Off the Top: User Experience 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.



July 15, 2016

Breaking Radio Silence Again

It has been a while since I’ve posted here. I’m thinking I may go back to a daily update for a stretch to keep the blogging muscle limber and trained.

Personal InfoCloud Backlog too

Over on other blog, [http://www.personalinfocloud.com](Personal InfoCloud) I have had a few more recent posts, but I have a very long backlog of content for that space as well. I need to rewrite the intro to the latest post there, [http://www.personalinfocloud.com/blog/2016/6/20/team-roles-needed-for-social-software-projects](Team Roles Needed for Social Software Projects).

I also have a series there called [http://www.personalinfocloud.com/?category=Shift+Happened](Shift Happened) that I have at least 12 most posts that need to get written (edited, or more likely rewritten). The next two in the Shift Happened series are related to UX in enterprise software and services and the subject of Adaption. Both of these subjects could likely have more than one post each. The UX in enterprise needs a grounding / framing piece as many still think of UX as visual design and not things being designed for use (nor all the various roles and domains that make up successful UX design). The Adaption pieces need the framing of complexity and complex adaptive systems to get set as a footing, but also needs to frame how adaption works and enables being comfortable in an ever changing environment that we live in today. As well a focus on Adaptive Road Maps is needed as how one plans in an ever shifting and complex environment is needed when today’s road maps for the next 2 to 5 years are shot to pieces after a quarter or two. Having and maintaining a long focus on where a company or product is headed is really helpful, particularly when needing to understand foundation priorities needed for a long haul in a world were agile practices drive the day-to-day, but those agile practices are incredibly nearsighted and often discourage the long view (I’ve had a lot of work related discussions about this in the last 6 months or so as it is a common deep pain point for many).

Health

A common question is about health after the eColi issue in 2014 to early 2015. My health seems to be good. Getting through last winter’s holiday season had me on edge as I was partially expecting to fall ill again. Thankfully, I stayed healthy.



March 28, 2015

Inviewed on Shift Podcast

On Friday I had the pleasure of spending about an hour with two of my favorite people, Euan Semple and Megan Murray on the wonderful podcast, Shift. We covered tagging, taxonomies, meaning, power, and the future that we are all hurtling towards.

I am a big fan of their interviews (as their conversations between them are familiar from past conversations between us) with other. I still have a few to get to.



March 17, 2015

Mobile Apps and Enabling Content Use and Reuse

This morning I read Dave Winer’s “When will the 140-char wall come down” that aside from the focus of the piece is the secondary focus on mobile. The part that caught my attention is the section that mentions Facebook’s discussions with content publishers.

David Carr ran an article in the NY Times last October that previewed the pitch we'll likely hear. They want publishers to post full content to Facebook. In return they are willing to share ad revenue with the publishers.

The reason this is so important? In a mobile environment, clicking on a link to read a story is a very big price. We all know that mobile is where Facebook’s growth is coming from. News reading on mobile can become much more fluid. That's what Facebook wants to do.

This pulling content into large commercial social platform’s mobile apps is also problematic. While I really understand the value of not having the users click out of the service and keeping ad revenues pegged to a higher level, it is this lock-in that creates problems. For those of us who value content and being able to refind content and easily quote it and pull it together in links (as is done in this post) these walled gardens of social platforms have rather overbearing walls that make ease of personal information management a giant chore. Many of the social platforms offer some connection to bookmark, send to a full browser, and / or to other apps on the mobile device. Each service is different, most offer some means of getting the content out to functional tools or providing them within their app, but some (like LinkedIn offer nothing, which is really painful and horribly thought through).

The Value to Publishers of Connecting Content

Why should publishers care about their content in a commercial social platform like Facebook? As Dave Winer points out it is about mobile access and what apps and services to people spend time in. A common adage and mindset is to place your content were people are and can see your content. This makes sense to be in the commercial social platforms. Also people share in these social platforms things they find of interest. But, the downside is the lack of ease for people to share out into other social platforms and hold on to content for greater value add outside one platform.

The ability and ease of getting content out of the social platform’s mobile app and into a browser has value, as the browser often have user’s bookmarklets to tuck things into services to read things later (like Instapaper), bookmark it in services (like Pinboard) or a work service (like KnowledgePlaza), or grab an interesting snippet for later (in something like Evernote). All of these not only add personal value to the reader using these services, but most often this content is easily shared to others who follow the link and go read the publisher’s content. If the content is not linked to the publisher’s site and to the social platform, that often hinders people from going.

As publishers consider going this route they need to understand the referral value from power readers and how social platforms currently add friction to that model of value generation.



February 16, 2015

Design and Business Leadership Snippets

There have been quite a few pieces lately on the importance of design and design leadership. The importance of design is getting to the true understanding of what the problems are and thinking about solving out from there without preconceptions of solutions, but letting solutions evolve form the need. Different and well fitting solutions often result from this approach, which is real innovtion and not copying someone else’s solutions for your use as innovation approach.

Matt Milan’s “It’s never been more important for design firms to think differently” is the cornerstone for this thinking differently approach and its deep value. I’d add to this is knowing not only the current state of where the various mediums, systems, and devices are sitting, but where they are headed in the next year or two, so to openly plan for adaption and keep the potential integrations as open possibilities.

Brian Zmijewski’s The Design Leadership Gap and Lead by Design are two really good pieces that take a look at the need for strong design leadership.

Kai Brunner’s Is DevOps Driving the Future of UX Design? is a great look at how to mix and have success with design and DevOps. The two prodominant models don’t really work well and how to work to get to a more optimal model.



December 3, 2014

24 Ways: A Web Holiday Favorite

Nothing makes me happier than to see the winter holiday begin and 24 Ways start its annual release of web development and design goodness. Drew McLellan and the 24 Ways crew have done another great job and I look forward eagerly for every day’s gem that is released.

To make all of this better, 24 Ways is in its 10th year. Congratulations for all the great content and work, from the very first to the current offering of the day.



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 13, 2014

Finding Voice and Freeing my Mind

The effort to return to a habit of regular blogging has been really helpful. But, it has also not solved some inner conflict I thought was going to be a breeze to push past. In my initial push the Refinement can be a Hinderance post really is a tough speed bump to clear. I have a long list of blogfodder queued up for my more formal and work focussed blog, Personal InfoCloud, but now I’m noticing a queue here on this blog as well.

Part of this effort on this blog is to just get things out of my head and shared. I’m realizing time is a hurdle (more correctly lack of time), but getting things framed well and not making a fool (there is a huge part of my inner self that loves to play the jester) of myself. In blogging I’m trying to work writing as an easy sprint again. I am trying to not pay attention to voice, nor what sorts of things I am finding of interest to share. I have been hoping it would evolve, has it did in the very beginning and again with a few other reboots. In this I am finding I am noting things of interest, but not fleshing them out quickly and marking them as to do later, which was my counter intent. Part of this shifting ideas to blogfodder lists rather than knocking it out is there are other things that get my attention as I sit to write.

I am ending up with a few new category terms to add to my pick list. I am also wanting to use this blog to frame and shape ideas and maps forward for the Personal InfoCloud blog. I’m likely going to list out all of the 14 or 15 Shift Happened posts that are brewing as a post here in the near future. I’m also thinking of listing all the social lenses as an outline - downside to this is I want to point to all the existing posts over the years that have become part of the social lenses.

Potentially Adding Linkblogging Back Again

I am also thinking of doing quick link blog posts, which fall into a longer Pinboard or Delicious social bookmark and add more narrative. I keep thinking I want a slightly different input form for those (I had one for Quick Links years back before Delicious started, but it doesn’t quite fit the bill these days). I also have a love / hate for blogger’s link blogging as the header link goes way from their blog and not to a permalink page with a little more info. The user interface is not differentiated in any way, or done incredibly poorly on most sites. But, I am trying not to let the short comings of other’s sites deter my own use of link blogging, but I would keep the header link consistent and link it locally to a node page and have a proper link out to the site or object in the text.

No More Meta - Maybe

With each of these meta posts about this blog as post in this blog, I swear it is my last one.

I also realized my new hosting server (sat in New York I believe) is not using local time, but GMT instead. This is better than the time stamping of blog posts on my old server / host in Sydney (yes, I know I can fix this with a simple conversion, but that requires writing the conversion). One day I may fix that. One day.



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.



November 1, 2014

Being Makers

Oh, there is so much great fodder in Dan Hon’s most recent Tiny Letter, but today’s dosage meted out Episode One Hundred and Eighty One: It’s Too Hot; Monitor This is a gem. The piece that really got me going is midway through section “2.0 Monitor This”, as follows:

I’ve been in meetings like this.

I don’t know what the brief would've been. But given that it went to Jam in the first place, I’m sure it was something to do with “let’s do something on social or mobile”. And it's exciting to think, as a creative team, that you've come up with an “app” that can “solve a problem”.

Well, part of the f*cking problem is this: those creative teams have most commonly *never shipped* an “app” or a “service” before. And the skills required in actually making a good application or service are vastly different from those involved in creating compelling creative communications. Because, you know, one of these things is used and the other one isn’t. That’s not to say that good apps and services *can’t* be informed by the kind of taste and direction that informs well-performing advertising creative communications work. But the two things are different!

This is why, for example, good producers try to find people who’ve actually done something in the relevant area before, so you’re not playing a f*cking crap shoot.

Pants on Fire

This scenario is not only creative agencies, but most any non-serious product organization. I see this a ton where people are just guessing the way forward. It doesn’t matter if they are in UX and don’t understand the medium they are working in with any depth (they don’t prototype and can’t build), they are analysts who have never built nor managed a scaled environment and been responsible for it, or are a consultant that never stuck around to be responsible for what they delivered so never learn how to do anything close to properly.

Largely it comes down to depth and experience dealing with things for a long haul. The best experience is not only doing, but being with it long term and responsible for things after they are delivered. The best experience in this set is being the person, or one of the people, whose pants catch on fire when things don’t go well.

These “pants catch on fire” folks are most often gems, particularly if they are keep building and working to innovate and iterate (with all the research and digging for more depth) so to understand it better and get it right. These people are also the ones who can break things down to the “it depends” elements and walk through the questions needed and know what to do with the answers. Far too many want the answers without knowing how to think it through or go through the questions but not understand what the answers mean.

SXSW Started with Makers

A lot of this reminds me of the progressions of South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive. I first went in 2001 to not only listen and learn, but to meet and thank some of the people who helped me deeply by the lessons they learned and shared themselves and by others on shared in the service they offered. I learned much of what I knew in the early web years (1994 to 2001) from people sharing what worked, but also what didnt work (and what they did that didn≱t work in a situation) [I also had relied heavily on my formal learning as a communication major undergrad and public policy (econ and social quant) from grad school]. I wanted to say hello to Jeffrey Zeldman for A List Apart, Jeffrey Veen for Webmonkey and HotWire, and Nathan Shedroff for sharing all they did at Vivid Studio (one of the first web design shops that predated UX, but took all the methods I learned in designing communications and applied it to the web and digital matter and connected the long used methods to new terms for the same things).

That 2001 SXSW was a lot of people who were building, making, and working deeply to understand what worked, what didn≱t work, to improve what they were making so it could be used by others who needed it to work. It was a sea of design and developer hybrid explorers.

By 2005 SXSW had shifted from purely makers to include those talking about things made and how to use what has been made, while not really understanding what goes into making it. These were the “Clickers”.

In 2006 and 2007, we had shifted from the Makers, to the Clickers, to many talking about the Clickers, but not really understanding the Clickers as they weren’t really using things, but talking at an abstraction layer about what the Clickers said. There was some nascent value in these “Talking about Clickers” folks, but a lot of it was off target as they didn’t understand the underlying elements that were being used, not the mindset and the needs of the Clickers all that deeply - the exceptions to these are deep researchers who actually could and did make and spent time in with the Makers and Clickers.

By 2008 the abstraction at SXSW got really crazy. It had a huge number of talks by people “Talking about those Talking about Clickers” otherwise known as social media gurus. It was an utter mess. There was a severe lack of depth and nobody had a clue about much of what they were talking about. Their understandings were based on mis-understandings. There was a small contingent of Makers still speaking and some Clickers who had good depth of understanding by this point, but most of what was on the program was horrid blather. Much of the draw that had makers drop into Austin to see friends and colleagues and share and work through understandings to hone the way forward stopped going. At 2008 I had enough of it and stopped going as the value derived is next to nothing.

