess we drank the cool-aide early, as we thought this was the way things were or should be from the beginning of electronic information and a truely open community where information flows freely. Yes, the RSS/RDF/XML feed is a freer flow of information and puts the choice of the information consuption in the user's hands.

December 10, 2002

Model of Attraction Outline - Version 1

The Model of Attraction ouline version 1 is now posted. The outline has been structured to set up a structure for filling in the blanks and providing a better strucutre for understanding the MoA. Outlines are my foundations for writing more serious works. Outlines help me find holes and provide a structure to rest content upon. This verion is largely attributed a train ride to Philly that allowed me time and untethered space to think, order, and write.

Please comment if you are so inclined. Find holes are areas that do not seem fully fleshed out enough. Thank you in advance.

December 4, 2002


Hmmm, Userati, which is explained in a WebWord post.

December 3, 2002

Lou on Users Information Needs

Lou provides information on Information Needs Analysis, which is more accurately "User Information Needs Analysis". I noted this semantic problem on Lou's site, but other than that is it is a great viewpoint on discoving the mindset of the user's approach to a site based on the perception of information need. It is easy to surmise the power of vocabulary and taxonomy based on these overviews. Thanks Lou!!

December 1, 2002

UPA Calendar of Events

N2S (note to self): UPA calendar of conferences covers more than just UPA events. This could prove a good resource for coming attractions.

November 29, 2002

Understanding the environment at work

Reimagining work provides insight from workplace designers on how the work environment influences work. It is a good read with a lot of wonderful insights. [hat tip Challis]

November 28, 2002

IA and UX organization matrix

Beth provides a matix of IA and UX organizations to join, which helps not only know the price, but also know the area of focus.

November 20, 2002

BBC alters interface slightly for user

Matt Jones discusses interface tweaks used by the BBC to help the users. This frequently used elements is a rather nice idea.

November 17, 2002

Conferenece envy

Matt has been chronicling his experience at Doors of Perception held in Amsterdam. Matt offers his notes from: day 1, day 2 morning, day 2 afternoon, day 3, and day 3 final notes. This and ASIS&T were two conferences I really wanted to attend this Fall, but the move and house have eaten my money. I am saving myself for the Spring for SXSW, ASIS&T IA Summit, and possiblly DUX along with the possibility of Good Experience Live.

I did pop up to Philly to meet-up with some AIfIA Board members, other leadership counsel folks, and members. It was a great treat. I really wished I was staying for the ASIS&T conference (next year) and spending more time with these folks.

The train up was good as I got a lot of writing done (remember to take headphones if you are not on a "quiet" car, which do not run on weekends). The seat I was in on the way up did not have a functioning electrical socket, so I was pulling on batteries (not to worry I have a TiBook with 4 to 5 hours of battery). I was able to edit, read, write, and work on some graphics last evening and on the train back today. What a wonderful way to travel, particularly to Philly.

November 10, 2002

Tablet Hotels gets Experience Design and IA right

The November 2002 edition of ID Magazine reviews Tablet Hotels. For those that are not familiar, Tablet Hotels is a Web site that focusses on well designed hotels that are not from the cookie cutter molds of the large chains. These boutique hotels presented are from around the world. The site allows users the ability to select by location, amenities, and the traveler's agenda.

The response to "What was the biggest design challenge in creating the site?" points to the success:

The booking path was the greatest design challenge. We built our own proprietary real-time reservation engine, and when we began, we really wanted to create something outstanding and above and beyond the sterile process that's out there now. However, as we got into it, we found ourselves handcuffed by the antiquated systems that the engine had to connect to (GDS and hotel inventory systems). Throw in the fact that our site caters to an international audience and that the language terms and general policies of hotels vary greatly throughout the world, and we had our work cut out for us in our information architecture.

The small site of Tablet Hotels had not only their own information architecture (micro IA) to work through be the semantic variations of an industry so to digitally interact with various players (macro IA). The pairing of these two extremes seems to be wonderfully executed. The visual design of the site attracts the international customers searching for design and customer focussed hotels. Each hotel has a well written snippet and are photographed from design friendly perspectives. The reviews also offer a "citysense", which is a, self described, sensory guide to region covering: look, listen, taste, touch, and smell. The interactive components are also executed very well with allowing the user a the ability to select the elements/facets that are important to them when making the selection for their hotel.

The Tablet Hotel site is very well thought through and has spent much time and consideration walking through the whole array of Experience Design/User-Centered Design roles, including information architecture, to make a site that raises the bar for other hotel sites.

November 5, 2002

v-2 redesign redesigns, which is making reading the wonderful content much easier. Adam and others at V-2 provide great insights in user-centered design and information architecture. Adam is also a fellow Boxes and Arrows alumni.

November 2, 2002

User Centered Design and beyond

There are a handful of synonymous terms I have been running into and using in the past few months. Most of us understand User-Centered Design (UCD) as a concept and practice. UCD helps us build successful information applications, including Web sites, that are usable by those that want to use them, have to use them, or are seeking the information contained within them. UCD does not fully focus on the developers, the project owners (clients or mangers), but puts the focus on the end users of the information or digital services. This approach to development provides a wonderful return for those that engage in this practice as it is demoralizing for those that have spent time or paid money for development to have an information application that is not used (if it is not demoralizing it could be time to find a new profession).

Information wants to be found by those that seek it and Web sites, applications, and poor interfaces should not stand in the way of those wishing to consume the information. Information should be prepared and presented with consumption in mind. Many times digital information is a service that is used to assist the consumer of not only that information but other elements like a person buying a product. In a sense we not only create User-Centered sites and applications but Customer Service tools. This focus is very helpful when working on a site that will serve as communication between an organization or person and another organization or person. The experience between these two parties in this information transaction should be effortless. Just like a physical experience we don't like standing in a long line only to get to the front of the line to have the person tell you they can not help you and you have to go to another location or that there is no process to get your money back. As customers we want effortless experiences in the physical world as well as our digital environments. Customer service has been a focus of the physical business world for years and UCD is the digital equivalent. UCD has as its focus providing not only an enjoyable experience to perform the task, but also a more pain free method of correcting errors and problems (the folks at 37 Signals call this contingency plan design and are ready and will in to teach those that do not understand it).

While customer service is mantra in the private sector, Citizen Services or Citizen-Centric Services are becoming the focal point for the public sector. Governments have learned and have turned their digital focus on the citizens. Yes, governments are beginning to "get it". It is not about the technology, but about the consumer of the services. One of the central tenets of a governments is providing services. One of these services is gathering, aggregating, and providing information. Getting the information into the hands of those wishing to consume this information has been the struggle. Not many years ago we had learned to use a Post Office box in Colorado for a government clearing house for information, now we should only need a Web browser.

