Off the Top: Information Architecture Entries


January 16, 2014

OmniOutliner Counts to Four

One of my favorite applications that a lot of my work and workflow lives in and through, OmniOutliner, updated today. OmniOutliner 4 finally was released today. Its interface becomes a little easier to use for more advanced functions, but if you use the iPad version the new Mac version now looks and works a little more like the iPad version (I think this is a good thing for consistency and ease of use).

I have been using OmniOutliner since version one. I learned to think and organize in outlines and I loved in the old days of WordPerfect the start a document in an outline and then start fleshing it out allowed me to work in the same manner I learned in the fourth grade in Mrs. Norman’s class at Raleigh Park Elementary. This seemed natural to prepare writing this way and once WordPerfect went missing from my workflow other writing tools faked outlines and I looked for good outlining tools to be that foundation. OmniOutliner filled this void. But, once I found OmniOutliner I found other fans who had scripted it to do really helpful tasks, like capture web site maps and dump them into OmniOutliner to annotate and arrange them, then use a script to push into OmniGraffle to visualize. Doing this in 2003 (or so) was pure joy. Not only was was OmniOutliner easy to use, it was really powerful because it was well structured and scriptable.

OmniOutliner is Where I Think

About 2003 I was asked by friend Jesse James Garret, “What tool to you think in?” At that point my answer was OmniOutliner. OmniOutliner was my capture tool that allowed for easy structuring and arranging of order. In years to come with OPML becoming the glue to connect many things in my workflow, I would would move my outlines from OmniOutliner to a mind mapping tool and back and forth. This moving the outline into a mind map allowed me to see it and see relationships spatially and to identify order, modify structure, and make connections between nodes in different branches of the mind map. From the mind map I could take all the modifications and move them back into the outline and tweak a little more. From this point it was moving into writing or into a Keynote presentation (also with a script that would take the OmniOutline and convert it to a presentation to flesh out visually).

The Initial Foundation of What Became OmniFocus

With OmniOutliner I went through the early productivity layer for it that later turned into OmniFocus. My old business started and was kept on schedule in that precursor to OmniFocus that Ethan Schoonover cobbled into and on top of OmniOutliner that was called Kinkless GTD (or KGTD for short).

I still think in OmniOutliner. I have all of the (now) 54 elements of the social lenses tucked in there with their hundreds of sub-nodes. This outline is what became the initial foundation for the four days of walk through of them with Dave Gray for what would turn into the Connected Company book. The collection of similar outlines are all within easy reach. I have a saved Spotlight search in the Finder sidebar that aggregate all my OmniOutliner files for one easy view across everything.

OmniOutliner 4 Offers Even More Potential

I really look forward to how OmniOutliner 4 becomes a new part of my world and workflows. The AppleScript looks robust (I didn’t try it in the many months of beta, but look forward to it now). With scripting and the structure there is a whole lot that is possible.



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.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


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 vanderwal.net 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

Overview/Intro

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", "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, 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.

Summary

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.



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 Last.fm 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.



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]



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.



July 14, 2007

Understanding Taxonomy and Folksonmy Together

I deeply appreciate Joshua Porter's link to from his Taxonomies and Tags blog post. This is a discussion I have quite regularly as to the relation and it is in my presentations and workshops and much of my tagging (and social web) training, consulting, and advising focusses on getting smart on understanding the value and downfalls of folksonomy tagging (as well as traditional tagging - remember tagging has been around in commercial products since at least the 1980s). The following is my response in the comments to Josh' post...

Response to Taxonomy and Tags

Josh, thanks for the link. If the world of language were only this simple that this worked consistently. The folksonomy is a killer resource, but it lacks structure, which it crucial to disambiguating terms. There are algorithmic ways of getting close to this end, but they are insanely processor intensive (think days or weeks to churn out this structure). Working from a simple flat taxonomy or faceted system structure can be enabled for a folksonomy to adhere to.
This approach can help augment tags to objects, but it is not great at finding objects by tags as Apple would surface thousands of results and they would need to be narrowed greatly to find what one is seeking.
There was an insanely brilliant tool, RawSugar [(now gone thanks to venture capitalists pulling the plug on a one of a kind product that would be killer in the enterprise market)], that married taxonomy and folksonomy to help derive disambiguation (take appleseed as a tag, to you mean Johnny Appleseed, appleseed as it relates to gardening/farming, cooking, or the anime movie. The folksonomy can help decipher this through co-occurrence of terms, but a smart interface and system is needed to do this. Fortunately the type of system that is needed to do this is something we have, it is a taxonomy. Using a taxonomy will save processor time, and human time through creating an efficient structure.
Recently I have been approached by a small number of companies who implemented social bookmarking tools to develop a folksonomy and found the folksonomy was [initially] far more helpful than they had ever imagined and out paced their taxonomy-based tools by leaps and bounds (mostly because they did not have time or resources to implement an exhaustive taxonomy (I have yet to find an organization that has an exhaustive and emergent taxonomy)). The organizations either let their taxonomist go or did not replace them when they left as they seemed to think they did not need them with the folksonomy running. All was well and good for a while, but as the folksonomy grew the ability to find specific items decreased (it still worked fantastically for people refinding information they had personally tagged). These companies asked, "what tools they would need to start clearing this up?" The answer a person who understands information structure for ease of finding, which is often a taxonomist, and a tool that can aid in information structure, which is often a taxonomy tool.
The folksonomy does many things that are difficult and very costly to do in taxonomies. But taxonomies do things that folksonomies are rather poor at doing. Both need each other.

Complexity Increases as Folksonomies Grow

I am continually finding organizations are thinking the social bookmarking tools and folksonomy are going to be simple and a cure all, but it is much more complicated than that. The social bookmarking tools will really sing for a while, but then things need help and most of the tools out there are not to the point of providing that assistance yet. There are whole toolsets missing for monitoring and analyzing the collective folksonomy. There is also a need for a really good disambiguation tool and approach (particularly now that RawSugar is gone as a viable approach).



June 16, 2007

New Profession Unfolding In Beauty and Geekery

A week or more ago I ran across the incredible video of Blaise Aguera y Arcas presentation of Photosynth and Seadragon at TEDTalks 2007. The video is stunning work of Seadragon and Photosynth bringing a collection of images to life from one or more resources.

While the video and ideas behind the tools are incredible displays of where we are today with technology and where we are heading, this caused some ideas I have been trying to get to gel to finally come together. In this video Blaise states (my own transcription):

So what the point here really is, is we can do things with the social environment taking data from everybody, from the entire collective memory of what the earth looks like, and link all of that together and make something emergent that is greater than the sum of the parts. You have a model that emerges of the entire earth, think of it as the long tail to Stephen Lawlers Virtual Earth work. This is something that grows in complexity as people use it and whose benefits become greater to the users as they use it. Their own photos are getting tagged with metadata that somebody else entered. If somebody bothered to tag all of these saints and say who they all are, then my photo of the Notre Dame Cathedral suddenly gets enriched with all of that data. I can use it as an entry point to dive into that space in that metaverse, using everybody else's photos, and do a cross-modal and cross-user social experience that way. Of course a by product of all of that is an immensely rich virtual models of every interesting part of the earth, collected not just from overhead flight and satellite images, but from the collective memory.

Torrent of Human Contributed Digital Content

What this brought together was the incredible amount of human contributed digital content we are sitting on top of at this moment in time. This is not a new concept, but what is different is the skills, tools, and understanding to make use and sense of all this content are having to change incredibly. The Photosynth team is making use of Flickr content that has been annotated by humans (tags, titles, and descriptions), as well as by devices (date, time, location, etc.). This meta information provides hooks put pull disparate information back from its sole beauty and make an even greater beauty and deeper understanding. The collective is better than the pieces, but pulling to collective together in a manner that is coherent, adds value, and brings deeper appreciation is where get hard.

Much of information understanding and sense making to date has relied on human understanding and we have used tools to augment our understanding. But, we now need to rely on deeper analytics in quantitative methods and advanced algorithms to make sense and beauty out of the bits and bytes. The models of understanding are changing to requiring visualizations methods (much like those of Stamen Design) to begin to grasp and see what is happening in our torrent of information at our finger tips and well as make sense of the social interactions of our digitally networked and digitally augmented lives.

Amalgamation of Designer and Quant Geek

What gelled in my mind watching the Blaise demonstration is there is a skill set missing in the next generation comprised of amalgamated design, information use, analytical foundation, and strong quantitative skills. I have clients in start-up businesses and in enterprise that are confronting these floods of information they need to make sense of from folksonomies and customer generated content (including annotations and regular feedback). The skills needed for building taxonomies are not translating well when the volume of information the information managers are dealing with is orders of magnitude higher than what they dealt with previously. The designer, information architect, and taxonomist who have traditionally have dealt with building the systems of information order, access, and use are missing the quantitative skills to analyze and make sense out of a torrent of loosely structured information and digital objects. Those with the quantitative and strong analytical skills have lacked the design and art skills to bring the understanding into frame for regular people grasp and understand.

This class of designer and quant geek is much like the renaissance men, but today the field of those forging new ground is open to men and women. The need to understand not only broad but deep sets of data and information so to contextualize it into understanding is the realm of few, unfortunately as there is a need for many.

I know of limited pockets of people with the skills to do the hard work of querying the vast array of information, objects, and raw data then make something of value of it. But, there needs to be more of these people getting trained as designers with solid quantitative and analytical skills (or the converse). Design shops are missing the quant geeks and engineering shops are missing the visualization geeks that bring this digital world rich in opportunity into something that makes sense and beauty.

If you know people like this that are bored, please let me know as I am finding opportunities flowing.



November 21, 2006

Beneath the Metadata - Pointer to Replies

I have read the "Beneath the Metadata: Some Philosophical Problems with Folksonomy in the November 2006 DLib. Boy, did I have problems with it, but so did David Weinberger, who responded with Beneath the Metadata - a reply.

My reading of the DLib article brought back the pain of taxonomies and the "expert" arrogance that occasionally accompanies taxonomies. I have worked in many enterprise organizations who have gone down the taxonomy route and had decent results. Taxonomies are essential parts of building information management tools. But taxonomies are never done, they are not easily emergent, they are incredibly resource intensive (they need a lot of money and people to build them and maintain them), and they don't work for everybody (sometimes large portions of the people who use the information system can not find or refind information they want or need using the taxonomy). When we would survey the people using our intranet or the internet application, one of the top responses was things were difficult to find as they were not called what they expected them to be called. This can be before or after a few hundred thousand dollars were spent building a taxonomy.

The remainder of this reply is posted at: Beneath the Metadata - Replies, where comments are turned on.



October 6, 2006

IA for Web Developers Presentation

My recent presentation at Web Directions South on Informaiton Architecture for Web Developers is now here live online. I am using SlideShare from Uzanto, which is Rashmi Sinha and Jonathan Boutelle in the Mountain View, California and others in India.



October 1, 2006

Sydney Update

A little update... The trip to Sydney has been fantastic, even if I have been working, preparing for presenting, prenting or deeply enjoying other's presentations at Web Directions and OZ IA. I am finally getting out to see Syndey and the bits around it today. I have been here since Monday morning and it is now Sunday, but that is the way it is and I would not change it.

Oddly, I not only lost a day getting here, crossing the dateline, but I lost a day once I got here as Monday and Tuesday really blurred into one another. This trip was one of the more brutal trips, as far as personal disconnectedness (jet lag to some), that I have experienced. It took until about Wednesday night for all my bits to start feeling like there were all in the same place. By Thursday everything was running "normal".

I have been spending a fair amount of time with people from the Web Directions conference, as they are the ones who made this fantastic trip possible. I have met many incredible people and I have been made aware of the vast talent that is in Australia. Count me stunned as I wash of the paint of ignorance that has kept my eyes from noticing this sooner. But, on the web I have no idea where anybody is (this year I have not been sure where I am at times). I have been really impressed with the people that are here from Western Australia both in their knowledge/skills and friendly nature. I became aware of the incredible Port 80 on this trip, which seems to be one of the most vibrant web sharing groups I know of. I was surprised to learn that Site Point is from Melbourne as I have been reading their site and books for years. I even found out that Google Maps was started here before being bought by Google (is Google the new Microsoft with the "not invented here" tag for all their killer services?) and is still driven from here.

To all I me at Web Directions and OZ IA, please keep in touch. In fact, just shoot an e-mail from the contact button/link to make this easier. I met many people who have inspired me and light a fire under my desire to spend time projects I care about and be the best I can be. The passionate discussions about things we all care about have been wonderful as well. The world on this trip became insanely flat, as I have had a really difficult time sorting out where I am (that should change shortly as I get out and actually see a little of Sydney and what makes Sydney unique).

I am already thinking about how I can get back to see more places and the people again, but on their home turf. It would be nice to see people in Western Australia, Melbourne, ACT, Brisbane, etc. There is so much greatness here in Australia, I am glad much of what I have learned and discovered is only a mouse click away, but seeing people face to face and hearing stories of their efforts to make a better web for more and more people is what it is all about. I am going to come away from this trip deeply inspired. Thank you.



September 29, 2006

Web Directions Presentations Posted

I have posted my two presentations from Web Directions for download: IA for Web Developers (PDF 14MB); IA for the "Come to Me Web" (PDF 3MB). Please e-mail questions and comments (found under the connect button (JavaScript needs to be on).

I will have a follow-up post in the near future (hopefully), in short Web Directions has been a great conference, run by and attended by utterly fantastic people.



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 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 (vanderwal.net) and they are not as friendly, readable, or guessable as they should be. There is no understanding what http://www.vanderwal.net/random/entrysel.php?blog62 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 vanderwal.net 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.



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.



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 26, 2006

Prefab and the Blog Template

I have been fascinated by prefabricated (prefab) homes for the past few years. It first started with "why"? Why would somebody want to live in a prefab home. But, that turned into, "Hmmm, there is something to this prefab stuff". Part was the Dwell magazine interest in prefab, which played out into a prefab competition and prefab competition winners.

Prefab Blogs

I had the same feelings toward the standard blog styles, templates, and themes. Quickly, the standard designs became the norm. Where we had personally designed pages that had their own distinct flavor and style we had beautiful generic designs adopted by growing masses. The level to entry to beauty was lowered. In doing so I began to have many friends with the same blog design (this personally caused me cognitive difficulty as I remember blogs by color and distinct design and the wonderful design of the generics made my methods of distinguishing one blog from the other null and void). This sameness may say something about my friends and their similar taste and my apparent lack of diversity in choice in those whose company I enjoy all through the lens of visual design.

Prefab as an Old Cultural Trend

The more I thought, and still think, about prefab homes the more I realize our modern post-industrial lives are prefab. The suburbs (even urban settings) are all based on a limited selection of "floorplans" and exterior designs. I have spent a fair amount of time traveling the past year or two in the northern and western hemisphere in urban settings. There is a sameness to the city center architecture in Amsterdam, Oxford (England), San Francisco, Berlin, London, etc. The homes, commercial, and public buildings have their set patterns that distinguish time, use, and taste.

I think about my home, which was built in 1951 and was part of a small sub-division, which had a limited number of options that included our "cape cod" floor plan and style. Our neighborhood is changing like many others around the country that have homes more than 20 years old the older homes are being vastly modified and expanded or are being torn down and new larger homes are taking their place. These newer homes are too quite similar in style and floor plan to each other.

Is Prefab Bad?

As my initial dislike of prefab has faded, I still keep wondering about good or decent design being mass marketed and becoming too familiar and creating a backlash. One purveyor or good design for everybody is IKEA, which everybody I know owns at least one or two pieces of furniture from, no matter their financial or social status. Prefab homes are not quite in the same category, but they are heading in a similar direction. In our post-industrial life familiarity and similarity breeds comfort for many. We see similar patterns of similarity even in those cultures of differentiation (punk, MySpace, alternative, etc.) where the rebellion against the "beautiful" and commonly accepted "good design" is subverted. Tattoos, piercing, mohawks (again, which is comforting and ironic to me), illegible text in designs, low contrast design of bold color choices, etc. all are part of the counter culture, but are all a blending and a culture of familiarity and comfort.

There are set patterns in our cultures. When personal websites started (this one is a variant of one I started more than 10 years ago) there was a handful of them, a few hundred or a few thousand handfuls. Personal sites were personal reflections. They were our playgrounds and our means to be different, as much a part of being divergent as they were emergent. In MySpace we see much of the same attempt to separate one's self from the crowd. But, at the same time with 51 million (give or take 10 or 20 million more) differentiation is only part of a much larger pattern.

Finding a Home

Prefab is not bad, but just a means to inexpensively and easily get a home. It is not the exterior, but the interior space that is the place for personalization. Just as templates in blogs are a means to get a good design as a starting point to personalize, but the personalization is minor edits to the design as one component. The real personalization is the content that fills the once blank spaces. It is what is put in the blank text box. It is the voice and the expression of our views and ideas that make the space its ours and theirs. Much like what activities, what we make of the places we occupy, and who we interact with that shape our physical prefab spaces it is much the same same in the digital prefab spaces.

We are all out to find and build our home. It is something that is ours. It is something that is a reflection of who we are, who we want others to believe we are, and/or who we want to be.



June 17, 2006

Cultures of Simplicity and Information Structures

Two Conferences Draw Focus

I am now getting back to responding to e-mail sent in the last two or three weeks and digging through my to do list. As time wears I am still rather impressed with both XTech and the Microlearning conferences. Both have a focus on information and data that mirrors my approaches from years ago and are the foundation for how I view all information and services. Both rely on well structured data. This is why I pay attention and keep involved in the information architecture community. Well structured data is the foundation of what falls into the description of web 2.0. All of our tools for open data reuse demands that the underlying data is structured well.

Simplicity of the Complex

One theme that continually bubbled up at Microlearning was simplicity. Peter A. Bruck in his opening remarks at Microlearning focussed on simplicity being the means to take the complex and make it understandable. There are many things in the world that are complex and seemingly difficult to understand, but many of the complex systems are made up of simple steps and simple to understand concepts that are strung together to build complex systems and complex ideas. Every time I think of breaking down the complex into the simple components I think of Instructables, which allows people to build step-by-step instructions for anything, but they make each of the steps as reusable objects for other instructions. The Instructables approach is utterly brilliant and dead in-line with the microlearning approach to breaking down learning components into simple lessons that can be used and reused across devices, based on the person wanting or needing the instruction and providing it in the delivery media that matches their context (mobile, desktop, laptop, tv, etc.).

Simple Clear Structures

This structuring of information ties back into the frameworks for syndication of content and well structured data and information. People have various uses and reuses for information, data, and media in their lives. This is the focus on the Personal InfoCloud. This is the foundation for information architecture, addressable information that can be easily found. But, in our world of information floods and information pollution due to there being too much information to sort through, findability of information is important as refindability (this is rarely addressed). But, along with refindability is the means to aggregate the information in interfaces that make sense of the information, data, and media so to provide clarity and simplicity of understanding.

Europe Thing Again

Another perspective of the two conferences was they were both in Europe. This is not a trivial variable. At XTech there were a few other Americans, but at Microlearning I was the only one from the United States and there were a couple Canadians. This European approach to understanding and building is slightly different from the approach in the USA. In the USA there is a lot of building and then learning and understanding, where as in Europe there seems to be much more effort in understanding and then building. The results are somewhat different and the professional nature of European products out of the gate where things work is different than in the USA. This was really apparent with System One, which is an incredible product. System One has all the web 2.0 buzzwords under the hood, but they focus on a simple to use tool that pulls together the best of the new components, but only where it makes sense to create a simple tool that addresses complex problems.

Culture of Understanding Complex to Make Simple

It seems the European approach is to understand and embrace the complex and make it simple through deep understanding of how things are built. It is very similar to Instructables as a culture. The approach in the USA seems to include the tools, but have lacked the understanding of the underlying components and in turn have left out elements that really embrace simplicity. Google is a perfect example of this approach. They talk simplicity, but nearly every tool is missing elements that make it fully usable (calendar not having sync, not being able to only have one or two Google tools on rather than everything on). This simplicity is well understood by the designers and they have wonderful solutions to the problems, but the corporate culture of churning things out gets in the way.

Breaking It Down for Use and Reuse

Information in simple forms that can be aggregated and viewed as people need in their lives is essential to us moving forward and taking the pain out of technology that most regular people experience on a daily basis. It is our jobs to understand the underlying complexity, create simple usable and reusable structures for that data and information, and allow simple solutions that are robust to be built around that simplicity.



May 24, 2006

Information Architecture is Information Structure

There were many things that stood out at XTech, but Matt Biddulph's comment in his presentation about building the open data access to the BBC program data really hit home:

I am an information architect because I care about the structure of information and building things from that structure

This has been my framework from dog years ago. Data must be structured well to be used. It is a rant that I continually push, but had not heard back at me in years. Data must be structured and open to be used. All of this chatter about Web 2.0 is based on open and structured data. Microformats is allowing objects in documents on the web to be structured on the web consistently.

In all, XTech made my heart warm as it was all about properly structuring data for use and reuse. It is the geek side of information architecture. It is at the core of the Personal InfoCloud, it is my reason for my work with the Web Standards Project, it is the reason I participate in the Information Architecture Institute, it is the foundation for as it allowing people to structure information in their own personal framework so it is easier to refind, it allows aggregation of information in this hyper-flood of information pollution, and it is what makes it so much easier to see the technical nirvana of having the information we want and need at our fingertips when we need it.



