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Signal vs. Noise
I don't do as much formal specification writing these days as I used to, but I've been noticing some promising software for prototyping and specification writing lately. Could be that I've become so entrenched in the Visio world that I never pick my head up to take notice any more.
I downloaded the demo version of Axure RP ($589 for Pro, $149 for Lite version) after quickly viewing their Flash demo. This Windows only tool allows you to build a page hierarchy for a site and then design the pages by dragging and dropping widgets (like Visio stencil objects) onto the wireframe pane. As with Visio, you can link widgets to other pages and then generate the document as an HTML prototype. What intrigued me most was the Microsoft Word specification document that it produces, providing the wireframes with notes for all of the page objects.
Software like this seems like a real time saver for rapid development, which is the kind of work I've been doing a lot of lately without the actual prototyping bit. That is to say, I turn over informal specs and wireframes on short schedules. To be able to handle all of these tasks in one tool seems great. Anyone have any experience using this or similar tools? Which do you like best?
The Information Architecture group started by EmWi on Flickr never took off, but snowcrash has started the IA Discuss group to share screenshots of UI widgets, deliverables and such. It's an idea similar to Christina's Widgetopia, but on Flickr. Jess wanted to something like this a few years ago on this site, but we never go to it. Flickr seems the easiest place to do it. Not sure why no one has bothered to make use of the Information Architecture Flickr group like this before.
I recorded some notes from the UXnet panel on UX disciplines held in New York City last night. Lou Rosenfeld led the discussion and on the panel were Whitney Quesenbery, Marilyn Tremaine, Conor Brady, Mark Hurst, Josh Seiden and James Spahr. The requisite issue of defining UX pervaded the discussion, although many people were also interested in how we might identify and bridge gaps in our understanding of the processes of the many disciplines under the UX umbrella. There was also some interest in identifying what disciplines are not currently included in our UX world that should be.
The Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture announces the IA mentoring program.
AIfIA members now have the chance to share experiences with leaders in the field through the institute’s new mentoring program. The IA mentoring program aims to improve the skills of current and future information architects by providing them with the opportunity to be mentored by an experienced IA. Mentees must be AIfIA members, but mentors do not.
Christina Wodtke and Nate Koechley delivered an excellent presentation at the Web Visions conference that discusses how to improve the processes of IA and web site development by using the semantic meaning produced in IA deliverables provide CSS references that can be used by site developers.
FIND/SVP, Empire Media and Triplehop Technologies launched www.Find.com, a search egnine for business professionals that aggregates results from several major search engines and hand-picked business-related sites.
A results sidebar shows you found topics that can be used for filtering by ANDing one or many terms to your search input. You have to re-submit the form to see your results. It takes a bit of figuring out at first, but functionally, it allows you to select multiple terms (I assume clusters your intial term fell into) before refining (re-executing) your search. This interaction could be improved quite a bit, I think. Sidebar tabs allow you to also filter by format, sites and source.
Probably most interesting is that they have a “Research” search tab that allows you to find results from premium research sources including Find’s research, Frost and Sullivan, and more. Other tabs include Directory (open directory listings) and News. I’ve been finding that their beta release is also not withouts its DHTML bugs (using Firefox). It looks like it might become a business user search alternative to watch, however.
WebFeat, a provider of federated search technology has compiled a list of the five most commonly repeated misconceptions about federated searching, published in Information Today.
This article by CW Holsapple and KD Joshi describes an ontology for knowledge management. The abstract below is taken from the JASIST TOC for Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology V55, 7, MAY, 2004, p593-612.
This article describes a collaboratively engineered general-purpose knowledge management (KM) ontology that can be used by practitioners, researchers, and educators. The ontology is formally characterized in terms of nearly one hundred definitions and axioms that evolved from a Delphi-like process involving a diverse panel of over 30 KM practitioners and researchers. The ontology identifies and relates knowledge manipulation activities that an entity (e.g., an organization) can perform to operate on knowledge resources. It introduces a taxonomy for these resources, which indicates classes of knowledge that may be stored, embedded, and/or represented in an entity. It recognizes factors that influence the conduct of KM both within and across KM episodes. The Delphi panelists judge the ontology favorably overall: its ability to unify KM concepts, its comprehensiveness, and utility. Moreover, various implications of the ontology for the KM field are examined as indicators of its utility for practitioners, educators, and researchers.
They Rule is an interesting demonstration of how to visualize the connections between powerful corporate officers. This is the kind of thing that Anacubis does really well with different database vendor sources.
They Rule allows you to create maps of the interlocking directories of the top companies in the US in 2004. The data was collected from their websites and SEC filings in early 2004, so it may not be completely accurate - companies merge and disappear and directors shift boards.
Using search engines to compile a list - like the top 50 greatest blues guitarists by record sales, say - involves a lot of drudge work because you have to visit many web pages to gather the data you need. But the next step in search engine technology could make creating such lists possible with a single mouse click.
