jibbajabba's blog

Communicating simply

I wish I were a better writer. Gerry McGovern talks about the need to cut through the jargony verbosity and get to the point in The need for simple English on the Web. Of course he means simple [insert vernacular language here] on the web.

    Writing is about communicating. If your reader requires a dictionary of slang in order to wade through your content, chances are you won’t have too many readers. Someone recently sent me a quote. It’s by Albert Camus, a great French writer. He stated: “Those who write clearly have readers, those who write obscurely have commentators.” How do you know amateur writing? It’s verbose. It uses lots of complicated words. It takes five pages to say what can be said in one. The irony of simple writing is that it’s very hard to do. Complexity is often a mask behind which the writer who doesn’t quite understand what they are writing about hides.

I like the line he quotes, "In the mystery lies the margin." My colleagues often joke about how managers in large corporations (usually in corporate center functions) use jargon and buzzwords to confuse and to keep themselves in job, being sure to adopt every new passing fad without thoroughly understanding the meaning of the words. I've been known to latch on to new terms, but I think the key to using jargon is to introduce/explain every concept/term you use before you start a discussion for the benefit of those who are uninitiated. There's no point having a discussion if the message won't be received. It's one of the small rules of thumb that I took away from writing papers for publication in grad school.

Still digesting this statement:

    George Orwell, another great writer, once wrote: “If it is possible to cut a word, always cut it.” The Web is the world of the impatient reader. People scan their way across text, looking for the meaning, the relevance.

    What do you get when you take Orwell’s rule to its extreme? Classification (taxonomy). On the Web we have learned to read by classification; is it in this section of the website or that one?

I think McGovern's article speaks more to the importance of communicating simply in prose and in our choice of words for labels and such. Not quite sure about the relevance in selecting terms for classifciation. Controlled vocabularies, specifically, are often rich with jargonny terminology. Resolution of simple terms to jargon should be handled programmatically, mapping jargon to nodes in a taxonomy.

Anitra Pavka

Found Anitra Pavka's Accessibility and Usability blog this in a stop at CamWorld, who pointed to her review of the official Section 508 site. Seems the people who are tooting the accessibility horn are still having some problems making their own site usable and accessible.

Interaction Design: Beyond human computer interaction

Wiley has made three sample chapters available from Jenny Preece's forthcoming Interaction Design Book.

  1. What is interaction design?
  2. The process of interaction design
  3. Introducing evaluation

thanks Brightly Colored Food

Raskin on future interfaces

In Business Week Online, Jef Raskin, designer of the original Macintosh interface and author of The Humane Interface, talks about the future of interfaces. In the article, Can Jobs "Think Outside the Pretty Box"?, Raskin says that Apple needs to get beyond its form fetish and think of revolutionizing the UI and the user experience. He offers some insight in to what he sees as the next level of computing from the perspective of the user experience.

    There has been a lot of research in usability over the past couple of decades. Almost none of it has gone into the Apple. ... Bottom line, we really haven't made significant progress interface-wise from the original Mac. In some ways things have retrogressed. We can do a lot more with the machines, but we haven't made an interface to keep up with the Internet world. We have learned a lot in the worlds of interface and cognitive psychology, but that isn't being taken advantage of. It's as if in the car business they suddenly forgot that radial tires and power steering exist.

    The changes would come in the software. ... One of the good things about the kinds of interfaces I am working on is that they don't have a desktop. They don't have an operating system, at least not one that the user sees. You work directly on what you want to work on. If you start typing, it says: "Oh, this person is typing, I had better save what this person is typing."

    You shouldn't have to switch from application to application. If I'm in the middle of a document and I want to make a calculation, I have to open up this stupid calculator window. Then I have to cut and paste the results into the document. Why can't I just type 59 times 54.6 wherever I happen to be -- in PhotoShop, the word processor, or wherever -- and tell the machine to give me the answer, please, right now?

IA Summit '02

2002 IA Summit: Refining Our Craft, The 3rd Annual Information Architecture Summit Sponsored by ASIS&T. March 15th-17th, 2002 at the Marriott Baltimore Waterfront.