May 23, 2006

More XTech 2006

I have had a little time to sit back and think about XTech I am quite impressed with the conference. The caliber of presenter and the quality of their presentations was some of the best of any I have been to in a while. The presentations got beneath the surface level of the subjects and provided insight that I had not run across elsewhere.

The conference focus on browser, open data (XML), and high level presentations was a great mix. There was much cross-over in the presentations and once I got the hang that this was not a conference of stuff I already knew (or presented at a level that is more introductory), but things I wanted to dig deeper into. I began to realize late into the conference (or after in many cases) that the people presenting were people whose writting and contributions I had followed regularly when I was doing deep development (not managing web development) of web applications. I changed my focus last Fall to get back to developing innovative applications, working on projects that are built around open data, and that filled some of the many gaps in the Personal InfoCloud (I also left to write, but that did get side tracked).

As I mentioned before, XTech had the right amount of geek mindset in the presentations. The one that really brought this to the forefront of my mind was on XForms, an Alternative to Ajax by Erik Bruchez. It focussed on using XForms as a means to interact with structured data with Ajax.

Once it dawned on me that this conference was rather killer and I sould be paying attention to the content and not just those in the floating island of friends the event was nearly two-thirds the way through. This huge mistake on my part was the busy nature of things that lead up to XTech, as well as not getting there a day or two earlier to adjust to the time, and attend the pre-conference sessions and tutorials on Ajax.

I was thrilled ot see the Platial presentation and meet the makers of the service. When I went to attend Simon Willison's presentation rather than attending the GeoRSS session, I realized there was much good content at XTech and it is now one on my must attend list.

As the conference was progressing I was thinking of all of the people that would have really benefitted and enjoyed XTech as well. A conference about open data and systems to build applications with that meet real people's needs is essential for most developers working out on the live web these days.

If XTech sounded good this year in Amsterdam, you may want to note that it will be in Paris next year.



May 16, 2006

Nick Finck on XHTML Wireframes

Nick does a killer job in a post on XHML wireframing and use and reuse of deliverables. This is something I had been doing for years and found it really made the conception to inception process really quick. It also gives the means to keep your documentation up to date. The time savings with XHTML wireframes has been about a quarter to a third of the development time saved.

Those who don't like giving clients clickable wireframes, the pages can be printed/saved out in PDF and annotated.

The other knock is IAs not knowing XHTML or CSS. Somebody working in the practice of web development and web design that does not have an understanding of the handful of elements in XHTML needs to learn it quickly. Go look at CSS Zen Garden to get an idea of what design can be done on top of properly structured XHTML. Lift the hood and look at the mark-up. It is not that difficult.

In short go read Nick's wonderful piece and give XHTML wireframes a shot.



April 30, 2006

Popularity Overrated?

Matt McAlister brings up the problems of being popular. This is a subject I have been spending a fair amount of time thinking about the past few months. Matt has a statement that is at the core of my focus, "Popularity-driven models water down the value in those hard-to-find nuggets." I spend a lot of time with regular people talking to them about tagging and many of the newer web tools that are popular with the forward thinking web geek crowd. One of the biggest problems stated are around the popularity tools, like tag clouds and collective voting on news (e.g. digg, etc.).

The problems are related to popularity getting in the way of what they are seeking. The tag cloud is what gets noticed on pages, but most people think del.icio.us (or any other tool or service that uses tag clouds) is fully represented by the tag cloud. That is a huge problem as del.icio.us is a very broad tool, but a quick look at what is in a tag cloud or the new items on the front page has users thinking it is a very narrowly focussed social bookmarking tool that mostly attracts people with technical and web interests. This completely misses the communities that sit under that tag cloud. In popular tools most of the content and communities of interest are sitting below the tag cloud and are not represeted at all by the tag cloud.

Much of the value of human filtering, which is the capability of a social bookmarking tools (like del.icio.us, RawSugar, Shadows, and Yahoo's MyWeb 2) is in finding the those &#quot;hard-to-find nuggets" (as Matt states). The value in these tools is being able to follow certain people on specific subjects, which they bookmark and tag. Many of these tools are fairly good at this, but they must focus on the specific interests not just the person in that service. As the tools grow with more people using them the tools must scale to allow us to filter out the noise.

Popularity does not help filter, but it takes the fire hose of information and just focusses it. What we find with the popularity tools it that much of this information can be found elsewhere. Remember high school? Do the popular 10% represent the interests of the remaining 90%? Didn't think so. Now look at the popularity tools and interfaces and you begin to see the problems that the 95% of the web users have with these tools. They don't scale, they are tied to their interests that they celebrate as being popular. How do regular people fly below the tag cloud? How do regular people use a Digg or a memeorandum to find their interests (if these sites were that broad)? How do we (as web developers and designers) build for breadth and depths to surface that, which is lost in the regular web search engines?

Seeing how Yahoo's MyWeb 2 surfaces content that people in one's own community have found and bookmarked, it could be that tagging is one of the methods (MyWeb 2 is hands-down my favorite social bookmarking tool as it makes Yahoo Search the best search engine for me by a long shot because it focusses on my vocabulary and interests. Were my interests focussed on model railroading or knitting a tool along these lines would be far more valuble than any other tool. Finding new items, as well as the gems that are hidden, is quite tough on the web today and I don't see the popularity tools doing anything to fix this.

Does this mean that the popularity tools do not work? No, but their usage is limited.



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.



March 8, 2006

Ray Ozzie Demos Live Clipboard for the Personal InfoCloud

Boy, did I whine too early! As Jyri blogs, Ray Ozzie demos a desktop to blog structured information tool. Ray demonstrated a potential (or is it real) tool from Microsoft, Live Clipboard. A set of screen captures of the Ozzie demonstration of Live Clipboard shows what they are up to. It is killer stuff that really solves real problems people have in living their life with digital information across their devices and platforms. He focusses on structured information, which is all around us, or should be all around us.

Ray Ozzie is one of my favorite geeks. I would have some extremely serious Microsoft love if Microsoft follows the Ray Ozzie vision of technology rather than that of the buffoon Steve Balmer. Ray has the vision and understanding that Bill Gates had for the desktop, but never showed beyond that. Balmer just seems to do more damage to Microsoft than any benefit (what is his benefit?) he provides. Where as Ray just flat out rocks by being brilliant (in a visionary to real product way), calm, and a wonderful communicator. Ray built one of my favorite tools, Groove, but stopped non-Microsoft version far too early as that could be THE killer app of the decade (last 10 years). If Groove were platform and device agnostic it would be the best thing going, but it will have to settle for a good app that has boundary limitations.

Ray is bright and understands the problems that real people have with digital information and focusses along the lines of the Personal InfoCloud for solutions. He seems to show not only tools, but simple solutions for real people to use. It is what Microsoft needs (that and to ship) and what the industry needs. So far Apple is one of the few big (non-web) companies in the space providing simple solutions that work to resolve the problems of real people as they interact with digital information and media.



ETech is Emergent? [updated]

I thought this would be the year I was going to ETech, but with a few other things going on it was not the year. I have many friends that go each year and I see them very rarely.

But, I think I would have been very frustrated by ETech this year. It is still about the web. Achingly, still about the web. The problem is digital information and media is increasingly living beyond the web. The web is but one platform to distribute information, but thinking people live their lives in and on the web is silly. Want the information that is on the web, but need the information in their lives, in their devices they have with them, and in context to the rest of their life.

The panel that triggered this reaction is one by friends, Jesse and Jeff "Designing the Next Generation of Web Apps". In Tom Coates review the binary approach (web for reading and web for apps) sounds so short sited and really caused the trigger. Is Emerging Tech just rehashing the current and the past? Or can it move forward? I am not seeing much of that forward movement this year.

People live their lives attracting information and focussing on the Come to Me Web and Personal InfoCloud we know people need the information to better mesh into their personal digital information workflow, which involves very little of the web. People find the information that they want and need and work very hard to keep it attracted to themself for easy refindability. Other than social bookmarking tools and a few others web based tools, much of this is done with tools that are beyond the web. Some people tuck all of their needed information and links into e-mail, others calendar, to do lists, PIMs, text files, syndication, e-mail, SMS, MMS, documents, mobile syndication, mobile documents, outlines, wiki on a stick, etc. There are many tools and many ways of working around lack of web access when people need the information most.

Many people, unlike those of us that build web-based tools (I am in that category), don't live on the web and their digital information needs to live beyond the web as well. That is the future of the web, it is a platform for just one state of information. That state that the web represents is the state of information transience. The information is in the process of moving from the creator to the person needing that information for their own use or for their reuse. This use will most likely not be on the web, but the reuse of information may be on the web.

The web as it exists now is a tool for publishing and aggregating. Some will use the web for use and reuse, but we need far more options that the web for real people to adopt their future and our now. We, as developers of tools, information, and resources must pay attention to real people. We must pay attention to their lives beyond the web and the large box in front of them. We need to understand their problems that they really have, which revolve around refindability and information reuse in their environment and context.

Now please go back to paying careful attention to the great things that friends and other alpha geeks are presenting at ETech and other conferences and un-conferences as that information is needed, but remember we are moving beyond, far beyond this current state of the web.

[update] Um, well Ray Ozzie just made me wish I was at ETech. He just showed what is emergent and what is the future. It could answer many of the items I just listed above. You go Ray!



Upcoming Presentations and Conferences

Things have been a little busy around these parts, but activity and early Spring allergies will not keep me from letting you know that the road show is beginning again.

SXSW

I am heading off to SXSW Interactive to participate in Tagging 2.0 Panel where we will discuss growth, changes, and new ideas in the realm of tagging.

I will also be hanging out with the Web Standards Project (WaSP) people as we are having our WaSP Annual Meeting open to the public.

This year looks to have some killer content at SXSW, not that it has not in the past, but there are more things than ever that I am interested in attending. I certainly hope they found larger spaces this year. Usually the corridors are overly enticing, but the session rooms could pose a challenge this year. I am looking forward to hanging, chatting, learning, and recharging my web vibe.

IA Summit

I am headed to the IA Summit in Vancouver, British Columbia later in March. I am on the Wireframing Challenges in Modern Web Development panel, which I will be moderating Nathan Curtis, Livia Labate, Bill Scott, and Todd Warfel. We will be looking at the wireframing challenges and solutions of the current web.

I am also presenting my IA for Efficient Use and Reuse of Information. As the web 2.0 meme rings out we realize there is a greater need beyond that as people actually want to use and reuse the information in their own personal information workflows and not always in one web application. I will focus on granular content inventories as well as how to identify content objects for information reuse and set the structure of that information for better use and reuse.

I am incredibly happy to see that Kevin Chang (along with Jane Jao) are presenting Communicating with Comics as a panel as well as a full day workshop. This could be the hidden golden nugget at the IA Summit.

XTech

I will be heading to Amsterdam, Netherlands for XTech in May. I am presenting "Developing for the Personal InfoCloud" on Thursday May 18. I will be discussing the Model of Attraction and Come to Me Web as foundations to focus on building for personal use and reuse of digital information and objects.

Microlearning Conference 2006

I will be one of the keynote speakers at the Microlearning Conference in Innsbruck, Austria held on June 8-9, 2006.

More to Follow

There are a few more that will be added shortly. I am also keeping busy with in-house presentations on the Come to Me Web, Personal InfoCloud, Folksonomy, and other related topics. If you would have an interest in having me present at your conferece, workshop, or an in-house event please contact me.



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 del.icio.us 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 del.icio.us, 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 del.icio.us as it is missing this component). It seems Ma.gnolia was targeted as a del.icio.us 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.



February 14, 2006

Yahoo! Releases Web Developer Golden Nuggets

An e-mail from Nate tipped me off to the Yahoo! releases today. We now have at our finger tips, Yahoo! User Interface Library, the same libraries that power Yahoo! Yahoo! Design Patterns Library, which has been the culmination of a lot of effort and is considered to be the best internal resource around and is now in our hands. Yahoo! User Interface Blog and its corresponding Yahoo! User Interface Blog feeds. Lastly, Yahoo! delivers a Graded Browser Support (article).

Once again Yahoo! shows it gets community involvement with developers and is becoming a killer resource. This is the kind of involvement and giving that raises the level for all web developers. Bravo Yahoo! and thank you Nate for your involvement.



January 21, 2006

Changing the Flow of the Web and Beyond

In the past few days of being wrapped up in moving this site to a new host and client work, I have come across a couple items that have similar DNA, which also relate to my most recent post on the Come to Me Web over at the Personal InfoCloud.

Sites to Flows

The first item to bring to light is a wonderful presentation, From Sites to Flows: Designing for the Porous Web (3MB PDF), by Even Westvang. The presentation walks through the various activities we do as personal content creators on the web. Part of this fantastic presentation is its focus on microcontent (the granular content objects) and its relevance to context. Personal publishing is more than publishing on the web, it is publishing to content streams, or "flows" as Even states it. These flows of microcontent have been used less in web browsers as their first use, but consumed in syndicated feeds (RDF, RSS/Atom, Trackback, etc.). Even moves to talking about Underskog, a local calendaring portal for Oslo, Norway.

The Publish/Subscribe Decade

Salim Ismail has a post about The Evolution of the Internet, in which he states we are in the Publish/Subscribe Decade. In his explanation Salim writes:

The web has been phenomonally successful and the amount of information available on it is overwhelming. However, (as Bill rightly points out), that information is largely passive - you must look it up with a browser. Clearly the next step in that evolution is for the information to become active and tell you when something happens.

It is this being overwhelmed with information that has been of interest to me for a while. We (the web development community) have built mechanisms for filtering this information. There are many approaches to this filtering, but one of them is the subscription and alert method.

The Come to Me Web

It is almost as if I had written Come to Me Web as a response or extension of what Even and Salim are discussing (the post had been in the works for many weeks and is an longer explanation of a focus I started putting into my presentations in June. This come to me web is something very few are doing and/or doing well in our design and development practices beyond personal content sites (even there it really needs a lot of help in many cases). Focussing on the microcontent chunks (or granular content objects in my personal phraseology) we can not only provide the means for others to best consume our information we are providing, but also aggregate it and provide people with better understanding of the world around them. More importantly we provide the means to best use and reuse the information in people's lives.

Important in this flow of information is to keep the source and identity of the source. Having the ability to get back to the origination point of the content is essential to get more information, original context, and updates. Understanding the identity of the content provider will also help us understand perspective and shadings in the microcontent they have provided.



January 16, 2006

Rosenfeld Media Launches

Heartfelt congratulations are in order for Lou Rosenfeld as he has launched Rosenfeld Media. Rosenfeld Media is self described as:

Founded in late 2005, Rosenfeld Media is a publishing house dedicated to developing short, practical, and useful books on user experience design. Our books will explain the design and research methods that web professionals need to make informed design decisions.

This is one of two boutique publishing houses I have been looking forward to launch. Publishing houses that are part of the community they are serving is incredibly important. Paying attention to the interests and needs of the community is incredibly important. I am really looking forward to the forthcoming books.



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.



December 14, 2005

Structured Blogging has (Re)Launched

Structured Blogging has launched and it may be one of the brightest ideas of 2005. This has the capability to pull web services into nearly every page and to aggregate information more seamlessly across the web. The semantic components help pull all of this together so services can be built around them.

This fits wonderfully in the Model of Attraction framework by allowing people and tools to attract the information they want, in this case from all around the web far more easily than ever before.

[Update] A heads-up from Ryan pointed out this is a relaunch. Indeed, Structured Blogging is pointing out all of the groups that are supporting and integrating the effort. The newest version is of Structured Blogging is now microformat friendly (insanely important).



December 11, 2005

Folksonomy in New York Times Magazine Year in Ideas

Today folksonomy gets more press and we have another post for our press coverage page. Go see the snippet Folksonomy in New York Times Magazine "Year in Ideas".

I need to write-up the folksonomy presentation at Online Information Conference in London as it pulls together the vital uses of folksonomy in organizations to help curb the costs and inefficiencies in taxonomies by using filling in the taxonomy with more emergent, broad, and exhaustive structure. This write-up will be posted over at the Personal InfoCloud folksonomy page.



November 2, 2005

Folksonomy Definition and Wikipedia

Today, having seen an new academic endeavor related to folksonomy quoting the Wikipedia entry on folksonomy and I realize the definition of Folksonomy has become completely unglued from anything I recognize (yes, I did create the word to define something that was undefined prior). It is not collaborative, it is not putting things in to categories, it is not related to taxonomy (more like the antithesis of a taxonomy), etc. The Wikipedia definition seems to have morphed into something that the people with Web 2.0 tagging tools can claim as something that can describe their tool (everybody wanted to be in the cool crowd). I hope folksonomy still has value as a word to point something different in the world of tagging than the mess that went before it. It is difficult to lose the pointer to something distinct makes understanding what works well. Using folksonomy and defining it to include the mess that was all of tagging and is still prevalent in many new tools dilutes the value.

Folksonomy Is

Folksonomy is the result of personal free tagging of information and objects (anything with a URL) for one's own retrival. The tagging is done in a social environment (shared and open to others). The act of tagging is done by the person consuming the information.

The value in this external tagging is derived from people using their own vocabulary and adding explicit meaning, which may come from inferred understanding of the information/object as well as. The people are not so much categorizing as providing a means to connect items and to provide their meaning in their own understanding.

Deriving Value from Folksonomy

There tremendous value that can be derived from this personal tagging when viewing it as a collective when you have the three needed data points in a folksonomy tool: 1) the person tagging; 2) the object being tagged as its own entity; and 3) the tag being used on that object. Flattening the three layers in a tool in any way makes that tool far less valuable for finding information. But keeping the three data elements you can use two of the elements to find a third element, which has value. If you know the object (in del.icio.us it is the web page being tagged) and the tag you can find other individuals who use the same tag on that object, which may lead (if a little more investigation) to somebody who has the same interest and vocabulary as you do. That person can become a filter for items on which they use that tag. You then know an individual and a tag combination to follow. The key is knowing who and what specifically is being tagged.

Social Tagging

There are other tagging efforts that are done for socially connecting others and others where people are tagging their own information for others. I have been to workshops where items on the web were tagged with a term that was agreed upon for tagging these objects across tools. This allows the person to retrieve information/objects connected with that event as well as others getting access to that information/object. Does it fall into the definition of folksonomy? This gets fuzzy. It is for the retrieval of the person tagging the information, so it could fit. It gets close to people tagging information solely for others, which does not get to a folksonomy, it is what Cory Doctorow labeled Metacrap.

Academics Quoting Wikipedia

Sadly, I have had 15 to 20 academic papers sent to me or links to them sent to me in the past year. No two of them use the same definition. Everyone of them points to Wikipedia. Not one of the papers points to the version of the page.

The lack of understanding the medium of a Wiki, which is very fluid, but not forgetful, is astonishing. They have been around for three or four years, if not longer. It is usually one of the first lessons anybody I have known learns when dealing with a Wiki, they move and when quoting them one must get the version of the information. They are a jumping off point, not destinations. They are true conversations, which have very real etherial qualities.

Is there no sence of research quality? Quoting a Wiki entry without pointing to the revision is like pointing to Time magazine without a date or issue number. Why is there no remedial instruction for using information in a Wiki?

Personal Love of Wikis

Personally, I love Wikis and they are incredible tools, but one has to understand the boundaries. Wikis are emergent information tools and they are social tools. They are one of the best collaboration tools around, they even work very well for personal uses. But, like anything else it takes understanding on how to use them and use the information in them.



October 25, 2005

Europe Presentations

I am late in posting the links to my two presentations given in Europe. I presented the Personal Digital Convergence as the opening keynote to the SIGCHI.NL - HCI Close to You conference. I have also posted the final presentation, IA for the Personal InfoCloud, at the Euro IA Summit 2005.



October 20, 2005

Focussing and Shingle Hanging

Three trips in the last four weeks has me playing e-mail catch-up. My outbound e-mail is not fully functioning on the road as the provider changed the SMTP port recently I have not updated the settings.

In the same time period I also have left my job and am now consulting and working on my own projects. I am focussing on helping organization better connect with the people who have an interest in their information and media. Building efficient conversations and interaction is the key to successful relationships, be they interpersonal or organization and people. Organizations also need to better understand social networks and providing information that can be used and reused across devices and the Model of Attraction and Local and Personal InfoClouds are just the tools to help provide the framework to think about this as well as making smart decisions regarding Web 2.0. Lastly, the ever present folksonomy will be a focus as well. Along all these lines I am doing research, analyzing, and providing direction and focus to help people and organizations think clearly in these changing times.

I will be posting here a little more often and you can expect more postings over at the Personal InfoCloud. There is much to be investigated and written, which I have not had the time to do in the past. I am also tackling article writing that has been a victim of elusive time. I will also be launching a site for the new company in the near future.

Please send a note with questions or inquiries for services. My time is filling up, but I am always interested in helping others as well as looking for cool projects and difficult problems. I have quite a few people and organizations to keep in touch with and get back in touch with, but if you would like attention more quickly shoot an e-mail to get my attention.



