Off the Top: Interaction Design Entries


October 3, 2017

Animoji Trains Future Interaction Interface

In the September 2017 Apple iPhone 8 and iPhone X announcement Keynote they demonstrated the Apple ARKit driven face emoji, Amimoji. This is similar to other platform’s and service’s offerings.

But, there is something I think a little different about what Apple is doing. One piece is the face identification system that Apple has in the iPhone X and the 30,000 dots it uses on people faces to ascertain an identity, which makes it difficult for someone to use a photo or mask of a person to gain access. The other piece is people interacting with their screens and the live face scans of muscles and facial features moving.

It is this second piece, the live interaction where I have a strong hunch Apple is seeding things for the future. People are learning to interact with a facial scan interface for fun and learning the capabilities so to be comfortable with it. This seems very similar to Microsoft’s using the Solitaire game in early Windows to provide a fun interaction as a means to train people how to use a mouse and get comfortable with it.

Look out a few years and start to see not Animoji, but people talking to Siri to bring up an app on their wrist, car heads-up display, or (rather banal) iPhone and use facial interactions to swipe, scroll, sort, etc. feature options and light contextual information options for simple / calm interfaces. A raise of the eyebrow could scroll up options, a side smile left moves to preferred options and side smile right moves to next screen.

I know nothing other than a hunch, but playing around with this idea for years, I’m seeing the potential could be around the corner. Finally. Maybe. Come on Apple, lets take that step.



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!



November 12, 2014

New Adoption Points

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

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

The Software Counter Model to Quick Change Adoption

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

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

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

Some Tools are Nearly There as a Continual State

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

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

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



March 30, 2011

Designing Advanced Deisgn - Julian Bleeker notes from Kruzeniski Workshop

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

Julian’s Notes from the Workshop on Designing Advanced Design

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

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

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

Krizeniski's 3 Approaches to Advanced Design

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

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

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



Late to Realizing Ovi Maps Does Exactly What I Wish

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

That FINALLY! Moment Reached

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

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

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



February 22, 2011

The Genius of Design - BBC Series Overview

This past Summer (2010) the BBC (BBC 2) showed a five part documentary series on design, called The Genius of Design (TGoD). This series is similar to Gary Hustwit's Objectified, but TGoD goes much broader and deeper offering a better reflection of the reality of design only seen through that depth. Think of Objectified as a taste sampler of TGoD. There are some people in common between the two whom are interviewed and focussed upon, but life is breathed into architecture, process, visual, industrial, and many more slices of the design world that bring design to life in TGoD. It is a wonderful look at the real nature of design.

The Five Episodes of The Genius of Design

The five episodes are: 1) Ghosts in the Machine; 2) Designs for Living; 3) Blueprints for War; 4) Better Living Through Chemistry; 5) Objects of Desire. The core focus is on the deep consideration and understanding that goes into design. It is this rigor of understanding and working through to final product all based on a core objective. Throughout the five series the focus on a deep understanding the materials deeply, use, impact on the people interacting with what has been designed, and development processes (as well as optimizing them).

Standout Themes

The obsession to understand the materials used and objects being design with depth and breadth is not the only standout theme. Many other themes and take away ideas stood out not only when watching, but also now many months later.

Focus on End Use and People Using Product of Design

One major reoccurring theme throughout is the focus on end use. The the products not only should be pleasing nearly (possibly to the point of being emotive), but they must also be usable, and do what it is intended to do very well. A continual focus on the person using what is designed is one of the central tenets of design and with out this it is something other than design.

Breadth of Design Disciplines and Roles

To the point of design having a focus on the person using what is designed, the breath of roles within design was brought up. Wonderfully, Peter Boersma's T-Model was directly mentioned in when discussing the breadth of expertise with required depth and roles in design that are required to all come together to optimally create a final product that is please and usable for the person who engages with the final product. While watching the whole series the focus on various disciplines and roles is very evident and when listening to the designers talk about their own focus and discipline (all largely falling under the moniker of design) as it relates to final crafting of the final object) it is they all have depth in their own discipline, but understand the materials deeply and the class and required needs for the final product very well.

Every Designer Has A Chair In Them

Another reoccurring thread, that gets depth of focus a few times, is the idea that every designer has a chair in them (this has become a meme in the broad design community from the near instant this was uttered mid-Summer). The chair is emblematic of the need for utility (purpose, comfort, durability, etc.) as well as providing style. A chair that collapses is not well designed. The chair also often has requirements beyond basic sitting, which can include long term comfort, ability to stack and store it, be environmentally friendly, and many more possible variations. This intersection of use, style, material, and production around the chair leads to a lot of the depth of understanding required to get to a final product prototyped, tested, and into production. This depth and breadth that designers put in is often not considered by people outside the design community, but also the depth and rigor involved in design is missed in some disciplines that are tangential to design, but do not consider themselves purely in the design profession.

Process Design and Optimization

Within the Blueprints for War episode the focus of designing the process was often repeated. The episode focussed on Britain in World War II and the need to have mass production of goods needed for the war that worked for their purposes, but there were limitations of materials and time needed to get mass amounts of goods in military personnel’s hands. Streamlining production and simplifying the goods became essential, but as well thinking of solutions seemed like their was expansive production (dummy planes, etc.) and alternate facilities (fake factories) were included in the design mix.

Wishing for More

In all this was a fantastic series for those in and around the design profession, those who intersect with design, and just fans of design.



February 10, 2011

January 2011 Books Read

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

Books read January 2001 with short summaries.

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


June 27, 2009

Social Design for the Enterprise Workshop in Washington, DC Area

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

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

Past Attendees have Said...

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

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

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

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

Is the Workshop Only for Designers?

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

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

Not Only for Enterprise

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

The Workshop will Address…

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

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

More info...

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

I look forward to seeing you there.

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March 12, 2009

Catching Up On Personal InfoCloud Blog Posts

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

The following are recently posted over at Personal InfoCloud

SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools

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

Optimizing Tagging UI for People & Search

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

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

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

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



January 25, 2009

Optimizing Tagging UI for People & Search

Overview/Intro

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

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

Multi-term Tag Intro

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

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

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

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

Conceptual Models Missing in Social Tool Adoption

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

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

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

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

Multi-term Tag UI Options

Compound Terms

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

Tag sample from Delicious

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disconnected Multi-term Tags

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

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

Quoted Multi-term Tags

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

What begins with a simple helpful prompt...:

 SlideShare Tag Input UI

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

SlideShare quoted multi-term tag parsing

Comma Delimited Tags

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

Ma.gnolia comma separated multi-term tag output

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

Text Box Per Tag

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

Yahoo! Bookmarks 2 text box per tag

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

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

Summary

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

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



June 11, 2008

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

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

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

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



May 30, 2008

Enterprise 2.0 Boston - After Noah: What to do After the Flood (of Information)

I am looking forward to being at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston from June 10 to June 12, 2008. I am going to be presenting on June 10, 2008 at 1pm on After Noah: Making Sense of the Flood (of Information). This presentation looks at what to expect with social bookmarking tools inside an organization as they scale and mature. It also looks at how to manage the growth as well as encourage the growth.

Last year at the same Enterprise 2.0 conference I presented on Bottom-up Tagging (the presentation is found at Slideshare, Bottom-up All the Way Down: How Tags Help Businesses Organize, which has had over 8,800 viewing on Slideshare), which was more of a foundation presentation, but many in the audience were already running social bookmarking services in-house or trying them in some manner. This year my presentation is for those with an understanding of what social bookmarking and folksonomy are and are looking for what to expect and how to manage what is happening or will be coming along. I will be covering how to manage heavy growth as well as how to increase adoption so there is heavy usage to manage.

I look forward to seeing you there. Please say hello, if you get a chance.



May 7, 2008

Enterprise Social Tools: Components for Success

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

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

Four Rings of Enterprise Social Tools

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

Tools

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

Interface & Ease of Use

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

Sociality

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

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

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

Encouraging Use

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

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

The Overlaps

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

Tools and Interface

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

Tools and Sociality

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

Interface and Encouraging Use

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

Sociality and Encouraging Use

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

The Missing Piece in Overlaps

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

Overlap A

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

Overlap B

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

Overlap C

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

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

Overlap D

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

Summary

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

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



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 16, 2008

Explaining the Granular Social Network

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

Social Tools Need to Embrace Granularity

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

Showing Granular Social Network


Granular Social Network from Thomas Vander Wal on Vimeo.

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

Connections with Others

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

Mapping Interests with Contacts

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

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

Focus On One Interest

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

Moving Social Connections Forward

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

One area of social tools where I see this value beginning to surface in through tagging for individuals to start to state (personally I see this as a private or closed declaration that only the person tagging see with the option of sharing with the person being tagged, or at least have this capability) the reasons for interest. But, when I look at tools like Last.fm I am not seeing this really taking off and I hear people talking about not fully understanding tagging as as it sometimes narrows the interest too narrowly. It is all an area for exploration and growth in understanding, but digital social tools, for them to have more value for following and filtering the flows in more manageable ways need to more in grasping this more granular understanding of social interaction between people in a digital space.



April 11, 2008

YouTube New Interface and Social Interaction Design Santiy Check

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

Broken Interaction Design on Buttons or Tabs

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

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

Social Sites Seem to Share a Lack of Interaction Understanding

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

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

Social Interaction in Enterprise Tools

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

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



April 10, 2008

Denning and Yaholkovsky on Real Collaboration

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

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

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

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

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



April 6, 2008

Selective Sociality and Social Villages

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

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

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

Selective Sociality of Villages

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

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

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



February 22, 2008

Remote Presentation and Perception Matrix for Social Tools

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

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

Remote Presentation Feelings

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

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

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

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

New Content in Presentation

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

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

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



February 11, 2008

Challenges as Opportunities for Social Networks and Services

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

Response to Challenges of Social Network/Services

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

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

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

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

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



February 8, 2008

Getting More Value In Enterprise with Social Bookmarking

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

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

Social Bookmarking has Great Value in the Enterprise

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

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

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

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



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 14, 2008

Ma.gnolia Goes Mobile

On Friday Ma.gnolia rolled out a mobile version of their site, M.gnolia - Mobile Ma.gnolia. This had me really excited as I now have access to my bookmarks in my pocket on my mobile. Ma.gnolia gives a quick preview in their blog post Ma.gnolia Blog: Flowers on the Go.

What Mobile Ma.gnolia Does and Does Not Do

First, off the mobile Ma.gnolia does not have easy bookmarking, which is not surprising given the state things in mobile browsers. I really do not see this as a huge downside. What I am head over heals happy about is access to my bookmarks (all 2800 plus). The mobile version allows searching through your own tags (if you are logged in). It currently has easy access to see that is newly bookmarked in Ma.gnolia groups you follow, your contact's bookmarks, popular bookmarks, your own tags, and your profile.

Mobile Site Bookmarks

One thing that is helpful for those that use mobile web browsing is having easy access to mobile versions of web sites. Yes, the iPhone and many smartphone users (I am in the Nokia camp with my well liked E61i) can easily browse and read regular web pages, but mobile optimized pages are quicker to load and have less clutter on a smaller screen. The iPhone, WebKit-based browsers (Nokia), Opera Mini, and other decent mobile web browsers all have eased mobile browsing use of regular webpages, but having a list of mobile versions is really nice.

Yesterday, Saturday, I created a Ma.gnolia Mobile Version Group so people can share web pages optimized for mobile devices (quicker/smaler downloads, smaller screens, less rich ads, etc.). One of the ways I was thinking people could use this is to find sites in this group then bookmark them for their own use with tags and organization that makes sense for themself. The aim is just to collect and share with others what you find helpful and valuable for yourself. This group will be monitored for spam as the rest of Ma.gnolia is (Ma.gnolia uses "rel="no-follow"" so there really is little value to spammers).

Ways You Can Use Mobile Ma.gnolia

This means if you tagged a store, restaurant, bar, transit site, or other item that has value when out walking around it is really nice to have quick access to it. It can also be a great way to read those items you have tagged "to read" (if you are a person that tags things in that manner) so you can read what you want in the doctor's office, bus, train, or wherever.

I have a lot of content I have bookmarked for locations I am work, live, and visit. When I come across something I want to remember (places to eat, drink, learn, hang, be entertained, etc.) I often dump them into the bookmarks. But, getting to this information has been painful from a mobile in the past. I am now starting to go back to things I have tagged with locations and add a "togo" tag so they are easier for me to find and use in the Ma.gnolia mobile interface. I have already added a bookmark for an museum exhibit that I really want to see that is not far from where I am. When a meeting is dropped, postponed, or runs short near the museum I can make a trip over and see it. There is so much information flowing through my devices and it is nice to be able to better use this info across my Personal InfoCloud in my trusted devices I have with me and use the information in context it is well suited for, when have stepped away from my desk or laptop.

I am looking forward to see where this goes. Bravo and deep thanks to the Larry and others at Ma.gnolia that made this happen!



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.



December 7, 2007

Pffft! Social Graph, We Need the Portable Social Network

In reading Alex Rudloff's "Privacy as Currancy" post I had two thoughts reoccur: 1) privacy is a currency back by trust; and 2) Pfffft! Social graph? Where is my Portable Social Network?

I agree with what Alex stated about wanting to move out of Facebook as my trust in them is gone completely (mostly driven by even though they apologized (poorly) Facebook still receives trackings of all your travels on the internet after you opt out, Om Malik's Zuckerberg's Mea Culp, Not Enough, and Brian Oberkirk's Facebook Harder to Shake than the Columbia Record Tape Club (a great read on the hurdles of really getting out of Facebook)). I will likely blog about the relationship between privacy and trust in another post in the not too distant future, as I have been talking about it in recent presentations on Social Software (Going Social and Putting Users First).

The Dire Need for Portable Social Networks

When Alex states:

Beacon had me so freaked out that I walked through what would happen if I simply removed my account (my natural, gut reaction). The fact is, I'd lose contact with a lot of people instantly. There's no easy way for me to take my data out and apply it somewhere else. There is no friend export and there isn't anywhere suitable for me to go.

I think we need portable social networks (or Social Network Portability as it is also known) before we need the social graph. Part of the interest in the social graph (mapping the relationships) is based on Facebook, but Facebook is a really poor interface for this information, it has some of the connections, some of the context, but it is not granular and does not measure strength (strong or weak ties) of relationships on a contextual and/or a preferential interest level. This social graph does little to help us move from one social software service to another other than to show a linkage.

There are strong reasons for wanting and needing the Portable Social Network. One is it makes it easy to drop into a new social software service and try it with social interactions with people whom we are already having social interactions. Whilst this is good it is also really important if something tragic or dire happens with a social software service we are already using, such as it is shut down, it is no longer performing for us, or it has given us a reason to leave through loss of trust. As I noted in the past (Following Friends Across Walled Gardens") leaving social software services is nothing new (even predates people leaving Delphi for Prodigy and Prodigy for AOL, etc.), but we still are not ready for this seemingly natural progression of moving house from one walled off social platform for another.