The government was one of the first entities to take advantage of the Internet to post information. Some U.S. federal government agencies created sites as early as 1993 and have been keeping them running ever since. More and more the government created sites and posted information. The down side was there was little of anything other than general Internet search engines to get the user to the information or service they desired. In the past year or two this focus has begun to move from just posting information where it was grown (in what appears to most citizens to be arcane bureaucratic and political organizations with undecipherable acronyms) to tying these information repositories to central jumping off points. FirstGov is the mother of the effort and has been guiding the Citizen-Centric focus. Many agencies have turned their eGovernment offices and staff toward the mindset of providing electronic Citizen-Centric services. Many agencies are working to provide jumping off points to information and services that are commonly sought and now available on the Internet. These portals remove the morass of acronyms and the need to understand organizational structures for the common citizens that have paid their taxes and are looking for a return on that investment in the form of electronic information or digital services.

Yes, many of us are now fixing the mess of information digitally thrown onto the Internet by providing structure to this information and making it findable and usable by the people interested in consuming the information or the products the information provides a gateway to. We now have the User-Centered Design umbrella to tie the roles and processes together that we use to help the User, Customer, or Citizen. These handful of terms are used for the same focus that makes the digital world a less frustrating, more friendly, and usable environment.

Adaptive power

I really like the promise of Bluetooth (short range wireless connectivity that has the promise of eliminating wires between devices). Eliminating wires, or reducing the number of wires needed to function digitally would be a blessing.

But, having just moved I do not find the wires connecting the devices to be a huge problem it is the power cords. There are a myriad of power adapters that require somewhere to be plugged in. It also seems to be a requirement that the power cords are tangled with other power cords. Not only this, but power adapters are not interchangeable. Not only are they not interchangeable, but the do not come with any corresponding labelling that help identify power cord A should be used with device A. Power cord adapter manufacturers should be prohibitited from having their own branding on the adapter, as that branding inhibits pairing the device to the adapter. There are a couple companies that get this, Sony and Apple tend to brand their adapters so that it is easy to get their devices running. I guess the other device companies are not interested in us using their devices, but are only interested in us buying them.

What about daisy chaining power adapters? You know, like Christmas tree lights. Or universal adapters with voltage and wats settings that are selectable and an interchangeable plug end that quickly changes to been the devices connector slot, much like the British electrical outlet plugs are/used to be (have not been since the late 80s and it may have changed). In Britain when you bought an electrical device it came with a cord attached, but the cord did not have a plug to connect to the wall, as there were not standard wall outlets. The lack of plugs on the cord was annoying to those who were unaware of such practices, but it easy to understand why this practice was needed.

So to create a more workable environment have the ability to daisy chain power cords and have interchangeable plug ends. Manufacturers of devices must brand their power adapters accordingly. These steps would help eliminate the umpteen cords I have in bags that I do not know their mated device. I find 12V adapters do not work with all devices that state they need 12V power coming in. All I want to do is follow my digital passions and work. Is that too much to ask?

October 23, 2002

Wahoo, Books

What a wonderful week in books. I just received Christina Wodtke's Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web today and it looks fantastic. I have only leafed through it briefly, but it seems to cover the basis wonderfully and provide excellent guidence on how to get through IA successfully.

Saturday I picked up Jesse James Garrett's The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and have read it in little snippets and have made it through a very good chunk in no time. Much of what I have learned over time, from experience, or from great thinkers like Jesse, which leads to successful Web sites or information applications is in this book. Knowing the steps and phases of approaching development will help you greatly. Jesse has it down for all to read and it is wonderfully written.

I am very glad to not only know these to folks, but that they are sharing what they have learn for others to gain from their experiences. This sharing is what the Web was build upon and will keep the Web improving into its next generations and incarnations. Congratulations guys!

October 17, 2002

Nathan and Peter explain UCD

Meryl has wonderful interview with Peter Merholz and Nathan Shedroff on User-Centered Design over at Digital Web.

October 3, 2002

Do not strand them

Stranding users is not a good thing to do, I think we can all agree with that premise. Not remembering that a user of your site can drop in to the site from anywhere to anywhere can be fatal. Take the U.S. Treasury Department, which recently did an expansive redesign of their site. They did a good job at bringing together much of their domain under one consistent branding roof. They have a few large navigation problems, they tend to pop-up a new window at the drop of a hat. Worse is that many of their press releases are built to pop-up, but have absolutely no navigation, not even to the Treasury homepage. I was suckered by this in July while searching for information from Google I was dropped in to a press release with nearly the exact information I was seeking. Big problem, all the Treasury Press Releases (sample of poor Treasury Web design) have no related links and no navigation to get you to the sourse of the page. When the Treasury gets around to fixing the stranded user problems they created they should fix the giant top banner/navigation bar that keeps the information their users are coming to the site for pushed down the page.

I will give the Treasury large kudos for grasping control of the splintered branding that is rampant in the large organizations. This consistantcy provides a couple of advantages by providing ease common design that give welcome consistancy and it makes it easier to go back and correct the navigation and usability errors that were left behind.

September 18, 2002

Interactive Awards

Could it be information and site continuity is out and entertainment and design are in? CommArts Interactive 2002 Awards are nearly all beautiful graphical works, but have little or no continuity to the global sites in which they sit. The Advertising and Business awards sections seemed to be the most disconnected, as they had sites in which they sat that were quite different from where the award winners sat.

I really was impressed with the award winners from a graphical and entertaining perspective, but from the point of sharing and connecting to related information many of the winners were disjointed. Nearly all the winners were in Flash, which has information sharing problems for users. The Web is a wonderful information sharing medium that offers a wonderful ability to express, expand upon, and interact with users and other information stores. The Flash elements seemed to be self-contained, which is a serious downside. I will go back and spend more time trying to find examples of great design and using the Internet medium well.

The Internet is many things to many people and offers many options in which to present information. The wonderful thing about the Internet is being able to extract information as well as point others to specific segments of information with out having to wade through unrelated information. Hmmm, possibly more later on this.

September 13, 2002

September 3, 2002

Chad's reading lists

Chad Thornton has a great list of others reading lists. Such reading lists are great ways to find new resources. Chad adds Stanford's Joint Program in Design to his list.

Udell encounters UDX

John Udell writes Interaction Design and Agile Methods over at O'Reilly Net. The article was sparked by Alan Cooper. To many of us ethnographic studies and using persona are not new ideas, but to Udell it is foreign, which makes this a good read.

August 27, 2002

Mobile info

It took $5.29 for 5 minutes on an internet kiosk to get to the right Vision.

Call it gadget issues or information problems, but I really needed access to info stored in an e-mail this evening. I was going to meet friends at a happy hour at Visions in DC. The problem was it was not Visions theater, but International Visions at 2629 Connecticuit, NW. I knew of Visions the cinema/bar/restaurant, but not the gallery. I checked the information in an e-mail before leaving and verified Visions on Connecticuit and went to the Visions just off Conn. I was wrong and did not print out the e-mail. I eventually found a Internet kiosk and paid $5.29 for a half hour to dig out the e-mail an figure out I am 10 blocks and a bridge away from the right place. Eventually I made it and had a great time.