October 16, 2005

Closing of the First Phase of the Fall European Tour 2005

I am back in Amsterdam tonight after a wonderful trip to Brussels for the Euro IA Summit. It was quite refreshing to talk to people that have a different perspective from Americans on IA, mobile, technology, privacy, and the possibilities for social interaction with digital devices. Last year after Design Engaged in Amsterdam I believed Europe to be farther ahead on internet and mobile (including mobile internet) than America. I now firmly believe Americans have a lot to learn from the Europeans.

I wanted to come and present the InfoCloud information in Europe because I thought they would be more ready for it. They would be able to provide criticism and questions that I do not get in America, mostly because the Europeans have been implementing mobile and trying to work through a means to access information in the environment and context where the information makes sense. Boy, was I right. The InfoClouds are more than mobile, as they are a means to think about information access, personally managing that information (or providing people the ability to manage, use, and reuse the information intelligently) and reusing it as that information is needed and framing the information in ways that make sense (web 2.0 fit this bill). I ran into smart thinking about web 2.0 here, not the just go do it, just open your information up, but working to think about if it made sense to do the cool and how they would do it intelligently.

The Europeans also really get cross-cultural sensitivity and are smart about how to approach working with other cultures. I was delighted to find what American's call internationalization is referred to as localization. How brilliant. How understanding. How unalienating. There is a distinct understanding that people are different and we need to understand that and embrace that. Hmm, there is a very strong reason why it is called the Personal InfoCloud and not the User InfoCloud. If you are not thinking in a local sense you will not get to the personal sense. You can get from localization to personalization, or from the Local InfoCloud to the Personal InfoCloud and also back. We all deal with more than one Local InfoCloud and I received some of the best questions about the interaction between the various Local InfoClouds and the Personal InfoClouds. Interaction be between the social part of personal it of immediate interest here. People are very tied to their communities here, it is a strong part of their identity.

I found myself surrounded this weekend by insanely smart people, who love what they do, and are doing things to help others. Everybody was incredibly friendly and genuinely interested in learning everything they could and sharing what they knew. I could not have asked for a better way to have spent any of this time. I would do all of this again in a heartbeat.

Thank you to all of those that I had the pleasure of sharing time with. Who were incredible hosts in their countries. Who asked and listened and from whom I learned to do the same, as when you listen you can learn. I learned an incredible amount. Thank you again. I am ever so much looking forward to my next two trips.

Peace!



September 16, 2005

Tomo and Ivan on Ebay to raise funds for the Red Cross

Our friends, Kevin and Tom, have put up an OK/Cancel pencil sketch on Ebay to raise money for the Red Cross Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund. It is Ebay and Tomo & Ivan for good a good cause, you know what to do.



September 12, 2005

No More Waiting...

I suppose I should note here that the last day at my current job will be October 6, 2005. I am not sure what the next full step will be, but I will be focussing my full attention what I have been passionate about for the past few years. Rather than spending a few hours every evening and weekends on my passions, it will become my full-time job. The details will show themself in the next few weeks and months. I need the time to persue some options and have time to think about and consider others.

For the last couple years I have joked I commute to my day job, but telecommute to my private life. Well, my private life is where most of the Model of Attraction, Personal InfoCloud, Local InfoCloud, and work takes place. Pieces of this work make it into the day job, but not enough to keep me excited or engaged. I am really wanting to see more great work and products that easily functions for people across devices, across platforms, and is easy for real people to use and reuse.

The world has been shifting to a "come to me web". We are seeing the easiest way to make this easier for people attract what they want this is to learn what each person has an interest in, as well as what their friends and peers have interests in. This will help the findability of information and media for people, but the real problem is in the re-findability of that same information and media for people so they can have what the want and desire at their finger tips when they want it and need it. We have all of the technology needed to make this happen, but it needs research, quick iterative development, and removing the walls around the resources (information/media, unwarranted device restrictions (American cell companies have created the failure of the missing robust mobile market), and unwarranted software restrictions). Paying attention to people and people's interactions is the real key to getting things right, not trying to beat your competitor (focussing on the wrong goal gets the poor results). Make the products people need that solve problems people have (with out introducing problems) and you will have a winner. People have so many needs and desires and every person is different so one solution will not fit all and we should never make things just one way.

These will be a long few weeks with more small steps for me. There is a lot to get done and to consider in the next few weeks. In this is preparing for speaking and traveling on top of the other needed work to be done to prep for this next step. I will pop back up and fill you in when I know more. but, the count down has begun.



September 5, 2005

Old Dog New Blog Posts

So you are having problems figuring out what is posted here and what is posted at Personal InfoCloud? I am too, well I have habits that seem to be harder to break that I thought. I am going to be moving some content over to Personal InfoCloud (copying is more like it, as it will still reside here). I have a thing for my vanderwal.net posting interface (not pretty, but the text box is large enough for me to think) and I post with markup included, so I know exactly what the result will be.

I am going to make a concerted effort to post social networking, folksonomy, InfoCloud, mobile, personal information management, and other things along those lines over at Personal InfoCloud. What does that heave for vanderwal.net Off the Top? Everything else, I know that does not leave much, but I may include short versions of that is posted at the Personal InfoCloud, particularly since the category gets a good chunk of traffic on its own. I am also thinking strongly about putting the last three posts headings over in the side column.

The other confounding issue is the Quick Links (my del.icio.us bookmarks are displayed here and not on the Personal InfoCloud (some relate to the topics there, but not all of them and the personal ones that do not are really not appropriate there). I am not going to start another feed (although a subfeed could be somewhat appropriate) for there.

I am also working on feeds for each of the categories here, which would confound the bifurcating process I am discussing. This is down the to do list a short way, following turning comments here once again (time limitations are a problem at the moment). There are not only speaking preparation and travel arrangements, but some life subplots (some are divergent, which I really don't like thinking about work being for naught but that is what alternate plans are at times) in the works that are taking time.

So there we are. If you have responses that you think could help, please send them.



August 30, 2005

Added Speaking at EuroIA to Fall Tour

I now have a fourth speaking engagement in Europe this Fall. I will be presenting, "IA for the Personal InfoCloud" at the European IA Summit 2005 in Brussels. I am really looking forward to this event with the breadth of penetration of broadband and mobile in Europe they are currently dealing with and working to find solutions around the problems I foresaw that have been driving me to work on the Personal InfoCloud and its related frameworks.

The European IA Summit follows the SIGCHI.NL HCI Close To You keynote the previous Thursday. The keynote will largely be a new presentation.

I am deeply humbled and excited by these opportunities. Getting the opportunity to present to an audience who has an advanced market dealing with the issues of cross platform and devise design will be wonderful. I am looking forward to the feedback and taking in the life in Europe again.

I will also be presenting at Design Engaged in Berlin and Online Information in London, both in November.



August 19, 2005

Yahoo! MyWeb Imports Del.icio.us Bookmarks and More Observations

Yesterday's post, MyWeb 2 Grows Up Quickly into a Usable Tool, had part of my answer delivered today by e-mail. Yahoo! had already built a del.icio.us import tool (as well as an Internet Explorer bookmark, Yahoo bookmark, and RSS import tools) to grab your bookmarks and tags out from del.icio.us.

My import went well, um it took four attempts to get all 1,440 of my bookmarks into Yahoo MyWeb 2, but they are all there along with the 20 or so I had stored in MyWeb already. I wish it could have kept the dates from my del.icio.us bookmarks as the time puts those links in context for me with other things I was working on at the time I made the bookmark.

I am not abandoning my del.icio.us bookmarks and will keep feeding it as it is my only easy option at work at the moment. Now I am interested in a JavaScript bookmark that would post to both MyWeb and del.icio.us from the same form. There is community around one's social bookmarks as I know there are people that pull my del.icio.us bookmark feed into their aggregator, just I do that with other's bookmarks. This is part of their being social, yes?

Now I want to play with MyWeb with my 1,459 plus pages in it. As a personal bookmarking tool this will be a good test. I am now also curious with searching with Yahoo! if my own bookmarks will appear on the search page. This would be nice as I found Google somewhat scary when I started seeing my own blog posts showing up in searches I was doing from work. But, I started my blog (nearly five years ago) as a note to self tool, which also happened to be open to everybody else in the world. It is my outboard memory. This is also the reason I started my own personal site nearly 10 years ago, as a link tool so I could keep access to my web links from any web connection I could get. A lot has changed in these nearly 10 years, but so much has stayed the same.

I have a laundry list of interface changes I would love to see in MyWeb that I will be shooting to them that are interface related. I also have many social network improvements for their tool to get more fine grained in their connections between people in the social engine, which may take more than just a few e-mails.



August 17, 2005

User Experience Design in the Come to Me Web?

A question came up with Rashmi in the week prior to the BayCHI Web 2.0 event that I thought would definitely come up at the panel in the Q&A session, but most of the questions related to the application and technology side of things.

As content can be repurposed in and pulled into various tools with drastically different presentations than the sites they sit within. There seems to be a logical question as to the value of the user experience of the initial site. We are spending a lot of time, effort, and resources building optimal user experience, but with more and more of the content being consumed in interfaces that do not use the user experience should we spend less time and resources on perfecting it?

One answer is no, things are fine the way they are as the people that still consume the information in the traditional web manner (is it too early to call it traditional web manner?) are a narrower audience than the whole of the people consuming the information. The design of the site would have to add value, or provide additional service to continue enticing people back. I have been talking about the Perceptual Receptor in the Model of Attraction for a few years and the sensory components of design, look, and appeal should be targeted to the expected users so it fits their expectations and they are attracted to the content they are seeking in a manner that is appealing to them.

The converse to this is we are spending too much time on the ephemeral in relation to the benefit. With increasing consumption of the information done though RSS/ATOM feed readers and aggregators on the desktop, mobile, or web (as in Bloglines or My Yahoo) interfaces, which nearly all strip the presentational layers and just deliver the straight content with the option for the person to click and get to the site we developed. Information is also pulled together in other aggregators as summaries on various websites and versions e-mailed around. The control of the user experience has drifted away from the initial designer and is in the hands of the tools aggregating (some provide presentational layers from the content owners to show through on the aggregators), or the people consuming the information that choose their own presentation layer or just strip it for other uses.

With content presentations in the hands of the people consuming and not the crafting designer how does branding come through? How does the richer integrated interface we spent months designing, testing, and carefully tweaking? Branding with logos may be easier than the consistent interface we desire as the person consuming the content has a different idea of consistent interface, which is the interface they are consuming all of the information in. People have visual patterns they follow in an application and that interface helps them scan quickly for the information they desire.

Where the content creator puts their content out for aggregation in XML related feeds, they have made a decision at some level that having their content in the hands of more people who want it is more important than a unified user experience. Consumption of the media has a greater impact than fewer people consuming a preferred experience. All of the resources we put into the refined user experience is largely for the user's benefit, or at least that is what we say, but it is also for the business benefit for consistent branding and imprinting. The newer consumption models focus on the person and their getting the information and media they want in the easiest and their preferred manner for that person.

Is there an answer? One single answer, most likely not. But, I personally don't think we and crafting designer have a great say at this point. As tools people use mature, we may get more control, but optimally the person consuming is the one in control as they want to be and should in the "come to me web".



July 12, 2005

Passion and the Day-to-day

This has been an up and down month so far with health, work, technology, and time. In general 2005 has been a rough year for respiratory issues already for me as I am nearly 3x the normal problems for a full year. These issues zaps energy and fogs the brain (something I really loathe).

The day-job is muddled in past problems, issues that have been plaguing people and have been solved years ago, but where I am resources and bureaucracy keep the long past current. Outside of the day-job I am working with the now and future, which I have really been loving. I have been working on responding back to many questions that have come in through e-mail about possible work and helping people through problems grasping and implementing efficiencies for current web development, folksonomies, and Personal InfoCloud related items.

I have also been working on my presentation for WebVisions, which involves completing it, tearing it apart and nearly starting over. To date I have nearly 25 hours working on this presentation, mostly integrating new material and editing out past content. This is in contrast to day-job presentations, which take me about an hour to build.

In a sense I am still time traveling on my daily commute. The gap is about four to six years of time travel in each 40 minute to hour commute. This is really wearing on me and it is long past time to move on, but I have not had the time to put forward to nail down the essentials for moving my passion to my day job (time and family needs that have filled this year).

So today, I was quite uplifted as my subscription issue of August 2005 MIT Technology Review arrived. The cover topic is Social Machines and I am quoted and have a sidebar box. That was up lifting as it relates to my "real work". This is right up there with Wired's Bruce Sterling article on folksonomy and Thomas Vander Wal.

Now the real work continues. If you are in Portland for Web Visions or just there in general later this week, please drop me a note and I will provide my contact info. If you are not in Portland and would like me to come to you and discuss and help along these topics please contact me also.



July 9, 2005

Snippet on Getting Folksonomy Right

Today's summary on folksonomy... taxonomies and ontologies can help the many find information, but never help the whole of the people. The role of folksonomies is to fill in that gap to get far closer to the whole.

The failure that Google noted in other search companies in 1997 being happy with getting 80 to 85 percent of the correct answers for people, meant 15 to 20 percent of the people found the tools failed them (for me it seemed far higher than a 20 percent failure rate in 1998, which is why I switched to Google quite early). There are far too many that are complacent with their development of taxonomies and ontologies that are only helping the many and have no desire to change their practices to get to closer to the whole. It takes a diverse toolset to get the job down, which means including taxonomies and ontologies as well as other newer solutions.

So what is needed in a folksonomy? It must be broad to provide the best results. People must be tagging content or objects for their own purposes. The tags must be separated from the object so they are a point of reference. The person tagging must also be distinguishable from the objects to they are a point of reference. The objects must provide a point of aggregation to find common tags and common people and the matches on these three points. Tools like del.icio.us and CiteULike.com do this very well.

When we have these distinct elements we can begin filtering and aggregating, just as Jon Udell has been doing in his collaborative filtering.



July 2, 2005

Tagging Article at OK/Cancel

OK/Cancel posted a quick article on tagging I pulled wrote (mostly pulled out of e-mail responses). The article is Tagging for Fun and Finding, which includes mention of folksonomy.



May 11, 2005

Heading to Los Angeles and SSAW at the Annenberg Center

I am off again this weekend. I will be in Los Angeles this weekend. So far I have most of Friday free. It looks like dinner may be taken on Friday evening as well as a beer or two to acclimate a Brit. Interesting things to see (other than my old house, junior high, and neighborhood) or meet-ups would be quite welcome.

I am at the Social Software in the Academy Workshop at the USC Annenberg Center on Saturday and Sunday. I will be chatting with Richard Cameron of CiteULike on Sunday. Not only does he run CiteULike, but he has been doing some interesting research on trends and patterns, which he is using to improve the probability the person using the service will find what they need more easily. We had a great chat last night and I am really looking forward to the public chat on Sunday.



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 maps.google.com 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 22, 2005

Annotated New York Times

The Annotated New York Times is the best interface for blog coverage out there. Feedster and Technorati are leagues behind in their presentation compared to this. I had not been to BlogRunner in a while, but it has grow-up too. The interface, interaction, and presentation are dead-on for an intuitive tool. Bravo.

I do wish it were easier to find book review annotations more easily, such as by author or book title.



March 22, 2005

Folksonomy In Wired Magazine

Today was largely an exceptional day. I got a few nice e-mails today that really made my day (more on those some other time). But, today when I got home and settled Andrew popped up on iChat saying he had just opened the April issue of Wired and read the Bruce Sterling article. ["Order Out of Chaos"], about... me. My copy was on the steps and I had not really looked at the mail yet. Andrew pointed me to page 83, to which I had a jaw dropping holy expletive.

I have been getting interviewed a far amount this year and the novelty of seeing one's own name in print has not worn off. But, seeing my own name in Wired magazine, particularly in a Bruce Sterling article, as a little mind numbing. His fact checker had contacted me a few weeks back, but I was not expecting this.

The best thing about the article was Bruce nails folksonomy. But, he not only nails it he provides a couple explanations that stand out:

It was a mob of interested people - folks and the machines working behind the scenes that tossed in some technological onomy. .... Folksonomy emerges from a combination of two inventions: (1) machines that can automate at least some of what it takes to classify information and (b) social software that makes users willing to do at least some of the work for nothing.

It is well worth the read to get a good grasp of where folksonomies work and where they are lacking. Bruce does an excellent job pulling all of the ends together. Now I really wish I could have stayed one more and two more nights at SXSWi just to say hello to Bruce and be prescient enough to thank him in advance.



March 14, 2005

SXSW and Solipsism Presentation

I am having a great time at SXSW Interactive. I am heading back home this evening and will truly miss the remainder of the festival (it truly is a celebration of the web and digital design).

Yesterday I spoke on the panel, How to Leverage Solopsism. My slides for the session focussing on Personal Information Management (1.14MB PDF) is available.

I have has so many wonderful conversations. Please keep in touch and lets keep the conversations going.



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 gmail.com 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.



Folksonomy: A Wrapper's Delight

As part of the IA Summit 2005 (Montreal) panel on Social Classification (Folksonomies) I presented Folksonomy: A Wrapper's Delight (2.6MB PDF), which refers to the ability to wrap from an emergent vocabulary to a formal controlled vocabulary using a folksonomy. In the discussion I brought up "the flood of information on the internet has turned the scent of information into the stench of information, but folksonomies and other tools help bring back the sweet smell of information". We get the sweet smell from ease of refindability.



March 9, 2005

Brief Summit Snippet and the Week Ahead

A quick note: I just got back from the IA Summit in Montreal and I am a little burnt from wonderful stimulation. I utter loved this Summit, but I consumed it differently than the previous three I have been to. I did not make it to nearly half, three-quarters of the things I had hoped to, mostly because I was involved in wonderful conversations around the stuff I am deeply passionate about.

I found others working on similar areas of thought. Gene Smith (whom I am indebted to or cursed by for unleashing the Folksonomy virus) and Brett Lider presented sessions back to back that made me realize there is a disparate conversation going on at the moment and we need a little place to pull ideas together. This place will hopefully be the IA 2.0 Salon at the moment it is going to be an invite only kind of thing to keep it relatively small, but open to those that are passionate and have knowledge and information to contribute. The focus is on person-centered information architecture, rich information architecture, personal inforcloud, designing for information use and reuse, designing across context and environments, designing across devices, etc.

I have another presentation tomorrow and then a panel at SXSW Interactive. Please come say hello.

I feel like I really did not get to spend enough time with everybody I wished to at the IA Summit. I was also having a tough time placing people with context, whom I know through their digital representations in their blogs or e-mail addresses on listserves. Please drop me a note at the address in my contact above or my screen name at gmail.com to say hello and continue the conversations.

I really wish I was going to Emerging Technology as well, as there will be a great amount of conversation around more of the same areas. I have been asked by many if I was going and had many people tell me I really need to be there this year. As of today I am not going as I was not asked and with all the things going on these days I need a stronger reason that to go and just hang. I take vacation to go and speak as well as pay out of my own pocket when I am not paid to speak. Unless things change in the next few days I am going to hope the conversations through e-mail will suffice.



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.

Peace.



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!



February 13, 2005

Informal Coffee Convene

Dan captured yesterday morning's coffee convene very well. I just happened to look up and see two friends and fellow IAs having a discussion. It was a great way to start my weekend. This could be a great regular weekend jump off. It is good to sit and talk constructively and critically of our own work, it really helps. Maybe next time I will bring my own work to offer up for sacrifice.

This really sparked my juices to keep plugging along on my pet projects, which are getting more non-pet every day, meaning they are growing into real work and beyond the hours of my spare time. My passion for the projects has been growing over the four years I have been working on them.



February 12, 2005

It is Speaking Season

The next month or so has a few speaking engagements lined up. They are as follows:

Date: February 17th 2005 - Thursday (9am to 11:30am)
Event: The Web Mangers Roundtable
Topic: Blogging into 2005 panel (with Mike Lee of AARP and Lee Rainey of PEW Foundation
Location: Washington, DC, USA
Access: Sold Out

Date: March 5th 2005 - Saturday (10:30am - 12:15pm)
Event: ASIS&T Information Architecture Summit
Topic:
Sorting Out Classification - with Stewart Butterfield, Peter Merholz, Peter Morville, and Gene Smith
Location: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Access: IA Summit Registration

Date: March 5th 2005 - Saturday (4pm to 4:45pm)
Event: ASIS&T Information Architecture Summit
Topic:
IA for the Personal InfoCloud
Location: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Access: IA Summit Registration

Date: March 9th 2005 - 6:30pm
Event: ASIS&T Potomac Valley Chapter Panel
Topic:
From Soup to Nuts: Blogs, Blogging, and the Greater Impacts to Information Science -p with James Melzer of SRA International and Christina Pikas of Johns Hopkins University
Location: Laurel, MD, USA: Campus of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory
Access: Registration Form

Date: March 14th (?), 2005 (Specifics to follow)
Event: South by Southwest Interactive Festival
Topic: How to Leverage Solipsism - with Peter Merholz and Stewart Butterfield
Location: Austin, TX, USA
Access: SXSW Interactive Registration



January 19, 2005

Technorati Opens Spam Tagging - Updated

The talk this past week was all about Technorati and their tagging tool, but the tool offers very little value and may be an incubator for spam more than a folksonomy tool.

Where del.icio.us gets folksonomy right (I know this is reflexive) by having many people tag online objects, Technorati gets folksonomy backwards with one user spitting tags into an aggregator. The only link I would trust in Technorati's tool is one that I also found on del.icio.us.