SXSW in about eight years went from being Makers, to Clickers, to Talking about Clickers, and to Talking about those Talking about Clickers. It became a gathering of nothingness. It became a conference of what Dan is talking about, people trying to do something without having any interest in understanding what they are doing. They want answers without understanding the question.

For the Love of Makers

I love the Makers and making. The mindset and drive to understand how to build things better for the Clickers and to make things more usable and needed. Working with other Makers and people with Makers’ mindset in the development, design, and product side is fantastic. There is a whole lot of “we don’t understand this well enough” mindset. As nothing is perfect and everything has gaps (products and humans) we need Makers to understand and build a way forward.



October 31, 2014

Deconstructing for Fun

There are two video gems I have fallen into really liking in the last year Every Frame a Painting and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Every Frame is a Painting

Every Frame is a Painting tickles the film nerd in me. This takes me straight back to a great class in media criticism by Father Mike Russo in undergrad. We not only learned how to watch film, but how to deconstruct it, which turned into how to make film for many in that class.

Tony Zhou who creates Every Frame is a Painting provides great insight into film direction and cinematography, by breaking down scenes and the make-up of a shot to convey a story through film. Film and its genres as well as directorial influences not only help see film with a new eye of appreciation, but the world beyond film. A lot of interaction design in technology heavily references film and the ability to direct attention and create an enjoyable experience.

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

I’ve wasn’t a fan of the Jerry Seinfeld show. I saw a decent amount out of inertia (was watching the show on same channel prior) or it was a lead-in to something I wanted to watch. But, while there were some gems, most was listening to people whine, which lead to that same whining tone coming from myself the following day.

But, Seinfeld’s stand-up was something I had appreciation for and enjoyed. But, he has a web video series with the construct of him driving a historic car to pick-up another comedian to go get coffee. Most of the episodes are 15 to 20 minutes of he and his fellow comedian talking craft and sharing stories.

Much like Every Frame… Comedians in Cars… puts the focus on deconstruction of the craft, background of the artist, and breaking things down. There is often quite a bit of humor, which also helps.

In college and the years when I lived in San Francisco I loved going to stand-up shows. There were a lot of really good comedians working through their craft in SF in the mid–80s to mid–90s. The best times were often at open mic nights where comics would try out new material and often spill out into the parking lot or streets for an hour or few of riffing and stories.

Deconstruction is Essential for Understanding

A lot of undergrad for me seemed to be about not only learning (building a corpus of knowledge), but learning to deconstruct and understand the world and craft around me. Comedy and film (media in general got this treatment) were two of many of the disciplines I learned to breakdown to understand at more atomic levels, so to understand how to build more than capably as well as much better.

Learning the craft of deconstruction through something fun like film and comedy is a great place to start. Warning - this will change how you not only watch and consume things and may change the enjoyment and mindless nature that is desired, but it does give enjoyment on many other levels.



August 17, 2014

Facebook Timeline is Alzheimer’s Prep Course

I swear Facebook timeline is practice for a serious freaking bout of Alzheimer’s. You read something of interest that is cut off, so you click “… more” and read or watch something that makes you feel marginally more human and connected, you click back or close the pop-up and and they have redecorated, painted the walls (the lovely picture a friend took of a sunset or an odd shaped peanut) isn’t there but something sort of just as interesting is, and the dog you though you had (well the video of a puppy) is gone, and the thing your friend shared you wanted to like is also… POOF!

I swear Facebook is created by people who time travel and the time travel booths are sponsored by some sort of Alzheimer’s Anonymous reject group or something and want to inflict their version on the world as if that can be the new normal.



April 29, 2013

Broken Decade Precedes It Works Decade

I had long forgotten this Carl Steadman response to Michael Sippy’s “Just One Question - What do you want for Christmas”, but the response from 1997 is fantastic and frames the 1990s as the broken decade. (I’ll wait for you to go read it)

I’m not so sure that Carl’s broken decade got better in the first half of the 2000 decade, but it really started to. We are much farther along now. Our consumer world started to improve quite a bit and slowly business systems and services are slowly improving. The initial part of Carl’s rant focusses on the number of steps to get something going. Once it is working the steps are still clunky.

Carl gets in a great rant about time and how broken it was in the 90s within technology (calendaring and syncing is still a beast and likely to for a bit longer - you understand the problem sets and pain points if you have ever tried to build syncing). With calendaring and its related activities we now have Tempo, which is freakishly close to the next step scenario I used in many of the Come to Me Web presentations and Personal InfoCloud presentations from 2003 through 2007 (I’ve been getting requests to represent them as this is what more and more developers and designers are dealing with today and need to have a better foundation to think through them). There was an internal Yahoo presentation (and follow on day of deep discussions and conversations) with a version of the Personal InfoCloud and Come to me Web flow that is nearly identical to the Tempo app video scenario and ones spelled out in Robert Scoble’s interview with Tempo CEO, which is utterly awesome that it is getting built out some 10 years later (we had the technology and tools to do this in 2004 and beyond).

Carl’s rant gets worn away over time though consumer devices, services, and applications. The refocus on ease of use and particularly the use through mobile, which requires a very different way of thinking and considering things. It thinking through design, the dependancies, and real user needs (all while keeping in mind the attention issues, screen size, networking, and device limitations). The past couple years mobile finally caught on with mainstream users and people doing real work on the mobile and tablets - Box 40% mobile access of files stored there over the last couple years. Many other business vendors have had mobile use rates of their services from mobile over the past two years. When talking to users they opt for mobile solutions over their full enterprise tools as they are much easier to use, which quickly translates into getting more work done. As Bernd Christiansen of Citrix stated in an onstage interview the employee’s most productive part of the day is often the walk from their car to the front door of the office working on their mobile devices.

This world is not fully better and fully easy to use from the days of Carl’s rant, but it is getting better. We still have quite a ways to go.



April 26, 2012

Skitch Update Includes Evernote Posting

Skitch updated its Mac OS software today and now include a direct posting (or sync in their terminology) to Evernote. This past year Evernote purchased Skitch and its team and brought them into the Evernote fold.

I have been waiting for this posting to Evernote since they were purchased. While I like the Skitch hosted web dashboard and its hosting of one’s own Skitch images it didn’t fully fit into my workflow as easily as Evernote has. Skitch dashboard works well to share images and drafts out with others and provides a nice interface for seeing what is private/secret and what is public.



October 7, 2011

A World without Steve Jobs

The news of the passing of Steve Jobs came as I turned on my iPad arriving at the BWI airport. It caused a gasp from me. Much of the prior 90 minutes were filled talking with my seat mate about the future of technology and our finding ease in using the tools we have today and their near future incarnations and beyond. The conversation kicked off with a question about iPad and differences between iPad and iPad2.

Today, what really struck as I woke today was not as much on what Steve Jobs inspired and shipped, but what didn't ship. I have had some long discussions with folks from Apple about things that got stuck in the Steve Jobs review and how to potentially get a feature or product beyond that hurdle. The attention to detail was stunning as to what the CEO focussed on and how each thing fit in not only the whole stretch of Apple products, but also all the touch points where people experience Apple. On rare occasion something that has been a bit of a clunker shipped from Apple, but mostly it is shipping great products that are well designed, well engineered, and very well built.

Having a leader understand this whole of the ecosystem of experience and making decisions to remove things that could dent that whole of the experience is essential Steve Jobs. One thing in particular sticks out is Apple not shipping is Flash in the iPhone. At the time many other smartphones included a Flash player in their devices, but it was never a good or passable experience, even when it wasn't locking up the device or crashing it. Jobs and Apple took a lot of heat for this decision, but it was geeks that cared about Flash in phone and those who only understand checkboxes when making device selection that were having the lack of understanding. The lack of Flash in iPhone and other iOS based products is one key to their ease of use and uptime, which lead to high user satisfaction of the devices.

American companies in recent years have been competing on price not quality, and therefore have largely been shipping mediocre products. The financial success of WallMart is founded on getting brands to make a cheaper more mediocre product so people own a brand that once mattered, but the product is deeply lacking in the quality they bought for a low price. The Steve Jobs Apple did not give in to shipping junk, their products may cost more than other devices, but once you add similar components to what Apple didn't cut corners on the price is rather close if not much more for the competing products. Jobs turned Apple around from a company that had become focussed on price and mediocrity and returned it to a company that focussed on "Boom" and quality with forward thinking products. Jobs shifted the focus from following to bringing the future to today with quality.

When we consider Pixar, Tim Berners-Lee inventing the web on Steve Jobs' Next Cube computer, changing the music industry with iTunes and iPod, disruptively moving the mobile phone marketplace, and countless other drastic changes one man and his companies made it is tough not to stop for a moment and be thankful and know we have been blessed with one who dreamed of greatness for the world around him and delivered it though passion and flair.

Now it is our turn not to give into mediocrity and accept the merely acceptable, but measure what we do and bring into our world and lives the greatness that should be there.



August 26, 2011

The Steve Jobs Difference

Yesterday's news that Steve Jobs resigned from is position as CEO of Apple hit hard. I, like everybody, knew this day would come but Jobs had many times cheated reality by creating a whole new one out of thin air (apparently thin air is made of hard work, insane attention to detail, knowing what the future looks like, hiring great people who can execute from that vision and have equal attention to detail along with knowing the deep underpinnings of everything they touch to to make something great, and not compromising on the way to making something great) and I had selfishly hoped his health and longevity would dance on some of that magic as well.

I was a fan of Apple products in the mid through late 80s when the Mac and MacBooks were the new and inventive darlings and also options I had to use at work. But, it was not until Jobs returned to Apple and the release of Mac OSX that I paid attention closely nor personally cared. In 2001 I was losing my laptop when I left a work project that loaned me one and was a web project built on UNIX that I went looking for a replacement as a personal computer for me. I went with a Titanium PowerBook from Apple because of Mac OSX as it gave me not only the new Mac OS and classic Mac OS to test with, but OSX is built on UNIX (Darwin, which Jobs' created at Next based on BSD) including access to the command line, and it could have a Windows emulator running to use the tools required when dealing with large organizations. All of this was in a less than one inch Titanium encased laptop, with a lovely screen, and battery that could last a flight across the US.

But, something happened I did not see coming, after a few months I was only using Mac OSX. My purchase choice was based on the capability and need to use all the various operating systems, but my use showed I only used one. Mac OSX was a giant change and revelation for me, I no longer was battling the operating system it just worked, I was able to do my job (that does not include keeping my personal computer functioning properly) and things were much easier to use. I noticed the attention to detail and careful design not only in the operating system and Apple software, but also the hardware. My hardware was lasting like no other manufacturer (my last laptop was 4.5 years old before replacing).

It was after purchasing my PowerBook that I started closely paying attention to Steve Jobs keynote presentations. The keynotes were a blast as Jobs seemed as giddy as we were about the newest things (iPod, iMac with extendable screen, iPhone, iPad, etc.) and at the same time deeply proud that Apple (his baby) was shipping yet another product that dared at greatness and changing the way things are done and the way we live our lives. (Josh Bernoff of Forrester counts 5 game changing innovations in technology as well as how these innovations deeply changed the music, film, telephone, internet, and other related industries). There has been no other single person nor company that has had that much impact.

There is No Other Like Jobs

I have long been accused of being an Apple fan boy, but I'm not so sure that I am that as much as I am a fan of nearly perfect execution of ideas that truly lead and are driven by a goal to ship things that are great. This is very much at the heart of what Steve Jobs has done for Apple. It is not only the vision, but he is the one that pays attention to the details and things that are insanely small and even things that can not be seen, but need to be there.

I have had the fortune of chatting with people at Apple in the cafe, being invited to speak to them, and pulled aside at events by a couple groups at Apple to "chat about some things" that lasted a few hours. These glimpses inside left me in greater awe of not only Apple and its very different and secret way of doing things, but of Jobs himself. I heard stories of Jobs product reviews and the level of detail of things he gets to (wire color inside a laptop, the symmetry of left and right invisible to sight laser drilled holes next to the laptop cameras in MacBook Pros - the right for an on light to show through and the left for balance, yes of something you can not see). But, I also had somebody recount a review he was responsible for the product and it didn't meet Jobs's standards and I watched the person physically recount the pain of that dressing down I imagine he got as he asked for suggestions for alternate paths to get it approved. The explanation and constraints around the feature and functionality were really well reasoned and I could see why it didn't ship. But also I was more in awe of Jobs and the realization of the breadth and depth he not only pays attention to, but the detail and quality that he demands. Not only did Jobs lead a company he checked it line by line as it was part of the vision and passion, but also he has the serious depth of understanding to have a company make things that are great.