My solution is to sent the pertinent information in a text message to my phone or write it in my Palm. Better yet do both. I synch my Palm once a day and I could set an e-mail address that only that device would get. This would allow me to not have to pull all my e-mail onto my Palm and only that which I really wanted. Days like today would require much more forethought or just send a snippet to the phone.

All this gets back to having the information you need at your fingertips when you want or need it. It is that roughly magnetized cloud of information that I want to follow me.

August 18, 2002

Hierarchy of Information Needs

Lou discusses the relationship between information architecture and technology, which sparked the following brain dump on my part:

This subject of information and technology has been of interest with me for quite sometime. The term "IT" has been vastly dominated by the technology portion of the term. Oddly, in organizations that have Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and with out Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) the CIOs role is largely focused on technology to serve the information (this is fine), but the stress has been technological solutions. As nearly all of us in the IT field know, the technical solutions are far from perfect (I know nothing is life is perfect) and many times require reworking business processes to take advantage of the technologies best traits. This is much akin to Keith's point about technology companies selling products and not whole solutions.

In my work I came to it from the information and communication side many years ago and along with it I married the technology side, as it was a wonderful pairing with great promise. Over the years I have heard more than anybody's fair share of, "we don't have to worry about knowing the information, we can code around it". This is the point, I learned when you pull in the reins on the technical team. This is what drew me deeper into the realm of the technical side.

If we look at information from the communication viewpoint and what role the information will play as it transfers information to humans and to other machines for use and also reuse. We have to understand the information as its basic levels, similar to Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs". What are the human elements thatare intended, i.e. what purpose does the information serve? What properties does the information need in order to transmit this information for best use? If the information is corporate sales trends and assessing and tacking variables that impact these trends, then we have to identify the human audiences that will be using this information. The basic level of "Information Need" is do we have the proper data or information to be able to create this type of report. Do we have the information types to provide usable information for the various audiences and do we understand the vocabulary of these audiences (vocabulary in this sense can be textual and visual as some audiences may best understand the information in charts and graphs, while others will best understand textual quantitative indicators). Do we have the basics to begin building this content, which will be tied to a technological question as to how the data and information is captured and stored? Once we can answer yes to these information, human, and technical questions we can move up the "Information Needs” hierarchy. It is also at this point that we know we can publish some information to have some folks make use of it, but we know the use of the information at this point will be far from optimal and the information may not be used in its proper method.

The next level would be questions of information use. We have established we have the data and content to build the information, but how will the information be used and who/what will be using the information. These questions will help shape the information structures and the medium(s) used to convey the information. The information may require different vocabularies that need to be established or used so the different audiences can best understand and make use of the information. What is the environment that the information will be used in and in what context? When these answers are established, only then can the technology to be used for the varying mediums be established. This level gives a great level certainty that the information and its use will be effective.

Far too often the technology is chosen with out asking these questions and the medium is used is driven by the technologies limitations, which limits the information's use and efficiency. Many organizations found that their reliance on storing all information in Adobe Acrobat did not fit their efficient information needs. Acrobat works best for replicating print versions of information and has other properties that work passably, like searching the text, providing information that is accessible to those that are handicapped, quickly accessing sections of that information over a network connection, etc. Many corporations found it was best or even desired to not store their information in Acrobat, but to offer the information in Acrobat as an output of another information storage methods that provided far greater information use and reuse (this does not apply to every organization as their are some organizations that make proper and efficient use of Acrobat and it serves that organization perfectly). These organizations came to the conclusion that the information was the primary importance and the information and its use should drive the technology.

The next step is to determine how the information can be optimized to take advantage of the mediums being used. This will allow the information to have the most impact. As the medium and technologies have been chosen to best present the information, at this point there are steps that can be taken to improve the marriage between the medium and the information. For example, we know that one of the mediums for the information will be Web pages; the information will need to be structured in a manner that takes advantage of the possibilities with that medium. The Web browser gives us the ability to present textual information and charts together, while providing relatively easy access to more detailed information and/or an interactive media presentation that permits the user to see the charts change over time based on the selection of these different variables (done with Flash, DHTML, etc.). Similar information could be offered in a PDF of the printed report that would print on 8.5 by 11 inch paper and one for A4 paper (the international standard paper size).

The last phase it validating and testing the information dissemination. We continually need to test to ensure we have identified all the audiences that are using the information, we are capturing all the data and information is required and makes sense to have for the information's use, we are capturing and storing the information in a means that is efficient for our needs to use the information, we are providing the audiences the information in a means that is most usable and efficient for them, and the information is being found and used.

This Information Needs hierarchy allows the marriage of technology to information where and when it makes sense. This Information Needs seems to be the basis for the user centered design, information architecture, knowledge management, experience design, etc. There is an understanding of the balance that is required between the creators of the information; the information itself; the technology to capture, store, process, and present the information; and the users of the information.

In the past few years the technology and not the information nor the user of the information were the focal points. Money has been spent on technologies that have failed the purchasers and the technology and the whole of the information technology industry gets blamed. There is a great need for people that are willing to use their minds to create the foundation for information, its use, and the technologies that can help make this more efficient. The balance and the steps in the proper order must be there to give information and technology a chance.

July 23, 2002

BBC News Two

BBC News now is providing a UK version and a World version of their news sites. I have IE looking reading the worldly site and Mozilla reading the UK version. This comparison brings to light the differences in providing to the different user groups. The previous posts noting the deaths of Potok and McKern were only easily found on one of the versions. Potok's passing was noted in the World edition and McKern the UK edition. Now to take a closer look. Anybody know of a write-up on this change?

July 18, 2002

Adaptive Path to DC

Last September I attended a two day User Experience Workshop put on by Adaptive Path. This was one of the most conprehensive sessions/classes I had ever been to on the approach and skills needed to develop a usable Web site. As many of us know the Adaptive Path folks are taking this great session on the road and adding a third day using a local professional to help bring it all home. This may be the most productive money you spend all year. Those that come to your sites and pay for your work with receive an even greater benefit. Do it for yourself and for the users of what you produce.

The following is a better description by the Adaptive Path folks describing the Washington, DC (actually held in Arlington, Virginia) sessions:
Design theories don't help if you can't make them work in actual day-to-day practice. Increasingly, sites must respond to the realities of scant budgets and greater financial return. Adaptive Path's User Experience Workshops will prepare you to meet these challenges with usable tools for putting design theory into practice today. You'll spend the first two days with Adaptive Path partners Jeffrey Veen, Peter Merholz, and Lane Becker. They'll show you how to incorporate user goals, business needs, and organizational awareness into your design process. You'll develop a project plan, learn methods for research and design, and create clear documentation. You'll learn the same strategies Adaptive Path has successfully practiced for a wide range of companies, including Fortune 500s, startups, and not-for-profits.

Additionally, on day 3 we will be joined by information architect extraordinaire Thom Haller, who will talk about "The Value of Structure." In this workshop, he'll draw on twenty years experience in professional communication to explore the possibilities inherent in structure, and its value to others. As participants, you'll have the opportunity to see structure through users' eyes. You'll learn a measurements-based, performance-focused structure for gathering, evaluating, chunking, knowing, and organizing content. You'll have a chance to "sample" different structures (such as narrative) and see how they offer value to organizations and their constituencies.

