Off the Top: Information Application Development Entries


March 13, 2016

PubPub from MIT Media Lab

I just stumbled into MIT Media Lab’s PubPub service that is an open platform for writing new research journals. It has some nice collaborative features, versioning, embraces markdown at its core, and inline discussions.

Social Circles

One of the pieces I really want to explore is how its social dimensions work. My my take on different things I write and have interest in have different social circles that I want to ping and get feedback from. But, there are subjects and groups / communities that I really would like to participate in as well. This is a more complicated and complex area that really needs work and focus. Google+ tried this but deeply flubbed it as their circles are based on individual’s perspectives and not socially constructed realities (knowing the boundaries of who is involved in a circle and having really solid social interaction design around that is a basic requirement, something nobody at Google seemed to consider nor have basic foundations in social sciences to understand this basic need). For PubPub, getting these constructs right would be really helpful and make it a really powerful service and platform.

Other than PubPub

PubPub is fairly close to what I was hoping Poetica would become and Draft app. I’ve been thinking about this for The Lenses and its subset, Social Lenses writings. Also just being able to write blogs and get knowledgeable sanity checks on them from others before posting. This is something I was trying to do with Draft app and had some success with people who are familiar with markdown (which is most people I interact with), but alerting people or subsets of groups that there is something I would really like early looks at and feedback is where it falls a bit short. It also seems like Nate Kontny is now more focussed on Highrise (light CRM service that he took over and now is CEO) than Draft. Also with the purchase of Poetica and its imminent shuttering, I’m looking at other options.

Some of what I have interest in can be found in Medium, but I’d rather just syndicate there, given their use policy. Medium is a really nice content creation platform, with some okay drafting with feedback capabilities, but I’m looking for a bit more. I also really prefer Markdown approach these days as it keeps things really light and I can edit and work on writing from most any platform I have with me or at my access, even if I’m lacking a network connection (which is something that is really helpful for focus for me actually).

One PubPub Wish

The one thing I wish PubPub had was an open source version where I owned the platform and could run it on a server of my choosing. But, it looks like this is in the plans (a few bugs need to be squashed on their way to this), as the PubPub About page states.



November 12, 2014

New Adoption Points

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

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

The Software Counter Model to Quick Change Adoption

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

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

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

Some Tools are Nearly There as a Continual State

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

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

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



March 30, 2011

Late to Realizing Ovi Maps Does Exactly What I Wish

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

That FINALLY! Moment Reached

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

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

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



February 10, 2011

January 2011 Books Read

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

Books read January 2001 with short summaries.

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


December 31, 2010

Closing Delicious? Lessons to be Learned

There was a kerfuffle a couple weeks back around Delicious when the social bookmarking service Delicious was marked for end of life by Yahoo, which caused a rather large number I know to go rather nuts. Yahoo, has made the claim that they are not shutting the service down, which only seems like a stall tactic, but perhaps they may actually sell it (many accounts from former Yahoo and Delicious teams have pointed out the difficulties in that, as it was ported to Yahoo’s own services and with their own peculiarities).

Redundancy

Never the less, this brings-up an important point: Redundancy. One lesson I learned many years ago related to the web (heck, related to any thing digital) is it will fail at some point. Cloud based services are not immune and the network connection to those services is often even more problematic. But, one of the tenants of the Personal InfoCloud is it is where you keep your information across trusted services and devices so you have continual and easy access to that information. Part of ensuring that continual access is ensuring redundancy and backing up. Optimally the redundancy or back-up is a usable service that permits ease of continuing use if one resource is not reachable (those sunny days where there's not a cloud to be seen). Performing regular back-ups of your blog posts and other places you post information is valuable. Another option is a central aggregation point (these are long dreamt of and yet to be really implemented well, this is a long brewing interest with many potential resources and conversations).

With regard to Delicious I’ve used redundant services and manually or automatically fed them. I was doing this with Ma.gnol.ia as it was (in part) my redundant social bookmarking service, but I also really liked a lot of its features and functionality (there were great social interaction design elements that were deployed there that were quite brilliant and made the service a real gem). I also used Diigo for a short while, but too many things there drove me crazy and continually broke. A few months back I started using Pinboard, as the private reincarnation of Ma.gnol.ia shut down. I have also used ZooTool, which has more of a visual design community (the community that self-aggregates to a service is an important characteristic to take into account after the viability of the service).

Pinboard has been a real gem as it uses the commonly implemented Delicious API (version 1) as its core API, which means most tools and services built on top of Delicious can be relatively easily ported over with just a change to the URL for source. This was similar for Ma.gnol.ia and other services. But, Pinboard also will continually pull in Delicious postings, so works very well for redundancy sake.

There are some things I quite like about Pinboard (some things I don’t and will get to them) such as the easy integration from Instapaper (anything you star in Instapaper gets sucked into your Pinboard). Pinboard has a rather good mobile web interface (something I loved about Ma.gnol.ia too). Pinboard was started by co-founders of Delicious and so has solid depth of understanding. Pinboard is also a pay service (based on an incremental one time fee and full archive of pages bookmarked (saves a copy of pages), which is great for its longevity as it has some sort of business model (I don’t have faith in the “underpants - something - profit” model) and it works brilliantly for keeping out spammer (another pain point for me with Diigo).

My biggest nit with Pinboard is the space delimited tag terms, which means multi-word tag terms (San Francisco, recent discovery, etc.) are not possible (use of non-alphabetic word delimiters (like underscores, hyphens, and dots) are a really problematic for clarity, easy aggregation with out scripting to disambiguate and assemble relevant related terms, and lack of mainstream user understanding). The lack of easily seeing who is following my shared items, so to find others to potentially follow is something from Delicious I miss.

For now I am still feeding Delicious as my primary source, which is naturally pulled into Pinboard with no extra effort (as it should be with many things), but I'm already looking for a redundancy for Pinboard given the questionable state of Delicious.

The Value of Delicious

Another thing that surfaced with the Delicious end of life (non-official) announcement from Yahoo was the incredible value it has across the web. Not only do people use it and deeply rely on it for storing, contextualizing links/bookmarks with tags and annotations, refinding their own aggregation, and sharing this out easily for others, but use Delicious in a wide variety of different ways. People use Delicious to surface relevant information of interest related to their affinities or work needs, as it is easy to get a feed for not only a person, a tag, but also a person and tag pairing. The immediate responses that sounded serious alarm with news of Delicious demise were those that had built valuable services on top of Delicious. There were many stories about well known publications and services not only programmatically aggregating potentially relevant and tangential information for research in ad hoc and relatively real time, but also sharing out of links for others. Some use Delicious to easily build “related information” resources for their web publications and offerings. One example is emoted by Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb wonderfully describing their reliance on Delicious

It was clear very quickly that Yahoo is sitting on a real backbone of many things on the web, not the toy product some in Yahoo management seemed to think it was. The value of Delicious to Yahoo seemingly diminished greatly after they themselves were no longer in the search marketplace. Silently confirmed hunches that Delicious was used as fodder to greatly influence search algorithms for highly potential synonyms and related web content that is stored by explicit interest (a much higher value than inferred interest) made Delicious a quite valued property while it ran its own search property.

For ease of finding me (should you wish) on Pinboard I am http://pinboard.in/u:vanderwal

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Good relevant posts from others:



October 22, 2010

Nokia to Nip Its Ecosystem?

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

Killing A Valued Part of the Ecosystem

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

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

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

Understanding Ecosystems is Important

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

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

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



June 27, 2009

Social Design for the Enterprise Workshop in Washington, DC Area

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

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

Past Attendees have Said...

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

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

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

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

Is the Workshop Only for Designers?

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

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

Not Only for Enterprise

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

The Workshop will Address…

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

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

More info...

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

I look forward to seeing you there.

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March 12, 2009

Catching Up On Personal InfoCloud Blog Posts

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



August 28, 2008

Tale of Two Tunnels: Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0

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

Tale of 2 Tunnels

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

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

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

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

Enterprise 2.0 is not Web 2.0

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

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

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

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

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

Gaps in Enterprise Tools

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

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

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

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

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

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



June 11, 2008

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

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

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

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



May 7, 2008

Enterprise Social Tools: Components for Success

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

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

Four Rings of Enterprise Social Tools

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

Tools

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

Interface & Ease of Use

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

Sociality

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

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

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

Encouraging Use

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

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

The Overlaps

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

Tools and Interface

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

Tools and Sociality

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

Interface and Encouraging Use

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

Sociality and Encouraging Use

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

The Missing Piece in Overlaps

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

Overlap A

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

Overlap B

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

Overlap C

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

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

Overlap D

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

Summary

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

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



April 16, 2008

Explaining the Granular Social Network

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

Social Tools Need to Embrace Granularity

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

Showing Granular Social Network


Granular Social Network from Thomas Vander Wal on Vimeo.

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

Connections with Others

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

Mapping Interests with Contacts

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

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

Focus On One Interest

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

Moving Social Connections Forward

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

One area of social tools where I see this value beginning to surface in through tagging for individuals to start to state (personally I see this as a private or closed declaration that only the person tagging see with the option of sharing with the person being tagged, or at least have this capability) the reasons for interest. But, when I look at tools like 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.



Social Tools for Mergers and Acquisitions

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

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

Social Tools Are Great Aids for Change

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

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

Communication Build Common Ground

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

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

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

Increasing Speed and Lowering Cost of Transition

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

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



April 10, 2008

Denning and Yaholkovsky on Real Collaboration

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

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

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

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

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



March 30, 2008

Understanding Collective and Collaborative

I have finally blogged about the different between the two terms of collaborative and collective, which has been something bugging me for some time. Comments there are open, but are moderated (as they always have been). Those who have been to any of my workshops in the past year or so will see familiar information. Hopefully, the post will help those discussing and crafting social tools for the general web (or mobile) or large organizations will read and work to grasp the difference. I have had plenty of academics, researchers, and service developers push me to make this public for far too long so to start getting the misunderstanding around the two terms corrected.



February 22, 2008

Remote Presentation and Perception Matrix for Social Tools

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

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

Remote Presentation Feelings

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

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

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

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

New Content in Presentation

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

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

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



February 8, 2008

Getting More Value In Enterprise with Social Bookmarking

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

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

Social Bookmarking has Great Value in the Enterprise

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

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

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

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



January 10, 2008

Posting Elements of the Social Software Stack

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

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

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

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

Who Does This Help?

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

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

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



November 3, 2007

Can Facebook Change Its DNA

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



August 20, 2007

Why Ma.gnolia is One of My Favorite Social Bookmarking Tools

After starting the Portable Social Network Group in Ma.gnolia yesterday I received a few e-mails and IMs regarding my choice. Most of the questions were why not just use tags and del.icio.us. After I posted my Ma.Del Tagging Bookmarklet post I have had a lot of questions about Ma.gnolia and my preference as well as people thought I was not a fan of it. I have been thinking I would blog about my usage, but given my work advising on social bookmarking and social web, I shy away talking about what I use as what I like is likely not what is going to be a good fit for others. But, my work is one of the reasons I want to talk about what I like using as nearly every customer of mine and many presentation attendees look at del.icio.us first (it kicked the door wide open with a tool that was light years ahead of all others), but it is not for everybody and there are many other options. Much of my work is with enterprise and organizations of various size, which del.icio.us is not right for them for privacy reasons. I still add to del.icio.us along with my favorite as there are many people that have subscribed to the at feed as they derive value from that subscription so I take the extra step to keep that feed as current.

Ma.gnolia Offers Great Features for Sociality

I have two favorite tools for my own personal social bookmarking reasons Ma.gnolia and Clipmarks (I don't think I have anything publicly shared in Clipmarks). First the later, I use Clipmarks primarily when I only want to bookmark a sub-page element out on the web, which are paragraphs, sentences, quotes, images, etc.