The Call for Action for Portable Social Network is Now

I am finding many of my friends have put their Facebook account on in hibernation (Facebook calls it &#quot;deactivation") and many have started taking the painful steps of really getting all of their information out of Facebook and planning to never go back. My friends have not sorted out what robust social software platform they will surface on next (many are still using Flickr, Twitter, Pownce, Tumblr and/or other options along with their personal blogs), but they would like to hold on to the digital statements of social relationship they made in Facebook and be able to drop those into some other service or platform easily.

One option could a just having a Smart Address Book or as Tim O'Reilly states Address Book 2.0. I believe that this should be a tool/service should have the relationships private and that privacy is controlled by the individual that owns the address book, possibly even accounting for the privacy request of the person whose address is in the address book. But, this is one option of many.

The big thing is we need Portable Social Networks now! This is not a far off in the future need it is a need of today.

[Comments are open on the syndicated post at Pffft! Social Graph, We Need the Portable Social Network :: Personal InfoCloud]



December 4, 2007

Finding Real Community

This past week was really rough, but a good lightbulb moment for community. My wife had a bad fall on steps and badly broke her ankle. The response has been overwhelming from the people in our physical neighborhood, but also on Twitter and to a lesser degree on Facebook. The ability to hear from people offering condolence but offering assistance has been incredible. I lost track of the feedback on Twitter after 80 responses, all from a group of friends and collaborators I share with regularly. I have a similar number of connections in Facebook, but only received 10 or so responses (largely because the interface in Facebook is poor for tracking all presence messaging with social networks that scale (I have discussed this before in Facebook for Business or LinkedIn Gets More Valuable and Can Facebook Change Its DNA?).

An Expanded Network of Caring

The people in the neighborhood bring food and offering help has been really comforting. I hear many people now living neighborhood where they do not know their neighbors and do not have this caring. I feel very fortunate to have a traditional neighborhood that cares.

The Twitter responses blew me away, as the sincerity and support went far beyond any offerings of connections in the past. Twitter has acted like a local neighborhood but with global connections. There are continual complaints about Twitter not being real community, but the short messages (140 characters), the interface, and flow to people I have personal contact with (not face to face, but just as real) is utterly impressive. Twitter triggered IMs, SMS, and messaging through Twitter. It was simple best wishes to many offers of being available for support to talk and offers to send anything needed.

This really floored me as it is an extension of humanity in the most touching way (other than face-to-face). Twitter has been my social environment for humor, sharing, calls for assistance (out and responding to), and in many ways that my old physical office space used to provide, but now the people connected are many more and it is far more manageable. I have grown accustom to this closeness and alternate means of socializing, but was still amazed with the real caring response.



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.



October 14, 2007

Facebook for Business or LinkedIn Gets More Valuable

Michael Arrington writes about Facebook has LinkedIn in their Crosshairs, but I have been finding Facebook becoming increasingly less valuable the more people I have connected in it. The converse is opposite for me, LinkedIn becomes incredibly more valuable the more people I have in it. The reason for my derived value is simplicity.

LinkedIn Scales Quite Well the More Connections a Person Has

LinkedIn focusses on a simple set of things (your connections, changes to your connections, simple activities by your connections, and connecting with other people) and lets the person using the service derive value. LinkedIn lets be easily download the updated vCard, which drops into my address book in two different applications, which I have syncing with my mobile device (now that I have a mobile device that does not suck). LinkedIn is partly passive for me as I leave it own in a tab in my browser and check it a few times a day, but where a contact updates their status I can update my address book and it is a trigger for me to send a note, using the services they prefer (I keep track of that). LinkedIn is moving to opening its service with an API as they blogged (The LinkedIn API Opportunity). This will permit other services that can add value and are also great at what they do to pair the services, like Dopplr or a calendar to show availability (a particular need of mine). LinkedIn understands the information in their service has value and is more valuable outside their service for many people. But, LinkedIn also understands a good interface that is not cluttered, and there for it can scale.

Facebook Scales Poorly the More People A Person is Connected To

Facebook has a few things going for it, a huge mass of people with accounts and it has a fairly good lifestream interface for one's friends. The value for people using Facebook for themselves is much less than the high dollar valuations given to it (the valuation is not because it is a great service or tool, but because they have a ton of accounts in the service that creates value for advertisers). A few weeks ago I posted some Facebook frustrations in Twitter that stated:

"Facebook is driving me absolutely nuts - there is no way to manage information or conversations"
"Facebook is like a grade school lunch room, cacophony and chaos as the rule of nature"
&auot;FAcebook has a lot of valuable bits of information flowing through it from my contacts, but it FAILS to allow be to do anything with them"

Unlike Twitter, which allows me to favorite bits of information that I find valuable, Facebook does not grasp that the information has value. They do not grasp that those of us people who use their service are sharing things with those we connect with (friends, acquaintances, work relations, etcera) and we would like these people to see this information. Facebook interface started breaking for me finding information shared for my seeing (along with many others) with about 75 connections. It became virtually unusable with 150 people. There is information about events, blog posts, published journal articles, job changes, travel to cities I will be in (the Dopplr application is helpful, but if does not make a connection to those people in Facebook and the information I should be seeing), and other helpful valuable information for me.

Not only was I having this problem, but I was getting many e-mails and messages through Twitter with my friends and contacts severe problems with the poor (at best) Facebook platform. Nearly every person I heard from had many instances of broken communication because Facebook has yet to sort out volumes of information and surface it in a manner that can be valuable for the people it is intended to communicate with.

Facebook developers have a huge amount of learning about information, information flow, and information use in people's lives. Information is part of social interaction and what makes literate beings stand out is doing something, often using and reusing information. One common statement about Facebook from friends of all ages is it is a service to connect to people and play Scrabble on, but that is the end of the value. Facebook really needs to wake up and build real APIs that allow ease of holding on to the information people share as part of their being social humans sharing. When Facebook broke the FacebookSync.app it ruined one of the solid values Facebook provided, updating my address book with ease from information my friends were sharing with me.

Facebook Groups Have Learned Nothing from Group Messaging Platforms

One area that is really frustrating is Facebook#039;s groups. Many groups start with good intentions of providing a place to gather and message around a subject area. But, most groups already have listserves and other discussion platforms and the walled garden and horrible group discussion board platform make the Facebook platform a distraction and only providing a means for communication fractured across channels. Finding valuable information in Facebook groups or reading and following along is horribly painful, there has been some good advancement in groups discussion forums in the past 20 years, but Facebook seems to have ignored all things good with groups.

There are some exceptions to this rule, as the Facebook group for Victoria Secret Pink has been brought up as an example by more than five of my clients in the last five months or so. The Pink group has good community leaders and engages the people in the group to connect with others.

Successful Social Group Filtering is Needed

One of the fixes that Facebook needs is the same fix that every group discussion platform (listserves, threaded discussions, and web platforms) needs. Popular discussion boards have problems as they scale and over time with repetitive discussions. After people have been lurkers or participants in a discussion services for a few months (some people grasp this much more quickly) trends appear. The trends are the identifying people we find add value for us personally (every person has different valued contributors) and there are subjects that we want to listen to and participate in and those we have little interest in. The next step for these tools will be to surface people we find valued contributions from and subjects we want to pay attention to and others that we want to not listen to (unless one of our valued contributors jumps in the conversation). Not all contributors are valuable to us in all groups, so that needs to have granular listening attributes and we need to have fuzzy semantic terms (we set a word or few and terms that are related to these words will draw our reader's attention and filter them out for us to easily see and follow). These solutions are also needed in RSS feeds and aggregated information services.

The Future of LinkedIn and Facebook

LinkedIn already is a good business tool with value and they need to protect what they do well, which is holding on to people we have met and interacted with outside LinkedIn and use LinkedIn to connect with others with similar interests or needs. Opening up the API for LinkedIn could help people share their linked in profile though mobile devices so to gather a digital business card or easily get a link to it as we meet people, not hours, days, or weeks later.

Facebook has a decent platform that offers more than the pure social network tools before it (Ryze, Friendster, Orkut, or MySpace), but it still has an really long way to go. It gets about 40% right, but it can easily just be another step forward for social networking tools, unless it starts solving some of the difficult problems. A Facebook like tool that gets communication and sharing right at scale for professionals will do really well. Tools like this are needed inside the firewall for enterprise and Facebook does have value in its current state for business, but it is really limited.

The promised addition of grouping contacts in Facebook will help provide a better tool for profession needs separating out value from the playful, but it will need a lot more than that. Facebook really needs to open up and to get a clue about people and information and the needs people have for information, such as holding on to that information and using it outside the system. Facebook is just fodder for the next social software service that does this right, on top of the 45% of things that Facebook got right and be the next media darling worth billions that never amounted to much.



August 30, 2007

A Stale State of Tagging?

David Weinberger posted a comment about Tagging like it was 2002, which quotes Matt Mower discussing the state of tagging. I mostly agree, but not completely. In the consumer space thing have been stagnant for a while, but in the enterprise space there is some good forward movement and some innovation taking place. But, let me break down a bit of what has gone on in the consumer space.

History of Tagging

The history of tagging in the consumer space is a much deeper and older topic than most have thought. One of the first consumer products to include tagging or annotations was the Lotus Magellan product, which appeared in 1988 and allowed annotations of documents and objects on one's hard drive to ease finding and refinding the them (it was a full text search which was remarkably fast for its day). By the mid-90s Compuserve had tagging for objects uploaded into its forum libraries. In 2001 Bitzi allowed tagging of any media what had a URL.

The down side of this tagging was the it did not capture identity and assuming every person uses words (tag terms) in the same manner is a quick trip to the tag dump where tags are not fully useful. In 2003 Joshua Schacter showed the way with del.icio.us that not only allowed identity, upon which we can disambiguate, but it also had a set object in common with all those identities tagging it. The common object being annotated allows for a beginning point to discern similarity of identityĵs tag terms. Part of this has been driven on Joshua's focus on the person consuming the content and allowing a means for that consumer to get back to their information and objects of interest. (It is around this concept that folksonomy was coined to separate it from the content publisher tagging and non-identity related tagging.) This picked up on the tagging for one's self that was in Lotus Magellan and brings it forward to the web.

Valuable Tagging

It was in del.icio.us that we saw tagging that really did not work well in the past begin to become valuable as the clarity in tag terms that was missing in most all other tagging systems was corrected for in the use of a common object being tagged and the identity of the tagger. This set the foundation for some great things to happen, but have great things happened?

Tagging Future Promise

Del.icio.us set many of out minds a flutter with insight into the dreams of the capability of tagging having a good foothold with proper structure under them. A brilliant next step was made by RawSugar (now gone) to use this structure to make ease of disambiguating the tag terms (by appleseed did you mean: Johnny Appleseed, appleseeds for gardening/farming, the appleseed in the fruit apple, or appleseed the anime movie?). RawSugar was a wee bit before its time as it is a tool that is needed after there tagging (particularly folksonomy related tagging systems) start scaling. It is a tool that many in enterprise are beginning to seek to help find clarity and greater value in their internal tagging systems they built 12 to 18 months ago or longer. Unfortunately, the venture capitalists did not have the vision that the creators of RawSugar did nor the patience needed for the market to catch-up to the need in a more mature market and they pulled the plug on the development of RawSugar to put the technology to use for another purpose (ironically as the market they needed was just easing into maturity).

The del.icio.us movement drove blog tags, laid out by Technorati. This mirrored the previous methods of publisher tagging, which is most often better served from set categories that usually are derived from a taxonomy or simple set (small or large) of controlled vocabulary terms. Part of the problem inherent in publisher tags and categories is that they are difficult to use outside of their own domain (however wide their domain is intended - a specific site or cross-sites of a publisher). Using tags from one blog to another blog has problems for the same reason that Bitzi and all other publisher tags have and had problems, they are missing identity of the tagger AND a clear common object being tagged. Publisher tags can work well as categories for aggregating similar content within a site or set of commonly published sites where a tag definition has been set (but that really makes them set categories) and used consistently. Using Technorati tag search most often surfaces this problem quickly with many variation of tag use surfacing or tag terms being used to attract traffic for non-related content (Technorati's keyword search is less problematic as it relies on the terms being used in context in the content - unfortunately the two searches have been tied together making search really messy at the moment). There is need for an improved tool that could take the blog tags and marry them to the linked items in the content (if that is what is being talked about - discerning predicate in blog tags is not clear yet).

Current Tools that Advanced

As of a year ago there were more than 140 social bookmarking tools in the consumer space, but there was little advancement. But, there are a few services that have innovated and brought new and valuable features to market in tagging. As mentioned recently Ma.gnolia has done a really good job of taking the next steps with social interaction in social bookmarking. Clipmarks pioneered the sub-page tagging and annotation in the consumer tagging space and has a really valuable resource in that tool. ConnectBeam is doing some really good things in the enterprise space, mostly taking the next couple steps that Yahoo MyWeb2 should have taken and pairing it with enterprise search. Sadly, del.icio.us (according to comments in their discussion board) is under a slow rebuilding of the underlying framework (but many complaints from enterprise companies I have worked with and spoken indepth with complain del.icio.us continually blocks their access and they prefer not to use the service and are finding current solutions and options to be better for them).

A Long Way to Go

While there are examples that tagging services have moved forward, there is so much more room to advance and improve. As people's own collection of tagged pages and objects have grown the tools are needed to better refind them. This will require time search and time related viewing/scanning of items. The ability to use co-occurance of tag terms (what other tags were used on the object), with useful interfaces to view and scan the possibilities.

Portability and interoperability is extremely important for both the individual person and enterprise to aggregate, migrate, and search across their collections across services and devices (now that devices have tagging and have had for some time, as in Mac OS X Tiger and now Vista). Enterprises should also have the ability to move external tagged items in through their firewall and publish out as needed, mostly on an employee level. There is also desire to have B2B tagging with customers tagging items purchased so the invoicing can be in the customers terminology rather than the seller terminology.

One of the advances in personal tagging portability and interoperability can easily be seen when we tag on one device and move the object to a second device or service (parts of this are not quite available yet). Some people will take a photo on their mobile phone and add quick tags like "sset" and others to a photo of a sunset. They send that photo to a service or move it to their desktop (or laptop) and import the photo and the tag goes along with it. The application sees the "sset" and knows the photo was transfered from that person's mobile device and knows it is their short code for "sunset" and expands the tag to sunset accordingly. The person then adds some color attribute tags to the photo and moves the photo to their photo sharing service of choice with the tags appended.

The current tools and services need tools and functionality to heal some of the messiness. This includes stemming to align versions of the same word (e.g. tag, tags, tagging, bookmark, bookmarking). Tag with disambiguation in mind by offering co-occurrence options (e.g. appleseed and anime or johnny or gardening or apple). String matching to identify facets for time and date, names (from your address book), products, secret tag terms (to have them blocked from sharing), etc. (similar to Stikkit and GMail).