Why so harsh? Technorati has created a tool not from social interaction and using the internet to build value through the network effect (Technorati made the power curve popular, which is the visualization of the net effect). Technorati has no moderating the content that can be dumped in my any slimy spammer that now has a ripe new target. Lacking moderation and any socially derived checks to the system I am quite disappointed with Technorati and this effort.

I use Technorati keywords to track things I have an interest in and their tool does a great job pulling in information (I also use Feedster for the same purpose) and find it to be the top of its class in this effort.

Updated

Eric Scheid provides an excellent suggestion, which made me realize it is easy for Technorati to get it right and much of my problem was the links went in the wrong direction. Eric states...

I have a suggestion for another link format for "technorati" tags which would turn things around ... it would look like this:

<a href="http://whatever.bloghost.com/page/etc" rel="tag.TAGNAME1 tag.TAGNAME2">descriptive text for the link</a>

This way I can tag the pages I *link* to, and not just the pages I publish.

I'm also able to assign multiple tags to the linked page, and of course since other people could well be linking to that same page they can apply their own tags too. Think of the social tagging nature of del.icio.us without the intermediary of del.icio.us.

All we need is the "tag." prefix to identify the tagging relationship, as distinct from other relationship types (eg. vote-for, XFN, the usual W3C things, etc).

Yes, this modification would make Technorati tags a true folksonomy. Will they fix it to get it right?



January 18, 2005

Folksonomy Explanations

The past few weeks have seen my inbox flooded with folksonomy questions. I am going to make things easier on my inbox by posting some common discussions here. Many of the items I am posting I have posted else where, but this will also be a great help for me.

There have been many people who have correctly discerned a difference between the two prime folksonomy examples, Flickr and del.icio.us. As I first stated in a comment to Clay Shirky's first article on Folksonomy, there are two derivations of folksonomy. There is a narrow folksonomy and a broad folksonomy. On August 26th I stated...

Clay, you bring in some very good points, particularly with the semantic differences of the terms film, movie, and cinema, which defy normalization. A broad folksonomy, like del.icio.us, allows for many layers of tagging. These many layers develop patterns of consistency (whether they are right or wrong in a professional's view is another matter, but that is what "the people" are calling things). These patterns eventually develop quasi power law for around the folk understanding of the terms as they relate to items.

Combining the power tags of "skateboarding, tricks, movie " (as you point out) will get to the desired information. The hard work of building a hierarchy is not truly essential, but a good tool that provides ease of use to tie the semantic tags is increasingly essential. This is a nascent example of a semantic web. What is really nice is the ability to use not only the power tags, but also the meta-noise (the tags that are not dominant, but add semantic understanding within a community). In the skateboarding example a meta-noise tag could be gnarly that has resonance in the skate community and adds another layer of refinement for them.

The narrow-folksonomy, where one or few users supply the tags for information, such as Flickr, does not supply power tags as easily. One or few people tagging one relatively narrowly distributed item makes normalizing more difficult to employ an tool that aggregates terms. This situation seems to require a tool up front that prompts the individuals creating the tags to add other, possibly, related tags to enhance the findability of the item. This could be a tool that pops up as the user is entering their tags that asks, "I see you entered mac do you want to add fruit, computer, artist, raincoat, macintosh, apple, friend, designer, hamburger, cosmetics, retail, daddy tag(s)?"

This same distinction is brought up on IAWiki' Folksonomy entry.

Since this time Flickr has added the ability for friends and family (and possibly contacts) to add tags, which gives Flickr a broader folksonomy. But, the focus point is still one object that is being tagged, where as del.icio.us has many people tagging one object. The broad-folksonomy is where much of the social benefit can be derived as synonyms and cross-discipline and cross-cultural vocabularies can be discovered. Flickr has an advantage in providing the individual the means to tag objects, which makes it easier for the object to get found.

This brings to the forefront the questions about Google's Gmail, which allows one person the ability to freely tag their e-mail entries. Is Gmail using a folksonomy? Since Gmail was included in the grouping of on-line tools that were in the discussion of what to call these things (along with Flickr and del.icio.us) when folksonomy was coined I say yes. But, my belief that Gmail uses a folksonomy (regular people's categorization through tagging) relates to it using the same means of one person adding tags so that object can be found by them. This is identical to how people tag in Flickr (as proven by the self-referential "me" that is ever prevalent) and del.icio.us. People tag in their own vocabulary for their own retrieval, but they also will tag for social context as well, such as Flickr's "MacWorld" tags. In this case Wikipedia is a little wrong and needs improving.

I suppose Gmail would be a personal folksonomy to the Flickr narrow folksonomy and the del.icio.us broad folksonomy. There are distinct futures for all three folkonomies to grow. Gmail is just the beginning of personal tagging of digital objects (and physical objects tagged with digital information). Lou Rosenfeld hit the nail on the head when he stated, "I'm not certain that the product of folksonomy development will have much long term value on their own, I'll bet dollars to donuts that the process of introducing a broader public to the act of developing and applying metadata will be incredibly invaluable.". These tools, including Gmail, are training for understanding metadata. People will learn new skills if they have a perceived greater value (this is why millions of people learned Palm's Graffiti as they found a benefit in learning the script).

Everybody has immense trouble finding information in their hierarchal folders on their hard drive. Documents and digital objects have more than one meaning than the one folder/directory, in which they reside. Sure there are short cuts, but tracking down and maintaining shortcuts is insanely awkward. Tags will be the step to the next generation of personal information managment.



January 8, 2005

From Tags to the Future

Merlin hit on something in his I Want a Pony: Snapshots of a Dream Productivity App where he discusses:

Tags - People have strong feelings about metadata and the smart money is usually against letting The User apply his or her own tags and titles for important shared data ("They do it wrong or not at all," the burghers moan). But things are changing for personal users. Two examples? iTunes and del.icio.us. Nobody cares what "metadata" means, but they for damn sure know they want their mp3s tagged correctly. Ditto for del.icio.us, where Master Joshua has shown the world that people will tag stuff that’s important in their world. Don't like someone else's homebrewed taxonomy? Doesn't matter, because you don't need to like it. If I have a repeatable system for tagging the information on just my Mac and it's working for me, that's really all that matters. I would definitley love that tagging ability for the most atomic piece of any work and personal information I touch.

This crossed my radar the same time as I read Jeff Hawkins' discussion about how he came up with Graffiti for Palm devices. He noticed people did not find touch typing intuitive, but they saw the benefit of it and it worked. Conversely in the early 90s people were interacting with handwriting interpreters that often did not understand one's own handwriting. Jeff came up with something that would give good results with a little bit of effort put in. Palm and Graffiti took off. (Personally, I was lucky when I got my first Palm, in that I was on the west coast and waking on east coast time, which gave me two or three hours of time to learn Graffiti before anybody else was awake. It only took two or three days to have it down perfectly).

Merlin's observation fits within these parameters. Where people have not cared at all about metadata they have learned to understand the value of good tags and often do so in a short period of time. iTunes really drives the value of proper tagging home to many (Napster and other shared music environments brought to light tagging to large segments of the population). In a sense folksonomies of del.icio.us and Flickr are decedents of the shared music environments. People could see that tagged objects, whose tags to be edited and leveraged had value in one's ability to find what one is looking for based on those tags.

As the web grew up on deep linking and open environments to find and share information. So to will tagging become that mantra for the masses. All objects, both digital and physical, will be tagged to provide immediacy of information access so to gain knowledge. Learning to search, parse, filter, and leverage predictive tools (ones that understand the person's desires, context, situation, and frame of reference so to quickly (if not instantly) gather, interpret, and make aware the information around the person). Should the person be late for a meeting their predictive filters are going to limit all be the required information, possibly a traffic jam on their normal route as well as their option A route. A person that has some free time may turn up the serendipity impact and get exposed to information they may normally have filtered out of their attention. The key will be understanding tags have value and just as metadata for other objects, like e-mail subject lines, can be erroneous and indicators of spam, our life filters will need the same or similar. We will want to attract information to us that we desire and will need to make smart and informed choices and tags are just one of the means to this end.



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 17, 2004

Would We Create Hierarchies in a Computing Age?

Lou has posted my question:

Is hierarchy a means to classify and structure based on the tools available at the time (our minds)? Would we have structured things differently if we had computers from the beginning?

Hierarchy is a relatively easy means of classifying information, but only if people are familiar with the culture and topic of the item. We know there are problems with hierarchy and classification across disciplines and cultures and we know that items have many more attributes that which provide a means of classification. Think classification of animals, is it fish, mammal, reptile, etc.? It is a dolphin. Well what type of dolphin, as there are some that are mammal and some that are fish? Knowing that the dolphin swims in water does not help the matter at all in this case. It all depends on the context and the purpose.

Hierarchy and classification work well in limited domains. In the wild things are more difficult. On the web when we are building a site we often try to set hierarchies based on the intended or expected users of the information. But the web is open to anybody and outside the site anybody can link to any thing they wish that is on the web and addressable. The naming for the hyperlink can be whatever helps the person creating the link understand what that link is pointing to. This is the initial folksonomy, hyperlinks. Google was smart in using the link names in their algorithm for helping people find information they are seeking. Yes, people can disrupt the system with Googlebombing, but the it just takes a slightly smarter tool to get around these problems.

You see hierarchies are simple means of structuring information, but the world is not as neat nor simple. Things are far more complex and each person has their own derived means of structuring information in their memory that works for them. Some have been enculturated with scientific naming conventions, while others have not.

I have spent the last few years watching users of a site not understand some of the hierarchies developed as there are more than the one or two user-types that have found use in the information being provided. They can get to the information from search, but are lost in the hierarchies as the structure is foreign to them.

It is from this context that I asked the question. We are seeing new tools that allow for regular people to tag information objects with terms that these people would use to describe the object. We see tools that can help make sense of these tags in a manner that gets other people to information that is helpful to them. These folksonomy tools, like Flickr, del.icio.us, and Google (search and Gmail) provide the means to tame the whole in a manner that is addressable across cultures (including nationalities and language) and disciplines. This breadth is not easily achievable by hierarchies.

So looking back, would we build hierarchies given today's tools? Knowing the world is very complex and diverse do simple hierarchies make sense?



November 30, 2004

Flexibility in Folksonomies

Nick Mote posts his The New School of Ontologies essay, which is a nice overview of formal classification and folksonomies. The folksonomy is a good approach for bottom-up approach to information finding.

In Nick's paper I get quoted. I have cleaned up the quote that came out of an e-mail conversation. This quote pretty much summaries the many discussions I have had in the past couple months regarding folksonomies. Am I a great fan of the term? Not as much of a fan as what they are doing.

The problem of interest to me that folksonomies are solving is cross-discipline and cross-cultural access to information as well as non-hierarchical information structures. People call items different things depending on culture, discipline, and/or language. The folksonomy seems to be a way to find information based on what a person calls it. The network effect provides for more tagging of the information, which can be leveraged by those who have naming conventions that are divergent from the norm. The power law curve benefits the enculturated, but the tail of the curve also works for those out of the norm.



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.



October 31, 2004

Ninth Anniversary for My Personal Site

At some point nine years ago I began my first personal site. It was November 1995 and CompuServ opened up space for their users to publish their own site. This trek began with creating a page using a text browser and some prefab components from CompuServ. The computer this adventure began with is long gone. But, the remnants of the site remain, mostly in the links page, which became my bookmarks that I could access from anywhere. I never really went back to using browser based bookmarks after this point.

My personal site has changed over the years, from a site that was named the "Growing Place" that housed poetry, links, a snippet about consulting work I was doing, and a homepage. Version 2 was a move off of CompuServ to Clark.net hosting (which became Verio and was never the same after) came with frames and FrontPage buttons (the buttons never worked right after they were edited) and the links page grew and the consulting page moved from active to "under construction". V.2 also had some CGI form pages, mostly for mail and a guestbook that was not linked.

Version 3 (about 1998) was a move to vanderwal.net and had a black background with electric green and electric blue text. V.3 provided more links and had a small page of annotated links that was updated infrequently, and was mostly short notes to myself and was not linked to by anything but referrer logs. V.3 began using ColdFusion and then ASP, as that was what I was playing with at the time. This version was hosted at Interland, which was not a favorite ISP as I was doing bug fixing for them and their poor system administration.

Version 4 (November 2000) was moved to an ISP with PHP. This was just after our wedding and a photo gallery was born. The site stayed in black with blue and green for a short while, until it moved to a blue and orange theme (April 2001) inspired by the trip to the mother country Holland on our honeymoon. The annotated links were still being kept by hand, but were linked to finally. December 2000 I started using Blogger, which made the annotated links easier and provided a spark to post other information.

We are still in Version 4, possibly in version 5 as the graphic design morphed in November 2003 to its current state. This design validated to XHTML and made maintenance much easier. Off the Top weblog was converted to PHP in October 2001 after leaving Blogger and hand maintaining this section for months. The hosting has remained the same and has been steady.

There are many things in the works, but other outside commitments have been putting things on hold. The markup and CSS need to be cleaned up for greater ease. There are some hosting modifications coming, which could trigger some more changes on the back end programming side. There are some design and presentational structure changes that are being played with as there are a few things that really bug me. I really want the comments back online and I have plan for this, but it needs some time to work out the details. There are some changes external to this site that could be coming also, which will make things much easier in the long run. Maybe these revisions will be done by the 10th anniversary.



October 6, 2004

Personal Information Aggregation Nodes

Agnostic aggregators are the focal point of information aggregation. The tools that are growing increasingly popular for the information aggregation from internet sources are those that permit the incorportation of info from any valid source. The person in control of the aggregator is the one who chooses what she wants to draw in to their aggregator.

People desiring info agregation seemingly want to have control over all sources of info. She wants one place, a central resource node, to follow and to use as a starting point.

The syndication/pull model not only adds value to the central node for the user, but to those points that provide information. This personal node is similar (but conversely) to network nodes in that the node is gaining value as the individual users make use of the node. The central info aggregation node gains value for the individual the more information is centralized there. (The network nodes gain value the more people use them, e.g. the more people that use del.icio.us the more valuable the resource is for finding information.) This personal aggregation become a usable component of the person's Personal InfoCloud.

What drives the usefulness? Portability of information is the driver behind usefulness and value. The originating information source enables value by making the information usable and reusable by syndicating the info. Portabiliry is also important for the aggregators so that information can move easily between devices and formats.

Looking a del.icio.us we see an aggrgator that leverages a social network of people as aggregators and filters. Del.icio.us allows the user to build their own bookmarks that also provides a RSS feed for those bookmarks (actually most everything in del.icio.us provides feeds for most everything) and an API to access the feeds and use then as the user wishes. This even applies to using the feed in another aggregator.

The world of syndication leads to redundant information. This where developments like attention.xml will be extremely important. Attention.xml will parse out redundant info so that you only have one resource. This work could also help provide an Amazon like recommendation system for feeds and information.

The personal aggregation node also provides the user the means to categorize information as they wish and as makes most sense to themselves. Information is often not found and lost because it is not categorized in a way that is meaningful to the person seeking the information (either for the first time or to access the information again). A tool like del.icio.us, as well as Flickr, allows the individual person to add tags (metadata) that allows them to find the information again, hopefully easily. The tool also allows the multiple tagging of information. Information (be it text, photo, audio file, etc.) does not always permit itself easy narrow classification. Pushing a person to use distinct classifications can be problematic. On this site I built my category tool to provide broad structure rather than heirarchial, because it allows for more flexibility and can provide hooks to get back to information that is tangential or a minor topic in a larger piece. For me this works well and it seems the folksonomy systems in del.icio.us and Flickr are finding similar acceptance.



October 3, 2004

Feed On This

The "My" portal hype died for all but a few central "MyX" portals, like my.yahoo. Two to three years ago "My" was hot and everybody and their brother spent a ton of money building a personal portal to their site. Many newspapers had their own news portals, such as the my.washingtonpost.com and others. Building this personalization was expensive and there were very few takers. Companies fell down this same rabbit hole offering a personalized view to their sites and so some degree this made sense and to a for a few companies this works well for their paying customers. Many large organizations have moved in this direction with their corporate intranets, which does work rather well.

Where Do Personalization Portals Work Well

The places where personalization works points where information aggregation makes sense. The my.yahoo's work because it is the one place for a person to do their one-stop information aggregation. People that use personalized portals often have one for work and one for Personal life. People using personalized portals are used because they provide one place to look for information they need.

The corporate Intranet one place having one centralized portal works well. These interfaces to a centralized resource that has information each of the people wants according to their needs and desires can be found to be very helpful. Having more than one portal often leads to quick failure as their is no centralized point that is easy to work from to get to what is desired. The user uses these tools as part of their Personal InfoCloud, which has information aggregated as they need it and it is categorized and labeled in a manner that is easiest for them to understand (some organizations use portals as a means of enculturation the users to the common vocabulary that is desired for use in the organization - this top-down approach can work over time, but also leads to users not finding what they need). People in organizations often want information about the organization's changes, employee information, calendars, discussion areas, etc. to be easily found.

Think of personalized portals as very large umbrellas. If you can think of logical umbrellas above your organization then you probably are in the wrong place to build a personalized portal and your time and effort will be far better spent providing information in a format that can be easily used in a portal or information aggregator. Sites like the Washington Post's personalized portal did not last because of the cost's to keep the software running and the relatively small group of users that wanted or used that service. Was the Post wrong to move in this direction? No, not at the time, but now that there is an abundance of lesson's learned in this area it would be extremely foolish to move in this direction.

You ask about Amazon? Amazon does an incredible job at providing personalization, but like your local stores that is part of their customer service. In San Francisco I used to frequent a video store near my house on Arguello. I loved that neighborhood video store because the owner knew me and my preferences and off the top of his head he remembered what I had rented and what would be a great suggestion for me. The store was still set up for me to use just like it was for those that were not regulars, but he provided a wonderful service for me, which kept me from going to the large chains that recorded everything about me, but offered no service that helped me enjoy their offerings. Amazon does a similar thing and it does it behind the scenes as part of what it does.

How does Amazon differ from a personalized portal? Aggregation of the information. A personalized portal aggregates what you want and that is its main purpose. Amazon allows its information to be aggregated using its API. Amazon's goal is to help you buy from them. A personalized portal has as its goal to provide one-stop information access. Yes, my.yahoo does have advertising, but its goal is to aggregate information in an interface helps the users find out the information they want easily.

Should government agencies provide personalized portals? It makes the most sense to provide this at the government-wide level. Similar to First.gov a portal that allows tracking of government info would be very helpful. Why not the agency level? Cost and effort! If you believe in government running efficiently it makes sense to centralize a service such as a personalized portal. The U.S. Federal Government has very strong restriction on privacy, which greatly limits the login for a personalized service. The U.S. Government's e-gov initiatives could be other places to provide these services as their is information aggregation at these points also. The downside is having many login names and password to remember to get to the various aggregation points, which is one of the large downfalls of the MyX players of the past few years.

What Should We Provide

The best solution for many is to provide information that can be aggregated. The centralized personalized portals have been moving toward allowing the inclusion of any syndicated information feed. Yahoo has been moving in this direction for some time and in its new beta version of my.yahoo that was released in the past week it allows the users to select the feeds they would like in their portal, even from non-Yahoo resources. In the new my.yahoo any information that has a feed can be pulled into that information aggregator. Many of us have been doing this for some time with RSS Feeds and it has greatly changed the way we consume information, but making information consumption fore efficient.

There are at least three layers in this syndication model. The first is the information syndication layer, where information (or its abstraction and related metadata) are put into a feed. These feeds can then be aggregated with other feeds (similar to what del.icio.us provides (del.icio.us also provides a social software and sharing tool that can be helpful to share out personal tagged information and aggregations based on this bottom-up categorization (folksonomy). The next layer is the information aggregator or personalized portals, which is where people consume the information and choose whether they want to follow the links in the syndication to get more information.

There is little need to provide another personalized portal, but there is great need for information syndication. Just as people have learned with internet search, the information has to be structured properly. The model of information consumption relies on the information being found. Today information is often found through search and information aggregators and these trends seem to be the foundation of information use of tomorrow.



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 26, 2004

Quick Links in the Side Bar is not Optimal

Paul wants to "set up one of those link-sidebar thingies again" for his quick link list. Actually I am finding those the side link lists, like mine cause problems for folks tracking referrer links back and for search engines. Context of the links is helpful, but so is being able to find the date and page where these links came from. The way Paul is doing his quick links now works well. I was able to point directly to these links, the links he make have context, even if it is only a list of links.

Quite similar to the Fixing Permalink to Mean Something post the other day, the links in the side bar are temporary. I find links from Technorati back to my site from some poor soul looking for what comment and link vanderwal.net had placed. These links do not have a permalink as they are ever rotating. I have received a few e-mails asking where the link was from and if I was spamming in some way.

Why do I have the quick links? I don't have the time to do a full or even short write-up. I clear my tabbed browser windows and put the items I have not read in full in the Quick Links. Some things I want access to from my mobile device or work to read the info in full or make use of the information. Other things I want to keep track of and include in a write-up.

The other advantage of moving the quick links into the main content area is they would be easier to include in one aggregated feed. I know I can join my current feeds, but I like the sites that provide the feeds in the same context as they appear on the site as it eases the ability to find the information. This change will take a more than a five or ten minute fix for my site, but it is on my to do list.