I moved to try Ma.gnolia again last Fall when something changed in del.icio.us search and the results were not returning things that were in del.icio.us. My trying Ma.gnolia, by importing all of my 2200 plus bookmarks not only allowed me to search and find things I wanted, but I quickly became a fan of their many social features. In the past year or less they have become more social in insanely helpful and kind ways. Not only does Ma.gnolia have groups that you can share bookmarks with but there is the ability to have discussions around the subject in those groups. Sharing with a group is insanely easy. Groups can be private if the manager wishes, which makes it a good test ground for businesses or other organizations to test the social bookmarking waters. I was not a huge fan of rating bookmarks as if I bookmarked something I am wanting to refind it, but in a more social context is has value for others to see the strength of my interest (normall 3 to 5 stars). One of my favorite social features is giving "thanks", which is not a trigger for social gaming like Digg, but is an interpersonal expression of appreciation that really makes Ma.gnolia a friendly and positive social environment.

Started with Beauty, but Now with Ease

Ma.gnolia started as a beautiful del.icio.us (it was not the first) and the beauty got in the way of usability for many. But, Ma.gnolia has kept the beautiful strains and added simple ease of use in a very Apple delightful moments sort of way. The thanks are a nice treat, but the latest interactions that provide non-disruptive ease of use to accomplish a task, without completely taking you away from your previous flow (freaking brilliant in my viewpoint - anything that preserves flow to accomplish a short task is a great step). Another killer feature is Ma.gnolia Roots, which is a bookmarklet that when clicked hovers a semi-transparent layer over the webpage to show information from Ma.gnolia about that page (who has linked to it, tags, annotations, etc.) and makes it really easy to bookmark that page from that screen. The API (including a replica of the del.icio.us API that nearly all services use as the standard), add-ons, Creative Commons license for your bookmarks, many bookmarklet options, and feed options. But, there are also the little things that are not usually seen or noticed, such as great URLs that can be easily parsed, all pages are properly marked up semantically, and Microformats are broadly and properly used throughout the site (nearly at every pivot).

Intelligently Designed

For me Ma.gnolia is not only a great site to look at, a great social bookmarking site that is really social (as well as polite and respectful of my wishes), but a great example for semantic web mark-up (including microformats). There is so much attention to detail in the page markup that for those of us that care it is amazingly beautiful. The visual layer can be optimized for more white space and detail or for much easier scrolling. The interactions, ease of use, and delightful moments that assist you rather than taking you out of your flow (workflow, taskflow, etc.) and make you ask why all applications and social sites are not this wonderful.

Ma.gnolia is not perfect as it needs some tools to better manage and bulk edit your own bookmarks. It could use a sort on search items (as well as narrow by date range). Search could use some RedBull at times. It could improve with filtering by using co-occurance of tag terms as well as for disambiguation.

Overall for me personally, Ma.gnolia is a tool I absolutely love. It took the basic social bookmarking idea in del.icio.us and really made it social. It has added features and functionality that are very helpful and well executed. It is an utter pleasure to use. I can not only share things easily and get the wonderful effects of social interaction, but I can refind things in my now 2,500 plus bookmarks rather easily.



July 24, 2007

Sharing and Following/Listening in the Social Web

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

Twitter Shows Understanding

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

Spheres of Sociality

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

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

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

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

Granular Sharing and Following

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

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

Breaking Down Listening and Sharing for Items

 YourselfOthers
ShareYesYes/No

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

Listening and Sharing at the Person Level

 Others
Settings
Listen/FollowYesNo
Granular
Listen/Follow
YesNo
Granular ShareYesNo
Geo Listen/FollowYesNo
Geo ShareYesNo

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

Granular Listening and Sharing

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

Geo Listening and Sharing

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

Getting There...

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



June 30, 2007

A Love Ruined - Good Bye Palm

It used to be all love. It started in 1998 just after Christmas. It was a gift under the tree and it brought me wonderful joy. It was the Palm III by Palm. It allowed me to sync all of my address book info, my to do lists, and other "essentials" of a digital portable life. It was relatively easy to write applications for it and extend its usefulness. I learn the graffiti writing in three early mornings of waking-up on the West Coast on East Coast time.

That Palm lasted a few years and I then moved to the HandSpring Visor Deluxe, which had more internal memory, still based on the Palm operating system, and it had four times the memory. The device did most everything I needed. Just like my Palm III the HandSpring was reliable and always ready, it never failed me. I added a camera and some other tools for the plug-in slot and everything always worked.

Mobile Internet & Mobile E-mail

My big advancement was getting a Sidekick (Hiptop) that gave me web, chat, and e-mail all live and all in my pocket. I still kept the Visor as it still served a purpose (address book, notes, e-books). The Sidekick was not a great phone so I kept my Motorola 270C (a really great phone - did not much else). This was a stack of too many devices, particularly when an iPod came into my life.

Treo Moves In

Somewhere in the Spring of 2002 I got a Treo 600, which seemed like a great solution. I replaced my Sidekick, my Motorola, my Visor, and my watch (this was happenstance more than anything else). Things were good for the first 6 to 9 months, but the phone began to crash regularly after that. I had some hardware malfunctions and got a replacement. All was good again for 6 to 9 months then it started crashing when pulling e-mail and the phone rang. The hardware did not last that long on this either. By Fall (18 months after the first 600) the phone was in really poor state and I woke up one morning picked it up and it split (the day before traveling to the Bay Area). By this time the Treo 650 was out and I convinced my mobile provider to let me switch with out penalty. But the same story repeated at 6 to 9 months. After 10 months the keyboard stopped working and I got a replacement. I am 12 months into that replacement and life with this Treo is hell.

Treo Is Toiletware

The relationship with my Treo is so bad I constantly swear I am going to throw it in the toilet, but that would leave me with out a primary phone (I have an old Nokia I enjoy for international service and back-up but don't have many minutes with that carrier). The odd thing is I know quite a few people who used to work at Palm and none of them use a Palm device. All of them have had horrible problems with the Treo and it was their last device with a Palm operating system.

Palm seemed to have lost their love when they added the phone. The Treo is a really poor phone (horrible voice capability), but it also is short on memory and most useful applications were removed from the device as they needed more memory than was available or they crashed the device. Now my Treo is less useful than my Sidekick. It is a slow unreliable device. Palm went from being a company I utterly loved to one I hope dies a quick painful death. Everybody I know that has new devices say they are no better.

What is the Next Step

While I have interest in Blackberry devices, I like the open platform of Nokia and Nokia gets the phone part of the phone really well. The iPhone is interesting, but is missing the open platform, 3G, and proven platfor that Nokia has. I am still making up my mind, but I think the Nokia E61i is what I really want to replaced the horrible state the Treo has left me in.

I want a phone with decent camera, with e-mail, web, WiFi, touch keyboard, and ability to read e-books and docs easily. I want to be able to build and get solid applications that serve the purposes I need and do not crash the device.

Good bye Palm, I loved you deeply for a long time, but you betrayed me with your crap phones and lack of caring. It was not that I fell for another product, you did it to yourself.



June 23, 2007

The Social Enterprise

I am just back from Enterprise 2.0 Conference held in Boston, where I presented Bottom-up All The Way Down: How Tags Help Businesses Organize (thanks to Stowe Boyd for the tantalizing session title), which was liveblog captured by Sandy Kemsley as "Enterprise 2.0: Thomas Vander Wal". I did not catch all of the conference due to some Boston business meetings and connecting with friends and meeting digi-friends whose work I really enjoy face-to-face. The sessions I made it to were good and enlightening and as always the hallway conversations were worth their weight in gold.

Ms. Perceptions and Fear Inside the Corporate Walls

Having not been at true business focussed conference in years (until the past few weeks) I was amazed with how much has changed and how much has stayed the same. I was impressed with the interest and adoption around the social enterprise tools (blogs, wikis, social bookmarking/folksonomy, etc.). But, the misperceptions (Miss Perceptions) are still around and have grown-up (Ms. Perception) and are now being documented by Forrester and others as being fact, but the questions are seemingly not being asked properly. Around the current social web tools (blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, favoriting, shared rating, open (and partially open collaboration) I have been finding little digital divide across the ages. Initially there is a gap when tools get introduced in the corporate environment. But this age gap very quickly disappears if the incredible value of the tools is made clear for peoples worklife, information workflow, and collaboration, as well as simple instructions (30 second to 3 minute videos) and simply written clear guidelines that outline acceptable use of these tools.

I have been working with technology and its adoption in corporations since the late 80s. The misperception that older people do not get technology, are foreign to the tools, and they will not ever get the technical tools has not changed. It is true that nearly all newer technologies come into the corporation by those just out of school and have relied on these tools in university to work intelligently to get their degree. But, those whom are older do see the value in the tools once they have exposure and see the value to their worklife (getting their job done), particularly if the tools are relatively simple to use and can be adopted with simple instruction (if it needs a 10 to 200 page manual and more than 15 minutes of training to start using the product effectively adoption will be low). Toby Redshaw of Motorola stated on a panel that he found in Motorola (4600 blogs and wikis and 2600 people using social bookmarking) "people of all ages adopt these tools if they understand the value connected to their work". Personally, I have seen this has always been the case in the last 20 years as this is how we got e-mail, messaging, Blackberries, web pages, word processing, digital collaboration tools (the last few rounds and the current ones), etc. in the doors of small to large organizations. I have worked in and with technically forward organizations and ones that are traditionally thought of as slow adopters and found adoption is based on value to work and ease of use and rarely based on age.

This lack of understanding around value added and (as Toby Redshaw reinforced) "competitive advantage" derived from the social tools available today for use in the enterprise is driven by fear. It is a fear of control that is lost from the top-down. But, the advantage to the company from having this information shared and easy found and used for collaboration to improve knowledge, understanding, and efficiency can not be dismissed and needs to be embraced. The competitive advantage is what is gained today, but next month or next quarter it could mean just staying even.

Getting Beyond Fear

But, what really is important is the communication and social enterprise tools are okay and add value, but the fear is overplayed, as a percentage rarely occurs, and handling the scary stuff it relatively easy to handle.

Tagging and Social Bookmarking in Enterprise

In the halls I had many conversations around tagging ranging from old school tagging being painful because the experts needed to tag things (meaning they were not doing the job as expert they were hired to do and their terms were not widely understood) all the way to the social bookmarking tools are not scaling and able to keep up with the complexity, nor need to disambiguate the terms used. But, I was really impressed with the number of organizations that have deployed some social bookmarking effort (officially or under somebody's desk) and found value (often great value).

Toby Redshaw: I though folksonomy was going to be some Bob Dillon touchy-feely hippy taxonomy thing, but it has off the chart value far and above any thing we had expected.

My presentation had 80 to 90 percent of the people there using social bookmarking tools in some manner in their organization or worklife. The non-verbal feed back as I was presenting showed interest in how to make better sense of what was being tagged, how to use it better in their business, how to integrate with their taxonomy, and how to work with the information as the tools scale. The answers to these are longer than the hour I have, they are more complex because it all depends on the tools, how they are set-up and designed, how they are used, and the structures of information inside and outside their organization.



June 17, 2007

Stitching Conversation Threads Fractured Across Channels

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

Now With More Complexity

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

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

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

Why Do We Want to Stitch the Communication Stream Together?

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

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

Why Does Conversation Drift Across Channels?

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

Solving the Fractured Communication Across Channels

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

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

Who Will Make This Effortless?

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

Is There Demand Yet?

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

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



February 1, 2007

Lessons in Identity

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

Identity Lessons

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

Product Brand versus Mega Brand

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

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

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

Personal Management of Identity

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

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

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

Brand Trust

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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



January 31, 2007

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

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

IT Traditions

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

Breaking the Cycle of Blame and Disappointment

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

Technology is not a Cure All

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

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

People and Information Needs

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

Design with People in Mind

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

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

Smile to Many Faces

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

Technology Companies Go Directly to the Users

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



December 15, 2006

Ghosts of Technology Past, Present, and Future

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

Ghost of Rich Web Past

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

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

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

Ghost of Technology Present

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

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

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

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

Ghost of the Technosocial Future

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

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

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

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



December 4, 2006

Let Me Count the 24 Ways

It is that wonderful time of the year for 24 ways, the wonderful 24 gifts from one web developer to the rest of us. I deeply enjoyed them last year and am looking forward to the remainder of the gems.



November 9, 2006

Stikkit Is a Nice Example of a Personal InfoCloud Tool

I have been using the newly launched Stikkit for the last day and rather enjoying it. Stikkit, is a web-based postit with super powers of a notepad with bookmark, calendar, lite address book for people, tagging, to do, and reminders to SMS (in the U.S.) and/or e-mail.