The Measure of Things

Yes, not everything Apple ships has been perfect nor great and it would be foolish to say that. But, those teams and people do not last long who do not ship greatness. Apple will and has shipped things that are iterations on their way to something else as well as blown up products for a rebuild from square one (Final Cut Pro is in the midst of this) as well as things that are experiments (Apple TV). But, where Apple has and does stand apart is the expectation of greatness of product and having products that ship.

I have had senior executives of many tech companies as well as non-tech companies sit and ask about what I think is the difference between their company and Apple (I find this odd as I never publicly mentioned any interaction with Apple other than customer until this post).

This questioning has repeatedly come from senior management at Microsoft, whom I really like, but hasn't shipped anything great (perhaps other than Xbox) even though they have always had great things in R&D for years. The answer to Microsoft about the difference comes down to expectations and rewards. At Microsoft employees are reviewed on a sales and marketing model where the top third get really good salary increases and good bonuses, the middle third based on reviews get moderate increases and most years some bonus, and the bottom third has to reapply for their job or find another one. What this model of reward does is have nearly every employee game the system to be the white knight at the end of the day (just before review) sweep in with a great solution. The problem with this approach is the systems are so complicated and complex that they are not integrated nor tested well enough (often this needs many months of planning, if not years) to make a seamless solid product. Then I get asked what the Apple model is, which is really simple: All teams are given the task of making a great product and if the product meets expectations and review of the one with the insanely careful eye as well as does well in the marketplace the whole team is rewarded well, if not the team is reconfigured to better meet expectations (rumors of whole teams being dismissed have not publicly confirmed, but that would never surprise me).

Apple works and is set up as a whole to work together in clusters of people focussed with one driving mission. There is an also a culture of "what would Jobs do" that is more than myth and that matching of vision and expectations really extend broadly and deeply. But, the one thing I fear and have seen in the past year or two in Apple products is a slipping of quality and attention to detail in tiny ways. Not having the Steve Jobs with final insane attention to detail and vision review doesn't catch the things that make a deep difference. There is a lot of magic in Steve Jobs that can not be replaced (I strongly believe everybody has a gift that make them special and the world a much better place for having their gift in it, but Jobs has had this in volume like no other).

More Than Product

In 2005 I was moved by one rather short presentation like I had been at no other time and moved to make change. This was Steve Jobs' commencement address at Stanford given after his return to Apple after stepping away to battle cancer. The Jobs 2005 Commencement Address - Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. was and still is amazing. It was amazing in the craft of it in writing and delivery, but also the message. I grabbed a copy of this a day or two after I heard about it and listened to it nearly every time I travelled (which was a fair amount then). I continued listening to this about once a month for years and need to return to it.

For all of this and more I wish Steve Jobs deep thanks and wish him peace and comfort moving forward. Steve is the embodiment of of the Apple Think Different mindset and we are all better off for it.



March 30, 2011

Late to Realizing Ovi Maps Does Exactly What I Wish

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

That FINALLY! Moment Reached

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

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

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



February 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.


October 22, 2010

Nokia to Nip Its Ecosystem?

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

Killing A Valued Part of the Ecosystem

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

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

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

Understanding Ecosystems is Important

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

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

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



June 27, 2009

Social Design for the Enterprise Workshop in Washington, DC Area

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

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

Past Attendees have Said...

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

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

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

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

Is the Workshop Only for Designers?

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

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

Not Only for Enterprise

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

The Workshop will Address…

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

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

More info...

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

I look forward to seeing you there.

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March 12, 2009

Catching Up On Personal InfoCloud Blog Posts

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

The following are recently posted over at Personal InfoCloud

SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools

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

Optimizing Tagging UI for People & Search

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

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

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

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



August 28, 2008

Tale of Two Tunnels: Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0

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

Tale of 2 Tunnels

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

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

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

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

Enterprise 2.0 is not Web 2.0

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

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

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

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

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

Gaps in Enterprise Tools

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

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

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

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

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

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



June 11, 2008

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

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

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

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



May 30, 2008

Speaking at the International Forum on Enterprise 2.0 Near Milan, Italy

Under a month from now I have the wonderful pleasure of speaking at the International Forum on Enterprise 2.0, this is just outside of Milan in Varese, Italy on June 25, 2008. I am really looking forward to this event as there are many people whom I chat with on Skype with and chat with in other ways about enterprise and the use of social tools inside these organizations. It is a wonderful opportunity to meet them in person and to listen to them live as they present. Already I know many people attending the event from the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Spain, and (of course) Italy. If you are in Europe and have interest this should be a great event to get a good overview and talk with others with interest and experience. Oh, did I mention the conference is FREE?

I will be presenting an overview on social bookmarking and folksonomy and the values that come out of these tools, but also the understanding needed to make good early decisions about the way forward.

I look forward to meeting those of you who attend.



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



April 16, 2008

Explaining the Granular Social Network

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

Social Tools Need to Embrace Granularity

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

Showing Granular Social Network


Granular Social Network from Thomas Vander Wal on Vimeo.

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

Connections with Others

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

Mapping Interests with Contacts

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

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

Focus On One Interest

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

Moving Social Connections Forward

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

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



Social Tools for Mergers and Acquisitions

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

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

Social Tools Are Great Aids for Change

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

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

Communication Build Common Ground

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

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

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

Increasing Speed and Lowering Cost of Transition

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

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



April 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]



March 13, 2008

Continental Airlines I Loved You This Past Week

This past trip to SXSWi was filled with more than one's fair share of travel drama (including being heavily doused in gasoline, changing 6 flights, 2 hotels, and adding a drive from San Antonio to Austin). To get to a SXSW that was over booked and made for a completely un-SXSW experience. But, along the way I learned a little something. I love Continental Airlines. This is an open letter to Continental on the appreciation for customer service that was fantastic. I am a Gold Elite status (because I fly a fair amount for work and conferences) with Northwest Airlines (NWA) and I am a huge fan of their customer service and wonderful kindness, but I am not a direct member of Continental (they do honor NWA status and provide similar service).

When I was completely covered with gasoline on fueling up on the way to the airport and had to turn around, shower, and change clothes I also had to reschedule my flight. I called Continental and they were utterly swamped with massive weather delays and cancellations. They were kind, courteous, and very accommodating. They constantly were apologizing for the delay on confirming my changes. When my new flights were badly delayed I had to work to find a new route and worked to get to San Antonio instead, which later needed to be cancelled as it too would not work. I cancelled the flight to Austin, but they were accommodating on helping keep my flight still schedule for the return trip back. Continental also did not charge me a change of flight penalty only the difference in the cost of the ticket.

Southwest and its Non-plus Attitude

I ended up switching to Southwest to get a direct flight to San Antonio, which was not going to be impacted by a transfer through a city having weather problems. Southwest was not rude, but they did not exist nor really extend the courtesy and kindness that Continental did. To Southwest I was a number, B55 to be exact. When I checked in they were not helping the woman next to me who was having a horrible time with their kiosk, so I was pointing out the what she needed to click as I had just gone through the same confusion (JetBlue used to have the best Kiosk interface for clarity of task and ease of use, but they have changed it). The flight was good and the crew funny (scripted funny) as is the Southwest norm. But the loading process is really bothersome (I paid more for my Southwest flight at the last minute than all the changes I made on Continental and that leg of the ticket combined) and the price I paid got me near the end of the loading process on a very full flight.

Continental Return Flight

My return flight from SXSW was on Continental and I had messed up my return time and had cut the flight much closer than I thought (35 minutes to make the flight after I walked in the airport). Many times on United or Delta (Delta is partner with NWA also) I have been less late and they have not let me get on the flight and have been rather discourteous about it (I had Premiere status with United last year thanks to their seeing my status on NWA, but that only helped when I would complain about them being discourteous, at best to the Premiere Desk). But, Continental staff in Austin helped with their kiosk interface (even though I had no problem), they were very kind pointed out how to get to the gate most quickly. Once on the plane the staff had its hands full with a passenger across from me who refused to put her bag fully in the overhead bin, complained when they asked her to turn off her phone, was nasty when they said she would have to wait a moment for change for a $20 for her drink (they gave the guy with change a free drink), and when she refused to sit back down as we taxied to the gate. On the next flight the there were issues and they were rather kind with the people who were so large they did not fit in their seat and had to have the person who was so sit next to them in the middle seat take another flight (and get a free ticket), could not understand the quite sweet but elderly Latin American woman with a difficult to understand dialect. The staff on that Houston to Baltimore flight was kind and courteous, and the male flight attendant said I was very patient and kind, which was only a reflection of the Continental staff.

Fans Get Positive Feedback

I am a fan of NWA and now Continental for their great kindness and help to their loyal customers. The Southwest experience is even, but its fans get roughly similar treatment as do the non-fans. With Continental, it seems their non-fans or irregular fliers are getting courteous, helpful, and kind service. This is far and above the Southwest experience. But, in a world where we see companies embrace their fans online and encourage interaction and fandom there is not better thing than great service. In this space Continental rocked it this past week, it was flat out wonderful.



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 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.



December 18, 2007

T-Mobile Was Not the Problem with Twitter

Twitter has been having problems with T-Mobile USA customers having the ability to use Twitter's short code to send messages to Twitter (as noted in T-Mobile Shows Ignorance Blocking Twitter. But, as it turns out the problem for being able to use short codes was not T-Mobile, but was the messaging service Twitter uses to handle its messages. This highlights a couple problems with what happened: 1) Messaging service providers need better communication with customers; 2) T-Mobile was not blocking, but assumed it was.

Messaging Services Need to Improve Customer Service

I know quite a few people whose services for mobile access in the United States use messaging services to handle the SMS for them. All of them (about 7 of them, all in confidence) have said they are not fully happy with the service provider, but the options are rather thin. The two biggest complaints are poor communication when problems arise and maintenance (setup, managing, and monitoring) capabilities. The services are mostly companies who have built applications, servers, and network access to ease the sending and receiving SMS text messages to augment existing services. This is a tough market space to work as it constantly is changing and the costs can be high and staying on top of all the changes takes constant watching (policies of carries and settings change relatively often). What is missing seems to be a service that is proactive and works in a more transparent manner (alerts and metrics when errors happen).

T-Mobile Customer Service Still Good, but Management Reacted Oddly

Let me start by saying I was relieved that this problem was not T-Mobile blocking Twitter short codes, as that would have been a strong reason to move from T-Mobile. The last five years and more, I have been extremely impressed with T-Mobile's customer service. When I have a problem they answer the phone quickly or respond to e-mail quickly and immediately start working on solving the problem. I rarely have problems with their service and the odd occasions when there are problems (like getting international data roaming for a fix rate on my mobile that they do not sell) they work hard to get a great solutions and always seem to go the extra mile. This is one company whose customer service I am always quite impressed with how I am treated, the effort that is put in to provide an optimal solution, and the amount of time (relatively short when compared to all other telecom (mobile or landline - including cable)) it tasks from beginning to final resolution. T-Mobile is my measure for nearly all other customer service I receive.

What is really with the T-Mobile responses did not seem to come from Customer Service (who was not aware that there was a problem, which is slightly problematic but often attributed to a limited knowledge management application to handle trouble tickets), but came from T-Mobile management. There were quite a few people who e-mailed and escalated their problems with T-Mobile and received an [paraphrased]it is our right to block services as we see fit policy response from the management. This is quite problematic. One is that they can and will block services without notification. Second, they respond in this manner with out looking into the problem (this is incredibly counter to my experiences and I would not be a fan of T-Mobile were this the usual practice of ignorance and laziness). It seems that T-Mobile USA senior management needs to take a good look at its own practices and start learning how their customer service is done in the trenches and start replicating that as quickly as possible.



December 16, 2007

T-Mobile Shows Ignorance Blocking Twitter

Updated with response in T-Mobile Was Not the Problem with Twitter.