Register via the web site. I may be going if I can weasel some dollars out of my organization -- is tough to do that these days. Hope to meet face to face some of the people I've met electronically over the past year.

Functions of a thesaurus

I was interested in how foreign language descriptors are resolved using a thesaurus and came across Functions of a thesaurus / classification /ontological knowledge base (PDF), a list of functions a thesaurus should provide, written by Dagobert Soergel at the University of Maryland School of Information Studies.

    This reading gives a fairly complete list of functions that should convince anybody of the importance of studying classification. It starts with an overview and then gives details for each major functional area. A list of thesauri / classification schemes at the end illustrates further the practical importance of this topic.

If you are an LIS IA, you probably are familiar with Soergel. He's one of the academicians whose eminence in information science lies in classification. While many of us are diddling around in taxonomy/controlled vocabulary/facet classification musings, there is also a good deal of established practice in the area of knowledge representation/classification literature we should also be digging into. Stuff by Dagobert and Jim Anderson is what I often lean on.

A redesign recipe for tough times

A list of suggestions on Lighthouse on the Web for redesigning web sites when money is tight.

    Finding the resources for a redesign takes more work than it used to, though. Increasing economic gloom and well-justified scepticism about IT spending are squeezing site budgets. Even at the wealthiest sites, managers are having to sub-let the in-house massage facilities to insolvency specialists just to fund a few more fancy graphics. How do you redesign in times like these?

While we're on the topic of redesigns. I used the Internet Archive's wayback engine to recall the first design of iaslash that most of my readers seemed to hate, which prompted the redesign of this site to the current state. I quite liked it. Interesting now that I look at it, though. Must have been inspired by dreamless or something. Dark gray was so it in 2000.

Digital Web: Motion graphics articles

A new issue of Digital Web is up with several articles on motion graphics.

  • Feature article on motion graphics by Daniel Jenett titled Motion Design, The Future
  • In the tutorial section, Meryl K. Evans offers some advice for creating usable Flash movies in her article, Flash Usability.
  • Stephen Van Doren's DigiSelect topic, When Design Motivates is a rant about dropping Flash because he doesn't need motion. He also poposes usability features that could be built into the software.
Accessibility for All

Reviews of the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics site recently appeared in the Webreference Newsletter and in Shirley Kaiser's Brainstorms and Raves following a bit of controversy and a lawsuit over accessibility issues on the site. Webreference followed up with a feature on accessibility in its newsletter with links to related articles on the controversy and some pointers to accessibility resources.

The Myth of "Seven, Plus or Minus 2"

In Webreview, James Kalbach talks about the breadth versus depth issue and how George Miller's Magical number 7 should not be applied to web navigation.

    A closer reading shows that Miller makes no conclusions that can be directly applied to web navigation.


    Clearly, the optimal number of menu items cannot be reduced to one generalized rule applicable in all situations. Instead, when planning the information architecture of a site, the two most important considerations are breadth versus depth and the display of information.

This seems to be on a lot of our minds lately. Kalbach suggests that well-conceived display of navigation and striking a balance between breadth and depth are better practices than following any one rule. The article offers some suggestions in practice based on example sites.

thanks xblog

Why Your eMail Newsletter Annoys Your Readers

On Frontend Usability Infocentre.

    email newsletters are an increasingly popular method of keeping in touch with the customer base. However, get things wrong and newsletters will only serve to annoy your loyal subscribers.
e-ink gains momentum

According to Technology Review, e-ink R&D has completed a working prototype of their product using silicon.

    Researchers at Cambridge, MA-based E Ink have completed the first working prototype of an electronic ink display attached to a flexible, silicon-based thin-film transistor backplane, the sheet of electronics that controls display pixels. The prototype is a functional display that you can twist, bend or throw against the wall without disturbing a single electron.

    This proof-of-concept prototype confirms that it will soon be possible to mass-produce reams of self-erasing electronic paper that combine sheets of electronic ink with flexible silicon circuitry. Last year, Lucent Technologies demonstrated an electronic-ink display driven by flexible plastic transistors, but E Ink researchers believe that silicon-based transistors have several big advantages over plastic.