Stikkit is the product of values of n start-up that is the founded by Rael Dornfest, formerly of O'Reilly.

This summer I was in Portland and got a preview of Stikkit and was really impressed. It was a slightly different application at that point, but it had the great bones to be a really nice application for one's own Personal InfoCloud. Much of the really good intuitive scripting that turns dates in text into calendar entries, text to do lists into ones that can be checked-off, and other text to real functionality is in the current version and just sings.

When I used the Stikkit bookmarklet it captured pertinent information from a page that I wanted to track, which had date related information that is essential to something I have interest in, it made a calendar entry. The focus of the Personal InfoCloud is to have applications and devices that let people hold on to information that they have interest in and move it across devices, as well as add their own context. Stikkit, really is a wonderful step in making a rather friction free approach to the Personal InfoCloud. It puts the focus on the person and their wants and needs for the use of the information in a page. Stikkit can free the information from the confines of the web page and alert the person to important dates. Stikkit also allows the person to share what they find easily.

I think the key to Stikkit is the term "easily", which is the underpinning of the whole application. The only thing I would love to see is Microformats added so that the information in Stikkit could be dropped into my own address book or calendar and synced (if the gods of syncing shine favorably on me that day). Looking at the markup in Stikkit, it seems to be semantically well structured to easily add microformats in the near future.

This has been cross-posted at Stikkit at personalinfocloud.com where there is commenting turned on.



October 27, 2006

Yahoo! Bookmarking and Broken Roadmap

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

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

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

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

At that time, they will ALSO have the option of migrating content to del.icio.us.

Hope that clears it up...]

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

Bookmarking Beta

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

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

Breaking Social Bookmarking

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

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

Shrinking 3 to 2

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

Yahoo! Innovation and Focus on Regular People

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

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

Innovation and del.icio.us

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

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

Poisoning the Water

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

What Roadmap?

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

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

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

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



October 26, 2006

Yahoo! Bookmarks Beta (or Alpha)

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

Y! Bookmarks Beta Good Things

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

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

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

Bookmark Homepage Oddities

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

bookmarks_home_default_sort

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

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

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

Edit Bookmarks Broken

edit_form

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

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

Bookmark Search Missing Items or Poor Sort

Y! Bookmark Beta Search Results

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

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

Add Bookmark Screen

Y! Bookmark Beta Add Bookmark Screen

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

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

All My Tags

Y! Bookmark Beta All My Tags

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

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

Recommended Bookmarks

Y! Bookmark Beta Recommended Bookmarks

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

Wrap-up

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

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

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



October 24, 2006

Rebranding and Crossbranding of .net Magazine

From an e-mail chat last week I found out that .net magazine (from the UK) is now on the shelves in the US as "Web Builder". Now that I have this knowledge I found the magazine on my local bookstore shelves with ease. Oddly, when I open the cover it is all ".net".

Rebranding and Crossbranding

In the chat last week I was told the ".net" name had a conflict with a Microsoft product and the magazine is not about the Microsoft product in the slightest, but had a good following before the MS product caught on. Not so surprisingly the ".net" magazine does not have the same confusion in the UK or Europe.

So, the magazine had a choice to not get noticed or rebrand the US version to "Web Builder" and put up with the crossbranding. This is not optimal, as it adds another layer of confusion for those of us that travel and are used to the normal name of the product and look only for that name. Optimally one magazine name would be used for the English language web design and development magazine. If this every happens it will mean breaking a well loved magazine name for the many loving fans of it in the UK and Europe

What is Special About ".net" or "Web Builder"?

Why do I care about this magazine? It is one of the few print magazines about web design and web development. Not only is it one of the few, but it flat out rocks! It takes current Web Standards best practices and makes them easy to grasp. It is explaining all of the solid web development practices and how to not only do them right, but understand if you should be doing them.

I know, you are saying, "but all of this stuff is already on the web!" Yes, this stuff is on the web, but not every web developer lives their life on the web, but most importantly, many of the bosses and managers that will approve this stuff do not read stuff on the web, they still believe in print. Saying the managers need to grow-up and change is short-sighted. One of the best progressive thinkers on technology, Doc Searls is on the web, but he also has a widely read regular column in Linux Journal. But, for me the collection of content in ".net" is some of the best stuff out there. I read it on planes and while I am waiting for a meeting or appointment.

I know the other thing many of you are saying, "but it is only content from UK writers!" Yes, so? The world is really flat and where somebody lives really makes little difference as we are all only a mouse click away from each other. We all have the same design and development problems as we are living with the same browsers and similar people using what we design and build. But, it is also amazing that a country that is a percentage the size of the US has many more killer web designers and developers than the US. There is some killer stuff going on in the UK on the web design and development front. There is great thought, consideration, and research that goes into design and development in the UK and Europe, in the US it is lets try it and see if it works or breaks (this is good too and has its place). It is out of the great thought and consideration that the teaching and guiding can flow. It also leads to killer products. Looking at the Yahoo Europe implementations of microformats rather far and wide in their products is telling, when it has happened far slower in the Yahoo US main products.

Now I am just hoping that ".net" will expand their writing to include a broader English speaking base. There is some killer talent in the US, but as my recent trip to Australia showed there is also killer talent there too. Strong writing skills in English and great talent would make for a great global magazine. It could also make it easier to find on my local bookstore shelves (hopefully for a bit cheaper too).



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.



August 19, 2006

kGTD is Getting Things Real

I/we got a love letter or what I did this summer letter from Ethan at Kinkless, you know the maker of the killer kGTD (for Getting Things Done fans on Mac) extension for OmniOutliner.

What I really enjoyed was the apology and lighthearted story. Yes, I am quite looking forward to the next iteration or two from kGTD. But, Ethan connected with his community to keep them close and let them know he still cares about them and even apologized for his absence and lack of communication. This was rare and well done. He just won the hearts of his fans (how have not had to pay for his great contribution to our digital lives).

One things to note (if you are not familiar with kGTD as you are not interested in Getting Things Done (I am not being snarky, just you are not part of the kult) or are on a platform other than Mac) is kGTD caused the software it extends to get redesigned/reengineered to better support the tool. The kGTD fans caused a spike in purchases of OmniOutliner that they embraced many of the fan requests for product improvement. In turn the OmniOutliner had performance increases and functionality improvements that made their over all product much better than it already was. It shows what a great extension or external product layered on top of another product that is open for modifying can do for the whole ecosystem. OmniOutliner had a avid fan base, but it grew even larger and more avid with this kGTD extension. All of the Omni products are great and have deep followings.

The human, "we are just like you", approach to connect with those that use and have interest in the product helps keep it real and friendly. We connect more closely with the developer and the person. It builds a better bond. I have been deeply impressed and interest rekindled.



August 16, 2006

Quick and Intense Usability Interations

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

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

Usabilty Test Built into Sprints and Hack Days

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

Quick Fixes and Long Term Tasks

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

Listening and Fixing Before Their Eyes

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

What It Takes

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

Small Projects Get It, Will Enterprise?

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

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



July 30, 2006

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

People & Medium Preferences

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

Medium Is the Attractor

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

Closing the Gap?

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

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



June 30, 2006

Technosocial Architect

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

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

Basis for Digital Design and Development

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

People Using Information in Their Life

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

Do you see the gap?

The gap is huge!

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

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

Designing for Information Use and Reuse

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

End-to-end is Not the Solution

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

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

Technology and Design are Secondary

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

Information as Building Blocks

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

Technosocial Architects

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

Focus on People, Medium, and Use

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

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

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

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

Need for Technosocial Architects

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



June 21, 2006

Still Thowing Out the User

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

Throwing Out the User

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

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

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

Generating Content

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

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

Bringing People Together with People

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

Doing Without the User

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

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

Steps are Broken

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

Getting to Watching People and Flows

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

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



May 25, 2006

Developing the Web for Whom?

Google Web Developer Toolkit for the Closed Web

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

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

Two Tribes: Inter and Intra

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

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

13 Reasons

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

The Web is Open

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

Build Upon Open Data and Open Access

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

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

Still an Open Playing Field

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



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.



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 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.



February 4, 2006

Sticks and Stones...

Today was the day to fight for my right to use my name. I had to get my driver's license renewed before my birthday on Monday. When we moved a few years ago the change of address had my last name mashed up (yes, I know they were early Web 2.0 adopters mashing up everything in sight, funny) my last name by taking out the space. My last name of "Vander Wal" became Vanderwal, which is not my last name. I am already dealing with on mash-up from the late 1800s and early 1900s with my family name getting converted from "van der Wal" to its current "Vander Wal". This I can deal with, but I don't mind at all when I travel to the Netherlands or elsewhere in Europe when my family name gets the extra space and loses a capital letter.

Today I have a few years of having to prove who I am in the United States, because of this mash-up. I continually get the "you are not in our system" because of the space or lack of space. The current nationalized computer systems have been built to not accept the space in last names. It seems somebody named Smith was hired or a bunch of Smiths to build the system.

I was continually told today that I could no longer have the space in my last name in the Maryland driver's license system. I kept repeating it was my last name and with out the space was not my last name and made proving my identity rather difficult (at best) in certain situations. I was asked if I was always a citizen of the United States of America. I was asked if I was born in this country. I was even told I had a slightly foreign accent (this is normal, but mostly in taxis to and from an airport).

It took pulling out my U.S. passport (the only one I have, but today wishing I could have another just for a tiny slice of sanity) and Social Security card to prove my last name is "Vander Wal" and does have a space. The person behind the desk finally asked the manager what to do. It seems there is an over ride in the system to allow for spaces in the system and as long as the system keeps my identity number the same (not the same as my Social Security number) all is fine. So I get to keep my name.

You ask about my screen name? Yes, I use "vanderwal" as an inside joke and self-deprecating as that is as badly as one could do with my family name. I have been finding this has its problems when friends try to remember where the space goes, or even if there is a space.



January 11, 2006

Real Time Flight Tracking Site for Your Mobile

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

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

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

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



January 1, 2006

For Many AJAX is Not Degrading, But it Must

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

Degrading is a Good Thing

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

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

Is There Hope?

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

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



December 21, 2005

Delicious Lesson and Social Network Ecosystems

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

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

A Little Effort for Greater Personal Payback

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

Social Network Ecosystems

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

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

Attention is Value

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



October 31, 2005

BBC Knocks Audio Annotating Out of the Park

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

Why is this Huge

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

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

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

Voice and Audio is a Common Problem

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

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

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

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



October 22, 2005

Microformats hCard and hCalendar Used for Web 2.0 Conference Speakers

Tantek has posted new microformat favelets (bookmarklets you put in your browser's toolbar). The microformat favelets available are: Copy hCards; Copy hCalendars; Subscribe to hCalendars; feed Copy hCalendars (beta); Subscribe to hCalendars feed (beta). Look at Tantek's Web 2.0 Speakers hCard and hCalendar blog post to understand the power behind this.

Microformats are one of the ways that sites can make their information more usable and reusable to people who have an interest. If you have a store and are providing the address you have a few options to make it easy for people, but a simple option seems to be using the microformat hCard (other options include vCard and links to the common mapping programs with "driving directions").

There will be more to come on microformats in the near future here.



September 25, 2005

Web 2.0 Mash-ups and the Model of Attraction

I posted a write-up on Mash-ups and the Model of Attraction, which explains the Housing Maps through the Model of Attraction lens.

Read and comment over at Personal InfoCloud.



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.



July 25, 2005

Speaking at BayCHI August 9th

I will be in the San Francisco Bay Area August 9, 2005 to speak on the BayCHI - Are you ready for Web 2.0? panel. This will be at the PARC's George E. Pake Auditorium (formerly known as Xerox PARC). I am looking forward to the panel and being back in the Bay Area.

Did I mention I am only on the ground for 12 hours? I am flying in from vacation on the New Jersey Shore, but it will be worth it. I have a couple places I need to stop, but shoot me e-mail to meet-up or let me know you will be going to the panel. I have a long string of things to get to in the Bay Area that have been building since January, but this will not be the trip to knock all of them out.

I really need to get to the Bay Area more often, it is home (well where I was born and spent much of my life there).



