Off the Top: Web design Entries


March 16, 2014

Mind the Construction Dust

I’m in the midst of a structuring here across all the pieces of vanderwal.net. It started in January with another project, a meetp-up hack to dive into Zurb Foundation. Within a couple weeks of starting down that path I decided it would be fine time to rebuild and redesign vanderwal.net using Foundation. Before I started down the road leaving the horses behind I desided I was going to update the structure of the HTML of these pages and bring them into modern times with HTML5 and CSS3.

This thinking and tinkering has been finally fixing some of the underlying details that bugged me, but it also allowed to set a much better and more object focussed semantics. This shift will also enable the content objects to flow better and be better foundations for a redesign as well.

While I have no idea what the redesign will be and not even thinking of that, I did find the original photo that I modified to be used for the header image and I put that to the pages I have touched. The new image now is much wider to allow for a fluid page and the “vanderwal.net” text is now out of the image and I a truly proper H1, that has alluded me for a long time (and bugged me to no end). The menu of the updated pages has brought back the selected portion of the site with a bleed to page, which was there at the beginning, but some shift in CSS caused it to go away.

I may, possibly likely, shift hosting at some point in the near future, but that may wait until I have some of the underpinnings of the blog tool updated a little. Some of those changes will wait a little, but have been brewing a long time. I don’t think I am bringing comments back, but will likely bring in web mentions (Jeremy Keith has a great explaination). There is a lot going on in the IndieWeb that has been inspiring and may trigger some more changed that I have longed for to finally get put in place.

BTW, this is the short version of this. Two prior attempts at writing up something short both ended up over 2,500 words.



August 15, 2012

Prepping to Move Personal InfoCloud

I am in the midst of moving my Personal InfoCloud blog from TypePad to SquareSpace, so blogging there has slowed down a little bit. The move is related to some of my modifications and TypePad updates after they SixApart was sold and the TypePad pages picked up a ton of JavaScript for Facebook and other things I do not use, but the scripts add to the download time and occasional funky display. Some modification on their end broke all of my pagination that I had ensured was still working even though I use my own templates. The point of having a hosted service is things just work.

I have all my posts and comments from Personal InfoCloud moved over and it is just a clean-up of the HTML and getting the CSS set properly. I am going to move the domain before the rest of the design is done as it may be some time doing the a redesign.

I am not using SquareSpace 6, the latest and greatest version as that did not automatically import form TypePad and and version 5 did. The template I spent a couple nights a month back modifying was built for version 5, so for now it will stay there. I’m not sure when I will flip the switch on it, but it will likely be in this next month.



May 12, 2012

HTML5 Demo Watch

Thanks to the Berg Friday Links I found the Suit up or Die Magazine and Cut the Rope HTML5 demo sites.

Both have me thinking this is really close, then I remember one of my favorite periodical apps, Financial Times went HTML5 more than a year ago. FT went HTML5 to better manage the multi-platform development process needed for iOS and the multitude of Android versions. While many have said the development is roughly 1.5x what it would take for just one platform development it does same incredible amount of time building an app across all platforms. Since all the major smart phone platforms have their native browsers built on webkit, there is some smart thinking in that approach.

Personally, my big niggle with the FT app is while it is browser based doesn’t have Instapaper built-in and it moves me out of the app to send a link of an article (often to myself because lacking Instapaper) rather than natively in the app, or exposing browser chrome so that I can do that while still remaining in the app and in reading their content mode. It would be really smart for FT to sort this out and fix these as it would keep me in the site and service reading, which I am sure they would love. If they could treat both of those like they do with Twitter and Facebook sharing out all within the app it would be brilliant.



March 30, 2011

Designing Advanced Deisgn - Julian Bleeker notes from Kruzeniski Workshop

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

Julian’s Notes from the Workshop on Designing Advanced Design

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

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

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

Krizeniski's 3 Approaches to Advanced Design

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

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

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



January 22, 2011

Traits of Blogs with Highly Valued Content for Me

I was going through my inbound feeds of blogs, news, and articles and catching up on the week. In doing so I open things that are of potential interest in an external browser (as mentioned before in As if Had Read) and realized most have some common traits. Most don't have Twitter feed (most Twitter feeds run at a vastly different information velocity and with very different content areas that distract from the content at hand). As well, many do not have comments on them any more or have moderated comments using built-in commenting service/tool (very rarely is Disqus used).

Strong Content is the Draw

The thing in common is all are focused on the that blog post's content. The content and the focus on the idea at hand is the strength of the attraction.

Some of the blogs are back to their old ways of posting short ideas and things that flow through their lives the want to hold on to, but as also comfortable enough to share out for other's with similar interest.

Ancillary Content Can Easily Distract Attention and Value

Sorting out what the focus of a blog (personal or professional) is essential. The focus is the content and the main pieces on the page. It is good to help keep the focus there without any swirling tag cloud (these seem to be the brunt of the fun poking sticks at conferences these days as they add no value and are completely and utterly unusable, so much so those with the mike continually question what understanding somebody has to add them to their page or site) or any other moving updating object. When talking with readers most say they do not notice these objects, just like web ads have taught us to ignore their blinking and flashing and twirling. As is often said personal sites begin to look like entries in a NASCAR race, where the most anticipated outcomes are the wrecks.

I have seen many attempts at personal homepages and personal aggregation pages, which are of big interest to me (for personal archiving, searching, and review), which are a better place for pulling together the Twitter feed, Flickr, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. Aggregation of this content in a feed option is good too, but keeping the blog page content to a main focus on content is good for the reader and attention on the written word.

Yes, over on the right I have my social bookmarked links. It has been my intention to pull recent items with tags related to content tags, but that has yet to happen.



June 27, 2009

Social Design for the Enterprise Workshop in Washington, DC Area

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

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

Past Attendees have Said...

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

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

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

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

Is the Workshop Only for Designers?

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

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

Not Only for Enterprise

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

The Workshop will Address…

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

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

More info...

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

I look forward to seeing you there.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


March 12, 2009

Catching Up On Personal InfoCloud Blog Posts

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

The following are recently posted over at Personal InfoCloud

SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools

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

Optimizing Tagging UI for People & Search

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

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

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

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



January 25, 2009

Optimizing Tagging UI for People & Search

Overview/Intro

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

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

Multi-term Tag Intro

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

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

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

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

Conceptual Models Missing in Social Tool Adoption

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

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

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

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

Multi-term Tag UI Options

Compound Terms

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

Tag sample from Delicious

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disconnected Multi-term Tags

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

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

Quoted Multi-term Tags

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

What begins with a simple helpful prompt...:

 SlideShare Tag Input UI

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

SlideShare quoted multi-term tag parsing

Comma Delimited Tags

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

Ma.gnolia comma separated multi-term tag output

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

Text Box Per Tag

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

Yahoo! Bookmarks 2 text box per tag

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

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

Summary

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

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



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.



April 11, 2008

YouTube New Interface and Social Interaction Design Santiy Check

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

Broken Interaction Design on Buttons or Tabs

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

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

Social Sites Seem to Share a Lack of Interaction Understanding

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

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

Social Interaction in Enterprise Tools

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

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



March 23, 2008

6th Internet Identity Workshop Coming Up

The other event that I am finding to be fantastic is also in the Bay Area the week of May 12th is the 6th Internet Identity Workshop. This is the event for people working around identity related issues (any social application or service) that are now the core of nearly all products on the web and intranet. I have found that those who attend this event really grasp the meaning and deep impact of identity along with the needed tools and services around identity. It is really rare that I find somebody talking or writing about identity related issues in a smart manner that has not been part of one of the past IIW events.

As the discussion around the social graph has become hot identity (and the issue of privacy) has come to the forefront even more. Most services are not dealing with identity in an intelligent manner that is recognizable by a huge majority of people who are using these digital services. Much of the mangled discussion around social graph is missing solid understanding from a digital identity perspective and the use and reuse of statements of relationship that do not transcend various services.

Discussions around persona (not the IA persona variety) and identity abound and the need for services that grasp these differences are worked through. The need for better understanding the incredible value the role of identity in tagging services has also been discussed here, which is something many services do not grasp and are doing a dis-service to the people who want to tag items in their own perspective and context to ease their own refinding of the object (Twine really needs a much better understanding of tagging as their automated tagging is incredibly poor and missing many tangents for understanding that need to be applied for full and proper understanding of the objects in their service).

I am really hoping to get to part of the IIW event this time around my workshop in Las Vegas to continue with the great identity conversations from the past IIW events.



February 11, 2008

Challenges as Opportunities for Social Networks and Services

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

Response to Challenges of Social Network/Services

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

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

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

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

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



February 8, 2008

Getting More Value In Enterprise with Social Bookmarking

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

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

Social Bookmarking has Great Value in the Enterprise

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

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

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

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



October 18, 2007

The State of Enterprise Social Software - Pointer

I have written and posted The State of Enterprise Social Software on my Peronal InfoCloud blog as it has comments on and it also is where I am trying to keep my more professional pieces.

