More on watching what users do rather listening to what they say

This appears to be a recurring theme in Usability articles. To design an easy-to-use interface, pay attention to what users do, not what they say. Self-reported claims are unreliable, as are user speculations about future behavior.

Mobile bloggin'

Handx lets you blog from your Palm OS PDA. Makes sense if you are a writer, but not if you mainly log links to other sites.

Journal of Digital Information

Infodesign led me to the Journal of Digital Information (JoDI -- not to be confused with jodi), which is is supported by the British Computer Society and Oxford University Press. In the current issue 1 (8), Knowledge Organization Systems are the focus. If you are interested in knowledge representation issues (e.g. indexing, controlled vocabularies, and ontology creation) or information organization and retrieval be sure to look at Semantic problems of thesaurus mapping and Augmenting thesaurus relationships.

The Art of Information Architecture

Information Architecture is the practice of designing the infrastructure of a Web site, specifically the navigation. This short article in iBoost discusses (somewhat simplistically) SOME steps involved in IA work.

The FTSE 100 Usability Awards

Whilst gathering data for a survey that looked at the web sites of UK FTSE 100 companies, I found a surprising number of broken sites, "Page Not Found" errors and even a few "Under Construction" pages. We all know that creating large web sites can be a challenge and that it's easier to complain about a site than offering constructive criticism, but sometimes you've just got to get it off your chest haven't you?

Netymology

Came across netymology via linkdup. Hate the logo -- reminds too much of Sapient. Love the luxurious look of that bevelled nav bar though. Reminds me of frogdesign or the original Studio Archetype design. Navigation is nice too. 1st and 2nd levels of navigation show stacked in that nav bar and secondary nav for each 2nd level shows in the left of the page. The overview pages (1st level of hieararchy) show overview of 2nd and 3rd levels in table of contents format. Overall, a polished and usable experience in my opinion.

Organic Information Design

Benjamin Fry's Master's Thesis (8.6M PDF download) in the Master of Science in Media Arts and Sciences at MIT. Other projects by Fry at his MIT home page. Thesis abstract: Design techniques for static information are well understood, their descriptions and discourse thorough and well-evolved. But these techniques fail when dynamic information is considered. There is a space of highly complex systems for which we lack deep understanding because few techniques exist for visualization of data whose structure and content are continually changing. To approach these problems, this thesis introduces a visualization process titled Organic Information Design. The resulting systems employ simulated organic properties in an interactive, visually refined environment to glean qualitative facts from large bodies of quantitative data generated by dynamic information sources.

Guidelines For Improving Content Usability For The Web

Ganeman Russell offers some guidelines for preparing content for the Web. Good writing in any medium requires understanding your audience as well as the environment you are working in. Even though the Web is new, it is by no means different. Yet the Web by nature does have certain characteristics that are different than print media. Thanks Lucdesk

Lawyers are destroying the usability of American products

Tog talks about the irritating legal notices/disclaimers that get in the way of actually using products. Lawyers are threatening to bring life to a permanent standstill. They are bogging down automotive and aviation GPS units with the same unread verbiage and OK buttons with which they have attacked software. Car drivers are required, for example, to agree that the GPS could be distracting while the vehicle is moving. They form this agreement by pressing an undersized button before the moving map will display. Trying to hit this button in a moving vehicle is a far more dangerous task than glancing at a moving map.

Are there users who always search?

In a study done by User Interface Engineering, the idea that some users always search rather than navigate using links is challenged. UIE found that use of search versus following links was site specific rather than user specific, and that the nature of the content users are looking for may also influence the decision. Users often use search for known items (books and CD's) but will link when looking for clothing. Devising and producing a site that supports both visitors who prefer using the search engine and those who gravitate toward links presents a substantial challenge. Teams with limited resources find themselves in the position of having to support two separate paths to the same content. ... In a recent study we conducted on e-commerce sites, we tested out this assumption about user preferences.

Rendering Effective Route Maps: Improving Usability Through Generalization

Route maps, which depict a path from one location to another, have emerged as one of the most popular applications on the Web. Current computer-generated route maps, however, are often very difficult to use. In this paper we present a set of cartographic generalization techniques specifically designed to improve the usability of route maps. thanks WebWord and peterme

Usability in Customer Relationship Management

Frontend Usability Infocentre tackles Usability in CRM. Taking usability seriously is a win-win strategy for both suppliers and purchasers of CRM products. We look at some of the ways CRM developers can benefit from the usability approach, and how best to integrate interface design into the product development process.

Microsoft monopolized the desktop. Now it owns the lion's share of the world's top Web sites.

The Standard cites data from Compete that puts Microsoft's Web sites at the top of the list of trafficked sites. It was once thought the Internet was too vast to be conquered. Now one-quarter of all minutes spent online in the United States go to just three firms: America Online, Microsoft and Yahoo. ... Microsoft's dominance is becoming apparent as Web ratings firms begin measuring traffic in other countries around the world. Forty-five percent of the top five Web sites in 26 countries are affiliated with Microsoft, according to an analysis of Nielsen NetRatings data by The Standard. Only 1 percent are AOL sites. ... Data from Compete shows 80 percent of Microsoft's U.S. pageviews go to its free e-mail service, Hotmail. Another traffic researcher, ComScore, finds only 1 percent of the time spent on Microsoft sites is at MSNBC, and 15 percent goes to the MSN homepage. By comparison, Yahoo's traffic is far less concentrated in any one area. And Microsoft still trails Yahoo in unique visitors worldwide.