July 22, 2005

Make Nice with Mobile Users Easily

Those interested in making friendly with their mobile users trying to consume their content aimed at the desktop browser market should take a peek at Make Your Site Mobile Friendly by Mike Davidson. This is one method that makes for a little less sweat and keeps some dollars in our budgets for other needs.



July 17, 2005

Designing for the Personal InfoCloud presentation at WebVisions 2005 Wrap-up

I have posted my presentation from yesterday's session at WebVisions, in Portland, Oregon. The files, Designing for the Personal InfoCloud are in PDF format and weigh in at 1.3MB.

I really had a blast at the conference and wish I could have been there the whole day. I will have to say from the perspective of a speaker it is a fantastically run conference. Brad Smith of Hot Pepper Studios did a knock out job pulling this conference together. It should be on the must attend list for web developers. I was impressed with the speakers, the turn out, and how well everything was run. Bravo!

WebVisions is held in one of my favorite cities, Portland, Oregon, which has some of the best architecture and public planning of any North American city. I have more than 300 photos I have taken in 48 hours and will be posting many at Flickr in the next couple of days.



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 6, 2005

Social Machines in MIT Technology Review

In the August issue of MIT Technology Review in Wade Roush's cover story on Social Machines (posted on Wade's site) I get a nice quote. The article is well worth the read, even worth picking up the issue when it hits the stands. The article covers the social, mobile, and continuous computing world that some of us live in and many more will be doing soon. Those of us working at the front of the curve are working on ways to make it smoother for those who will follow along soon.

Convergence and the seamless transfer from stationary computing to continuous computing leads to drastically different interactions with information and media. We are already seeing the shift of people using mobile phones as just a voice communication medium to one that includes text and media interactions, or the from people listening to their mobile phones to looking at their mobile phones. Three years ago I made this shift and I was extremely frustrated as I had many more desires than my mobile phones could assuage. But, it is getting better today even if it takes more human interaction than is really needed to sync information, let alone have moved close to me (or whomever is the wanting to have the information or media stay attracted to themselves or have attracted in certain situations). It is this that is my focus of the Model of Attraction and the focus of the Personal InfoCloud.



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.



March 26, 2005

Yahoo360 and the Great Interaction Design Yardstick

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

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

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

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



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 20, 2005

The Future of Newspapers

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

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

Ads

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

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

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

Archives

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

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

Loyalty

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

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

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

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



February 16, 2005

Nietzsche on Design?

From Nietzsche (found in Dwell Magazine March 2005)

When one has finished building one's house, one suddenly realizes that in the process one has learned something that one really needed to know in the worst way -- before one began

This quote was really heartening as it applies to architecture and construction, which are far older than web design or any of the elements that are components of getting to that end. A relatively young profession, such as web design or even digital design or software development hits this exact spot in nearly every project. This could be why we love the iterative process and capturing and building upon lessons learned. We also read incessantly about everybody else's endeavors so we can learn before we design and then build.

Jason Fried posted Getting Real, Step 1: No Functional Spec, which makes a lot of sense in this iterative design perspective. I have done a few projects (not in a few years) that worked in this direction and we got into a prototype rather quickly, which we learned from as we went a long. We built things in a modular method, so that we could throw out small pieces or everything (we never had to throw it all out).



December 26, 2004

Flickr and the Future of the Internet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



December 23, 2004

Mobile in Suburbia

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

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

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

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

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

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



November 12, 2004

That Syncing Feeling (text)

My presentation of That Syncing Feeling is available. Currently the text format is available, but a PDF will be available at some point in the future (when more bandwidth is available). This was delivered at Design Engaged in Amsterdam this morning. More to follow...



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

Jerks

Comments here are closed for the time being. All past comments are still online, but posting new comments is closed.

Yes, some jerk (far less caustic term than what these people really are, as there are kids around) decided to flood the comments with porn spam and other garbage. We have the IP address of the fool (who most likely had their computer hacked, at least this time it is not a military related IP, which is what many have been in the last three months that have been dumping the porn spam referals).

One thing about writing ones own blog software has been missing out on the flood of this garbage that those using the "off-the-shelf" tools have been dealing with the past year or so. This type of thing is one reason I have not moved this site to an already made blog tool, the other is I have features I have been working for this site that I have not found in other tools and they are things that I want. I know I am not greatly adding back to the community, but my time is horribly sporadic and I fit in work on the site tools when I can.

It looks like I may move to Typekey as a means to stop the comment spam. I may also upgrade the comment area when the comments return, so that HTML is not needed. It will take time, which is one thing I am very short on right now.



September 5, 2004

Emerging Class Divide with Technology

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

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

Easing the Digital Realm

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

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

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



September 1, 2004

Gordon Rugg and the Verifier Method

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

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

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

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

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

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



July 9, 2004

Tantek Mulls Contact Info Updating

Tantek mulls a means to keep contact info upto date. This should be much easier than Tantek has made out. This could be as easy as publishing one's own vcard that is pointed to with RSS. When the vcard changes the RSS feed notifies the contact info repositories and they grab the vcard and update the repository's content. This is essentially pulling content information into the user's Personal InfoCloud. (Contact info updating and applications are a favorite subject of mine to mull over.)

Why vcard? It is a standard sharing structure that all contact information applications (repositories understand). Most of us have more than one contact repository: Outlook at work; Lotus Organizer on the workstation at home; Apple Address Book and Entourage on the laptop; Palm on the Cellphone PDA; and Addresses in iPod. All of these applications should synch and perfectly update each other (deleting and updating when needed), but they do not. Keeping vcard field names and order constant should permit the info to have corrective properties. The vCard RDF W3C specifications seem to layout existing standards that should be adopted for a centralized endeavor.

What not Plaxo? Plaxo is limited to applications I do not run everywhere (for their download version) and its Web version is impractical as when I need contact information I am most often not in front of a terminal, I am using a Treo or pulling the information out of my iPod.

While Tantek's solution is good and somewhat usable it is not universal as a vCard RDF would be with an application that pinged the XML file to check for an update daily or every few days.



June 17, 2004

Malcolm McCullough Lays a Great Foundation with Digital Ground

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

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

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

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

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

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



April 11, 2004

Stitching our Lives Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Using Section 508 to Improve Access to Information for Everybody

I will be speaking at STC in Baltimore (STC conference listed in Upcoming.org) on the subject of Using Section 508 to Improve Internet Access to Information for Everybody. It has been wild to watch people spend far more time and energy trying to shirk accessibility requirements than do what is needed. Meeting Section 508 (accessibility) requirements is rather easy, well for those that are even partially competent. One great benefit of accessible sites is the breadth of users that benefit from the steps taken to meet accessiblility requirements.

Oddly, there are those that are against meeting accessibility requirement. The only logical explanation is these people are not interested in getting their information into the hands of those that can use the information. Or another possible explaination is the producers of the information love irony.

Ironically, the FCC posts nearly all of its documents in PDF. Most of these documents are not even remotely accessible (accessibility is not fungible for 508 complient, as an item can be defined as accessible but still not meet Section 508 compliance, as accessibility is a very widely defined term). The irony is the organization that is behind pushing for mobile connectivity provides document that 95 percent of mobile users can not use on a mobile device. It seems the FCC just does not care (I would certainly hope they know better).



February 14, 2004

Rael on Tech

Tech Review interviews Rael about rising tech trends and discusses alpha geeks. This interview touches on RSS, mobile devices, social networks, and much more.



January 27, 2004

Project Oxygen Still Alive

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

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

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



January 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 8, 2004

Lake Effect Snow in Washington DC

Lake effect snow warning or not, for Washington, DC. Yesterday, I had a handful of severe weather warnings popping into my mobile devices and my desktop. I read the alerts, which were for "lake effect snow" and blizzards in the next four to 12 hours. The area impacted were the counties around Washington, DC, including Washington. From there I checked a couple weather forecasts and live weather stats, 39 percent humidity and no clouds on the eastern seaboard.

A couple hours later a retraction was made by NOAA and the National Weather Service. It seems they were testing software alert messages and the tests were dumped in the live system database. Oops. Somebody got the lesson of a lifetime and a lesson on how to verify what system is being tested.



December 16, 2003

Taking Site Headers to the Next level

Dunstan (a fellow WaSP) has done a great job with his new site header at 1976design, his personal site. Dunstan explains that the header is made up of 90 image and uses scripts to drive the weather and time relative header image. The sheep in the header move depending on the weather conditions at Dunstan's farm as well as change based on the time of day (they have to sleep sometime).



December 14, 2003

Widgetopia

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



December 10, 2003

Remail on the horizon

There is another e-mail redesign in the work, IBM's Remail is a research project that seems to be on the right track. There is serious need for outlook replacements so that we can have a mail, calendar, and other communication tool that actually works as one needs it to.



December 3, 2003

Tog explains good design on bad products

Bruce 'Tog' Tognozzini writes When Good Design is => a Bad Product.

You take a mediocre product and rework the design to make it better. Your design is a success, by any reasonable measure, but the resulting new release is actually worse. You redouble your efforts and matters become untenable. It doesnĂ­t matter how brilliant and effective your designs, the more they improve the product, the less usable the product becomes.

The article is filled with wonderful illustrations that will help us better understand how to make better products.



November 30, 2003

The importance of documentation

IBM Developer Works supplies The importance of documentation.

This reminded me of the cornerstones of information application development, three of which rely on documentation. The cornerstones are: usable, maintainable, reliable, and repeatable. If an application is not usable it is nothing and somebody wasted their time and possibly their or somebody-else's money. If it is not maintainable (needing documentation) it will may not last long and it may be rebuilt from scratch. If it is not reliable, it will need to be debugged and portions rebuilt (documentation helps greatly in debugging as well as making sure an application is reliable). Lastly if an application is repeatable it is often worth repeating, the documentation is in place and usable, and the application is also (often) modular and easily malleable for other environments.



November 9, 2003

Apple Mac OS X as a great application development platform

Steve Neiderhauser has written an overview of what makes Apple a great application development platform. I cringe each time I hear somebody that has never understood application development or design state that Apple is a only a designer's platform. I bought an Apple laptop because of OS X, so that I could have a mobile UNIX platform for developing Web Applications and continuing my UNIX and OpenSource application development skills. I quickly found that the OS X platform was great for anytime of development, but I have not had the time to stay on top of my own development projects, as much I would like. I also found out that much of the Palm OS was built and maintained on Macs and UUNet has been largely a Mac-based company for its business practices.



November 2, 2003

Udell presents the Personal Service-Oriented Architecture

Jon Udell discusses Your Personal Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), which lays out the elements of the futuristic Apple Knowledge Navigator are actually available today, but with out the voice interaction. Jon points out that we already use search much like the navigator, but we are missing the ability to keep track of what we found valuable or not valuable from those searches that are related to similar searches the use ran in the past.

I really like this idea one's own Web browser will show you links you have followed before (within a limited amount of time), but these visited links and the metadata we add to this information does not easily transcend machines. I work on three or four machines through out a normal day as well as a few mobile devices. Each machine has bits and pieces of information strewn across them, but with only a little bit of it synched. This I would love to have worked out in the not so distant future. It takes some effort to get the information synching between the machines and devices (part of the Personal Info Cloud).

There are many gems in Jon's short article, including sharing information and searches with friends or "buddies".



November 1, 2003

iPIM and Chandler have a chair at the Personal Info Cloud

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

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

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



October 26, 2003

Geeks take charge

Steve Lohr, of the New York Times wrote As Silicon Valley Reboots, the Geeks Take Charge. This article hits the pre-tech boom development process and how things are again. The development of solid applications takes passion, intelligence, and personal energy. These things are needed as the road is tough, but worth it for the developers and for the users. Getting the geeks back in the driving seat helps greatly as the business and marketing folks that tried jumping in during the boom seemed to do far more harm than good with their buzzwords and greed, which pushed products to market long before they were ready.

The article highlights some great companies with great products that have survived and blossomed since the boom.



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 3, 2003

Raskin's Zooming Interface

Jef Raskin opens up a public demo of THE Zooming Interface. This interface is done with Flash for this demo of the concept. I find the tool very cool, but a wee bit buggy.

Read through the THE information to find out more about this open source project.