KnowItAll, a search engine under development at the University of Washington, Seattle, trawls the web for data and then collates it in the form of a list. The approach is unique, says its developer, Oren Etzioni, because it generates information that probably does not exist on any single web page.
The US Department of Defense’s research arm, DARPA, and Google, are so impressed that they are providing funding for the project.
We just moved iaslash to a new and hopefully semi-permanent webhost and have just upgraded to Drupal 4.4.0. Overall, the server is much more responsive than our last. Thanks to Shane, Austin, et. al for the setting up the new AIfIA web servers.
If you find bugs, please add them in the comments for this page or contact us directly. Thanks!
Issues to be aware of
* Email notification is working once again … sort of. We lost it during our migration to ibiblio, so you may get one big notification email today. There is one problem in the way the module is sending out the URLs in the body of the mail, however, so we’re waiting for Drupal to offer a bug fix/patch. Thanks to Livia for pointing out the bug.
Keyword in context (KWIC) and keyword out of context (KWOC) displays might be a useful way to make more of the items in an AZ index findable without necessitating too much human interaction using thesauri. This might benefit organizations that have a CIO handling the site's CMS, for example, but don't have an IA or other dedicated content person to work on creating alternative labels for pages. I haven't noticed IA articles on AZ indexes that discuss the use of keyword in context, so I've posted some notes about some quick modifications my developer did for us to make our AZ index work a little harder.
I recently presented a roadmap for providing enterprise information services related to weblogs (k-logs). This is in the realm of what I think Lou calls "Guerrilla IA" in his Enterprise Information Architecture talks. The presentation, given at Computers in Libraries, is aimed at Library/Information Services organizations in corporations, but is applicable elsewhere. It's really an untested discussion starter that proposes near term goals for supporting individuals doing bottom-up knowledge creation. It also discusses a mode of progress that aims at integration of many types of enterprise information in the long term. I'd be interested in getting feedback on these ideas, especially comments that point out weaknesses.
Mark Hurst has written an interesting discussion about web pages and how people navigate. In it, he reminds us of something he wrote in 1999,
On any given Web page, users will either… click something that appears to take them closer to the fulfillment of their goal, or click the Back button on their Web browser.
The interesting part of his message here, I think, is that the IA/designers’ focus on aspects of the UI such as navigation consistency is less important than the supporting of users in getting them to their intended goal. He says provocative things such as “users don’t care where they are in the website”. If you can get your head past that idea, 3 bullets summarize what this should mean for you in practice:
I’ve posted additonal personal opinions on this topic elsewhere on my weblog. Peterme discusses Mark’s ideas as well, pointing out that he shouldn’t dismiss the value of wayfinding cues in order to make the point that empasis should be placed on user needs and behaviors supporting those needs. Christina doesn’t see the harm in Mark’s oversimplification and suggests that informational cues such as breadcrumbs put the burden of mental strain on the user. It’s nice that she also suggests alternatives identified in her Widgetopia to helping users identify alternate paths related to their current task, addressing a point that I think is important — “Where can I go” is perhaps more important than “Where am I?”. Manu Sharma adds that both Peter and Mark are probably both right in this debate, but the difference in perspectives is explained by their different experiences.
I wrote about some research we're doing in my organization to observe user interaction with navigation by tracking where users click on the page (body, local navigation, breadcrumbs, global navigation). Our observations aren't dissimilar to what Michael Bernard observes in usability testing -- links to content are most often searched for/clicked in the body of pages. Navigating our site (a digital library) consists mainly of browsing through a directory (a-z lists are available as are a poly-hierarchical directory listing), so what we were mainly interested in was how people made use of the links in the local navigation. I'd be interested in seeing if other people have done this and what they were looking for. I find, as an in-house site developer, that being responsible for a site for a long term (as opposed to just launching one and going on to a new project) gives one good opportunity to observe and assess the site for usability. Your can assess patterns of use over long periods of time. You can make contact with users and keep the lines of feedback open with them over time. Clearly there is something unique about being involved in the evolution of a singular site, which I am only beginning to appreciate.
I attended the Information Work Productivity Forum and posted some thoughts (lengthy notes) about the presentations. The day consisted of sponsors of the council and some academics presenting their thoughts on Information Work productivity. A few speakers took the opportunity to talk about their products, which was unfortunate, but some individuals stayed on topic and discussed the real issues related to measuring information work productivity at a high level.
A friend and I were surfing Ben Fry's site today, where we played with these interesting visualization experiments.
zipdecode (requires Java), a nice little visualization tool that Fry created to learn how the zip code system works in the U.S. When it loads, click on the map to activate it and start typing the first numbers of zip codes one at a time. Would be nice if it also included a way to zoom in to understand what geographic area (state/town boundaries) you are looking at.
anemone (requires java) is an example of organic information design that gives a visualization of the changing structure of a web site, juxtaposed with usage information.
OK/Cancel has started a blog aggregating publicly available job postings found on mailing lists and websites. You can email them with new job listings and the job listings are available as an RSS feed. Here are the types of jobs they expect to post: