jibbajabba's blog

Managing Errors in Transaction-based Web Applications

Enough with the jibbajabba, let's get back to the IA logging again. This article by Pawan Vora from an ITG workshop suggests guidelines for treating the errors that are bound to occur during Web transactions.

IBM's Ease of Use Conference

Date: Monday, June 4, 2001 Time: All Day Make IT Easy 2001 conference in San Jose, CA. Visit the conference Web site to check up-to-date information about the agenda and speakers.

Poll results in. White bg/black text wins.

182 votes: 31.32 % (57) 68.68 % (125) So black text on white wins. Sigh. The next thing I am going to do some day soon is take a hack at duplicating this White theme as valid XHTML using CSS for layout (i.e. no tables). Did this with my personal site last month (IE5+, Netscape6, Oepra5 only). Should be a bitch to do to iaslash, because it means mucking around with the weblog script code and making well formed HTML for all of the outputs.

Why computer users accept new systems

Abstract below from article in MIT Sloan Management Review, v42n3, Spring 2001. In a paper published in the December 2000 issue of Information Systems Research, Viswanath Venkatesh concludes that 6 variables significantly contribute to how users perceive the ease of use of specific systems over time. The 6 variables studied in actual corporate setting are: 1. computer self-efficacy, 2. facilitating conditions, 3. intrinsic motivation/computer playfulness, 4. emotion/level of computer anxiety, 5. objective usability, and 6. perceived enjoyment. I found the following observations to be the most salient for IAs: Immediately after training, the first four variables were found to be the only determinants of perceived ease of use; however, over time objective usability and enjoyment were found to influence user acceptance significantly. Most systems that arenít accepted fail because organizational, psychological and behavioral issues are not considered in their design.

Information work articles in Technical Communication, May 2001

Some recent articles from the May 2001 issue of Technical Communications (requires subscription, full text also available via Dow Jones Interactive if you have access):

  • Designing Effective Speech Inerfaces
  • On beyond help: Meeting user needs for useful online information
  • Why we should archive, share, and analyze information about users
  • Emerging skills in technical communication: The information disigner's place in a new career path for technical communications
IFIP World Computer Congress 2002; Montreal, Canada; August 25-30, 2002

Yes, 2002! The call for papers for the International Federation for Information Processing's (IFIP) conference was announced. Deadlines for papers: December 3, 2001, for tutorials and workshops: October 15, 2001. Relevant streams include: TC.13 STREAM "USABILITY: GAINING A COMPETITIVE EDGE" IFIP TC.13 Human-Computer Interaction Stream.

soundofdesign: Gesture-based flash navigation site

I came across soundofdesign from a post on Abe (abe1x) Burmeister's forum+interface list. I've been using Opera a lot lately since they introduced mouse gestures. soundofdesign lays out its content (which is rather sparse) in a 3x3 square grid, which you can see if you click the map icon in the lower right of the screen. The map represents an empty square in the grid. You can move up, down, and diagonally by "Clicking and throwing" the current square in the direction you'd like to move to. Innovative. In some way reminds me of the idea of navigating in a 3dimensional interface space like Cubic Eye does with their search engine, except at this scale, it makes more sense and is easier to use for navigation.

Ilor: Google in a new skin

The NY Times has an article about ILOR, a new site which tries to add some features to Google. The significant difference in using ILOR as your front end to Google is the contextual menu which shows up (for Javascript enabled browsers only) when you mouse over one of the hits returned on a query. The menu gives you the following options: 1) put int my list, which spawns a small window that shows the links you put in your temporary list, 2) go now --anchor here, which loads the link in the current browser window and spawns a window with a link back to your search results, 3) open in taskbar, which opens the link in a window behind the ilor window, and 4) open in new window, opens the link in a new window so the result page is left open. While they bill this as "the most user friendly search engine in the world", I found a few things a little jarring and nonintuitive. First, The taskbar thing didn't make sense to me. I was thinking it would open in a window with a frame linking back to my results, sort of the way about.com does it. I've never seen a case where someone would want to open a window behind the current window. Just seems counter to what I expected. I was also a bit confused by the little icons that appear if you collapse/minimize the ILOR menu by clicking the down arrow to the lower left. I struggled to remember what the 4 options were so I could map them to the 4 icons shown. If these icons were shown on the expanded menu, I may have been better able to remember what they stood for. It would help to also have ALT tags or something that explain what each icon does in the minimized view. Probably the most interesting use I found was the ability to add all of the links in your temporary list to your IE Favorites. I should note, that in my brief tests, ILOR did not work for Opera 5 in Linux and the temporary list only showed up as a non-editable list in Netscape without the ability to add to your Netscape Bookmarks. Finally, I viewed their demo to see how well my expectations matched the functionalities of the site. Once I figured out that holding the cursor over the link did something, I was able to figure out most of the sites functionality. For my time, I think I will stick with Google.

ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia, August 14-18, 2001

The Twlefth Annual ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia is being held August 14-18, 2001 in Denmark. Registration is now open and call for papers has been posted.

