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Signal vs. Noise
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.
New usability shop in town.
"We've been designing and critiquing computer-based interfaces since before there was a World Wide Web. We've designed interactive kiosks, exhibits, CD-ROM's, and, of course, a lot of websites. We understand what users want and what they need so they can successfully interact with websites. We design information systems, but we're more than just information architects, we're also users who love the Web and its range of expressions. Unlike many of our competitors, we're not trying to sell you our design services -- we don't offer any. Our goal is to honestly and thoroughly examine, evaluate, and offer recommendations so you can improve your site."
Molly Steenson has put up a new site at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea. The Interaction Design HUB offers categorized links and a blog. Excellent collection, and it will be good to hear more on the web from Ivrea folks.
Also of note - HUB launched as part of the Symposium On Foundations of Interaction Design, a small invite only conference with luminaries like Tom Erickson and Don Norman that runs Nov 12-13. Fortunately for us, there's a live video feed [Windows Media] (though the Italian timezone means you'll have to wake up early on the west side of the Atlantic). Papers will be linked up later.
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.
Three great new articles up at Boxes & Arrows:
Designing Customer-Centered Organizations by John Zapolski and Jared Braiterman
Even with the present downturn in the economy, more companies, from new media to established banks, have larger usability and design teams than ever before. Should we be content that we have come so far?
We Are All Connected: The Path from Architecture to Information Architecture by Fu-Tien Chiou
We’ve all seen blueprints— formally known as contract documents —which architects produce and builders use to construct. No one person knows all the details of the design; the end result is entirely a product of teamwork. But there is one axiom: architects do not build.
Forgotten Forefather: Paul Otlet by Alex Wright
In 1934, years before Vannevar Bush dreamed of the memex, decades before Ted Nelson coined the term “hypertext,” Paul Otlet envisioned a new kind of scholar's workstation: a mechanical desk that would let users search, read, and write their way through a vast database stored on millions of 3x5 index cards.
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.
An Interview with Joe Clark is a very good read for anyone who is interested in Accessibility. The interview focuses on the current state of accessibility in the US, Canada and around the world. He makes some very compelling points and discusses issues that everyone working on the Web should be interested in. If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Building Accessible Websites I would highly recommend it.
From Digital 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.
Metalog is a next-generation reasoning system for the Semantic Web. Historically, Metalog has been the first system to introduce reasoning within the Semantic Web infrastructure, by adding the query/logical layer on top of RDF.
Metalog lets you do near-natural language queries on documents, acting as a bridge between the user and the RDF.
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.
The automatic clustering done by the new Mooter search engine seems interesting. An article in the Herald Sun interviews Liesl Capper, the proprietor of the new search engine company, which will be offering enterprise search services:
"What Mooter does is that we look at the long lists of results from other search engines and then we group them using artificial intelligence algorithms. But also we look at what you're doing and while you're working we actually move with you and push up things that you seem to be interested in".