Off the Top: Information Design Entries


November 15, 2014

Khoi Turns Infocards into Wildcard

This past week one of my favorite designers, Khoi Vinh released a product for iOS that is a great play on information card UI called Wildcard. Khoi has a really good write-up of the journey launching Wildcard.

Wildcard is Best When Used

The real joy is in using Wildcard. Khoi created a wonderfully usable and quite intuitive UI and interaction model all based on information cards, which work wonderfully on mobile and other constrained UI devices. Wildcard is a mix of news summary and scrolling service and product finding service.

Information cards are often mis-used and misunderstood. Both Google and Twitter started in with adding infocards to their design and information structuring a few years back. Both did this as a means to surface well chunked and structured content into small chunks for mobile and other UI constrained interfaces, but also for information scanning and lite representation interfaces and interaction models, like Google Now and the Twitter stream. The model does not work as well on fuller information and content sites, as it constrains in ways that are not moving things forwards, but instead setting false arbitrary constraints.

An Interconnected Service

One of the great pleasures in Wildcard is it not only has its own hold onto for later interaction and service, but it has fully integrated sharing with others and into your own services where you track, store, and manage your information nuggets. It does a really good job of integrating into one’s own personal knowledge flows and capture services.

Far too many services (see (unfortunately) Medium as example of current balkanization from other services) have been shifting to make it difficult for the reader and user of their content to work with the content as they wish and need in their information flows. This fracturing means it is more difficult to share and attribute content (and send people to the site) when blogging or other write-ups.

Khoi has long understood the value of information relationships and information flows for use and reuse, which shows brightly here in Wildcard.

Moved Wildcard to the Front Row

After spending about 15 minutes with Wildcard in my first use of it, it moved to the front row of my “News” folder in my iOS devices. It may become one of my first go to apps to see what is happening in the world around me.

A Model Interaction App

One of the things that struck me in my first use was the intuitive interaction model and information model for moving into a collection and around and deeper in the collection and then back out. Wildcard is really well done on this front. It is one of those things where when I am done using it the ease of use (for the most part - there are one or so “wha?” moment, but for a just launched product that is great) really stands out and I start working through how it works and functions. I’m likely going to have a sit down with it not to use it, but to map out what it is doing, because for me its interaction design is really good and fluid.

It is always a joy to find an app or service that not only does its job well and seems to get out of the way, but works to augment your workflows and existing resources for use and reuse. But, when it stands out as a really easy to use service on first use and good for discovery and exploring, it is worth sitting and better understanding the how and why it does that so I can better think through options and paths for things I am working on or advising.

Kudos Khoi!



May 2, 2012

The Data Journalism Handbook is Available

The Data Journalism Handbook is finally available online and soon as the book Data Journalism Handbook - from Amazon or The Data Journalism Handbook - from O’Reilly, which is quite exciting. Why you ask?

In the October of 2010 the Guardian in the UK posted a Data Journalism How To Guide that was fantastic. This was a great resource not only for data journalists, but for anybody who has interest in finding, gathering, assessing, and doing something with the data that is shared found in the world around us. These skill are not the sort of thing that many of us grew up with nor learned in school, nor are taught in most schools today (that is another giant problem). This tutorial taught me a few things that have been of great benefit and filled in gaps I had in my tool bag that was still mostly rusty and built using the tool set I picked up in the mid-90s in grad school in public policy analysis.

In the Fall of 2011 at MozFest in London many data journalist and others of like mind got together to share their knowledge. Out of this gathering was the realization and starting point for the handbook. Journalists are not typically those who have the deep data skills, but if they can learn (not a huge mound to climb) and have it made sensible and relatively easy in bite sized chunk the journalists will be better off.

All of us can benefit from this book in our own hands. Getting to the basics of how gather and think through data and the questions around it, all the way through how to graphically display that data is incredibly beneficial. I know many people who have contributed to this Handbook and think the world of their contributions. Skimming through the version that is one the web I can quickly see this is going to be an essential reference for all, not just journalists, nor bloggers, but for everybody. This could and likely should be the book used in classes in high schools and university information essentials taught first semester first year.



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.

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March 12, 2009

Catching Up On Personal InfoCloud Blog Posts

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

The following are recently posted over at Personal InfoCloud

SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools

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

Optimizing Tagging UI for People & Search

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

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

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

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



May 3, 2008

Getting Info into the Field with Extension

This week I was down in Raleigh, North Carolina to speak at National Extension Technology Conference (NETC) 2008, which is for the people running the web and technology components for what used to be the agricultural extension of state universities, but now includes much more. This was a great conference to connect with people trying to bring education, information, and knowledge services to all communities, including those in rural areas where only have dial-up connectivity to get internet access. The subject matter presented is very familiar to many other conferences I attend and present at, but with a slightly different twist, they focus on ease of use and access to information for everybody and not just the relatively early adopters. The real values of light easy to use interfaces that are clear to understand, well structured, easy to load, and include affordance in the initial design consideration is essential.

I sat in on a few sessions, so to help tie my presentation to the audience, but also listen to interest and problems as they compare to the organizations I normally talk to and work with (mid-size member organizations up to very large global enterprise). I sat in on a MOSS discussion. This discussion about Sharepoint was indiscernible from any other type of organization around getting it to work well, licensing, and really clumsy as well as restrictive sociality. The discussion about the templates for different types of interface (blogs and wikis) were the same as they they do not really do or act like the template names. The group seemed to have less frustration with the wiki template, although admitted it was far less than perfect, it did work to some degree with the blog template was a failure (I normally hear both are less than useful and only resemble the tools in name not use). [This still has me thinking Sharepoint is like the entry drug for social software in organizations, it looks and sounds right and cool, but is lacking the desired kick.]