August 4, 2003

Antartica goes DHTML not Flash

Tim Bray explains why Antartica will be using DHTML and not Flash for its Visual Net application. These are some of the same problems I have with using Flash as a user in applications. It is very hard to get the interface close to right in Flash, which when compared to relatively easy to get it exactly right in (D)HTML (and yes I know the exactly right is a comparison of HTML to HTML, but there are millions, if not billions of people that have learned this interaction process).



July 20, 2003

Bray on browsers and standards support

Tim Bray has posted an excellent essay on the state of Web browsers, which encompasses Netscape dropping browser development and Microsoft stopping stand alone browser development (development seemingly only for users MSN and their next Operating System, which is due out in mid-2005 at the earliest).

Tim points out users do have a choice in the browsers they choose, and will be better off selecting a non-Microsoft browser. Tim quotes Peter-Paul Koch:

[Microsoft Internet] Explorer cannot support today's technology, or even yesterday's, because of the limitations of its code engine. So it moves towards the position Netscape 4 once held: the most serious liability in Web design and a prospective loser.

This is becoming a well understood assessment from Web designers and application developers that use browsers for their presentation layer. Developers that have tried moving to XHTML with table-less layout using CSS get the IE headaches, which are very similar to Netscape 4 migraines. This environment of poor standards compliance is a world many Web developers and application developers have been watching erode as the rest of the modern browser development firms have moved to working toward the only Web standard for HTML markup.

Companies that develop applications that can output solid standards compliant (X)HTML are at the forefront of their fields (see Quark). The creators of content understand the need not only create a print version, but also digitally accessible versions. This means that valid HTML or XHTML is one version. The U.S Department of Justice, in its Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites to People with Disabilities report advises:

When posting documents on the website, always provide them in HTML or a text-based format (even if you are also providing them in another format, such as Portable Document Format (PDF)).

The reason is that HTML can be marked-up to provide information to various applications that can be used by those that are disabled. The site readers that read (X)HTML content audibly for those with visual disabilities (or those having their news read to them as they drive) base their tools on the same Web standards most Web developers have been moving to the past few years. Not only to the disabled benefit, but so do those with mobile devices as most of the mobile devices are now employing browsers that comprehend standards compliant (X)HTML. There is no need to waste money on applications that create content for varied devices by repurposing the content and applying a new presentation layer. In the digital world (X)HTML can be the one presentation layer that fits all. It is that now.

Tim also points to browser options available for those that want a better browser.



May 29, 2003

Design for real users

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

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



April 19, 2003

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 3, 2003


March 30, 2003

Shopshifting using a Rough Cloud of Information

Shopshifting, is a well coined term I picked up from Mike Lee and something I am doing more and more with my Hiptop. In the Model of Attraction I discuss the a "rough cloud of information" that the user has following them. The mobile device can allow the user to have access to their desired information and make well informed decisions. I often use my Amazon Wishlist to find books or media I am interested in to physically see it and verify my interest in it, or to enter a new found item in the wish list. I entered one book into my wishlist while at Powells as it was full price and a large book I did not want to carry back. I did buy it yesterday with my Barnes and Noble discount and take it home. I also use IMDB while in the video store or Blockbuster to find DVD names or other movies with actors or actresses I like.

The "rough cloud of information" does take thinking about as not all information is accessible from mobile devices, it is not easy to drop into mobile devices, nor is some of the information called what I think it should be. Users often add metadata or change the descriptors for the information. I do this often as I am not attracted to what some want to call items or information chunks.



March 18, 2003

Unfortunately Hiptop does not think like Palm

Cory discusses the problem with the Danger Hiptop development plan, which is a controlled development society. I liked the sound of the Hiptop because it not only had much of the mobile functionality I was desiring, but also it had an open development environment. Well, that is not exactly the case. One of the fantastic things about Palm OS is it was made wide open and any schmo could scratch their own itch and create software that worked for them selves and then offer it to others. The Palm platform has a gazillion software apps that will work for anybody. This is too bad the Hiptop folks do not understand this. I really hope they will change their mind. I would happily dig back into Java to knock out some of the apps I need and add functionality to the Hiptop. I really like the Hiptop device, but I would love it if it had certain features and apps, which come from open development.



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 1, 2003

Konfabulator is fabu baby

I finally downloaded Konfabulator and I am having fun. I am impressed with the widgets (small single purpose applications that elegantly sit on the desktop of a Mac). Go check it out, you may find that small application you are looking for, or you may create it with XML and JavaScript (what all the widgets are made with).



February 11, 2003

Extending Dreamweaver MX for PHP

O'Reilly Net offers Getting Dreamweaver MX Up to Speed with PHP, which discusses how to get and build the Dreamweaver extension you need to build PHP-based sites. Macromedia is now charging for the newest extensions (their perogative), but this article points out how to get the extensions you need for sessions and authentication.



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

Fusebox FLiP's for user centered design approach

While going through the Fusebox application development site (a coding framework for ColdFusion, J2EE, PHP, and ASP that helps separate coding from presenation by building reusable components and templates) I stumbled upon FLiP. The Fusebox Lifecycle Process (FLiP) section focusses on application development and project management "best practices". FLiP the steps are Personas and Goals, Wireframe, Prototype / Front-End Development, Application Architecting, FuseCoding, Unit Testing, Application Integration, and Deployment.

I was so happy to see personas, wireframing, prototyping, and application architecting as well as the suggested order. This is the path I have found to provide the best path for success. I was introduced to this process in the very early 1990s when working on a project to replace a mainframe application and moving it to the PC. The approach seemed solid and achieved some quick results with few hiccups. That approach has stayed with me and the focus on the user being the extremely important. Application developers often want to jump right into the coding and interface designers want to start crafting the visual design. Doing either with out proper understanding can easily lead to complications that are costly to correct.

The field of information architecture structures its approach to development on these tasks and roles. A great overview for application development is wonderfully laid out in Jesse James Garrett's The Elements of User Experience. Many that build applications have become familiar with these steps. Those wanting to learn programming and application development have found this the user-centered design approach is a great preparation. Why? Once the users are defined, the information structure defined, the interaction elements outlined, the interface outlined, and the framework for the application decided upon the coding becomes easy to focus upon. The coding portion of development becomes much easier because the interactions for the users are defined and the coding solutions are largely pre-defined.



February 1, 2003

Posting from Hiptop

This is a test post from my Hiptop. This post was done from my regular management page.



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.



December 14, 2002

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.



November 2, 2002

User Centered Design and beyond

There are a handful of synonymous terms I have been running into and using in the past few months. Most of us understand User-Centered Design (UCD) as a concept and practice. UCD helps us build successful information applications, including Web sites, that are usable by those that want to use them, have to use them, or are seeking the information contained within them. UCD does not fully focus on the developers, the project owners (clients or mangers), but puts the focus on the end users of the information or digital services. This approach to development provides a wonderful return for those that engage in this practice as it is demoralizing for those that have spent time or paid money for development to have an information application that is not used (if it is not demoralizing it could be time to find a new profession).

Information wants to be found by those that seek it and Web sites, applications, and poor interfaces should not stand in the way of those wishing to consume the information. Information should be prepared and presented with consumption in mind. Many times digital information is a service that is used to assist the consumer of not only that information but other elements like a person buying a product. In a sense we not only create User-Centered sites and applications but Customer Service tools. This focus is very helpful when working on a site that will serve as communication between an organization or person and another organization or person. The experience between these two parties in this information transaction should be effortless. Just like a physical experience we don't like standing in a long line only to get to the front of the line to have the person tell you they can not help you and you have to go to another location or that there is no process to get your money back. As customers we want effortless experiences in the physical world as well as our digital environments. Customer service has been a focus of the physical business world for years and UCD is the digital equivalent. UCD has as its focus providing not only an enjoyable experience to perform the task, but also a more pain free method of correcting errors and problems (the folks at 37 Signals call this contingency plan design and are ready and will in to teach those that do not understand it).

While customer service is mantra in the private sector, Citizen Services or Citizen-Centric Services are becoming the focal point for the public sector. Governments have learned and have turned their digital focus on the citizens. Yes, governments are beginning to "get it". It is not about the technology, but about the consumer of the services. One of the central tenets of a governments is providing services. One of these services is gathering, aggregating, and providing information. Getting the information into the hands of those wishing to consume this information has been the struggle. Not many years ago we had learned to use a Post Office box in Colorado for a government clearing house for information, now we should only need a Web browser.

The government was one of the first entities to take advantage of the Internet to post information. Some U.S. federal government agencies created sites as early as 1993 and have been keeping them running ever since. More and more the government created sites and posted information. The down side was there was little of anything other than general Internet search engines to get the user to the information or service they desired. In the past year or two this focus has begun to move from just posting information where it was grown (in what appears to most citizens to be arcane bureaucratic and political organizations with undecipherable acronyms) to tying these information repositories to central jumping off points. FirstGov is the mother of the effort and has been guiding the Citizen-Centric focus. Many agencies have turned their eGovernment offices and staff toward the mindset of providing electronic Citizen-Centric services. Many agencies are working to provide jumping off points to information and services that are commonly sought and now available on the Internet. These portals remove the morass of acronyms and the need to understand organizational structures for the common citizens that have paid their taxes and are looking for a return on that investment in the form of electronic information or digital services.

Yes, many of us are now fixing the mess of information digitally thrown onto the Internet by providing structure to this information and making it findable and usable by the people interested in consuming the information or the products the information provides a gateway to. We now have the User-Centered Design umbrella to tie the roles and processes together that we use to help the User, Customer, or Citizen. These handful of terms are used for the same focus that makes the digital world a less frustrating, more friendly, and usable environment.



Networked PIM

Victor quickly discusses and points to a networked Personal Information Manager. This tool, which early Apple developer Andy Hertzfeld has helped with, seems to be a tool that would be of great benefit for digital projects.


October 29, 2002

Yahoo does PHP

Yahoo presentation on why they are moving to PHP. This would make a great interview of write-up as PowerPoint presentations are largely worthless with out the speaking that accompanies them. This is one presentation that has a tiny bit of information that makes me crave for more. I use PHP here as a scripting language of choice. I love being able to use it at work for many of the reasons outlined by Yahoo. It is better than ColdFusion, ASP, or JSP as far a server requirements, secure, and time to market. The flexability and speed which one can develop is tough to beat, except for the flexability of Perl (there is a reason it is called the duct tape of the Internet). The maxim has been use PHP where you can and Perl where you must. Other languages pale in comparison, but have marketing dollars, which drive the hype. [hat tip Cam and Anil]


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 3, 2002

Udell encounters UDX

John Udell writes Interaction Design and Agile Methods over at O'Reilly Net. The article was sparked by Alan Cooper. To many of us ethnographic studies and using persona are not new ideas, but to Udell it is foreign, which makes this a good read.


August 18, 2002

Hierarchy of Information Needs

Lou discusses the relationship between information architecture and technology, which sparked the following brain dump on my part:

This subject of information and technology has been of interest with me for quite sometime. The term "IT" has been vastly dominated by the technology portion of the term. Oddly, in organizations that have Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and with out Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) the CIOs role is largely focused on technology to serve the information (this is fine), but the stress has been technological solutions. As nearly all of us in the IT field know, the technical solutions are far from perfect (I know nothing is life is perfect) and many times require reworking business processes to take advantage of the technologies best traits. This is much akin to Keith's point about technology companies selling products and not whole solutions.

In my work I came to it from the information and communication side many years ago and along with it I married the technology side, as it was a wonderful pairing with great promise. Over the years I have heard more than anybody's fair share of, "we don't have to worry about knowing the information, we can code around it". This is the point, I learned when you pull in the reins on the technical team. This is what drew me deeper into the realm of the technical side.

If we look at information from the communication viewpoint and what role the information will play as it transfers information to humans and to other machines for use and also reuse. We have to understand the information as its basic levels, similar to Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs". What are the human elements thatare intended, i.e. what purpose does the information serve? What properties does the information need in order to transmit this information for best use? If the information is corporate sales trends and assessing and tacking variables that impact these trends, then we have to identify the human audiences that will be using this information. The basic level of "Information Need" is do we have the proper data or information to be able to create this type of report. Do we have the information types to provide usable information for the various audiences and do we understand the vocabulary of these audiences (vocabulary in this sense can be textual and visual as some audiences may best understand the information in charts and graphs, while others will best understand textual quantitative indicators). Do we have the basics to begin building this content, which will be tied to a technological question as to how the data and information is captured and stored? Once we can answer yes to these information, human, and technical questions we can move up the "Information Needs” hierarchy. It is also at this point that we know we can publish some information to have some folks make use of it, but we know the use of the information at this point will be far from optimal and the information may not be used in its proper method.

