jibbajabba's blog

Ambient Findability

Peter muses on findabilty in the coming era of ambient interfaces/devices employing nanotechnology and wireless Internetworking.

Software documentation

Was looking for resources for writing software documentation for a friend (and for myself as well). Figured the STC would be the most authoritative resource. On the STC Four Lakes, Michigan site, I found their book list to be enough, but figured there must be some guidelines for writing documentation on the web. Anyone know any good freely available resources /guidelines for writing software documentation that might be available on the web?

Kristjan pointed out one we blogged from Advogato a while back: How non-programmers use documentation.

STC Usability SIG, Usability toolkit

The STC Usability SIG offers a collection of documents including forms, checklists, templates for conducting usability testing and user interviews.

Accessibility Arguments Revisited

New on Frontend Usability Infocentre.

    Regular Infocentre readers will know that Frontend has been arguing for the need for greater accessibility on the web for some time. Frontend have recently completed the delivery of the first version (1.1) of the Irish National Disability Authority (NDA) IT Accessibility Guidelines. In the course of our work for the NDA over the last year we've talked to a wide variety groups and individuals who have an interest in accessibility and as a result of their input, our approach has shifted a little. Here's what we found out.
TOC for the IA issue of JASIST

The table of contents is available for the Information Architecture issue of the Journal of the American Society for Information Science & Technology (JASIST). Full text is available to members who have opted for electronic access only.

New XML feed for Radio News Aggregators

Apparently there is some problem with Radio grabbing iaslash's newsfeed and showing duplicates. For Radio aggregator's here's the workaround for now. I am using lynx to dump the XML feed once a day. Source is here:

Thanks to Lee for pointing this out.

The Semantic Web: Taxonomies vs. ontologies

"The Semantic Web: Differentiating Between Taxonomies and Ontologies." Online. 26 n4 (July/August 2002): 20.

    Computer scientists--along with librarians--are working to solve problems of information retrieval and the exchange of knowledge between user groups. Ontologies or taxonomies are important to a number of computer scientists by facilitating the sharing and reuse of digital information.
Katherine Adams' article in ONLINE (ironically, not available online) talks about the Semantic Web and the subtle difference in the approaches that computer science and library information science have taken toward making information findable using structured hierarchical vocabularies -- ontologies for CS and taxonomies for LIS.

The article generalizes one difference between CS and LIS by saying that "software developers focus on the role ontologies play in the reuse and exchange of data while librarians construct taxonomies to help people locate and interpret information". Both hopefully remain focussed on the end result of making data findable and usable.

    Some of the traditional skills of librarianship--thesaurus construction, metadata design, and information organization--dovetail with this next stage of Web development. Librarians have the skills that computer scientists, entrepreneurs, and others are looking for when trying to envision the Semantic Web. However, fruitful exchange between these various communities depends on communication.
    Commonalities exist--as do differences--between librarians who create taxonomies and computer scientists who build ontologies. Mapping concepts, skills, and jargon between computer scientists and librarians encourages collaboration.
I'm quoting a few large blocks from the article because they're probably important for us to read (fair use!). One of the sections discussess differing views on inheritance and the last discusses topic maps.


    In general, those in computer science (CS) are concerned with how software and associated machines interact with ontologies. Librarians are concerned with how patrons retrieve information with the aid of taxonomies. Software developers and artificial intelligence scholars see hierarchies as logical structures that help machines make decisions, but for library science workers these information structures are about mapping out a topic for the benefit of patrons. For librarians, taxonomies are a way to facilitate certain types of information-seeking behavior. It would be a mistake to overemphasize this point since one can point to usability experts in the CS camp who advocate user-centered Web design or librarians who are fascinated with cataloging theory to the exclusion of flesh-and-blood patrons. Yet, as an overarching generalization, software developers focus on the role ontologies play in the reuse and exchange of data while librarians construct taxonomies to help people locate and interpret information.

    This difference is illustrated by the concept of inheritance. Computer scientists build hierarchies with an eye toward inheritance, one of the most powerful concepts in software development. Machines can correctly understand a number of relationships among entities by assigning properties to top classes and then assuming subclasses inherit these properties. For example, if Ricky Martin is a type of "Pop Star" in a hierarchy marked "Singers," then a software program can make assumptions about Mr. Martin even if the details of his biography are not explicitly known. An ontology may express the rule, "If an entertainer has an agent or a business manager and released an album last year, then assume he or she has a fan club." A program could then readily deduce, for example, that Ricky Martin has a fan club and process information accordingly. Inference rules give ontologies a lot of power. Software doesn't truly understand the meaning of any of this information, but inference rules allow computers to effectively use language in ways that are significant to the human users.