Monitoring Tools

Enterprise is what the next development steps really need to take off (these needs also apply to the power knowledge worker as well). The monitoring tools for tags from others and around objects (URLs) really need to fleshed out and come to market. The tag monitoring tools need to become granular based on identity and co-occurance so to more tightly filter content. The ability to monitor a URL and how it is tagged across various services is a really strong need (there are kludgy and manual means of doing this today) particularly for simple and efficient tools (respecting the tagging service processing and privacy).

Analysis Tools

Enterprise and power knowledge workers also are in need of some solid analysis tools. These tools should be able to identify others in a service that have similar interests and vocabulary, this helps to surface people that should be collaborating. It should also look at shifts in terminology and vocabulary so to identify terms to be added to a taxonomy, but also provide an easy step for adding current emergent terms to related older tagged items. Identify system use patterns.

Just the Tip

We are still at the tip of the usefulness of tagging and the tools really need to make some big leaps. The demands are there in the enterprise marketplace, some in the enterprise are aware of them and many more a getting to there everyday as the find the value real and ability to improve the worklife and workflow for their knowledge workers is great.

The people using the tools, including enterprise need to grasp what is possible beyond that is offered and start asking for it. We are back to where we were in 2003 when del.icio.us arrived on the scene, we need new and improved tools that understand what we need and provide usable tools for those solutions. We are developing tag islands and silos that desperately need interoperability and portability to get real value out of these stranded tag silos around or digital life.



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 23, 2007

Making a Mobile SmartPhone Selection

Many of you know I have a relationship of hate with my Palm Treo as it (well it has been four of them) a really poor phone and device.

The Needs

I have been trying for some time to weigh my options for a new phone. I really have wanted a phone that works globally. I needs to be a great phone. I needs to have e-mail and web capability. It must sync with my Mac and be capable of handling my full address book (1300 entries - stop your nattering) and my calendar. It must be a stable phone (not crash multiple times each day) and be responsive. It needs to have a camera of decent quality of 2 megapixels or greater.

The Should Haves

I really want an unlocked phone. This has a few advantages that include being able to change carriers if one is not meeting my needs, drop in a SIM when I travel to get lower telecom rates, and the phone is not crippled. I not only have a crippled Treo (thanks to Sprint) that keeps me from transferring files to and from it via bluetooth, but my old Nokia 3650 was crippled by the old AT&T from similar file transfers and using it as a dial-up modem. My old Nokia was moved to T-Mobile and the transfer did not fix the phone being crippled. I would really like the phone to have 3G data capability, partly for Skype and part for downloading documents. I would like the phone to have quad band, which means it will work in most countries around the globe with out changing phones.

I really would like to have WiFi capability built into the phone. It should have the ability to add Skype. I should have the ability to add applications to the phone. It should have the capability of acting as a dial-up modem via bluetooth for my laptop or one of my other devices. It should be easy to use. It should be very responsive - I touch it and it immediately does what I ask and not sit for 3 to 10 seconds before responding. It should have GPS or the capability to use external bluetooth enabled GPS devices to use with phone based applications. It should have a full QWERTY keyboard (2 character toggles could work too). I also like the Treo screen size, which works well for web browsing and reading documents. I would also like a touch interface on the screen (it is an ease of use thing I have grown accustom to with my 8 years or more on Palm devices).

The Should Not Haves

It should not be locked to one carrier (this is not a deal breaker, but for the international travel it is important). It should not be more than $600 (USD), which is about the going rate for unlocked smartphones. It should not be huge (to quantify the Treo is bulky, so it should not be thicker or wider and/or longer than the Treo). It should not crash multiple times each day. It should not require wires to transfer data between my main computer (laptop) and the phone, as well it should not route this trough the internet.

Things That Do Not Matter

I really do not care if my smartphone can play music or play videos. Having this capability would be nice, but the occasions when I want this functionality I have my iPod with in easy reach and it serves me well.

The Options

Yes, I have been looking at the Apple iPhone. I have been looking at the Nokia E61i for quite some time. I have been looking at the Blackberry devices. Lastly, I have been looking at various Sony Ericsson devices.

iPhone

This is an utterly amazing phone. I have spent a lot of time in Apple retail stores testing every inch of the iPhone. It is the most stunningly easy to use and responsive phones I have ever run across. It meets all of my must have requirements and does not match any must not have requirements. The lack of not being able to add applications (particularly GPS and Skype) means I need an data connection to get applications and functionality. This is really not good as international data rates are horrible and WiFi is not always within reach in many countries, so this is a huge problem (cheaper or unlimited international data would solve this issue, but it is not an option as of today). The lack of 3G and true GPS is also less than optimal for me. The ease of switching from mobile carrier to WiFi is fantastic and the preference for WiFi use is a great plus.

Then there is the AT&T issue, which is a provider of last resort for me. The downsides of the iPhone are not huge and can be worked through, many likely getting resolved with software updates over time (3G requires different hardware and is the only non-upgradable detractor), but AT&T/Cingular has notorious high rates for data and horrible customer service. The rates I figure could get resolved, but getting AT&T to let existing customer change with out charges or other painful experiences (read hours on the phone arguing and debating). When I compare AT&T to T-Mobile there is comparison for customer service, T-Mobile is utterly fantastic, has a great site that lets you add and remove features with out penalty and their customer service is kind and will often bend over backward to do what ever it takes to keep you (their customer) happy.

Then we have the AT&T censorship and customer monitoring issues, which are not new. In recent news AT&T admits it has censored many bands (after getting caught censoring Pearl Jam) and the censoring is nearly always political in nature. AT&T has also been overly willing to offer up customer data to the government. With all of the name changes AT&T has gone through it seems that it has also confused its own country of the USA for the USSR.

The iPhone being tied to AT&T makes it really a difficult choice for me. Moving to AT&T will be done as a last resort.

Nokia E61i

I had a lot of interest in the Nokia E61, which did not have a camera and a camera is a must for me. The Nokia has all of the must haves and none of the must not haves. It is nearly perfect in every way, but does not have a touch interface on the screen. It also can be a little quirky in Nokia kinds or ways, which means interactions are not always as easy or seamless as the could be. I have read bits with getting the E61i to work with WiFi properly problems. The E61i is not as beautiful as the iPhone, but it does cover many of the bases that I need it to, including SIM card swapping and being fully unlocked (or the ability to buy it that way). One slight downside has been finding a place to find the Nokia line up in the US to try and buy. I have resorted to trying international friends phones and looking at Mobile Planet to purchase (Dell is now selling the E61i, but it takes 2 to 3 weeks to ship).

Blackberry

I continually have looked at the Blackberry as an option. The bulk of most of the devices (other than the Pearl) has been a turn off, as the device will likely live in my pocket. While I like the functionality of the Pearl (it has a camera and meets the must haves) and I really like the size compared to other Blackberries, the lack of a full keyboard and the smaller screen are drawbacks.

Sony Ericsson

The Sony Ericsson phones have a similar problem to Nokia phone, in that they are rather difficult to find in the US unless you go to Mobile Planet. I have mostly resorted to trying international friend's phones. The lack of a full QWERTY keyboard has been a downside and some of the models have seemed a little bulky. The P1i, which is new to the market has been really interesting and could fit the bill, but I have not seen one. The P1i does not have a full QWERTY keyboard, but has a similar keyboard to the Blackberry Pearl, and it has a touch screen. It is missing WiFi too, which is not a killer. The biggest downside is it is over $600 price limit (making it more expensive than the iPhone).

Conclusion

After much debating options I am going to try the E61i as I can return it in 15 days if it does not work well for me. The little quirks and WiFi access will be the biggest potential frustrations. How much it frustrates me will be the key. It seems like it will be a large improvement over the Treo, which would be difficult to not beat. The ability to try the phone is really important for me. One thing I need to sort out is how to move my number from Sprint to the T-Mobile account easily (I will like move my T-Mobile number to Sprint or Verizon for a second phone option - as I have come to learn there are CDMA and GSM cities in the US and having at least a cheap phone on each is a good plan).

Should my trial with the Nokia E61i prove too frustrating the international carriers for the iPhone will likely be selected in the next couple weeks and I will see if that changes options for the iPhone being completely locked. The next question will be iPhone or the Sony Ericsson P1i, which will depend on the pain of AT&T.



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.



August 13, 2007

Open Conversations and Privacy Needs for Business

I thought I would share the latest press bit around this joint, Thomas Vander Wal was quoted in Inc Magazine What's Next: Shout it Out Loud (or in the August 2007 issue beginning on page 69). The article focuses the need and desire for companies to share and be open with more of their data and information. Quite often companies are getting bit by their privacy around what they do (how their source their products/resources, who they donate money to, etc.) and rumors start. It is far more efficient and helpful to be open with that information, as it gets out anyway.

Ironically, in the same paper issue on page 26 there is a an article about When Scandal Knocks..., which includes a story about Jamba Juice and a blog post that inaccurately claimed it had milk in its products, which could have easily been avoided if Jamba Juice had an ingredients listing on its web site.

The Flip Side

There are two flip sides to this. One is the Apple converse, which is a rare example of a company really making a mythic organization out of its privacy. The second is companies really need privacy for some things, but the control of information is often too extreme and is now more harmful than helpful.

Viable Privacy

I have been working on a much longer post looking at the social software/web tools for and in the enterprise. Much of of the extreme openness touted in the new web charge is not a viable reality inside enterprise. There are a myriad of things that need to be private (or still qualify as valid reasons for many). The list include preparations for mergers and acquisitions, securities information dealings (the laws around this are what drive much of the privacy and are out dated), reorganizations (restructuring and layoffs, which organizations that have been open about this have found innovative solutions from the least likely places), personal employee records, as well as contractual reasons (advising or producing products for competitors in the same industry or market segment). Out side of these issues, which normally add up to under 30 to 40% of the whole of the information that flows through an organization, there is a lot of room for openness in-house and to the outside world.

Need for Enterprise Social Tools Grasping Partial Privacy

When we look at the consumer space for social software there are very few consumer tools that grasp social interaction and information sharing on a granular level (Ma.gnolia, Flickr, and the SixApart tools Vox and LiveJournal are the exceptions that always come to mind). But, many of the tools out there that are commonly used as examples of social web tools really fall down when business looks at them and thinks about privacy and selective sociality (small groups). The social web tools all around really need to grow up and improve in this area. As we are seeing the collaboration and social tools evolve to more viable options we start to see their more glaring holes that do not reflect the reality of human social interaction.

Closing the Gap

What we need is for companies to be more open so the marketplace is a more consumer and communicative environment, but we also need our still early social web tools to reflect our social realities that not everything is public and having tools that better fit those needs.

[Cross-posted at Personal InfoCloud: Open Converastions... with comments open on that posting.]



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).



July 21, 2007

Inline Messaging

Many of the social web services (Facebook, Pownce, MySpace, Twitter, etc.) have messaging services so you can communication with your "friends". Most of the services will only ping you on communication channels outside their website (e-mail, SMS/text messaging, feeds (RSS), etc.) and require the person to go back to the website to see the message, with the exception of Twitter which does this properly.

Inline Messaging

Here is where things are horribly broken. The closed services (except Twitter) will let you know you have a message on their service on your choice of communication channel (e-mail, SMS, or RSS), but not all offer all options. When a message arrives for you in the service the service pings you in the communication channel to let you know you have a message. But, rather than give you the message it points you back to the website to the message (Facebook does provide SMS chunked messages, but not e-mail). This means they are sending a message to a platform that works really well for messaging, just to let you know you have a message, but not deliver that message. This adds extra steps for the people using the service, rather than making a simple streamlined service that truly connects people.

Part of this broken interaction is driven by Americans building these services and having desktop-centric and web views and forgetting mobile is not only a viable platform for messaging, but the most widely used platform around the globe. I do not think the iPhone, which have been purchased by the owners and developers of these services, will help as the iPhone is an elite tool, that is not like the messaging experience for the hundreds of millions of mobile users around the globe. Developers not building or considering services for people to use on the devices or application of their choice is rather broken development these days. Google gets it with Google Gears and their mobile efforts as does Yahoo with its Yahoo Mobile services and other cross platform efforts.

Broken Interaction Means More Money?

I understand the reasoning behind the services adding steps and making the experience painful, it is seen as money in their pockets through pushing ads. The web is a relatively means of tracking and delivering ads, which translates into money. But, inflicting unneeded pain on their customers can not be driven by money. Pain on customers will only push them away and leave them with fewer people to look at the ads. I am not advocating giving up advertising, but moving ads into the other channels or building solutions that deliver the messages to people who want the messages and not just notification they have a message.

These services were somewhat annoying, but they have value in the services to keep somebody going back. When Pownce arrived on the scene a month or so ago, it included the broken messaging, but did not include mobile or RSS feeds. Pownce only provides e-mail notifications, but they only point you back to the site. That is about as broken as it gets for a messaging and status service. Pownce is a beautiful interface, with some lightweight sharing options and the ability to build groups, and it has a lightweight desktop applications built on Adobe AIR. The AIR version of Pownce is not robust enough with messaging to be fully useful. Pownce is still relatively early in its development, but they have a lot of fixing of things that are made much harder than they should be for consuming information. They include Microfomats on their pages, where they make sense, but they are missing the step of ease of use for regular people of dropping that content into their related applications (putting a small button on the item with the microformat that converts the content is drastically needed for ease of use). Pownce has some of the checkboxes checked and some good ideas, but the execution of far from there at the moment. They really need to focus on ease of use. If this is done maybe people will comeback and use it.

Good Examples

So who does this well? Twitter has been doing this really well and Jaiku does this really well on Nokia Series60 phones (after the first version Series60). Real cross platform and cross channel communication is the wave of right now for those thinking of developing tools with great adoption. The great adoption is viable as this starts solving technology pain points that real people are experiencing and more will be experiencing in the near future. (Providing a solution to refindability is the technology pain point that del.icio.us solved.) The telecoms really need to be paying attention to this as do the players in all messaging services. From work conversations and attendees to the Personal InfoCloud presentation, they are beginning to get the person wants and needs to be in control of their information across devices and services.

Twitter is a great bridge between web and mobile messaging. It also has some killer features that add to this ease of use and adoption like favorites, friends only, direct messaging, and feeds. Twitter gets messaging more than any other service at the moment. There are things Twitter needs, such as groups (selective messaging) and an easier means of finding friends, or as they are now appropriately calling it, people to follow.

Can we not all catch up to today's messaging needs?



July 18, 2007

Does IBM Get Folksonomy?

While I do not aim to be snarky, I often come off that way as I tend to critique and provide criticism to hopefully get the bumps in the road of life (mostly digital life) smoothed out. That said...

Please Understand What You Are Saying

I read an article this morning about IBM bringing clients to Second Life, which is rather interesting. There are two statements made by Lee Dierdorff and Jean-Paul Jacob, one is valuble and the other sinks their credibility as I am not sure they grasp what they actually talking about.