This blog post is a reaction to Richard McManus excellent post Big Vendors Scrap for Enterprise 2.0 Supremacy. The post seemed less about supremacy than scapping to be relevant. Many of the tools I am quite or somewhat familiar with and rather unimpressed. But, go read the other post to find my assessments of the tools, but also the tools that are doing much better jobs than the traditional enterprise vendors.



August 25, 2007

Reading Information and Patterns

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

Not that Reading

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

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

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

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

Simplicity and Reading with Experience

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

Getting Somewhere with Reading Patterns

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

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

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

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



June 15, 2007

Skitch Goes Live Beta

Just a quick note to let you know Skitch has gone to invite only beta. I have some invites if you are interested and have been drooling for it to launch.

What is Skitch? It is a Mac OS X screen and cam capturing tool that not only allows you to capture the image, but annotate it, then send it out to Flickr, .Mac, or MySkitch (a skitch sharing site perfect for sharing with clients or collaborators). I have been using Skitch for the past few months and loving it. I have built-up a decent set of screen captures for presentations and client work (about 300+ elements) mostly around social web interaction patterns. It is an insanely easy (as well as fun) tool to use and I only wish I had it sooner.



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 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.



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 19, 2006

The Excellence of Accessibilty Presentations

One of the people I have met this past year and come to know better through traveling to and from Web Directions 2006 and hanging with at d.construct is Derek Featherstone. His presentations on the subject of accessibility are the best I have ever seen. The past year I have not had the opportunity to think, talk about, or develop around the subject of web accessibility (I had thought of this as a good thing, but I will explain that shortly) other than as an extension of semantically well structured information, which most conference I have been speaking at are related to in one form or another.

Derek is one of the first presenters that digs deep into accessibility beyond a set of rules, but also looks at usability for those with accessibility needs as the baseline for building great sites that work for all. He frames his presentations not as accessibility is for "them", but as it is for all of us. This focus is astoundingly refreshing and rare.

Derek digs into how JavaScript and Ajax, if done well (did you read that caveat, "done well"?), can actually improve accessibility. In his presentation Derek walks through how to think about interfaces, both rich and static, and improve upon them for everybody. Much of this is basic usability that is missed by many, but the rich interface elements are something I have not heard before from somebody talking about accessibility.

Lastly, Derek's presentation style is light and easy, which bring many people who are put off my accessibility into listening and learning. It is a great thing to watch people gain interest as he presents about a subject they did not care about. But even better is when they start talking about they now have a good framework to think about and approach accessibility does the power of Derek's presentation style and deep knowledge make a the subject come to life.

Granted I have not been reading much around accessibility for the past year, although I have had some great discussions about it with Matt May and Christian Heilmann at various points this year along the lines of rich interfaces and caring about those with accessibility needs. My lack of interest is not because I do not care about accessibility, but I have been burned out from dealing with the politics of accessibility in the U.S. Federal Government. I enjoyed working with the webmasters on the government side, but outside of that it was really painful. Most people would go out of their way to make unusable, poorly structured, semantically incorrect, let alone unaccessible sites just because they were told to make a site accessible. The long battles, even with those charged with caring and ensuring accessibility, made me very happy not to have to deal with accessibility for quite a while. Since you can get about 90 percent of the way to accessibility with just semantically well structured XHTML mark-up, which is the mark of any decent web developer, I have not considered the subject much beyond that in over a year.

Derek's presentations and our long discussions regarding semantically well structured information as the basis for everything that has improved the web in the past few years, brought me back to enjoying the subject of accessibility. In saying this I am more sure now that those who wrote the U.S. Section 508 regulations and those on the Access Board have failed those who needed real accessibility so they could partake in this freedom of information we embrace.



October 6, 2006

IA for Web Developers Presentation

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



October 1, 2006

Sydney Update

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

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

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

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

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



September 14, 2006

Trip and d.construct Wrap-up

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

d.construct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London Stays

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

London People & Places

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

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

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

Food

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

Too Short a Visit

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



September 1, 2006

Domain of Digital Design Includes Strings

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

In the last year or so these have become quite important to me as I look at the URLs on this site (vanderwal.net) and they are not as friendly, readable, or guessable as they should be. There is no understanding what http://www.vanderwal.net/random/entrysel.php?blog62 will lead to. Do people actually care about this?

Attention to Strings

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

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

Human Readable

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

Ground Control to Major Thomas - Where Are You

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

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

Data Strings Design Worthy Too

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

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



August 22, 2006

Clearleft in Brighton Looking for an IA

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

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



July 28, 2006

Pixelating Pleasure

For your Friday pleasure, there is a special treat for you pixel people lovers at Iconfactory. It is time to take out the tables, well maybe past time, but at least they are doing it. [hat tip to Brian]



July 15, 2006

Is the U.S. Behind in Design?

Kathy Sierra posts about Does the US suck at design? The Difference Between the US and Switzerland on her Creating Passionate Users site. Kathy has great examples and the comments (like many many sites) hold many great gems (I posted there, but take time to read the other comments).

This subject is one that I have been thinking about a lot over the past couple years as I have been traveling for work and conference to Europe, Canada, and around the U.S. There are distinct differences between the countries and cultures. I have not been sure if the U.S. is just too familiar to me, which makes those things that are different more attractive, or if it is just much better design that is really making a difference.

The breadth of design understanding in the U.S. seems narrower than in Europe. I normally have great conversations about design and developing products for use by people while I am in Europe, but in the U.S. the discussion is more on the process or tools than the end result.

Yes, I understand this is largely generalizations and there are some great designers in the U.S. and some great products. I have been trying to sort through the seeming proportion of well designed products and environments between the different cultures. The general understanding of design in the role it plays in business and product success broader in Europe (or it could be an extremely skewed population that I interact with in Europe at conferences, on transportation, in cafes, etc. The experience really has my deeply enjoying the work I do in Europe, I enjoy the work in the U.S. as well, but in the U.S. I am more selective.



July 1, 2006

They are One

Congratulations to Clearleft on their one year anniversary. This is one of "the" web shops to work with. You should be so lucky to be on their client list.



June 30, 2006

Technosocial Architect

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

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

Basis for Digital Design and Development

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

People Using Information in Their Life

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

Do you see the gap?

The gap is huge!

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

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

Designing for Information Use and Reuse

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

End-to-end is Not the Solution

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

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

Technology and Design are Secondary

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

Information as Building Blocks

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

Technosocial Architects

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

Focus on People, Medium, and Use

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

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

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

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

Need for Technosocial Architects

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



June 26, 2006

Prefab and the Blog Template

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

Prefab Blogs

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

Prefab as an Old Cultural Trend

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

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

Is Prefab Bad?

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

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

Finding a Home

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

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



June 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 16, 2006

Nick Finck on XHTML Wireframes

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

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

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

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



Upcoming Conferences I am Presenting at and Attending

Okay, things have been quite busy here. But, here will be changing as I am hitting the skies a bit in the short term. This means I may be near you so reach out and we can hang out and chat. I am completely looking forward to all the places on my schedule and seeing all of the people.

XTech

I am off to Amsterdam, Netherlands (no not that other one) this week to speak at XTech. I will be presenting Developing for the Personal InfoCloud on Thursday at 11:45 in the morning.

BarCamp Amsterdam

On Saturday I will be attending BarCamp Amsterdam for part of the time.

Seattle Area

Following the Amsterdam trip I should be in the Seattle area for work. I don't have dates as of yet, but if you shoot an e-mail I will be sure and connect.

Microlearning 2006 Conference

I will be heading to Innsbruck, Austria for the Microlearning Conference and preconference (June 7). I will be talking about microcontent in the Personal InfoCloud and our ability and desire to manage it (one means of doing this is folksonomy, but will be discussing much more).

Following Innsbruck I may be in Europe a bit longer and a little farther north. I will be in Amsterdam just following the conference, but beyond that my schedule has not yet fully jelled.

WebVisions 2006

I will be heading to WebVisions 2006 in Portland, Oregon July 20th and 21st. I will be speaking on Friday the 21st about Tagging in the Real World. This will look at how people are making use of tagging (particularly tagging services) and looking at the best practices.

The Fall

In September it looks like I will be in Brighton, UK for a wonderful event. I should also be in Australia later in September for another conference.

As these events get closer, I will be letting you know.

Yes, I know I need to be publishing this information in hCal, but I have been quite busy of late. But, I am moving in that direction very soon. You can also follow what I am watching and attending in Upcoming for vanderwal.



April 30, 2006

Popularity Overrated?

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

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

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

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

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

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



March 17, 2006

SXSW Interactive and Austin BarCamp Overview

This year's SXSW was incredible. It started out a little overwhelming as I realized there were six distinct groups that I hang out with and they don't really intermix. But, this all worked out, as by Sunday I realized that there was enough time to spend time with each group. SXSW has always been the place I escape to so to have wonderful conversations and to hang with many like minds. This year was did not let me down, in fact there were many like minds.

The Tagging 2.0 panel I was on seemed to have gone well, based on the comments that followed. (My presentation with diagram will be posted in a week or so.)