You'll leave the workshop inspired and equipped with design techniques and a library of documentation templates that you can use right away -- so that your web site will satisfy your users, your management and you! But wait--there's more! Or, rather, less! As in--DISCOUNTS! If you sign up with the promotional code "FOTV" (without the quotes), we'll knock the price down from $1,195 to $956 -- a 20% discount.

For more information:

July 14, 2002

Glasshaus developers books

A stop in to the local bookstore today has been strongly considering Constructing Accessible Web Sites and Usability: The Site Speaks for Itself both are Glasshaus imprints and seemingly very well written and well produced. The accessibility book covers a topic that is tough to get ones mind around initially and the book handles the topic wonderfully. I have been working with the accessibilty issue for a few years now and the book points out some areas that were of a help to me.

I balk a little at the hefty price of the books, which means I will be buying them on discount or sale. I know some of the folks that have contributed to the books, which helps me justify the costs, but not everybody is me. If the cost were a little lower, say a 30 U.S. dollar price point, it would be easier to buy a couple or more and hand them out to folks that really need them. The accessibility issue book is one that really needs a lower price point, but I know there are solid methods for pricing the books just under 50 U.S. dollars.

June 25, 2002


Matt Jones introduces Warchalking. This is a great idea. Hmmm, I wonder if my nephews have any sidewalk chalk in their posession?

June 12, 2002

Paris France design in CommArts

I enjoyed the CommArts Design Interact article on Paris France. One of the pull quotes is very close to one that I continually use around meeting tables at the organizations I work for, "The Internet site or Intranet site is not about or for anybody around this table, it is not for anybody we can reach out and touch, it is for those folks we can not touch and walk through the site or application. This is why we build this site and or application, it is to be used by those we can see or touch. Knowing this we must focus building things in a manner that the user will understand, because we can not explain how we think to guide them so we must understand how they think." This article also provides some great visuals along with the wonderful read.

Mac is great

Jason discusses his Windows to Mac conversion and the Apple switch campaign. At nearly every turn I have found friends, who I consider peers switching to Mac. I was in California recently for a meeting and of the 12 of us there 7 or 8 of us had our Mac laptops and were using them with great ease. The ratio among the technically adept and advanced and the creative users are hitting highs. Those that have always seemed to be on the leading edge and understand techical solutions are all joining the switch to Mac. Mac lacks the swiss-cheese-security of Windows, which is another fantastic advantage.

One of my biggest stumbling blocks with my switch to Mac has been its ease of use. When I loaded MS Office X it was done in four minutes or so and I had only answered two or three questions. Being a Windows user since 1992 (having left a company that used Macs, PCs, and dumb terminals I lost contact with Mac on a daily basis) I had been patterned to expect long painful loads of software that had a lot of questions. I had thought the Office install crashed, I started my usual Windows cursing patterns (because that is the relationship one learns from Windows and I now see that with friends and family that have not joined the smart side of the world), but I clicked Word and it worked and then click PowerPoint and it worked too. I had learned lesson with Mac, things are easier and just work, even Microsoft products can just work (Office X on the Mac is my favorite version of Office to date and Entourage is my favorite PIM (which I did not think anything would ever surpass or equal Lotus Organizer (user since 1993) and e-mail client . Who knew? At SXSW I had a relapse with my ease of use issues when I was trying to get a wireless network link. I knew I was trying to hit a wireless hub that was non-Apple (the Airport setup here at home was a 15 minute setup including tying down the security settings) and that should mean arcane practices again. I tried entering user names and passwords on WiFi connections that had full signals that I had just clicked on from my dropdown list of "available" access points (stop laughing). Yes, it was that simple and it was already working and the Mac just worked again. I happened to be sitting next to a Windows user who could not get it to just work and I was following her lead and picked up her frustration (she is very technically adept by the way). When I figured out I my connection was working all along I tried helping her, but not wanting to mess up a setting under a poorly labelled tab I surrendered. I came away a happy computer user and she a willing Mac convert because Mac just works.

On the business side of my life I have found very little I really can not do. I have found very little I can not do better than before. I still use my PC for some things, surfing the Internet while I eat (don't want to sully my TiBook with breadcrumbs as I have respect for it) and playing some games (my TiBook is now my work machine and audio/visual entertainment machine) as I have not bought a joystick for my Mac.

Now a moment to exude the pleasure of the TiBook. On my recent trip out West I was able to be on the Mac nearly the whole trip (MS Office, OmniOutline, OmniGraffle, and iTunes) nearly the whole trip (more than 5 hours in total). On the first leg, Baltimore to Denver, a flight attendend stopped and knelt next to me as we were nearing Denver (knew what was coming, the "you really need to shut down your computer" stern warning) and was asked what type of computer I was using as I had been working nearly the whole flight, I had the thinest computer on the plane, and had the most wonderful screen on a flight with about a third of the travellers using their laptops. I explained it was an Apple, which the flight attendant stated "you Apple people are all fanatics", to which I explained this was my first Apple I ever owned and I really could not consider it to have an operating system because operating systems cause headaches (being a UNIX developer has had its frustrations at times too) and this computer did not. The attendant said he would maybe think about a Mac. Then all the Dell, Toshiba, and HP laptop users sitting around me started asking questions and giving me their frustrations. The Windows users wanted to know how their Windows business and technical work would port over, for the most part I had already done what they were asking and I could show them because I still had 2 hours left in battery.

Fewer steps

Joshua's Windows comment hit the nail on the head, in this phone service usability example, with one of the reasons I really love my Mac.

May 28, 2002

Competitive Usability

Competitive Usability: How usability will be the key differentiator of tomorrow's Internet. I believe usability separates the favorites from the second class in today's world. Amazon or Barnes and Noble? Who are the people we want to use the site or information application and who actually uses it?

User engineering by project phase

IBM offers User Engineering by project phase, which I find offers good insight for larger development projects. [hat tip InfoDesign]

IBM offers taxonomy building for large-scale sites

IBM is offering taxonomy and information structure for large-scale sites. The goal is ease of use so that visitor can get the informaiton they desire on their monitor/handheld/paper from their printer.

May 10, 2002

Story of information

Information wants to be found. Somebody created the information to be used (including the coding of an application to extract data to form information). Information (both good and bad) has inherent value. Information that can not be found or used is wasted money and wasted time. Information requires a structure around it to increase its findability. Attempting to make information available with out a usable structure around it is a recipe for failure. Information without a usable structure surrounding it wastes the time of the person (or worse, persons) who created the information, prepared the info for dissemination, and the person/persons/application looking for that information. The waste of time and money by not having a usable information structure or not having any information structure is problematic and, in this day and age, inexcusable waste of vast money, time, and other resources.