The good comment is the "5D" approach, which combines the 2D world of the web and the 3D world of Second Life to get improved search and relevance. This is worth some thinking about, not a whole lot as the solution as it is mentioned can have severe problems scaling. The solution of a virtual world is lacking where it does not augment our understanding much beyond 2D as it leaves out 4 of the 6 senses (it has visual and audio), and provides more noise into a pure conversation than a video chat with out the sensory benefits of video chat. The added value of augmented intelligence via text interaction is of interest.

I am not really sure that Lee Dierdorff actually gets what he is saying as he shows a complete lack of even partial understanding of what folksonomy is. Jacob states, "The Internet knows almost everything, but tells us almost nothing. When you want to find a Redbook, for instance, it can be very hard to do that search. But the only real way to search in 5D is to put a question to others who can ask others and the answer may or may not come back to you. It's part of social search. Getting information from colleagues (online) -- that's folksonomy." Um, no that is not folksonomy and not remotely close. It is something that stands apart and is socially augmented search that can viably use the diverse structures of a folksonomy to find relevant information, but asking people in a digital world for advise is not folksonomy. It has value and it is how many of us have used tools like Twitter and other social software that helps us keep those near in thought close (see Local InfoCloud). There could be a need for a term/word for that Jacob is talking about, but social search seems to be quite relevant as a term.

Related, I do have a really large stack of criticism for the IMB DogEar product that would improve it greatly. It needs a lot of improvement as a social bookmarking and folksonomy tool, but also from the social software interaction side there are things that really must get fixed for privacy interests in the enterprise before it really could be a viable solution. There are much better alternatives for social bookmarking inside an enterprise other than DogEar, which benefits from being part of the IBM social software stack Lotus Connections as the whole stack is decent together, but none of the parts are great, or even better than good by them self. DogEar really needs to get to a much more solid product quickly as their is a lot of interest now for this type of product, but it is only a viable solution if one is only looking at IBM products for solutions.



June 17, 2007

Stitching Conversation Threads Fractured Across Channels

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

Now With More Complexity

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

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

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

Why Do We Want to Stitch the Communication Stream Together?

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

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

Why Does Conversation Drift Across Channels?

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

Solving the Fractured Communication Across Channels

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

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

Who Will Make This Effortless?

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

Is There Demand Yet?

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

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



June 15, 2007

Skitch Goes Live Beta

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

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



June 13, 2007

Full-Day Social Web & Folksonomy Workshop at d.construct

Tickets for the d.construct Workshops go on sale June 14, 2007. Buying a ticket for a full-day workshop provides free access to the full d.construct conference on September 7th. I am presenting the following workshop on September 6th...

Building the Social Web with Tagging / Folksonomies

On September 6th, 2007 Thomas Vander Wal will be holding his Building the Social Web with Tagging/Folksonomies — d.construct Workshop — at Brighton Dome, Brighton, England, UK.

Thomas Vander Wal, creator of the term folksonomy, provides a full-day workshop on building the social web through a detailed look at tagging systems. The workshop will provide a foundation for understanding social software from the perspective of the people who use it. This perspective helps site owners solve the ‘cold start’ problem of social software not starting out social.

The focus of the workshop is to provide a solid foundation for building and maintaining a social system from the design and management perspective. The workshop will cover policy issues, monitoring, analysis, and tagging systems as features that are added to the mix of existing tools.

The day will provide a brief history of tagging from the days of tagging in the desktop era to current web use. The exercises will focus on better understanding what happens in tagging systems and use those lessons to frame how to build better systems and make better use of the information that is made relevant through those tagging systems. The workshop includes overviews of social web pattern interaction design and the wide array of features.



June 1, 2007

Off to Raleigh for DCampSouth

I am off to Raleigh tomorrow (Friday) as well as a stop in Chapel Hill Friday afternoon. I am head there to speak and participate in DCCampSouth. There is a good write-up of this free (yet FREE) event on the DCampSouth :: NC State Advanced Media Lab blog.

Swing by and chat about all things design.



March 3, 2007

On SXSW Tag You're It Panel

I am a panelist on the Tag You're It Panel at South by SouthWest in Austin, Texas. Others on the panel are the ever fantastic: Heath Row (moderator), George Oates, and Ben Brown. The panel information:

Tag You're It on Saturday 10 March 2007 at 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm. The panel will be looking at what people are actually doing inside social tagging systems and where things have gone in the past couple years with tagging. We will get beyond the notion that tagging is cool by providing examples of how people are really using the tools in innovative and useful ways.

Stop by and say hello.



February 10, 2007

Cuban Clocks and Music Long Tail Discovery

The last two trips to San Francisco I have heard a latin version of Coldplay's Clocks on KFOG and it really intrigued me. This last trip I was in the car for four songs and one of them was Coldplay's Clocks by the Cuban All Stars. I have been trying to track this track down since first hearing, but am not having great luck. This continually happens when I listen to KFOG, which is about the only regular radio station I will listen to (I much prefer XM Radio for is lack of advertising and blathering idiots spouting off while playing overplayed songs that have little merit.

What I like about this version of Clocks by the Cuban All Stars (I have seen the dashboard metadata list it as Ibrahim Ferrer, but it has not been described as such by the DJs on KFOG). This is where my music recommendations break. But, some digging on the KFOG website points me to Rhythms Del Mundo as the source (but their Flash site seems horribly broken in all browsers as none of the links work). I have found the album on iTunes, but only a partial listing and none of the physical music store options have this in stock as it is not mainstream enough (how I miss Tower).

This all seems like far more work that should be needed. But, not if one has even slightly long tail musical interests. I had a wonderful discussion along these lines wish Cory from IODA about this and the lack of really good long tail discovery systems.

I use Last.fm to discover new things from friend#039;s lists, but the Last.fm neighbor recommendations seem to only work on more mainstream interests (Pandora really falls off on the long tail for me). Now if KFOG put their play list in KFOG, it would help greatly and I would add them to my friend list (or I could move back home to the San Francisco Bay Area).



February 2, 2007

Stikkit Adds an API

Stikkit has finally added an API for Stikkit. This makes me quite happy. Stikkit has great ease of information entry and it is perfect for adding annotations to web-based information.

Stikkit is My In-line Web Triage

I have been using Stikkit, from the bookmarklet, as my in-line web information triage. If I find an event or something I want to come back to latter (other than to read and bookmark) I pop that information into Stikkit. Most often it is to remind me of deadlines, events, company information, etc. I open the Stikkit bookmarklet and add the information. The date information I add is dumped into my Stikkit calendar, names and addresses are put into the Stikkit address book, and I can tag them for context for easier retrival.

Now with the addition of the API Stikkit is now easy to retrieve a vCard, ical, or other standard data format I can drop into my tools I normally aggregate similar information. I do not need to refer back to Stikkit to copy and paste (or worse mis-type) into my work apps.

I can also publish information from my preferred central data stores to Stikkit so I have web access to events, to dos, names and addresses, etc. From Stikkit I can then share the information with only those I want to share that information with.

Stikkit is growing to be a nice piece for microcontent tracking in my Personal InfoCloud.



January 31, 2007

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

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

IT Traditions

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

Breaking the Cycle of Blame and Disappointment

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

Technology is not a Cure All

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

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

People and Information Needs

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

Design with People in Mind

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

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

Smile to Many Faces

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

Technology Companies Go Directly to the Users

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



December 15, 2006

Ghosts of Technology Past, Present, and Future

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

Ghost of Rich Web Past

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

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

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

Ghost of Technology Present

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

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

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

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

Ghost of the Technosocial Future

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

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

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

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



December 4, 2006

Let Me Count the 24 Ways

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



November 21, 2006

Personal Twitter Use

Early this past summer I started playing with Twitter (then donning the moniker "twttr"). It drove me absolutely bonkers. I could not sort out how to stop my handful of friends from dumping their, "I had a gorgonzola cheese sandwich" into my SMS. I would be in a meeting or giving a presentation and my phone would vibrate with this micro-blogging nothingness of life status updates.

Since then I stopped pushing anything, but direct responses, to SMS or e-mail. This really made Twitter much better. But, then I was not peeking at it. In the past month or two I have had it running as a regular tab in my browser and it is much better, it does not scream for my attention, but acts more like me looking across a bar to see what my friends are doing. It is now a nice social space with quiet chatter.

Last week when I was in San Francisco I was using Twitter and Dodgeball, but found my friends in SF mostly using Dodgeball at night and I was mostly not in proximity (I only have one person in my DC network on Dodgeball). The Dodgeball demands to connect with Google account pushed me over from logging in, which is the last thing I want.

Twitter in SF worked wonderfully. I could state a meeting was shifted and announce I was going to get coffee and would find another person that wanted to join up to do the same. I found others doing the same and I would join them. I could also partake in cross continent chatter with friends.

This week I moved Twitter out to its own narrow (it needs to be even narrower - is there a Greasemonkey script to make it narrow) window. I keep it on my large monitor to my right, which is my social space (calendar, skype, YIM, AIM/iChat, and now Twitter). These are my social glancing applications and Twitter is a really nice compliment to the pack of Local InfoCloud tools, now that I have it set to match my expectations and desire for interruptions (or desire for minimal interruptions).



November 9, 2006

Stikkit Is a Nice Example of a Personal InfoCloud Tool

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

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

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

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

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

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



November 1, 2006

No Personal or Work E-Mail to My Gmail Address

If you want to send an e-mail that gets my attention, please use an address other than my Gmail address. I mostly use that address for listserves. The ability to search, parse, and scan e-mail in Gmail just does not work for me and things I really want to follow-up with only get addressed if I forward them to myself at an other address. [Granted the amount of e-mail I am getting and daily communication is more then I can normally keep-up with at the moment. I deeply apologize if I owe you a response. I need to better embrace the DTD model as my GTOMG model leave too many things left unaddressed.]

Filters, Labels, and Tags

The Gmail interface does not work well for me personally to highlight, track, and respond to the mail. I had a lot of hope for Gmail and its ability to tag (or in Google terms, "label"), but its interface is really poor for doing this with anything more than 10 or 15 labels. When I want to manually applying more than one label the interface is really poor (at best).

GTDGmail

I have looked at the GTDGMail mail as a solution, as its interface is much much better than what Google has churned out. While the GTDGmail is a vast improvement the remainder of Gmail for personal or work mail does not scale to meet my needs on that front. If you are unpleased with the Gmail labelling, as most I know are, you owe it to yourself to look at GTDGmail.



October 26, 2006

Yahoo! Bookmarks Beta (or Alpha)

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

Y! Bookmarks Beta Good Things

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

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

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

Bookmark Homepage Oddities

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

bookmarks_home_default_sort

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

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

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

Edit Bookmarks Broken

edit_form

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

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

Bookmark Search Missing Items or Poor Sort

Y! Bookmark Beta Search Results

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

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

Add Bookmark Screen

Y! Bookmark Beta Add Bookmark Screen

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

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

All My Tags

Y! Bookmark Beta All My Tags

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

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

Recommended Bookmarks

Y! Bookmark Beta Recommended Bookmarks

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

Wrap-up

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

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

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



October 24, 2006

Rebranding and Crossbranding of .net Magazine

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

Rebranding and Crossbranding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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 14, 2006

Trip and d.construct Wrap-up

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

d.construct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London Stays

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

London People & Places

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

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

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

Food

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

Too Short a Visit

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



September 1, 2006

Domain of Digital Design Includes Strings

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

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

Attention to Strings

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

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

Human Readable

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

Ground Control to Major Thomas - Where Are You

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

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

Data Strings Design Worthy Too

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

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



August 22, 2006

Clearleft in Brighton Looking for an IA

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

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



The Tension of Sharing

In today's culture there is a serious tension between creative types, publishers & owner of rights, and other creative types. Society and culture has traditionally been handed down through generations and each innovation is built upon. Today we are living in a world that is trying to monetize this sharing and handing from one creator to another, which is placing money as a higher value than advancing culture and society. Today in the New York Times the latest iteration of the clamping down is presented in the article, Now the Music Industry Wants Guitarists to Stop Sharing, which is about sharing guitar tabs online.

We Can Advance Culture and Society Faster Today Than Ever Before

This sharing of guitar tabs has always been around, as has sharing most other music insights from one musician to another. This sharing is how nearly all of us have learned, embraced, and improved our skills. Not only do musicians learn this way, just as they always have, but it also how designers learn and share. The web not only made this quicker and easier, but web designers and developers have always been able to peek at the under pinnings of each others markup and design. This sharing helped move the web along more quickly than many technologies and mediums that came before it. The web is built on a creative culture mindset of free sharing. Part of this extension is nearly all creative cultures have advanced in recent years because of the web. Creativity has been democratized and the ability to get from zero to 7 is made very easy. It has been a time of immense innovation and a vast spreading of innovation.

One of the odd things is the corporate culture, which does not move at as fast of a pace (look at the ironic juxtaposition of Microsoft, which enabled innovation and was incredibly innovative, often by using the innovation of others (bought or "borrowed") is not a big corporation that is very slow moving and more reactive than innovative (on a whole, as I do realize there are some incredibly innovative segments inside Microsoft - particularly in the Live area and things that Ray Ozzie touches). It is the corporate culture of those that do not create but try and "own" what is the result of the creative process that are trying to stand in the way of traditional sharing in society and culture. It is ironic that what they spend their time suing to inhibit is what created the items of value they are claiming they are protecting.

Creativity Needs Sharing and It will Find Ways Around Control

There are many ironies in the top-down control industry, in that they are trying to kill what makes them money. The RIAA has tried to kill peer-to-peer sharing, but with the horrible state of radio the best way to learn about new music is to use peer-to-peer services. Recent studies show nearly all of the music on in iTunes and iPods is actually owned by the person using that device. Research around how people find the music they purchase points to open sharing of that music. That is how I do it and many of the others that I know.

Let me illustrate... Recently I ran across a Steely Dan making of Peg video on YouTube, which I really enjoyed. It was about the deep geek side of musicians sharing how they recorded and produced their hit song Peg. They were sharing their secrets, for a small price. But in this instance it was free on YouTube. I doubt that Steely Dan or anybody related to the DVD that this video came from authorized its use. But, because of watching the YouTube segment I bought the Steely Dan Aja DVD. I would have never known about it had I not run across the sample on YouTube. Not only did I buy it but in my circle of friends I know seven others that did the exact same thing, watched it on YouTube and then bought it.

This is a story of free sharing about musicians sharing their craft with others so to improve upon the whole of the craft. This is the thing that the New York Times article highlights as being a problem. But, it is the corporations around creativity that have put a noose around their prospective industries by getting their friends in U.S. Congress to regulate sharing and creativity and make it a crime in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (PDF).