BarCamp Austin

I went over to the BarCamp Austin and had a wonderful time for the hour or so I hung out there. I was a little late for Tara's "Marketing your project: Cluetrain style presentation, but I really enjoyed what I heard. I also got to finally meet Chris Messina and thank him for making the original BarCamp enjoyable and accessible for those of use that were attending virtually (he walked the laptop around when the people moved

Best Take Away Ever

My favorite part of SXSW Interactive this year was not only getting to meet Bruce Sterling (finally), but having him sign my copy (or one of them) of his Wired Magazine article on folksonomy and myself, ":Order Out of Chaos". I got a kick out of the "Dr. Folksonomy".

When you get a chance go grab the podcast of Bruce Sterling's closing remarks, which were stellar and moving.

Killer Digits for the Pocket or Hip

This year, not only did the official SXSW site have a wonderful service to for their pushing their schedule (only the things you want) to your mobile device, but there were other great tools used enforce. It seemed many people had logged into Dodgeball for Austin, a mobile service that lets you know where your friends are and lets you ping the service to share your location. This made connecting with your friends at the right party, restaurant, or bar really easy (I do not normally have a use for this at home). I also used Upcoming to track the events I had interest in and then push them to my phone so I had the time and location with me at all times.

This is a really great example of moving information that is of value out of the web and into our real lives. As a web developer I realized years ago that most of the information that is on the web is not really usable or reusable as it is not structured to be used in the place or context where it makes most sense. Most people do not live their lives on the web they live them in the real world. Information and media must be built with this understanding.



February 20, 2006

Ma.Gnolia Review and Color Me Disapointed

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

Rating Bookmarks and Retention Modes

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

Private Bookmarks and Community

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

API, Walled Garden, and In-site Findability

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

There is Good

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

Saving Bookmarks and Wrap-up

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



February 15, 2006

Thomas Vander Wal on PodLeaders Podcast

I have been quite busy of late. Between some InfoCloud Solutions client work and some other things (including family).

I really need to pay attention to my blog a little bit as I do have things to post, like Thomas Vander Wal interviewed by Tom Raftery on PodLeaders podcast. The podcast covers the "come to me web", folksonomy, InfoClouds, and InfoCloud Solutions work. I wish I could talk more about my client work, but that will come.

This was recorded over a Skype connection with Tom sitting in Ireland. I was using my Apple iSight and it worked rather well. I have been enjoying Skype for chats with friends and business relations in Europe, I really like the quality as well as the price. But the thing that I really like is that it is really personal, much like a mobile phone, you are pretty much assured of getting the person you wish to talk with rather than some answering service or other interference.

I am back to working.



February 14, 2006

Yahoo! Releases Web Developer Golden Nuggets

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

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



January 2, 2006

Off the Top Blog Turned Five

I forgot that 31 December 2005 was my 5 year anniversary blogging. A lot has changed on this blog and the whole blogging arena. Many of my short posts along the lines of, "I found this cool thing... " are now in my del.icio.us feed, which for those of you with JavaScript turned on is over on the right as the new incarnation of Quick Links. The same items and more I also post over on Yahoo! MyWeb, but because I can post to just myself or to a community of people I know with similar interests. (I really really hope their community functionality of MyWeb gets fixed soon in 2006 to better filter feeds from the community coming to me and allow something other than, "you can see all of my links and I will see all of your links". Life and real people's interests are not like that and Yahoo! is the people understanding people products on the web for people's lives. So, lets get to it shall we?)

Blogging seems to be more than the relative handful of people I followed in 1999 through 2001. It really exploded following that, partly because there were more options that were easy to use and options that became more stable. In 2000 I had been running this site (under a few different URLs) for five years and when I added Blogger as my tool to add content more easily it was a wonderful change for me. Not long after that Pyra (the company that started Blogger) imploded and we were left with just Ev and when Ev was away Blogger had separation anxiety. Not long after I turned to blogging by hand for a few months. I then put my own blogging tool in place that eased my workflow (Movable Type did not have the features that I wanted for my multiple categories and three entry types (essay, journal, and weblog). I had built my tool as a means to post information while traveling from any web browser when I was doing it by hand and needed FTP to regularly post. I have been running the same blogging tool with modifications since it launched 31 October 2001 (I had a post on my hand built page from October 2001 announcing it.

The look of the site has changed from the bright blue and bright green on black the blog launched with (this had been used for two years or so, and blogging with that use of the color palette was hard on the eyes). I moved to a less hard on the eyes color scheme not long after the blog launched. The current look was put in place 20 November 2002. Other than turning off comments (which I hope to bring back some day) and modifying the right-hand bar I have not made many changes since then. Life has been a bit busy since then.

I am still hoping that I will move this blog to a commercial blogging tool as my time is pulled elsewhere and I do not have the time or energy to tweak the underlying code that creates this blog. I have been quite happy with my use of TypePad since they launched and I keep my more professional blog, Personal InfoCloud over there. My happiness with TypePad and the full company of six apart there to support Movable Type will likely make it my choice. I have some other uses for the Movable Type software, other than this blog that is helping my choice. I am also a fan of WordPress and Drupal (Drupal has the capabilities under it to do what I want and need too and a large developer community). These changes come down to time available, so I could be a while.



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 31, 2005

My Book Highlights from 2005

I had been hoping to do a longer post on things I enjoyed in 2005, but the year end has been a little busier than planned (it is a good thing). There are lot of books that I picked up in 2005 (possibly in the 30 to 50 range). Two from earlier in the year I really enjoyed, John Thackara's In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World was a huge favorite. It has brought to mind many changes that we need to address as people who design and build things. The second was Personal, Portable, Pedestrian : Mobile Phones in Japanese Life by Ito, Okabe, Matsuda (editors), which provided insight into the Japanese mobile culture. Some of the cultural aspects to dot translate to the United States, but it does a wonderful job of raising awareness for introspection into one's own culture. The book also does a fantastic job of providing history and technological change and differentiation in use based on product types.

The couple months I have picked up some books that I will really have an impact on me. Shaping Things by Bruce Sterling my be my favorite book of the year (with the Thackera a close second). Shaping things gets to where we are going with design in an innovative way. The design of the book is playful and makes for a quick read (unless it gets your mind wondering in wonderful ways, as it did mine). It is a book I could not more highly recommend.

I finally picked up DOM Scripting: Web Design with JavaScript and the Document Object Model by Jeremy Keith and was pleasantly impressed with the coverage of pages that degrade properly. This book is required reading for anybody doing JavaScript or AJAX so to stop the madness with sites that do not work across browsers or mobile devices. There are far too many sites that have developers that did not learn anything from the mid to late 90s and using JavaScript that are making unusable sites, pages, and applications today. If you are a manager of interface developers this is written in a manner that it should be easy to read and make sure the developers working for you are following these guidelines.

My favorite fun book was recently released book in Britain, Against the Wall by and about Banksy. This is a collections of Banksy's street art and wonderful sense of play. I personally find it a great book to break through conventional thinking and get to the other side. This book is not currently available in America, which is an utter shame.

I may do a posting on music from 2005 I really enjoyed in the next day or so. But on this note, I wish you a wonderful new year and great things.



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.



August 17, 2005

User Experience Design in the Come to Me Web?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



August 5, 2005

Quiet, Not for Long

Things are going to be quiet here for a few days...

Right, okay. We are fine on this end, but have just been a wee bit busy. We will be filling you in on the Fall Tour in a few days as we have been setting the initial groundwork for travel and blocking out dates.

In the short term Thomas is off the the Jersey Shore for "rest" and relaxation. Oh, since the Jersey Shore is in close proximity...

Right, okay. Thomas will be in the San Francisco Bay Area on Tuesday the 9th to speak on the BayCHI - Are you ready for Web 2.0? panel. Drop by and say hello.



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.



June 18, 2005

Personal InfoCloud at WebVisions 2005

The last few years I have kicked myself for not going to WebVisions, well I finally am attending, actually I am presenting my Personal InfoCloud at 1pm. This is the latest refinement of the Personal InfoCloud that I have been working on for four years and sharing with those that are finding it quite useful.

The essential information you need is that you should be at WebVisions 2005 in Portland, Oregon. It is being held July 15th at the Oregon Convention Center.

What do you say? "Join the giants of the Web world to explore the future of design, content creation, technology and business strategy. From podcasting to universal usability, you'll discover how the Web is interacting with digital devices to change the way we communicate, access information and do business."



June 12, 2005

Designing with a Solution is the Problem

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

It Begins with a Canyon

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

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

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

Designers Must Explain Design Better

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

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

Understand and Explain the Problem First

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

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

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

Our Responsibility

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

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

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



April 25, 2005

State is the Web

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

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

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

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

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

When is State Helpful?

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

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

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

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

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



April 10, 2005

Personal InfoCloud at WebVisions 2005

I, Thomas Vander Wal, will be presenting the Personal InfoCloud at the WebVisions 2005 in Portland, Oregon on July 15th. In all it looks to be a killer conference, just as it has been in the past. This year's focus is convergence (it is about time).

WebVisions is one of the best values in the web conference industry these days, as the early bird pricing is just $85 (US). You don't need an excuse, you just go. You spend a Friday bettering yourself and then Saturday in Powell's Books the evenings are spent talking the talk over some of the world's best beers served up fresh.