I also sat down with the project leads and developers of an eXtension wide tool that is really interesting to me. It serves the eXtension community and they are really uncoupling the guts of the web tools to ease greater access to relevant information. This flattening of the structures and new ways of accessing information is already proving beneficial to them, but it also has brought up the potential to improve ease some of the transition for those new to the tools. I was able to provide feedback that should provide a good next step. I am looking forward to see that tool and the feedback in the next three to six months as it has incredible potential to ease information use into the hands that really need it. It will also be a good example for how other organizations can benefit from similar approaches.

Comments are open (with usual moderation) at this post at Getting Info into the Field with Extension :: Personal InfoCloud.



April 11, 2008

YouTube New Interface and Social Interaction Design Santiy Check

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

Broken Interaction Design on Buttons or Tabs

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

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

Social Sites Seem to Share a Lack of Interaction Understanding

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

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

Social Interaction in Enterprise Tools

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

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



February 5, 2008

Social Computing Summit in Miami, Florida in April, 2008

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

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

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



January 10, 2008

Posting Elements of the Social Software Stack

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

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

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

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

Who Does This Help?

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

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

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



November 3, 2007

Can Facebook Change Its DNA

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



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?



August 20, 2007

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

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

Ma.gnolia Offers Great Features for Sociality

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

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

Started with Beauty, but Now with Ease

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

Intelligently Designed

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

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

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



July 24, 2007

Sharing and Following/Listening in the Social Web

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

Twitter Shows Understanding

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

Spheres of Sociality

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

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

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

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

Granular Sharing and Following

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

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

Breaking Down Listening and Sharing for Items

 YourselfOthers
ShareYesYes/No

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

Listening and Sharing at the Person Level

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

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

Granular Listening and Sharing

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

Geo Listening and Sharing

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

Getting There...

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



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.



January 31, 2007

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

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

IT Traditions

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

Breaking the Cycle of Blame and Disappointment

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

Technology is not a Cure All

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

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

People and Information Needs

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

Design with People in Mind

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

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

Smile to Many Faces

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

Technology Companies Go Directly to the Users

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



December 15, 2006

Ghosts of Technology Past, Present, and Future

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

Ghost of Rich Web Past

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

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

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

Ghost of Technology Present

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

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

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

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

Ghost of the Technosocial Future

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

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

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

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



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).



September 29, 2006

Web Directions Presentations Posted

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

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



September 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.]



July 28, 2006

Platial Turning it Up

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

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

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



June 30, 2006

Technosocial Architect

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

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

Basis for Digital Design and Development

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

People Using Information in Their Life

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

Do you see the gap?

The gap is huge!

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

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

Designing for Information Use and Reuse

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

End-to-end is Not the Solution

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

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

Technology and Design are Secondary

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

Information as Building Blocks

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

Technosocial Architects

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

Focus on People, Medium, and Use

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

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

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

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

Need for Technosocial Architects

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



June 17, 2006

Cultures of Simplicity and Information Structures

Two Conferences Draw Focus

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

Simplicity of the Complex

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

Simple Clear Structures

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

Europe Thing Again

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

Culture of Understanding Complex to Make Simple

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

Breaking It Down for Use and Reuse

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



April 11, 2006

Odd Moments in the Day - Odd Moments with Technology?

Today brought an odd moment. I looked up at iChat (my IM interface) and I see my name (Thomas Vander Wal) and podcast under Jeremy's name, which means Jeremy is most likely listening to a podcast interview with me. I had never seen that before.

Now I decide to share that odd moment with Jeremy, which I did not realize would cause Jeremy to have an odd moment.

How can the world of pervasive/ubiquitous computing ever get off the ground when we give each other odd moments through our friendly stalking? By the way I prefer using stalking, where as some people like the term monitoring, but the term monitoring does not cause me to think about privacy implications that I believe we must resolve within ourself or learn to better protect our privacy.

The incident today still causes me to chuckle for a short moment then realize how open we are with things on the internet and how different that seems to be even though most of our life has been public, but to a smaller and more localized group. It also resignals that change that came with the internet (well and much of technology) is that we can not see those who can see us. In a town we know the local video store guy knows what we rent, but now Amazon knows what we bought as do those people on our friends list whom we share our purchases with so they can have some insight as what to buy. My local video store guy in San Francisco, near California and 2nd or 3rd Avenue, was amazing. He knew everything I rented in the last few months and would provide perfect recommendations. Did he use a computer to aid himself? Nope, he was just that good and his brain could keep the connection between a face and videos rented and if you liked that video. He knew my taste perfectly and was dead on with recommendations. Not only was he on with me, but most others who frequented his store. He was great recommending, but also could help people avoid movies they did not like.

Was the guy in the video store freaky? Not really, well to me. He was a person and that was his role and his job. I worked in a coffee house for a while first thing in the morning. After a couple months I knew who the first 10 customers would be and I knew about half of the orders or possible variations of what people would order. People are patterned, I could tie the person's face to that pattern for espresso coffee drink order and I could recommend something that they should try. To some this was a little disturbing, but to most is was endearing and was a bond between customer and shopkeeper as I cared enough to know what they would like and remembered them (I did not often remember their names and most of them I did not know their names), but I knew what they drank. If is the familiarity.

So, with technology as an intermediary or as the memory tool what is so freaky? Is it not seeing into somebody's eyes? Is it the magic or somebody more than 3,000 miles away knowing what you are listening to and then have the person whom you are listening to pop-up for a chat? I think it is we have collapsed space and human norms. It is also difficult to judge intent with out seeing face or eyes. I was in a back and forth recently with a friend, but could not sense their intent as it seemed like the tone was harsh (for a person whom I trust quite a bit and think of as being intensely kind and giving) and I finally had to write and ask, but it was written from a point where I was bothered by the tone. My problem was I could not see the eyes of the person and see they playfulness or gestures to know their intent was playful challenging.