I am finding that much of the music I enjoy is not coming out of the corporations, but the creators and innovators who are connecting with their audience directly. Last evening I watched a video on YouTube that we are interested in picking up. I clicked a little bit on YouTube and discovered The Dualers from London, who I am quite impressed with. The Dualers are a ska/raggae duo/band who do not have backing of a record company, but made it into the pop charts in 2004 and stayed there for a bit. Ska/raggae is a type of music that is out of fashion with the record companies, but still has a large following. It is music that still resonates not too far out in the long tail. YouTube is one of the means that The Dualers promote their works. They have sold over 35,000 CDs, which is atleast $350,000 if they are sold for $10 a pop, which would be much better than a deal a record company could offer them starting out.

How to Ease the Tension?

A large part of fixing the current problem is fixing the laws and getting people in upper management and in control of the media companies organization that litigate rather than adapt. We need to return to embracing creativity and sharing. We need to do this in a manner that creators can make a living, which may include cutting back on the role of the middle men. I see a shift toward media outlets that can innovate, iterate, and help support the creators as well as support the media outlets. The radio industry is in serious trouble in its current iteration and may need to move to a more segmented and broader distribution like XM and/or Yahoo Music and LastFM and MySpace as social means of finding new music and connecting directly with bands/creators.

I have been quite interested in some of the stories about EMI and how they have added value, creativity, and innovation for Gorillaz and even Coldplay. It seems that EMI pays attention to the community and lets the artists connect with their audience, which then helps shape their music and creativity. This sounds like the smart leadership that is needed. I have only heard these stories anecdotally, so I am not sure how much is really done by the community with interest or the artists. But, I can hope.



August 16, 2006

Quick and Intense Usability Interations

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

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

Usabilty Test Built into Sprints and Hack Days

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

Quick Fixes and Long Term Tasks

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

Listening and Fixing Before Their Eyes

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

What It Takes

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

Small Projects Get It, Will Enterprise?

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

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



July 30, 2006

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

People & Medium Preferences

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

Medium Is the Attractor

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

Closing the Gap?

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

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



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 26, 2006

Prefab and the Blog Template

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

Prefab Blogs

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

Prefab as an Old Cultural Trend

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

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

Is Prefab Bad?

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

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

Finding a Home

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

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



June 21, 2006

Still Thowing Out the User

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

Throwing Out the User

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

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

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

Generating Content

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

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

Bringing People Together with People

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

Doing Without the User

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

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

Steps are Broken

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

Getting to Watching People and Flows

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

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



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.



June 9, 2006

System One Takes Information Workflow to a New Level

While at Microlearning Conference 2006 Bruno and Tom demonstrated their System One product. This has to be one of the best knowledge/information tools that I have seen in years. They completely understand simplicity and interaction design and have used it to create an information capture and social software tool for the enterprise. Bruno pointed me to a System One overview screen capture (you do not have to login to get started) that features some of the great elements in System One.

One of the brilliant aspects of System One is their marketing of the product. While it has easily usable wiki elements, heavy AJAX, live search, etc. they do not market these buzzwords, they market the ease of use to capture information (which can become knowledge) and the ease of finding information. The simplicity of the interface and interaction make it one of the best knowledge management tools available. Most knowledge management tools fall down on the information entry perspective. Building tools that are part of your workflow, inclusion of information from those that do not feed the KM tool, is essential and System One is the first tools that I have seen that understands this an delivers a product that proves they get it.

The enterprise social software market is one that is waiting to take off, as there is a very large latent need (that has been repressed by poor tools in the past). System One tool is quite smart as they have built e-mail search, file access, Google live file search (you type in the wiki (you do not need to know it is a wiki) and the terms used are searched in Google to deliver a rather nice contextual search. This built in search solves the Google complexity of building solid narrow search queries, but the person using the system just needs to have the capability to enter information into the screen.

Those of us that are geeks find Google queries a breeze, but regular people do not find it easy to tease out the deeply buried gems of information hidden in Google. Surfacing people who are considered experts, or atleast connectors to experts on subjects is part of the System One tool as well and this is an insanely difficult task in an enterprise.

My only wish was that I worked in an organization that would be large enough to use this tool, or there was a personal version I could use to capture and surface my own information when I am working.

You may recognize System One as the developer of retreivr, the Flickr interactive tool that allows you to draw a simple picture and their tool will find related photos in Flickr based on the drawing's pattern and colors. It is a brilliant tool, but not as smart as their main product.



June 6, 2006

To the Skies Again

I am off again, but this time I have clothes out of the cleaners and laundry done. The turn around from last trip to this trip was only a couple days. I am looking forward to being home for a bit, after this trip. I have about 18 hours of travel before I get where I am going.

I am quite looking forward to being with many people that are passionate about microcontent and microlearning. A conversation in early 2001 got me completely hooked on microcontent and its possibilities. We are finally beginning to see tangents of the microcontent world slip into use in the world of the general public. APIs, aggregation, tracking, metadata access, pushing to mobile, etc. are all components, when they work right. We are only a slice of the way there, but each little step gets better and better.



May 30, 2006

Is Mechanical Turk for Digital Human Filters?

The New York Times article, Software to Look for Experts Among Your Friends, brought to mind a couple conversations from my recent trip to Amsterdam. At XTech there were a couple presentations about Mechanical Turk (as well as other Amazon web services) and the big question was "what is a killer application for Mechanical Turk?" Many of us through out suggestions, many good, but I have kept thinking about one.

The one killer application is not really a problem a human solves, but the collective interests and amalgamation of information and trained services humans use and have trained. You see, for me Yahoo's MyWeb 2.0 is my killer search solution as it pays attention to what I and my "community" have interest in and mirrors our vocabulary (we used our own vocabulary to tag items of interest on the web in the MyWeb social bookmarking tool). These items of interest in MyWeb 2.0 are offered to me first in my web searches and more often than not what I am seeking is in this collection of mine or my contact's.

These searches that are based on human filters and collaborative filtering of information and structuring what we find of interest and bookmark bringing the information out from 5 to 40 pages deep in the web. It mirrors our interests and perspectives. But, what if we need information outside of our own interests? Now we need not our own corpus of items and possibly one outside those in our loose collective. Let us think I need information about transmission of disease between monkeys. This is not something I have interest in and I am not sure anybody I know (or would be couple of degrees of separation away) would have interest in. This is where I would love to turn to Mechanical Turk to use the filtering and aggregation capabilities of another person's life filtering. I may not want to add the monkey disease transmission to my own corpus, but I need to use a corpus of somebody who has this interest. In a sense I need to uses somebody's digital brain and information attraction mechanisms.

I am not sure if this is really a job for Mechanical Turk, but it requires another person's interests and permission. The Tacit company seems to have a similar product, but only works on Windows and most of the people I would want to tap are not Windows users, but most have web-based information resources.



May 28, 2006

An Overview of the Local InfoCloud is Available

I have finally posted a write-up on Exposing the Local InfoCloud, which explains the attributes and components that comprise the Local InfoCloud. This is a write-up of an explanation that has been bubbling for a couple years and I finally put into a presentation last Fall for Design Engaged. The Local InfoCloud include resources that are familiar to us and can often be the social software elements with which we interact as trusted resources.

During a recent symposium on social software (I attended virtually) there was much grumbling around the term "community" and when I stated I was going to try and redact that term from my usage, I was quickly asked what I was going to replace it with. Community is broadly used and for most of my uses the components in the Local InfoCloud are more distinct pointers to what people can mean when they discuss community. The components are also can help us describe the human and digital resources that bring data, information, and media objects closer to us.

When I have chatted with people about the attributes and components in the past it leads to more questions and wonderful discussions. The point of this piece is to clarify the framework for the Local InfoCloud and capture discussion. I have incorporated the feedback from chats I have had, where it was convincing, relevant, and I was happy with how it jelled. I am looking for more feedback and discussion, which is part of the reason it is posted at the Personal InfoCloud (comments and trackback capabilities are available, but moderated, there).



May 25, 2006

Developing the Web for Whom?

Google Web Developer Toolkit for the Closed Web

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

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

Two Tribes: Inter and Intra

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

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

13 Reasons

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

The Web is Open

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

Build Upon Open Data and Open Access

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

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

Still an Open Playing Field

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



May 24, 2006

The Battle to Build the Personal InfoCloud

Over at Personal InfoCloud I posted The Future is Now for Information Access, which was triggered by an interview with Steve Ballmer (Microsoft) about the future of technology and information. I do not see his future 10 years out, but today. I see the technology in the pockets of people today. People are frustrated with the information not being easily accessed and use and reuse not being as simple as it should. Much of this is happening because of the structure of the information.

Personal InfoCloud is the Focus

One thing that struck me from the article, which I did not write about, was the focus on Google. Personally I find it odd as Yahoo is sitting on the content and the structure for more than 90 percent of what is needed to pull off the Personal InfoCloud. Yahoo is beginning to execute and open access to their data in proper structures. Ballmer lays out a nearly exact scenario for aggregating one's own information and putting it in our lives to the one I have been presenting the last few years. Yahoo has the components in place today to build on top of and make it happen. Google is not only lacking the structure, but they are not executing well on their products they produce. Google does the technically cool beta, but does not iterate and fix the beta nor are they connecting the dots. Yahoo on the other hand is iterating and connecting (they need to focus on this with more interest, passion, and coordinated direction).

The Real Battle

I really do not see the battle as being between Google and the others. The real battle is between Yahoo and Microsoft. Why? Both focus on the person and that person's use and need for information in their life and with their context. Information needs to be aggregated (My Yahoo is a great start, but it goes deeper and broader) and filtered based on interest and need. We are living in a flood of information that has crossed into information pollution territory. We need to remove the wretched stench of information to get back the sweet smell of information. We need to pull together our own creations across all of the places we create content. We need to attract information from others whom have similar interests, frameworks, and values (intellectual, social, political, technological, etc.). The only foundation piece Yahoo is missing is deep storage for each person's own information, files, and media.

Microsoft Live Gets It

Microsoft has the same focus on the person. I have become intrigued with the Microsoft Live properties (although still have a large disconnect with their operating systems and much of their software). Live is aiming where Yahoo is sitting and beyond. Microsoft has the cash and the interest to assemble the pieces and people to get there. Live could get there quickly. Looking at the Live products I saw in January at Search Champs with some in relatively early states and what was launched a few months later, the are iterating quickly and solidly based on what real people want and need in their lives (not the alpha geeks, which Google seems to target). Live products are not done and the teams are intact and the features and connections between the components are growing. They are leaving Google in the dust.

Can Yahoo Stay Ahead of Microsoft?

The question for Yahoo is can they keep up and keep ahead of Microsoft? Google has the focus in search as of today (not for me as the combination of Yahoo! MyWeb 2.0 and Yahoo! Search combined blow away anything that Google has done or seemingly can do. Yahoo! does need to greatly improve the simplicity, ease of use, and payoff (it takes a while for the insanely great value of MyWeb 2.0 to kick in and that needs to come much earlier in the use phase for regular people).

I am seeing Microsoft assembling teams of smart passionate people who want to build a killer web for regular people. It seems Ray Ozzie was the turn around for this and is part of the draw for many heading to work on Live products. The competition for minds of people who get it puts Live in competition with Google, Yahoo, EBay, Amazon, and even Apple. I am seeing Live getting the people in that they need. Recently (last week) Microsoft even started changing their benefits and employee review practices to better compete and keep people. It seems that they are quite serious and want to make it happen now.

Yahoo Under Valued

Recent comments about Yahoo being under valued in the long term are dead on in my view. A recent Economist article about Google pointed out how poorly they execute on everything but their core service (search). This waking up starts to bring a proper focus on what those of us who look at regular people and their needs from information and media in their lives have been seeing, Yahoo gets it and is sitting on a gold mine. Yahoo has to realize that Microsoft sees the same thing and is pushing hard with a proper focus and passion to get there as well.

Google Overvalued

What does this mean for Google? I am not sure. Google is a technology company that is focussed on some hard problems, but it has to focus on solutions that people can use. Google aims for simple interfaces, but does not provide simple solutions or leaves out part of the solutions to keep it simple. They need a person-centered approach to their products. The addition of Jeff Veen and his Measure Map team should help, if they listen. Google has some excellent designers who are focussed on usable design for the people, but it seems that the technology is still king. That needs to change for Google to stay in the game.



May 16, 2006

Nick Finck on XHTML Wireframes

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

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

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

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



Live Data Could Solve the Social Bookmarking Problem with Information Volatility

Alex brings up something in his Go and microformat stuff! covering what is in the works with Microformats at Microsoft. Scroll down to where Alex talks about "mRc = Live data wiring", now this live data access is incredibly important.

One of the elements that has been bugging me with social bookmarking it the volatility of the information is not taken into account when the bookmark is made. No, I am not talking about the information blowing up, but the blood pressure of the person bookmarking may rise if the data changes in some way. I look at social bookmarking, or bookmarking in general as a means to mark a place, but it fails as an indicator of state or status change of the information we are pointing to. The expressing of bookmarking and/or tagging is an expression of our explicit interest in that object we bookmarked and/or tagged. The problem is our systems so far are saying, "yes, you have interest, but so what".

What the live data approach does is makes our Personal InfoCloud active. If we could bookmark information and/or tag chunks of information as important we should be able to find out when that information changes, or better get an alert before the information changes. One area where this is essential and will add huge value is shopping. What happens with products in the real world? The prices change, they go out of stock, the product is modified, production of the product stopped, etc. The permeations are many, but those expressing interest should be alerted and have their information updated.

One of the things I have been including in my "Come to Me Web" presentations is the ability to think about what a person needs when they use and want to reuse information. We read about a product we desire, we read the price, but we may think about the product or put it on a wish list that is related to an event in the future. When we go to act on the purchase the information we have gathered and bookmarked may be out of date.

One solution I have been talking about in my presentations is providing an RSS/ATOM feed for the page as it is bookmarked so the person gets the ability to get updated information. I have built similar functionality into past products years ago that let people using data know when the data changed (e-mail) but also provided the means to show what the data was prior and what it had changed to. It was functionality that was deeply helpful to the users of the system. Live data seems a more elegant solution, if it provides the means to see what information had changed should the person relying on or desiring the information want it.



Upcoming Conferences I am Presenting at and Attending

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

XTech

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

BarCamp Amsterdam

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

Seattle Area

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

Microlearning 2006 Conference

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

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

WebVisions 2006

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

The Fall

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

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

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



May 7, 2006

Final Cut Pro Site is Stunning

I am not sure when this started, but Apple has started showing its product stories for Final Cut Pro in stunning video. I have been watching and saving down the movies. They are so much better than text for getting me sucked into the story and the pitch. They are each so stunning. So very Apple. Finally!

Apple Pro tools are some of the best on the market and not only put others to shame, they are much less expensive. I have been playing with the movie capabilities in iMovie HD this past week. In 10 minutes I can shoot a movie of my son, edit, and publish to a web page that I can mail those I want to see the page. That to me was hands down incredible. I am not dealing with HD quality video, but the capability is fully there. I just wanted to share a clip with friends and family quickly and get back to work.