    By contrast, librarians think of inheritance in terms of hierarchical relationships and information retrieval for patrons. Taking the example above, the importance of the taxonomy rests in its ability to educate patrons. Someone who's been tuned out of popular culture might use the Pop Star hierarchy to learn the identities of singers who are currently in vogue. A searcher could also uncover the various types of Pop Stars that exist in mass culture: Singers, Movie Stars, Television Stars, Weight-Loss Gurus, Talk Show Hosts, etc. Finally, a patron could hop from one synonym to another--from "Singer" to "Warbler" to "Vocalist"--and discover associative relationships that exist within this category.


    Topic maps are closely related to the Semantic Web and point the way to the next stage of the Web's development. Topic maps hold out the promise of extending nimble-fingered distinctions to large collections of data. Topic maps are navigational aids that stand apart from the documents themselves. While topic maps do not include intelligent agents, other aspects of this technology--metadata, vocabularies, and hierarchies--fit well within the Semantic Web framework. According to Steve Pepper, senior information architect for Infostream in Oslo, Norway, in "The TAO of Topic Maps: Find the Way in the Age of Infoglut", his presentation at IDEAlliance's XML Europe 2000 conference, topic maps are important because they represent a new international standard (ISO 13250). Topic maps function as a super-sophisticated system of taxonomies, defining a group of subjects and then providing hypertext links to texts about these topics. Topic maps lay out a structured voca bulary and then point to documents about those topics. Even OCLC is looking to topic maps to help its project of organizing the Web by subject.

    An important advantage of topic maps is that Web documents do not have to be amended with metadata. While HTML metatags are embedded in the documents described, topic maps are information structures that stand apart from information resources. Topic maps can, therefore, be reused and shared between various organizations or user groups and hold great promise for digital libraries and enhanced knowledge navigation among diverse electronic information sources.

Other articles mentioned:
Tim Berners Lee, "The Semantic Web," Scientific American, May 200.

Natalya Fridman Noy and Deborah L. McGuinness. "Ontology Development 101: A Guide to Creating Your First Ontology," Knowledge Systems Laboratory Stanford University, March 2001.

Tom Gruber, "What is an Ontology," [September 2001].

Steve Pepper, "The TAO of Topic Maps: Find the Way in the Age of Infoglut," XML Europe 2000.

Blogs as disruptive technology in the CMS industry

Was looking at News Blogging Software Roundup on the Microcontent News site. The article breaks weblogging applications into categories based on the type of publishing environment (weblog publishing or weblog community) and based on installation requirements. The page led to the Web Crimson white paper, Blogs as Disruptive Tech, which is an interesting piece that calls weblog publishing systems as disruptive to commercial content management systems as the PC was disruptive to the mainframe computer. Makes some interesting insights based on the ideas in Clayton Christensen book, "The Innovator's Dilemma".

The dilemma is this. Should CMS companies look at the current state of weblogging applications as a threat? It appears that the feedback from consumers is that weblogging applications are viable for many smaller publishing needs and are getting better at also meeting middle-range publishing and community communication needs. So much better that they may someday nip at the heels of mid-level CMS vendors and drive them out of business because of the free (or GPL) to really cheap pricing model that most follow. The improvement of simple web publishing CMSes and community tools such as the one used here has been very impressive considering the short life-time for this breed of software. I would think that CMS vendors make the same kind of calculations in their heads that mainframe salespersons made when they hear that there is a seemingly trivial application that customers are considering as alternatives to their large and very expensive systems. But is there an opportunity to generate revenue, however small, by offering lighter and much cheaper sytems as a reaction to the use of blogging tools in place of CMSes? I guess that's the innovators dilemma, do you heed or ignore the warning foretold in some consumer behavior.

Thanks Tom for the link to the Roundup article.

Why Web Standards Matter

Carrie Bickner, web developer for the New York Public Libraries, has an article in Library Journal, Summer2002 Net Connect, that discusses how using W3C XHTML and CSS standards will ensure the accessibility of your data and may possibly save your organization time and money in future development and redesign.