The news of USA T-Mobile Blocking Twitter Short Code (and now understanding of why I have been getting the service unavailable message the past few days) is deeply bothersome on many levels. First is I use Twitter a lot. It is a core communication channel for me. It is a viable outlet during emergencies. Lastly, when traveling and when out Twitter is a great broadcast medium to connect with friends to coordinate meeting and let them know of delays or problems.

These issues while they have great value and essential support, are secondary to a commercial entity blocking a service with out notice. I mostly use mobile Twitter, but the short code is something I use quite often, particularly to direct message when somebody needs a private quick answer. I don't have all of my friend's mobile numbers, but Twitter has decreased my need for them as one SMS (short code) suffices. T-Mobile is getting paid for use of the short code for the SMS traffic just the same as if I used my friend's mobile number for SMS.

Lacking Access to Twitter Short Code is Reason to Dump T-Mobile

The belief that T-Mobile has that is does not have to support any external service they do not have an agreement with is a giant problem for me the customer. I pay T-Mobile for service, if they decide not to provide service I decide to take my business to a company that will provide service. T-Mobile can cower behind its foolish policy statement, but those of us who are month-to-month with them (I own my own mobile device that I really like and I will not sign an agreement that has lock-in) should look at other options and make a decision that is in our best interest. T-Mobile seemingly does not support its customers by providing open transmission of messages/communication (this is why I pay them money, who is on the other end is never important). Lacking an understanding of why they get paid by their customers is a tragic decision.

T-Mobile Wants to Get in the Social Services Game

For months T-Mobile has been advertising for a Director for Community Products on its job board (now looking for a Senior Manager for Community Products), but to play this game T-Mobile must play well with other Community platforms. There is no lock-in as many people already have their own Community/Social platforms they use (Twitter, Facebook, Jaiku, etc.). The best way to build community is to embrace other platforms and allow open communication between the services. Rule number one in social software is people hang out and use services where their friends are. The corollary is people will use a service that easily connects with where their friends are (Jaiku gets this and has done well embracing this concept as it can pull in feeds from all platforms (allowing the listener to decide what feeds they want in their feed from the lifestreams from their friend's lives.

T-Mobile must learn this simple concept or they have proven they do not get the game and they will be moved out of the way.



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 21, 2007

A Sad Day for Great Customer Service

Today I made a call that was really tough. I canceled my Speakeasy DSL account. A few weeks ago the we upgraded to Verizon FIOS (fiber network) to get much faster internet service for less cost. The switch removed the copper wire coming to the house (although that may not be fully the case due to some law suits brewing against this practice - the copper may have to be put back for free if the case wins or is settled and Verizon is cutting their potential losses making it easy to reconnect).

Giving Up Customer Service

In making this switch I gave up one of my favorite customer service relationships I have ever had, which was with Speakeasy. Every time I have needed to call Speakeasy, which was not often as their service was nearly perfect in the nearly six years I used them, they were polite and were very helpful. In one occasion they suggested an option that would save me money. They also applied the lower rates to my service when the rates dropped. They have acted just like you wish every company would act. They treat you like a valued customer at every turn. They look out for their customers interests, even it if is making less money. For me Speakeasy would win my business if they could compete on a level playing field.

Verizon the Painful

I have had horrible customer service in the past from Verizon, with customer service agents flat out lying (their upper managers later apologized in each case and said it was not normal practice, only to have it happen the next call). But, with getting an oder of magnitude (10x) or faster internet for a third of the price, it was a really tough call. Before we even got the service installed we uncovered Verizon had signed us up for services we did not want and did not have in our signed contract. It has been painful to get that sorted out.

Why go with Verizon? Well, I figured I can put my battle boots on to get what I need (hopefully), which is just what is promised in the contract. I know that every conversation will be a lot of effort and painful, just like they have been the last 14 years and even getting the fiber activity connected proved they have not changed.

Lack of Competition Ensures Low Quality

I have been amazed that much of the rest of the industrialized and post-industrialized world treats its telecom infrastructure as a public good. It is a national interest. The copper wires we have/had are considered belonging to the public. It has been considered a core necessity to have up to date technology infrastructure by many countries, but not the USA. Today the USA is 14th to 25th in broadband availability, use, and average speed compared to other nations across many surveys. The USA is way behind and its model leaving infrastructure in the hands of those with no competition or incentive. In a capitalist market society there needs to be competition, but in telecom there is no market as their is an oligopoly (only a limited few strong players), which is not a market (open competition) in economic terms.

I like the model for DSL, which had many parties buying infrustructure and selling based on service. When DSL started there was largely parity (small companies and large with similar pricing) and competition on services was the difference. Then the courts ruled and still allowed access, but the telecoms created a playing field in their advantage where they could sell services for less by not providing "discounts" to other service providers. The competition then came to be solely paying more for better service (connectivity and customer service). For many paying to be treated by a human was worth the cost.

Today there continues to be no marketplace. But, there is no option for competition on service. The lines are now property of the telecom that laid them and others have to lay their own lines to provide access. This method tears up the road infrastructure and creates un-needed redundancy. The model is broken and is keeping the USA behind other countries. I would gladly pay $10 to $15 more per month for Speakeasy customer service for my fiber connection.

Infrastructure is Competition?

I have chatted with a few CEOs and CIOs who have global businesses. When they look at expanding they look less to the USA than to Europe or Asia. It is not so much the cost of people, as most will pay for good people. But, in the US the poor infrastructure comparatively means they need more buildings and to pay for infrastructure themselves. The big campus is not efficient to many businesses as the technology and tools to connect and collaborate have improved. But, to do this takes infrastructure in a country or region.

My upgrading my connectivity allowed for much smoother video chats and voice chats. I can share large documents more easily. But, my access to the infrastructure is extremely rare in the USA. In the Netherlands similar connectivity is at nearly every doorstep in the top cities, secondary cities, and even tertiary cities. Outside of their city centers many people I talk with there work from home 80 to 90 percent of the time.



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 14, 2007

Understanding Taxonomy and Folksonmy Together

I deeply appreciate Joshua Porter's link to from his Taxonomies and Tags blog post. This is a discussion I have quite regularly as to the relation and it is in my presentations and workshops and much of my tagging (and social web) training, consulting, and advising focusses on getting smart on understanding the value and downfalls of folksonomy tagging (as well as traditional tagging - remember tagging has been around in commercial products since at least the 1980s). The following is my response in the comments to Josh' post...

Response to Taxonomy and Tags

Josh, thanks for the link. If the world of language were only this simple that this worked consistently. The folksonomy is a killer resource, but it lacks structure, which it crucial to disambiguating terms. There are algorithmic ways of getting close to this end, but they are insanely processor intensive (think days or weeks to churn out this structure). Working from a simple flat taxonomy or faceted system structure can be enabled for a folksonomy to adhere to.
This approach can help augment tags to objects, but it is not great at finding objects by tags as Apple would surface thousands of results and they would need to be narrowed greatly to find what one is seeking.
There was an insanely brilliant tool, RawSugar [(now gone thanks to venture capitalists pulling the plug on a one of a kind product that would be killer in the enterprise market)], that married taxonomy and folksonomy to help derive disambiguation (take appleseed as a tag, to you mean Johnny Appleseed, appleseed as it relates to gardening/farming, cooking, or the anime movie. The folksonomy can help decipher this through co-occurrence of terms, but a smart interface and system is needed to do this. Fortunately the type of system that is needed to do this is something we have, it is a taxonomy. Using a taxonomy will save processor time, and human time through creating an efficient structure.
Recently I have been approached by a small number of companies who implemented social bookmarking tools to develop a folksonomy and found the folksonomy was [initially] far more helpful than they had ever imagined and out paced their taxonomy-based tools by leaps and bounds (mostly because they did not have time or resources to implement an exhaustive taxonomy (I have yet to find an organization that has an exhaustive and emergent taxonomy)). The organizations either let their taxonomist go or did not replace them when they left as they seemed to think they did not need them with the folksonomy running. All was well and good for a while, but as the folksonomy grew the ability to find specific items decreased (it still worked fantastically for people refinding information they had personally tagged). These companies asked, "what tools they would need to start clearing this up?" The answer a person who understands information structure for ease of finding, which is often a taxonomist, and a tool that can aid in information structure, which is often a taxonomy tool.
The folksonomy does many things that are difficult and very costly to do in taxonomies. But taxonomies do things that folksonomies are rather poor at doing. Both need each other.

Complexity Increases as Folksonomies Grow

I am continually finding organizations are thinking the social bookmarking tools and folksonomy are going to be simple and a cure all, but it is much more complicated than that. The social bookmarking tools will really sing for a while, but then things need help and most of the tools out there are not to the point of providing that assistance yet. There are whole toolsets missing for monitoring and analyzing the collective folksonomy. There is also a need for a really good disambiguation tool and approach (particularly now that RawSugar is gone as a viable approach).



June 16, 2007

New Profession Unfolding In Beauty and Geekery

A week or more ago I ran across the incredible video of Blaise Aguera y Arcas presentation of Photosynth and Seadragon at TEDTalks 2007. The video is stunning work of Seadragon and Photosynth bringing a collection of images to life from one or more resources.

While the video and ideas behind the tools are incredible displays of where we are today with technology and where we are heading, this caused some ideas I have been trying to get to gel to finally come together. In this video Blaise states (my own transcription):

So what the point here really is, is we can do things with the social environment taking data from everybody, from the entire collective memory of what the earth looks like, and link all of that together and make something emergent that is greater than the sum of the parts. You have a model that emerges of the entire earth, think of it as the long tail to Stephen Lawlers Virtual Earth work. This is something that grows in complexity as people use it and whose benefits become greater to the users as they use it. Their own photos are getting tagged with metadata that somebody else entered. If somebody bothered to tag all of these saints and say who they all are, then my photo of the Notre Dame Cathedral suddenly gets enriched with all of that data. I can use it as an entry point to dive into that space in that metaverse, using everybody else's photos, and do a cross-modal and cross-user social experience that way. Of course a by product of all of that is an immensely rich virtual models of every interesting part of the earth, collected not just from overhead flight and satellite images, but from the collective memory.

Torrent of Human Contributed Digital Content

What this brought together was the incredible amount of human contributed digital content we are sitting on top of at this moment in time. This is not a new concept, but what is different is the skills, tools, and understanding to make use and sense of all this content are having to change incredibly. The Photosynth team is making use of Flickr content that has been annotated by humans (tags, titles, and descriptions), as well as by devices (date, time, location, etc.). This meta information provides hooks put pull disparate information back from its sole beauty and make an even greater beauty and deeper understanding. The collective is better than the pieces, but pulling to collective together in a manner that is coherent, adds value, and brings deeper appreciation is where get hard.

Much of information understanding and sense making to date has relied on human understanding and we have used tools to augment our understanding. But, we now need to rely on deeper analytics in quantitative methods and advanced algorithms to make sense and beauty out of the bits and bytes. The models of understanding are changing to requiring visualizations methods (much like those of Stamen Design) to begin to grasp and see what is happening in our torrent of information at our finger tips and well as make sense of the social interactions of our digitally networked and digitally augmented lives.

Amalgamation of Designer and Quant Geek

What gelled in my mind watching the Blaise demonstration is there is a skill set missing in the next generation comprised of amalgamated design, information use, analytical foundation, and strong quantitative skills. I have clients in start-up businesses and in enterprise that are confronting these floods of information they need to make sense of from folksonomies and customer generated content (including annotations and regular feedback). The skills needed for building taxonomies are not translating well when the volume of information the information managers are dealing with is orders of magnitude higher than what they dealt with previously. The designer, information architect, and taxonomist who have traditionally have dealt with building the systems of information order, access, and use are missing the quantitative skills to analyze and make sense out of a torrent of loosely structured information and digital objects. Those with the quantitative and strong analytical skills have lacked the design and art skills to bring the understanding into frame for regular people grasp and understand.

This class of designer and quant geek is much like the renaissance men, but today the field of those forging new ground is open to men and women. The need to understand not only broad but deep sets of data and information so to contextualize it into understanding is the realm of few, unfortunately as there is a need for many.

I know of limited pockets of people with the skills to do the hard work of querying the vast array of information, objects, and raw data then make something of value of it. But, there needs to be more of these people getting trained as designers with solid quantitative and analytical skills (or the converse). Design shops are missing the quant geeks and engineering shops are missing the visualization geeks that bring this digital world rich in opportunity into something that makes sense and beauty.

