jibbajabba's blog

Studying information seeking and use

I have been dealing lately with user research based on interviews and product usage data. Some needs related to this work have been bouncing around in my head. What's fascinating to me is that related new literature has recently come across my desk and I've also participated in some conversations recently that have definitely informed how I am considering fulfilling these needs. That any of these seemingly separate things (literature, discourse, my work) should be related is amazing to me.

Here are four related recent articles and discourses that seem to me to have the theme of comparing pre-determined information structure with information usage-based mapping/cognition.

All About Facets & Controlled Vocabularies

Karl Fast, Fred Leise and Mike Steckel have started a series of articles on Boxes and Arrows to make facetted classification and controlled vocabularies accessible to practicing IA's without LIS backgrounds. Look forward to it.

Architect > Librarians > Policewomen

According to this poll (poll is on lower right) to vote for the next career woman in the Barbie "I Can Be..." series, Librarians are more popular than police officers. Most kids think the next Barbie should be an Architect.

    74% Architect
    18% Librarian
    7% Policewoman
Sites Become Dependent on Google

There's an interesting article in the NY Times that should interest people concerned with search engine optomization. The article reports on some retailers' experiences with Google making or breaking their traffic.

    Google "can be your best friend or your worst enemy," said Dario Ferreira, the owner and operator of Connecticut-Weddings.com.

    ...

    Sometimes a site's ranking plunges drastically or disappears from Google altogether. Often this means that Google detected some evidence that the site's owner was using deceptive tactics, like building a network of linked sites to create the illusion of popularity and thereby receive a higher ranking.

    But site owners say Google can sometimes be overzealous in its fight against manipulation, and some say they live in fear that a small mistake or a technical glitch will get them booted from the search results and wipe out their income.

Accessible text on the web

The MCU: Understanding web typography - an introduction - In this article I attempt to cut a swathe through the complexities of Web typography; explain the possible pitfalls; and provide some guidelines for creating accessible and easy to read web pages.

Thanks, Library TechLog (Matthew Eberle)

Slogans for IA's

James Spahr offers some sassy slogans for IA's. He doesn't actually call them sassy, but the alliteration gives it some added sass. The last one would make a nice punchy tagline for an IA action/adventure sitcom.

This is XFML

Mark Pilgrim dives into XFML, with a nice description of how XFML can be used to describe content from different points of view, like looking into the center of a gemstone from each of its multiple faces (facets). As with the concept of topic maps, this example illustrates how description can be done post content publishing when you use a format like XFML. This is the power of what Peter V's created, coupled with the facetmap tool. The descriptions and relationships of content can be overlayed on top of the content. Nice description and example using facetmap.

Ten Taxonomy Myths

The Montague Institute gives us 10 taxonomy myths to dispel, so you can get past the hype and correctly grok how taxonomies will really work for you.

    Taxonomies have recently emerged from the quiet backwaters of biology, book indexing, and library science into the corporate limelight. They are supposed to be the silver bullets that will help users find the needle in the intranet haystack, reduce "friction" in electronic commerce, facilitate scientific research, and promote global collaboration. But before this can happen, practitioners need to dispel the myths and confusion, created in part by the multi-disciplinary nature of the task and the hype surrounding content management technologies.
Who's more important?

Here's an interesting question that's come up for me. Say you have a user population that subscribes to services you offer. Those groups can be categorized, e.g. in my case by business unit. You have statistics for each of the user groups and can describe:

  1. the number of subscribed users in each group
  2. the amount of money spent by each group
There are other dimensions as well, e.g. subscription to particular products by user group, but these are the simplest to compare. So the question is, what's more important do you think? Who has the most users or who pays the most money? I know there's more to consider than these two dimensions, but I found it interesting in the data I'm looking at, because the group with the most users does not spend the most money on products.

Cognitive Models for Web Design

Tanya Rabourn discusses information foraging, a theory that attempts to explain human information seeking behavior based on the food foraging theory from biology and anthropology. According to Pirolli and Card, "Information foraging theory analyzes trade-offs in the value of information gained against the costs of performing activity in human-computer interaction tasks." The advantage in using this theory as the basis for modeling information seeking behavior comes in the form of understanding users' cognitive mapping of knowledge and knowledge relationships and understanding attributes of information navigation such as scent. Tanya discusses 3 new tools which would benefit this area of study: 1) ACT-R, which uses network modeling of knowledge to model interaction, 2) analyzing user paths from web server log data and creating user profiles from that analysis, and 3) collaborative filtering or foraging for information groups.