Yes, 10 minutes. I have had iMovie for a few years and never played with it much. When I moved to a faster PowerBook this last year I started realizing the potential that was in my hands.

I am continually in awe of Apple for its simplicity, power, beauty, and potential it puts in my hands.



May 2, 2006

Mis-Marketing

I have been needing to turn comments back on here in Off the Top. I get really good, er, make that great responses in e-mail to many of my posts here. There needs to be a conversation, which is what blogs are all about and it is in comments that much of this conversation takes place. But, as we all know having comments on is a large problem. Why is it a problem?

Problems Created by the Clueless

The problem with comments is the mis-marketers. No, not those mass marketing, but people with little clue about finding a good information space and bringing up products and ideas when they are coherent, which would be good marketing. Good marketing can be annoying, but it is not good marketing that has made an utter mess of blog comments. These people have not clue, they think they are on to a good idea that will make them wealthy, but like most get rich ideas they do not work. Not only do they not work in this case they create animosity toward the product and site. They are putting themselves on black-lists and lowering the value of what they are trying to inflate the value of. It is a clueless approach. They think they are marketing and creating value, but are actually doing the opposite. These mis-marketers not only have shot themself in the foot (or worse) they have ruined great tools.

I am curious if there is a convention or summit for mis-marketers? Can we get a little Cluetrain juice for them to sip?

Looking At My Options

The mis-marketers have made a mess of e-mail with SPAM, referrer logs, blog comments, and trackbacks (I know I am missing many other good communication methods). My blog is broken, I know this. I am still running my own blogging software from 2001. No, I do not have the time for upkeep. But, I keep looking at the time to convert my database to a format for MovableType or WordPress and keep the nearly 2000 entries still working for historical purposes. I do not see that time coming any time soon.



April 30, 2006

Popularity Overrated?

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

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

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

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

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

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



April 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 17, 2006

SXSW Interactive and Austin BarCamp Overview

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

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

BarCamp Austin

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

Best Take Away Ever

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

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

Killer Digits for the Pocket or Hip

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

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



March 9, 2006

Microsoft Live Image Search

I have been rather quiet about my trip to Microsoft as part of their Search Champs v.4. This trip was mid-January and I was rather impressed with the what Microsoft showed. The focus was late-stage beta for MS Live products and things that were a little more rough. Last week Expo launched, which is a rather cool classified site along the lines of edgio and Craigslist. Expo did not launch with anything ground breaking, but that could be coming. None-the-less it is refreshing to see this kind of effort and interest coming out of Microsoft.

Live Image Search is a Great Web Interface

One of the products that was stellar and near launch that we saw was Live Image Search (shown with vanderwal - what else). Image search was stellar as it is quite similar to Apple iPhoto with its interface, but built for the web. Take Live Image search for a spin. No really, scroll, mouse over, change the thumbnail size on the fly. It is fast and responsive. I am quite impressed.

Oh, since I am on a Mac, I have been using Firefox/Camino to view Live Image search and it works just as wonderfully as it did in the demos on Windows with IE. I think Microsoft understand that the web is a platform, just like Windows and Mac. Microsoft gets that the web as a platform must work on top of other OS platforms. The web browser is an OS agnostic application and must remain so. Microsoft seems to understand that when building for the web it should work across browsers and OS platforms otherwise it is just developing for an OS, but that is not the web. The proof in this will be when Microsoft releases an Live toolbar for Firefox that has all of the access and functionality of the IE toolbar.

More to Come

I am really waiting for another product to get launched or closer to launch as I really think Microsoft will have a good product there too. It is something that really is of interest to me. It really seemed like the Microsoft people we worked with were really listening to our feedback.

Color my opinion changed toward Microsoft. Not only are they doing things of interest, but they are shipping. They are not only trying to get the web, but they have brought in people who understand and know what direction to head. I went to Microsoft out of curiosity and found something that went against my notions of what they were doing. Microsoft get the web in a similar manner to the way that Yahoo does, it is about people with real problems.

Where is my Mac?

Am I giving up my Mac? No. Hell no. My OS works the way that I work and does not get in my way. I don't spend time swearing at it or messing with it. I do the things I need to do for my job and life using technology to augment that effort. Apple has been doing this for years and I don't want to mess up a very good thing.



March 8, 2006

Ray Ozzie Demos Live Clipboard for the Personal InfoCloud

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

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

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



ETech is Emergent? [updated]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Upcoming Presentations and Conferences

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

SXSW

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

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

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

IA Summit

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

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

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

XTech

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

Microlearning Conference 2006

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

More to Follow

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



February 20, 2006

Ma.Gnolia Review and Color Me Disapointed

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

Rating Bookmarks and Retention Modes

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

Private Bookmarks and Community

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

API, Walled Garden, and In-site Findability

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

There is Good

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

Saving Bookmarks and Wrap-up

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



February 14, 2006

Yahoo! Releases Web Developer Golden Nuggets

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

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



January 21, 2006

Changing the Flow of the Web and Beyond

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

Sites to Flows

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

The Publish/Subscribe Decade

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

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

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

The Come to Me Web

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

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



January 16, 2006

Rosenfeld Media Launches

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

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

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



January 11, 2006

Real Time Flight Tracking Site for Your Mobile

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

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

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

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



January 6, 2006

Yahoo! Go Launches [Updated]

I am quite interested in the newly launched Yahoo! Go, which is self described as:

Yahoo! Go - a new suite of products and services for your PC, mobile phone and even your TV.

Yahoo! Go allows you to access the information and content that is important to you on whatever device you choose.

So wherever you go, your photos, your music, your email, " your life&#quot; is right there with you. Ready to go.

The service provides your contacts (address book), photos, messanger, and mail. All great to have where ever you go. This is a very helpful service.

But wait! It is missing one thing. Yahoo! states, "allows you to access the information and content that is important to you". If that is true it is missing one giant piece. Where is the calendar? [Update] The calendar is actually there. Russ Beattie (of Yahoo! Mobile) provided the following response:

Y! Go also syncs the Calendar, it syncs with your Yahoo! Calendar and uses the Series 60 native calendar app on the phone for alerts. The SyncML service also syncs the calendar on phones like the SonyEricsson's and Nokias which support it.

What really impresses me is the SyncML work. That news is one of the most impressive things I have heard on calendaring in a while. I have been waiting for Apple to go this route for their iSync for the last couple revisions and I thought they would be the leaders on this syncing standards front. Yahoo! seems to understand the needs today and the future, which is one of the things that has impressed me about Yahoo! in the last year or two (they really get it, possibly better than any other large web company, yes I am considering Google too). If you want more info on Yahoo! and using SyncML Russ has the following post on Yahoo! Mobile Services: SyncML and More. I am still not sure why the marketing people left out calendaring. [/Update]

<ignore>Of all the things to leave out.</ignore> The calendar is one of two pieces of essential social data that people complain constantly that they do not have access to, or did not sync properly (the other is contact info). A large part of our social communication is about the "next". It could be the next call, the next meeting, the next lunch, the next... you fill-in the blank. Social is not completely about the now, it is about the future too. Not having a component to connect in the future and to ensure proper planning it is only a partial social tool.

One of my pet peeves the last four years, or so I have been working with the Model of Attraction and the Personal InfoCloud (your information you are interested, that you have attracted to your device, becomes attracted to you and moves across your devices so it is at your ready call when you want it and need it) is constant access to one's own information, which means whether you have connectivity or not and is available on the device you have with you (it must be device and platform agnostic). Yahoo! seems to get this all but for that one important bit.

In the past year Yahoo! purchased a company that provides event information (Upcoming), which could tie wonderfully into a calendar (either as events you are attending or potential events). Yahoo! also recently announced connecting Tivo and your Yahoo! calendar. We know they get the importance of the calendar. Where oh where is it? [Update] It is actually there just not advertised.[/Update]



January 1, 2006

For Many AJAX is Not Degrading, But it Must

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

Degrading is a Good Thing

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

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

Is There Hope?

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

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



December 31, 2005

Two Wonderful Phone Service Calls - How Odd

This past week I had two wonderful experiences. The first was with Adobe customer service and sales support. I have been trying to do a "cross-platform upgrade" from my Windows Photoshop to the current Mac version. I have been trying this for a couple years. The phone services has been miserable and often would take over 45 minutes for them to pick up.

Not this week. The phone was picked up by customer service by Adobe in less than 3 minutes (I seriously thought I had dialed the wrong number). They fixed some problems with my account information, but I needed to talk to another department to get the upgrade I wanted completed. They transfered me to the sales group, which had all the information I had just changed and we started working through what I wanted (ultimately the Adobe CS Premium Suite). We found I could not directly do that going the cross-platform route, but I could upgrade to Photoshop CS and once that was installed and authenticated do the upgrade to the package I desired. All of this was less than the full price, not the optimal price I had been hoping trying to get.

What impressed me was the competence, speed, politeness and the working through their arcane rules to get me what I desired. In all I was done in 20 minutes.

The second also involved the phone and a voice automated solution. But after trying to exchange airline flight miles for a magazine subscription on the web, which seemed not work in any browser I had to verify my frequent flier number and extra authentication code. I first called the help number for the magazine people, which took me to a human, who seemed very confused with the information his computer was providing him (he had at least eight addresses and name variations for me (there was a more button to see the rest). He asked how I heard about the program and said I was on my preferred airline site and was linked to theirs to get magazines. That seemed confusing as he asked how long ago I got the software. A couple minutes later I could not give him answers that fit his check boxes and our conversation ended.

I then tried the airline's number to complete the magazine transaction if the web did not work or a person needed assistance. It was a voice interactive system (I loathe these). It asked some simple questions and I responded and it understood. It authenticated me very easily and quickly by me reading my needed information. I authenticated by telling it my address and it understood (this is a beautiful task given my street name and city). Next it started reading the magazine offerings and said I could interrupt and just tell it what I wanted. I interrupted (this never works with the local phone company for information) and it understood what I wanted. My transaction was complete and in under 5 minutes. I was completely impressed, which happens very rarely.



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 21, 2005

Delicious Lesson and Social Network Ecosystems

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

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

A Little Effort for Greater Personal Payback

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

Social Network Ecosystems

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

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

Attention is Value

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



December 20, 2005

Del.icio.us is Back

Yeah!! Del.icio.us is back. After many hours, if not a day of being down due to residual effects from a power outage. I bet Joshua is looking forward to somebody else managing the servers.

I has been a bad week for the popular stuff on the web with TypePad outage problems in the past week as well (yes, that meant Personal InfoCloud was down).

Does it bug me? Not so much. Del.icio.us being down meant I was not cross posting with Yahoo! MyWeb rather than to both places. If this site is down I am not too happy as my work e-mail is on the same server and I have been living in e-mail lately. But, I think with TypePad and Del.icio.us and the like with their outages I have appreciation for what it takes to keep that up and running. I also know the problems inherent in scaling those type of services. At some point the killer ease of use applications become more about killer sysadmins and server/datastore optimization skills. That is where one learns to grow up.

Along those lines, I am quite happy to see Technorati get their server situation sorted out and they are now running at usable speed again (it was a seemingly long time coming).



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 26, 2005

Mobile Location Needs

I have written up some of my frustrations with mobile local needs in a posting Location? Location? Where am I? over at the Personal InfoCloud. (Comments are on and it fits the Local InfoCloud theme that is also there.)



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.



October 21, 2005

Interview regarding Digital Identity and the Personal InfoCloud

Today I appear over on Under the Radar: That cloud kinda looks like you! in an interview by Scott Hirsch who is a partner at MIG5. The interview focusses on digital identity, which is integral to the Personal InfoCloud and interacting with other people and services in the digital world. Increasingly it seems digital identity is tethered to physical world identity for access to buildings, accessing our computers, medical services, etc. This has some problems around privacy that must be addressed and there must be trust in the services that interact with out digital identity.



September 25, 2005

Web 2.0 Mash-ups and the Model of Attraction

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

Read and comment over at Personal InfoCloud.



August 17, 2005

User Experience Design in the Come to Me Web?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



July 28, 2005

Presented Personal InfoCloud and Folksonomy to MIM Class

Last night I presented my Designing for the Personal InfoCloud - Including a Focus on Folksonomy to the User Interaction with Information Systems class in the Master of Information Managment program at University of Maryland.

I had a blast doing this, maybe more than last year. This year's class is quite sharp and had great questions during the class and after. I have seen two classes in the MIM program and helped a student project last spring and I think the University of Maryland is on to something. The program is a professional masters program for information professionals in management positions.



July 17, 2005

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

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

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

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



July 12, 2005

Passion and the Day-to-day

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

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

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

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

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

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



July 6, 2005

Social Machines in MIT Technology Review

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

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



June 29, 2005

Yahoo MyWeb 2.0 Goes Beta

Yahoo has launched Yahoo MyWeb 2.0 today. It has elements of Flickr but not the polish, nor the attention to detail. There are a lot of very rough edges, but there is a lot of potential also. I may spend some time playing around with it in the next few days and weeks. I surely will be sending a ton of feedback in. Hopefully MyWeb will iterate far more rapidly than their blogging software, which had rough edges and they still exist and no noticeable improvements have been made (I don't know many that will recommend it to nubies until the rough edges are fixed).

The tool from the very little I have looked at it seems like it has the broad folksonomy executed well. This seems to have many elements of del.icio.us integrated. I am curious is there is the capability to have community around tags (be same definition).

My curiosity is really piqued with the MyRank search engine. It seems to be a predictive engine of sorts, which really has my interest.

If you want to add me I can be found at tjvanderwal there in Yahoo! type places.



June 12, 2005

Designing with a Solution is the Problem

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

It Begins with a Canyon

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

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

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

Designers Must Explain Design Better

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

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

Understand and Explain the Problem First

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

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

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

Our Responsibility

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

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

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



June 2, 2005

Replacement RSS and XML Button

Mike just posted a killer international and language-free RSS logo button on his site. I really like it. Mainly is works for those of use who understand the RSS text version, but for those who are not as technically forward or in non-English/Western languages this could still work. The RSS and XML text on the buttons always need explanation to those not familiar with the terms. The end of many of the tutorials is often, "just click it, you do not really need to know what it means, just click". Something tells me Mike is on to something profound yet so wonderfully simple.



May 11, 2005

Heading to Los Angeles and SSAW at the Annenberg Center

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

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



May 1, 2005

The Art of the Pivot

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

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

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

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

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



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.



Personal InfoCloud at WebVisions 2005

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

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



Crunch Time, as Usual

We are quite busy with articles, summaries, presentations, and e-mail these days. We have ideas and projects that need to get out of our heads on in to some functional space. Again we are looking for about 6 more hours in each day, that would do it. The other option would be to rearrange things we already have to put better focus on the stuff that will help the people who get it design and build for those that don't get it and shouldn't need to get it. What are we talking about time spent on the wrong things and working to spend time on the right things. What are the right things? We will tell you once we have time to knock some of them out.