If you know people like this that are bored, please let me know as I am finding opportunities flowing.



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.



May 31, 2007

Folksonomy Book In Progress

Let me start with an announcement. I have not had any answer for continual question after I present on tagging and folksonomy (I also get the question after the Come to Me Web and Personal InfoCloud presentations), which is "where is your book?" Well I finally have an answer, I have signed with O'Reilly to write a book, initially titled Understanding Folksonomy (this may change) and it may also be a wee bit different from your normal O'Reilly book (we will see how it goes).

I am insanely excited to be writing for O'Reilly as I have a large collection of their books from over the years - from the programming PHP, Perl, Python, and Ruby to developer guides on JavaScript, XHTML, XML, & CSS to the Polar Bear book on information architecture, Information Dashboard Design, and Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interaction Design along with so many more.

Narrowing the Subject

One of the things that took a little more time than I realized it would take is narrowing the book down. I have been keeping a running outline of tagging and folksonomy related subjects that have been in my presentations and workshop as well as questions and answers from these sessions. The outline includes the deep knowledge that has some from client work on the subject (every single client has a different twist and set of constraints. Many of the questions have answers and for some the answers are still being worked out, but the parameters and guidelines are known to get to viable solutions.

Well, when I submitted the outline I was faced with the knowledge that I had submitted a framework for a 800 to 1,000 page book. Huh? I started doing the math based on page size, word counts, bullets in the outline, and projects words per bullet and those with knowledge were right. So, I have narrowed it down to an outline that should be about 300 pages (maybe 250 and maybe a few more than 300).

What Is In This Smaller Book?

I am using my tagging and folksonomy presentations as my base, as those have been iterated and well tested (now presented some version of it well over 50 times). While I have over 300 design patterns captured from tagging service sites (including related elements) only a few will likely be used and walked through. I am including the understanding from a cognitive perspective and the lessening of technology pain that tagging services can provide to people who use them. There will also be a focus on business uses for intranet and web.

When Will This Be Done

Given that I have a rather busy Fall with client work, workshops, and presentations I set a goal to finish the writing by the end of Summer. It sounds nuts and it really feels like grad school all over again, but that is my reality. I have most of the words in my head and have been speaking them. Now I need to write them (in a less dense form than I blog).

Your Questions and Feedback

If you have questions and things you would like covered please e-mail me (contact in the header nav above). I will likely be setting up a blog to share and post questions (this will happen in a couple weeks). I am also looking for sites, organizations, and people that would like to be included in the case studies and interviews (not all will end up in the book, but those that are done will end up tied to the book in some manner). Please submit suggestions for this section if you have any.



March 22, 2007

Las Vegas is First Life's Attempt at Second Life

I arrived in Las Vegas last night feeling slightly out of sync with the world around me. I realized that Las Vegas is the First Life's version of Second Life. When I mentioned this to a friend in a chat they stated, "but the people are real". This was after I had just come through the Las Vegas Airport, which was filled with people who looked as if they just stepped out of Second Life.

Las Vegas seems to have taken the User Experience and turned it up to eleven. Everything is synthetic, which is horribly disconcerting. When manufacturing user experience we must have a foundation on the real to build upon and shape things from. Las Vegas has no foundation in the real as it uses manufactured experiences as its foundation for building upon, there is no firm ground to use as context as it is all manufactured.

When I go to New York, London, or Amsterdam there is a flood of real experiences to use a frameworks for building a user experience. These places have a firm ground to build augmented or shaped experiences on top of, but Las Vegas has only a foundation in the plastic and manufactured. In Second Life there is the option to close that world and rejoin the grounded experience, but Las Vegas that button is a car, plane, or bus out.

This morning I went in search of the 24 hour breakfast in the massive hotel, only to find it served at a restaurant that did not open until 6am (0600). In this purely synthesized world their is no irony in this as it only a play on reality, which uses the unreal as a foundation. The only options for breakfast at 5:30am were Technicolor gelato and alcohol.

I was sure Las Vegas was based on Second Life (or the converse) when a dear friend stated he was trying to get a tour of Hoover Dam and other local sights by helicopter. He seeming had found the fly button in Las Vegas.



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.



February 1, 2007

Lessons in Identity

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

Identity Lessons

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

Product Brand versus Mega Brand

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

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

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

Personal Management of Identity

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

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

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

Brand Trust

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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



January 31, 2007

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

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

IT Traditions

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

Breaking the Cycle of Blame and Disappointment

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

Technology is not a Cure All

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

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

People and Information Needs

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

Design with People in Mind

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

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

Smile to Many Faces

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

Technology Companies Go Directly to the Users

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



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 27, 2006

Yahoo! Bookmarking and Broken Roadmap

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

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

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

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

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

Hope that clears it up...]

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

Bookmarking Beta

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

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

Breaking Social Bookmarking

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

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

Shrinking 3 to 2

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

Yahoo! Innovation and Focus on Regular People

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

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

Innovation and del.icio.us

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

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

Poisoning the Water

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

What Roadmap?

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

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

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

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



October 26, 2006

Yahoo! Bookmarks Beta (or Alpha)

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

Y! Bookmarks Beta Good Things

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

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

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

Bookmark Homepage Oddities

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

bookmarks_home_default_sort

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

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

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

Edit Bookmarks Broken

edit_form

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

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

Bookmark Search Missing Items or Poor Sort

Y! Bookmark Beta Search Results

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

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

Add Bookmark Screen

Y! Bookmark Beta Add Bookmark Screen

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

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

All My Tags

Y! Bookmark Beta All My Tags

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

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

Recommended Bookmarks

Y! Bookmark Beta Recommended Bookmarks

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

Wrap-up

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

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

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



September 26, 2006

Personal Disconnectedness of Travel and Gerneric Architecture

Um, what does one do at 2am in the morning (after sleeping four hours and waking at 1am)? Blog.

Unfocussed Curor Bliking

I am finding that this long distance traveling has been really increasing my personal disconnectedness time this year, where the mind, body, and soul are not joined. Some call it jetlag, but it seems deeper. There were times yesterday where my motor skills just were shot (as they normally are with long travel on the first day). Other times my mind would just freeze mid-thought or sentence. It is not a bad thing, but more of a just "is" thing. It feels like the unfocussed blinking cursor syndrome, where a window on the desktop has a blinking cursor and you believe that if you type your text will show up there (the password box on a web form), but in reality it is some completely different window (like chat session) that has focus and displays the text as you hit enter to submit.

The SimCity Model for Urban Redevelopment

At a meal yesterday (brunch at Darling Harbor or dinner at Bondi Beach) I began to think that many cities are just replications of SimCity with similar architecture, where the cities are rather modern and/or developed in the mid-1800s. You can plop down a new structure that is similar to one from another city. Much like the new buildings in Darling Harbor look strikingly like the new Baltimore, Maryland Inner Harbor. Much of Sydney yesterday felt like something on the North America West Coast, as they were built and grew up about the same times in the mid-1800s and had similar cycles of growth over time. On Pitt street in Sydney, where it is a pedestrian mall, it really felt like there were some Commonwealth flourishes, like shopping arcades, put in San Francisco's Financial District.

Architecture as Cultural and Location Grounding

This quasi-generic western culture Pacific Rim architecture washing tended to compound the personal disconnectedness I was experiencing. Not only was my being disconnected, but the physical markers of my surroundings were off kilter as well. I somewhat experienced that in Berlin last Fall with the new modern architecture around Potsdam Platz. I felt far more grounded and connected in Friedrichshain as it was not modern and had native architectural elements that were not pan-global.

When I travel to Europe I like doing my time correction to resolve the personal disconnectedness is Amsterdam as it is distinctly Amsterdam. I know internally that I am in a different city, different country, and different culture. But, in Amsterdam they speak English very well and are technically adept (often leading to better understanding of mobile usage and other technosocial interactions that are missing in America as it lags Europe with technical adoption on many many fronts.

Similarly, I found Innsbruck to be similar to Amsterdam in its distinctive architectural elements, but even its modern architecture was very germanic. Growing-up I was a model railroad fan, but many of the buildings were not similar to the architecture I knew growing up on the West Coast of the United States as the larger makers of pre-built buildings and models for model railroads was from Germany, the Netherlands, or Belgium (I really do not remember the name of the company), but when taking a train from Schiphol to Amsterdam many of the post-war-modern (World War II) buildings looked straight out of the scene set catalogs for modern railroads. But, there were many buildings in Innsbruck that had the same architecture mixed in to the Tyrolean architecture.



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 21, 2006

Acceptance of Innovation Takes Time

This past week Boeing cancelled its in plane internet connection services, called Connexion. The service has been in development for six years, but only in limited service for about 18 months. Boeing stated it did not get the acceptance and use of the service it expected. While Boeing was using satellites, which produce solid quality, its competitors are using less expansive and more fickle cellular approaches.

Acceptance Takes Consistency and Ubiquity

If I remember right it was only two or three airline carriers (Luftunsa) that had this service only on some of their planes. The people who I knew who used Boeing's services on airlines loved it, but they were never sure if the plane they were flying on would have access. This lack of consistency lowered the expectations of those who loved the service. These early adopters were reluctant to encourage others as the service may not be available. There are many people that want this type of service and to the level of bullet-proof service Boeing provided.

Air travel (like many others in the service industry) is an industry that is build around habits. Heavy travelers all have very set patterns and even well patterned alternate habits. They have certain airlines they fly (affinity programs encourage this), what airlines they use, hotels, and rental car they depend upon. The big mantra is no surprises and consistency. Packing their travel bags and gear with expectations of that they will need, with a big nod to what will not be needed so it is not packed (lighter travel is better than heavy travel). Depending on internet connection on the plane for many was not consistent and could not planned around.

Be Patient

How would Boeing get to the expected customer base? As a start they should take a lesson from Amazon, which puts innovative ideas in place all the time, but then lets the users catch-up to the tools. With Amazon their early adopters will use and play with their innovations (around which Amazon uses the feedback and iterates the products). Did Amazon announce their gold box? No, they put it out there and tested it and over a couple years it has become a staple that many people use as part of their regular Amazon experience. Amazon is doing similar things with tagging on their product pages and it is growing slowly.

Tagging is another area that is a slow growth. Currently there is less than .5 percent (half of one percent - comprised from Nielsen estimate of 750 Million people on the web and a compiles number of 2 to 4 million people using tagging services, not including blog categories as tagging) of people on the web tagging. Even with all of the hype tagging is still out in the long tail, and is an edge activity. Will tagging hit the next phase of innovation growth and spike in usage, the hockey stick curve, in the near future? It will take patience, consistency, iteration, and much better light bulb moments (quick a ha moments for those not using tagging).

Broadband In Planes Doomed?

It sounds like there are other technologies that are doing similar things to what Boeing was trying, but not as solid. These technologies are less expensive to implement and lower costs for those that fly. Can a poorer technology take off? The VHS (a greatly inferior product to Betamax) took the market.

It seems there is a future for broadband for those companies that can stay for the long run and help build demand and wait for demand to catch-up to innovation.



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.



August 15, 2006

Refreshed and Connected

I am back from a little break and refocussing on real stuff not related to ocean waves. I have connectivity and have the ability to send e-mail out. I had quite limited connectivity the past week, even from my mobile.

Give a shout if you are in town for the Adaptive Path UX Week give a shout. I am around for the most part, but will be unavailable for work one day.



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 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 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.



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 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.



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.



April 3, 2006

Mr. Thackara Provides Fodder for Two Loose Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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



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 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.



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.



September 21, 2005

Great Travel Bag

One very good thing I found out on this trip to the Bay Area. I love my new travel bag it is a Victornox carry on that is the same size as my (er my wife's) bag I had been using. This bag not only has more room in it (I fit three days of clothes (did not know what I wanted to wear), an extra pair of shoes, too damn many beauty products (but not toothpaste), and a bottle of Vitamin Water), it wheels around wonderfully (it did not tip over or tip on one wheel), and it is the first towing handle that I love. The handle curves so the bag is not only easy to pull, but it never hit my foot. This is a huge pet peeve with luggage with wheels (not that I want to go back to the days with only carrying luggage) they always clip the back of my foot when towing it behind, well until now. The wheels on this are very well placed and large, which mitigates many bag problems I have normally had.

When I get a product that is well designed, particularly one in a class of products that are abysmal or never design quite right, it is a great moment. The difference between this wonderful bag and others are rather small, but details are what separates commodities from great products (this is why I love Apple products and German cars).