While at the Information Architecture Summit a couple/few weeks ago in Vancouver a few of us went to dinner and we played werewolf (my first time playing). But, I was reminded that the eyes hold a lot of information and carry a lot of weight in non-verbal communication. I could pick the werewolf whose eyes I could see, but in two occasions the werewolf was sitting next to me and I could not see their eyes. There was one person in each of the two games whom I did think was the werewolf as their eyes were signaling similarly to people who were not telling the truth in the cultures I grew up in.

Could technology be more easily embraced if it had eyes? Should we have glancing as Matt Webb has suggested and built an application to suggest? But could we take Matt'a concept farther? Would it be helpful?

This was a long post of what was just going to be pointing out an odd moment in the day.



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.



March 8, 2006

Ray Ozzie Demos Live Clipboard for the Personal InfoCloud

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

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

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



Upcoming Presentations and Conferences

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

SXSW

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

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

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

IA Summit

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

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

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

XTech

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

Microlearning Conference 2006

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

More to Follow

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



February 20, 2006

Ma.Gnolia Review and Color Me Disapointed

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

Rating Bookmarks and Retention Modes

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

Private Bookmarks and Community

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

API, Walled Garden, and In-site Findability

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

There is Good

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

Saving Bookmarks and Wrap-up

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



February 14, 2006

Yahoo! Releases Web Developer Golden Nuggets

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

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



February 4, 2006

Sticks and Stones...

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

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

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

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

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



January 11, 2006

Real Time Flight Tracking Site for Your Mobile

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

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

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

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



December 29, 2005

Mobile Search is Not Interested in Mobile

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

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

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

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



December 19, 2005

Web 2.0 Dead?

It was bound to happen sooner or later, but it was a little sooner than expected. Richard McMannus explains why Web 2.0 jumped the shark as an follow-up to his Web 2.0 is dead. R.I.P. post. This pronouncement has an impact as he is co-writing a book on Web 2.0 for O'Reilly Books (with Joshua Porter) and writes Web 2.0 Explorer on ZD Net. In Richard's explanation he gives the prime reason is to get away from the hype and cynicism.

Tim O'Reilly describes Web 2.0 in rather long detail. But in the more than a year that the term has been around it has not been used in any specific specific sense and it quickly turned into a buzzword with little meaning. There are some profoundly different things taking place on the web, when we compare it to the web five years ago. These things seem to be best described by their terms and pointing to what has changed and where we are going now. Richard writes that he will still largely be writing about the same things, but will not be using the Web 2.0 moniker.

The Rich Interface

During the past six to nine months one could easily see that the term Web 2.0 getting flattened into hype and mis-understanding. Many articles were written about new technologies that were changing the landscape, but neither were the technologies new, nor were they doing much of anything different than sites were doing or trying to do in the previous three to five years. AJAX was not new, it was a new name for xmlhttprequest (which most web developer worth much of anything knew about, but knew there was little browser adoption outside of Microsoft IE). Jesse James Garrett provided a much easier means of calling the long term, mostly to talk more easily about what Flickr and Google (in Gmail and Google maps) had been doing in the past year using it as part of their rich interfaces. The rich interfaces were absolutely nothing new as Flash had been providing the exact rich interface capability for years. The problem was much of the design world had not worked through its documentation and design specifications for a rich interface using Flash, but they jumped all over AJAX with out ever working through solutions to the problems of state, (re)addressing information, breaking the back button, addressable steps in a process, etc. Web browsers growing up and becoming consistent and more processing power and memory on the machines under the browsers have enabled the rich interface more than anything that gets credit for being new.

Web as Platform

The web as a platform is a great step forward, but it is anything but new, just ask the folks at Salesforce. But it has been embraced as a replacement for the desktop . The downside is most people do not have continuous access (or anything near it) and many do not want it. People have set workflows that cross many devices, contexts, and information uses. Thinking the web is the only way is just as short-sited as closed desktop applications. The web as a platform is insanely helpful, but it should not be the only platform. We have to work towards cross-platfoms and cross-device use development as an end not just the web.

Forbidden Term

Very quickly this year the Web 2.0 term was forbidden from usage from many conferences and large meetings I went to. It was forbidden as by that point it had lost its meaning and using the more direct terms, like social networking, social bookmarks, rich interface for mail, web as an application platform, etc. It was also noted that people should not say the new web, with out explaining why they thought it was new. There needs to be clarity in understanding so we can communicate, and Web 2.0 did not provide that as it was an umbrella term that was used as a buzz word to replace specific changes people did not understand.

Without a Term How to We Understand

There have been a handful of people who have been writing on the Web 2.0 changes and landscape and using the term well and describing the components that are being used in new ways. Richard was one and his writing partner Joshua is another. The group that is aggregated at Web 2.0 Workgroup are most of the rest.

With out the term Web 2.0 it will be tough, but it was more a marker of a confluence of many different things that shifted than a bright line in one or two areas. Understanding what has changed will make sense, which is a large part or what Joshua has been doing and a small handful of others. When the confluence is the streams and rivers of technology, social interaction (as Bruce Sterling calls it "technosocial"), interface, web services, application that provide uses that are needed, cultural and social changes along the lines of privacy (this could swing back massively), cultural changes with more people having comfort with social interactions using technology, trust, etc. take place there will be problems describing it. There will also be only a rare few that can cross the chasms and grasp, make sense of the subtle as well as vast changes, and explain them intelligently and simply to others. As the majority of writing has proven it is a very rare few indeed that have the background and wit to handle this challenge.

Now that I am at the end of the brain dump (some of it long festering), I think I am a wee bit sad to see the term losing traction. But, I don't have to think had to remember one of the vast many of poor articles that every journal has had somebody write.