The next level would be questions of information use. We have established we have the data and content to build the information, but how will the information be used and who/what will be using the information. These questions will help shape the information structures and the medium(s) used to convey the information. The information may require different vocabularies that need to be established or used so the different audiences can best understand and make use of the information. What is the environment that the information will be used in and in what context? When these answers are established, only then can the technology to be used for the varying mediums be established. This level gives a great level certainty that the information and its use will be effective.

Far too often the technology is chosen with out asking these questions and the medium is used is driven by the technologies limitations, which limits the information's use and efficiency. Many organizations found that their reliance on storing all information in Adobe Acrobat did not fit their efficient information needs. Acrobat works best for replicating print versions of information and has other properties that work passably, like searching the text, providing information that is accessible to those that are handicapped, quickly accessing sections of that information over a network connection, etc. Many corporations found it was best or even desired to not store their information in Acrobat, but to offer the information in Acrobat as an output of another information storage methods that provided far greater information use and reuse (this does not apply to every organization as their are some organizations that make proper and efficient use of Acrobat and it serves that organization perfectly). These organizations came to the conclusion that the information was the primary importance and the information and its use should drive the technology.

The next step is to determine how the information can be optimized to take advantage of the mediums being used. This will allow the information to have the most impact. As the medium and technologies have been chosen to best present the information, at this point there are steps that can be taken to improve the marriage between the medium and the information. For example, we know that one of the mediums for the information will be Web pages; the information will need to be structured in a manner that takes advantage of the possibilities with that medium. The Web browser gives us the ability to present textual information and charts together, while providing relatively easy access to more detailed information and/or an interactive media presentation that permits the user to see the charts change over time based on the selection of these different variables (done with Flash, DHTML, etc.). Similar information could be offered in a PDF of the printed report that would print on 8.5 by 11 inch paper and one for A4 paper (the international standard paper size).

The last phase it validating and testing the information dissemination. We continually need to test to ensure we have identified all the audiences that are using the information, we are capturing all the data and information is required and makes sense to have for the information's use, we are capturing and storing the information in a means that is efficient for our needs to use the information, we are providing the audiences the information in a means that is most usable and efficient for them, and the information is being found and used.

This Information Needs hierarchy allows the marriage of technology to information where and when it makes sense. This Information Needs seems to be the basis for the user centered design, information architecture, knowledge management, experience design, etc. There is an understanding of the balance that is required between the creators of the information; the information itself; the technology to capture, store, process, and present the information; and the users of the information.

In the past few years the technology and not the information nor the user of the information were the focal points. Money has been spent on technologies that have failed the purchasers and the technology and the whole of the information technology industry gets blamed. There is a great need for people that are willing to use their minds to create the foundation for information, its use, and the technologies that can help make this more efficient. The balance and the steps in the proper order must be there to give information and technology a chance.



July 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

PHP development with Apple's OS X Developer Tools

Apple provides information to use Apple's Developer Tools (for OS X) to build PHP. This will be a very nice mobile tool.


July 10, 2002

Baking versus frying CMS

Aaron discusses baking versus frying with content management and updates bake and fry CMS ideas. The idea is to bake content, which is using your content management system to produce static pages. The alternative is to fry from the CMS by providing truely dynamic content. There are a few reasons why one should choose the frying method:

  • Frequent (hourly or semi-daily) updates of informaiton
  • Multiple dependancies (information linking to and from many points)
  • Unlimited resources
  • Many variation of presentation of the data
  • Providing user slicing and dicing of informaiton capabilities
  • Many external content providers

This list does not capture everything, but also provides maleable guidelines. There are many advantages to baking (publishing static content pages) from a CMS:

  • Speed of delivery
  • Archievable version
  • Ease of troubleshooting and maintenance
  • Editable output pages
  • Use templates to generate valid mark-up and perfect 508 compliant pages
  • Using reusable content pieces that provide consistancy and accuracy of information on all presentation layers
  • Keeping various application elements well maintained

Aaron provides good links for further discovery of your own.



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 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 28, 2002

Competitive Usability

Competitive Usability: How usability will be the key differentiator of tomorrow's Internet. I believe usability separates the favorites from the second class in today's world. Amazon or Barnes and Noble? Who are the people we want to use the site or information application and who actually uses it?


User engineering by project phase

IBM offers User Engineering by project phase, which I find offers good insight for larger development projects. [hat tip InfoDesign]


May 16, 2002

Tim O'Reilly keynote at Apple WWDC

Tim O'Reilly's keynote from Apple's WWDC, which focusses on watching Alpha Geeks and how they use technology.


May 10, 2002

PHP and MySQL for managing images on the Web

Managing Images With a Web Database Application with PHP and MySQL and nothing up the sleeves. The folks from O'Reilly Net offer this one, which is not in the Web Database Applications with PHP and MySQL. The book is one of my favorite information application development books at the moment for a variety of reasons: ease of coding principles, explaining application development, explaination, then using what is learned and implementing it.


Story of information

Information wants to be found. Somebody created the information to be used (including the coding of an application to extract data to form information). Information (both good and bad) has inherent value. Information that can not be found or used is wasted money and wasted time. Information requires a structure around it to increase its findability. Attempting to make information available with out a usable structure around it is a recipe for failure. Information without a usable structure surrounding it wastes the time of the person (or worse, persons) who created the information, prepared the info for dissemination, and the person/persons/application looking for that information. The waste of time and money by not having a usable information structure or not having any information structure is problematic and, in this day and age, inexcusable waste of vast money, time, and other resources.

The solution lies in working with people who understand information structure. Often these folk are called "information architects". Technology should not be the first step to solving information capturing, storing, structuring, and presentation needs. Human minds are the best first step. Human minds that have training and experience in solving these problems is the best bet. These humans are often called information architects, which:

  • Understand that most often the users of information are not the person in the cube or office next door
  • Know the users of the information often do not know the creator of the information
  • Know the users of the information may not understand the structure of the organization that created the information
  • Know the user wants to find the information
  • Know the user wants read and use the information in a format they can access
  • Know the user will want to consume the information and repurpose that information
  • Know that if the user finds what they are looking for and you are providing it the user will often be interested in finding other related or similar information
  • Know how to work with designers and technical developers to ensure the needs of your information and the user are joined together
  • Know there are many methods of finding information (search, navigation, etc.) and none of these are perfect on their own, but know how to best augment the technologies to provide the best result
  • Know that at the heart of this information transaction is the information and the user, which is where the focus belongs
  • Know how to increase findability and make the attraction between the user and the information stronger
  • Know in the long run their work saves money and time because their experience has proven what they know works



CommArts discusses 37FedEx

CommArts picks up the 37signals mock redesign of the FedEx site. Read the CommArts write-up of 37FedEx. Those of you unfamiliar with 37signals work, they are a Web/Internet development firm that focusses on simplicity of design and ease of use. Their work is clean, fast, and seemingly intuitive.


Strategic usability

Strategic usability: Partnering business, engineering and ease of use, by Scott Berkun, is the May article for UIWeb. The article focuses on incorporating ease of use into our business strategy. This step will help insure, or at least keep us on the right track. These steps are helpful when developing, building, or maintaining any information application (Web site, data mining application, knowledge management, information gathering interfaces, data visualization tools, etc).

If your information application is not useable from the perspective of the user, it will not be used. The user is right and there are steps to take to ensure the user is not only the focus along the way, but also involved in the steps. This will keep from wasting time and money on development of an information application that is not used or perceived as unusable. How many times have we started asking users about a product they have (often developed just for them, but not developed with them, the actual users) and they say they don't use it? More painful is having them say they went back to they way they always have done it, because it works.



May 7, 2002

Mac OS X update announced at WWDC 2002

Yesterday was Apple's Steve Jobs keynote at the WWDC where he held a funeral for OS 9 and announced Mac OS X Jaguar, the next Mac OS X major release (due this summer). Doc points to a MacCentral review of the Jobs WWDC 2002 keynote.


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...


Building a development team like an NFL draft

Build a development team like a NFL draft is a very good approach. This is a common approach and has work well for me in the past. The approach mentioned is along the lines of the build your initial development team with "athletes" and then add position players and specialists. This is just the people, it takes analysis, planning, and structure to get it out the door and get it right.


May 4, 2002

MS security causes sad day

Life sucks when: You have to pull an e-mail account that you manage from service. Particularly when this account is for your Dad. My Dad can be reached at Tom and I will be keeping Thomas. The TJV account is closed.

Why you ask? The account was hacked with the klez virus. He cleaned his hard drive, as he had no choice it or another virus took the hard drive out. He took another hard drive and put it in that machine and started fresh. This may have also infected his new laptop. Yes, all of these machines run Windows (the swiss cheese security system). My dad is more than computer savvy and Windows is not a consumer OS, as it is nothing more than an e-mail away from destroying everything digital you own (among many other issues, which I spend hours assisting friends and relatives with their continual problems with the MS OS). Microsoft continues to lie about its focus on security and the basic problem is the OS itself, it is not secure and it seems it will never be secure. UNIX has some issues, but has many more years of development under its belt, which is why is far more secure. UNIX variants (Apple Mac OS X, Linux, BSD, etc.) all have the advantage of years of experience and advanced developers working on the OS.

Keeping a MS box secure requires somebody with a lot of experience and they are not cheap. The MS total cost of ownership being lower than UNIX is a myth and unfounded. If you have MS open to the outside world (Internet server, DSL at home, or unfiltered (through virus scanner) e-mail, etc.) you need an MS security expert focussed on ensuring the sanctity of whatever is considered valuable on the MS boxes. This person will cost as much, if not more, than a senior UNIX systems administrator (who are, by and large, veterans in UNIX security also as it comes with the territory).

Too many folks (that are near and dear to me) have had MS servers hacked or been victims of viruses in the past couple of weeks. Granted the MS boxes hacked may not have been watched over by MS security experts, but that is what it takes.

Making choices, as far as what language to develop Internet applications, should keep in mind lock in factors. A UNIX only or a Microsoft only solution that requires the application be only run on a certain type of server has never been a great idea. This becomes even more apparent now. In my opinion this has never been a good option. Fortunately, there are many more options available that run on nearly all OS platforms. These include: Perl, PHP, Java (JSP), Python, ColdFusion, etc. Each of these languages have their own plusses and minuses, but if a certain OS platform becomes an unavailable option the applications can relatively easily be moved to another OS. This is not the case with ASP, and even less so the .Net framework (as noted before. Sure ASP can use ChiliSoft, but that is a very short term solution (as you know if you have ever had to use it, it buys you time to recode everything into a portable application language) and requires double to triple the hardware resources to run it compared to ASP on MS or any other language running natively.

All of this is just the beginning of the reasons why I most likely have bought my last Windows machine. The other reasons fall into the areas of trust and pricing. This explanation may follow soon.



May 3, 2002

Software schedules with Excel

Joel shares his painless software schedules with Excel. Even if you do not use Excel the article has some great points.


May 1, 2002

.Net lock in

Eric (glish) Costello brings Chris Laco's comments about .Net to his own site as Chris' comments reflect Eric's comments. The main issue is lock in and severe lack of choice. No the security issue that plagues Microsoft at every turn did not show up. The speed improvement in .Net over the current ASP/VB/C development is noticed and raved about. With security a growing concern on many folks minds building applications with a system that only will run on one operating system, which has the worst security record hands down, is not a great option. There are other options available.


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 27, 2002

ABCs of CMS

Jay Blanchard presents The ABCs of CMS. I liked this as it focussed on the importance of workflow, among other things.


April 25, 2002

WYSIWYG in browser part two

The second part to theWYSIWYG editor in a Web browser is available. This section gets into implementing the HTML portion from the first section into the storage components of this article.