April 8, 2005

Tech Expo Fose was Ho Hum

I made it to Fose (the government-centric tech trade show) today. I was impressed nor intrigued by extremely little. There was mobile and a very good showing from the Open Source community, old old news to non-government folks. I was completely blown away by many booth's lack of understanding of their own products, particularly the Microsoft booth, I was interested in the One Note as it seemed similar to Entourage's Project (they were unfamiliar with any of the Microsoft Mac products and did not know they made products for the Mac - although they did laugh at my Keynote is PowerPoint with out swearing quip). The MS booth was pushing the product, but nobody seemed to have a clue about it. I was also interested in Groove (I was a fan from when I was using the beta of it many years ago) and wanted to see its current state. Microsoft really needs to hire people who not only care about their products but know about their products and what the company is doing. (This is truly not a Microsoft slam as I am getting some long long lost respect for them on some small fronts.)

I was quite impressed with three booths, Apple, Adobe, and Fig Leaf Software as they were extremely knowledgeable and were showcasing their wares and skills and not goofy side-shows. They had the skills and wares to show off (Blackberry also had a good booth, but I did not have a great interest there).

Apple was showcasing their professional line of hardware, including their servers and SAN, which blew all other server solutions out of the water on price and capability (including Dell and HP). Apple was also showcasing their new OS Tiger, which they were able to show me does search, using Spotlight, in the files comments in the metadata (now labeled Spotlight comments just to make it clear), which will make my life so much wonderfully better, but that is an other post all together. Tiger's Dashboard was also very impressive as it has an Expose-like fade-in ability. I tried asking the same questions to a few different people at the Apple booth and they were all extremely knowledgeable and across the board may have been the most impressive for this.

I hounded Adobe about their InDesign CS2, GoLive CS2 (standards compliance), and Acrobat (tag creation and editing). Not every person could answer every question, but they were able to bring over the right person who had deep knowledge of the product. Adobe has products I like, but there has always been one or two tripping points for me that keep me from fully loving their products and from using their products exclusively in Web development workflow.

The guy at the Fig Leaf booth (a Macromedia training and development shop in Washington, DC. I asked why no Macromedia and was told they pulled out at the last minute, but I had to thank the folks at Fig Leaf as they have the best Macromedia training anywhere in the area (nobody else comes remotely close and most others are a complete waste of time and money). I was really looking for Macromedia to talk about ColdFusion as their last product was so poorly supported by Macromedia it has been strongly considered to drop the product from the workflow. Fig Leaf, not Macromedia was the firm that posted the work arounds to ColdFusion server flaws when you run the CF MX product in a secure Microsoft environment. There is a lot about the Macromedia site that is really difficult to use and it is nearly impossible to find the information you want as well as get back to that same information. Macromedia does make some very good products and they have been very receptive to web standards for quite some time, but there are things that make embracing them so very difficult.

Overall, I got a lot from the show, if only from a very small number of vendors. I think I am finally going to switch up to the Adobe CS2 Premium Suite as it seems like a very good suite, and it has been difficult getting the cross-platform upgrade for the Windows to Mac switch from my PhotoShop 6 license (thanks to help from people in the booth that may be less painful than the two or three hour calls I have previously endured). Also thanks to the faux doctor who handed me a bottle of mint candy pills from the Blackberry booth (chili dog with onions was not good fair prior to going to Fose).



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 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).



All the Blog that is Fit To...

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

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



December 31, 2004

Books Read in 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



December 28, 2004

Information Waste is Rampant

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

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

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

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

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

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



Fix Your Titles for Better Search and Use

Lose the ego already! Since I have been using del.icio.us I have been noticing how backwards so many site's header titles are these days. The header title should be specific to general information.

You are saying "huh?" Okay, take CNN who uses the header title like <title>CNN.com - Dog Bites Man</title>. The better way is <title>Dog Bites Man - CNN.com</title>.

Why? Search engines, browser headers, and bookmarks are why. Search engines use the words to give preference and the words closer to the beginning have higher preference. A browser header will only show the first so many letters (depending on the browser and how wide the browser window is open). Lastly the title is used in browser bookmarks. If a person has four bookmarks to items in a site they would see the site name and then the bit that is important to the user.

Now look at the pages you build are they built for search engines and for people to actually use and come back to? It may be your site management tools that have mangled your titles and they need to be fixed, but they will not be fixed if you do not ask. The other reason titles are broken is because somebody who does not understand the web want only to have their ego stroked, but they made their information less valuable by doing so.



November 23, 2004

Cranky Interface to Bits and Bytes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



November 6, 2004

Model-T is User Experience Defined

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

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



September 19, 2004

Boutique Hotel Guides

Adam has provided a link to greatsmallhotels, which seems to be a very good resource along with Tablet Hotels. Both resources focus on boutique hotels around the globe. The price range in greatsmallhotels is broader and has some wonderful looking options at the lower end of the scale. Tablet Hotels has slightly better reviews, the interface is more appealing to me, and I really like the "Sensory Guide" to guide you to things around the hotel's location that match: look, listen, taste, touch, and scent.



September 17, 2004

QoM

The quote of the month goes to Brian who said, "there is nothing like bad design to hide the fact that they have no content".



September 1, 2004

Gordon Rugg and the Verifier Method

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

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

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

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

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

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



August 26, 2004

Quick Links in the Side Bar is not Optimal

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

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

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

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



Microsoft Shows They Can Learn

Microsoft redesigns and takes a great step toward standards. Do they have everything right yet? No. Will they get there? They do not have far to go. They do need to fix the site to work better in Standards-based browsers that people are moving to. They need doctype and some other essentials, but at least they are showing they are learning.

One thing that stands out to to me is the lack of uppercase and mixed-case tags and attributes. This is huge as their tools that are in production for consumers do not do this. To date the Microsoft development tools fail the developers as they have not made it easy to output proper tag and attributes in the standards compliant case (for XHTML), which is lower case.

Thanks to Matt's write-up and Doug's write-up, which ties back to his own previous comments about thowing out tables.



August 25, 2004

A Wonderful Redesign

I need to give a pointer to one of the wonderful redesigns of late, Jeff Gates' Life Outtacontext is something I find wonderful. I have been enjoying it for a couple weeks now. I particularly like when I scroll to the bottom of the page. Jeff does not update his wonderful content frequently, but the design has me going back often.



Chevy Redesigns with Standards

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



August 13, 2004

Design Engaged Announced

A new design forum has been announced, Design Engaged has been organized by Andrew Otwell and will be held in Amsterdam, Netherlands November 12 to 14, 2004. The format sounds very tempting.



July 19, 2004

Web Standards Opening

Are you looking to practice and hone your standards compliant web design craft? Are you looking for an environment that is Web Standards friendly and want to join solid Web development team? You now have found a possible match. Does your vernacular include: "Zeldman, Eric, Tantek, Bowman, Christopher, Shea, and/or Molly said..."? Are you looking to get recognized for your Standards work? Can you make Photoshop purr? Do you know the bugs in Dreamweaver's rendering engine? Can you live with just one table in your layout? Are you proud of your craft and want to hone it more?

If you answered yes and are looking for a change of scenery read the following and send me an e-mail (see contact above).

We are looking to hire a strong Web Designer who has strong experience with hand-coding Web Standards (HTML, XHTML, and CSS) that validate. The designer must also have experience with accessibility (Section 508) and have solid web graphic design skills. Experience with information architecture and user-centered design processes are very helpful (wireframes, usability testing, etc). Experience with leading design and redesign processes is very helpful. Strong communication skills, including design documentation is essential. We design with Dreamweaver and Homesite and use Adobe and Macromedia graphics applications. [INDUS Corporation Web Designer Job Listing]


July 16, 2004

Web Standards and IA Process Married

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

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



June 30, 2004

The User's Mind and Novelty

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

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

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

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



June 18, 2004

Webmonkey Comes Back To Life

Oddly, Webmonkey seems to have come back to life today. There is a new articles on Contribute2 dated June 18, 2004. Just below that is a note stating it is back alive and kicking (not dated). Anybody have the scoop?



June 2, 2004

Amazon Plog

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

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



May 13, 2004

Digital Web is 8 and in New Clothes

Digital Web is now eight years old and has new clothes to boot. Deepest congratulations to Nick and all others who have made this a great Web resource with staying power.



April 17, 2004

Definition Lists Defined

Definition lists explained and examples by Max Design. Definition lists are often used incorrectly, but these examples are done to show how to use definition lists when it is semantically correct to use them. Definition lists are used for presentation purposes then the information is actually a list, ordered or not. Using the proper structure for information is critical for those that can not see the presentation (visually impaired, mobile devices, text readers for those driving, etc.).
[hat tip Mike]



Wiggles Rocks Zen Garden

I am a huge fan of CSS Zen Garden and have been impressed for many months by the contributions, but Wiggles the Wonder Worm just floored me. I was and still am in awe. Joseph Pearson did a fantastic job and explains Wiggles and CSS on his site.