Looking around the airport and plane yesterday I saw people battling their bags and I just wanted to tap them on the shoulder and say "just get one of these".



September 16, 2005

Tomo and Ivan on Ebay to raise funds for the Red Cross

Our friends, Kevin and Tom, have put up an OK/Cancel pencil sketch on Ebay to raise money for the Red Cross Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund. It is Ebay and Tomo & Ivan for good a good cause, you know what to do.



September 12, 2005

No More Waiting...

I suppose I should note here that the last day at my current job will be October 6, 2005. I am not sure what the next full step will be, but I will be focussing my full attention what I have been passionate about for the past few years. Rather than spending a few hours every evening and weekends on my passions, it will become my full-time job. The details will show themself in the next few weeks and months. I need the time to persue some options and have time to think about and consider others.

For the last couple years I have joked I commute to my day job, but telecommute to my private life. Well, my private life is where most of the Model of Attraction, Personal InfoCloud, Local InfoCloud, and work takes place. Pieces of this work make it into the day job, but not enough to keep me excited or engaged. I am really wanting to see more great work and products that easily functions for people across devices, across platforms, and is easy for real people to use and reuse.

The world has been shifting to a "come to me web". We are seeing the easiest way to make this easier for people attract what they want this is to learn what each person has an interest in, as well as what their friends and peers have interests in. This will help the findability of information and media for people, but the real problem is in the re-findability of that same information and media for people so they can have what the want and desire at their finger tips when they want it and need it. We have all of the technology needed to make this happen, but it needs research, quick iterative development, and removing the walls around the resources (information/media, unwarranted device restrictions (American cell companies have created the failure of the missing robust mobile market), and unwarranted software restrictions). Paying attention to people and people's interactions is the real key to getting things right, not trying to beat your competitor (focussing on the wrong goal gets the poor results). Make the products people need that solve problems people have (with out introducing problems) and you will have a winner. People have so many needs and desires and every person is different so one solution will not fit all and we should never make things just one way.

These will be a long few weeks with more small steps for me. There is a lot to get done and to consider in the next few weeks. In this is preparing for speaking and traveling on top of the other needed work to be done to prep for this next step. I will pop back up and fill you in when I know more. but, the count down has begun.



August 19, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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



August 17, 2005

User Experience Design in the Come to Me Web?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



May 29, 2005

Response to Usability of Feeds

Jeffrey Veen has a wonderful post about the usability of RSS/Atom/feeds on his site. I posted a response that I really want to keep track of here, so it follows...

I think Tom's pointer to the BBC is a fairly good transition to where we are heading. It will take the desktop OS or browser to make it easier. Neither of these are very innovative or quickly adaptive on the Windows side of the world.

Firefox was the first browser (at least that I know of) to handle RSS outside the browser window, but it was still done handled in a side-window of the browser. Safari has taken this to the next step, which is to use a mime-type to connect the RSS feed to the desktop device of preference. But, we are still not where we should be, which is to click on the RSS button on a web page and dump that link into ones preferred reader, which may be an application on the desktop or a web/internet based solution such as Bloglines.

All of this depends on who we test as users. Many times as developers we test in the communities that surround us, which is a skewed sample of the population. If one is in the Bay Area it may be best to go out to Stockton, Modesto, Fresno, or up to the foothills to get a sample of the population that is representative of those less technically adept, who will have very different usage patterns from those we normally test.

When we test with these lesser adept populations it is the one-click solutions that make the most sense. Reading a pop-up takes them beyond their comfort zone or capability. Many have really borked things on their devices/machines by trying to follow directions (be they well or poorly written). Most only trust easy solutions. Many do not update their OS as it is beyond their trust or understanding.

When trends start happening out in the suburbs, exurbs, and beyond the centers of technical adeptness (often major cities) that is when they have tipped. Most often they tip because the solutions are easy and integrated to their technical environment. Take the Apple iPod, it tipped because it is so easy to set up and use. Granted the lack of reading is, at least, an American problem (Japanese are known to sit down with their manuals and read them cover to cover before using their device).

We will get to the point of ease of use for RSS and other feeds in America, but it will take more than just a text pop-up to get us there.



May 24, 2005

Wade Roush and 10,000 Brianiacs

I have been following Wade Roush' continuousblog since its inception a few weeks ago. Continuousblog is focussing on the convergence that is finally taking place in the information technology realm. I had a wonderful conversation with Wade last week and have been enjoying watching his 10,000 Brainiacs evolve in 10,000 Brianiacs, Part 1; 10,000 Brainiacs, Part 2; 10,000 Brainiacs, Part 3; and soon to be 10,000 Brianiacs, Part 4.

Wade's concept of "continuous computing" fits quite nicely in line with the Personal InfoCloud as we have access to many different devices throughout our lives (various operating systems, desktops, laptops, PDA, mobile phone, television/dvr, as well as nearly continuous connectivity, etc.). The Personal InfoCloud focusses on designing and developing with the focus on the person and their use of the information as well as the reuse of the information. It is good to see we have one more in the camp that actually sees the future as what is happening to day and sending the wake-up call out that we need to be addressing this now as it is only going become more prevalent.



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 27, 2005

Opening Old Zips and Finding Missing Passion

Tonight I finally got my old USB Zip drive to work with my laptop (I have not tried in a couple years) and it worked like a charm. I decided to pull most of the contents of my old Zips into my hard drive, as it is backed-up.

I started opening old documents from a project from four and five years ago and the documentation is so much better and detailed that what I have these days. The difference? Focus and resources. On that project I was researching, defining, iterating, and testing one project full-time. I was working with some fantastic developers that were building their parts and a designer that could pulled everything together visually. We each had our areas of expertise and were allowed to do what we enjoyed and excelled at to the fullest. Our passions could just flow. The project was torn apart by budgets and politics with the real meat of it never going live. A small piece of it went live, but nothing like we had up and running. But, this is the story of so many killer projects and such is life.

What is different between now and then? Today there is no focus and no resources to develop and design. I am in an environment overseeing 2,000 projects a year across 15 funding areas (most of the work done centrally is done on 5 funding areas), it is project traffic management, not design, not research design, not iterating, just balancing high priority projects (mostly it is 9 of us cleaning up others poor work). The team I work with is fantastic, but we have few resources (mostly time is missing) to do incredible work.

The looking back at the volumes of documents I wrote laying out steps, outlines of design elements, content assessments, schematics, data flows, wireframes, and Flash animations demonstrating how the finished tools would function I realize I miss that, deeply. I miss the passion and drive to make something great. I miss being permitted to dream big and solve problems that were untouchable, and best of all, go execute on those dreams. When I see members that made up that old team we reminisce, much like guys do about high school sports champion teams they were on. We had a great team with each of us doing what we loved and changing our part of the world, the digital world.

It was in that project that the seeds were planted for everything I love working on now. Looking at old diagrams I see hints of the Model of Attraction. I was using scenarios around people using and reusing information, which became the Personal InfoCloud. These elements were used to let others in on our dreams for that project and it was not until my time on the project was winding down (or there was no desire to move more of the whole product live and therefore no need for my skills) that I could pull out what worked well on project that made it special. Now others are getting to understand the Personal InfoCloud and other frameworks and models I have been sharing.



April 25, 2005

State is the Web

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

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

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

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

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

When is State Helpful?

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

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

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

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

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



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 12, 2005

Entering the Bubble

Today my copy of John Thackara's In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World arrived. I have read through 10 pages so far and it seems like it may live up to what I had hoped it would, my next book I obsess over. The last book was Digital Ground. Digital Ground took rough edges off many of the ideas I had been working through for a few years. It also extended me limited view to a much broader horizon. It is with this expectation that I read In the Bubble.

I will keep you apprised of my adventure through the pages.



April 10, 2005

Personal InfoCloud at WebVisions 2005

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

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



March 26, 2005

Yahoo360 and the Great Interaction Design Yardstick

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

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

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

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



February 28, 2005

Jef Raskin has Passed Away

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

Peace.



February 23, 2005

Simple Genius for ProCare

With the arrival of my new Powerbook I was in the middle of preparing for four upcoming talks with illustrations and presentations for them in process I needed to get my works in progress off my TiBook as well as my applications moved over. I went with the ProCare at my local Apple Store, which turned out to be awesome. For just under 100 bucks they moved everything over and kept all the new goodness in place all in 12 hours. It was the longest I have been off my computer (actually more like 20 hours off the machine) in quite some time (things have been a little busy of late). I panicked when I dropped my computer off as the Apple floor person told me they no longer moved applications over, but he was just a little off.

I could not recommend ProCare more for just that service by itself. Somebody in recent weeks called ProCare the frequent flier club for Apple. You can also reserve an Apple Genius up to seven days in advance at any Apple Store. Not only that, but you can reserve a specific Genius. Unfortunately your favorite Genius will not follow you around the globe, but it is still sweet.



February 16, 2005

All the Blog that is Fit To...

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

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



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.



December 26, 2004

Flickr and the Future of the Internet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



December 23, 2004

Mobile in Suburbia

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

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

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

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

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

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



December 12, 2004

Second Apple Store in Bethesda

Bethesda now has two Apple stores. There is one Apple Store in the Montgomery Mall and now a Apple Mini-store on Bethesda Row. I caught some pictures of the Apple store opening line of people a little more than a half hour before the opening and a pre-opening peak inside the Bethesda Mini-store. I was not able to stay for the actual opening as it was raining and I had my son with me on our way to music class.

I am still conflicted about the Apple stores and their impact on the local independent Apple retail stores. This new Mini-store is a short walk from MacUpgrades. The local independent stores are very tied to the people in the communities that are fans. They have been gathering places for conversation as well as quick purchases and straight forward opinions. The local stores have been places that have high touch and great customer service, but this is also a property of the Apple corporate stores.

The Apple Stores do have Genius Desks (with the direct line to Apple) and abundant software options. They are also a place to get service and accessories. The Mini-Stores only carry the "i" line of products and the full laptop line along with the above mentioned. How will this play out? Will the local independents morph into something that will sustain?



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 6, 2004

Model-T is User Experience Defined

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

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



September 19, 2004

Boutique Hotel Guides

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



September 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 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.



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

Amazon Plog

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

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



June 1, 2004

E-mail I Can Use

I picked up a Gmail account over this long weekend. What , how did I get it? I bought it. Yes, I know they are free and I know it is still in beta. Yes, I got it from an auction site. No I do not think I am crazy.

  1. I subscribe to a lot of lists and I also get an incredible amount of e-mail to my personal address
  2. I do not have external SMPT access during the work day to post queries to lists or to quickly respond to mail.
  3. I did not have a Web mail account that allowed me to search or organize the e-mail as I wanted (searching through months if not years of list services is very helpful)
  4. I wanted to make sure I got a specific name
  5. I can use my mobile account to deal with personal e-mail and forward all other e-mail to Gmail
  6. I don't mind the advertising and having targeted ads is better than the garbage I don't care about

So far I am quite impressed with the interface. There are some things with the application that I was not expecting, such as spelling. I was also not expecting the labels for e-mails rather than silly folders. The labels allow for more than one category for each e-mail and the mail is not buried in a folder somewhere.



May 3, 2004

GEL Conference Overview

Heath Row, of Fast Company, has captured the GEL Conference write-ups on one page. I was traveling this past week and was bummed to have missed this conference. I am already planning to fit in next year's conference as it seems to be a great conference that gathers great ideas that help share how to improve the Web for the user's experience.



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 3, 2004

Mixed Feelings about Apple Store in Bethesda Maryland

Mac Network News is reporting an Apple store coming to Bethesda, Maryland in Montgomery Mall.

I have very mixed feelings about the Apple store coming. While I trek to the Tysons and Clarendon stores in Northern Virginia and would love a store 5 to 10 minutes from my house, I still feel a very close tie to the local Apple resellers. I am a huge fan of the Absolute Mac store as they have an extremely knowledgeable staff, great customer service, and quick turn around times on perfectly done repairs and upgrades (I am willing to make the 20 minute trek to the store on Saturdays -- no late weeknight hours). (Absolute Mac has also been a fantastic resource to the local business community that understands Apple products let them get their job done and not have the computer get in the way.) I am also a customer of Mac Upgrades here in Bethesda and enjoy the ability to drop in on my way home from work or as a walk-in while doing other errands.