Perfecting Your Personas

Kim Goodwin of Cooper Interactive offers some tips to help you perfect your personas. A persona is a user archetype you can use to help guide decisions about product features, navigation, interactions, and even visual design. By designing for the archetype—whose goals and behavior patterns are well understood—you can satisfy the broader group of people represented by that archetype. ... It's easy to assemble a set of user characteristics and call it a persona, but it's not so easy to create personas that are truly effective design and communication tools. Tips: Personas represent behavior patterns, not job descriptions; Keep your persona set small; Your marketing and sales targets may not be your design targets; Add life to the personas, but remember they're design tools first; Use the right goals; Personas must be specific to the design problem.

Scient and IXL to merge

According to Interactive Week, Scient And IXL have agreed to a merger of equals.

Using Numbers to Describe Things that Should Not Be Quantified

HannaHodge's Brainbox this month suggested a listen to Ira Glass' "This American Life" by WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International. A recent show titled "Numbers" tells the tale of what happens when you try to quantify the unquantifiable (or at least the hard to quantify. Hodge says, "The show reminded me of the struggles that I've faced over the years in trying to quantify many of the components, emotional attributes and ROI derived from my work in the User Experience space. I'm sure many of you will relate.". If you're interested you can stream the 1hour long show in Real Audio.

Group Says Web Sites on Insurance Have Pitfalls

If you happen to get Insurance companies as clients, NY Times has an article about a survey of life insurance Web sites. Many Web sites that sell life insurance do not show the lowest-priced coverage, and some have misleading information, according to a survey by a consumer group. ... The survey of 25 Internet sites that sell life insurance, conducted by the Consumer Federation of America, found that 75 percent did not show the least expensive coverage and 40 percent were somewhat misleading.

Chatty Databases

In March, Internetweek talked about a vendor that was linking SQL databases to Instant Messenger (IM) and allowing end users to query databases using human language. In this week's Reload: Chatty Databases they say that uses for the new technology have begun emerging. The first to hit the mainstream is the GooglyMinotaur AIM screen name, the front end of an SQL database containing information about the alternative rock band Radiohead. ActiveBuddy, the company that has been beta testing the technology, says a new product called Corporate411 will allow companies to access employee information via IM.

Web sites as architectural spaces

Matt Jones discusses "A web site is a public place", an article in Ignition Design's Journal of Design Science which compares the environment of Web sites with architectural spaces. In the article, they say, A Web site is like any other public place where people come to look, to learn, to search, or to experience. And as in any public place, visitors will succeed in what they came to do only if the site gives them a clear indication of * where they are * where they can go * what they will find there. A good navigation system uses the site’s information structure as the basis for a visual hierarchy that guides the user experience. ... There is no one “right” path through an interactive product. Ideally, viewers should be able to call up information in whatever sequence seems logical to them. A product that’s easy to use will accommodate any reasonable request at any time. On BlackBeltJones, Matt ponders: If there's one problem I've struggled with over and over and over, then it's the old chestnut of whether a piece of content or information* should have:

  1. a single 'location' in the structure of a website,
  2. or have a single 'location', but multiple access routes,
  3. or be able to be accessed from *anywhere* and have no 'location'.
Does the child have many parents, or just one (but perhaps lots of friendly aunts and uncles...!) In digital environments I think it probably helps to reinforce a sense of position because as we experience life in the physical world, we often rely on cognitively mapping objects to their respective places in order to recall their position later. The concept of creating an information architecture that's built around a category/topic/subject hierarchy with a system of cross-references and thesaural term management has great advantages for aiding the information seeker. I think, most importantly it aids in navigating an information-use environment by:
  1. allowing cognitive mapping of the site's domain of content which aids in understanding the scope of content on the site and in the elimination of unwanted search paths
  2. allowing browsing, which makes possible serendipitious discovery of related documents within a category/topic
I think Yahoo! does it right with the way they treat categories. In their category listings, they list categories with an @ symbol that do not reside in that branch of the topic hierarchy. It's called a cross-reference, and it's a concept borrowed from information science. Take a look, for example at their Computers and Internet > News and Media section and you'll see that at that level they list several subcategories you can drill down into, and several categories that reside in other parts of the site's hierarchy. I believe that, especially in large information collections, hierarchical systems, where each entity is classified under one node, continue to be sucessful as effective systems for navigating content. However, there are other ways to make use of indexing methods so that hierarchical browsing isn't the only way to find an entity. For instance, I am still compelled by the concept of using Ranganathan's Facet Analysis as an alternate method for information discovery. I think most IA's would want to see alternative methods of navigating content used successfully and repeatedly before considering them, but there is a great opportunity now to add to the user experience by adding new models of navigation to the Web. In meat-space, this would be like inventing the elevator in a world where only stairs exist.

Modest Growth Prevails on the Web

NY Times talks about the small e-commerce successes that remain. The thing that's kept these small, focussed businesses afloat has been moderate growth and disciplined, measured spending.