Tanya's essay gives a concise summary of the literature and discusses some new methods for applying the theory. My eureka moment came last night when I saw James demonstrate his latest OmniGraffle experiments, which use web server logs to to create what he calls self-organizing site maps -- diagrams that show paths traveled between nodes/pages on a site to reveal real users' information seeking behavior. In a sense the relationships that emerge reveal the collective user base's cognitive map. It can be used to show where information scent was weak or strong and where content structure doesn't map to user peceptions.

I've been wanting a better way to test the information architecture of sites based on actual information use, and it's not until I read Tanya's essay and saw the visualization that James came up with that my brain was able to churn on this concept. It's nice to know smart and creative people.

Information Needs Analysis

Lou talks about selecting IA components to fulfill information needs.

    Each user has a different type of information need depending on what he's trying to find and why he's trying to find it. If we can determine the most common information needs a site's users have, we can select the few best architectural components to address those information needs.
What's Your problem?

Tom pointed to What's Your problem?, in which Mark Bernstein observes that a lot of IAs say that most web sites suck and that "Trying to establish a profession on the foundation of a myth is, I think, a tactical error."

    I've been reading a lot of Information Architecture lately, and one idea is weirdly pervasive -- the notion that most Web sites are bad. Everywhere you look in the literature, you see warnings about unusable sites, idiotic sites, disorganized and chaotic sites. Sites that suck.
Indexer organizations

List of indexer organizations and freelance indexers compiled by Songbird Indexing Services.

Click here

Nathan Ashby-Kuhlman takes "click here" link text to task, showing examples used in popular media sites. Click here to read it. :)

    The words “click here for...” and “click here to...” serve no purpose within links. Unfortunately, many news sites still use them. According to Google, “click here” is on about 8,970 pages at sptimes.com alone.
Dial Up Modem Simulation

Christina found this page on WebNovice that offers suggestions for simulating dial up modem speed.

What's with the hostile tone lately?

I've only just begun to notice that the volume on the posturing and list debating has gotten a little loud and in some cases unprofessional lately. What's with that? I, as much as the next person, believe in the value of open forum
the airing of dissenting views, and good debates. But it seems to me that people have been holding in some hostility and resentment towards entire groups of people (against IA's for instance) and have even resorted to name calling. Maybe it's the economy, I don't know.

Flash and Web-Based Applications

Nielsen's alertbox talks about web-based applications using Flash on the front end. I recently talked to Molly, a new aquaintence in NYC, about how her organization was using Flash to put a front end on a project management db. Sounded like an interesting idea, only because I haven't seen a project/client contact type db done in Flash before.

    In usability tests of 46 Flash applications, we identified several basic issues related to Web-based functionality's ephemeral nature. Some findings restate old truths about GUIs; others reflect the Net's new status as nexus of the user experience.
To digress a bit, the Flash based apps I've thought work well lately are just for fun, e.g. this Bush speech generator, tuning the world. I've come across some design sites that have all flash interfaces with databases, but at the time felt turned off by them. I'm coming around, though. For me, a Flash interface for customizing a product design, like timbuk2 bags is excellent. But what are good examples of content-heavy sites that use Flash, like Molly is talking about? Are there any portal-type sites using Flash?

Ciao, IAping; Hello, chatbot

Alright, the IApings experiment was a bit silly considering how many many blogs we aggregate here and since iaslash users can just post their news. So it's going bye bye. Happy holidays! Consider it -1 gift. Onward.

As a consolation, you can chat with my beta AIM chatbot, jibbajabbaboybot. -1IAping, +1chatbot, brings me back to owing you nothing.

p.s. Don't be alarmed when you talk to the bot and it seems like you're talking to Mr. T. Where do you think the name jibbajabba comes from anyway?

Navigate on the right? The jury is still out.

Lucian pointed to the short Syntagm article by William Hudson on right-side navigation. Hudson, responding to Bob Bailey's HFI newsletter article on the topic believes that we need more data before we can know that moving navigation to the right will be a real improvement.

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