February 3, 2004

Learning Web Design from Oz

I found Brian Alvey's contribution to A List Apart Everything I Need to Know About Web Design I Learned Watching Oz to be dead on target. His opening discussion regarding limitations are what drive creativity, is one of the best criteria dividing those that understand the Web and those that do not. This separates the good from the great. The Web has a great amount of limitations, before you get to clients and their boxes they want to work with in. Must we forget the users, didn't think so. The users give us an even smaller pallet of elements to work with.

Personally I find all of this very fun. Much more fun than a TPS report and so much more satisfying.



January 2, 2004

InfoDesign is Now InformationDesign

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

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



December 23, 2003


December 18, 2003

Headers for everybody

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

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

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



December 16, 2003

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.



Keep It Short - Users Do Not Want to Read

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

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

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

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

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

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



December 8, 2003

WaSP interview with Todd Dominey

The Web Standards Project interviews Todd Dominey, who was behind the standards-based PGA redesign. The interview raises the problems Content Management Systems cause with valid markup. Todd also highlights it is much easier to move towards standards when working from scratch than cleaning up previously marked-up content.



December 4, 2003

CSS Cribsheet

I nearly forgot, Dave Shea has come up with a CSS cribsheet that flat out rocks. Dabbling or living in CSS? Use it.



December 3, 2003

Testing the Three Click Rule

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

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

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



December 2, 2003

Harpers redesigned

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

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

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



November 1, 2003

QuirksMode launched

I nearly forgot, Peter-Paul Koch has delivered QuirksMode filled with the good stuff for JavaScript, CSS, etc.



Why page numbers fail us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other ideas?



October 30, 2003

CSS Tabs part 2

Doug Bowman provides Sliding Doors 2 for ALA. The sliding doors rounded tabs done with CSS, meaning the text is not in a graphic and the tabs have rollover effects with out having to build rollover images and deal with JavaScript. Doug's version 2 of sliding doors provides those with pages in CMS or other non-hand built pages. This beats the JavaScript sniffing the URL to set the local tab setting.



October 19, 2003

RSS on PDAs and information reuse

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

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

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

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

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



October 15, 2003

Personalization is not a preference

News.com writes that a new Forester report states personalization is over rated. This comes from many of the portal tool developers who are trying to push the technology. In discussions with users, many like their one personalized site, (my.yahoo.com or my.washintonpost.com) and they prefer to pull content into these single broad portals.

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

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



October 7, 2003

Building Web pages for crippled IE browser

Microsoft and others are posting the work arounds needed for the Web pages you build if they require plug-ins. Java and Active Script seem to been the focus at this point. Here we go: Microsoft guide for building to the new neutered IE browser, Apple developer guide for post EOLA development, Real Networks guide for embedded, and Macromedia guide. [hat tip Craig Salia]



October 2, 2003

Compassion and the crafting of user experience

Adam provides a good form versus function essay in his Compassion and the crafting of user experience post. Make the time to read. Once again design without function is an unusable product, but function with good design is very enjoyable. Top designers understand the balance of form and function and make decisions on how the design will impact use. Those that are not to this point yet, do not have command of their craft, which should be a goal.



September 22, 2003


September 9, 2003

Getting Site maps and Site indexes right

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

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



Jess offers Searching for the Center of Design

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

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



August 27, 2003

Kottke and others on standards and semanticsk

Kottke provides a good overview of Web standards and semantically correct site development. Jason points out, as many have, that just because a site validates to the W3C does not mean that it is semantically correct. Actually there are those that take umbrage with the use of the term semantically for (X)HTML, when many consider it structural tagging of the content instead, but I digress. A "valid" site could use a div tag where it should not have, for example where it should have been a paragraph tag instead. Proper structural markup is just important as valid markup. The two are not mutually exclusive, in fact they are very good partners.

One means to marking-up a page is to begin with NO tags on the page in a text editor then markup the content items based on what type of content they are. A paragraph gets a "p" tag, tabular data is placed in a table, a long quote is put in a "blockquote" tag, an ordered list gets "ol" tags surrounding them with items in the list getting wrapped with "li" tags, and so forth. Using list tags to indent content can be avoided in using this method. Once the structure has been properly added to the document it is time to work with the CSS to add presentation flair. This is not rocket science and the benefits are very helpful in transitioning the content to handheld devices and other uses. The information can more easily scraped for automated purposes too if needed.

It is unfortunate that many manufacturers of information tools do not follow this framework when transforming information in to HTML from their proprietary mirth. A MS Word document creates horrible garbage that is both non-structural and not valid. The Web is a wonderful means to share content, but mangled markup and no structure can render information inconsistent at best, if not useless.

While proper development is not rocket science, it does take somebody who knows what they are doing, and not guessing, to get it right.

Others are posting on Jason's post, like Doug Bowman and Dave Shea and have opened up comments. The feedback in Doug's comments is pretty good.



Apple to get serious redesign

Great things should be in store for the Apple web site, as Jeffrey Zeldman and Doug Bowman will be teaming up with Apple's in-house crew to redesign the Apple site.

This is a dream come true. Well, it would be better in one way.



August 3, 2003

Understanding the Web Medium

Joe Gillespie has posted a current feature Factor-X about understanding the medium of the Web and digital information. Joe explains many that come from the print work of graphic and information design will create the information in graphics and slice and post that information. The Web is not only for reading information, but also reusing information. HTML pages can, if marked-up properly (which is not difficult at all), be read by audible site readers for those with visual impairments or for those that are doing other activities like driving. HTML pages, if built to the standards can also easily be used in mobile devices with nothing more than a browser.

Understanding the medium is where Joe is taking the readers of this article. One of the advantages of the Web is having the ability to structure the information easily and modifying the presentation as needed or wanted. There are standard interface conventions that are easily understood with HTML that get broken in Flash (the hand pointer on for all content, including that which is not clickable). The great advantage of HTML is having access to the information directly so one can quote and have an easy means of attributing quotes through linking to the source.

Go read Joe's article, actually bookmark Web Page Design for Designers and go read monthly, you will be happy you did.



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.



Jeffrey Veen on the State of the Web

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

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

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



July 9, 2003

Adaptive Path redesign exposed

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



June 20, 2003

Steve Champeon on the Future of Web Design

Steve Champeon on Progressive Enhancement and the Future of Web Design. This is almost like sitting with Steve and getting the background and how that reflects for future of markup and Web design directly from Steve.



June 13, 2003

Zeldman's DWwS is a can't put down book for many

Today in my short drive to the Metro (about a mile) I saw two folks walking with Jeffery Zeldman's Designing With Web Standard in hand. One of these folks was walking and reading it. I wanted to reach into my backseat and get my copy to hold up and honk (not a good safety move so I held back by show of oneness).

I personally think this book rocks. This book helps prove I am sane as there are many discussions at work that this book will easily help support the decisions we made to incorporate standards-based Web development. We do not have a user base that permits the use of full XHTML and CSS2, like this site, but it has made maintenance of pages (45,000 to 55,000 pages in all with 8,000 or more done while moving to standards based validation or actually validating).

Jeffery does a wonderful job writing about the whys and hows of Standards based development and design. He also make understanding the benefits very easy to grasp.

This may be the one starter book for Web developers to help them sell Standards-based development or to learn why they should be embracing it and moving forward with learning and using it.



June 11, 2003

CSS to hover links in paragraph

I know this has been posted everywhere else in the world of those who care about CSS, but I need this at hand for me... CSS to links in paragraphs until a mouse moves over the paragraph. Stuart does a very good job of showing how this works.



June 8, 2003

Kevin Fox lifts the covers on his redesign

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

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

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



June 6, 2003

The user from the drainpipe

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

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

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

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



June 5, 2003

CSS2 Browser support matrix

Mac Edition offers a Abridged Guide to CSS2 Support that documents in a matrix which browsers support what. Keep in mind that Gecko is Mozilla, which is Netscape 6 and up as well as Firebird (an insanely fast and standards compliant browser). It is also good to note that Gecko-based browsers render the same regardless of operating system, unlike Internet Explorer, which is different depending on operating systems. The matrix also includes how the browsers hold up to various hack tests, most of the test are for box model layout (Tantek and Owen Briggs tests included).



Inside the design process with Doug Bowman

Doug Bowman provides an insanely excellent essay on the design process behind his Zen Garden offering. This is an insanely wonderful description of the thought process that goes into wonderful design. Doug has all the proper steps, which is wonderful to see. If you want to become a graphic Web designer, it takes more than knowing PhotoShop, (X)HTML, CSS, Flash, etc. it takes understanding the process and how to approach each need to solve a problem or fill a need. This really illustrates the information design profession on for the Web.



June 1, 2003

Usability of users who listen to Web sites

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

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



What is up with edesign mag

It is looking like edesign mag is dead. The last two issues have not materialized, on-line or in print. Their calendar is stuck with March events upcoming. This all leads to a big bummer. I hope they are working out bugs or some other issues, as I really enjoy the publication. There are other graphic design magazines that I have read for years, but none that captures the electronic or digital media as well. The other options still treat electronic media as a new thing (which it is in relative years) rather than a fully integrated and stand alone industry. It would be a big bummer if edesign is lost is the dust.



