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Signal vs. Noise
The Information Work Productivity Council are an independent group of companies and academics that have joined together to study the issue of information work productivity and profitability.
The Information Work Forum, sponsored by the Information Work Productivity Council, brings together academia, industry and government to discuss productivity as a key factor in achieving global competitive advantage; demonstrate how companies can maximize business performance and profitability through Information Work strategies; and showcase technology solutions and services that help companies achieve the greatest ROI to achieve maximum productivity. Information Work is the act of creating, using or sharing information as a part of a business process. Combined with new information technologies and tools, information work is structurally changing labor markets, business and economies around the globe. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics there are roughly 100 million information workers in the U.S. alone. Any broad-based improvements to information work productivity could lead to substantial benefits to both the economy and society.
William Denton has released a well written paper on faceted classification for the web, created for the Faculty of Information Studies at the University of Toronto. Here's a bit about what you might expect to learn:
This paper will attempt to bridge the gap by giving procedures and advice on all the steps involved in making a faceted classification and putting it on the web. Web people will benefit by having a rigorous seven-step process to follow for creating faceted classifications, and librarians will benefit by understanding how to store such a classification on a computer and make it available on the web. The paper is meant for both webmasters and information architects who do not know a lot about library and information science, and librarians who do not know a lot about building databases and web sites. The classifications are meant for small or medium-sized sets of things, meant to go on public or private web sites, when there is a need to organize items for which no existing classification will do.
On Rhizome, Marcos Weskamp points to "Social Circles" (requires Flash), a mailing list social visualization tool. Not sure if it's art or a serious attempt at creating visualization software, but the product is interesting. It interacts with mailing list archives, plotting messages as they happen by linking people to threads and showing, I think, either frequency of referrals to a user's original postings or frequency of postings by that user by enlarging the size of that user's representation on the diagram. Use the drop down menu in the upper left corner to pick a different list -- Flashcoders seems to be pretty active. Then press the "Play" button to watch the recent posts get plotted. Would be nice to see better filtering options in this application, e.g. ability to focus on related nodes either by thread or by starting with specific users, linking to/viewing messages. It's hard to understand the context of the relationships here. The "Display object" function shows subject headings, but the text is illegible when superimposed on over other nodes. Interesting nonetheless.
Forrester's market report, "The Power Of Design Personas", helps businesses understand the use and potential for integrating personas in software/technology development. To quote the report:
Though increasingly popular, personas remain widely misunderstood. Successful efforts key off of actual user behaviors, read like a story about a real person, and get used by everyone.
Market research plays a big role in communicating important processes and methodologies to business users. In my organization, market reports are among the most used information assets we serve. Seeing UX issues arise in market research literature is a good thing for our disciplines.
evectors announces k-collector version 1.0, an RSS aggregator aimed at the enterprise market. If you haven't seen k-collector in action, it's worth checking out. The aggregator organizes weblog entries on four dimensions: what (subject/topic), who (as subject or author), where (events, geographic location) and when (date of publication). More about k-collector from their "About" page:
k-collector is an enterprise news aggregator that leverages the power of shared topics to present new ways of finding and combining the real knowledge in your organisation.
Weblogs are most commonly published by individuals and organised chronologically. This presents a challenge when considering weblogging in the context of business groups which might expect information to be organised in more meaningful categories. The k-collector architecture, and applications based upon it, deliver an interface targetted at business users.
The k-collector archicture combines clients for leading weblogging software with a server based aggregator and web application. WWWW is the first such application and is aimed at small business groups.
An author can associate posts with relevant topics such as project names, people, etc.. The server automatically shares each newly created topic with every other user allowing them to use those topics themselves. News topics are created in one of four intuitive categories: Who, What, When, and Where. The server then uses these categories and topics to provide an effective interface for navigating posts.
The updated the Drupal system running iaslash.org is now using a different form of password encryption which will require a one time change from registered users. You will only have to do this once for the lifetime of your account. If you faked or removed your email address you will not be able to retrieve a temporary password. In these cases, you will need to create a new account or contact us to re-establish your account with a valid email address. We're sorry for the inconvenience.
Here's what to do to re-set your password:
1) Go to: http://iaslash.org/user/password
2) Enter either a) your username or email address.
3) Retrieve the temporary system-generated password from your email address.
4) Return to http://iaslash.org/user/login and enter your username and temporary password.
5) You can now modify your password to one of your choosing by accessing "Edit user information" link at http://iaslash.org/user/edit
Thank you. If you encounter problems or have questions, please contact me.
