Information pollution

Write less is the key message from the August 11 Alertbox.

Jakob missed another key recommendation, however: throw away the crap that you have already written. Most web sites could get an immediate boost in usability if they just cleaned up the pollution they have already created.

Nutch: Open source search engine

Nutch is a nascent effort to implement an open-source web search engine.

Nutch provides a transparent alternative to commercial web search engines. Only open source search results can be fully trusted to be without bias. (Or at least their bias is public.) All existing major search engines have proprietary ranking formulas, and will not explain why a given page ranks as it does. Additionally, some search engines determine which sites to index based on payments, rather than on the merits of the sites themselves. Nutch, on the other hand, has nothing to hide and no motive to bias its results or its crawler in any way other than to try to give each user the best results possible.
IA Summit 2004: Save the date...

FYI: Just noticed that the ASIST site mentioned ...

Information Architecture, February 28-29, 2004, Austin, TX

When a site comes up we'll put a link here, however I think saving the date helps folks plan their budgets for conferences next year.

Using CSS for prototyping

Jeff Lash takes on the perennial question of what prototyping tool should IAs use. While not abandoning Visio or Omnigraffle, in Prototyping with Style Jeff suggests that Cascading Style Sheets have a lot to offer and should be looked at seriously as a prototyping medium.

One advantage Jeff offers is that basic content can be laid out, with headings, body copy, navigation, supplementary information like disclaimers. This lets the team focus on the content first, and then CSS can be used to create a number of alternative layouts and visual styles.

While this may work with a mature team, many of the people I work with have a very difficult type grasping abstract presentation...whether it's sticky notes on a page, or vanilla XHTML, text only lists of page content. I've used mood boards, design the box exercises, and rapid throwaway photoshop comps to address these peoples' need to have something more visual to comment on, while still working to separate those stylistic inputs from actual IA and interaction design. I'm not sure CSS will help me there, but I'll see when I next have the chance to try something different than the usual wireframe fare.

Card sorting - too superficial?

Donna Maurer muses on a card sorting weakness - In my last few big card sorts, I have noticed that participants don't really look at the cards and try to form sensible groups based on how the information should be grouped to help them achieve a task. Instead, they try to get rid of most of the cards as quickly as possible....

Good point: almost all participatory research, from card sorting to usability testing to surveys and interviews suffer from the fact that the participants usually don't really want to participate. While our goal is to build a better system, their goal is to finish and get their incentive.

Other than longer education periods and involving users as codesigners (so they are invested in the project itself, not just the incentive), what other ways are there to get more than surface data from a card sort? One immediate thought is to make sure the card set isn't too big (or the usability script too long), since people are more likely to give cursory answers when they've spent a long time on the activity. What else?

Usability Salary Survey

Hot on the heels of the AIfIA Salary Survey comes the HFI Usability Salary Survey. It's geared more towards usability, for sure, but one of the job titles they identify is "Information Architect," so it's worth participating.

Why should this be important to you?

  1. Most HR departments don't know what information architecture / usability is, much less how much it's worth.
  2. There isn't a whole lot of data on IA / usability salaries, and the data that is available, with a few exceptions, is several years old.

So, help out our cause and take the survey.

Tog wants to use a new name for interaction design...

Bruce Tognazzini is a prinicpal at the Nielsen Norman Group, and used to publish regularly on his AskTog site. Now he's back, with a call to arms for Interaction Architects.

The tone of the article seems somewhat needy, with its "Why we get no respect" title. But that no-respect sentiment seems to echo throughout the UX community in all its niches. And Tog does identify some key considerations. I'm just not sure that a branding argument will be what gets respect, over having UX practitioners of all stripes understand business better.

Unlike some others, I do see a difference between Information Architecture and Interaction Design as practices, though perhaps not as practitioners (most IAs and IDs have significant skill overlap). And I wish Tog the best, with his Interaction Architecture Association. I'm left wondering though - will all the little splinters (information design, IA, interaction design/architecture, usability) and their overlapping landgrabs for mindshare end up creating a lot of friction - all heat and no light? Or will there be a catalyst that gets UX practitioners working in concert to make significant gains in the business world. I guess time will tell....

Dictionary of names

Ever struggle to find a name that fits a design persona perfectly? The Kabalarian Philosophy site has a useful name dictionary. You can view male/female names in alpha order or browse by category, e.g. ethnicity or geographic location.

Looking for last names? You might find some interesting ones at Vitalog.net's surname database or using last-names.net's Last Name Meanings Dictionary.

User Interface Library

Gabe Zentall has published a library of user interface templates in Adobe Illustrator (also available as PDF), which provides UI elements for use in prototype design. It covers Windows, OS X, and Palm. The templates are excellent excellent for creating high-fidelity wireframes or prototypes. Template sets are separated on different layers in the Illustrator file and all are of course, completely editable. This is perfect for Illustrator wireframers. I'm thinking that this would be a nice OmniGraffle pallette as well.