In full disclosure I spoke on the BayCHI Web 2.0 Panel held at Parc in August. Been writing and speaking on digital information use across devices and platforms for three or four years and the underlying information architecture that is needed to support it. In this past year I frame the need for it as a change from the "I go get web" to the "Come to me web" (not quite equivalent to the push/pull analogy, but I will explain this later for those that have not heard the presentations or me just ramble about it). I felt it important to frame what I change I was talking about rather than rely on the Web 2.0 moniker.



October 31, 2005

BBC Knocks Audio Annotating Out of the Park

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

Why is this Huge

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

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

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

Voice and Audio is a Common Problem

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

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

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

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



October 22, 2005

Microformats hCard and hCalendar Used for Web 2.0 Conference Speakers

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

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

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



August 19, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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



August 17, 2005

User Experience Design in the Come to Me Web?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



July 18, 2005

Say Hey - If I Knew

I have a deep love of digital technology as an assistive devise and even an enabling device. But, I need something that sits between the digital and the real so to join those worlds.

Here is the problem... I am continually not blanking at who somebody I know in a digital context (through e-mail, a social networking tool (one that works), listserves, blogs, etc.), but their face or just lack of some means of connecting those I know to who they are physically. It continually happens at conferences or when traveling. This happened three times to me at WebVisions with Matt May, Erin Kissane, and Kris Krug. With all three it took some time before it clicked, fortunately with Matt it clicked while I still had time to draw the lines. I would have loved to have chatted with Erin and Kris with the context of how I know them firmly in place. Part of the problem it did not register to me that they were going (I am not sure I checked close enough to the event Upcoming to see who was going to I could make a mental note (or otherwise) to say hey.

What would the solution be? The gap between digital and physical must close. I need my address book crossed with my digital social networks and get all of the pieces tied together with one identity that I can track. Sure everybody can keep their 16 screen names across different communities, but we need to aggregate those to one identity when it makes sense, such as meeting in person. I have been told Sxip can handle this, but I have not had the time to track that down.

The next step is to take the aggregated identity and go through events I am attending or places traveling and let me know who will be there. I am not see this as a privacy issue as there are established friend relationships and set with parameters of securely allowing access to our information, or it has be made public. I usually have a mental list of who I want to see and talk to prior to events, but that group is growing. There is also a group of people I normally only see at events and I always try to hang with that "floating island", but I am usually in contact with them long before.

It seems like a tool like Upcoming would be a perfect place to do this for a large chunk of events. It will still take aggregating the identities across all of the digital communities I belong, address books, and in-person communities. I would love for the next step to include an application in my mobile device that tipped me off to somebody on my friendly "say hey" list being with in "hey" range.



April 25, 2005

State is the Web

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

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

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

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

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

When is State Helpful?

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

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

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

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

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



April 22, 2005

Annotated New York Times

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

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



April 10, 2005

Simplicity Through Granular Complexity

We must understand and embrace the granular and complex to make things simple for the person.



February 16, 2005

All the Blog that is Fit To...

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

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



December 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.



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 26, 2004

Preview of Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World

I went on a little book buying spree this past week as I am finishing reading the last binge buy or two. I picked up a couple O'Reilly reference books (will review them later) and a few books from the interaction design, cogsci, and information design arena. The one that is standing out in as I preview them is the Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World : A Critical Sourcebook by Carolyn Handa. This book is a collection of essays and articles from various well quoted and referred to designers, writers, and academics. Looking through the references and end-notes the heros of communication research are used for the foundations of those chosen to write. Visual Rhetoric is focussed on the academic world, but if we are not learning every day we will never get better, and this book could fill in the gaps.

The book is broken into five sections: Toward a Pedagogy of the Visual, The Rhetoric of the Image, The Rhetoric of Design, Visual Rhetoric and Argument, and Visual Rhetoric and Culture. The names of the writers that jump out are Gunter Kress, Catherine L. Hobbes, J.L. Lemke, Rudolph Arnheim, Roland Barthes, Scott McCloud, Jeffery Keedy, Jessica Helfand, Keith Kenney, Michele S. Shauf, Richard A. Lanham, Robert Horn, and Bell Hooks drew my attention. I have a very strong feeling this will be a great resource. I don't think it will bump Digital Ground by Malcolm McCullough from my vote for the best book I have read this year, but it is proving 2004 is a very strong year for books.



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 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.



August 3, 2004

UXnet Aims to Unite the Splinters

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

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

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



August 1, 2004

Profiled at InfoDesign

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



July 16, 2004

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.



July 1, 2004

Tweaking the Botox Pixels

We have made some minor tweaks to the presentation of the site. The menu bar has had the underlining removed on hover. Each of the items in the menu now has borders that change with hover and selection to create a little cleaner look.

The date bar in the weblog has been padded and has a slight border to off set it from the page and make the date more readable, the date has bugged me for a long time.

The permalink (comments) page now has a title of the entry. The entry titles have been added to the monthly archive pages also.

Lastly, the link to the Quick Link RSS feed has been added next to the Quick link title. This should make it easier to follow those links, should you wish. The Quick Links get updated far more regularly of late and there are some good gems that get nestled in there.



June 30, 2004

Future of Local Search on Mac

One of the best things I found to come out of the Apple WWDC keynote preview of the next update of the OS X line, Tiger, Spotlight. Spotlight is the OS file search application. Not only does Spotlight search the file name, file contents (in applications where applicable), but in the metadata. This really is going to be wonderful for me. I, as a user, can set a project name in the metadata and then I can group files from that point. I can also set a term, like "synch" and use AppleScript and Search to batch the files together for synching with mobile devices, easily. Another nice feature is the searches can be saved and stored as a dynamic folder. This provides better control of my Personal InfoCloud.