    The company's ultimate goal is to produce RadioPaper, sheets of reusable e-paper containing radio frequency ID tags that download a new edition of, for example, the Wall Street Journal each morning into the same physical display.

For more on how e-ink works, see this Howstuffworks article.

Top accessibility sites

TaskZ.com's list of the top accessibility sites.

Web copy style guide

It's usually a good idea, when writing for any medium, to have a guide for editorial style. On provenance: unknown Matthew Pfeffer has released his short guide to writing copy on the web. He notes that his guide is not meant as a substitution for the standard writing guides, such as the Chicago Manual of Style. This is a pretty decent example of in-house editorial guidelines. Your guidelines might also include other conventions for your particular publication.

    This style guide seeks to serve as a resource for anyone writing or editing web copy, and to document some of the conventions that distinguish good writing, as published on the web, from writing published in other media.

thanks glish and webgraphics

What Good is Information Architecture Anyway?

New on Lou Rosenfeld's Bloug

    What's the canon of information architecture goodness? Put another way: when you try to make the case for IA, what are your bullet points? Here's a stab at a list.

I've been finding a lot of good stuff on webgraphics lately, so it's time to serve up due props, big ups, blah blah blah.

    WebGraphics is a daily compilation of hypertext design resources, links, commentary and notes.

Their RSS news feed has also been added.


WebAIM -- Web Accessibility in Mind -- is an organization that promotes web accessibility through dissemination of information, tutorials, seminars and workshops.

    Our goal is to improve accessibility to online learning opportunities for all people; in particular to improve accessibility for individuals with disabilities who currently may have a difficult time getting access to postsecondary online learning opportunities.

Particularly eye-opening is the set of simulations (requires Macromedia Shockwave) which allow web developers to experience the particular accessibility issues that vision impaired users encounter. The Screen Reader Simulation helps to understand what it is like for a person with visual impairments to access the Internet using a software program called a "screen reader." The Low Vision Simulation allows you to experience a web page as someone with a visual impairment might see it.

Also of interest is the HTML Markup Sample which provides common accessibility fixes.

thanks webgraphics

Hints for designing accessible websites

Best practices for producing accessible web sites by the Royal National Institute for the Blind.

    Many people with sight problems have some useful vision, and read web pages in exactly the same way as fully sighted people: with their eyes. However the needs of people with poor sight vary considerably, depending on how their eye condition affects their vision. Some people require large text, while others can read only smaller letters. Most need a highly contrasting colour scheme, and some have very specific needs, for example yellow text on a black background. To cater for everyone, websites should be flexible in design, enabling individual users to use their own browser to adjust the text and colour settings to suit their own particular needs and circumstances.

    People with very little or no vision, on the other hand, read web pages with the help of access technology installed on their computer. Synthesised speech software can read the content of web pages aloud through a speaker, while braille software can output the same content to a retractable braille display so that the web page can be read by touch. Good design is essential for people accessing the web in these ways - poor design can render a site completely inaccessible.

thanks webgraphics

Research on web site structure: Broad, deep, or what?

Article by Ron Scheer discussing usability tests which provide more insight into the depth versus breadth debate. The first test was done at the University of Maryland and a follow-up was done by Microsoft to test the results.

    Both studies support a growing belief that breadth beats depth. What they don't show is what kind of breadth is best.

    In one study subjects prefer starting narrow and then getting wider. In another they prefer starting wide and getting narrower. The subject matter in each case was very different; this may have been a factor.

    Although the researchers attempted to make the links mutually exclusive, we know that the meanings of words are not the same for everyone. The way people group information in their own gray matter depends on the way they see the world. You can group lions and house cats together as felines. The other guy may group them separately as wild animals and pets.

    For a long time, it seems, creating navigation for web sites is going to remain something of an art. It's going to take science a while to catch up.

thanks blackbelt jones

Dublin Core in RDF/XML

For all you Dublin Core fans, a newish version of Expressing Simple Dublin Core in RDF/XML is available from the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative.

    2001-12-07, The DCMI Directorate is pleased to announce that a new version of the Draft Recommendation is available for Public Comment until January 7, 2002.
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