The solution lies in working with people who understand information structure. Often these folk are called "information architects". Technology should not be the first step to solving information capturing, storing, structuring, and presentation needs. Human minds are the best first step. Human minds that have training and experience in solving these problems is the best bet. These humans are often called information architects, which:

  • Understand that most often the users of information are not the person in the cube or office next door
  • Know the users of the information often do not know the creator of the information
  • Know the users of the information may not understand the structure of the organization that created the information
  • Know the user wants to find the information
  • Know the user wants read and use the information in a format they can access
  • Know the user will want to consume the information and repurpose that information
  • Know that if the user finds what they are looking for and you are providing it the user will often be interested in finding other related or similar information
  • Know how to work with designers and technical developers to ensure the needs of your information and the user are joined together
  • Know there are many methods of finding information (search, navigation, etc.) and none of these are perfect on their own, but know how to best augment the technologies to provide the best result
  • Know that at the heart of this information transaction is the information and the user, which is where the focus belongs
  • Know how to increase findability and make the attraction between the user and the information stronger
  • Know in the long run their work saves money and time because their experience has proven what they know works

CommArts discusses 37FedEx

CommArts picks up the 37signals mock redesign of the FedEx site. Read the CommArts write-up of 37FedEx. Those of you unfamiliar with 37signals work, they are a Web/Internet development firm that focusses on simplicity of design and ease of use. Their work is clean, fast, and seemingly intuitive.

May 3, 2002

Speaking up on UI

Getting the UI right is tough and our be silent on UI issues is not helpful. We spend a lot of time working hard ot better understand the issues and solutions. Meg does a great job explaining this. This is a must read for developers, clients, and managers.

May 2, 2002

Findability explained

Peter Morville finally puts his findability explanation in writing for all to see (in the wonderful site called Boxes and Arrows). The idea of the term and meaning of findability is growing on me. Findability is a solid lead into the problems of information structure. The explanation of how to start fixing the problems and actions needed to help eradicate the problem can reside in the method/model of attraction (an update to the MOA should be available in two or three weeks, extenuating circumstances have slowed the updates and progress).

May 1, 2002

Finally a move to centralize organization's Websites is the norm

Peter Merholz wrote The Pendulum Returns: Unifying the Online Presence of Decentralized Organizations for Adaptive Path. Peter points out the needs for organizations to centralize their Web content and visual interface. Consistency helps the users greatly, I have been finding this for years. The "let every flower bloom" is has always been horrible means for organizations Internet and Intranet sites. This is does not provide for central branding and ruins a user's experience when dealing with a the organization. Research, for years, has shown a homogenized brand and information structure will greatly benefit the organization and the users. There are great cost efficiencies to be had as well. For now go read Peter's work.

April 28, 2002

Home usability problems

Katie Hafner writes in the New York Times about comforts of home yield to tyranny of digital gizmos. At times it seems like there needs to be a human upgrade to keep up with the applications that allow you to "easily" have control over your applicances.

April 26, 2002

UCD for different project types

IBM presents UCD for different project types. (I missed this when it first came online. I must be slipping of focussed elsewhere).

April 19, 2002

Adaptive Path talks with Marc Rettig

Adaptive Path interview with Marc Rettig. Marc is one of my favorite people, who continually blows my mind with his approach to problem solving (Peter and Lane are no slouches either). [hat tip Brad]

Intelligent gripes about AOL

WSJ's Kara Swisher, in her last Boom Town Exchange, posts readers comments about AOL. Many of the comments are critical, but it is a good look at how users interact with services. Many of these folks writing in have been AOL users for years. Services is important and keeping a broad user group happy is really tough, as you will see if you read.

April 16, 2002

April 14, 2002

CompUSA no sale

Need to have an example of not thinking through all the steps when building a Web application? Macwhiz tries to buy a monitor with good money, but bad application does not allow it. Having the credit from CompUSA on a CompUSA card and using to buy from CompUSA does not mean a thing. The buyer wanted it delivered to his office (always a logical option), but had his home address listed on the credit card (another logical option). CompUSA needed him to add his office address to the card (another logical option), but does not offer any mechanism to doing so (somebody will get fired).

When building applications there needs to be processes put into place to handle the needed options. Many times this requires a phone call to people trained in customer service. Not understanding processes before building an application or have ALL parties talking while developing an application will save embarrassment.

You should never start building before drawing a blueprint that takes into account all the options and needs. There is too much experience around to really have this happen with out a conscious decision being made (usually up the food chain) that stopped the options from being developed (if this is not the case they have the wrong developers or not enough time to have the processes worked out). These reasons are very close to why I will never buy from Barnes and Noble on line again. Ever.

Opening an application to the Internet opens the application to real people and real people provide a wide variety of aberrations to the planned uses for any application. Not having the time, resources, or approval to build in processes for easily handling these aberrations or spending time developing the application using user centered design/development skills will sink even the best funded applications. The user is always right and the real users must be a part of the development.

April 9, 2002

USC Annenberg School offers a light personal review of the WSJ redesign. Those of us that use the online version of the Journal on a daily basis have noticed a great jump since the redesign began implementation over a month ago. The site is much quicker and the interface is cleaner. The queries now are very quick again and there is a deep pile of data/information to search through.

Snippets: I have noted the redesign more than once... Nihal ElRayess has shared part of the IA perspective on the main WSJ redesign and the WSJ Company Research redesign parts of the project... The Guardian provided its insight in February (a good piece of researched journalism)... It looks like the WSJ redesign began in at least March 2000... The $28 million spent on the Web reworking (hardware, software, visual, and information architecture) is much less than the $232 million spent on a new printer for the WSJ print version or the $21 million for an advertising campaign to tout the new WSJ... The previous version of the WSJ site was a hand rolled CMS and now have been moved into Vignette... Those interested in the overal WSJ plan will like what is inside the presentation of Richard Zannino, Executive Vice President and CFO of Dow Jones & Company.

April 7, 2002

The Beeb notes websites watch and learn using the browser to learn how the site's users interact with the site.

April 1, 2002

A few minor changes here at The comments link has been put on all dynamic pages of the Off the Top section. The only page that had the comment option was the main page (/random/index.php).

The CSS has also been modified to unbold and underline for the underblog links to categories, perma link, and the comments. I have found many users come straight into the categories with out a referring page (meaning they have it book marked). Google dumps users directly into categories, but that is understandable, based on their algorythyms. I had also been hearing from some users that they did not know they could click on the categories. Sorry about the confusion. You can go directly to view the categories used here.

March 27, 2002

UCD is an Art

ViewPointz' Carol Righi examines Art, Science, and Magic: What really happens during User-Centered Design? This somewhat sounds like Jesse's ia/recon repurposed for UCD. The article draws on the concept that there is art (hunches) at the core of good UCD. Much of what any profession does is educated guesswork, which largely is based on pattern recognition (understanding symptoms to doctors). Those that are very good at their craft have internalized which points to watch (where the pulse can be found) that indicate success or troubles.