August 25, 2004

Chevy Redesigns with Standards

Chevrolet has redesigned with fully valid (one minor issue in the style sheet) XHTML (strict) and CSS. It is beautiful and wonderfully functional. All the information can be easily copied and pasted to help the discerning car buyer build their own crib sheet. The left navigation (browsing structure) is wonderful and not a silly image, but a definition list that is expandable. The style layer is semantic, which is a great help also (for those IAs who understand). Those of you so inclined, take a look under the hood as there are many good things there.



August 20, 2004

Fixing Permalink to Mean Something

This has been a very busy week and this weekend it continues with the same. But, I took two minutes to see if I could solve a tiny problem bugging me. I get links to the main blog, Off the Top, from outside search engines and aggregators (Technorati, etc.) that are referencing content in specific entries, but not all of those entries live on the ever-changing blog home page. All of the entries had the same link to their permanant location. The dumb thing was every link to their permanant home was named the same damn thing, "permalink". Google and other search engines use the information in the link name to give value to the page being linked to. Did I help the cause? No.

So now every permanent link states "permalink for: incert entry title". I am hoping this will help solve the problem. I will modify the other pages most likely next week sometime (it is only a two minute fix) as I am toast.



August 4, 2004

You Down with Folksonomy?

Gene supplies a good overview of Folksonomy, which is the bottom-up social classification that takes place on Flickr, del.icio.us, etc. It would be great to have a tool that could help organizations develop a folksonomy over time. Gmail from Google could develop a great folksonomy that could be overlaid on ones own searches.

Marry this idea with Paul Ford's "Google beats Amazon and eBay at Semantic Web" and you have a wonderful jump on the Semantic Web that is personalized. Take Gene's idea of building a thesaurus or crosswalk of terms within and across systems and things can really take off. There would need to be contextual tools added to handle the multiple definitions like Macintosh is a synonym for Mac, but Macintosh is an artist and a computer, while Mac is a computer, artist, and British term for raincoat (short for Macintosh). Hence the Semantic Web adds context to get these things straight.



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.



August 1, 2004

Profiled at InfoDesign

I am the current InfoDesign Profile - Thomas Vander Wal. This was harder than I thought it would be an many alternate answers ran through my mind, but I finally narrowed it down as much as I could. Peter has many other wonderful profiles and interviews at InfoDesign Special. I have been inspired and found new resources from these glimpses into other designers lives.



July 16, 2004

Gmail Simplifies Email

Since I have been playing with Gmail I have been greatly enjoying the greatly improved means of labeling and archiving of e-mail as opposed to throwing them in folders. Many e-mails are hard to singularly classify with one label that folders force us to use. The ability to drive the sorting of e-mail by label that allows the e-mail to sit accessibly under a filter named with the label make things much easier. An e-mail discussing CSS, XHTML, and IA for two different projects now can be easily accessed under a filter for each of these five attributes.

Dan Brown has written a wonderful article The Information Architecture of Email that dig a little deeper. Dan ponders if users will adopt the changed interface. Hearing many user frustrations with e-mail buried in their Outlook or other e-mail application, I think the improved interface may draw quite a bit of interest. As Apple is going this way for its file structure in Tiger (the next OS upgrade) with Spotlight it seems Gmail is a peak at the future and a good means to start thinking about easier to find information that the use can actually manage.



Web Standards and IA Process Married

Nate Koechley posts his WebVision 2004 presentation on Web Standards and IA. This flat out rocks as it echos what I have been doing and refining for the last three years or more. The development team at work has been using this nearly exclusively for about couple years now on redesigns and new designs. This process makes things very easy to draft in simple wireframe. Then move to functional wireframes with named content objects in the CSS as well as clickable. The next step is building the visual presentation with colors and images.

This process has eased the lack of content problem (no content no site no matter how pretty one thinks it is) often held up by "more purple and make it bigger" contingents. This practice has cut down development and design time in more than half and greatly decreases maintenance time. One of the best attributes is the decreased documentation time as using the Web Developer Extension toolbar in Firefox exposes the class and id attributes that provide semantic structure (among many other things this great tool provides). When the structure is exposed documentation becomes a breeze. I can not think of how or why we ever did anything differently.



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.



May 30, 2004

Make My Link the P-link

Simon hit on plinks as an echo to Tim Bray's comments and variation on Purple Numbers (Purple Numbers as a reference). As I have mentioned before, page numbers fail us and these steps are a good means to move forward.

Simom has also posted in more plinks and in there points to Chris Dent's Big Day for Purple Numbers.

I have been thinking for quite some time about using an id attribute in each paragraph tag that includes the site permalink as well as the paragraph with in that entry. This would look like: <p id="1224p7">. This signifies permanent entry 1224 and paragraph 7 with in that entry. What I had not sorted out was an unobtrusive means of displaying this. I am now thinking about Simon's javascript as a means of doing this. The identifier and plink would be generated by PHP for the paragraph tag, which would be scraped by the javascript to generate the plink.

The downside I see is only making edits at the end of the entry using the "Update" method of providing edits and editorial comments. The other downside is the JavaScript is not usable on all mobile devices, nor was the speed of scrolling down Simon's page that fluid in Safari on my TiBook with 16MB of video RAM.



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.



March 17, 2004

Google is not my only search engine

Google has been letting me down lately. The past two months I have had too many irrelevant links or only a handful (when I narrow the terms) that do not have what I am looking for. Oddly I have Googled only my site and found the results where I mentioned what I was seeking.

I have been turning more and more to Vivisimo and DogPile for search instead. Why? Well they are both metaseach tools, Vivismo includes Google in what it searches, that search across multiple search engines and return them in one interface. These two services also have faceted filtering and/or categorical filters for the results. These facets greatly help filter out the junk. In short it solves the Paris Hilton site problem when you want a hotel room not a bimbo.

In the past I have tried Vivismo, but it did not seem to have enough depth, which has now been solved. Dogpile now offers a good breadth of search engines that seem to improve on the limited results I had been getting in the past. It is good to have options.



March 5, 2004

Tools to Manage Information On Your Personal Hard Drive

I have posted my thoughts on Tools to Manage Information On Your Personal Hard Drive for Mac OS X in particular. I have posted this on my Personal Info Cloud site. This is the first piece of content that I am not posting in both places. This may become a trend as I am spending a fair amount of time thinking through ideas related to the Personal Info Cloud in one place. The Personal Info Cloud has an RSS feed and I will be posting notices that new info has been added there as it happens.



March 1, 2004

IA Summit in Austin

Late last night I got back from the IA Summit in Austin. The Summit was great as it sparked a few ideas, I learned new things, I got to see friends of like minds, and learned the world is still alright. The Summit Blog offers a good snapshot of the Summit. I could not have enjoyed the Summit without James' iCal of the Summit as I was able to drop it into my Personal InfoCloud and truly get what I wanted out of the Summit.

The sessions were very good this year, there was always something I wanted to attend (on a few occasions there was more than one session I really wanted to attend). I really enjoyed Jesse's James Garrett'sBrand-driven IA session which was entertaining and insightful. Victor Lombardi's Incorporating Research on Navigation into a Design Method really gave me a strong insight into some of the current research, particularly a summary of Andrew Dillion's Shape of Information, that helped flesh out some of my own ideas. The UT Austin student's presentation on Extreme IA, using Extreme Programming methodologies for IA research and tasks. Tony Byrne's Critical Review of Enterprise CMS was extremely valuable for myself as it made the current CMS marketplace more coherent for me (I went to an all day session on CSM on Friday that was largely an echo of much of my CMS experience and provided a few good insights that I did not have in my tool belt, which did not strike as large of a chord as the Critical Review).

I need a little time and sleep to digest the conference some more.

Travelling

I knew the Summit would be jam packed into nearly all my waking hours so I was looking forward to the travel time to write and reflect. My trek to Austin was an educational experience as I had purchased US Air tickets off Travelocity for the round trip. My ticketing info said US Air flights with partners United and CanadaAir. On Thursday evening I stood in a non-moving line at the airport for 45 minutes only to jump the line to ask about my flight. The agent said, "We no longer run the flights to Chicago, you are now on a flight run completely by United". I went to United to find out I was very late (30 minutes before the flight and trying to point to the long line at US Air and trying to eek out the words 45 minutes). It was a fast trek behind the counter agent as she rushed me to the short security line with my carry-on and my check-in bag as I did not have time to check my bag and I was short on time to get to the last gate out on the airports tendril. That morning I moved my small pocket knives to my check-in luggage so I would have the ever resourceful and needed tools in Austin. I was stuck in Security as they dug out the offending .75 inch pen Swiss Army knife and the regular sized one then rescanned my bag.

By the time I got to the gate the doors to the flight had shut (10 minutes before the flight). I was on to the adventure of finding a flight or series of flights to Austin assisted by the helpful gate agent. He tried 9 different combinations as he muttered about the snow in Atlanta and the Carolinas. Finally he said he was going to make a last ditch effort with Continental. I followed him to the gate to Houston and was able to get a seat to Houston and a connection to Austin on the last flight to Austin. Then a snag. The flight was leaving in three minutes, but my ticket was a US Air ticket for a United flight and needed to be converted by US Air to United so they could in-turn transfer it to Continental. The helpful gate agent said he would go back out to the lobby and exchange the ticket and he took off jogging. Five minutes later he returned with my exchanged tickets and they reopened the gate doors and the very helpful Continental gate agent carted my luggage down the gateway, but with out the wheelie extending handle out so he looked like a hunchback galloping after me). I finally sat in my seat and was quite numb from the experience). I was able to relax a little and write a little on the flight and on my 2 hour plus layover in Houston, but only about a third of what I had hoped to get done.

For the return flights I decided to leave even earlier for the Airport. It was a good thing I did so as I went looking for US Air and CanadaAir (regional) for my flight back as that is what the ticketing said, with both flights co-branded with United. The Austin airport does not have a presence for US Air nor CanadaAir. I thought I was in for another great adventure. This time I tried United first (no other closely related options). I handed the ticketing agent my ID and she handed me my United tickets, but my flight was delayed with "wheels up" at 5:40 and boarding at 6:00pm. This was as confusing as the rest of the trip for me so I just went with it. It turns out I was on a small regional jet that did not have enough room to write on the laptop, but I did have a great seatmate that had also been to the conference and we had a very good chat. The flight from Chicago home was the usual tight forward accommodation that does not permit opening a laptop. But, I did get home after 1am this morning.



February 22, 2004

NY Times Does Austin Texas Style

Those going to Austin this upcoming weekend for the IA Summit or a few weeks for SXSW should read the NY Times What's Doing Austin travel review or one of the other Times Austin travel reviews. Unfortunately for me my trip is going to be jam packed with IA conference and I and cursed not to be able to make it to SXSW Interactive.



January 25, 2004

New Content Area at Off the Top

There have been a few additions to Off the Top this weekend. The most noticeable is the Quick Links in the side bar. The Quick Links are just links to check out and will be posted when I either have nothing to say about them or I do not have time to post much else. The links have categories associated with them and may be pulled into a global category page at some point in the not too distant future. I have built the whole of my admin tools so that they are quite usable from a mobile device.

The other addition is just one for me, a comment tracking tool. This may get further expanded into a tool you can see and use, but for now I just needed a way to aggregate all the comments into one interface.

There are a couple other large modifications coming in the near future. I have set and tweaked the databases, now it is just getting the time to code and test.

There are times when I think I am going to move the site to Movable Type or some other tool, but I have fun building and tweaking my own tool. I get to see the tools built and integrated how I can best use them. I do have a few side endeavors that use TypePad as they are somewhat separate from the things done here and the limitations (although few) still bug me.



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.



Ontology Primer

What is an Ontology and Why We Need It is an essential overview to ontologies.



January 2, 2004

InfoDesign is Now InformationDesign

Bogieland's InfoDesign has redesigned, restructured and moved to InformationDesign. The new site still has the great daily content and gems, but now includes sections for events, people, and others that have been part of the site, but not as easy to find. I also like the new XML feed, which will make seeing the updates more easily.

The new structure and design may make this site more than just my must read every morning before work, but also a resource to come return to regularly when I have more time. Peter and conspirators have done a great job with the new site.



December 23, 2003


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 16, 2003

You got IA in my CMS

AIfIA announces a relationship with CMS Watch. For those that have been through a few CMS implementations and/or are IAs the "you got IA in my CMS" moment is long past over due.

Congratulations!!



December 14, 2003

Widgetopia

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.



Sir Clarke Portends Humans will Survive the Deluge of Information

I had read the Arthur C Clarke Humanity will survive information deluge interview from OneWorld South Asia. I had pulled the print version of this article into AvantGo and read it on the train commute.

The article had some great insights into the flood of information. He pointed out that over time we have adapted our ways to cope and manage information. When the printing press was developed people wondered how they would ever keep up with everything and how they would ever read 1,000 books. Most opted not to read everything and became selective. The selection of reading benefitted the whole.

The interview does a wonderful job of highlighting responsibility and the challenges ahead. We have access to an extreme breadth of information and we must find ways to expand the access and accessibility to that information to all that are willing. Sir Clarke points out that not all technology is helpful and neither is there a technological solution for every problem, in fact technology can impinge progress.

I encourage you to read the article itself and get inspired.



December 8, 2003

Media Ecology Conference

I am very intrigued with the The Fifth Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association. Media Ecology piques my attention as I really enjoy researching how people consume and reuse information. The media ecology niche looks at how media is consumed and the information is used. Focussing on the vehicle for information transfer is at the core of information architecture and user-centered design.

One of my large nits is information presented and structured in a manner so that it is not reusable. Ideas should be shared and built upon, which is what communication is about. The exchange of ideas is very important to moving forward and making better decisions about our lives and the future of the elements that surround us.

One of my favorite things in the model of attraction is the personal information cloud, which is where and how a user stores information they find helpful or perceive to be helpful and want to keep with themselves. Information portability is key to expanding one's knowledge with the information. Information portability is only viable if the information is in a reusable format. For example, can one copy the information and store it in a notepad or put it in a calendar? If the digital information regards a date is the information in a vCal or iCal format so that the user can easily drop it into their favorite calendar application, which synchs with their PDA or mobile phone?



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.



December 2, 2003

Harpers redesigned

Harpers Magazine has been redesigned by Paul Ford. Paul discusses the Harpers redesign on his own site Ftrain.

The site is filled with all the good stuff we love, valid XHTML, CSS, accessible content (meaning well structured content). The site is clean and highlights the content, which is what Harpers is all about - great content. The site is not overfilled with images and items striking out for your attention, it is simply straightforward.

We bow down before Paul and congratulate him on a job very well done.



November 18, 2003

Guide to Ethnography Wiki Lives

Peter Van Dijck relaunched Guide to Ethnography Wiki. This is a very good resource for understanding ethnographic studies and research.



November 6, 2003

Interdependance of structure, information, and presentation

Peter J. Bogaards explains The Document Triangle: The interdependence of the structure, information and presentation dimensions. This troika is very important clear information consumption, but also information reuse. Structure is extremely important to transmitting information, but also important to information reuse. Information lacking structure nearly as reusable as a newspaper article printed on paper.

One great location to explore the ease of information reuse and the affect the presentation layer has should look no farther than, CSS Zen Garden, where nearly all the content is identical in the various layouts and designs. The structure of the content provides a solid framework to rework the presentation layer. The presentation layer can add to or detract from the clarity of the message as well as the attraction a user may have to the message.



November 1, 2003

Why page numbers fail us

I keep running into a deep information habit that has never worked well for its intended purpose, the page number has been an information curse. Printed documents use page numbers, which are intended as a reference point (not bragging rights often referenced in Harry Potter and Neal Stephenson books - I am on page 674 and you are on page 233). All of us are familiar with this problem from high school and college if you happened to have a different printed copy of a classic text. Page 75 of Hemmingway's Old Man and the Sea was not the same in everybody's copy.

Even modern books fail when trying to reference pages, just look at the mass market edition of Crypnomicon with 1168 pages and the hardcopy version of Crypnomicon with 928 pages of the same text. Trying to use a page number as a reference does absolutely no good.

Now we try and reference information on the Web, which should not be chunked up by page count, but by logical information breaks. These breaks are often done by chapter or headings and rightly so as it most often helps the reader with context. Documents that are placed on the Internet, many times for two purposes - the ability to print and to keep the page numbers. Having information that is broken logically for a print presentation makes some sense if it is going to be printed and read in that manner, but more and more electronic information is being read on electronic devices and not printed. The Adobe reader does not easily flow from page to page, which is a complaint I often hear when readers are trying to read page delimited PDF files.

So if page numbers fail us in the printed world and are even more abysmal in the realm of the electronic medium, what do we use? One option is to use natural information breaks, which are chapters, headers, and paragraphs. These breaks in the information occur in every medium and would cause problems for readers and the information's structure if they are missing.

If we use remove page numbers, essentially going native as books and documents did not havepage numbers originally (Gutenberg's Bible did not rely on page numbers, actually page numbers in any Bible are almost never used Biblical reference), then we can easily place small paragraph numbers in the margins to the left and right. In books, journals, and periodicals with tables of contents the page or article jumps the page numbers can remain as the documents self-reference. The external reference could have a solid means of reference that actually worked.

Electronic media do not necessarily needs the page numbers for self-references within the document as the medium uses hyper-linking to perform the same task appropriately. To reference externally from a document one would use the chapter, header, and paragraph to point the reader to the exact location of text or microcontent. In (X)HTML each paragraph tag could use an incremented "id" attribute. This could be scripted to display in the presentation as well as be used as hyperlink directly to the content using the "id" as an anchor.

I guess the next question is what to do about "blockquote" and "table" tags, etc., which are block level elements? One option is to not use an id attributes in these tags as they are not paragraphs and may be placed in different locations in various presentation mediums the document is published in. The other option is to include the id tag, but then the ease of creating the reference information for each document type is eliminated.

We need references in our documents that are not failures from the beginning.

Other ideas?



October 25, 2003

Information structure important for information reuse

John Udell's discussion of Apple's Knowledge Navigator is a wonderful overview of a Personal Information Cloud. If the tools was more mobile or was shown synching with a similar mobile device to have the "knowledge" with the user at all time it is would be a perfect representation.

Information in a Personal Information Cloud is not only what the user wants to have stored for retrieval when it is needed (role-based information and contextual) but portable and always accessible. Having tools that allow the user to capture, categorize, and have attracted to the user so it is always with them is only one part of the equation. The other component is having information that is capable of being captured and reused. Standards structures for information, like (X)HTML and XML are the beginnings of reusable information. These structures must be open to ensure ease of access and reuse in proper context. Information stored in graphics, proprietary software, and proprietary file formats greatly hinders the initial usefulness of the information as it can be in accessible, but it even more greatly hinders the information's reuse.

These principle are not only part of the Personal Information Cloud along with the Model of Attraction, but also contextual design, information architecture, information design, and application development.



October 19, 2003

Peter explains Semiotics

Peter Lind post a great overview of semiotics and a what is semiotics, part 2 on his ever useful Tesugen weblog.



October 18, 2003

Info Cloud and Personal Info Cloud weblogs setup

We have set up a couple new sites using TypePad to focus on Info Clouds and more directly, the Personal Info Cloud. The Info Cloud and Personal Info Cloud are extensions of ideas that came out of the Model of Attraction work.

The information posted on the TypePad sites will most likely be syndicated here, or vis versa. The use of TypePad is easing the need to have a separate location for these ideas and works in progress. Off the Top will not be changing, it will still be a melting pot of ideas and information. Direct access to more focussed information on topic or categories are still available by clicking on the category below each entry or using the category list.

The information cloud work ties directly to standards, information architecture, content management, and general Web development passions that drive me.



October 16, 2003

AIfIA event sponsorships

The fine folks as the Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture (AIfIA) are offering IA event sponsorships. Yes, there are two 1,000 U.S. dollar sponsorships available as well as marketing and speaker services.



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.



August 3, 2003

Earl Morrough's helpful Information Architecture book

This past week I started reading Earl Morrogh's Information Architecture: An Emerging 21st Century Profession, which is a great short book that looks are communication technologies and their impact on society and how information in each is structured and each of their information architectures. It is a wonderful quick read that draws on what has come before the Web and building upon how information is structured in each of the mediums for best communication purposes.

One thing that surprised me early on in the book is I am quoted. It is odd to be reading along and find yourself quoted in a book that is bound. The quote comes from a discussion in the comments on PeterMe's site, actually it is the same discussion that sprung the void, which in turn inspired the Model of Attraction.



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 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 25, 2003


June 13, 2003


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 endpoint.com 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 26, 2003

Site housecleaning and rebuilt essay section for MoA info

There have been some more modifications here at vanderwal.net. Many of the pages now have links to the Essays section. The Essays page has finally been brought into the new look and layout. The page also integrates the Model of Attraction section more closely.

Over the past few months the MoA has grown through word of mouth and remembering the URL for its mainpage has been problematic. Much of the traffic that has been coming into MoA has been going to the first draft, which is good, but it is also just the first draft. The newest information on the MoA, there is more coming, will be placed at the top of the list.

The Creative Commons license has been added to more pages, including the MoA. Finally the links page has been updated to add some of my regular reads, remove dead links or stale content, and update links to where helpful resources have moved.

There are some more modifications on the way in the near future, some you will be able to see and others will be admin tools or just seemless updates.