    You've just launched your library's new web site when the calls start: "I just downloaded the latest version of Netscape, and your whole top navigation is invisible"; "I am using a screen reader, and your site reads like gibberish. I can't find a thing"; "I am calling on behalf of the board of tri-county library consortium; we appreciate all the hard work that you have done, but we have a few questions about the design of the new site."

    The site--despite months of work, the best software, and exhaustive quality assurance testing--has problems. What went wrong? How do you remedy the situation while insuring you don't make the same mistakes again? The key may be found in adhering to a set of well-established, internationally recognized web standards.

XHTML 2.0 and the nl element

XHTML working draft 2.0 is here.

Hmmm. Am curious to see how w3c envisions the new navigation list (nl, same family as ul) element to work. Perhaps browsers will make the nl element collapsible/expandable like aqtree.

Royksopp infographics eyecandy

You've probably already seen the link to the Royksopp video "You remind me" (Real Video) from Matt's site. I just got the Real Player for OS X so I could finally see it and all I can say is "Holy shit!" It's an infographics bonanza that fans of Wurman* will salivate over. Really. If you're so inclined, you won't be disappointed by it.

* I originally incorrectly said Tufte here, but Christina called me on it, because I should have said Wurman.

Time Pressure and Creativity: Why Time is Not on Your Side

HBS Working Knowledge interviewed Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School who has been researching the effect of time pressure on creativity in project work. Amabile has been studying the effect of various environmental and internal pressures on the ability to be creative. Her research subjects in the past have included artists and writers. At Harvard her subjects have been organizational employees -- 238 individuals on 26 project teams in 7 companies in 3 industries -- who have been filling out project journals.

Amabile's research has been consistently finding that time pressure does not help creativity, but research subjects have consistenly believed that they have been more creative when faced with pressures including time pressure. In fact, subjects have often been producing less creative work. This is fascinating to me. I'm sure the majority of IA's who read this blog are consultants who are faced with constraints of time on an everyday basis. I have heard that designers in some agencies (perhaps more in the web heyday) sometimes take time off away from a design problem in order to allow other solutions to manifest. In the last place I worked, I heard of a case where a few designers took a long drive when they got a particularly interesting project in order to get away from their desks and talk about the design problem a while before considering solutions. Amabile suggests that this is one very good way to develop creative thinking. After working on a problem for some time, take a break and put that work aside for a few days to allow your original ideas and problems to incubate. She suggests that solutions or ideas often appear during this period. While giving yourself some buffer time for creative work may not seem allowable in your present situation, it seems very worthwhile to allow for this incubation period. Surely you can track your time creatively to allow for it :)

OWL Web Ontology Language Working Drafts Published

From W3C news releases:

    The Web Ontology Working Group has released three first Working Drafts. The Feature Synopsis, Abstract Syntax and Language Reference describe the OWL Web Ontology Language 1.0 and its subset OWL Lite. Automated tools can use common sets of terms called ontologies to power services such as more accurate Web search, intelligent software agents, and knowledge management. OWL is used to publish and share ontologies on the Web. Read about the W3C Semantic Web Activity.
Facet analytical theory (FAT)

From SIGCR-L (last one before I leave):

A new research project at University College London (U.K.) - 'Facet Analytical Theory for Knowledge Structure in Humanities'

Facet analytical theory (FAT) is a novel method of indexing which deals with individual simple terms. It builds up a map of subjects "bottom-up" by clustering terms in a systematic way, rather than as a linear sequence. This research project will investigate the potential role of FAT in the development of the knowledge structure of multi-dimensional networks of subject terms for use with digital collections.

The project goal is to explore the use of a faceted vocabulary in a
joint humanities portal between two U.K. humanities gateways: AHDS and Humbul.

The source for building this vocabulary will be classifications such as BC2, BSO and UDC, and thesauri (e.g. AAT, HASSET etc.). The vocabulary will be maintained as a standalone authority file with entirely machine processable data and will be integrated into the portal architecture. It will support both browsing and retrieval across heterogeneous AHDS and Humbul resources.

Burn out...