March 24, 2002

Metaphor of Attraction

Beginning with a discussion with Stewart on Peterme and the encouragement of Lane in another discussion to look for a metaphor other than navigation that could better explain what we do on the Web. Seeing Stewart walk by at SXSW after I had seen some of Josh Davis visual plays I combined the discussion with Stewart with the magnetic attraction Josh showed, which began my thinking about a metaphor of attraction. Magnetism seems like what happens when we put a search term in Google, it attracts information that is draw to the term on to your screen.

Come see where else this metaphor can go in this poorly written for draft of the metaphor of attraction. This is posted to begin a collaboration to dig back and move forward, if that is where this is to go. The writing will improve and the ideas will jell into a better presentation over the next few weeks.

February 24, 2002

I think a note of clarification is needed regarding the frames comments from the other day. I am a huge fan of the Content Management Bible and have been perusing it for a couple months (or so) now. The use of frames is not all bad, if used in a proper context.

One reason to use frames is using the browser client as an application interface and there are distinct sections with quasi-interrelated functionality. A mapping application (select any one of these elements on the page to see the use of frames - keep in mind there is a heavy use of JavaScript that requires a version 4.5 browser or higher). The application interface often has command elements that are essentially toolbars and definition selection elements that set the metadata layers of the information to be displayed. These toolbars direct the actions of the other frames or provide tools to be used in other frames (a zoom tool, etc.). The functionality in a toolbar is not an element of the map display and it should not be an incorporated element of the map as it has a much different functionality from the map display. Conversely, our users are familiar with navigation being incorporated into the Webpage and that is now a common and preferred construct. But, we are looking at an application being displayed in a Web browser, which requires a different mind set.

Another use of frames is in a controlled environment that has a plethora of distinct content items that are within a contiguous text, such as an extensive table of contents. Here the Metatorial CM Bible is a good example of when to use frames. There table of contents is a helpful information tool to quickly scan through the information to place the reader at distinct point in a larger body of text. The table of contents is a large (long) element of text that could work as an element is one distinct page, but that would require rebuilding those elements of the page with every snippet of information delivered to the browser.

Frames should be used when the distinct content elements require each other. The table of contents and the page display elements should not work with out the other components (if they can we really have to ask ourselves why we are using frames). If we can enter a page in the CM Bible without the table of contents the functionality of the site is broken. The navigation is not available and the assistive information (navigation and/or metadata elements) is not available.

The last item is to ensure that if a frame can stand alone as its own page, please ensure there are the needed navigational elements on the page. In the example that drove my frames rant (largely because the CM folks understand information and its need to be used, but the site breaks information use constructs we know from experience and research to be proper and needed) the thing that was disconcerting was each of the frame elements needed the other to provide complete information for the user. The user needs context. We need to provide the user a means to get to our front page or to other areas within our sites, because if they like our information we should offer them more. If we build a site using framed elements and these elements can be used on their own (no JavaScript sniffers to ensure the other frames are open as a requirement for displaying the content, or other similar technique) the content must have navigation elements (the footer is an unobtrusive placement) and really should have some branding or other statement of ownership.

We know that users of information have varied purposes and methods of using our information. We need to provide the users the tools to help the user provide this information. We are often proud of our information work, but if a user does not know it is us or we do not want to claim our work is decreases credibility.

We need to embrace functional information architecture to ensure proper information use. This bleeds in to user experience design, but understanding how information is used and the information interface is used must be integrated into the IA. Proper functional IA should keep improper use of frames from occurring. Functional IA would walk through a string of questions using a wireframe of a site and ask how the frame sections would interact. We would ask what information is lost if not all the frames function (a surprisingly common occurrence). We would ask if frames maintain context for the information. We would look at methods of insuring the whole of the frames remains so to provide proper navigation, proper context, and proper metadata to help understand the information provided. Not asking these questions is not being responsible to the information, those that collected the metadata and spent time understanding how the information is to be used, and is not responsible to the consumers of the information.

February 21, 2002

Intranet Journal provides a card sorting tutorial, which also includes a survey of the users.

February 13, 2002

Over at CommArts, Mary Brodie outlines the requirements for developing successful navigations and user experiences. One of the things Mary brings up is UMLi (The Unified Modeling Language for Interactive Applications). I know that Jesse is not a fan of UML, but I have found many of the concepts and models quite helpful to frame interactive interface issues.

February 12, 2002

Jesse offers part 3 of the ia/recon discussing the over reliance on user testing for everything. This may be my favorite of the three components Jesse has posted so far. User testing offers a great step up and helps to understand the users better. Understanding graphic design, application development, and information architecture will help to construct solutions to information structure and interface and interaction design problems that user testing offers little insight. User testing in these areas can help let us know we are on the right track, but it will not point us in the right direction as we have not offered the user these choices if we don't have the experience.

New item causing muscle memory issues. I had to get a new keyboard for my PC as many keys went out for good last night (a, s, d, e, f, g, h, j, left ctrl, delete and down page). This made for creative alternatives this morning. The keyboard started developing a personality a couple months ago, but always came back to life in 15 minutes or so. I got a MS Natural keyboard, which had really nice key movement. I am quite impressed. Being a touch typist (is it okay to say that?) I really like the feel of the humped center, as it really eases typing. I am not sure I like the directional arrow layout, but I will learn. I did give up a volume knob and a mute button (along with 20 other buttons I did not use), but oh well.

February 7, 2002

CommArts features the Herman Miller Red site design, which includes User Experience and Information Architecture work of Nathan Shedroff (on of the Vivid Studio founders). I went to a session at last year's SXSW where Nathan presented an over view that is essentially the same as this, I am glad this is now on line as I can share it. This article provides a solid insight into decision making, workflow, and the purpose of wireframes.

An intriguing piece in the Mactopia section of the Microsoft site about Presentation tips from Dale Carnegie Training. The "plan" section reads:
  • Describe your audience as it relates to the topic Ăł their knowledge and experience, their needs, wants, and goals. Ask yourself, "What does my audience know about this topic?"
  • Define the purpose of your presentation as it relates to the outcome you seek. Is your intention to inform? Persuade? Motivate? Teach? When you clarify your purpose, you will more easily hit your target.
  • Plan the content of your presentation around your purpose and your audience's interest and level of understanding. Use words and phrases common to your audience, and focus on your purpose.
This sounds like it is straight out of a user centered design or user experience design article. This would even be at home in an advertising or public relations primer. Heck, it is just smart communication technique and one of the very basics, we must understand the user/audience.

February 2, 2002

Last Days of the Corporate Technophobe the NY Times headline reads. This article on how business is driven by information and the organization of information is paramount. The business world, or now those that did not "get it" before, is a knowledge-sharing and information processing realm. Those with out the ability are lost, or as this article states:

Not being able to use a computer in the year 2002 is like not being able to read in the 1950's.

This is important for us that create applications, Web sites, and other technologies. We have an important job in assisting the ease of information use and the process that helps this information become knowledge. Digging through the heaps of data can be eased so that the user can find the information that is important for their purposes. A large part of this job is creating an environment that will make for the ease of information use and mining the desired bits and bytes. A centralized or a minimum interconnected system of data stores that have the ability to keep information current across resources. Finding the snippets of information is often daunting in a large database centered system, but even worse in environments that have stores of segregated documents and data files (like MS Access). Information Architecture is vital to this effort assisting in helping create a navigatible structure of information. Looking at Google and its great improvements in vast information searching is the right direction also.