May 21, 2003

CMS goes over 1,001

This is post 1,001 in my homebuilt weblog CMS. Yes there have been other odometer parties on this site, but turning over 1,000 was one that really has pleased me. My tool is missing some elements that others now have, but I still have fun tinkering with mine and extending it. There are some plans for the summer to add functionality by embracing the categories and using them in conjuction with the links page as well as tying the links and entries together, sort of like a Web strawberry banana shake. I have a book review repository planned too, but it has not moved out of the ERD phase yet (uh, yes I plan, chart, and document my apps and changes for the site, it eases making changes in the future -- I just need to get all the docs on one machine and in one directory).

Lift you glass to 1,001 entries and no digi-barfing



April 26, 2003

IA Jargon

Jeffrey Veen has a collection of IA Jargon collected from within large client walls. My favorite is "Boil the Ocean"



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 16, 2003

Using HTML tags properly to help external search results

There are some essentials to building Web pages that get found with external search engines. Understanding the tags in HTML and how they are (rather should be) used is important. The main tags for most popular search engines are the title, heading (h1, h2, etc), paragraph (p), and anchor (a). Different search engines have given some weight in their ranking to metatags, but most do not use them or have decreased their value.

Google gives a lot of weight to the title tag, which is often what shows in the link Google gives its user to click for the entry. In the title tag the wording is important too, as the most specific information should be toward the front. A user searching for news may find a weblog toward the top of the search ahead of CNN, as CNN puts its name ahead of the title of the article. A title should echo the contents of the page as that will help the ranking of the pages, titles that are not repeated can get flagged for removal from search engines.

The headings help echo what is in the title and provide breaking points in the document. Headings not only help the user scan the page easily, but also are used by search engines to ensure the page is what it states it is. The echoing of terms are used to move an entry to the top of the rankings as the mechanical search engines get reinforcement that the information is on target for what its users may be seeking.

The paragraph tags also are used to help reinforce the text within them.

The anchor tags are used for links and this is what the search engines use to scrape and find other Web pages. The text used for the links is used by the search engines to weight their rankings also. If you want users to find information deep in your site put a short clear description between the anchor tags. The W3C standards include the ability to use a title attribute which some search tools also use. The title attribute is also used by some site readers (used by those with visual difficulties and those who want their information read aloud to them, because they may be driving or have their hands otherwise occupied) to replace the information between the anchor tags or to augment that information.

Example

The application I built to manage this weblog section is build to use each of these elements. This often results in high rankings in Google (and relatedly Yahoo), but this is not the intent, I am just a like fussy in that area. It gets to be very odd when my posting weblog posting review of a meal at Ten Penh is at the top or near the top of a Google Ten Penh search. The link for the Ten Penh restaurant is near the bottom of the first page.

Why is the restaurant not the top link? There are a few possible reasons. The restaurant page has its name at "tenpenh" in the title tag, which is very odd or sloppy. The page does not contain a heading tag nor a paragraph tag as the site is built with Flash. The semantic structure in Flash, for those search engines that scrape Flash. Equally the internal page links are not read by a search engine as they are in Flash also. A norm for many sites is having the logo of the site in the upper left corner clickable to the home page of the site, which with the use of the alt attribute in a image tag within an anchor link allow for each page to add value to the home page rant (if the alt attritute would have "Ten Penh Home" for example).

Not only does Flash hinder the scapeing of information the use of JavaScript links wipes out those as means to increase search rankings. Pages with dynamic links that are often believed to ease browsing (which may or may not prove the case depending on the site's users and the site goals in actual user testing) hurt the information in the site for being found by external search engines. JavaScript is not scrapable for links or text written out by JavaScript.



Time theories and information gathering

Ftrain's accordian time I found to be enjoyable. I enjoy time theories and find this to be close to my own personal favorite as accordian time accounts for the percieved difference in time. Some folks have a, so called, strong inner clock that is in step with metered time.

Chronological time is problematic for many as their lives feel wholly out of step with the beating minutes regulated to 60 seconds. Time seems to move in spurts and is quasi-random. My personal time theory to account for the difference in perceived time is that everybody is on a different time pace and some folks do have time moving faster for them, while others have time moving far more slowly. These differences are synched at night so that we all can work and play together. This is just an unsubstantiated theory on my part, but I am happy to find others thinking of other time measurements that can account for perceived differences in time.

Alan Lightman has a collection of time scenarios in his Einstein's Dreams. I found ED a wonderful quick read that added a wonderful collection of time theories to my existing stack. It has been a few years since I read ED, but it seems about right to pull it off the shelf and have another go.

Time, or perceived time, is important to understand when developing applications and information structures. Different individuals will become frustrated if they can not find the information they seek when they desire that information. This is partially dependant on the persons perception of the passage of time or their relation to metered time. A person who normally has time passing slowly may find most information is easily found, but if they are trying to trackdown the address for a date or interview in a relatively short time before the event the persons perception of time may increase. This impacts the perceived ease of finding information or re-retrieving that information. The frustration for this person may increase as they can feel the minutes or seconds slipping away. This cognative element is helpful to understand as we test and build interfaces.



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 8, 2003

Creating Controlled Vocabularies - IA Foundation Series

Creating a Controlled Vocabulary article is up at Boxes and Arrows and is another great tutorial from Karl Fast, Fred Leise, and Mike Steckel. This is just one of a series that builds the foundation for information architects.



April 2, 2003

Matt Jones looses faith in navigation

Matt picks up on the failure of navigation and points to similar conversations to ones I had with Stewart that turned me to look for something other than navigation as a means to build information structures. Each user approaches information with two of their own receptors, cognitive and sensory receptors. The cognitive elements include vocabulary and rhetoric (essentially writing style). The sensory include visual elements, which include color, texture, and layout. Layout includes the visual structure and context given through proximity. These two seem to have paralells to Andrew Dillon's semantic spatial model, but I want to know more about his model.

Matt discusses the problems with navigation consistancy at the BBC sites. Here is where navigation gets in the way, as browsing structures is a better term and less restrictive. The user needs a means to find other information that is related or provides context to the information the see on their screens. If there is some attraction to the information infront of the user they often believe what which they seek will be close by if the information is grouped by like information. Much like a market where produce is grouped together, as they are like products.



April 1, 2003

IA Summit Reviewed at Boxes and Arrows

Boxes and Arrows has posted their summaries of the IA Summit in two parts, Friday and Saturday at the IA Summit and Sunday at the IA Summit held in Portland. The write-ups are very good and leave one wanting more. There are links to outside resources for the presentations and other reviews of the conference.



March 30, 2003

More Portland and IA Summit photos

A few Portland and IA Summit photos (81) have been added to the photo gallery. It looks like I still need some tweaking of the BetterHTML tool to up the quality of the photos. I had been hoping to complete these earlier but errands and constant sleeping hindered progress.



March 27, 2003

Wayfinding and navigation in digital spaces

The IA Summit session on Wayfinding and navigation in digital spaces has the presentation slides posted on Rashmi's site (Rashmi was the panel moderator). The panelists were Mark Bernstein, Andrew Dillion, and Susan Campbell. (Oddly enough I was presenting the Model of Attraction at the same time in another session. The Model of Attraction provides a framework for thinking about information structure and development in a navigation metaphor environment.)

Peter has posted his notes on this panel (navigation and hypertext).



Powells Books Booty

Okay, here is the list of booty from Powells Books... Metarepresentations: a multidisciplinary prespective edited by Dan Sperber, a description of this Cog Sci overview book help understand it better. Kunstler's The City in Mind. Feynman's Six Easy Pieces, which I started this morning on the train and really enjoy. William Gibson's Pattern Recognition that I started reading on the plane and has really pulled me in. A string of tech books, MySQL Cookbook, Perl and XML, and Java and XML, and based on Peter's recommendation Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy. This and yesterday's mentioned Hofstadler book should about cover it. I really wish there were a Powells Books where I lived, but my wallet does not wish the same. It is great to be able to see the books and evaluate how helpful the book will actually be to you before buying.

I also added Information Architecture: An Emerging 21st Century Profession by Earl Morrogh while at the IA Summit. It seems to be a very good overview on first pass and it comes very highly recommended. I met Earl at the Summit and he is purely delightful and very much a part of the IA community.



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 25, 2003

Quick overview of IA Summit

I am back from Portland, Oregon from the IA Summit. The Summit was fantastic, although I seem to have missed a few of sessions that were said to be fantastic. The two session that Rashmi lead, user reseach methods and a panel on Navigation and Wayfinding in Digital Spaces (also on the panel were Mark Bernstein and Andrew Dillon who had similar comments on the problems with the navigation metaphor) were said to be fantastic and I am upset I missed them. I will write up my notes and outlines by the end of the week on the wonderful sessions I did attend.

In all it was a great conference, and I deeply thank Christina Wodtke for her work on putting this conference together. There was a IA Summit blog put together by Adam Greenfield, which had some postings, but it seems connectivity problems (many of us lost our broadband access from our hotel rooms) hindered the contributions. There was a wonderful vibe at the conference, even with the rarely mentioned war going on (many admitted to watching news during downtime) and very large storm troopers in riot gear wandering about. Unfortunately I was a little cranky and lost in a blur of an airline cold for much of the conference, but I did get the opportunity to put faces and wonderful people with the names I am familiar with.



March 22, 2003

IA Summit Presentation of the Model of Attraction

The presenation of the Model of Attraction given at the IA Summit is now available. The first version available is PDF and an HTML version of the outline will be available also very soon. The version posted it shorter than I hoped as I was still cutting content out of the presentation minutes before I began presenting. Yet, the presentation should be somewhat coherent as it stands now.



IA Summit Weblog

The IA Summit 2003 Weblog is up and running for those interested. This is running as a community blog for conference related events.



37signals Takes a Whack at Google

37signals provides 37BetterGoogle. Yes, the folks at 37signals who focus on building more usable interfaces through simple design, have takn a whack at improving the Goolge interface. 37signals provides a brief discussion of their added alternate search elements that can help aid the user more easily find that which they were seeking.

In a sense the interface modification offers similar searches to the user. This falls directly in to the information foraging direction of providing the user other attraction points that may get the user closer to the exact information that desire. The Google search may be returning information that is very close to what they are seeking, but a minor tweak of the search can provide more direct results.

This seems to be much like offering the user breadcrumbs. As most of us are aware not all users come to a site through the top level page. In fact you will most likely find less than half of the users of a site come in through the front door. Tools like Google give the user a means to get to the information they desire more quickly and easily. But, when a user comes to your site through a search they may not have dropped into the exact information they are seeking. It is up the the site owners to provide access points to similar information or information that is up one level (as often an external search will dump a user into a detail page of a site because of how search tool's weigh various pieces of content). Breadcrumbs on a page will provide the user with the ability to get to a page that may link to other related detailed pages.



March 20, 2003

Gone to the Roses

I am off to the Left Coast, Portland in particular, the IA Summit more particularly. Stop and say hi. I will continue my usual nonsense from the City of Roses.



March 16, 2003

Social Networks with InFlow

Steven Johnson examines Vladis Krebs' InFlow software to find social networks. This is a visualization tool that draws the lines that make up the connections in our lives and interactions. More about InFlow and information about Krebs will help you under social networking from an automated perspective.

Graphviz provides similar (yet simpler) output.



March 14, 2003

Molly wants to discuss SXSW and flow of ideas

Molly asks what one gets from SXSW? I did not make it this year as I am somewhat burried with work, reviews for a great conference in June, and preparing for Portland. I get a great amout from SXSW Interactive infact part of why I am burried is because of a confluence at SXSW last year. The Model of Attraction solution to the failure of navigation as our metaphor of building interfaces to information on the Web. I have been whittling down over 5 pages of single spaced outline on MoA for the last 6 weeks trying to fit a solid understanding of it into 30 to 45 minutes.

Much of what can make SXSW great is the bright passionate people it draws in. The inspiration and spark from SXSW can last a year. I do agree there is a need for a higher level conference as a place to think and bounce ideas around to keep the growth horomones for design, research, and technology fresh. Some of that may come and I really want to be there. This is not to say that SXSW does not offer this, it does as follow on conversations after the panels. It would be great to have these discussions as small groups or as the panels.



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 11, 2003

Boxes and Arrows Birthday

Happy Birthday Boxes and Arrows. It is Boxes and Arrows one year anniversary. It seems like so much longer, but to some of us it has been a little longer. There have been a flood of great articles that have shared knowledge and experiences to help us all get better at what we do. I am looking foreward to the next anniversaries and looking back too.



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.



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 19, 2003

WaSP Buzzing

The current Buzz is that the Web Standards Project is growing and offering a new perspective and as is noted in the WaSP press release I am now a member of the WaSP clan. This takes advantage of what I already do in my free time, try to build a better Web and work on structuring information for use and reuse. This is smart group dovetails very nicely with the smart group of information architects that absorb another chunk of my free time.



Understanding Referrer Systems

Rashmi Sinha's Recommender Systems overview on Sig-IA is a great overview of the tools used to bring information closer to those that may have an interest in that information. Essentially this gets to the heart of the Model of Attraction. Recommender Systems can provide tools that group information through links that are based on others similar interests. Finding information is what many spend much time doing. Lessening this time and providing methods to predict interests are helpful. This of course takes patterns. Patterns need a breadth of data to be useable.

In particular you may be interested in Rashmi Sinha's "Interaction Design for Recommender Systems". [hat tip Matt]



February 18, 2003


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 9, 2003

Content management interview with Bob Bioko

Elearningpost interviews CMS wiz Bob Bioko. The article has an e-learning bent to it, but it is a great interview discussing content management. I really enjoy Bob's approach as it separates information from technology and stresses the importance of understanding the information and its needs prior to digging into the technology. This is brought out in this quote from the interview:

Firstly, technology changes a lot and focusing on technology is not the right thing to do. What's really important to me is figuring out what exactly you want from your learning system or information system. From my point of view, I have certain information resources that I would like to deliver to certain people in a certain way. That's not a technology question. That's not about what system I have. Rather its about what information do I have, who wants it and how do I deliver that information in the best possible way. Now obviously I would need a system to do that, but the infrastructure follows from the need I have, not the other way around.

When someone makes the decision the other way around, focusing on the platform, the software, the features etc., they limit and constrain themselves to what the system allows them to do. This is not to say that technology wont be a determining factor in what you actually have to, its just that technology should be a response to the problem not a definer of the problem.

Two other bon mots in this article include discussions of "context management" and the perenial question of "build versus buy".



February 4, 2003

Moblogging and Joe Average persona

The Online Journalism review offers up Moblogging the next big thing, which brings "Joe Average" into play. I am not sure Joe Average would want a Hiptop or find a use for a Hiptop. I do like the idea of the Smartmobs, but it is not for everybody.

In a discussion at the DC IA book reading group (this time it was The Tipping Point) we ventured on the topic of using mavens as a persona candidate. The person said they were looking for somebody less adept at finding information, like a "Joe Average". This is often how many of us build personas we go for the less adept, or make sure they are represented across our personas. The discussion later came to how to keep the mavens intrigued, which is also a valid discussion.



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.



January 27, 2003

Apple Word Replacement Rumor and Information Structure Dreams

Rumor has it Apple is working on MS Word replacement. This would be a great thing if it would read native Word files seemlessly, but even better would be turning out valid HTML/XHTML. MS Word has always made a huge mess of our information with its conversion to something it "calls" HTML, it is not even passable HTML. One could not get a job using what Microsoft outputs as HTML as a work sample, heck, it would not even pass the laugh test and it may get somebody fired.

One of the downsides of MS Office products is that they are created for styling of information not marking up information with structure, to which style can hang. MS Word allows people (if the turn on or keep the options turned on) to create information sculptures with structure and formatting of the information. What Word outputs to non-Word formats is an information blob that has lost nearly all of its structure and functionality in any other format. It does not really have the format the Word document to begin with. What Web developers do is put the structure back into the information blob to recreate an information sculpture again.

You ask why is structure important? Structure provides the insight to know what is a header and sub-header. Structure provides the ability to discern bulleted lists and outlines. Structure makes it script-kiddie easy to create a table of contents. Structure makes micro-content accessible and easier to find with search. Structure provides better context. Structure provides the ability to know what is a quote from an external document and point to it easily. Structure provides ease of information portability and mobile access easier. These just name a few uses of structure.

Does MS Word have this structure capability? Yes, do people use it? No really. If people use it does MS Word keep the structure? Rarely, as it usually turns the structure into style. This is much like a somebody who spent months in the gym to build a well defined physique only to have the muscles removed to stuff their own shirt with tissue paper to give it the look of being in shape. Does the person with the tissue paper muscles have the ability to perform the same as the person who is really in shape? Not even close.

Structure is important not only for the attributes listed above, but also for those people that have disabilities and depend on the information being structured to get the same understanding as a person with out disabilities. You say MS Word is an accessible application, you are mostly correct. Does it create accessible information documents? Barely at best. The best format for information structure lay in HTML/XHTML/XML not in styles.

One current place that structure is greatly valuable is Internet search. Google is the top search engine on the Internet. Google uses the text in hyperlinks, the information in title tags, and information in the heading tags to improve the findability of a Web page. What are these tagged elements? Structure.

One of the nice things about a valid HTML/XHTML Web document is I can see it aqnd use it on my cell phone or other mobile devices. You can navigate without buttons and read the page in chunks. Some systems preparse the pages and offer the ability to jump between headings to more quickly get to the information desired.

These are just a few reasons I am intrigued with the Apple rumor. There is hope for well structured documents that can output information in a structured form that can validate to the W3C standards, which browsers now use to properly render the information on the page. I have very little hope in the stories that MS is working toward an XML storage capability for Office documents, because we have heard this same story with the last few Office releases and all were functional lies.



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.



Perl site scraper

Screen scraping with Perl www::mechanize will come in handy for many tasks. The information reuse possibilities are wonderful. This does seem to require somewhat valid HTML/XHTML to function properly.



Facets made usable with XFML

Introduction to XFML by Peter Van Dijck is a great first step to understanding the eXtreme Football Markup Language eXchangeable Faceted Metadata Language. This article lays out facets, topics, metadata, taxonomy, and provides a framework based on these understandings to build a usable structure to describe objects.



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 18, 2003

Model of Attraction moves forward

The upcoming IA Summit in Portland, Oregon is providing me the opportunity to offer the Model of Attraction live and in person. In the coming weeks I will be posting background to this presentation in digestible chunks. You are free to peruse the initial draft of Model of Attraction from March 2002, the Model of Attraction outline from December 2002, and the attraction category here in Off the Top.

Navigation is Broken

Part of the need for developing the Model of Attraction revolves around the broken metaphor of navigation that many IA's put much trust in. Metaphors use a concept that is understood (often not related to the topic at hand) to describe the hard to understand or the new. All metaphors limit understanding as they do not accurately describe the actions and relationships, they only provide a framework that helps understand bits of the whole. The navigation metaphor has been stretched beyond its limits and has limited the possibilities of information structures. We as IAs are worse off by leaning on navigation beyond its narrow boundaries and the users of the sites and the information bound in the sites are worse off by the over reliance on the navigation metaphor.

To see where this discovery began, go to this discussion on IA, navigation, and information space. Pay attention to Stewart Butterfield's comments. In addition navigation does not permit us to think about understanding visual attraction, reuse of information, information access methods outside the PC based Web, mobile access, personalization, content management, or the ability to have a rough cloud of information that follows the user (access to information where and when one needs it). In the Peterme discussion I stated I would sleep on a solution. I repeatedly slept and woke thinking about this problem and fell into the Model of Attraction early last March and have been working with the MoA since then.

I have used the MoA with clients and when mentoring IAs and Web developers. The comprehension is much better when describing the same approach than when using the navigation metaphor. Clients quickly understand the need for controlled vocabularies based on the user's common language and understanding. MoA helps easily explain the need for grouping of information around categories and facets. Card sorting tasks become easy to understand for the clients and helps them assist in the process. Most of the IAs took kit (persona, taxonomy, wireframes, metadata, etc.) are more usable as their need is easily understood by all in the context of attraction.

Scent not Strong

You may be thinking this rough explaination you are getting sounds like Information Scent. You would be right, to some degree. But information scent, like navigation, is a metaphor. Yes, scent breaks too and is quite difficult to use with clients as some things get very confusing for them. Scent helps IAs understand what is going on a little better and there is great research that has come out of the Information Scent community. But when you get down to it scent is a subset of attraction. Scent is one method of attracting or repelling the user toward information they are seeking and keeping extraneous information out of the mix. Scent also has its limits. The scent metaphor works with getting the user to information, but it gets very murky when the information needs metadata (to help augment the attraction between the user and the information they are seeking). Scent and odors have distinct understandings and altering the scents for understanding (metadata) raises many questions from clients as the client tries to understand. Scent does not work well when trying to build information structures for mobile access to information, nor for setting the ability to have the information follow the user (What you want to use a blueberry muffin as a perfume? Don't think so).

More to Come

This only defines MoA by showing the limits of navigation and scent. More understanding is on its way in upcoming weeks and will be put in a presentation format for the IA Summit. Those that are worried, we are not throwing out navigation or scent. We are keeping navigation in its small usable space where it works well. Scent has provided great research and has similar properties to attraction as it is a subset. The Model of Attraction will provide a broader foundation that allows us to move into the future as we build information structures that include possibilities for mobile access, social networks, and true access to information as the user needs it by keeping the information close at hand. The MoA does not solve these problems, but provides a framework that does not break when we work to solve these issues.