Steven Johnson provides the history of search in Apple, which has nearly the same technology in Cosmo slated for release in 1996.



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.



May 30, 2004

Make My Link the P-link

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

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

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

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



January 4, 2004

Victor Summarizes Recognizing Digital Genre

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



January 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

Sir Clarke Portends Humans will Survive the Deluge of Information

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

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

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

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



December 3, 2003

Tog explains good design on bad products

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

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

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



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 6, 2003

Interdependance of structure, information, and presentation

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

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



November 1, 2003

Why page numbers fail us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other ideas?



October 29, 2003

Time to step in to the present

There are days when you realize you are working in an environment that is the equivalent of one that switched from horse and buggy to the automobile a few years prior and is still trying to feed the car oats. There are some that see others putting a liquid in the autos tank so they boil the oats, strain the liquid, and put that in the tank. They have problems seeing why things do not run right.

Changing your environment from printing on paper to electronic information dissemination requires process change and formulating the information for easing the transfer into various presentation layers. Easily save into a PDF for distributing to those users that want to print and for information where layout is actually important to the information. Equally important is saving for Web presentation in valid (X)HTML. The (X)HTML is extremely valuable as it is a the a great means for users to consume the information on a wide variety of devices and provides the user the ability to reuse the information as the need and see fit.

When preparing information one must consider the the media used for presenting the message. It would also be wise to provide a great benefit to the user by considering information reuse. Preparing information for print, but not providing the data behind charts, alternate text for images, and other items that are required for accessibility (Section 508 compliance).



October 25, 2003

Information structure important for information reuse

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

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

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



October 19, 2003

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 3, 2003

Raskin's Zooming Interface

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

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



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.



October 1, 2003

Baby instructions

I have already found of the many joys of being a parent. But I have also found some of the pain. The biggest so far is the inability of manufactures of infant products to put together slightly usable instructions. The failure is largest with car seats, which is one item all parents worry about as they want their child safe. We have had problems with three Graco instruction sets so far. Being the type of person I am I went to the Graco Web site to see if there were better instructions there or maybe even videos for each product. No, the only thing available were the failure of directions that come with the products.

Why are the instructions so terrible? The instructions have four problems: 1) Cover more than one product variation covered in the directions (car seat has 3-point and 5-point connector models covered in the directions): 2) Minimal words for instructions (words are used for warnings, which are not clearly explained how to avoid the problem related to the warning); 3) Multi-lingual directions and warnings intermingled (languages do not have their own sections of the instructions); 4) Visual instructions not clear (lack of labeling on the product to ease correlation of instructions and parts as well as no parts list).

Nearly all my neighbors and friends with children warned me of the horrors of the infant, baby, and child toy instructions. The information needing to be communicated is lost in whatever design or vetting process this information goes through. The folks at Lego and IKEA understand that the successful use of their products is their ease of understanding the instructions for assembly. Neither Lego nor IKEA's products are sold to protect the life of a child or to enhance the safety of a child, but they do understand the ability of the buyer to assemble the product correctly to achieve satisfaction. In Lego's case the instructions can be superfluous as the product can also be used as a medium for creativity, but in the case where the user wants to exactly replicate that is on the box cover the directions are perfect. The beauty of the instructions in the Lego and IKEA instances is that they are completely, or largely text free.



September 9, 2003

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 26, 2003

IBM information history flow visualization

IBM history flow visualization is well worth checking out. The whole of this article is very good. The layered visual dimensions not only can indicate the contributors to information history flows in documents (including Web pages and Wikis) but also the age of the contributor's content.



August 1, 2003

Information Design Explained at Design Council

The Design Council has a fantastic overview of Information Design, written by Sue Walker and Linda Reynolds. This series covers why it is important to business and public service along with examples, challenges, where to find out more, and so much more.



July 24, 2003

Typeface indicates nice weather

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

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

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



July 1, 2003

BogieLand lauches with Peter Bogaards

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

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



June 23, 2003

Gantt charts in Excel

Making Gantt charts in Excel, well at least Excel for Mac (have not tried it in Windows). [hat tip Michael]



June 5, 2003

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

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 29, 2003

Design for real users

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

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



May 2, 2003


April 2, 2003

Matt Jones looses faith in navigation

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

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



April 1, 2003

iSociety - Mobile Phones and Everyday Life

iSociety Mobile Phones and Everyday Life, is a report looks at the impact of mobile devices as they impact everyday life. Looking at how we work with mobile devices today will help us set a framework for the future.



February 18, 2003


January 23, 2003

Running a Design Critique

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



January 21, 2003

Understanding Visual Organization

Luke Wroblewski has a must read article, Visible Narratives: Understanding Visual Organization published at Boxes and Arrows. The article shows the importance of and how to visually structure information to assist the user with finding and focussing on content they are interested in. This lesson is one that is often missed in Web site redesigns.

A visual presentation of information is an essential tool to have in your tool belt. Lack of a usable visual structure can hinder your users from finding the information they are seeking. Many users come to a new site and perform a quick scan of the information available looking for something to attract their attention as it relates to terms, visual cues, or a vocabulary that will get the user to the nuggets they desire.

The user's eye needs resting places to guide them or help the user jump from topic to topic until the user finds one topic or link draws the user (as the user believes) closer to the information. Visual organization help facilitate the user's scanning and reading.

If the visual organization uses HTML markup's header tags and CSS for presentation the information has an underlying structure. The underlying structure can be used to assist bots (non-human search tools that scrape sites looking for information) in finding information. The automated scraping or searching is augmented by the markup as the information in the headers is often given greater value and can help the information get consumed by users interested in finding and using the information. With a little bit of scripting a properly marked-up Web page can generate a table of contents. This visual structuring eases the reuse of information, which is always a benefit.