May 21, 2003

Joshua changes before our eyes

Things have been a little busy around these parts of late. One site you should be watching is Joshua's redesign. Joshua is learning many of the painful lessons in a CSS redesign. Joshua has not only been redesigning and documenting in front of our eyes, but he has been sharing his resources. Joshua just rocks as he learned the mantra of the Web is to share openly. He has also learned Windows IE 6 is not your friend as it does not render valid CSS properly. Go get 'em Joshua



May 14, 2003

Building with Web Standards or how Zeldman got the future now

I awaiting Jeffrey Zeldman's Designing with Web Standards, which is available for order from Amazon (Designing with Web Standards). I have been a believer in designing with Web Standards for years, but it was Jeffrey that pushed me over the edge to evangelist for Web standards. One of the best things going for Web standards is it make validation of markup easy, which is one of the first steps in making a Web site accessible.

I work in an environment that requires Web standard compliance as it provides information to the public as a public good. Taxpayers have coughed up their hard earned dollars to pay for research and services, which are delivered to them on the Web. The public may access information from a kiosk in an underfunded library with a donated computer on a dial-up connection, but they can get to information that they are seeking. The user may be disabled and relying on assistive technology to read the public information. The user may be tracking down information from a mobile device as they are travelling across country on their family vacation. Each of these users can easily get the public information they are seeking from one source, a standard compliant Web page.

Every new page that is developed by the team I am on validates to HTML 4.01 transitional. Why 4.01 transitional and not XHTML? We support older browsers and 4.01 transitional seems to have pretty good access to information no matter the browser or device. We are not on the cutting edge, but we know nearly everybody can get the information their tax dollars have paid for. I dream of a day job building XHTML with full CSS layout, but with the clients I work for we still aim at the public good first.

I am very happy that Jeffrey has his book coming out as it should bring to light to more developers what it means to build to Web standards. Every contract that is signed buy the agency I work for must validate to HTML 4.01 transitional, but very few of the sites do when they come through the door to be posted. We provide a lot of guidance to help other developers understand, but finding a solid foundation to work upon is tough. When hiring folks many claim to have experience building valid sites, but most soon realize they never have to the degree to getting a W3C validation.

Building our pages to 4.01 does not mean we are going to stick with 4.01 forever. We plan for XHTML by closing all tags and stay away from tags deprecated in 4.01 strict. Much of what we create only needs a few scripts run to convert the pages from HTML to XHTML 1.1 transitional. Having the closing tags makes scripting to find information and search and replace much easier. (Enough for now, buy the book, we will have more later).



May 10, 2003

Presentation switching demo with CSS at Zen Garden

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

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



May 2, 2003


April 19, 2003

Indi on site navigation and keeping it under control

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



Blurbs: Writing previews of Web pages

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



April 16, 2003

Using HTML tags properly to help external search results

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

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

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

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

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

Example

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

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

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



April 2, 2003

Matt Jones looses faith in navigation

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

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



March 5, 2003

Scott does a great redesign

Scott LePera I kickin' it with his site's redesign. The black text on grey is easy to read (much better than grey text on white) and the color palete is warm and friendly like Scott. The redesign is insanely fast loading (which is more than I can say of Macromedia's redesign). If you are in Austin say hi to Scott for me at SXSW.



February 2, 2003

Tweaking the presentation layer for links

We are still doing some tweaking related to the recent redesign. This latest change includes the underlining of links. The style sheet now treats the distinct content area separately. The links page does not have any underlining on the links as the page is all links and the underlining tends to interfere with the user's scanning of the links and therefore the lack of underlining eases this pages use. The hover is identical for all the links through out the site, the hover provides an orange hue to tie the colors of the site together. The right content frame does not have any links either as the combination of the light orange background and the blue link has a little reading difficulty, but with the underlining there was strong reading hinderance. The links through the rest of the site are all underlined to ease the user's ability to discern that the links can be clicked. The links under the Off the Top remain grey with underlining with orange hover.

Let me know how these work for you.



January 23, 2003

Running a Design Critique

How to run a design critique from Scott Berkun at UIWEB. This not only includes who should be in the room, how often, but a list of items to cover with heuristics on it. This is looks to be worth digging back in and reading every word.



January 16, 2003

Web Techniques / New Architect says Buh-Bye

R.I.P. Web Techniques / New Architect. Amit and Maggie shared the news.

This is a sad note, but also one that seems to show how things have changed. How many of us were excited when the new issues of Web Techniques arrived or were anxious when it was late? The publication changed over time as did the market for the magazine. The need for a printed magazine changed over time, but having a printed article to show clients or superiors was a great help as they discounted the information printed from the Web (I don't know how much this has changed). There are many Web based outlets for similar information and similar quality of information, Boxes and Arrows, Digital Web, A List Apart, and O'Reilly Network to name a few. None the less, we morn this day and get back to building a better Web.



January 14, 2003

Peel exposes layered storytelling

Design Interact examines the Seattle design firm Peel and their layered storytelling approach to information structures. Layered storytelling is explained:

Layered storytelling means that a site opens much like a film, with a splash of music, photography and animation, but not a lot of information. If you stay on the top level of the site, your experience is similar to watching a documentary on television. But if you click on any topic, you dive down into a more book-like experience, with long texts and additional background information. The idea is that a visitor skims along the surface until he or she finds something interesting and then digs in to read more.

This appoach provides the ability to have a one way interaction with the site as it entertains and informs, but when the user is attracted to a topic, idea, or visual cue they can interact and find out more. I have enjoyed the layered storytelling approach when I have encountered it. It does seem like it would have the same repeat user problems that other multi-media interfaces encounter, in that having to wait for load times before interacting or navigating is usually problematic. Providing an option to use the layered storytelling or providing it the first time by default (but if a user is like me and works with three or four browsers open or working from many computers, setting a cookie to track repeat use will not solve the issue).

This too is worth coming back to as it provides intamacy with the user and a topic. This can help break down some of the dry appearance of some dull topics that are difficult to unwrap, like sciences, urban planning, the history of duct tape, etc.



Zeldman discusses XHTML 2

Zeldman provides insight into XHTML 2, which provides a response and agreement with Mark Pilgrim's Semantic Obsolescence rant.



December 29, 2002

Up the kilt of the BBC redesign

Matt has posted a PDF of the detailed BBC redesign process, which is well worth the download time (7.3 MB plus). This is how the process should be done and is done often in places that care to do it right. This process takes time, which equates to money, but the reward is happy satisfied users.

At first I found it a slight bit odd that the Beeb would target their voice map (page 16) to the fun and highbrow side of the map. I understand highbrow, but fun over functional seemed odd at first (possibly since I work with clients that should be focussing on the functional and not so fun side of the map (some think of the fun at the detriment of functional). But, having the Beeb America channel help understand the fun side of the site. There is a lot of information that the Beeb produces and much of it is instructional/educational, which benefits from having the fun element. I have tended to think of the BBC as a resource for my news, and growingly so my information (gardening, etc) and entertainment.



December 23, 2002

Building a logo tips

My airplane reading included Inc magazine, which provided Guidelines to designing a logo which includes great advice for Web design also. Keep it simple, use it everywhere, and consult professionals are some of the bits from this overview. This is a good approachable quick read with solid suggestions that should be followed.


December 18, 2002

Gawker outted

Gawker launched today as a weblog focused on NYC using NYC media for its sources. It is a wonderful design that is easy to read and the content has a slight bite.


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.



December 10, 2002

Model of Attraction Outline - Version 1

The Model of Attraction ouline version 1 is now posted. The outline has been structured to set up a structure for filling in the blanks and providing a better strucutre for understanding the MoA. Outlines are my foundations for writing more serious works. Outlines help me find holes and provide a structure to rest content upon. This verion is largely attributed a train ride to Philly that allowed me time and untethered space to think, order, and write.

Please comment if you are so inclined. Find holes are areas that do not seem fully fleshed out enough. Thank you in advance.



December 4, 2002

Zeldman uncovers the mess of Aventis site

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

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



November 21, 2002

GUI vs Hand Coding for HTML

Dori posts a matrix explaining how well GUI Web mark-up tools perform and it is not suprising that most do poorly. Dreamweaver MX does admirably, but the JavaScript is not up to par. The best coding is still hand coding. If you do not know how to hand code your job will never be done, it will not be right either. The tools have come a long way, but they are nto there yet.


November 20, 2002

Redesign explained

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

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

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

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

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



November 17, 2002

Conferenece envy

Matt has been chronicling his experience at Doors of Perception held in Amsterdam. Matt offers his notes from: day 1, day 2 morning, day 2 afternoon, day 3, and day 3 final notes. This and ASIS&T were two conferences I really wanted to attend this Fall, but the move and house have eaten my money. I am saving myself for the Spring for SXSW, ASIS&T IA Summit, and possiblly DUX along with the possibility of Good Experience Live.

I did pop up to Philly to meet-up with some AIfIA Board members, other leadership counsel folks, and members. It was a great treat. I really wished I was staying for the ASIS&T conference (next year) and spending more time with these folks.