AIfIA is offering its IA Leadership Seminar as part of the ASIS&T IA Summit 2003 "Making Connections".

The Leadership Conference and the Summit offer great opportiunites to expand our knowledge and skills. This is one event I am really looking forward to this year.



January 16, 2003

Jon Udel digs into information mapping

Jon Udell digs into information mapping, which includes a discussion and pointer to Samuel Wan's fisheye menu. Jon's entry has other pointers that will keep you occupied for a little while.



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.



January 5, 2003

More future proofing information

Speaking of future proofing your information, Mark discusses CMS and information reuse. One quote that brings this to light is:

This ties you to your content management system. The further removed your raw data is from your published form, the harder it will be to migrate away from the tools that convert one to the other.

Mark also discusses how using HTML he then created PDF files of his Dive into Accessibility essays. HTML has much of the semantic tools needed and the structure to provide a reusable information repository.



Touch Graph tool for viewing relationships

Stuart has been discussing Touch Graph lately and has me quite intrigued. There seem to be many uses that would be helpful on a regular basis. Using the tool to view clickstreams or to view actual site maps (versus heirarchial site maps) would be helpful.


Smart Mobs and Emergence provide sparks

I began reading Smart Mobs by Howard Rheingold the past few days. It is a fantastic book that covers a lot of ground, including free riders, game theory, mobile technology, information creation, and information use and reuse. The book is proving to be an excellent follow-on to Steven Johnson's Emergence. The two books are wonderful mind-joggers and fodder for new preceptions about information, technology, and the world around us. A trait that both share is excellent bibliographies and end-notes (the end notes in both books were not very user friendly and would seem to be structured for hypertexting and not paper books).

These two books put the focus on being future friendly, which does not mean any thing new, but reinforces my belief in properly structured information. Information use and reuse are the key elements in both books, which embrace bottom-up information creation and knowledge sharing. The need for access to information drives Smart Mobs, whether it is to grow open development or for mobile use access is important. The best access environment we have in place at the moment is valid HTML/XHTML that is used to properly structure the information.

This also requires thinking through every pixel on a Web page and understanding its purpose. Understanding the user will help provide a framework for building information interfaces. The information/content should take importance also that is why users are reading, not the entertaining graphics. Keep in mind we structured information can be reused on mobile devides that may not use your images, information may be scraped and repurposed, information may be printed, or read aloud to a person using a site reader while they are driving or read to a person with visual difficulties.

You may want to get your hands on either or both books and take a look for yourself and you may be inspired in new ways or have your beliefs in information and its used renewed.



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 18, 2002

Quiet time offers reading for IAs

Things will be quiet here for a few days. Go read the Boxes and Arrows and the equally great offerings at Digital Web. Digital Web is offering The Psychology of Navigation by Jesse James Garrett Persuasive Navigation by Jeff Lash Navigation Complex by Peter-Paul Koch. All of these articles are well worth the time to read, Jesse's may be my favorite of the bunch for personal reasons.


December 14, 2002

Meryl gets Lou and Peter talking about IA

Meryl's interveiw with Lou and Peter about information architecture over at Digital Web is a must read. It is a good overview, plus it gives good answers to many of the definition problems that continually pop-up in IA.


Accessible persona

I was reminded today of Marcus a persona in Mark Pilgrim's Accessibility tutorial for Weblogs (and anybody else interested). Marcus is actually a real person (as pointed out by Mark), which drives the persona home. This may be my favorite example currently for accessibility.

At work we constantly get outside developers turning over non-accessible sites or applications. The client I work for is put through the painful task of explaining what needs to be done to meet Section 508 requirements. The teeth pulling the client goes through is shameful as the outside contractors want every single item spelled out and they want to know why (they usually have built the application or site through reusing a previous product built by somebody that is no longer there and that way they can do the job cheaply and make a better profit, had they built from the beginning knowing and understanding the requirements it would have been easy and inexpensive to do). Often times I am asked to help define what needs to be done and why something fails compliance, usually as a sanity check (accessibility has been an area of strength for four years or more). The regulations are very broad and do not define the exact actions that should be avoided (this is the correct approach to allow for technological improvements).

Marcus is a great example to have on the shelf as much of the information I work with during the day is public information that the taxpayers paid for, whether they are sighted, physically able, have their hearing, or not. We know that there is a decent number of users that come to government sites from publicly available systems (like in libraries) that have technology that is nowhere near current. These people should be able to get to the information and use the information and applications around it as others can use it. Marcus is usually what we see as worse case scenarios using Lynx, but also what we think of as our baseline. Knowing Marcus exists and is really helps greatly.

There is also a benefit side to building accessible information, it is future ready information. The information that is fully accessible is ready to use with no (or is rare cases slight) modification on mobile devices. This is the wonderful thing about building accessible information. One of the first steps is building information that validates to a standard. The next thing is separating style from the content by using style sheets, which make it easy to over ride any style that is problematic or to easily allow for scalable styles. This two helps create information that is future compatible. Accessible information can also be easily reused in from its presentation as it is built to standards that ease.

Accessible information is also structured properly. Structuring information properly is far more than how it looks, it is how is marked up. A header on a Web page has an "h1, h2, etc" tag around it, which eases the ability to build a table of contents or use that header as a contextual aid to summarize the information below it (that is if headers are tagged properly and the content in the header is properly descriptive). Structuring the information helps the information be reusable out of the Web page as that is what HTML does, provides structure elements in the markup tags. If information to be reused has needs (including structure and context that is easily discernible), which validating HTML provides as a basic foundation -- of course there is much that can be improved upon the basic HTML markup, but it addresses the information needs. Building accessible information applications (Web sites included) keeps money from being wasted in the future and it does not require buying a third-party application, which are often cause more problems than they solve where accessibility is concerned (this will not always be the case).

As Joe Clark's book, Building Accessible Websites points out accessible does not mean ugly or plain. Joe walks the reader through how to make beautiful sites that are also wonderfully to folks like Marcus (side note: Mark Pilgrim edited Joe's book). Another excellent book on accessibility, and is my favorite book on accessibility, as it works very well for Web application developers (and I agree with its approach to information in complex tables more than Joe's approach) is Accessible Web Sites. These are two great resources for leaning how to do things properly. I will be working on longer reviews of each in the near future.



December 13, 2002

Usability Net from the EU - Updated

UsabilityNet is a solid resource put out by the EU. There are many great resources, like the methods table, but there were also many visual presentation and structural problems that kept me from getting the most out of the site. On the top page there presentation is very cluttered and the image buttons are not easy to scan, or for that matter read (here a text links with CSS would offer much better readability and would easily be resizable for those with visual difficulties). The inside pages often have two layers of navigation, but use a visual presentation that not only had me slightly baffled, but other Web development and design professionals too. Not only are there two layers of hierarchial navigation layers on the top, but there are sometimes left navigation provided. I really was not sure what the differences were between the second tier top nav and the left nav as they were similar.

I completely agree with Beth that the Usability for Managers section offers great resources. This page gives solid reasoning behind the benefits of using usability testing and development.

The area where this site could use the most improvement is the accessibility of some of the informaiton. The methods table is a great idea with a solid presentation, but it is not accessible in the slightest for folks with disabilities or those using mobile devices. The largest disappointment is the page is not printable.

In all this will be a great site if they can get through some of the structure and presentation issues. It seems ironic that the site has usability problems, but it is a young site with a great future and I have no doubt they will get there.

[hat tip Beth]



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

Mark dives into XFML

Mark Pilgim dives into XFML and provides an excellent set of references to learn more (as always).


Zeldman uncovers the mess of Aventis site

Zeldman hits the ugly nail on the head discussing Aventis. I believe that anybody who believes there is not an poor information design or site that is screaming for an Informaiton Architect has not been to Aventis, there are so many problems that begin with and end with the drop down menus that overlap. Zeldmen points out, as he always does, the need to understand what the HTML markup and code do in a browser. Not only understanding the browser but the user. The Aventis site fails in many areas, but the tucking product information under "About Aventis" makes it very difficult to find.

Zeldman has also been sharing his wonderful redevelopment pains and discoveries. I may tackle the last couple layout bugs I have left if he cracks the right nut.



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 2, 2002

Adam and Nathan Part II

Adam and Nathan discuss experience design, part two. This second part gets a little deeper than the first and aims more at defining than tearing apart.


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

Title to the top

One of the modifications here at vanderwal.net was making better use of the title in the HTML header. This is something that I preach at work, the title should describe the information as it is used by search engines. Google uses it in their algorithms and in their hyperlink to the information. I took the category in my homebuilt CMS and placed the category name in the title and put the same title in the H1 header tag at the top of these pages. After the first Googlebot scrape of this site the incoming Google clicks quadrupled in 24 hours and have stayed rather constant.

I knew something like this would happen, but not to this extent. I guess there are so many poorly formed Web pages out there that a properly formed page sticks out (tounge partially in cheek). The categories are set based on my personal taxonomy and each entry can be cross classified as there is often cross-cutting issues in a post. The things people are seeking and ending up on these pages is extremely broad, much like the topics covered here. Some of the Google queries end up at Off the Top as it is near the top in the search results, but not nearly as on target as others that are farter down the list that have not structured their information properly.



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.


W3C RDF Primer

The W3C RDF Primer is something to come back to soon. The Resource Description Framework is a solid foundation to sharing information and is getting used more. It is a grown-up's version of RSS (the weblogger's resource sharing XML tool). This information relies on well structured information and helps keep the information structured for reuse.


November 23, 2002

Get your RSS feed

Yes, I finally got up to speed with the rest of the world and added an RSS feed and have added a new page that will track available vanderwal.net XML documents and RSS feeds. I may make a couple category specific RSS feeds as there is interest. Use the (now working again) comments or the contact to let me know what you would like.

I have only put out the first RSS feed in 0.91 at the moment. I may upgrade it in the near future as I now have it relatively easy to build from my end. I have been getting a decent amount of pestering and bother from folks asking for the feed. You see I still build my own CMS for the site and it takes time and priority to get around to some of these things.

Why not move to Movable Type or Drupal (the only two I would currently consider)? I enjoy building my own system, but it does require that I build my own APIs or even my own applications to mirror functionality. I like building CMS and this one is one of six that I have designed and/or fully built since 1997. It is like a hobby for me as well as a job.



November 21, 2002


Writers and information structure with markup

Understanding content, structure, writers, and working with content management in CMS Watch. Those of you like me that can not understand how people can not structure their documents that they want Web-endabled or reused in other way, this article helps make sense of the situation.


November 20, 2002

Redesign explained

You most likely have noticed. There has been a redesign here. This new site is nearly all XHTML and using CSS box model. Going through this process introduces one to all the bug that browsers have that you need to work around. I found that IE 5.5 and up on the PC is horribly buggy and does not follow standard box model too well. Netscape 7 on the PC is the best browser. On Mac OS X the best browser has been Navigator/Chimera and IE 5.2 (through this Chimera became my favorite browser on most any platform).

You dare ask why the redesign? Well it was well past time. The last design had been around for a year or so and the CSS was giving me fits. I really wanted cleaner markup and I wanted to have a font size that scales. I believe that the font scales on all web standards compliant browsers and platforms. It should even scale on the PC's IE 5.5 and 6 browser (this has had broken functionality since day one, if you need a browser to scale font sizes properly get a real browser, one that is Mozilla based will do just fine). I am trying to remove the thin white line under the logo graphic and above the menu bar, it is showing up in IE on the PC and on versions of Mozilla on the Mac (Please contact if you have a solution).

I also wanted a better layout that would permit a cleaner layout. I moved the global navigation to the top bar and it uses and unordered list and CSS to put it in line and give it the roll-over (I stole part of the code from Scott and tweaked it). I also moved the local navigation to the left, which has been a joy as it is near the scroll bar and has made life a little easier. The right navigation may also be a place for other goodies. The right navigation has also helped me on the links page as there are a ton of links and I wanted a sub-navigations (yes, the links page is going to be getting an over haul in the near future with some needed integration with other elements in the site). The redesign also give the opportunity to introduce some small photos or images on the pages and not have other colors overwhelm them.

The box model drove me crazy, but I created some cheats I hope to share in the near future, once I get some minor tweaks around here done. The redesign was done solely on the TiBook and using a combination of the Macromedia MX Studio (Dreamweaver MX is a decent text editor, but I could not find a way to have it show a passable rendering of the pages in its own browser) and BBEdit. I started the process with outlines in Omni Outliner (a tool that rocks and is unparralled) as well as Omni Graffle to put together some wireframes to help me sort out the layout and functionality. This set of tools has been one of the best combinations I have used, I wish I could use this combo at work. I really am missing Adobe Photoshop, which may become my next software purchase, as it is a great tool that saves time.

Please, please write wit questions or bugs found. Thank you. I did this for me, but I hope you enjoy it.



November 19, 2002

James found

I finally found James site and I am much better off for it. Two guesses what James professional leaning is from the header?


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.



Rusty gets Matt in OJR

Matt Jones is interviewed in the Online Journalism Review by Rusty Foster of Kuro5hin. The interview is quite worth the read as Matt is the IA behind the BBC site (if you did not know already).


November 15, 2002

Buttons have info cramming illness

This week I have dealt with folks that have created design elements without giving thought to how they or their users would use these elements. The oddity in the three cases was creating a design that used image buttons with text. The size of the button's was fixed with the design. In all three cases one or more of the buttons tried to cram way too much text on to the tiny space. The buttons were unreadable.

Graphical buttons demand forethought. They should only contain one or two short words. Graphical buttons should be clear and easy to read. If the words on buttons are more than one or two words you and the user may be better off using text links. A good button would be "Animals 2001" not "Emprical Study of Animals in Tropical and Non-Tropical Environments - 2001". To convey the full text of the information you may be much better off using headers to structure the information, in this case using "Animal Reports" and "Emprical Study of Tropical and Non-Tropical Environments" then list the years offered in buttons or in a list. This provides much better scanning and can help break the information in to more scanable chunks.



November 14, 2002

Peter explains IA and AIfIA

Peter explains IA as he describe the role of Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture. The list of organizations that have members that have joined AIfIA in 10 days or so that AIfIA has been in existence is rather impressive to me. But hey, that is just me.


November 12, 2002

White paper on taxonomy and classification

Michael points to and discusses a Delphi Group white paper on taxonomy and content classification. A quick perusal of this 58 page PDF is leading me think I will want to clear some time for this sucker.


November 11, 2002

5 things CIOs cna do for project managers

Builder.com offers 5 things a CIO can do for project managers. This seems to be bacic. I would think having a central data resource would also be essential. How much time have we lost trying to find where a certain data element is stored and who is the owner of that item. Often we can not find the needed element and create our own, only to find out there was a resource, which now needs to be used, then we spend hours and money to rebuild the application.

In the years just before the Web boom, many large organizations created positions to be just this resource and many were called information architects. A Google search on "information architect" and enterprise will find current descriptions and pre-1995 descriptions. Some organizations understand the positive impact this can have and many more should.



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 7, 2002

Go back

I had an early preview of a site this past week so to add comments. It is odd to me that sites are still being built with the frame of reference that the user will come through the "font door". If you read your log files the users come in at every opening. It is about even odds that a new user to the site will come there from a search engine, an external link, or from another pointer (e-mail or article). The frame of reference should always try to provide some orientation to the user, such as breadcrumbs or some other link out to related or parent information.

The item that I found a little jarring was a "Go back to the previous page" and it was not a javascript, but a link to what the developer thought was a next level up page. Pure linear navigation is a practice that is no longer a practice, if it ever was. Somebody last night at the DC-IA book club asked whether we navigated or searched, as always it seems to depend. With sites like Amazon we mostly searched, while some smaller sites we would click around. It seemed the greater volume of information lead to a greater instance of searching.

We did not talk about this for long, but it has been resonating all day. One of the things that Amazon does extremely well is end-search navigation. Most folks seem to search Amazon to find a particular item, but then Amazon's navigation and related offerings that could attract the user to the item, which they were searching for or to a similar item. The search result pages offer links to narrow the results or to ensure the user is looking for the musician Paul Young or author Paul Young. A user arriving at an Amazon book page would have all the options and information they needed to find related information and where they are in the Amazon site.



November 6, 2002

DC-IA book club

Those of you in the DC area the DC-IA group has their book reading tonight at Barnes and Noble in Bethesda at 7:30pm. The book for this month is Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, 2nd edition (the polar bear). Dan Brown who organizes the book club is reminding folk of the free coffee.


November 5, 2002

v-2 redesign

V-2.org 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 3, 2002

AIfIA launches

A group of around 20 Information Architects gathered together in person and in digital environments over the last half year to put together a non-profit organization to help the Information Architect profession. We are proud to announce The Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture has opened its doors to provide resources to full-time IAs as well as part-time IAs and even to those curious about Information Architecture. We would love your help and support and we will give all we can professionally to support you and the industry.


October 28, 2002

IA primer

This evening I went to Content and Coffee a networking/information sharing event for content editors and writers for the Web. This evenings event was focussed on IA and had Thom Haller, Cinnamon Melchor, Vera Rhoads, and Sharyn Horowitz on a panel. This was essentially a light overview of IA, but the folks did a really nice job explaining IA and how they sell IA and its benefits to their clients or management. I may also go to the November 11 event covering 508 accessibility issues as it is a fun topic and it is good to get other perspectives.


October 24, 2002

I am not a somebody I am a persona

... I am Terrance Austin. I am a persona.


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!



September 25, 2002

Google for your enterprise

I went to a small meeting at work today with some folks from Google who were showing their Google Appliance, which was very impressive. Having the Google search generating the search for your enterprise/organization's site would be great, but it got much better than just that bonus. The Google Appliance has the ability to augment the search with a thesaurus to offer the user the option of adding "personal safety restraint devices" when they searched for "seatbelt". This functionality works similarly to Google's spelling corrections.

The advantages did not stop with Google's great search engine, but it also comes with Google's hardware that they have specified and built with failover (if buying more than one rackmounted hardware piece). This just rocks, a software company that is responsible not only for their software, but the hardware it runs on. Apple has had success with this combination and Google's systems are renoun for their great uptime and their ability to return results very quickly. Google boasts having the hardware and software up and configured in one day (when is the last time you have seen this happen, nearly all other search engines are in the 10 to 15 day range). Color me impressed with this demo and seemingly end-to-end search hardware and software package. Google search that can be augmented to provide additional assistance to users, which could let IA's focus on providing great navigational structures for the folks that do not always search to find their information.



September 12, 2002


80/20 IA

Lou does a wonderful job explaining the 80/20 rule as it realates to information architecture (in economic terms it is known as the Pareto Principle).


September 11, 2002


September 4, 2002

Amazon classification

I found the following item description and classification in Amazon Gold Box, "Norelco 8865XL Spectra Shaver with LED, Eggplant - [Kitchen]". I have a similar shaver (sort of), but I would never think to shave in the kitchen. Maybe that is just me. I wonder what a hair remover is classified as?


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.


August 29, 2002

Polar Bear Arrives

A great day here, the O'Reilly's 2nd edition of Information Architecture arrived today. I have only perused it lightly, but will spend a little more time with it in the next few days. It looks like Lou and Peter really knocked themselves out. I have two other books that I am really enjoying and will write reviews of in the near future: the wonderful Constructing Accessible Web Sites and Usability: The Site Speaks for itself, which is great for learning how to think about making usable sites and not just following commandments from guru that do not apply to all situations.


August 21, 2002

Business Maps

Over at O'Reilly Net Marc De Graauw puts forth Business Maps: Topic Maps Go B2B, which seems to be an IAs dream (that would be an enterprise IA or a Macro IA, which are the ones that perform extra enterprise IA). The article also points to an overview of Topic Maps. Good stuff.


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.



August 17, 2002

Interface and the customer

Adam Greenfield wrote a great article in Losing (inter)face: Customer experience and its discontents. This is a wonderful correlation and has sparked quite a great perspective on interface.

Communication relies on a transfer of information. I have been going through battles with the UPS driver lately and it is all based on that UPS sticky note that is your communication with your driver and the package you hope will arrive. This week a driver left a blank sticky, which UPS customer service stated was not possible, funny because I have it. The driver did not return the following day. The UPS site fails when the driver does not do their part and customer service can not perform properly when the commication fails. Information needs a transaction vehicle, breaking this transaction can lead to a breakdown in trust.



July 28, 2002

BBC tech

In an examination of the BBC News site I found myself getting lost trying to find the technology section. Technology always was placed as a sub-category of Science and Nature, which was something I learned over time. Now it is its own section on both the UK and World versions of the news site. I like its separate placement, but I also used to find some interesting items in the science/nature/tech melange.


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 21, 2002

Ontologies come of age

Ontologies Come of Age by Deborah McGuinness is a read worth a little more time than I had this weekend. [hat tip Michael at iaslash and Victor]


Ontologies come of age

Ontologies Come of Age by Deborah McGuinness is a read worth a little more time than I had this weekend. [hat tip Michael at iaslash and Victor]


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: http://www.adaptivepath.com/events/wdc.phtml



July 14, 2002

Next generation of librarian

The SF Chron highlights the next generation of librarians and the role librarians play. The article brings out the library skills are seen as an information service, which is good to see in an article for general consumption.