April 22, 2002

Perl XML to take advantage of Amazon

Amazox is just what you need to take advantage of Amazon Associates' SML. [hat tip Michael]


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]


XML for org charts and so much more

Thanks to Anil, I came across An open toolkit to facilitate knowledge extraction and document analysis, which contains a solid approach to org charts. I know quite a few folks that sing the "Org Chart Blues" on a daily basis. This is a solid step in the right direction. This document is the work of Gareth Hughes


April 18, 2002

Peterme has exposes Using Conceptual Models in Interaction Design. Putting this forth was a discussion about using metaphors for interaction (interface) design, such as a desktop as an interface. Peter's post is wonderful, go enjoy.


April 16, 2002

Paul gets SCRAPI

Paul is on a streak with his rogue API explaination and Bookwatch. The API discussion is very intriguing. Paul has build an Amazon information scraper to add information to his bookwatch. A great idea. The downside is Amazon is always changing its interface, but the current version of the scraper seems to work well for Paul. This shows what can be done with a machine readable Website.


April 14, 2002

CompUSA no sale

Need to have an example of not thinking through all the steps when building a Web application? Macwhiz tries to buy a monitor with good money, but bad application does not allow it. Having the credit from CompUSA on a CompUSA card and using to buy from CompUSA does not mean a thing. The buyer wanted it delivered to his office (always a logical option), but had his home address listed on the credit card (another logical option). CompUSA needed him to add his office address to the card (another logical option), but does not offer any mechanism to doing so (somebody will get fired).

When building applications there needs to be processes put into place to handle the needed options. Many times this requires a phone call to people trained in customer service. Not understanding processes before building an application or have ALL parties talking while developing an application will save embarrassment.

You should never start building before drawing a blueprint that takes into account all the options and needs. There is too much experience around to really have this happen with out a conscious decision being made (usually up the food chain) that stopped the options from being developed (if this is not the case they have the wrong developers or not enough time to have the processes worked out). These reasons are very close to why I will never buy from Barnes and Noble on line again. Ever.

Opening an application to the Internet opens the application to real people and real people provide a wide variety of aberrations to the planned uses for any application. Not having the time, resources, or approval to build in processes for easily handling these aberrations or spending time developing the application using user centered design/development skills will sink even the best funded applications. The user is always right and the real users must be a part of the development.



April 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 9, 2002

USC Annenberg School offers a light personal review of the WSJ redesign. Those of us that use the online version of the Journal on a daily basis have noticed a great jump since the redesign began implementation over a month ago. The site is much quicker and the interface is cleaner. The queries now are very quick again and there is a deep pile of data/information to search through.

Snippets: I have noted the redesign more than once... Nihal ElRayess has shared part of the IA perspective on the main WSJ redesign and the WSJ Company Research redesign parts of the project... The Guardian provided its insight in February (a good piece of researched journalism)... It looks like the WSJ redesign began in at least March 2000... The $28 million spent on the Web reworking (hardware, software, visual, and information architecture) is much less than the $232 million spent on a new printer for the WSJ print version or the $21 million for an advertising campaign to tout the new WSJ... The previous version of the WSJ site was a hand rolled CMS and now have been moved into Vignette... Those interested in the overal WSJ plan will like what is inside the presentation of Richard Zannino, Executive Vice President and CFO of Dow Jones & Company.



April 6, 2002

Philip Greenspun also provides his Software Engineering of Innovative Web Services course materials online. The Problem set 4 is a wonderful section that covers metadata and its uses. As the overview states:

Teach students the virtues of metadata. More specifically, they learn how to formally represent the requirements of a Web service and then build a computer program to generate the computer programs that implement that service.



April 4, 2002

So you want to build your own weblog tool like the one here? Start with PHP and MySQL with a little Apache and a sprinkling of arrays and script code. Yes, this is basically what is under this puppy.


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 3, 2002

PHP with Java tutorial over at Dev Shed. Why not JSP? PHP is quicker to write and quicker to run.


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 30, 2002

Java founder, James Gosling has a Q & A session with Computerworld regarding .Net. This may not be an unbiased review, but Gosling repeats much of what most Microsoft developers I know have brought up. The memory problems and security, with very little that can be done to improve these two elements and keep in the MS family.


March 13, 2002

O'Reilly Net continues its Apache on OS X series with integration of MySQL. This is one element I have not set-up as of yet and one that will make development of this site much easier and also make the development portable.


March 12, 2002

I think is it finally time to put together an edit entry tool for this tool. I have been using the MyPHPAdmin provided by my site host to go in and edit the entries when there are errors or updates needed. This has not been a great method when I lacking on sleep, as I have been here in Austin.

There are most likely going to be some small to moderate changes to this site in a few weeks. I have started working with modifying the left navigation bar to add more local and global elements (area of the site specific or applies to the whole site). The front page is also in dire need of re-contenting and possibly a small redesign. There is a CSS problem with font sizes here in Off the Top that I really want to address also. I may implement the comment system here soon, which has been running in test mode quite well. There will be a central photo page added in the very near future. A book list page for developers will also be added soon. The largest change will be to the links page, in that it will be changed from a hand built page to a content management system generated page.



One thing that I have had the benefit of viewing and discussing while at SXSWi is Flash. Folks from Macromedia have shown their soon to be released version of Flash. Flash MX (as it is named) has some very good new features, in its providing common Web development objects to help developers create scroll bars and the like very easily. The application seems to provide object or extensions to Flash that streamline the process to building something usable and consistent in Flash.

The best new feature of Flash is content can now be made accessible for those with sight disabilities. This is greatly helpful as Flash is largely a visual information development and presentation tool. The information is now usable by site readers that read information aloud stored in Flash. This has been a large hinderance for many folks who would like to adopt Flash into their development tool belt, but had restrictions that limited the use of Flash because it locked out a segment of the users who had visual disabilities.

There is one large element in Flash that is completely disappointing still. The information is not accessible for reuse. All Flash can provide is visual information presentation, which restricts a user's ability to copy and paste or to have the information machine readable. The information is locked in an unusable format for these purposes. What does this affect? If a hotel provides their phone number and address in their Flash presentation the user can not copy and paste the information out into their PIM (Outlook, Access, Palm desktop, etc.), to an e-mail, or text message that the user could read from their PDA or cell phone (given messaging capabilities). The user would also be restricted from grabbing the information to put together a matrix from which to make decisions or to supply to others to make their comparisons. The locking of information in Flash requires the user to retype the information provided, which introduces the ability for errors in the information that was carefully crafted.

Not only do human users have the inability to re-purpose the information, which is a great benefit to those providing the information, but machines are precluded from accessing the information. If the same hotel wants to be included in their city's chamber of commerce listing on the CCoC Web site the hotel information can not be easily extracted by the CCoC as it could be from HTML (using an id tag) or XML. The information is locked again in an unusable and un-reusable format. The creators of the content lose, and could possibly lose big by not having information that is easily reused. This becomes increasingly important with the growing use of Web Services that rely on machine readable or machine accessible information.

Why the hotel scenario? Macromedia used the hotel demonstration to highlight some of their great new features. As I watched the presentation I kept wondering if the information was still unusable for purposes other than reading or having the information read to the user. It was later confirmed the information was still un-reusable, but Macromedia is also aware of this strong down side to the information presentation and is working hard at fixing the issues.



Yesterday was all about getting the synapses to fire in the right order at SXSWi. I was running on sever sleep deprivation from phones and alarm clocks ringing when I had not finished my needed sleep cycle. None-the-less I had a great time. I greatly enjoyed Steve Champeon's peer panel on Non-Traditional Web Design, as it focussed on the fine art of tagging content, understanding the uses of information, and the true separation of content, presentation, and application controlling the information. The Web Demo panel I was on seemed to go rather well as there were a broad spectrum of sites reviewed and the information from the panel to the developers was of great use (I hope) as I think we all learned something.

The evening provided good entertainment, a wonderful gattering at the EFF party. Once again many folks adjourned to the Omni Hotel lobby for the after-hours social gathering. I spent much of the time just listening to conversation and occasionally partaking. Of intrigue was Rusty of Kuro5hin and Adam of Brian of Slashdot discussion development of site tools that will help a dynamic site fly, keep in mind all these tools are in Perl.



I think is it finally time to put together an edit entry tool for this tool. I have been using the MyPHPAdmin provided by my site host to go in and edit the entries when there are errors or updates needed. This has not been a great method when I lacking on sleep, as I have been here in Austin.

There are most likely going to be some small to moderate changes to this site in a few weeks. I have started working with modifying the left navigation bar to add more local and global elements (area of the site specific or applies to the whole site). The front page is also in dire need of re-contenting and possibly a small redesign. There is a CSS problem with font sizes here in Off the Top that I really want to address also. I may implement the comment system here soon, which has been running in test mode quite well. There will be a central photo page added in the very near future. A book list page for developers will also be added soon. The largest change will be to the links page, in that it will be changed from a hand built page to a content management system generated page.



March 1, 2002

The Visual Display of Quantitative XML on O'Reilly Net really rocks for me. I am really impressed with the presentation, but not nearly as impressed as I was with the ease of downloading and running the SVG plug-in in IE 6 on Windows and IE 5.1 on Mac OS X. Overal this is a great article as it not only walks through the how-to portion, but also offers insights into things that will make similar development go more easily.


February 27, 2002

Have you ever wish to build your own WYSIWYG tool in all within a browser? Mitchell Harper for Devarticles shows us how to build a DHTML WYSIWYG tool, aren't we glad we withed for it?


February 26, 2002

Personally I think I would extend the Hillman Curtis quote, "Web designer has to think of every pixel and the role it plays in brand" and extend it to the code behind the design. Every choice in the code impacts the display of the information or the way users, particularly with disabilities use the information. Sites that are well crafted have more usable information than poorly coded sites. Unfortunately, I have run across a lot of poor code of late, which the developers of the code believe everything is fine as long as it displays properly in their browser. The problem is not everybody has their browser. The poor coding not only adversely affects the display of every pixel on the page of other browsers, but provides poor usability of the information for the sight impared. The best step is to learn the standard code, learn to code my hand, learn what every tag and element does, learn to write a page efficiently, and most of all learn how to code for everybody in your user base. Lacking this we are just blindly coding in the dark and wasting our own time, the time those that thought they could use our information, and those who have to recode the information to make it usable.

Having watched the desktop publishing (DTP) trend "empower" people to design their own newsletters and brochures, I thought the Web would have followed in a similar growth path. DTP came to popular being in the late '80s with the advent of Adobe's PageMaker. Having formal training in communication design I realized the tool was powerful, but also dangerous. Moving into the workforce I watched the folly of the DTP trend. This powerful application when in untrained hands, could create output that was as far from what anybody would want being put out by a professional organization. I heard more than my share of executives screaming down corridors, "What is this cr*p". The DTP in the hands of the admin staff or the intern with out design backgrounds or training created about what was expected, garbage. DTP was quickly relegated to the hands of trained graphic artists, who turned out great products from the same application and often same machine.

What took four or five years with DTP is not being realized with Web development. Part of this may be Web development is more accessible and children can do it from home. The novelty of Web development has not reached the ends of the earth. Another driver that sets the Web apart is the embarrassment of people's children being able to build pages, which leads some folks logic patterns to the belief Web development/design is not difficult. Much like DTP, it is not difficult to build "something", but is does take a lot of work to build something good that is usable and maintainable. I still hear some executive yelling down the hall about the poor quality of a Web page, but the conversion of those developing sites to knowledgeable developers or turning the site over to experienced expert staff is still a slow transition. The glamour of the Web has worn thin, which is helping move the development to the hands of craftspeople and those with the passion to learn all the details.

I still have hope, actually I work in an environment that gives me great hope as the people with the power to say no do so for all the right reasons. The reasons are development that does not meet the minimum standards of a professional organization. The Web reaches far more people with the messages of our organization that the world prior. The Web imprints user's minds with the impression of a solid organization that cares about the information it handles, or it can do the opposite with equal ease. The experience and impression is in the hands of the professionals to see that these standards are met and adhered to. I am happy to work with not only professionals, but people with the passion to understand what is right to get the information to the people and get it there properly.



February 24, 2002

Web Reference guides us through efficient SQL calls to the database. Effiecient calls help speed the application's presentation and puts less of a demand on the server's resources.