After a few weeks of struggling to get our domain released from a very bad registrar, iaslash is finally back up again. We’re now being hosted by ibiblio. Thank you ibiblio! We are also running the current version of Drupal (4.3.0). A few announcements regarding the Drupal upgrade:
If you need further assistance, feel free to contact us.
While I'm not the most well read on the topic of social networking applications, I agree with Stowe Boyd's assessment in Darwin Magazine of social networking software and it's viability in business applications. While investment capital continues to be thrown into commercial services that provide social networking, he believes that the real movers will be those that make the social network visualization and analysis happen for business users "here" inside the applications they find themselves in all the time, rather than requiring users to go view their social network in an external enviroment like a web site.
Wallop is Microsoft's venture into the red-hot social-networking arena, using the common Microsoft tack of piecing together existing technologies and packaging them for the novice user. Those technologies include Friendster-style social-networking capabilities, super-simplistic blogging tools,moblogging, wikis and RSS feeds, all based on Microsoft's Instant Messenger functionality.
Yahoo! is doing some interesting things with its SmartSort, a new product browsing interface allowing multiple sorting options. Seems like a great way to filter out products that you don't want and match the needs you do have. I felt like it could go even further to help you filter out what you don't want. Since they have data on specifications for PDAs (e.g. OS), why not have a sorting option for other features as well? For instance, I'm curious about wireless (BlueTooth and WiFi) options. Why not add that in? Very nice, nonetheless.
Dennis Berman's article in the Wall Street Journal, "Technology Has Us So Plugged Into Data, We Have Turned Off" talks about a phenomenon called "absent presence" or "surfer's voice". He refers to it as "...a habit of half-heartedly talking to someone on the telephone while simultaneously surfing the Web, reading e-mails, or trading instant messages." Because many of my meetings are conference calls I frequently hear the person on the other end typing while I get the "uh huh" responses. I have to direct specific questions to people that require more than yes or no answers in order to get their attention sometimes. Then I get, "I'm sorry, can you repeat the question?"
Related to computers, this article makes me think of two different problems. One is the ability focus on singular tasks to successful execution or completion. The other is how to get back to one of the many open tasks you have waiting for your attention. One of the ideas the article throws out is that of using software to help people regain their focus on singular tasks after going off on tangents -- responding to IM messages, etc. They suggest a simplistic solution in limiting extra information seeking sessions, e.g. with web reading, news feed watching, to help make the information glut manageable. But, it's hard to call all of that reading "extra" when some of it is business-related environmental scanning and simply beefing up your knowledge on topics of interest.
How can software help this problem? One area of focus seems to be on using visualization to alter the desktop metaphor to some more meaningful UI that presents a stream of information. See Jeff Raskin or David Gelertner on this topic. It's that idea of figuring out what you're working on that's interesting to me. I think of this problem in terms of how I keep track of "to do" items. With a list on paper of the prioritized tasks for the day, I can periodically check on how I'm meeting the day's goals. It's a high-level view of things I should be juggling with the goal of eventually finishing them one by one. In terms of a computer UI, I see Apple's Exposé as a step in the right direction towards helping users visualize what they're juggling at once. Apparently Microsoft's Longhorn may be considering ways to help users make sense of what they're juggling too.
With dozens of devices and applications beeping for your attention, is the only effective way to give business users better signal to noise to just tell them tune out a little and eliminate the number of things they try to watch? Or is there a far off concept for computer users that will make this watching of information and managing of individual processes more manageable -- a solution that is reasonable, usable, and won't be met with too much cultural adversity?
Jessica Helfland rips apart Edward Tufte in Design Observer. You'll find a lot of debate in the comments.
He is a statistician by training, a designer by marriage, and a sociologist by default –- giving names to stuff we already know, and getting paid handsomely for it along the way. ... Tufte's appeal to the virtues of cognition is perhaps little more than a poorly veiled attempt at reshaping design parlance with himself as its single and uncontested author. ... Tufte's expertise is not only self-proclaimed -- it is also deeply and irrevocably self-serving.
Veteran copywriter Nick Usborne discusses how to assess the copy on your site's home page. The article, appearing on the UIE site and on ClickZ, discusses how to assess your home page in terms of focus on new visitors as well as those that are returning. Most sites focus only on returning visitors, but you may need to give equal attention to new visitors that may become customers as natural turnover and attrition of existing customers will require you to keep bringing in new sources of revenue.
Research has reported that 90% of search engine users utilize query string operators, while the remaining 10% perform simple queries. Do boolean operators and "must include" (+) and phrase ("") operators make a difference in search engine results? Mostly no but sometimes yes according to this paper in ACM Transactions on Information Systems (Volume 21 , Issue 4 (October 2003). Caroline Eastman and Bernard Jansen tested the effects of using query string operators on major search engines in their paper, "Coverage, relevance, and ranking: The impact of query operators on Web search engine results" to determine if these operators improved the effectiveness of web searching. When they say effectiveness, they are referring to relevance and relative precison of retrieval.