IA misconceptions explained

Information architecture concepts: Misconceptions explained from the IBM developerWorks offers a good overview of IA. The is a very good overview for those unfamiliar with IA. The article also includes some good references.


CM and KM Blog

A new (to me) blog on content and knowledge management can be found at Column Two compiled by James Robertson.


July 11, 2002

Technology change

Some ask why it is good to understand information and its use before making a choice on technology... A few years ago a small burrito shop near where I lived had great burritos. You ordered your burrito and the staff went behind a room screen and appeared in a couple of minutes with a tasty product. Your order was rung up on an adding machine, but your money was put in a separate cash drawer that put the coins in the coin slots, but placing any coin in any slot and all denominations of coin were in all coin partitions. The paper money was handled in the same manner. After a year or so of semi-regular visits I noticed they had a new cash register. The staff was proud of their new technology. I ordered and paid. The drawer opened from the register they purchased to help better control their money. The organization of the coins and cash had not changed as everything was still intermingled.


Improving information retrieval

Lou points to Improving Web Retrieval After the Dot-Bomb then provides a guide to information retrieval that augments the Marcia Bates article. This provides a very good combination for understanding classification systems.


July 2, 2002

Inner Navigation and Information Cascade

A couple of weeks ago I picked up Inner Navigation: Why we Get Lost in the World and How we Find Our Way by Erik Jonsson. I was interested in the title and a quick read of the cover and forward brought me to buy it. The book offers very short snippets about how folks lose their way in environments. The use of visual cues or the ignoring the visual cues and how they prompt us to make decisions or mis-decisions has had me interested. I have been reading one of the short stories most nights and pondering.

One of the other interesting elements is the disconnect between known right and wrong. There is a story or two about folks thinking they were heading one direction so to reach a destination, but were actually travelling in the opposite, or nearly opposite direction. The folks knew the destination was a block or two away, but yet kept travelling for many more blocks beyond what they figured was even possible. The brain gets filled with doubt and at the same time conviction that it has made the correct decision.

This has dovetailed with some readings from the past few months on Information Cascade, which Lisa Anderson and Charles Holt coined to explain individual choice that follows the trends of others, even though they know the trend is not in their best interest or will provide them a positive outcome. This echoes of the late '90s stock market, but also those following "guru's" statements because others have but value in them. Some of this can explain reliance on poor information vehicles, like the mis-use or improper use of PDF's to store and present information. PDF's provide a wonderful information vehicle to store information that is intended for exact visual representation of the information. PDF's now have poor methods of information extraction and searching (when compared to other information storage like a database that would output perfectly validating HTML as its presentation layer), but this all depends on the use and purpose of the end user for that information. PDF's gained prominence because others were using them to distribute information, even though there were issues with the intended purpose meshing with the information vehicle, the use by others developed a "herding" decision based on use by others.

There are many possible illustrations for these issues and the Inner Navigation book offers some great triggers to better personal examination to the world around us. These are some of my favorite books, the one that cause me to have introspection and outward observations in a new light and can tie other readings and knowledge together in new ways. Grow ye synaptic connections.





July 1, 2002

Information through a child's eyes

I have been pondering of late about what a large organization's site would look like if its information structure was created by a child. We all pretty much know by now that Internet sites that partition information based on an organization chart are a failure for users finding information. Org charts protect egos, but don't facilitate information sharing, which is part of what triggered these thoughts as children really do not have egos to protect (even though they do get possessive of their toys, but only one or two at a time). The other trigger was watching my wife's niece (just turned 2) play with her plastic food from her wooden kitchen. She organized my colors first, then reorganized by shapes, then assembled foods in dishes with roughly an even mixture of color and shapes. All of this organizing was done while the "adults" were talking and not paying attention.

This was just a small observation of one, but if a child who is not yet two can organize plastic products by discerning qualities can we have them create informational organization structures by age three or four? Our niece learned her organizational skills by watching and patterning her expected org structures on observation. I was a little bit amazed by the facetted grouping and grouping by recognizable categories.

Many large organization site's are very difficult because they choose organizational structures that are based on their internal understanding of that information. Organizations that have readily easy to use sites spend time categorizing information by how the outside user's structure their understanding of the information. Can we learn to do things properly from children?



June 25, 2002

placeless documents

Xerox parc offers placeless documents. This approach classifies documents by the documents properties and not the location where the document is stored.


Digital Web needs your help

Are you looking for a great project to volunteer your time? Digital Web Magazine is still looking for people with the following skills to help with the redesign and weekly publication:


June 23, 2002

Facets through discussion

Christina and Karl explain facets providing a broad overview. Understanding facets is one of the best steps you can take to understanding information structures and how to approach them.


June 20, 2002


June 19, 2002

Content Inventory from a master

Jeffery Veen provides doing a content inventory (or a mind-numbingly detailed odessey through your Web site) over at Adaptive Path. The article comes with an Excel template to get you started. Keep in mind this is a painful task, but one that will reap incredible rewards.


May 30, 2002

Standard Data Vocabularies Unquestionably Harmful

Must come back to this when my mind is fresh, Standard Data Vocabularies Unquestionably Harmful over at O'Reilly Net. This seems right up the alley for an IA.


May 28, 2002

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 23, 2002


May 16, 2002

Recentralization information extension

In response to Peter's recentralization essay, part 2 and part 1, Nick Ragouzis discusses what he believes is important in recentralization. Nick points out that consistency of principles is very important and that may be more important than consistency of presentation. This is juicy and dead on.


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



May 5, 2002

Functional and design documentation

Functional vs. design in documentation explained in one article. This article explains why these two thoughts should be in two different documents. The article also explains what should be in each of the documents. Do discuss, or I suppose folks are somewhere...


May 2, 2002

Site architecture of Slate

Jesse provides yet another wonderful backward engineering of the information architecture of a site, the new addition is a Slate site analysis found published in Boxes and Arrows. Jesse uses his own visual vocabulary for the graphic.


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 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]


April 18, 2002

Business gets serious with Web writes the Beeb. The prediction is that Web services will take off an become part of the norm. The article states the current next step is defining the grammar and vocabulary, which sounds like a job for Super IAs.


April 14, 2002

InfoBank does IA

InfoBank offers a quick understanding of IA. Rob Manson is behind this wonderful work. The site provides a nice Flash interface.


April 13, 2002

Information Architecture of Everyday Things

Jesse now has his The Information Architecture of Everyday Things (presentation from the IA Summit) available. I did not make it to this session, as I was taking in the Scent of Information session. I wished I could have made both. Jesse has a great way of digesting information into their primary elements and showcasing these understandings in easily digestible parcels.


April 11, 2002


I have updated Eric Scheid's initial entry of the Metaphor of Attraction at IAWiki. I will try to keep that up to date as well as the MoA information here. I am preparing an update to the information, but as there is an out of town wedding this weekend and other diversions this next week it may be a short time longer.


April 4, 2002

I not only found the Edison and the Big Thing, but the New York Times now offers signing up for narrowed news trackers. These e-mail alerts are set to keywords that have a corrolation to the article. This seems to be a nice easy step for user to set the alerts via e-mail. It would be interesting to know how well this service is used and received.


April 2, 2002

Over at CMS Watch there is a wonderful feature about the long pain of implementing a CMS and the steps in the process to make it easier. These steps are very important to keeping the project on track and successful. Not only are these element important for CMS, but they are quite essential for any information application development.


April 1, 2002

Internet Archive a information mess

The Chron focusses on the lack of organization of the Internet Archive. This would be a dream to organize for some folks I know (or at least I think it would be). The problems at hand for this project rule out library science approach (too much human touch needed) and search engines as their design is not conducive. A great read to get the wheels turning.


March 31, 2002

Extranet overview

John Rhodes provides an overview of extranets and hits some great points.

...most people like self-service. An extranet facilitates this activity, if you design it correctly.



I am looking for a better name for the metaphor of attraction. I am thinking about: Principles of Attraction; Magnetic Informaiton; Information Attraction; Attractability; or something else. Please provide feedback if you have ideas that would help. Thanks.


March 30, 2002

IAwiki jump in points

Two items pointed out to me or found lately have improved the usability of IAwiki (an open collaboration site for information architects). 1) IAwiki categories and 2) Index of IAwiki terms. There is great information that the IA community has entered and built upon in iawiki, now I have points that can attract my attention and find the gems that are tucked away.


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.



March 17, 2002

I am back, well physically, from the Information Architecture Summit. I am experiencing near information and intellectual saturation. Over the past two weeks I have been surrounded with very bright and creative people discussing our passions and beliefs. This weekend really was amazing as the theoretical and intellectual pursuits of information theory, information structure, and information architecture was the focus of topic. I got to meet and discuss ideas with a people I have revered over time and found the interplay of conversation riveting. The mental stimulation was stellar and I look forward to the future even more, given the more refined frame of reference.


March 16, 2002

I spent this evening at the IA Summit and found some of the folks from SXSW there in Baltimore. I spent much of the evening hanging out with the other Boxes and Arrows staff. I have never met some of the other staff that are in Baltimore now. I did get to meet some of the former Argonauts, which was a huge kick. I spent much of this evening playing with ideas and hanging out with more very bright and passionate folks. I could really get used to this, but conference life must end. More tomorrow or Sunday (yes it is late for me, too late) when I get back.


March 15, 2002

Based on descussions begun with Stewart, Peter, Lane, and others in, beginning in discussions about navigation as a poor metaphor for the interaction of humans and information on the Web (which really breaks down further when looking at other types of Internet information interaction), I am working on another metaphor that struck me while in Austin. Lane asked in another conversation for alternatives to the navigation metaphor. I will be posting a series on this site that will open the idea for discussion and help finding holes or coming to the conclusion the idea sucks. The postings will most likely begin next week sometime. I am going to put the idea past a few friends at the IA Summit and see how hard they laugh or like it. For me the concept is working so far and seems to have a decent reach into Web and non-Web Internet interactions with information. No I am not going to state it now, but I will soon.


March 14, 2002

Tomorrow evening the IA Summit begins. This kick start an intense two days of just IA. I will finally get to see the rest of my cohorts on the Boxes and Arrows staff


March 13, 2002

Boxes and Arrows is finally live.


March 7, 2002

I am feeling marginally better, thanks for asking. My head really is not properly attached as of yet. None-the-less I am packing so to head out to Austin for SXSW tomorrow. I will be in Austin tomorrow evening and most likely abstaining from Shiner and other forms of adult beverages, so conversation, caffine, and food will have to do. Please say hello if you see me (probably wearing blue and orange proudly). Those of you I miss I may see at the IA Summit in Baltimore the following weekend.


Jesse has posted the final installment of his ia/recon. The whole of the series is on one page, which eases reading and following along. I like where Jesse ended up, which is with hunches and working toward building better tools. I can not say that I see things that differently. I am walking some folks through this now teaching the skills and having them grasped is not as easy as I thought. I use IA as one of the skills in my tool belt to help build sites that work better for the users. I use IA to build information applications that are easier to use and more "intuitive".

I did not know what I was doing was IA, but is was how a target audience was defined in communication and also the tasks that I had gone through to develop software (first on the client side and then used it in my own tool belt and had good results). Learning how users think about information and processes then grouping and structuring content toward the results of the research seemed like a natural step. I used to teach Sunday school and learning how to tie lessons to understandable chunks of information was a very important skill to learn. I have always looked at trying to help build a more efficient flow of information between the two or more parties involved in the data/information/knowledge transaction. The best way to ease the information flow is to understand the user and how they consume information. What is the mind set of the user that comes to the information transaction? How do they think of the information? Where will logically place the information in their personal information repository so that they may make use of that information. Half the trick to being knowledgeable if having an easy way retrieve and access the information store, be that stored in someone's mind, in a database, in a book, or on a Web site. Understanding the information transaction from the individual and personal standpoint of a user is the best place to start.

I have weighed through useless metadata repositories and been asked to fill in metadata structures that I knew I personally would not be able to retrieve information from, let a lone glean knowledge. Metadata becomes most helpful when it is seamless, not over burdensome to capture, and ties relevant items together in a means that not only one user group can easily make sense of but multiple user groups. IA is tightly tied to the Web, which is helping this young technology. The Web provides the wonderful ability to cross categorize and cross link to similar interests and store information in places that people can find related materials easily.

I am one that has continually had problems with one of the most commonly used metadata repositories, the Yellow Pages. To me the Yellow Pages are utterly useless. Nothing is ever what I think to call anything. I want to go buy pants. That becomes a task in the Yellow Pages. Even better is having to go retrieve something from a bar and trying to use the Yellow Pages to find the number of a bar name that did not stick in your head the first time by choosing a tavern, pub, or nightclub to start. None it was a bar. Not an option. I love IA and information structure because I have sympathy.



February 28, 2002

Can I tell you how ready for sleep I am? This week included the approach of an ISO audit at work, end of the month usual stuff, tons of paperwork for work and home, spending time with my wonderful parents that were in town (although they stayed in a private club/hotel that lost them when I was trying to meet them for dinner), realized I could not find my running shoes I liked (hello Adidas for home delivery), figured out that the ASIS IA Summit is largely on a weekend that I have not away and close by in Baltimore (hello I am now going), finally got tired of my cell phone and its poor battery life and my non-national call plan for that phone that put me back more than $300 while stuck in SF around Sept. 11 (vavoom a new phone and a national plan, which includes e-mail, text messaging, and Web and a much longer battery life), and allergy season beginning. I also realized I leave for Austin a week from tomorrow.


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 22, 2002

Peter discusses Social Network Analysis and includes a bevy of links to great resources. This is a great way to learn the interaction of people and the movement and sharing of information.


February 21, 2002

Intranet Journal provides a card sorting tutorial, which also includes a survey of the users.


The the architecture of information as translated from French. This work offers some understandings of how we got to a place on the Web where people started saying that nobody can find information on my site that is there. [hat tip Christina]


February 19, 2002

Jesse hits the nail on the head with part four of IA/recon: Then a Miracle Occurs. Now I wait with baited breath for parts five and six.


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.


February 11, 2002

I have added two pages to help provide a guide for metadata usage. One page sorts categories by number of times the metadata definition has been used. The other page is an alphabetical listing of categories with their count. These two page builds took very little time to knock together (half an hour or so) and the value to me is much greater than that half hour used.


February 8, 2002

John Udell looks in to perl to create topic maps and bottom up taxonomy. Making taxonomy and topic maps easier is a great endeavor and quite useful.


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.


January 29, 2002

Jesse explains the role of Information Architecture. There have been many debates over the issue of the Big IA and the small IA. Jesse does a nice job of tying up the camps on these views. I am agreeing with Jesse to a great degree at the moment. The discipline of information architecture is definately needed on any information application (remember this includes Web development too) development project. There must be a person that knows and understands IA and can implement those needed skills, as are propper in the discipline. There must be a person that has the job of protecting Information Architecture on every project. The more people on a team that have some understanding of IA, in addition to the person that has full understanding of IA and is charged with its implimentation, the better the project will be in its final state.


January 22, 2002

Peter Morville provides Innovative Architecture that looks at the future of IA, which incorporates collaborative IA. The users of many sites create or hone the IA through many components, such as Amazon's "people who bought this item also bought." I like the breadth of this piece and how it encompasses applications and community driving IA.


January 13, 2002

Content management is back at the forefront of every aspect of my digital life again. Content management revolves around keeping information current, accurate, and reusable (there are many more elements, but these cut to the core of many issues). Maintaining Websites and providing information resources on the broader Internet have revolved around static Web pages or information stored in MS Word, PDF files, etc. Content management has been a painful task of keeping this information current and accurate across all these various input and output platforms. This brings us to content management systems (CMS).

As I pointed to earlier, there are good resources for getting and understanding CMS and how our roles change when we implement a CMS. Important to understanding is the separation of content (data and information), from the presentation (layout and style), and from the application (PDF, Web page, MS Word document, etc.). This requires an input mechanism, usually a form that captures the information and places it in is data/information store, which may be a database, XML document, or a combination of these. This also provides for a workflow process that involved proofing and editing the information along with versioning the information.

Key to the CMS is separation of content, which means there needs to be a way to be a method of keeping links aside from the input flow. Mark Baker provides a great article, What Does Your Content Management System Call This Guy about how to handle links. Links are an element that separates the CMS-lite tools (Blogger, Movable Type, etc.) from more robust CMS (other elements of difference are more expansive workflow, metadata capturing, and content type handling (images, PDF, etc. and their related metadata needs)). Links in many older systems, often used for newspaper and magazine publications (New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle) placed their links outside of the body of the article. The external linking provided an easy method of providing link management that helps ensure there are no broken links (if an external site changes the location (URL) it there really should only be one place that we have to modify that link, searching every page looking for links to replace). The method in the Baker article outlines how many current systems provide this same service, which is similar to Wiki Wiki's approach. The Baker outlined method also will benefit greatly from all of the Information Architecture work you have done to capture classifications of information and metadata types (IA is a needed and required part of nearly every development process).

What this gets us is content that we can easily output to a Web site in HTML/XHTML in a template that meets all accessibility requirements, ensures quality assurance has been performed, and provides a consistent presentation of information. The same information can be output in a more simple presentation template for handheld devices (AvantGo for example) or WML for WAP. The same information can be provided in an XML document, such as RSS, which provides others access to information more easily. The same information can be output to a template that is stored in PDF that is then sent to a printer to output in a newsletter or the PDF distributed for the users to print out on their own. The technologies for information presentation are ever changing and CMS allows us to easily keep up with these changes and output the information in the "latest and greatest", while still being able to provide information to those using older technologies.



December 19, 2001

I am very happy that Lou finally has permalinks. Not only this, but he has comments and they are attracting some of the thinkers and doers of information architecture. This may become an incredible resource. Wahoo!!


December 18, 2001

Peter provides great insights on receptivity and modular presentation components in the eNarrative interview with Peter Merholz.


December 4, 2001

The New Breed Librarian is out with a new issues, which includes an article on an Information Architecture support group. This group is at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and is founded by Michael Whang. [hat tip Carrie]


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.



Web Designers should stop relying on search to cover for poor IA and design, to paraphrase PC World's presentation of User Interface Engineering's (UIE) latest research. This states 77 percent of the users do not find what they are looking for through search. The article does list some pitfalls that the user can fall into (poor spelling on the site, etc.), but with great depth of information and users often looking for specific information search could be a solid option, but this takes some work.

One navigation method that I find less and less is offering similar links based on what the user has clicked to. Often I would like to read the archives of a regular columnist in a magazine. I should not have to search to find the archives as that method often provide chaff with the goal of my search. Storage and metadata can greatly assist the navigation approach.

I personally find navigation and search combinations on a site create a higher probability that I will find the information that I am searching for.



November 26, 2001

Argus interviews Bonnie Nardi, who is co-author of Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart. She is an ethnographer by training, which offers a nice foundation for her work.


November 23, 2001

One of the reasons that I love the Internet is its ability to be a conduit for exchanging ideas and discussion of topics. Not that this is not is new, it isn't. The comment tools in use on Web pages provides the ability to not only share ideas, but capture them for further use. Discussions are not lost in the ether as they can be at conferences, but they are stored for later reference.

This has been going on the past few days at Peter's site in a discussion about the term of use, Information Architect. The discussion has somewhat turned to the use of spatial metaphors to describe the Web and its use. None of the participants are really with in a short drive of each other. We are all sharpening our knowledge and ideas and changing perspectives to some degree. The Internet provides an amazing resource for life learners and bringing people of similar mind together to interact.



November 21, 2001

The University of Texas has an Information Architecture Curiculum that is a joint program with LIS. The program has nice breadth and seems to cover the broad understanding of IA.


November 18, 2001

Peter Merholz is offering his take on defining IA and user experience design. I need to let it gel a little more. I tend to agree with Peter in large, but have some different shades as I look at IA a little broader than most. I look at IA as a step in the development of information applications (this includes Web pages, Intranets, mobile access to information, etc). The IA helps define the information and set the structure of the information.


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.


Peter Morville posts The Speed of Information Architecture cajoling IAs to slow down. He brings into play Stuart Brands ideas of slow and fast layers in society, which Peter does a nice job translating into slow and fast layers of IA.


November 14, 2001

Molly Holzschlag writes the 14 Ways to Talk Clients Out of Ruining their Sites, which is a wonderful article that will help back-up the guidence we have been giving clients. Going over the top is never the best practice. Some of the suggestions are: skipping the test phase, client-centered design, ignoring accessibility, poor site structure, everything above the fold, too many effects, and splash pages. These are the no nos, or do with great restraint. Please enjoy the article and share it with decision makers and those that think they get it.


November 12, 2001

Lou Rosenfeld has an Information Architecture organization blog up and running. This is to get feedback and input on setting the infrastructure for this organization. This was a nice little treat to find.


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.



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.


Chris Rourke presents the article Information Architecture - build a solid foundation for your site. This is nice overview of one of the largest reasons site owners begin to understand and user Information Architecture.


November 1, 2001

Peter Morville is writing on his new site, Semantic Studios LLC. It is good to have both of the polar bear guys back and accessible again.


Paula Thorton presents her thoughts on Meet the New Information Architects , which offers a nice history lesson of IA, interaction design, other elements.

Previous Month

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.

More Off the Top:
OtT Archives
OtT Categories (by alpha)
OtT Categories (by use)