January 28, 2002

January 23, 2002

Digital Web is out with a new issue. My favorites from this issue are the interview with Chopping Block, the ever needed Flash usability guide, and the hands down my favorite is when design motivates. The rest of the issue is enjoyable and insightful as always, which includes motion design, the future, book review of 'Fresh Styles for Web Designers: Eye Candy from the Underground', and a review of digital video.

January 18, 2002

The Power of Smart Design in Business week. This interview with Dennis Boyle, design engineer at IDEO, brings out the importance good design can play in making a successful product. He states, "what regular people want is a product that does a few things really well". [hat tip Tomalak's Realm]

January 14, 2002

Kevin Fox adds New to You functionality to his site. This is the best idea I have run across in a while. It is a great idea that beats the problems I find on sites I frequent often. It also seems to cover the territory between visited links and not providing them. [hat tip Dinah]

January 5, 2002

The U.S. government's usability Website provides summaries of why it is good to perform iterative usabilty testing and showing usabilty testing saves money. Both of these are good discussion points when talking with clients and setting forth processes for information applications (including Internet sites and applications).

Stewart mulls the positive feedback loop in interaction design in his weblog. Stewart also links to a nice report/bulletin article highlighting designers of the future (kids) for SIGCHI Bulletin.

Stewarts article brings to mind the problems with capturing process and tasks when observing users perform their jobs in the early stages of contextual design. The last thing the observer wants to do is to influence what the user is doing. Asking questions on how to improve and working through the logic of the tasks and conditional elements of the task will come later. Understand the conditions the user has in place, don't ask why at the beginning, just capture as if you were going to have to repeat the exact same task.

The next step after capturing the information allows for understanding why there is a "wrk" button (using Stewart's example). Understanding what is behind the conditions will help build an application that is used as it maps to the user's cognitive understanding of the process. Some of these conditions may/can be broken when they are built into an algorithm. Breaking too many of the conditions can create an application that is quite foreign to the user and therefore possibly shunned.

One method of getting through the non-essential conditions is to use a transitional process. This would entail keeping some of the non-essential conditions in an applications interactive process with the user, i.e. sending an e-mailing to verify a fax was received. Including a verification notification for delivery of information may be included as it is engrained in the user's work pattern. As the user's learn to trust and respect the information in the new application they are using is reliable the verification notice may be altered to show only information not delivered or turned off completely.

Getting back to the starting point, if an observer would propose turning off the verification process and notification in the task capturing procedure there may be one individual that understands why there is not a verification process. The application being developed may be for many users that use the standard procedures. The user being observed may offer suggestions and these should be captured.

January 2, 2002

An USA Today article on poor product design provides insight that is helpful not only to product development, but also application development. The insights (while not new to most of us, but most likely very new to USA Today readers) include not including the consumer early enough in the process, product design team not well balanced, and technology runs amok.

These very closely apply to Web/Internet/Application development's downfalls. Not including the user in the development phases and/or testing with users early and throughout the development process. Having a development team that does not have a balance of visual, technical, and production skills can be problematic. Lastly, projects that are technology for technology's sake, very rarely offer success.

Conversely, success comes from getting these things right, involving the user and understanding how users would interact and use what you are building. Having a balanced team so that visual, technical, and production issues can be addressed and solved appropriately. And lastly knowing when and how to best use what technologies will drive success.

This last element, understanding the technologies, will help you get over the hurdle of accessibility/508 compliance. It will also help you find the best tools to interact with the users of the site/application. Having DHTML elements to provide action on a site or to serve information, when the user audience does not fully have the capability of addressing or handling the presentation, will have detrimental effects. Know what your elements your users have turned on and off in their browsers and what versions they are using. It is important to know what threshold of user profile can be the cut-off for developing a site. If 10% of your users have JavaScript turned off should you still develop elements of your site that are JavaScript dependant without providing an alternate service? Know and set this percentage threshold, as it will help understand why you can and can not use certain technologies.

January 1, 2002

Google shares its 10 things they found to be true, which starts off with, "focus on the user and all else will follow". There are many other truths in this list. [hat tip eleganthack and Digital-Web New]

December 18, 2001

37signals' design not found offers an example of letting your users know restrictions. This is not only important for restrictions, but letting users know which are required fields. Users are not mind readers, so don't treat them like Uri Geller or David Blaine. [hat tip Christina]

December 3, 2001

The BBC reports that Intel is running field studies on mobile device use in London. The research is an ethnogrphic study of interactive use. The article states, "'One of the things that makes a successful technology is a technology that supports experiences that people want to have,' explained Ms Genevieve Bell, senior researcher and design ethnographer at Intel." This is nice news, but slightly more impressive is the general media's explainations of the study, (you go Beeb!!).

December 2, 2001

We are all trying to make our sites more accessible. Some of us do it because we have to and others of us do it because it is the right thing to do. No matter what our mission to many of us it is a new twist to our regular routines and we could use some help. Those of us that use Macromedia products now have help in Macromedia's Solutions Kit of Accessability.

Joe Gillespie's Interface Design Primer offers a wonderful background of the computer interface. There are wonderful nuggets that we designers and devleopers need to keep in mind. Knowing how, why, history, and reasoning behind elements of interface understanding are some of the best tools we carry in our tool belts. We also need to keep testing what we know to ensure there are not new shades that will help get all of us around a corner to a much better method of providing the user an intuitive interactive interface. [hat tip Jeffery]

November 28, 2001

In digging through the v/d wal net access logs I found a pull quote at Cognitive Architects from my brain dumps on Information Architecture. This is an interesting way to parse information and ideas from one's own head.

I promise I will not make a habit of pointing to others quoting me. Although I may point to outside sources where I am posting my braindumps, as this site is my method of culling information of interest and tracking my own thoughts along with a resource to track other ideas of interest to myself.

November 16, 2001

Is Information Architect the Term for the Work of Setting Plans for Information Applications

There has been quite a bit of discussion about the moniker Information Architect on the sigia-L listserve lately. I tried to post a response, but it never made it to the list serve. I am not too concerned about the name or the label attached to the skills and practice of these skills, but to me IA is rather apropos for what I find to be a core part of information application development. The following is my input and a description of what I do as a foundation for developing information applications.

I am finding a lot of common ground in the descriptions of IA, User-based terms, and Experience Design. I tend to lump the whole, to a large extent, into Information Architecture. My work focuses on building information applications from static Web pages to Content Management Systems (CMS) driven sites that extend access to the information to wireless/mobile devices and work between systems. There are two key elements of this development: the information and the user.