The train up was good as I got a lot of writing done (remember to take headphones if you are not on a "quiet" car, which do not run on weekends). The seat I was in on the way up did not have a functioning electrical socket, so I was pulling on batteries (not to worry I have a TiBook with 4 to 5 hours of battery). I was able to edit, read, write, and work on some graphics last evening and on the train back today. What a wonderful way to travel, particularly to Philly.



November 15, 2002

Buttons have info cramming illness

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

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



CSS to work around IE mistakes

I really could have used these IE tips for CSS the last week or two I have been learning the hard way (creating CSS and trying in IE then wondering what I had done wrong - I was not the one at fault).


November 7, 2002

Go back

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

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

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



November 1, 2002

Shooting crickets in the dark

My favorite analogy used this week was "it is like shooting crickets in the dark". Used to describe a plethora of things that are not documented. A sudden change in direction that is accompanied with no certifiable requirements. These situations have cropped up in the past where a photo was used along with stories in a CMS and now the client wants to please a new boss by CIO has not arrived so there is no understaning taste or likes. Many quick options are put together each getting a no and with no more direction than that. This my friends is shooting crickets in the dark, which is akin to "I know it when I see it" school of design management. The cricket keeps chirping you keep shooting.


October 23, 2002

Wahoo, Books

What a wonderful week in books. I just received Christina Wodtke's Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web today and it looks fantastic. I have only leafed through it briefly, but it seems to cover the basis wonderfully and provide excellent guidence on how to get through IA successfully.

Saturday I picked up Jesse James Garrett's The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and have read it in little snippets and have made it through a very good chunk in no time. Much of what I have learned over time, from experience, or from great thinkers like Jesse, which leads to successful Web sites or information applications is in this book. Knowing the steps and phases of approaching development will help you greatly. Jesse has it down for all to read and it is wonderfully written.

I am very glad to not only know these to folks, but that they are sharing what they have learn for others to gain from their experiences. This sharing is what the Web was build upon and will keep the Web improving into its next generations and incarnations. Congratulations guys!



October 21, 2002

Zeldman redoes and keeps teaching

Zeldman is redesigning and explaining the whole thing as he moves his site into the present. Many of us learned for Zeldman's A List Apart in the early days of Web development and he keeps up this wonderful spirit today. Openly sharing and the desire to learn are what the Web was built upon and is what keeps it great.


October 17, 2002

Wired goes X(HTML)

While trying to catch up on friends and knowledge I ran across Zeldman's discussion of Hot Wired moving fully to valid XHTML and CSS, which is a bold and wonderful move. Zeldman also points to Wired's defense of their move to the new up-to-date site. These are good reads and help us understand why good markup is important and to understand what goes into making these decisions and the work to make it come to life.


October 3, 2002

Do not strand them

Stranding users is not a good thing to do, I think we can all agree with that premise. Not remembering that a user of your site can drop in to the site from anywhere to anywhere can be fatal. Take the U.S. Treasury Department, which recently did an expansive redesign of their site. They did a good job at bringing together much of their domain under one consistent branding roof. They have a few large navigation problems, they tend to pop-up a new window at the drop of a hat. Worse is that many of their press releases are built to pop-up, but have absolutely no navigation, not even to the Treasury homepage. I was suckered by this in July while searching for information from Google I was dropped in to a press release with nearly the exact information I was seeking. Big problem, all the Treasury Press Releases (sample of poor Treasury Web design) have no related links and no navigation to get you to the sourse of the page. When the Treasury gets around to fixing the stranded user problems they created they should fix the giant top banner/navigation bar that keeps the information their users are coming to the site for pushed down the page.

I will give the Treasury large kudos for grasping control of the splintered branding that is rampant in the large organizations. This consistantcy provides a couple of advantages by providing ease common design that give welcome consistancy and it makes it easier to go back and correct the navigation and usability errors that were left behind.



September 11, 2002


Design for inconsistent medium

Rick Oppendisano has a wonderful discussion of Designing for An Inconsistent Medium in CommArts Design Interact. The Web browser is a wonderfully quirky design medium that provides great access to information, if marked-up properly. The browser does not give designer's free reign to control every pixel (a great developer will consider every pixel on a screen and weigh its purpose and use). The article does provide a great read.


August 15, 2002

Find friends at IWeb Graphics

Some new additions to the link page including Web Graphics, which I found a few folks I know are posting their finds.


August 5, 2002


July 14, 2002

Glasshaus developers books

A stop in to the local bookstore today has been strongly considering Constructing Accessible Web Sites and Usability: The Site Speaks for Itself both are Glasshaus imprints and seemingly very well written and well produced. The accessibility book covers a topic that is tough to get ones mind around initially and the book handles the topic wonderfully. I have been working with the accessibilty issue for a few years now and the book points out some areas that were of a help to me.

I balk a little at the hefty price of the books, which means I will be buying them on discount or sale. I know some of the folks that have contributed to the books, which helps me justify the costs, but not everybody is me. If the cost were a little lower, say a 30 U.S. dollar price point, it would be easier to buy a couple or more and hand them out to folks that really need them. The accessibility issue book is one that really needs a lower price point, but I know there are solid methods for pricing the books just under 50 U.S. dollars.



June 30, 2002

Font size sample gallery

A sample browser font size gallery is available for the Microsoft fonts (Ariel, Courier New, Timew New Roman, Verdana).


June 25, 2002

Digital Web needs your help

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


June 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.


June 5, 2002


May 28, 2002

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

5k Contest is live again

Yes, it is that time of the year for the 5k Contest. Yes, 5kb of wholesome goodness with which to work. That is graphics, HTML, scripting, and all the the ones and zeros you can pack in.


Recentralization information extension

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


May 10, 2002

CommArts discusses 37FedEx

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


May 9, 2002

CSS explained

Scott offers a lesson on CSS is for separating structure, not content, from presentation. Those with slight or great questions of understanding should read it.


May 6, 2002

JavaScript without JavaScript

I read Scott Lepera's site on a daily basis because it is often offering bits like JavaScript links that work without JavaScript.


May 3, 2002

Speaking up on UI

Getting the UI right is tough and our be silent on UI issues is not helpful. We spend a lot of time working hard ot better understand the issues and solutions. Meg does a great job explaining this. This is a must read for developers, clients, and managers.


May 2, 2002

Site architecture of Slate

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


May 1, 2002

Finally a move to centralize organization's Websites is the norm

Peter Merholz wrote The Pendulum Returns: Unifying the Online Presence of Decentralized Organizations for Adaptive Path. Peter points out the needs for organizations to centralize their Web content and visual interface. Consistency helps the users greatly, I have been finding this for years. The "let every flower bloom" is has always been horrible means for organizations Internet and Intranet sites. This is does not provide for central branding and ruins a user's experience when dealing with a the organization. Research, for years, has shown a homogenized brand and information structure will greatly benefit the organization and the users. There are great cost efficiencies to be had as well. For now go read Peter's work.


April 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 17, 2002

The Communication Arts Design Interact SOW is MoMA's The Russian Avant-Garde Book 1910-1934, a well done Flash presentation of the exhibition. As always the SOW (site of the week) provides great background on the how and why of the site. The exhibit site is http://www.moma.org/russian.


April 16, 2002


Related to using the proper URL in the doctype, IE 6 renders table content as centered when wrapping the table with center tag. The article explains when this happens and how to work around the problem. One option is not using centering (either in a div align or in the deprecated center tag). It seems setting the CSS is the best work around. We have found using the center tag to be far more problematic than the div align usage of center. (Yes, we have to support "older" browsers at work).


Zeldman explains proper Doctype usage to have the browser use the Doctype you intend it to use. Many Web development applications leave off the URL from the Doctype statement, which renders the lowest common denominator in many browsers.


April 10, 2002

Anitra writes a great article covering the breadth of Web accessibility. This feature is very much a tutorial and broad overview of the steps to take to make a site more accessibile.


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 1, 2002

Being April 1st, Josh at Praystation turns back the clocks for just one day.


March 12, 2002

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.



March 11, 2002

I would gladly buy 10 more hours a day from somebody so that I could sleep and still have time to take in everything at SXSW. Last night's entertainment included Fray Cafe 2 which was utterly amazing. The stories were completely moving me to laughter, tears, joy, and understanding. It truely was a wonderful live storytelling event.

The SXSW panel that amazed me yesterday was the first independent content panel, which included Jeffery Zeldman, Derek Powazek, Josh Davis, and the creator of Born Magazine. The interaction on the panel, not only about independent content production, but design understanding pushed my small envelope. I think it was the Josh that opened my eyes farther than they have been in a while. This panel brought to life what I love about SXSW, I grow more comfortable knowing what I do know and that I definately understand more than I give myself credit for knowing, but also it kick my butt with the knowledge that I have only scratched the surface of what is possible.

I want more time to just sleep and time to hang out and absorb in the great conversations and spend more time with friends who view the world very much like they way I do. SXSW provides a wonderful feeling of belonging to a tribe of people that are passionate about this digital connectivity tool of the Web and Internet. Passion is the key and the jam packed rooms yesterday were a testament that the passion is very much alive.

