Off the Top: Cognitive Theory Entries

March 12, 2009

Catching Up On Personal InfoCloud Blog Posts

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

The following are recently posted over at Personal InfoCloud

SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools

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

Optimizing Tagging UI for People & Search

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

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

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

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

April 6, 2008

Selective Sociality and Social Villages

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

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

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

Selective Sociality of Villages

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

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

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

November 3, 2007

Can Facebook Change Its DNA

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

May 22, 2007

Getting to the Ultimate City Guide

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

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

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

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

Trip Preparation and Pre-mapping

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Guides that Fit Context

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

Ultimate Guide

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

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

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

July 30, 2006

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

People & Medium Preferences

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

Medium Is the Attractor

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

Closing the Gap?

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

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

June 30, 2006

Technosocial Architect

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

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

Basis for Digital Design and Development

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

People Using Information in Their Life

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

Do you see the gap?

The gap is huge!

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

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

Designing for Information Use and Reuse

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

End-to-end is Not the Solution

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

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

Technology and Design are Secondary

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

Information as Building Blocks

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

Technosocial Architects

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

Focus on People, Medium, and Use

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

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

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

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

Need for Technosocial Architects

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

April 3, 2006

Mr. Thackara Provides Fodder for Two Loose Thoughts

Things have been busy of late after a return from Vancouver, British Columbia from the IA Summit. It took a week to get through taxes stuff for a four month old company (as of January 1) and a large stack of e-mail (in which responding meant more e-mail).

Yesterday morning I had the pleasurable fortune to have breakfast with John Tackara of Doors of Perception fame. I really need to put two things out there that popped up in conversation that I need to think about more deeply.

Children today are not into the web tied to computers, but focus on their friends through the mobile voice and text messaging. I have been running into this comment quite a bit from Europeans, but increasingly from parents of teen and pre-teens in America. Having a computer is not a large interest for them, but they live in their mobiles as a means to connect, filter, share, convene, and stay tethered to those that matter to them, their friends. The quick 10 to 20 year scenario for this could mean the web is dead and is a technology that had an immense impact, but was a technology that was relatively short lived. Are our communication technologies trending through ever shorter life spans? This could bolster my thinking that the web is increasingly a temporary terminus for information to be shared and picked up and used in context in other media that is better situated within people's lives.

This leads us to context. I keep looking at much of the information that is on the web as being out of the proper use context for most people. We read information on the web, but the web is not the context in which we will make use of this information we find. The web as it has been traditionally built is marginally better than television, in that an address for a car lot flashed on the television screen is as usable as it is plastered on a web page. The address does us more good in our pocket, in driving (or mass transit) routes, in our mobile that is in our pocket, etc. than it does on the web page, but few web pages today get that clue.

I have also been thinking about tagging and particularly tagging in the folksonomy subset as the tags providing mental context to external information. We use the tags to pull back these bits of information or to aggregate this information when we pull on the digital threads that draw what is at the ends of these tag tethers closer to ourselves. A chunk of information or media out on the web is lacking context to our lives with out these tags. When we have needs, most always framed in the context of a need related to a subject we use tags related to that subject to draw back in that which we found or other people with similar vocabularies have found. These tags provide context for the few thousand chunks of information out of the billions that we have explicitly expressed interest in and have placed the context upon based on its relationship between the information or object and ourself.

March 18, 2006

Face Tagging

This year at SXSW Interactive I was interacting with so many people and getting many business cards. When I looked at the stack I could only tie about a third of the cards to face and conversations. In person I remember conversations tied to faces. In e-mail I remember conversations with a name. But the connection between names, faces, conversations, and business cards at conferences completely hit the wall this year.

By Sunday night or Monday, I was so tired that the problem was exacerbated and I really needed to find a solution. Well, Tuesday I started handing business cards back to the person who handed it to me and I took a picture of their business card next to their face, much like Nick Finck did back to me. This solution worked like a gem. Now I really wish I could go back to Saturday through Monday and capture the photos to tie to the cards.