Cryptic? It will not be once we have the key to set all of this free.



March 26, 2005

Yahoo360 and the Great Interaction Design Yardstick

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

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

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

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



March 21, 2005

Outside of the 3rd World, Yahoo Buys Flickr

Once again we are back into living in the third world. It is the first day of Spring and we got a lightning storm and out goes the power. We have this to look forward to until Fall. Well, unless we move.

Once the power came on it was errand time, then time shout congratulations to Flickr and Yahoo!. The news was officially announced, that Yahoo! bought Flickr. The Flickr team is staying intact and in Vancouver. Flickr is one of the kick-ass products on the Web right now and with Yahoo! support it could stay at the forefront.



March 11, 2005

IA for the Personal InfoCloud

At the IA Summit 2005 (Montreal) I spoke on IA for the Personal InfoCloud, which seemed to go over quite well. The presentation of the slides of IA for the Personal InfoCloud (2.64MB PDF) can be downloaded. The time to present this was rather short, but I added a scenario to walk through a possible scenario that runs across environments (work, mobile, and home) with two contexts for each.

There is a lot I still have not presented on this that makes it more usable today in many environments. It is particularly helpful if you are designing across devices, building for personal management of the information, and/or designing for information use and reuse. If anybody would like me to present the full presentation and help them understand this better, please contact me (e-mail is above or use vanderwal on the gmail.com address).

I was asked about the cloud a few times. The Personal InfoCloud is the rough cloud of information that follows us as we go from place to place, this cloud keeps all the information the person wants to be kept nearby.

Dan Willis offered, not only great advice on my visuals, but replacement visuals. I will work to use these excellent replacements in the coming presentations.



February 28, 2005

Jef Raskin has Passed Away

In sadness and condolence to his family, Jef Raskin passed away. Jef was an inspiration to nearly every designer and developer, by helping us to aim to make products that were intuitive and extremely useful. It is my hope that is vision lives on in the lives and minds of all those he inspired and still inspires.

Peace.



February 12, 2005

It is Speaking Season

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

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

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

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

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

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



January 28, 2005

Amazon and A9 Provide Yellow Pages with Photos

Everybody is talking about Amazon's (A9) Yellow Pages today. Amazon has done a decent job bringing photos into their Yellow Pages for city blocks. This is a nice touch, but it is missing some interaction and interconnections between the photos and the addresses, I hope this will come. I really would like to be able to click on a photo and have the Yellow Pages information show up, everything I tried on Clement Street in San Francisco, California did not work that way.

One of the things that really hit me in playing with the tool today at lunch was how the Yellow Pages still suck. I have had problems with the Yellow Pages for..., well ever. I grew up in cross-cultural environments with British and French influences in my day-time care givers growing up. I moved around a fair amount (up and down the West Coast growing up and Europe and the U.S. East Coast). Culture has their own vocabulary (let alone language) for the same items. What I call things, depends on context, but no matter what, the Yellow Pages do not match what I wish to call what I want (or sometimes need).

Today's search I used one of the Amazon search sample, "Optica", which had some nice references. Knowing how I usually approach using the Yellow Pages I search for glasses (as that is what I need to get or need repaired) or contacts. Doing this in a paper Yellow Pages usually returned nothing or pointers to a couple other places. One would thing online Yellow Pages to be different, well they are, they returned nothing related. Glasses returns restaurant supply and automotive window repairs with not one link to eye glasses, nor a reference to "you may be looking for...".

A9 is a great search tool and Amazon.com has great product tools and incredible predictability algorithms, which will be very helpful down the road for the Personal InfoCloud, but the current implementation is still a little rough. I can see where they are heading with this. And I can dream that I would have this available for a mobile device at some point in the next two or three years.

Once very nice piece that was integrated was reviews and ratings of Yellow Pages entries. This is great for the future, once they get filled out. It will also be great once it is available from mobile device (open API so we can start building a useful tool now?). But, it brings my scenario of the future to light rather quickly, where I am standing in front of a restaurant looking at over 100 restaurant reviews on my mobile device. There is no way that I can get through all of these reviews. Our supporting full complement of context tools will be needed to get pulled into play to get me a couple or four good reviews that will mean something to me.

This is but a small slice of the Personal InfoCloud, which is much broader and focusses on enabling the person to leverage the information they have and find. Pairing these two and enabling easy access to that information when it is needed.



January 8, 2005

From Tags to the Future

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

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

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

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

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



December 31, 2004

Books Read in 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



December 28, 2004

Information Waste is Rampant

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

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

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

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

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

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



December 26, 2004

Flickr and the Future of the Internet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



November 29, 2004

Removing the Stench from Mobile Information

Standing in Amsterdam in front of the Dam, I was taking in the remnants of a memorial to Theodore van Gogh (including poetry to Theo). While absorbing what was in front of me, I had a couple people ask me what the flowers and sayings were about. I roughly explained the street murder of Theo van Gogh.

While I was at the Design Engaged conference listening to presentations about mobile information and location-based information I thought a lot about the moment at the Dam. I thought about adding information to the Dam in an electronic means. If one were standing at the Dam you could get a history of the Dam placed by the City of Amsterdam or a historical society. You could get a timeline of memorials and major events at the Dam. You could also get every human annotation.

Would we want every annotation? That question kept running reoccurring and still does. How would one dig through all the digital markings? The scent of information could become the "stench of information" very quickly. Would all messages even be friendly, would they contain viruses? Locations would need their own Google search to find the relevant pieces of information. This would all be done on a mobile phone, those lovely creatures with their still developing processors.

As we move to a world where we can access information by location and in some cases access the information by short range radio signals or touching our devices there needs to be an easy to accept these messages. The messaging needs some predictive understanding on our mobiles or some preparsing of content and messaging done remotely (more on remote access farther down).

If was are going to have some patterning tools built in our mobiles what information would they need to base predictions? It seems the pieces that could make it work are based on trust, value, context, where, time, action, and message pattern. Some of this predictive nature will need some processing power on the mobile or a connection to a service that can provide the muscle to predict based on the following metadata assets of the message.

Trust is based on who left the message and whether you know this person or not. If the person is known do you trust them? This could need an ensured name identification, which could be mobile number, their tagging name crossed with some sort of key that proves the identity, or some combination of known and secure metadata items. It would also be good to have a means to identify the contributor as the (or an) official maintainer of the location (a museum curator annotating galleries in a large museum is one instance). Some trusted social tool could do some predicting of the person's worthiness to us also. The social tools would have to be better than most of today's variants of social networking tools as they do not have the capability for us to have a close friend, but not really like or trust their circle(s) of friends. It would be a good first pass to go through our own list of trusted people and accept a message left by any one of these people. Based on our liking or disliking of the message a rating would be associated with this person to be used over time.

Value is a measure of the worthiness of the information, normally based on the source of the message. Should the person who left the message have a high ranking of content value it could be predicted that the message before us is of high value. If these are message that have been reviews of restaurants and we have liked RacerX previous reviews we found in five other cities and they just gave the restaurant we are in front of a solid review that meets our interests. Does RacerX have all the same interests?

Context is a difficult predictive pattern as there are many contextual elements such as mood, weather, what the information relates to (restaurant reviews, movie reviews, tour recommendations, etc.). Can we set our mood and the weather when predicting our interest in a message. Is our mood always the same in certain locations?

Where we are is more important than location. Yes, do we know where we are? Are we lost? Are we comfortable where we are? These are important questions that may help be a predictor that are somewhat based on our location. Or location is the physical space we occupy, but how we feel about that spot or what is around us at that spot may trigger our desire to not accept a location-based message. Some of us feel very comfortable and grounded in any Chinatown anywhere around the globe and we seek them out in any new city. Knowing that we are in or bordering on a red-light district may trigger a predictive nature that would turn off all location-based messages. Again these are all personal to us and our preferences. Do our preferences stay constant over time?

Time has two variables on two planes. The first plane is our own time variables while the other relates to the time of the messages. One variable is the current moment and the other is historical time series. The current moment may be important to us if it is early morning and we enjoy exploring in the early morning and want to receive information that will augment our explorative nature. Current messages may be more important than historical messages to us. The other variable of historical time and how we treat the past. Some of us want all of our information to be of equal value, while others will want the most current decisions to have a stronger weight so that new events can keep information flowing that is most attune to our current interests and desires. We may have received a virus from one of our recent messages and want to change our patterns of acceptance to reflect our new cautionary nature. We may want to limit how far back we want to read messages.

Action is a very important variable to follow when the possibility of malicious code can damage our mobile or the information we have stored in the mobile or associated with that mobile. Is the item we are about to receive trigger some action on our device or is is a static docile message. Do we want to load active messages into a sandbox on our mobile so the could not infect anything else? Or, do we want to accept the active messages if they meet certain other criteria.

Lastly, message pattern involved the actual content of the message and would predict if we would want to read the information if it is identical or similar to other messages, think attention.xml. If the Dam has 350 messages similar to "I am standing at the Dam" I think we may want to limit that to ones that meet some other criteria or to just one, if we had the option. Do we have predictors that are based on the language patterns in messages? Does our circle of trusted message writers always have the same spellings for certain wordz?

All of these variables could lead to a tight predictive pattern that eases the information that we access. The big question is how is all of this built into a predictive system that works for us the moment we get our mobile device and start using the predictive services? Do we have a questionnaire we fill out that creates our initial settings? Will new phones have ranking buttons for messages and calls (nice to rank calls we received so that our mobile would put certain calls directly into voice mail) so it is an easier interface to set our preferences and patterns.

Getting back to remote access to location-based information seems, for me, to provide some excellent benefits. There are two benefits I see related to setting our predictive patterns. The first is remote access to information could be done through a more interactive device than our mobile. Reading and ranking information from a desktop on a network or a laptop on WiFi could allow us to get through more information more quickly. The second benefit is helping us plan and learn from the location-based information prior to our going to that location so we could absorb the surroundings, like a museum or important architecture, with minimal local interaction with the information. Just think if we could have had our predictive service parse through 350 messages that are located at the Dam and we previews the messages remotely and flagged four that could have interest to us while we are standing at the Dam. That could be the sweet smell of information.



November 25, 2004

Personal Mobile Usage Pattern

One of the things that bubbled up while using a phone other than my usual phone on my trip to Amsterdam was my normal use patterns. I use my mobile phone (Palm Treo) not only to communicate with others, but also to communicate with myself.

I often send myself e-mails with ideas for projects or articles. I also send e-mails to myself on things to spend time thinking about later or to research later. I had one of these moments in talking with Peter Bogaards about Paul Otlet, whom I have problems remembering. I started reaching for my tool to send a note and had a different phone, which took a little more effort, but got the job done.

I also SMS myself with the cross streets of where I parked my car, or what garage level and other metadata. This solves an ongoing problem, particularly in Georgetown, where my normal parking patterns are ousted, I am parking in a completely new location, or parking in long term at an airport. All part of my mind occasionally not being on the task at hand or I am just deep in thought and did not make a conscious effort to remember where I parked.

One other usage I have is taking a photo of my radio display in my car or the song name and performer. This mostly happens when listening to XM Radio (satellite) as the options are broad and deep, which works wonders for coming across new music I like. The radio in my car does not have a means to save the song name, or even better would be to e-mail me the song info, a link to listen to a snippet, and buying information. I resort to the tools at hand. Yes, I only (well usually) take photos while stopped. I usually have 5 to 10 photos of my radio on my mobile at any one time. It makes it handy when I go into a music store or wait until I can put it in a wishlist online. I use my Amazon Wishlist to find items of interest in a store or to add to my Wishlist and having that live access has made things far better for me as a consumer (my only desire is to have a better mobile interface to one's own Wishlist on a mobile it would seem to have immense benefits for Amazon).

I also browse the web and read articles that I save down to my device to I have access in no-signal zones or zones that I do not have MMS or web access and just phone (DC METRO while underground). I often save down Boxes and Arrows articles for such trips. I also push articles and presentations I am working on to my mobile as back up as well as for review in down periods.

How do you use your mobile?



November 23, 2004

Cranky Interface to Bits and Bytes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



November 21, 2004

Tying Things Together from Design Engaged

Design Engaged is still interfering with the regularly scheduled thinking, which makes it one of the best gatherings I have been to in the last few years. It has been a positively disruptive experience. I have posted my notes on other's presentations, which are sketchy at best. The gaps can be filled in to some degree using Andrews links to Design Engaged posted presentation. Andrew also has wrangled the Design Engaged favorite book list.

I have two or three pieces that I am building essays or some other format from some of the ideas that bubbled up. Some are reworkings of some of my own ideas that have been changed by other's idea infusions and some are pure mashings of other's ideas. Now it is just finding time (as usual).



November 16, 2004

That Syncing Feeling Pages Updated

The links to That Syncing Feeling have been corrected as I now have steady connectivity again. I have also posted the PDF version, for whomever finds that helpful.



November 12, 2004


That Syncing Feeling (text)

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



November 10, 2004

Off to Amsterdam and Design Engaged

I am off to Design Engaged today, which is in Amsterdam. I will try to keep up with things here, but you can hopefully follow along with photos at vanderwal on Flickr.

I will be posting the That Syncing Feeling presentation after it is presented on Friday, which may be Saturday.

Could somebody please remind folks in the Netherlands they are a loving and accepting people. Being of Dutch heritage is something I take great pride and I would like to keep it that way.



November 6, 2004

Model-T is User Experience Defined

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

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



October 8, 2004

Web 2.0: Source, Container, Presentation

At Web 2.0 Jeff Bezos, of Amazon stated, "Web 2.0 is different. It's about AWS (Amazon Web Services). It's not on the web site for users to see. It's about making the internet useful for computers.". This is very appropriate today as it breaks the information model into at least three pieces: source, container, and presentation. Web 1.0 often had these three elements in one place, which really made it difficult to reuse the information, but even use it at times.

The source is the raw information or content from the creator or main distributor. The container is the means of transporting the information or content. The container can be XML, CSV, text, XHTML, etc. The presentation is what is used to make the information or content human consumable. The presentation can be HTML with CSS, Flash, PDF, feed reader, mobile application, desktop application, etc.

The importance of the three components is they most valuable when they stand alone. Many problems and frustrations for people trying to get information and reuse it off the web has been there has not been a separation of the components. Take most Flash files, which tie the container and the presentation in one object that is proprietary and can be extremely difficult to extract the information for reuse. The same also applies to PDF files as they too are less than optimal for sharing information for anything other than reading, if the PDF can be read on the device. As mobile use of the internet increases the separation is much more valuable. The separation has always been the smart thing to do.

Today Google launched a beta of their Google SMS for mobile devices. The service takes advantage of the Google web services (source) and allows mobile users to send a text message with a query (asking "pizza" and providing the zip code) and Google responds with a text message with information (local pizzerias with their address and phone numbers). The other day Tantek demonstrated Semantic XHTML as an API, which provides openly accessible information that is aggregated and reused with a new presentation layer, Flash.