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 23, 2002

Metatorial offers a great selection of papers regarding content management on their site. The papers are great discussions on the subject of CM. The site also offer interviews, a great CM poster, and a promo for the Content Management Bible.

This site is unfortunately a great poster child for why one should not use frames. Frames make pointing to the desired content far more difficult than it needs to be. If people link directly to great content they lose the site's links to their other great resources. This site is horribly frustrating as there is great content wrapped in the absolutely wrong method for presenting great information to be shared. I guess folks can't be great at everything, I know I am not.



February 22, 2002

IBM Speed Team

Fast Company examines IBM's Speed Team, which has been working on developing speedy development environments. They cut back on processes that ensure proper development, but it seems like the the IBM developers have experienced developers, which make streamlining the development process much easier.


February 21, 2002

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


February 20, 2002

Representational State Transfer (REST) and the Real World provides the ability to add security to XML-based Web Services, among other beneficial elements.


What Does Usability Mean: Looking Beyond Ă«Ease of UseĂ­ from the fine folks at Cognetics. This solid overview focuses on the Five E's: Efficient, effective, engaging, error tolerant, and easy to learn. The toughest hurdle from my view is error tolerant, which is an often overlooked element in application and Web development. Planning early and knowing the user will help incorporate error tolerance into the development plans. One of the toughest areas to accommodate error tolerance is during feature creep as features grow and interact with various elements the probability for errors that do not have corrective paths accounted for rises greatly.


The solution to the = in the link is to use  in its place. This may require a solid tweak to my home-rolled weblog application so to sniff, parse, and replace the symbol prior to inserting into the database.


Those of us trying to develop or debug ColdFusion applications at home can take solice in ColdFusion single user license. This is only available with a registered version of ColdFusion Studio on the same box.


February 14, 2002

Joel explains the software development paradox when the technical folks and non-technical folks meet. I am very fortunate that I do not go through this at the moment, as I work for a client that understands the development process. I can not say that about every place I have been, but the developing a prototype in a few weeks that has rough functionality in it is light years from an actual product. The most important part of that next step is getting real data and getting a good understanding of the data and information you are working with as well as knowing what is to be done with said information. This being said is why many of us like using wireframes for interface development and not live GUIs (there are other reasons to use wireframes, but I will address that on another day, possibly real soon).


February 11, 2002

In following the ArsDigita closure, I have found many linking to a diary of a start-up, or how ArsDigita began. The goals and inspiration for the company are a place that many would want to work. Remembering back there seemed to me many places that had high-minded goals, but lost sight when money came in. Philip Greenspun also offers his take, which includes a great insight...
Spending time in the aviation world has given rise to some thoughts about why there are so few plane crashes and so many business failures. The FAA establishes strict guidelines on what training and experience is required before someone can be pilot-in-command in various situations (daytime, nighttime, instrument conditions, single engine, multiengine, turbine, all alone, one passenger, lots of passengers, etc.). The president of United Airlines can't hire his old college buddy and put him behind the yoke of a 747 because he has a good gut feeling that Biff can handle the job. Very seldom is a pilot legally able to get into a situation that is beyond his or her capabilities, training, and experience (JFK, Jr., for example, was flying in instrument meteorological conditions with only a visual flight rules rating; he was legally required to make an immediate U-turn and fly back into the clear). But in the business world the Peter Principle rules: people are promoted until they reach a job at their level of incompetence. Because there are no standards, it really isn't possible to say whether a person is unfit for a business job until and unless you give him or her the job. Afterwards it is tough to admit that you made a mistake and demote or fire the incompetent-at-that-level person.
This is very much a meritocracy mindset, which a lot of us that are in techinical fields hold to be true.


Arg. If you have Internet work and need somebody great, I know of a great developer looking for work. Send Nick your leads and best wishes.


February 8, 2002

Okay, O'Reilly Net has been offering a lot of good resources of late and I am a little behind in catching up.

Those of us that need a light weight database for a small project and are using Microsoft Windows often turn to Access to perform the task. Steven Roman offers his tips in how to set up an Access database. The best tip is right up front:

Don't touch your PC until you have taken the time to rough out a design of your database.
The tips keep coming and many of them apply to any other database development. Once I learned to think of information and metadata in a relational database format (which also helps with setting up XML documents) application development became easier. Understanding a little database design will also help ask the right questions when setting up an application, database, and/or project.

This article also helps define the limitations of Access databases. Each database will have its own limitations or peculiarities. Knowing these differences will help think about the application, information, and how they can and will be used is helpful.



February 4, 2002

Do you build Web pages? Do you have Mac? Do you have to convert text to HTML/XHTML? If you answered yes (if you didn't you should see what you are missing) please go check out Dean Allen's AppleScript for writing on the Web. These should be wonderful additions to our tool belt.


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 14, 2002

Matt makes observations of the state of severs and scripting deployments. I agree with nearly all of what Matt point out. Some of the reasoning behind the varying set-ups is for security reason's, others are to mirror configurations on other servers that had slightly different purposes. In all, what this needs is a solid documentation tool. PHP provides some of this with a function that prints out the build of the server that script resides on, this is usually the first task many of us perform on a machine. This however, is just the tip of the iceberg of the information we need.

This is part of the second and fourth element of the cornerstones of information application development (info apps need to be usable, maintainable, reliable, and repeatable). If a task is difficult to maintain and even harder to repeat there is some work that needs to be done to change the environment or the application.



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.



January 6, 2002

Troy Janish's XML tutorial for A List Apart is a great resource. The elements for implementing XML are rather solid now. Knowing how to make use of XML is going to be a needed skill set for many. The debate over database storage of content objects over XML storage of the same will continue for quite some time. I have my leaning for database storage, given their data storage and manipulation functionality built in, but outputing XML documents to share the information seems to be a better option than providing authorized access to the database.


January 5, 2002

Stewart mulls the positive feedback loop in interaction design in his weblog. Stewart also links to a nice report/bulletin article highlighting designers of the future (kids) for SIGCHI Bulletin.

Stewarts article brings to mind the problems with capturing process and tasks when observing users perform their jobs in the early stages of contextual design. The last thing the observer wants to do is to influence what the user is doing. Asking questions on how to improve and working through the logic of the tasks and conditional elements of the task will come later. Understand the conditions the user has in place, don't ask why at the beginning, just capture as if you were going to have to repeat the exact same task.

The next step after capturing the information allows for understanding why there is a "wrk" button (using Stewart's example). Understanding what is behind the conditions will help build an application that is used as it maps to the user's cognitive understanding of the process. Some of these conditions may/can be broken when they are built into an algorithm. Breaking too many of the conditions can create an application that is quite foreign to the user and therefore possibly shunned.

One method of getting through the non-essential conditions is to use a transitional process. This would entail keeping some of the non-essential conditions in an applications interactive process with the user, i.e. sending an e-mailing to verify a fax was received. Including a verification notification for delivery of information may be included as it is engrained in the user's work pattern. As the user's learn to trust and respect the information in the new application they are using is reliable the verification notice may be altered to show only information not delivered or turned off completely.

Getting back to the starting point, if an observer would propose turning off the verification process and notification in the task capturing procedure there may be one individual that understands why there is not a verification process. The application being developed may be for many users that use the standard procedures. The user being observed may offer suggestions and these should be captured.



January 2, 2002

Grokdotcom provides a good overview of the methodologies of Web application development. The modular approach is provided as the best methodology, go figure with an open methodology that is based on published/documented standard set of processes. The article ends up discussing Fusebox, which is new to me, but seems to be a rather straightforward approach to modular software development.


An USA Today article on poor product design provides insight that is helpful not only to product development, but also application development. The insights (while not new to most of us, but most likely very new to USA Today readers) include not including the consumer early enough in the process, product design team not well balanced, and technology runs amok.

These very closely apply to Web/Internet/Application development's downfalls. Not including the user in the development phases and/or testing with users early and throughout the development process. Having a development team that does not have a balance of visual, technical, and production skills can be problematic. Lastly, projects that are technology for technology's sake, very rarely offer success.

Conversely, success comes from getting these things right, involving the user and understanding how users would interact and use what you are building. Having a balanced team so that visual, technical, and production issues can be addressed and solved appropriately. And lastly knowing when and how to best use what technologies will drive success.

This last element, understanding the technologies, will help you get over the hurdle of accessibility/508 compliance. It will also help you find the best tools to interact with the users of the site/application. Having DHTML elements to provide action on a site or to serve information, when the user audience does not fully have the capability of addressing or handling the presentation, will have detrimental effects. Know what your elements your users have turned on and off in their browsers and what versions they are using. It is important to know what threshold of user profile can be the cut-off for developing a site. If 10% of your users have JavaScript turned off should you still develop elements of your site that are JavaScript dependant without providing an alternate service? Know and set this percentage threshold, as it will help understand why you can and can not use certain technologies.



January 1, 2002

Google shares its 10 things they found to be true, which starts off with, "focus on the user and all else will follow". There are many other truths in this list. [hat tip eleganthack and Digital-Web New]


There is nothing like starting the New Year coding a time rollover code to pull the current information out of your weblog. This means I now have fully functioning code for month and year change overs in my personally built weblog tool. This also means I still love PHP more than any other scritping/Web coding language.

It is getting to be time to pull the code out of the PHP templates and make it more modular/object based. The site is built on a handful of templates that reuse about 75% of the same code to build the pages. From this stage it is time to pull out classes and functions and have each page point to the proper elements. This enables me (or who everelse is getting this code) to be able to make modifications in one place rather than many.

Why modular/object-based? This is how the world works. This is how things are done efficiently. This is the non-foolish way of building applications. (Looks like I am starting this year on a testy note).



December 19, 2001

The Way We Webbed

Builder.com to focus more on technology than Web. This article, delivered to my e-mail a couple weeks ago, has been ringing in my head. The Web is not dead, but how it is build has changed greatly. All of have learned a lot over the past few years and we all have grown greatly. Many of us have been implementing content management systems or rolling our own solutions to ease the management of these sites. We have build community tools and become readers and commentors on other's sites.

The Web is no longer just static pages. It has not been for some time. Dynamic pages have there limits too and we all have found wonderful balances to build a better Web that is a better tool and information source for the users. The Web has also burst its seams and spread back out over the broad Internet. The Internet has become mobile and Web content has been repurposed and is now showing up on handheld devices and developers are creating versions of their information to ease this adoption (this will be an addition to this site in the next month or two, so to accommodate those that read this site on wireless AvantGo readers). Information is also syndicated using XML (RSS) so others can pull the information and use it in a manner that best suits them.

There will be a need for Web pages for quite some time. The great skill of Web design (from folks like Jeffery) will continue to be a needed profession as the design and visual presentation of information is essential to better understanding of the information and eases the adoption/internalization of information. I look forward to the new content from Builder.com, but I also will miss some of their focus too.



December 18, 2001

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


December 4, 2001

After reading Nick Finck's notes from the Web Design World 2001 in New Orleans and reading the Web Design World 2001 Agenda I think I may have to make the trip next year. I am very intrigued with the Open Source elements of the conference combined with the Web design/development aspects. Open Source tools have treated me far better than any proprietary tool ever has in the past. I am not interested in the cost as much as how solid the tools are, which leads me to Open Source.


December 2, 2001

We are all trying to make our sites more accessible. Some of us do it because we have to and others of us do it because it is the right thing to do. No matter what our mission to many of us it is a new twist to our regular routines and we could use some help. Those of us that use Macromedia products now have help in Macromedia's Solutions Kit of Accessability.


November 20, 2001

I am so happy as I have a system at home that is stable enough to build the Active State components: Komodo, ActivePerl, and ActivePyton. It is nice to have an option to the command line and to be able to test with out FTPing scripts up to a server.


November 19, 2001

Needing to write a functional spec? Just want to learn what a functional spec is to know if you should write one? A functional spec tutorial is what is needed.
[hat tip Jay and Cam]


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 12, 2001

IBM Developer Works offers paper prototyping the good and the bad.


November 5, 2001

The XSLT Standard Library makes XSLT templates of commonly used functions. [hat tip Bill Humpheries]


November 1, 2001

The Dev Shed offers a scenario many of us gone through in their Time is Money article. It walks through a tough scenario of delivering an intricate project with few requirements. In all it is a nice over view of developing a web based application using PHP and MySQL.

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