The local Apple resellers have provided expertise beyond what the Apple stores have provided and have better turn around on service times. The local stores are also very tied to the local community. The Absolute Mac store has been pushing to start a chapter of the local MUG, Washington Apple Pi, which would be a great meet-and-share for the Maryland Apple fans, while Mac Upgrades is a sponsor of Apple Pi.

All this said, I look forward to the Apple store coming to Montgomery Mall (my guess is it is going in where the Eddie Bauer store just vacated, which is near the official Palm kiosk). The Apple stores do a great job of introducing Apple products to the frustrated uninitiated PC consumers. The Apple stores are great venues to sit and watch new Apple users, be it iPod, iTunes, or Mac computers, come in and rave about their new found joy in digital consumer products and great computing products that actually let them do their job. I don't know how many times I hear customers stating they no longer battle their computer to do their work and are no longer wasting time or a lot of money on support for their PCs. These folks have been hardcore software programmers, business managers, store owners, students, designers, stay-at-home moms, etc. The love affair for Apple product grows from new seeds in Apple stores. The stores also provides hands-on experience to third-party consumer products and a broad array of software and add-ons.

While the Apple stores are great outreach and expansion devices for Apple and its great computing resources for consumers and enterprise buyers, the support and feeding on the Apple community has been performed by the local resellers and authorized repair shops. It would be great to have the Apple store offer repair and other services from Absolute Mac and Mac Upgrades, where applicable. Apple really needs to foster these relationships that have maintained and grown fans of great products for years.



December 28, 2003

Mobile Audio

I picked up Audio Hijack Pro so I can record some of my favorite radio shows on the Internet to playback when I have time. Since I stopped driving to work and went back to taking the Metro I have been missing Marketplace on my drive home. I can also listen to Studio 360, which I plan to do tomorrow, when I have time. The Audio Hijack is like the Tivo for Internet audio, but missing the time schedules and recommendations.

The benefit of the portable audio is getting the top item on my wishlist, an iPod. I am wishing the iPod interface was slightly more malleable and offered how much information was available about the audio file, it would be good to have search functionality too. I am happy to have my full address-book and calendar tucked in the device also. I am surprised there has not been a thumb keyboard introduced for the iPod as of yet. I am even more surprised there is not a dial and click text entry component, just like the arcade games of yore.



December 16, 2003

Taking Site Headers to the Next level

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



December 3, 2003

Testing the Three Click Rule

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

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

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



December 1, 2003

Solving the mobile smartphone issues with Treo 600

I found another very good review of the Treo 600. After using my Dad's Nokia 3650 I think the Treo 600 could be a good next phone for me.

I have tried the Treo in the stores and the keyboard size is not difficult for me to work with, actually it is very usable. The screen size is a little small, but it would work well and it is not that much smaller than my Hiptop. I have had a Palm OS device for four or five years now and I really like the interface and the breadth of applications available is great also.

Using my Dad's Nokia I was very frustrated with the interface. It could really use a scroll wheel like my Hiptop has to ease the navigating menu options (there are many). Moving between applications is rather clumsy as the phone rang when I was setting bluetooth settings to his AIBook and we could not easily jump to the incoming call. That should never happen. The Web browsing was very slow on AT&T Mmode. I could get around more quickly on my GMS Hiptop. I really like the bluetooth capabilities on that phone and the camera on the Nokia is great also.

I have always expected more out of my Hiptop than it delivered. I have only used it as a phone two or three times and I still carry my Motorola 270c as my main phone. I have really become attached to having mobile Web, AIM, and e-mail. The interface it very usable on the Hiptop and one can easily move between applications to get to incoming e-mail or a chat while in a very different set of tools. I really want to see how the Treo handles this task switching. I also would like to read a long article or two on the Treo 600 as I use my Palm for reading news, articles, and books on the train commuting.

My last option would be to get a bluetooth phone (still thinking Nokia but in the back of my mind) like a Sony Ericsson 610 and get a bluetooth enabled Palm Tungsten series PDA. At this point time will tell. But, I am narrowing down the choices.



November 30, 2003

Absolute Mac rocks

Absolute Mac has quickly become my favorite favorite Apple store in the region. My dad was in town and had Panther hand during its installation, which would not progress forward nor back. The Apple store wanted to send it out and other locals were not on top of what was needed. Absolute Mac knew what they were doing and it was done and back in my dad's hands overnight.

I picked up 1GB of RAM a week ago for the best non-web price I could find. They also are running a discount on a dual 2Mhz G5, who ever heard of that before. These folks are just flat out fantastic with repairs and sales. Additionally if you purchase a computer from them and get Apple Care they will provide the service at your home or business.



November 17, 2003

More on Urban Tapestries

More on Urban Tapestries:

Urban Tapestries is a framework for understanding the social, cultural, economic and political implications of pervasive location-based mobile and wireless systems. To investigate these issues, we are building an experimental location-based wireless platform to allow users to access and author location-specific content (text, audio, pictures and movies). It is a forum for exploring and sharing experience and knowledge, for leaving and annotating ephemeral traces of peoplesí presence in the geography of the city.


Urban Tapestries and Next Wave Interface Seminar

Uban Tapestries blog is a wonderful resource for things digital, mobile, and ubiquitous. The blog has pointed to Next Wave Interface Annual Seminar, which has supplied a great set of presentations. These two resources get to the understanding of enhanced user experience in any environment.



October 26, 2003

iChat AV making our family closer

Tonight Joy, my Mom, Will and I had a video chat with my Dad from Maryland to California thanks to iChat AV. This was not only a great experience for everybody as it shortened the long distance between coasts, but my Dad stated that experience alone made the move to Apple worth it all by itself. He has already said that the Mac experience is so much better than the PC as everything is just easy.



October 13, 2003

Snapshots of Mac users

Robert Scoble (who incidently now works at Microsoft) ponders why most weblogers seem to be Mac users. This is a very good snapshot of Mac users. Webloggers are often considered word-based creative types.

Tim Bray observes nearly everybody at the O'Reilly Foo Camp weekend had a Mac (the Foo Camp was an event of some of the brightest folks in technology (not the richest, just the brightest) held at the O'Reilly HQ to share and expand understanding.)



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 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.



August 4, 2003

Real Underground gets Flash right

Yes, I get crank when I experience Flash in places it fails (like the Macromedia site for ordering and their Forums for the tip of a very large iceberg), but there are some things that Flash just kicks ass. Experience the The Real Underground an interactive display of Beck's original London Underground map, the current map, and the actual geography. This Flash experience shows what would be very difficult to do otherwise.

Another good use of Flash is Gabe Kean's portfolio site, which scripts the pointer hand to only show over what is clickable, the site is meant to display past projects (and does it very well), and provides a good interface. One thing that does bug me is Gabe's address and other info one may want to grab for easy use in a PIM has to be retyped by the user, which greatly increases the ability to transpose info. Yes, I know this info can be lifted for unscrupulous means, but...



August 1, 2003

NNG Usability ROI debunked and Web Traffic Analytics at B and A

Boxes and Arrows is currently running two wonderful articles. Report Review: Nielsen/Norman Group's Usability Return on Investment by Peter Merholz and Scott Hirsch. The second article is Web Traffic Analytics and User Experience by Fran Diamond.

Go read, I will be back shortly.



July 20, 2003

Jeffrey Veen on the State of the Web

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

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

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



July 9, 2003

Adaptive Path redesign exposed

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



July 1, 2003

BogieLand lauches with Peter Bogaards

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

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



June 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 5, 2003

Inside the design process with Doug Bowman

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



UPS deserves new dented logo

This is now the third time in one year that UPS has screwed up a package shipment. This one takes the cake (the last one was delivery attempts that were never made). I have been waiting patiently for my Zeldman's Designing With Web Standards and Kuniavsky 's Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner's Guide to User Research to arrive. I ordered from the wonderful Amazon and took free shipping. This lottery shot caused UPS (they have a dented package for a logo for a reason) to get involved.

It seems that the package was 20 miles or so from delivery to me last night at 11:10 pm. Since the package was in Maryland last night I though an attempt would have been made today. No! Last night the package took a magical trip to Texas. The package is still in Texas. I called UPS and they would not take responsibility for their mistake. They would not appologize until I pointed out that is usually the role of customer service. Not only did UPS' customer service fail horribly, UPS does not seem to have the ability to fix their mistakes. UPS said I had to wait 6 more days as it was a ground shipment. The package made it from Maryland to Texas in about 12 hours and there is no way to get it back (not even on a plane) in less than 6 days. UPS has no idea how the package made it from Maryland to Texas, nor how it made it there so quickly. I suggested a similar miracle should happen to fix their mistake, but UPS stated they do not have the capability to do that.

Why does anybody trust UPS with their packages? Why does anybody trust UPS with their money in the stock market? I bet Enron could even fix their mistakes.

By the way, Amazon bent over backwards appologizing and offering what they could to ensure I would be a repeat customer. Nearly the same thing happened with UPS and me with a Barnes and Noble shipment five years ago. Neither UPS nor B&N would accept responsibility and pointed their finger at the other. I cancelled my shipment. Then I pulled the company account (where I was working) from B&N and put it with Amazon and Fat Brain, until B&N bought Fat Brain. Amazon has yet to let me down with customer service, or anything else for that matter.



June 1, 2003

Usability of users who listen to Web sites

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

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



May 10, 2003

Presentation switching demo with CSS at Zen Garden

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

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



April 7, 2003

Flash takes bigs steps forward then over the cliff

Jeff Veen discusses the Macromedia attempt at accessibility for Flash in his most recent post. Flash MX is a great improvement, but still is not all the way to accessibility, and can still keep a well done site from meeting Section 508 compliance. One of the big downsides of the current Flash build is using Flash mixed in a page with HTML. A user must have the ability to use alternate methods to move around a page, which means with out a mouse. This is often done with tabbing or voice commands. Flash does now have the capability to replicate what has been done for years in HTML, but if you add a Flash element into a HTML page the focus never releases from the Flash component. A user can not tab anywhere or even escape from the page as the cursor is stuck. If the person could use a mouse this would not be a problem, but that is not what leads to compliance.

If you use mobile devices the Flash interface is a miserable experience as Flash is vector based and will shrink to fit the screen size. Imagine trying to use a screen designed for 800 pixels wide on a 220 wide mobile screen. Forget it.

The forms in Flash are not quite ready for prime time either. I was at a rack server trying to update information in a Flash form on the Macromedia site and I was tabbing because the hyper trackball was horrible. Flash walked me down the page, but the focus moved under the bottom scroll bar with out bringing the screen focus up so I could see the form box I was having to deal with. This is flat out unacceptable, as HTML has had this right for years. Not only that, but I had a validation error and the alert was placed at the top of the Flash screen and out of site as it had scrolled up. The ability to scroll or move the screen until the alert was clicked was disabled, this took expanding the screen to full size to click the bottom of a button on the alert that I could not read.

Flash needs a motto like, "Flash -- the tool that gives uneducated interface developers the ability to create unusable forms and user experiences just to have buttons and scroll bars with indiscernible color shades" or "Flash -- for interfaces you don't want people to use"

Macromedia seems to have taken large strides with Flash, but then just stepped right over the cliff.



April 3, 2003


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 26, 2003

PeterMe is free

In the joy of the moment and the agony of my cold I nearly forgot that PeterMe has opened up his practice again.



March 22, 2003

37signals Takes a Whack at Google

37signals provides 37BetterGoogle. Yes, the folks at 37signals who focus on building more usable interfaces through simple design, have takn a whack at improving the Goolge interface. 37signals provides a brief discussion of their added alternate search elements that can help aid the user more easily find that which they were seeking.

In a sense the interface modification offers similar searches to the user. This falls directly in to the information foraging direction of providing the user other attraction points that may get the user closer to the exact information that desire. The Google search may be returning information that is very close to what they are seeking, but a minor tweak of the search can provide more direct results.

This seems to be much like offering the user breadcrumbs. As most of us are aware not all users come to a site through the top level page. In fact you will most likely find less than half of the users of a site come in through the front door. Tools like Google give the user a means to get to the information they desire more quickly and easily. But, when a user comes to your site through a search they may not have dropped into the exact information they are seeking. It is up the the site owners to provide access points to similar information or information that is up one level (as often an external search will dump a user into a detail page of a site because of how search tool's weigh various pieces of content). Breadcrumbs on a page will provide the user with the ability to get to a page that may link to other related detailed pages.