Revisit for you Nielsen bashers: Clay Shirkey's open letter to Jakob Nielsen

[from Clay Shirkey's site circa January 1999]

I just wanted to post this for the silly people who complain there is too much Nielsen on this site, and don't bother to read my comments which have equally fallen on the positive and negative side. I'm really just trying to report the relevant stuff that gets published. Can I help it if the guy is so prolific? Anyway, back in 1999, Clay Shirkey took issue with Nielsen on the issue of usability. Should be a fun read if you haven't already read it. Clay says in the letter, "Jakob believes that the

prevalence of bad design on the Web is an indication that the current

method of designing Web sites is not working and should be replaced or

augmented with a single set of design conventions. I believe that the

Web is an adaptive system and that the prevalence of bad design is how

evolving systems work."

Man who coined the term "wayfinding" dead

Paul Arthur, the graphic designer who invented pictographs as they are presently known and who coined the term "wayfinding," died May 13 at age 76. I edited a book of his about five years ago and have thought of him often. Toronto Star obituary (will expire soon; gigantic URL).

How would you like to view iaslash?

I looked at the feedback from online opinion -- you provide feedback using that flashing dhtml arrow in the lower right corner of the screen -- and it appears that some purists take issue with the gray background color/white text theme used on iaslash. While iaslash also provides alternate "themes", e.g. 1) white background/black text theme 2) gray background/white text (the default), and 3) gray background/white text, 3-column -- only registered users can set this option. You would set it via the "Preferences" link in the global nav. Incidentally, if you register, you also have the option of receiving a weekly email digest. But, since some users prefer not to register, I am posting a poll on the home page where you can vote for the theme you want as the default: gray bgcolor or white bgcolor. And the winner will be the default. I will take the poll down at the end of the week. -M

Most common problems with Web sites according to Vividence

[In USAToday 05/15/2001, Page D.01] The most common problems that visitors to 69 major Web sites encountered:

  • 53% Poorly organized search results
  • 32% Poor information architecture
  • 32% Slow performance
  • 27% Cluttered home pages
  • 25% Confusing labels
  • 15% Invasive registration
  • 13% Inconsistent navigation
[Source: Vividence]

XML Use Almost Doubled In 6 Months Among International Developers Surveyed By EDC

Evans Data Corp announced today the release of the latest volume of the International Developer Survey, which shows a reported increase of 48.6% in XML use among the international developers surveyed since November 2000. From Internet Wire by way of Design Interact.

Nielsen on wireless devices

Nielsen discusses 3G, WAP, and i-mode device usability on InternetWorld. He says that "It is true that WAP has been a great disappointment, but that does not prove that the mobile Internet is a bad idea. All it proves is that a poorly designed system with miserable usability is a bad idea."

The best interface?

[from Tomalak's Realm] In "The Net Effect: May the Best Interface Win!", Simson Garfinkel talks about Amazon's prevailing reign as the eCommerce site with the most commonly borrowed interface model. He discusses the prevalance of the Amazon shopping cart (was Amazon the first to use it?) and the personalization stuff that goes on in the background to enhance the user experience. I agree that Amazon's visual interface language is one of the most commonly recognized on the Web [See also: The McDonalds/Amazon effect], and probably is the most usable, but I have a hard time with everyone just saying, "follow Amazon's model", particularly when it comes to interface design. Amazon's model is not appropriate for every type of site. The problem is that it probably has the greatest mind/market share when it comes to ecommerce models, so everyone wants to imitate it. Yahoo! also vies for the spot as most commonly used site, and I've seen its Personalization/Customization model borrowed all over the place on corporate portals. But examine the poorly conceived and executed interface of MyYahoo! [which is well deconstructed by Webreview, 30 April 1999]. You have to be careful when your client or IT team starts saying, "We want MyYahoo! or Amazon's interface." I just need to remind myself to be sure that the model I use or create for interfaces is appropriate to the intended use and audience. That's a statement I never hear in these discussions of Amazon and Yahoo!.

Consistency is a Virtue: Consistency in user interface design

[from webword] Kathy Gill talks about consistency (internal and external) in interface design in Consistency is a Virtue, on TFM.

Stalk your user

In the June issue of Webtechniques, Jeffrey Veen talks about the value of user testing in context in the article, "Stalk your user". Specifically, he is talking about ethnographic research, or the process of watching users as they use your product.

Search: Visible and simple

Jakob Nielsen's Search: Visible and Simple claims that "The best designs offer a simple search box on the home page and play down advanced search and scoping. ". Nielsen says, "Advanced search: Not [on the home page] and Scoped search: Maybe?" Is it really all that simple? I've read the Nielsen/Norman Group Search Report and I have to say that when reading articles such as the above, it is increasingly important to realize that the sites that Nielsen makes recommendations for are mostly retail/commerce sites where the subject scope of data that is searchable is relatively small. Apply these recommendations to large content sites like digital libraries and information sites that are gateways to numerous databases and it becomes difficult to make a one-size-fits-all search form satisfy a broad range of user needs. [p.s. Ugh. Did he really use "delimitated" in that article? That's about as elegant as using "orientated". Why not use "delimited" like the rest of the well spoken world?]

Macromedia releases free accessibility extensions

Macromedia, via its Government Resource Center has announced that it has released a free extension, Section 508 Check for Accessibility Extension, from UsableNet. It is included in the free Macromedia Accessibility Starter Kit. The extension works for Dreamweaver 4 and Ultradev 4.

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