The paper attempts to find out if the use of certain query string operators makes any difference in search engine results. They found that implicit OR combination had a negative effect on performance and implicit AND had a positive effect on performance. As of their writing, MSN and AOL used implicit OR while Google appears to be using implicit AND. They found, generally, that most query string operators did not have a great effect on precision in the search engines tested. Precision was as high for simple queries as for advanced queries using query string operators. They did find, however, that in search engines using implicit OR, phrase operators sometimes had a positive effect on performance. [Note that this research didn't test exclusion operators (i.e. boolean NOT or the minus (-) operator). ]
So summarizing, there is limited advantage to using OR, and possibly some advantage to using PHRASE operators in some search engines. But generally speaking, these query string operators provide little or no benefit to users and are counter productive in some cases. Interesting? Maybe. I suppose this is saying that most search engines are doing better to match users expectations when doing simple searches. With 90% of the population using simple searches, those sophisticated algorithms on the back end become more important. They make a note that while it may hold true for general search engines that query string operators are less important, there is a place where they are still necessary in order to achieve satisfactory results -- in IR systems that do not have sophisticated matching and ranking algorithms.
Phil Wolff pointed to DiceLaRed ("The Network Says"), a visualization application that allows users to understand the flow of data in various sources via visualization. According to Phil, "DiceLaRed creatively blends news crawling + lexical analysis + data mining + data visualization + customization + alerting." He points to an example real time graph on their home page, that shows Spain's political parties by share of the current news cycle. In real time. Clicking on a wedge lets you dive into the news stream. More thoughts from Phil on how this tool might be used.
Apply this to your customers' weblogs, your industry magazines, and local newspapers for an environmental scan.
Apply this to job board postings. Understand labor market demand across the usual dimensions. Then stretch to discover new buzzwords and "terms of art". Can you say competitive analysis? How about strategic recruiting?
Apply this to medical discussion boards. Look for spikes in conversation about symptoms to detect outbreaks and public health problems. Look for swings in interest to retarget investment in health education and social programs.
We are much closer to a dashboard that helps us understand and respond, sooner and with more precision. Thank goodness.
William Denton's annotated bibliography covers the design faceted classification systems for the World Wide Web.
The Fast, Leise, Steckel trio publish part four of their Boxes and Arrows series on Controlled Vocabularies. This latest installment is a glossary of terms used in controlled vocabularies. Appropriately enough, the glossary was created as a thesaurus.
Juan C. Dursteler writes in InfoVis about Aero, a user experience component of Microsoft's forthcoming OS codenamed Longhorn. He reacts to comments made by Will Poole, Vice-president of Microsoft�s Windows Platform Groups, about the goals of Longhorn regarding the user interface:
The concept that Poole proposes is to create a technology favouring the so called "Life immersion", of which Longhorn appears to be the exponent. In his own words the goal is to "embrace the human factors like we've never done before, to really understand how to make that emotional connection to our customers to address all of the product requirements, making it just work, making it something that you can invite and live with every day in new and profound ways from a technological perspective to deliver that immersive experience".
Most of the screenshots show a UI for the desktop full of photographic images/effects, but a key innovation with Aero would be giving users access to their computer data using visualization without as much reliance on the folder and file desktop metaphor. As Dursteler oberves, however, the destkop metaphor will NOT change much. The comments below seem right on to me.
It would be a pity if Microsoft misses this opportunity to offer real information visualisation to the users instead of simply offering special effects. ... The promise of Information Visualisation is to make us more productive, simplifying our life in terms of knowledge acquisition. It has nothing to do with stunning the user with visual fireworks.
The US Department of Health and Human Services announced a freely available research-based guide to Web site design and usability on Usability.gov. In their press release, they refer to it as "...a resource that will help government, academic, commercial and other groups involved in the creation of Web sites make decisions based on user research, not personal opinions." The document can be downloaded in PDF format as one 128 page PDF or as individual chapters. Sadly, the full document doesn't make use of links in the PDF.
Challis Hodge has launched the UX recruiting firm, Experience People, LLC.
Experience People (XP) is a specialty firm with a laser focus on recruiting Experience Design and User Experience professionals for intermediate to senior level executive positions.
XP works across industries matching the best companies with industry leaders in Design Management, Experience Planning, Creative Direction, Interaction Design, Information Architecture, User Research, Interface Design, Graphic Design and Academia.