Even the cards that I did not get a good capture in photo I was able to tie to the person. I am now tying back the people in photos to the people's cards. I am also remembering the conversations and who else was there when we were talking. Suck a good life hack for a tired and filled brain.

May 1, 2005

The Art of the Pivot

We live life linearly, but there are many tangents and crossing points. Physical life makes surfing those tangents not an easy task, but it is part of the brilliance of digital life to surf serendipitously with purpose. Every now and then, with more increasing regularity I find myself in awe (yet with each occurrence with banality creeping in) of the tangential currents that draw life closer and the world smaller.

Flickr provided this evening's wonderful spark. While peering through the lens of my friends and "contacts" photos I clicked on one that had a familiar scene, it was not that I knew the people in the photo, but it was the table, cups, and feel of the place. It was a photo in the Pork Store on Haight Street. I have had so many wonderful breakfasts there from when I live behind the restaurant on Waller, to trekking over from where I lived on Arguello, to the pilgrimage on nearly every trip I make to San Francisco.

What made this particular photo special was not that I easily recognized the scene, but I double checked in Flickr's tags to see a "porkstore" tag. I clicked the tag to see if that photographer had entered more photos in the Pork Store, but no. I clicked to see "all other public photos tagged with porkstore". In doing this I saw in the thumbnail somebody I thought I recognized. I clicked to the larger photo to ensure it was somebody I had just met yesterday. The world just shrunk.

What was the point of this? It is the ability to pivot or surf in new direction that is related to where we are all thanks to the hyperlink and meta information. As the web has changed my perception of what is right and possible in the world, I increasingly find one of the major differentiators between physical life and digital experiences is the pivot. Including hyperlinks or means to pull information closer to you that is tangential to the current desire or direction. When relevant information is not hyperlinked it is lacking the pivot. Or when there is a lack of ease to find associated information that is relevant to what is in the browser and relevant to the person consuming the information or object on their screen it is frustrating for the user and disappointing as a developer knowing the ease of the solution and the great value it adds.

Oddly, one of the interfaces I love also bothers me for its lack of the pivot. The iPod is great, but it is missing one pivot option that is now driving me nuts. When in Shuffle mode and I hear a song I like by an artist I like often want to pivot and listen to more of that artist or that album. This should be an option on the center button, just like getting to add song rating, scroll through the song, etc. Not only is it in Shuffle mode it is when listening to mixed playlists or soundtracks. It should not be that difficult to implement, one of the screens clicked to from the center button, while listening to a song, should bring up a "listen to more by this artist or album" option. Then life would be so much better.

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.

January 8, 2005

From Tags to the Future

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

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

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

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

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

December 1, 2004

Mind Hacks for You

Of note, Mind Hacks is the site for the Mind Hacks the book. Congratulations to Matt and Tom. I am looking forward to this read.

September 2, 2004

July 7, 2004

Thinking about Thinking

This past Saturday morning I finished the Steven Johnson book Mind Wide Open. I really enjoyed the book and may go back and pull out parts to store in my own notes.

But, there is one thing that kept niggling me as I read past the section on neurofeedback, which was used to improve concentration and attentive focus. I kept wondering if I am pulling all this information in, how it gets synthesized. The book did bring out some answers as many often focus on differences from what is already stored in the mind. I completely agree with that and I often work in that mode. But, as I read, my mind drifts to memories or to related items. This drifting is where it seems to get stored in memory and I will pull out the information weeks, months, or years later. This drifting is also where I often find unique answers and view problems or current solutions and find improved was of doing the same thing. This is also why I tend to read broadly across topics as well as deeply in areas I am passionate about.

The problem with improving focus is how would my synthesizing take place. Do others read in the same way? In college I had an office hours discussion with a professor complaining that I often had to reread paragraphs and pages as I had found my mind drifting, which was inspired by what I was reading. The professor and his office mate felt this drifting was a very good thing as it lead to better examination of what is known to one's self as well as fostering creative solutions. All more to think about.

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 2, 2004

Peter Charts Attention

Peter has posted charts the facets of attention as described in Steven Johnson's book Mind Wide Open. This diagram is very helpful with out having read the book, but it will be more helpful once I have the book in my hands.

July 24, 2003

Typeface indicates nice weather

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

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

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

June 3, 2003

Social computing needs more than chat

I was awake at an hour only God, ravers, and vampires would love this morning and stumbled across Bill Thompson's BBC article about social computing needing to be more than chat. I went to bed after I read this then thought I may have dreamt the article, and did not know where I had read it. The article brings the recent hype about social software down to earth as it was and has been a discussion point in many things Internet since the late 1980s and early 1990s. Bill does suggest we may have evolved enough to discuss the social changes that are brought about in a digitally networked world without discussion of packets and protocols.

This article also jumps into the attention ideas get when published in a weblog as compared to an academic research paper. Bill's perspective is the lack of research into what has been discovered and written about previously is detrimental to social software and networking moving forward. This resonates with those who have liberal education backgrounds that have been taught to seek out the fountainhead of an idea and find what others have communicated so to build upon experiences rather than offer up a "me too" or a "that was my idea" (20 years or centuries after it was common thought).

April 16, 2003

Time theories and information gathering

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

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

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

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

March 27, 2003

Powells Books Booty

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

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

February 21, 2003

Proposing a Cogitive Course

Rashmi proposes a Cognitive course. This is a course I would love to take. [hat tip Peter]

November 18, 2002

July 2, 2002

Inner Navigation and Information Cascade

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

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

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

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

March 21, 2002

I have very intrigued with understanding where metaphors break. At some point they all break, but a metaphor that lasts would be nice. We may get to play with one in the near future. I would like you to play with it, but to make it useful for all of us, it would be good to have comments to share thoughts. The comments are coming and may be posted in a not a perfectly usable state as getting the info out and commenting running is my goal.

February 5, 2002

Peter has a good discussion regarding what tool do you think in, getting to the point of what tool do you put down your ideas and work through your ideas. Go put in your 2 cents.

February 2, 2002

At the Saturday morning ritual car wash I read about Man Who Would Be God: Giving Robots Life in the NY Times. I was completely facinated. The focus is Steve Grand of Cyberlife Research Limited. His creations are artificial intelligence creatures.

January 27, 2002

Studio360 examines emergence with Steven Johnson (having Real Player will help with your enjoyment of the show). Steven Johnson is the author of EMERGENCE: The Connected Lives Of Ants, Brains, Cities, And Software, which has me quite intrigued (and Amazon seems to think the same for me as it is my top recommended book).

January 5, 2002

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

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

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

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

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

December 10, 2001

Foundations of Hypertext Navigation, Part 1.1

Another resource for getting to the foundation of the navigation metaphor, Navigating Hypertext: Visualising Knowledge on the Net. It has a poor interface, as the words on the left are links, but missing any interactive component to let one know they are links.

Foundations of Hypertext Navigation, Part 1

Another discussion on Peterme that has fallen into the discussion of spatial metaphors and the Web. The general feeling is that the spatial metaphor provides a poor descriptive language and metaphorical base to discuss the Web. Finding a replacement seems to be the focus, but there is an embedded base in the population of users that have adopted these analogies. I agree to a great degree that the spatial metaphor is not the best (agreeing with the negative of a positive superlative is the easy way out as there is very little room to be wrong so it is a false method of looking smart).

There is a chapter on "NAVIGATION THROUGH COMPLEX INFORMATION SPACES" from Hypertext in Context by Cliff McKnight, Andrew Dillon, John Richardson, which provides a solid understanding of some of the history of the navigational metaphor in hypertext services.

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