Time for a rant (everyone else with a blog does it). I don't know about other people, but I've been feeling really burned out lately. Tired of keeping up -- I abandoned reading SIGIA-L a few months ago, although I still receive the mail. Here's what my SIGIA-L folder looks like in Entourage:

    sigia (2152)
Seriously. It's becoming an internal joke for me. Since I have it filtered, I never have to look at it, so it goes unread while I spend more time reading papers and articles. Where is this heading? I am getting tired of keeping up with IA at the moment. It's getting boring/tedious. Anyone else ever feel that way? It takes so much energy to investigate and try to understand things like computer science and what's happening with ontologies, topic maps, etc. This is the problem with being a generalist and trying to have your hand in so many things -- at least in trying to understand so many things.

Where I'm headed at the moment is taking a pragmatic approach to professional development. I was thinking of maybe taking a class in the fall to learn how to properly program in C (rather than just hacking Perl and PHP). Maybe focussing more on learning computer science aspects of information organization and retrieval and not spending so much time on learning more about creative design, interaction design, usabilty. Hell, I even entertained fantasies at one point before returning to Lucent of learning to become a woodworker -- something more tangible than dealing with computers, code and information. But I'm an information organizer by nature so I decided not to start over, but to focus on smaller pieces of the profession.

I think what is happening is that I'm getting intellectually fried. I have been working on a content inventory for a digital library collection, which we are now using to view the corpus of data we warehouse in order to conceptualize ways of providing access. It has been challenging and mind numbing and has left me wanting not to have to think about information organization at all.

So I don't know. Maybe it's just the NYC humidity softening my brain. I wish someone could give me something to inspire me to choose or not to choose a professional path. If it were possible, I think I'd do very well as a full-time stay-at-home-dad. :)

Ontologies come of age

[Note to self] Read Deborah L. McGuinness' Ontologies Come of Age, which Victor pointed to this week.

Amazon Light

Amazon Light is a Googlesque search interface using Amazon Web Services. Nice.

Thanks, Matt

In Defense of Search

Peter Morville takes Jared Spool to task on Spool's advice to keep users from using search because it stinks.

[T]o encourage taxonomy design at the expense of search system design is a bad message to be sending in today's web environment.

In the article in Digital Web, Peter says corporations do not invest enough in developing search systems. Peter has noticed in his engagements that corporations are spending lots of money on taxonomy and not enough on search. This is due in part because taxonomy is all the rage, but maybe also because people like Jared are panning search.

MacWorld NYC: Jakob look-alikes, Jaguar, Six degrees, Omni

Went to MacWorld, New York. Was not too exciting. Lots of the Windows Switch ads around town. The most amusing thing was that I saw Andy Ihnatko chatting with someone, sporting a leather cowboy hat. Funny. When I first spotted him quickly, I thought to myself, "Is that Jakob Nielsen". Then when I got closer I realized it was Ihnatko and thought again, "No, that's just what Jakob Nielsen would look like if he were a tad cooler."

Anyway back to the Mac. The Jaguar OS X was very nice. Don't want to regurgitate what you probably already know or can easily learn from Apple's OS X page. From an interface perspective I was pleased with Sherlock, which brings some of Watson's functionality into the core OS, and with new features of the finder. A search box is now built into the finder, spring loaded folders are back, and I saw someone demo a Find/Replace feature that I think was doing batchrenaming of files. Can't confirm that one.

Also saw a demo of Creo's Six Degrees, an application which is supposed to help you search through email, files and contacts to find related data. It looked promising, but I'm not sure it delivers the power to really connect related data. Have to play with it some more to verify. It sounds great for navigating project data on your machine.

Lastly I saw Omni Group's little table and watched someone demo OmniGraffle for kicks. Was amused when the demoer was scrolling through the palettes, saw "Garret IA" and said, "I have no idea what that is." I thought to myself, of course you don't, why would you. So I let him know that it was a shape library for Information Architecture diagramming. "Oh, OK," he replied and kept demoing. He probably still has no idea what it's for.

Information architecture concepts

New to me is this IBM developerWorks article "Information architecture concepts: Misconceptions expained" by Thomas Myer which aims at educating web developers about IA's and their role in the development of team-designed web sites.

An information architect is a vital member of a Web development team, playing a critical role in how content is organized on a Web site. This article seeks to clear up some of the misconceptions about information architecture and help define the role an information architect plays in Web site development.

Thanks, Digital Web

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