January 16, 2003

Jon Udel digs into information mapping

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



January 14, 2003

Peel exposes layered storytelling

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

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

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

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



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 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 3, 2002

Lou on Users Information Needs

Lou provides information on Information Needs Analysis, which is more accurately "User Information Needs Analysis". I noted this semantic problem on Lou's site, but other than that is it is a great viewpoint on discoving the mindset of the user's approach to a site based on the perception of information need. It is easy to surmise the power of vocabulary and taxonomy based on these overviews. Thanks Lou!!


November 28, 2002

IA and UX organization matrix

Beth provides a matix of IA and UX organizations to join, which helps not only know the price, but also know the area of focus.


November 21, 2002

Writers and information structure with markup

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


November 18, 2002

Design Council Gov Toolkit

The Design Council's Government [UK] Design Toolkit is a wonderful resource asking good questions and providing insite in to analytical tools to help shape a toward the mission and help design toward the users. The definition of cluster analysis does a nice job of laying out the task of defining groups of audiences. Other than this the site misses including the user as a focus of the messages and product.


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.



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.


Markup gives structure to information

I have been missing a lot of things on the Web the past few weeks. I just found Steve Champeon's article on the importance of understanding mark-up over at Web Monkey. HTML markup, some call it HTML code (not correct), helps structure information so that it can be used and reused properly in the proper context. This is extremely important when you are trying to add style to the content, such as adding the desired size and weight to a header or modify positioning to an unordered list. I see a lot of HTML tags that are not used properly in the work we clean-up on a regular basis. There are very few applications, like MS Word that come close to using HTML markup properly. Cleaning up application generated markup is demoralizing as getting markup right in the first place is easier than having to clean up the mess made. Go read Steve's article and anything else you can put your hands on that he has written and you will be much better off than before, believe me.

Why is markup important? Many folks and applications try styling the information without considering the structure of the information. If you have much of a background in communication, journalism, information science, etc. you understand that information needs structure. There are headers that indicate to the user what the content and tone of the content that follows will contain. There are many elements on a page that need structure, like knowing where a paragraph begins and ends, where in the body of text an image should be tied, words that need to stand out (strong), a string of items in a list, or a structured ordered list with sub-elements. Not having thes information properly marked up would make understanding how to best treat that information very difficult. This may seem irrelevant to those that only deal with a Web browser, but if you want to read the informaiton on a PDA, print the information and use the best styling for reading, or need a screen reader to vocalize the words on the page and give the words that compise the information being communicated the same understanding you need structured information. It would be like trying to bake a cake with out sides on the pan, the cake needs structure to rise and be best consumed. People that guide you away from properly strucutring information, more often than not are not informed on the need and the benefits to structuring information.



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 25, 2002

Accessibility tool that does what it needs to and more

Last week (things on the house and moving front along with work have kept me a little more than busy) I was demonstrated a solid accessibility application. The folks from Deque walked us through their Ramp product. Not only does this application assess accessibility of HTML (as well as image motions in improper frequency ranges) and Java, but it also will walk you through the steps to correct what needs to be done to meet and exceed 508 compliance. This tool handles complex HTML tables very well and offers a lot of functionality and very capably. This tool blows away Usablenet's Lift ability to easily add headers and ids to very complex tables (which Lift can mangle or just not hanle well). The tool also will markup perfectly valid HTML, which is a great relief. This tool is not cheap, but it will save a great amount of time, do things right, and give those using wanting the information the ablity to get it. This gives those of us that spend our waking hours trying to get usable and accessible information into the peoples hands who want it, can use it, and have paid for it (that is what taxes do after all).


September 18, 2002

Interactive Awards

Could it be information and site continuity is out and entertainment and design are in? CommArts Interactive 2002 Awards are nearly all beautiful graphical works, but have little or no continuity to the global sites in which they sit. The Advertising and Business awards sections seemed to be the most disconnected, as they had sites in which they sat that were quite different from where the award winners sat.

I really was impressed with the award winners from a graphical and entertaining perspective, but from the point of sharing and connecting to related information many of the winners were disjointed. Nearly all the winners were in Flash, which has information sharing problems for users. The Web is a wonderful information sharing medium that offers a wonderful ability to express, expand upon, and interact with users and other information stores. The Flash elements seemed to be self-contained, which is a serious downside. I will go back and spend more time trying to find examples of great design and using the Internet medium well.

The Internet is many things to many people and offers many options in which to present information. The wonderful thing about the Internet is being able to extract information as well as point others to specific segments of information with out having to wade through unrelated information. Hmmm, possibly more later on this.



September 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.


September 3, 2002

Chad's reading lists

Chad Thornton has a great list of others reading lists. Such reading lists are great ways to find new resources. Chad adds Stanford's Joint Program in Design to his list.


August 27, 2002

Mobile info

It took $5.29 for 5 minutes on an internet kiosk to get to the right Vision.

Call it gadget issues or information problems, but I really needed access to info stored in an e-mail this evening. I was going to meet friends at a happy hour at Visions in DC. The problem was it was not Visions theater, but International Visions at 2629 Connecticuit, NW. I knew of Visions the cinema/bar/restaurant, but not the gallery. I checked the information in an e-mail before leaving and verified Visions on Connecticuit and went to the Visions just off Conn. I was wrong and did not print out the e-mail. I eventually found a Internet kiosk and paid $5.29 for a half hour to dig out the e-mail an figure out I am 10 blocks and a bridge away from the right place. Eventually I made it and had a great time.

My solution is to sent the pertinent information in a text message to my phone or write it in my Palm. Better yet do both. I synch my Palm once a day and I could set an e-mail address that only that device would get. This would allow me to not have to pull all my e-mail onto my Palm and only that which I really wanted. Days like today would require much more forethought or just send a snippet to the phone.