March 11, 2003

Boxes and Arrows Birthday

Happy Birthday Boxes and Arrows. It is Boxes and Arrows one year anniversary. It seems like so much longer, but to some of us it has been a little longer. There have been a flood of great articles that have shared knowledge and experiences to help us all get better at what we do. I am looking foreward to the next anniversaries and looking back too.



February 11, 2003

Build your ideal creative team and other articles

Boxes and Arrows serves up three great articles right now. George Olsen shares his R&D (Relevant & Desirable article discussing the need for vision driven design in user-centered design. Scott McDaniel offers up What's Your Idea of a Mental Model?. My favorite of this current bunch is Erin Malone's Modeling the Creative Organization in which Erin walks through how to put together her idea of an ideal creative team. Her discussion is provides insight into a great approach.



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 4, 2002

Zeldman uncovers the mess of Aventis site

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

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



December 2, 2002

Adam and Nathan Part II

Adam and Nathan discuss experience design, part two. This second part gets a little deeper than the first and aims more at defining than tearing apart.


December 1, 2002

UPA Calendar of Events

N2S (note to self): UPA calendar of conferences covers more than just UPA events. This could prove a good resource for coming attractions.


November 29, 2002

Understanding the environment at work

Reimagining work provides insight from workplace designers on how the work environment influences work. It is a good read with a lot of wonderful insights. [hat tip Challis]


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 17, 2002

Conferenece envy

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

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

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



November 15, 2002

All aboard to Philly

I am utterly tired and a little crispy. I am heading to Philly for a very quick trip. I decided rather than drive I would take the train. I need to read and write and have a little down-time without an Internet connections. What a better way than the train. I went to the Amtrak site to check times and prices. It was a pretty good site, only it did not consistantly keep my previous selection when I would change one element to check price and arrival time combinations. The explainations were at the very bottom of the page (I was using a browser without alt tags turned on, which may have helped). It was a rather quick and easy to use site. The not keeping the previous selection did get me a wrong ticket time reserved, but when I called customer service it was easy (completely hassle free) and free to change my selection. I will see how the rest of the trip goes. (I have travelled by train a lot on the East Coast as it saves on driving and dealing with what to do with the car in NYC.)


November 10, 2002

Tablet Hotels gets Experience Design and IA right

The November 2002 edition of ID Magazine reviews Tablet Hotels. For those that are not familiar, Tablet Hotels is a Web site that focusses on well designed hotels that are not from the cookie cutter molds of the large chains. These boutique hotels presented are from around the world. The site allows users the ability to select by location, amenities, and the traveler's agenda.

The response to "What was the biggest design challenge in creating the site?" points to the success:

The booking path was the greatest design challenge. We built our own proprietary real-time reservation engine, and when we began, we really wanted to create something outstanding and above and beyond the sterile process that's out there now. However, as we got into it, we found ourselves handcuffed by the antiquated systems that the engine had to connect to (GDS and hotel inventory systems). Throw in the fact that our site caters to an international audience and that the language terms and general policies of hotels vary greatly throughout the world, and we had our work cut out for us in our information architecture.

The small site of Tablet Hotels had not only their own information architecture (micro IA) to work through be the semantic variations of an industry so to digitally interact with various players (macro IA). The pairing of these two extremes seems to be wonderfully executed. The visual design of the site attracts the international customers searching for design and customer focussed hotels. Each hotel has a well written snippet and are photographed from design friendly perspectives. The reviews also offer a "citysense", which is a, self described, sensory guide to region covering: look, listen, taste, touch, and smell. The interactive components are also executed very well with allowing the user a the ability to select the elements/facets that are important to them when making the selection for their hotel.

The Tablet Hotel site is very well thought through and has spent much time and consideration walking through the whole array of Experience Design/User-Centered Design roles, including information architecture, to make a site that raises the bar for other hotel sites.



November 2, 2002

User Centered Design and beyond

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

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

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

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

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



Adaptive power

I really like the promise of Bluetooth (short range wireless connectivity that has the promise of eliminating wires between devices). Eliminating wires, or reducing the number of wires needed to function digitally would be a blessing.

But, having just moved I do not find the wires connecting the devices to be a huge problem it is the power cords. There are a myriad of power adapters that require somewhere to be plugged in. It also seems to be a requirement that the power cords are tangled with other power cords. Not only this, but power adapters are not interchangeable. Not only are they not interchangeable, but the do not come with any corresponding labelling that help identify power cord A should be used with device A. Power cord adapter manufacturers should be prohibitited from having their own branding on the adapter, as that branding inhibits pairing the device to the adapter. There are a couple companies that get this, Sony and Apple tend to brand their adapters so that it is easy to get their devices running. I guess the other device companies are not interested in us using their devices, but are only interested in us buying them.

What about daisy chaining power adapters? You know, like Christmas tree lights. Or universal adapters with voltage and wats settings that are selectable and an interchangeable plug end that quickly changes to been the devices connector slot, much like the British electrical outlet plugs are/used to be (have not been since the late 80s and it may have changed). In Britain when you bought an electrical device it came with a cord attached, but the cord did not have a plug to connect to the wall, as there were not standard wall outlets. The lack of plugs on the cord was annoying to those who were unaware of such practices, but it easy to understand why this practice was needed.

So to create a more workable environment have the ability to daisy chain power cords and have interchangeable plug ends. Manufacturers of devices must brand their power adapters accordingly. These steps would help eliminate the umpteen cords I have in bags that I do not know their mated device. I find 12V adapters do not work with all devices that state they need 12V power coming in. All I want to do is follow my digital passions and work. Is that too much to ask?



October 23, 2002

Mail that has problems other than errors

I am giving up on what seems like living in a block of ice, where I can see out and what what is happening but can not communicicate. I have been playing with Web mail that has taken sometime to set up to seemingly work, but I get a humorous error message at logout:
Important! This system is beta and not production-ready. You may experience errors and other problems!
It seems to remember that there are other problems than errors. (?)


Wahoo, Books

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

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

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



October 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



October 3, 2002

Do not strand them

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

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



September 3, 2002

Chad's reading lists

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


August 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 10, 2002

Gold Box provides

The Amazon Gold Box provides a goodie to get. After watching the Gold Box for weeks, and wondering where it went for a week or so, the Gold Box had a solid offering. I found Memento on DVD popped up. I did not see the movie in the theater, but have had an interest. The 10 dollar plus price made it less than a movie out for two and the fancy tiles are not available at the rental joints. One thing I did not realize about the Gold Box is that if you select an item to buy before the final item you do not get the opportunity to see the remaining items.


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 16, 2002

Recentralization information extension

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


May 1, 2002

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

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


April 19, 2002

Adaptive Path talks with Marc Rettig

Adaptive Path interview with Marc Rettig. Marc is one of my favorite people, who continually blows my mind with his approach to problem solving (Peter and Lane are no slouches either). [hat tip Brad]


Intelligent gripes about AOL

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


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.



March 15, 2002

Based on descussions begun with Stewart, Peter, Lane, and others in, beginning in discussions about navigation as a poor metaphor for the interaction of humans and information on the Web (which really breaks down further when looking at other types of Internet information interaction), I am working on another metaphor that struck me while in Austin. Lane asked in another conversation for alternatives to the navigation metaphor. I will be posting a series on this site that will open the idea for discussion and help finding holes or coming to the conclusion the idea sucks. The postings will most likely begin next week sometime. I am going to put the idea past a few friends at the IA Summit and see how hard they laugh or like it. For me the concept is working so far and seems to have a decent reach into Web and non-Web Internet interactions with information. No I am not going to state it now, but I will soon.


February 13, 2002

Over at CommArts, Mary Brodie outlines the requirements for developing successful navigations and user experiences. One of the things Mary brings up is UMLi (The Unified Modeling Language for Interactive Applications). I know that Jesse is not a fan of UML, but I have found many of the concepts and models quite helpful to frame interactive interface issues.


February 7, 2002

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


An intriguing piece in the Mactopia section of the Microsoft site about Presentation tips from Dale Carnegie Training. The "plan" section reads:
  • Describe your audience as it relates to the topic ó their knowledge and experience, their needs, wants, and goals. Ask yourself, "What does my audience know about this topic?"
  • Define the purpose of your presentation as it relates to the outcome you seek. Is your intention to inform? Persuade? Motivate? Teach? When you clarify your purpose, you will more easily hit your target.
  • Plan the content of your presentation around your purpose and your audience's interest and level of understanding. Use words and phrases common to your audience, and focus on your purpose.
This sounds like it is straight out of a user centered design or user experience design article. This would even be at home in an advertising or public relations primer. Heck, it is just smart communication technique and one of the very basics, we must understand the user/audience.


February 1, 2002

I have been looking for a solid e-mail client for quite some time. I seem to have found one that I really like, MS Entouragge for Mac OS X. Entourage is much farther ahead of Outlook in that you can not only flag an e-mail, but set a reminder in your calendar to come back to that e-mail at a later time. The ability to set categories in addition to rules and other elements is a great help. I find it easy to use and work with.

The competition has left me cold to some degree. Netscape 6(plus) is light years ahead of version 4 (did not allow pulling from multiple e-mail sources), begins to really choke with a couple thousand e-mails in a folder (the downside of being on some wonderful listserves that are full of great information). Outlook Express does not permit archiving. Outlook on Windows has a muddled interface that works well with Exchange and that is not completely a plus.

In all I am very impressed with MS Office on Mac OS X. That is my "productivity tool" of choice. It loads faster and the application does not get in the way of doing what you want it to do, although "Clippy's" cousin is alive and still annoying.



January 29, 2002

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


January 18, 2002

The Power of Smart Design in Business week. This interview with Dennis Boyle, design engineer at IDEO, brings out the importance good design can play in making a successful product. He states, "what regular people want is a product that does a few things really well". [hat tip Tomalak's Realm]


January 7, 2002

My digital bundle of joy arrived today. It was apropoe that my Powerbook arrived today as Steve Jobs gave his keynote at MacWorld. I was thankful a new TiBook was not announced today, but I was half expecting it. I have been more than impressed at the ease of setup and the ease of use of the Mac OS. It has been a long time since I used a Mac on a regular basis, but it is giving me far fewer headaches (none actually) than Windows XP. Setting up a network connection was easy, even in the manual mode, which was a huge headache for XP.

On the keynote front I did not think the announcements met the huge hype, but the new iMac is very cool and impressive. The iPicture loaded like a breaze for me and seems to very straightforward. The XP easy photo stuff seemed to be a mess and my kludgy methods were better than what XP offered. I may like this new world, if I can just get the keystrokes down.



January 1, 2002

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


December 26, 2001

Meg is sharing the wonders of a professional looking toolbar in a Web interface in her Using JavaScript to Create a Powerful GUI on O'Reilly Net. Her Blogger interface really awed me. I kept having to remind myself that it was a browser based tool, but it performed like a desktop app (that is until they were down to one employee and the gremlins kept popping up). I have always wanted to add a more professional look to my personal apps, but it has been functionality over beauty for them. Now I may no longer have that excuse.


December 19, 2001

Data Needs Context and Molding to Mean Anything

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


December 18, 2001

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


December 7, 2001

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.



November 27, 2001

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


November 18, 2001

Peter Merholz is offering his take on defining IA and user experience design. I need to let it gel a little more. I tend to agree with Peter in large, but have some different shades as I look at IA a little broader than most. I look at IA as a step in the development of information applications (this includes Web pages, Intranets, mobile access to information, etc). The IA helps define the information and set the structure of the information.


November 8, 2001

Stand on the Shoulders of Giants and Build a Better Web

Peter Merholz announces the posting of Adaptive Path presentations on their site. I got a lot out of the AP two day Web2001 presentation. It provided much needed validation of my skills, approach, documentation, and mindset of how I go about my work. I had been using processes and tools that were cobbled together off the Vivid Studio's site and extensions of Communication analysis and planning skills learned in college. The live presentation also provided me a few new approaches, deliverable ideas, and understandings that I would not have picked up from reading.

If you like the presentations, you will love the live sessions. Do your self and your organization or client a favor and go to the sessions. You too will be able to stand on the shoulders of giants and build a better Web.



November 5, 2001

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


November 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.

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