There was another panel, or more aptly a discussion lead by Lane Becker revolving around the understanding of what the Internet has really brought us and how has it really changed the way we do things. The topic also drifted on to the fears of that is great about the Internet being legislated away by folks that really do not have even the most basic grasp of how this medium for interaction, information sharing and gathering, entertainment, and commerce can be moved forward. There was a lot of discussion that we only have hit the tip of the iceberg and that we really do not have a solid grasp of what just happened in the past six years.

Pictures may be up soon, or then again...



February 27, 2002

Steven in an open letter to the Web development community asking why he should redesign with CSS. This letter covers a lot of ground and offers good insights into the arguments for and against the move to Web standards. [hat tip Xblog]


The U.S. Government relaunched their central information sourcse today. First Gov is a much better resource this go around. The site is very quick and serves information based on queries very quickly. Now I really want to know more about how it was put together. The site seems to quickly and easily get the user to information. Parsing through the amount of information that is available on government sites is a daunting task. Now if am very curious.


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 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 21, 2002

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


February 12, 2002

Web Page Design for Designers offers a browser size test that lets us choose the pixel size of the browser, Mac or PC, and IE or Netscape to view our pages. This tool is a great one for our tool belt. [hat tip xblog]


February 11, 2002

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 7, 2002

CommArts features the Herman Miller Red site design, which includes User Experience and Information Architecture work of Nathan Shedroff (on of the Vivid Studio founders). I went to a session at last year's SXSW where Nathan presented an over view that is essentially the same as this, I am glad this is now on line as I can share it. This article provides a solid insight into decision making, workflow, and the purpose of wireframes.


February 5, 2002

Welcome folks venturing here from Digital Web. Information about last years SXSW Interactive Festival can be found in my March and April Off the Top entries. You will also want to check out the SXSWBaby group blog to help you make up your mind to go. You will have a great time and meet others that are passionate about the Web (you came here from Digital Web right?).


February 1, 2002

In a follow-up to the Wall Street Journal site redesign, Webreference explains how WJS achieves the faster page load (scroll down a bit).


January 29, 2002

The Wall Street Journal rolled out a major redesign this today. The site was cleaner and easier to read than the prior version. Most of the remaining graphical buttons have been completely replaced with text hyperlinks in this new version. The switch to text really helps with quick page builds, as it has for every other site that has envoked them over the past two or three years. The WSJ has also made more of its personalization tools more prominant. The personalization tools have been amazing for anybody looking for breadth and depth on business news. A couple years ago I realized I could no long find anything in the print version of the WSJ as it is so easy in the online version. Now that statement will be harder to overcome.


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

After procrastinating for long enough and reading Nick's review in Digital Web I upgraded to Homesite 5. This is what I used to update and validate sections of this site to XHTML. I have been using Homesite for work projects for a few years, but rarely used it for this site or other personal projects (just a quirk) as I usually do my work handcoding with TextPad. Some of the layout of the tools has changed slightly from Homesite 4.5.2 to 5, but it was not a major difference. I really liked the XHTML elements and collapsing the code, which makes finding non-closed tags an easy task.

I have been able to read through all of this month's Digital Web and can say it is a solid issue from end to end. I really enjoyed the interview with Hether Hesketh. I am also a fan of the two business pieces, Managing the client: A fairy tale and Building the Business Game Plan. Both of these business articles I have pointed others to already as they are great insights from experience.



January 4, 2002

Digital Web Magazine has its fresh issue out. This month's focus is business, but also includes a solid review of HomeSite 5 and review of Web ReDesign: Workflow That Works, by Kelly Goto and Emily Cotler. This is wrapped in my favorite cover to date.


January 2, 2002

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

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

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

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



January 1, 2002

Nancy Nowacek writes Us Versus Them in Communication Arts. Nancy discusses what design has been and what it is now. The article discusses specialization, which has been the way things have moved in recent years and gets into the more encompassing Web development roles that abound. [hat tip Nick at Digital-Web New]


The folks at Digital Web - new have been busy finding the few new items over the past few weeks. It is always good to keep your eye on the DW-new page every day or two as it covers a broad spectrum of Web/Internet design and development issues. It is good to have Nick back and manning the daily post again as this means vacation is over.


December 21, 2001


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.



WebTechniques provides a wonderful overview of the changing Web teams. I have been finding much of what this article points out, the Web it still a valid element, but people have build more efficient tools to manage the content and to help reuse that content. The traditional Web teams have been changing and the skills are widening for those with a passion for building the Web. Read the article as this piece it the tip of the iceberg for what many folks have been watching happen or experienced in the past year or two.


December 18, 2001

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


37signals' design not found offers an example of letting your users know restrictions. This is not only important for restrictions, but letting users know which are required fields. Users are not mind readers, so don't treat them like Uri Geller or David Blaine. [hat tip Christina]


December 13, 2001

A must read on understanding the state and future of the Web by Owen Briggs. Owen does a wonderful job outlining what most of us have been dealing with and working to explain to others.


December 6, 2001


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

Joe Gillespie's Interface Design Primer offers a wonderful background of the computer interface. There are wonderful nuggets that we designers and devleopers need to keep in mind. Knowing how, why, history, and reasoning behind elements of interface understanding are some of the best tools we carry in our tool belts. We also need to keep testing what we know to ensure there are not new shades that will help get all of us around a corner to a much better method of providing the user an intuitive interactive interface. [hat tip Jeffery]


The Sacramento Bee has modified their look and added some great usability tools. Their new look is very clean and easy to read. Each page provides access to the top level pages with in each section from the top of the pages as well as the bottom of the pages. The pages are built with extensive use of cascading style sheets, which allows them use of a tool that lets the user select the font used and increase or decrease the font size. [hat tip Matt]


November 28, 2001

Nick Finck is interviewed in Pixelview. I enjoyed reading his responce to the question: "What would you say to folks who want to work the web?" The answer is found at the bottom of the interview, but it is definately the best for last priciple at work.


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

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

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



November 27, 2001

Zeldman and his folks at Happy Cog and NotLimitedNYC have launched Charlotte Gray for Warner Brothers. At first I thought it was nothing great, but there is a simple elegance that radiates the period and the feeling of the film. The site does not have an over the top Flash interface, but a nicely crafted interface. All the links state exactly what will happen if you click on the link. It is very Zeldman-esque in that it is very well designed and gives the user a wonderful experience.


November 25, 2001

Shirley Kaiser has redesigned her professional site, SK Designs and provided a fantastic redesign write-up on her personal site Brianstorms and Raves. The redesign is quite nice and provides a nice job of chunking the information with headers and bullets for scanning. The write-up is a very good approach regarding when and how to go about a redesign.
[hat tip Nick Finck at Digital Web - What is New]


November 15, 2001

I am really looking forward to South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive as I am now a confirmed speaker. There are many other wonderful speakers on fantastic panels that will spark wonderful conversation, and share knowledge and experience.


November 14, 2001

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


Finally Web Techniques posts its current issue online, at least the one I have been reading for a week and wanting to share.


November 7, 2001

Go check the new Digital Web Magazine issue. I am so happy to be seeing color. This month's theme is content and Christopher Schmitt's Content as Navigation Tool is a solid review of the use of content on a site. Miraz Jordan's What's happening? A new look at Web pages is also a must read so to focus on the general population users.

But, of all items the interview with Scott Benish and Josh Kneedler of Dreaming America Productions was a great read. In part it was good to hear how two of guys I met in Austin last year at SXSW are doing, but their approach to projects was good insight. I have really been enjoying the interviews at Digital Web they seem to be rather in depth and offer great views of the how other folks approach development.



November 6, 2001

I stumbled across Design Interact today. It is part of the Commarts Network, and is owned by Coyne & Blanchard, Inc., the parent company of Communication Arts magazine. It is a friendly site with site reviews, interviews, and articles.


Web-Building provides website development resources. Don't be afraid of the initial presentation, this is a one-stop-shopping resource for HTML, scripting, application development, and everything in between.


November 5, 2001

User Interface Engineering (UIE) provides a snippet of their research in Users Decide First, Move Second. UIE found that users would decide where they were going on a Web site prior to moving their mouse to click. This is problematic for those sites with DHTML drop down menus that have much of their navigational content until you mouse-over.


November 2, 2001

One stylesheet have you down? Want to offer your users choices? Paul Sowden provides the insight in the A List Apart article Alternate Styles: working with alternate style sheets. This approach can be used for different browser types or for allowing your users to choose their own styles that suit them best.


Every now and then one runs across or is pointed to a great innovative interface. Most often it is a design shop, as in the case of JDK Design. The interface, for me, is quite enjoyable, but I know many that would be completely lost trying to use it. It is a nice use of Flash as it loaded very quickly.


November 1, 2001

Evolt provides a solid review of HomeSite 5. The changes from 4.5x seem somewhat incremental, but quite helpful. If you have a version now, this article provides a good insight into what you may be missing for $29.


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


The designfeast graphic design resources is an annotated list of links and sources to gain more knowledge that is focussed on design.

Previous Month

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

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