Information architects put structure to the information to better understand it by looking at it through the eyes of the user. How does the user think about this information? How does the user structure the information in their mind? How will the information be used and in what context? Where do users look for this information? These questions are essential to building an information application that can and hopefully will be used. I can not have a successful project or product result unless these questions are asked, answered, and put in to a logical structure. This is the basis for navigation systems, metadata gathering, synomic databases for searches, the foundation to build a wireframe, and extends to the framework to create an information facade in the Richard Saul Wuhrman/Nathan Shedroff understanding of IA.

Louis Rosenfeld sees IA as an intersection of three areas: users, content, and context. Which are the base elements that most of us come to the table to understand. These elements are the core elements that need to be understood for an information application.

Christina Wodtke's big tent includes three elements to an IA: content architecture, interaction design, and information design. These elements are the action elements to Lou's component level approach.

The Experience Design folks (of the Richard Saul Wurman and Nathan Shedroff fold) have the same elements in their tool kit and approach the questions much the same manner, but have an experiential end goal the are trying to achieve.

Much of my understanding of these elements came initially from Communication Theory, advertising, public relations, and direct marketing. The user/audience is the focal point of communication and to target a message one needs to answer the same user centric questions and understand the information at hand. I added this background to my then hobby of playing with computers and trying to make applications function in a way that helped me do my job and try to extend that passion to helping others use technology to aid them. The core focus is the user, the task, and the information.

I really like Marc Rittig's hub-and-spoke approach to find a core set of understanding, which there is plenty there to build upon. The joining of disciplines where there is common ground is important as we have a lot to learn and a lot of experiences to share.

I did not know what to call the foundation skills that I found needed to be employed in a project to lead to success. At SXSW last year information architecture kept popping up as a viable choice. After six to seven years of working off a modified process, based on the one I read on vivid studio's site and married it to my process background learned in communication theory, I had a name. I worked for six years with out a name for what I did and found helpful. I know that much of what I do is based on examining how an information space will be used to provide a structured understanding to the user for accessing and using that information. Understanding the user and the information allows a map/schematic/blueprint to be drawn, upon which an information application can be built.

November 15, 2001

Chistina Wodtke's secret project is no longer a secret. Boxes and Arrows is out of the bag. I have been having a wonderful time offering my services to help see this come to life. I offer what I can to move a great project along that is filled with some wonderfully amazing folks from around the globe.

November 12, 2001

IBM Developer Works offers paper prototyping the good and the bad.

Including the Synch

MIT's Technology Review provides Simpson Garfinkel's article The Net Effect: Super Sync", which gets to the core of the Internet... information usage and cross contextual usage. Garfinkel's idea revolves around synching, as one would do with their Palm Pilot to their computer so to have the same version of information with them while the person is mobile and not at their desk. Having this information at easy access whether we are connected to a network (large or small) or not is central to how people work with and use information. On a simple level prior to home computers and PDA's many of people kept a large address book at home and carried a smaller version and calendar with them as they went about their daily routine.

The Palm HotSynch software is used as the center piece to explain the idea of synching and keeping versions running at work, home, and on your Palm. Garfinkel discusses the Concurrent Version Systems that are used to keep versions intact as different people work on the same document or software code.

This synching of information is one area that still needs a lot of work, in my view. I keep and carry separate devices, because that is my choice. But getting information from my Palm to my cell phone is not a viable option at this point. I like each of the tools on their own merits, but having them synch or share information would be very helpful. Even using the Palm to read AvantGo is problematic because it does not allow me to use the information in a manner that works in the way I do. I often read an article from AvantGo and want to e-mail it to others to read or want to post comments about it in this space so I can find it and reuse it at later date as well as share this information. I can't with out going through the work of digging the information out off the Web. It does not need to be that many steps and should not be. After all I can click on an ad that is above the article I am reading in AvantGo and it will send me more information to the e-mail address stored for this purpose the next time I sync. Now just go that extra step and e-mail me the link to the article.

This is just a peak at what is around the corner as we get information applications in our dashboard that help us with direction routing, location based services, and other information. Keeping restaurant information we like synched from out car, our cell phone, to our handheld, to our computer at home is the next step. If we are driving around and have been stuck in traffic and get off the highway in a somewhat unfamiliar area, we can ask to find local restaurant located based on criteria we prefer. The location based service (LBS) may provide options and read you the review, we select which one we want and the LBS provides directions. The LBS if it is connected to our hands-free mobile phone could pass the number of the restaurant to the phone so to call to verify it is open and make a reservation, or could use a service like Open Table to do the same. Once we have had our meal and we liked the restaurant we can mark our review so it can be stored as a place we like, which would pass to our PDA to store and add to our favorites list on our central computer. Sound like George Jetson? It may not be too far away. Each of the applications to make this happen are available and the remaining component is synchronization and sharing of the information.

November 8, 2001

Stand on the Shoulders of Giants and Build a Better Web

Peter Merholz announces the posting of Adaptive Path presentations on their site. I got a lot out of the AP two day Web2001 presentation. It provided much needed validation of my skills, approach, documentation, and mindset of how I go about my work. I had been using processes and tools that were cobbled together off the Vivid Studio's site and extensions of Communication analysis and planning skills learned in college. The live presentation also provided me a few new approaches, deliverable ideas, and understandings that I would not have picked up from reading.

If you like the presentations, you will love the live sessions. Do your self and your organization or client a favor and go to the sessions. You too will be able to stand on the shoulders of giants and build a better Web.

The following is an overview of the ASIS&T lively debate between two leaders in the field of human-computer interaction -- Dr. James Hendler and Dr. Ben Shneiderman. I have heard Schneiderman a couple times before and agree with much of his approach. I had not heard or read Hendler, but I have a feeling I will be digging out some of his works. There is a lot of common ground between the two speakers. Again these are rough notes. The future of web use: visual, social, universal (Ben Schneiderman)
  • Getting the cognitively comprehensible right your users get feeling of mastery
  • Effective visual display is key
  • Community has become central to Internet use
  • Central to Internet use is trust
  • Key element is building trust
  • Universal usability is essential
  • Online help does not go far enough to helping the user
  • Human interaction over intelligent agents
  • Ontology is very important

Creating Ben's Web (James Hendler)

  • Agents interact in conversational interaction: user asks question agent replies w/ options
  • Shared communications extends knowledge & gives context & depth
  • Agents work on your preferences
  • Web does not have central ontological organization principle
  • Schema to schema translators needed
  • Semantic web

November 6, 2001

IBM's Ease of Use Center offers articles, links, and resources that cover a wide gamut of offerings to help development for the user's benefit. The resource is full of wonderful offerings.

The feature story in October was The Purpose of the Machine is to Augment Us, which focusses on Franco Vitaliano of VXM Technologies in Boston, MA. "Maybe the intelligence of a system is not in the computer sitting inside a war room or on a desktop," he says, "but in what we call the communications cloud."

November 5, 2001

User Interface Engineering (UIE) provides a snippet of their research in Users Decide First, Move Second. UIE found that users would decide where they were going on a Web site prior to moving their mouse to click. This is problematic for those sites with DHTML drop down menus that have much of their navigational content until you mouse-over.

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