All this gets back to having the information you need at your fingertips when you want or need it. It is that roughly magnetized cloud of information that I want to follow me.



August 18, 2002

Hierarchy of Information Needs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



August 17, 2002

Interface and the customer

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

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



August 15, 2002

Found it in the paper

I learned another thing on vacation, The New York Times is a great paper. Yes, the NYTimes.com offers great news and all the content, but the actual paper is a great asset. I spent this past week reading the paper version of the Times and found great stories that informed and even entertained in each day's paper. I never see this in the digital version as it is not as easy to flip through the digital pages as it is the paper version. The Web version groups the information by like kind, but finding the nuggets is not as easy. I usually read the highlights using AvantGo, which may limit my closeness ot the nuggets I found I really miss. I subscribed to the paper version for years, but thought I found the digital version more streamlined, but now I realize what would make my morning coffee better.


July 18, 2002

Adaptive Path to DC

Last September I attended a two day User Experience Workshop put on by Adaptive Path. This was one of the most conprehensive sessions/classes I had ever been to on the approach and skills needed to develop a usable Web site. As many of us know the Adaptive Path folks are taking this great session on the road and adding a third day using a local professional to help bring it all home. This may be the most productive money you spend all year. Those that come to your sites and pay for your work with receive an even greater benefit. Do it for yourself and for the users of what you produce.

The following is a better description by the Adaptive Path folks describing the Washington, DC (actually held in Arlington, Virginia) sessions:
Design theories don't help if you can't make them work in actual day-to-day practice. Increasingly, sites must respond to the realities of scant budgets and greater financial return. Adaptive Path's User Experience Workshops will prepare you to meet these challenges with usable tools for putting design theory into practice today. You'll spend the first two days with Adaptive Path partners Jeffrey Veen, Peter Merholz, and Lane Becker. They'll show you how to incorporate user goals, business needs, and organizational awareness into your design process. You'll develop a project plan, learn methods for research and design, and create clear documentation. You'll learn the same strategies Adaptive Path has successfully practiced for a wide range of companies, including Fortune 500s, startups, and not-for-profits.

Additionally, on day 3 we will be joined by information architect extraordinaire Thom Haller, who will talk about "The Value of Structure." In this workshop, he'll draw on twenty years experience in professional communication to explore the possibilities inherent in structure, and its value to others. As participants, you'll have the opportunity to see structure through users' eyes. You'll learn a measurements-based, performance-focused structure for gathering, evaluating, chunking, knowing, and organizing content. You'll have a chance to "sample" different structures (such as narrative) and see how they offer value to organizations and their constituencies.

You'll leave the workshop inspired and equipped with design techniques and a library of documentation templates that you can use right away -- so that your web site will satisfy your users, your management and you! But wait--there's more! Or, rather, less! As in--DISCOUNTS! If you sign up with the promotional code "FOTV" (without the quotes), we'll knock the price down from $1,195 to $956 -- a 20% discount.

For more information: http://www.adaptivepath.com/events/wdc.phtml



July 9, 2002

Usability review of online mapping sites

The Wall Street Journal provides a review of online mapping directions and lists how helpful each of them were with regards to mapping, accuracy, and written directions. These applications are one service that blossomed on the Internet, but the usefullness of the sites and the usability of the sites varies. Reviewed are: AAA.com, MapBlast.com, MapQuest.com, RandMcNally.com, and Hertz NeverLost II GPS. The usability and accuracy of the online maps and their printout versions are key to how well the site gets you to where you are going. One of the items this review required was finding an exact restaurant by name, which there are other methods of finding a restaurant's address to look up on a map. Over all the review is a good read.


June 3, 2002

PowerPoint War

A PowerPoint battle has been put forth between Michael Sippey and Leslie Harpold. The rules have been laid down and there is more info available. If you do not have a method of viewing PowerPoint you are missing out on the greatest tool of mediocrity. I love what I do because of my distance from PowerPoint on a daily basis. Anyhow, this should be great.


April 19, 2002

Intelligent gripes about AOL

WSJ's Kara Swisher, in her last Boom Town Exchange, posts readers comments about AOL. Many of the comments are critical, but it is a good look at how users interact with services. Many of these folks writing in have been AOL users for years. Services is important and keeping a broad user group happy is really tough, as you will see if you read.


XML for org charts and so much more

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


April 16, 2002


February 27, 2002

Decisionmaking about design is critical and demonstrated. This walk through of how design influences impressions of a product. Communicating a message is important in the words and visual design. Each of these samples builds an experience and expectation for the product.


February 11, 2002

Shirley Chan offers Web Site Management-Policy and Standards, which provide a great way to move toward consistancy on a large site.


February 7, 2002

DM Review provides a history of metadata and the future of metadata in one article, what more could you want. It is a good overview of the past tools and goals of metadata. Central to providing a solid information application is understanding the data and information we are working with. This understanding allows us to tie is to other information to give that data better depth and this is best done with metadata. Metadata help explains the data and allows for data to be tied (or joined) to other data.

An example would be putting together a quick view of all products sold in an ice cream truck. The driver has a small computer that captures all the sales he has makes throughout the day. At certain intervals he synchs his sales to a central computer so that he can easily stop back at the warehouse and stock up on items he is low on. The driver has sold 7 of ab4532 and 16 of tr78t in the past hour. He has had requests for pp887 too. This information is useful for the computers and the data has meaning, but it needs some metadata to know that he will need 7 of Abners Glow-cicles, 16 Tricky Rootbeer pops, a carton of covered paper cups. This metadata will help the person that will prepare these items for the driver's arrival at the warehouse. The "pp" indicates that a paper product is needed and the number following is its actual product code. The raw data now has meaning with tanks to the metadata.