More will follow on this topic at some point in the not too distant future, once I get sleep.



September 5, 2004

Emerging Class Divide with Technology

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

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

Easing the Digital Realm

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

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

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



September 1, 2004

Gordon Rugg and the Verifier Method

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Gmail Simplifies Email

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

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



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.



June 17, 2004

Malcolm McCullough Lays a Great Foundation with Digital Ground

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

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

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

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

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

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



June 8, 2004

Model of Attraction and Personal InfoCloud Presentation

This evening I presented Understanding the Personal Info Cloud: Using the Model of Attraction to Vera Rhoads User Interaction with Information Systems class (INFM 702) in the University of Maryland, Master of Information Management program.

This was a great opportunity to present the Model of Attraction and the Personal InfoCloud information in one sitting. I have realized there is a lot of information in combining the two, but also some areas I could trim. I think the presentation could use a couple clear examples. It was also good to be back in a classroom, although slightly different from the presenting side.

Now I can focus on finishing the drafts of the articles on these subjects.



June 2, 2004

Peter Charts Attention

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



May 28, 2004

Apple Design Guidelines

Apple has published its Apple design guidelines, which are a great resource for anybody building an application. For many of us there is not much new, but it is a great resource to show clients and managers who are not sure about your user-centered development process.



January 27, 2004

Project Oxygen Still Alive

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

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

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



January 12, 2004

Doing Paper Prototyping

Matt asks for examples of people doing paper prototyping and he receives. This brief post with a few comments provides a great overview of this successful method of design and user testing.



January 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

Tanya on Virtual Teams

Tanya offers up a wonderful brief discussion of virtual teams. This is a topic I really enjoy (I have products that I greatly favor (Groove and AIM/iChat) as it really helps productivity, but also the documentation process.



December 14, 2003

Widgetopia

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



Keep It Short - Users Do Not Want to Read

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

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

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

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

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

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



Research Lab for Human Connectedness

The Media Lab Europe's research lab for Human Connectedness really has some great things in progress. The most news worthy of late has been tunA, which is a wireless sharing of your personal music device, which extends your personal info cloud and creates a local info cloud for others. tunA was covered in Wired News: Users Fish for Music article a couple weeks ago.

The group's focus tends to be connecting people by digital tools using aural and visual presentation methods. There are some very intriguing applications that could come out of this research.



December 3, 2003

Tog explains good design on bad products

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

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

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



November 13, 2003

Ivrea Interaction Design resource

Molly Wright Steensen and the folks at Ivrea have launched Hub: Intersections of Interaction Design in conjunction with the Foundations of Interaction Design Symposium. The Hub will be a long term resource and community maintained by the students and faculty of Ivrea. The site currently offers an interaction design "intersections" weblog (which desparately needs an RSS feed) and a great design resources section. Congratulations!



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

Apple love

Mark Morford explains why Apple deserve gushing adulation in his San Francisco Gate column. For me yesterday's plugging in a new digital video camera and having the video just seemingly show-up ready for viewing and importing into iMovie was another jaw-dropping simple it-just-works moment for me. There have been very few difficult moments for me and my Mac. And when they do occur I am tweaking at the command line and getting used to a slightly different syntax for the variant of UNIX that Apple uses. (Note: there is no need for me to play at the command line, but it is something I find fun and rewarding, in a sick build my own soda can sort of way.)

I was also able to use the a Firewire cable to connect to my video camera and have iChat sense it was attached and put me in video iChat mode automatically. Oddly the Sony camera did not come with an iLink (Firewire) cable, odd in that they own some of the rights to Firewire but do not use the superior technology out of the box, instead opting for the poorer quality USB product. The Sony camera came with a CD full of software for Windows machines and drivers so that Windows users can use the digital video output on their machines. My TiBook needed none of that, it just worked easily and wonderfully.

While I am off work for a few days to help Joy and Will adjust I get to fully live in a Mac world. I can get things done and fit work in easily, I have had no virus problems, bugs, halting interfaces, or connectivity problems that plague me at work. Having work environments standardize on Windows is akin to having them endorse non-productivity.

Needless to say I love my Mac and Apple's attention to detail. It is almost as if they care about me and the work I do, by just letting me do my work. Apple does not care if I am coding, programming, being creative, writing, or performing analytics it just allows me to be productive. The amount of money saved in using my Mac more than makes up any price difference (laughable in that there is not a comparable product in the Windows world) for a similar product.



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 4, 2003

Antartica goes DHTML not Flash

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



June 27, 2003

iChat AV has spell check

One quick item of note: Not only does iChat AV have great sound and wonderful video (been privy to both), but it has spell check. Yes spell check in iChat! I have been waiting for this for so long. It does not seem to be documented anywhere that I have found, but when I mis-type the words get a red underline, just like spell check in Safari, and I have the option of fixing.



June 23, 2003

Interact Lab research papers

Department of Informatics, University of Sussex, Interact Lab, HCI papers provides offerings in: Pervasive Environments and Ubiquitous Computing - Shared Interaction Spaces; Playing and Learning - Tangibles & Virtual Environments - Collaborative Learning; Theory & Conceptual Frameworks; Technology Mediated Communication; and Interactive Art. [hat tip Anne]



June 3, 2003

Social computing needs more than chat

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

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



April 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.



March 30, 2003

Shopshifting using a Rough Cloud of Information

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

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



February 19, 2003

Understanding Referrer Systems

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

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



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 10, 2002

Model of Attraction Outline - Version 1

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

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



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 20, 2002

BBC alters interface slightly for user

Matt Jones discusses interface tweaks used by the BBC to help the users. This frequently used elements is a rather nice idea.


October 11, 2002

Quest for Customer Service

It is all about customer service these days. I left my surly and poorly communicative cable company (Comcast) for DirectTV satellite, which so far has been exceptional. DirectTV was a breaze to set up service and has answered questions along the way with ease, honesty (they had to go check to verify the correct answet), and kindness.

We has a similar experience at IKEA at Potomac Mill last weekend as we were piecing together elements for our office. The woman who was helping us there took her time explaining things we may need and may save us money. She verified we had all the parts we needed and coordinated a pick-up for us that day as well as tied missing items together from other stores to be delived a little later. She also walked us over and introduced us to another employee who was equally helpful that tied kitchen cabinets into our office plan to neatly store items above the desk. I have had a string of horrible customer service of late that this really stood out. Some of the higher-end furniture stores have offered or provided similar service, but we did not expect it from IKEA. Actually the guy at Best Buy was equally as helpful and offered the best price options when I picked up the hardware for satellite TV.

On the Web there used to be great sites that were well thought though and had great customer service. Fat Brain books was fantastic, but hit the other end of the spectrum when Barnes and Noble took over (I have had horrible experiences with B&N on-line, but their physical stores are rather good). The Verizon site is utterly miserable with no contingency planning at all. The USA.net e-mail service is horrible with out American Express customer service behind it. It seems that many of the well thought through services sites that privide what you need we gobbled up by large entities that do not care about their sites or those that use them.

I still love Amazon as they still have a rather well thought trough service and their customer service is nearly always very good to excellent. I have had excellent service and support from nearly every Apple site or related site I have run across. The Apple store are great, but so are the Apple local stores. The understanding of the product and the people is lost at PC based stores, there is no passion or caring in the PC community, or maybe it is just burried somewhere.

Part of the poor customer service could be attributed to lack of paying for good customer service or not training for customer service properly. Over extended support teams and people can quickly lead to poor or lacking customer service. These elements can quickly lead to a miserable experience, but having people in a service world that are not truely passionate about product and the customer seems to be a common trait everywhere. Where I find great customer service, there is support from top to bottom in the organization for training and caring for the employees, but the biggest factor is passion. Passionate service folks will knock your socks off everytime, given they are not over stretched or worn down.

Follow the passion



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


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.


Udell encounters UDX

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


August 17, 2002

Interface and the customer

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

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



July 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



June 12, 2002

Paris France design in CommArts

I enjoyed the CommArts Design Interact article on Paris France. One of the pull quotes is very close to one that I continually use around meeting tables at the organizations I work for, "The Internet site or Intranet site is not about or for anybody around this table, it is not for anybody we can reach out and touch, it is for those folks we can not touch and walk through the site or application. This is why we build this site and or application, it is to be used by those we can see or touch. Knowing this we must focus building things in a manner that the user will understand, because we can not explain how we think to guide them so we must understand how they think." This article also provides some great visuals along with the wonderful read.


May 10, 2002

CommArts discusses 37FedEx

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


May 5, 2002

Functional and design documentation

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


May 2, 2002

Site architecture of Slate

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


April 28, 2002

Home usability problems

Katie Hafner writes in the New York Times about comforts of home yield to tyranny of digital gizmos. At times it seems like there needs to be a human upgrade to keep up with the applications that allow you to "easily" have control over your applicances.


New edesign mag

Last night I stumbled across edesign magazine at the local Barnes and Noble. I have been bemoaning the loss of Web Techniques and other electronic medium magazines. The preview copy that I picked up was a rather solid issue that covered a broad swath topics. The magazine did not hit the cutting edge, but it was the first time I have seen some topics covered in hard print. The magazine pointed to MeFi (including some specific threads in MeFi) and talked with Zeldman and other developers who are in the digital medium for more than just fast cash. This issue touched on the folks that have been and are still passionate about the digital medium and electronic design. It was nice to see Carl Steadman's name in hard print again. I hope these folks can stick around. Now I am waiting for a May/June issue.


April 18, 2002

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


April 14, 2002

CompUSA no sale

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

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

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

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



April 13, 2002

Information Architecture of Everyday Things

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


March 1, 2002

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


January 14, 2002

Kevin Fox adds New to You functionality to his site. This is the best idea I have run across in a while. It is a great idea that beats the problems I find on sites I frequent often. It also seems to cover the territory between visited links and not providing them. [hat tip Dinah]


December 7, 2001

Seach Not and Find the Answer

Peter Morville explains why search doesn't suck, but is just not great. I completely agree. Search by itself misses much of the information, unless the site is well written (which provides a cohesive use of terms) or is augmented with metadata.

Let me explain, as Doug Kaye uses in his quest to find what is wrong with searching, a person six months or more ago could have been writing about IT as the possible wave of the future. More recently the same person could have been writing about Ginger. This past week the writer would have started writing about Segway. All were the Dean Kamen invention, but a user searching for a the breadth of our writing on Segway could easily miss our mention of IT or Ginger. The user would have to know to search on these other terms, if they did not they may not find our work. We loose.

This is where metadata helps out. If the information is tagged with a term that classifies this information or could have synonymous relationships established from that metadata item (personal powered transportation = IT, Ginger, Segway...) would greatly help the search. Most of us have been worked on projects that have had searches yet we constantly had users asking us were our information on "xyz" could be found, as they did not find it in the search and they know they read it on our site. That is a large persistent problem. Searching is not a solution only a patch that leaks.

By the way taxonomies can be fluid, they have to be as usage changes.



A New York Times article on the skill of interface design is a solid insight into how to make applications and devices more usable.


December 3, 2001

The BBC reports that Intel is running field studies on mobile device use in London. The research is an ethnogrphic study of interactive use. The article states, "'One of the things that makes a successful technology is a technology that supports experiences that people want to have,' explained Ms Genevieve Bell, senior researcher and design ethnographer at Intel." This is nice news, but slightly more impressive is the general media's explainations of the study, (you go Beeb!!).


December 2, 2001

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


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


November 30, 2001

I am continually running in to graphic display problems with Quicktime on Windows XP and with an ATI 7200 Radon graphics card. I lose the picture in movies and the skin on the player. If I go back and reload the drivers and the Direct X drivers it all works wonderfully. XP has been solid but there are a lot of little annoying bugs running all throughout. There are loads of interface and interaction anomalies also. In all I am happier with it than I was prior, but they still don't get things right.


November 28, 2001

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

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

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



November 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.


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


November 12, 2001

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


Including the Synch

MIT's Technology Review provides Simpson Garfinkel's article The Net Effect: Super Sync", which gets to the core of the Internet... information usage and cross contextual usage. Garfinkel's idea revolves around synching, as one would do with their Palm Pilot to their computer so to have the same version of information with them while the person is mobile and not at their desk. Having this information at easy access whether we are connected to a network (large or small) or not is central to how people work with and use information. On a simple level prior to home computers and PDA's many of people kept a large address book at home and carried a smaller version and calendar with them as they went about their daily routine.

The Palm HotSynch software is used as the center piece to explain the idea of synching and keeping versions running at work, home, and on your Palm. Garfinkel discusses the Concurrent Version Systems that are used to keep versions intact as different people work on the same document or software code.

This synching of information is one area that still needs a lot of work, in my view. I keep and carry separate devices, because that is my choice. But getting information from my Palm to my cell phone is not a viable option at this point. I like each of the tools on their own merits, but having them synch or share information would be very helpful. Even using the Palm to read AvantGo is problematic because it does not allow me to use the information in a manner that works in the way I do. I often read an article from AvantGo and want to e-mail it to others to read or want to post comments about it in this space so I can find it and reuse it at later date as well as share this information. I can't with out going through the work of digging the information out off the Web. It does not need to be that many steps and should not be. After all I can click on an ad that is above the article I am reading in AvantGo and it will send me more information to the e-mail address stored for this purpose the next time I sync. Now just go that extra step and e-mail me the link to the article.

This is just a peak at what is around the corner as we get information applications in our dashboard that help us with direction routing, location based services, and other information. Keeping restaurant information we like synched from out car, our cell phone, to our handheld, to our computer at home is the next step. If we are driving around and have been stuck in traffic and get off the highway in a somewhat unfamiliar area, we can ask to find local restaurant located based on criteria we prefer. The location based service (LBS) may provide options and read you the review, we select which one we want and the LBS provides directions. The LBS if it is connected to our hands-free mobile phone could pass the number of the restaurant to the phone so to call to verify it is open and make a reservation, or could use a service like Open Table to do the same. Once we have had our meal and we liked the restaurant we can mark our review so it can be stored as a place we like, which would pass to our PDA to store and add to our favorites list on our central computer. Sound like George Jetson? It may not be too far away. Each of the applications to make this happen are available and the remaining component is synchronization and sharing of the information.



November 5, 2001

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


I continually turned down my free offers to receive the Darwin magazine, but this article on failure to communicate, about computers communicating to replace our rote tasks. This article focuses on Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which was the sponsor for the advent of the Internet; MIT's Project Oxygen; and the University of Washington's Portolano Project.


Color Matters provides an over and illustrations of color and usability matters. This quick article highlights the use of color to assist the user in their decision making process while working through a task. The color assistance guides the user to the main decision points, most used items, or intended use.


November 1, 2001

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


UIWeb posts a wonderful article on designers playing the politics game, which also provides excellent project strategies and skills for working with the client.

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