February 2, 2002

Last Days of the Corporate Technophobe the NY Times headline reads. This article on how business is driven by information and the organization of information is paramount. The business world, or now those that did not "get it" before, is a knowledge-sharing and information processing realm. Those with out the ability are lost, or as this article states:

Not being able to use a computer in the year 2002 is like not being able to read in the 1950's.

This is important for us that create applications, Web sites, and other technologies. We have an important job in assisting the ease of information use and the process that helps this information become knowledge. Digging through the heaps of data can be eased so that the user can find the information that is important for their purposes. A large part of this job is creating an environment that will make for the ease of information use and mining the desired bits and bytes. A centralized or a minimum interconnected system of data stores that have the ability to keep information current across resources. Finding the snippets of information is often daunting in a large database centered system, but even worse in environments that have stores of segregated documents and data files (like MS Access). Information Architecture is vital to this effort assisting in helping create a navigatible structure of information. Looking at Google and its great improvements in vast information searching is the right direction also.



Also on O'Reilly Net is the wrap-up of the Bioinformatics Technology Conference. The field of bioinformatics technology is of complete interst to me as it solves real world problems using what we have built with our minds and hands.


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.



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.



Data Needs Context and Molding to Mean Anything

Matt has found one of the many gems on data and providing meaning to it from the ever popular (in my book) Nathan Shedroff. The quote...
"Data is fairly worthless to most of us; it is the product of research or creation
(such as writing), but it is not an adequate product for communicating. To have 
informational value, it must be organized, transformed, and presented in a way
that gives it meaning."
is from Nathan's A Unified Field Theory of Design.


December 18, 2001

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


December 7, 2001

Fellow Boxes and Arrows developer Adam Greenfeld is one of this weeks A List Apart writers. Adam focuses on the lack of discussion of design history in current on-line discussion forums. He goes into his own discussion of wonderful design in history.

I like that he brings up the lack of passion in the field of design, this can be seen else where around the Web. There should always be, I my little opinion, passion at the heart of a designer and/or developer. The passion to create a wonderful place to be used that provides life and breathes ideas. At the heart of this passion is a desire to go back and understand what begat what and who mothered ideas and schools of thought. It is from this understanding that we can build, research, and expand our understandings and knowledge to help the whole profession grow. (What you are still reading here, go read Adam).



November 16, 2001

Is Information Architect the Term for the Work of Setting Plans for Information Applications

There has been quite a bit of discussion about the moniker Information Architect on the sigia-L listserve lately. I tried to post a response, but it never made it to the list serve. I am not too concerned about the name or the label attached to the skills and practice of these skills, but to me IA is rather apropos for what I find to be a core part of information application development. The following is my input and a description of what I do as a foundation for developing information applications.

I am finding a lot of common ground in the descriptions of IA, User-based terms, and Experience Design. I tend to lump the whole, to a large extent, into Information Architecture. My work focuses on building information applications from static Web pages to Content Management Systems (CMS) driven sites that extend access to the information to wireless/mobile devices and work between systems. There are two key elements of this development: the information and the user.

Information architects put structure to the information to better understand it by looking at it through the eyes of the user. How does the user think about this information? How does the user structure the information in their mind? How will the information be used and in what context? Where do users look for this information? These questions are essential to building an information application that can and hopefully will be used. I can not have a successful project or product result unless these questions are asked, answered, and put in to a logical structure. This is the basis for navigation systems, metadata gathering, synomic databases for searches, the foundation to build a wireframe, and extends to the framework to create an information facade in the Richard Saul Wuhrman/Nathan Shedroff understanding of IA.

Louis Rosenfeld sees IA as an intersection of three areas: users, content, and context. Which are the base elements that most of us come to the table to understand. These elements are the core elements that need to be understood for an information application.

Christina Wodtke's big tent includes three elements to an IA: content architecture, interaction design, and information design. These elements are the action elements to Lou's component level approach.

The Experience Design folks (of the Richard Saul Wurman and Nathan Shedroff fold) have the same elements in their tool kit and approach the questions much the same manner, but have an experiential end goal the are trying to achieve.

Much of my understanding of these elements came initially from Communication Theory, advertising, public relations, and direct marketing. The user/audience is the focal point of communication and to target a message one needs to answer the same user centric questions and understand the information at hand. I added this background to my then hobby of playing with computers and trying to make applications function in a way that helped me do my job and try to extend that passion to helping others use technology to aid them. The core focus is the user, the task, and the information.

I really like Marc Rittig's hub-and-spoke approach to find a core set of understanding, which there is plenty there to build upon. The joining of disciplines where there is common ground is important as we have a lot to learn and a lot of experiences to share.

I did not know what to call the foundation skills that I found needed to be employed in a project to lead to success. At SXSW last year information architecture kept popping up as a viable choice. After six to seven years of working off a modified process, based on the one I read on vivid studio's site and married it to my process background learned in communication theory, I had a name. I worked for six years with out a name for what I did and found helpful. I know that much of what I do is based on examining how an information space will be used to provide a structured understanding to the user for accessing and using that information. Understanding the user and the information allows a map/schematic/blueprint to be drawn, upon which an information application can be built.



November 15, 2001

Chistina Wodtke's secret project is no longer a secret. Boxes and Arrows is out of the bag. I have been having a wonderful time offering my services to help see this come to life. I offer what I can to move a great project along that is filled with some wonderfully amazing folks from around the globe.


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


November 1, 2001

I really enjoyed reading Jef Raskin's "There is No Such Thing as Information Design". This takes me right back to communication theory class. To be specific Jef clarifies with, "Information cannot be designed; what can be designed are the modes of transfer and the representations of information. This is inherent in the nature of information, and it is important for designers to keep the concepts of information and meaning distinct."


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

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