[Thanks, Column Two and Reloade]

Video search on PBS.org

Gary Price points out that PBS is offering free keyword and or title search of some of its video. Being the father of a two-year old, I do regular visits to JungleWalk with my son to look for animal videos. Now I can add Nature to my bookmarks.
Searching is quite nice on PBS. You can do keyword searches or browse by show/program title. Odd that they don't let you view the metadata, though. I wondered after searching the Nature archives for "leach" why vampire bat and mosquito videos were returned when what I wanted to find was the blood sucking leaches from the same "Blood Suckers" show. I guess there is one metadata record shared per show, which I guess makes sense when there are only 2 or three short videos available per program. That way, obviously related videos are presented in your search results.
Available presently on PBS:

Report Review: Nielsen/Norman Group's Usability ROI

Report Review: Nielsen/Norman Group's Usability Return on Investment - In the business world, user experience endeavors are typically seen as a cost—a line item expense to be minimized to the greatest extent possible while still remaining competitive. This has led to a number of essays, articles, and books on proving the value of user experience, including a recent report by the Nielsen Norman Group.

Much more than a summary of the NNGroup ROI report, Peterme and Scott Hirsch outline key considerations for evaluating Return on Investment, and in the process discover some shortcomings of the NNGroup approach.

ROI calculations: K-Logs vs. traditional Intranet Portals

John Robb summarizes an ROI document produced by PlumTree Software estimating the value of portal software and compares with his estimation of the value of K-Log software. He puts the total ROI of a K-Log system at 1,170% compared to the total ROI of a traditional Portal system at 240%.

SIGIA-L Temporarily Down

A special message on behalf of Richard Hill about SIGIA-L:
"We're having a horrendous e-mail problem, one which was not recognized until yesterday afternoon. Basically, no messages we send go anywhere. Messages sent to the lists come here, but no one else gets them." Until this is fixed, the list is not distributing messages to subscribers; stay tuned for updates.

International Institute of Information Design

From Beth Mazur

The International Institute for Information Design,
informationdesign.org and a variety of interested
stakeholders in the ID community are coming together
to increase the relevance and awareness of
Information Design through a variety of
yet-to-be-finalized tactics.

This survey is intended for people interested in
volunteering their time or resources to the
Information Design community, or who want to
suggest other people or organizations that
might participate.

Now while I might disagree with some of the overarching themes coming from some ID folks, I think that overall the intentions of these folks are completely in line with the general user experience community, and wish the Institute all the best.

Audiopad

J. Patten writes in regards to his invention, Audiopad:

It is a composition and performance instrument for electronic music which tracks the positions of objects on a tabletop surface and converts their motion into music. One can pull sounds from a giant set of samples, juxtapose archived recordings against warm synthetic melodies, cut between drum loops to create new beats, and apply digital processing all at the same time on the same table. Audiopad not only allows for spontaneous reinterpretation of musical compositions, but also creates a visual and tactile dialogue between itself, the performer, and the audience.
How people use the Internet Daily

A colleague pointed me to the statistics kept by Pew Internet & American Life on the typical daily activities of Internet users. The data are compiled from market research they publish related to their mission of providing research on the Internet's growth and societal impact. The organization funds original, academic-quality research that explores the impact of the Internet on children, families, communities, the work place, schools, health care and civic/political life.

Amazon Plan to offer full-text search of some non-fiction texts

Very interesting news from Amazon today in an article in the NY Times. The retailer is planning a new full-text searching service called "Look Inside the Book II" that will combine some of the functionalities of a digital library with the retailers' current methods for helping customers find and evaluate products. The full-text service will extend the "Peak inside" service that users get when previewing TOCs, indexes, and sample pages with "Look Inside the Book". I couldn't surmise from the article whether full-text searching would be offered only when viewing a single book or if it would be possible to do full-text searching across a corpus of digitized e-texts.

The new service is being met with some wariness from publishers and authors who worry that the service will make Amazon more like an information service a la ebrary and netLibrary and undoubtedly Amazon will have to do a lot to protect copyright.

Being someone who uses e-text vendors and full-text digital libraries, I think the service could be a boon to the book selling industry. There is no reason that full-text searching of some non-fiction works can be offered without protecting copyright. If brief keyword in context (KWIC) displays of search terms are given to offer some help in filtering out and refining your search without publishing too much information, then how can this hurt publishers? No doubt, some works such as reference books would give away too much in even a brief KWIC display, but surely there must be a way to make this work. I think it's a good step in making the Amazon shopping experience even more valuable. It's amazing that they continue to innovate the experience of buying online.

Information Design: The Understanding Discipline

Information Design: The Understanding Discipline - There is not consensus on exactly what information design is. Definitions of the discipline from stakeholders who associate themselves with the field are consistent only in that they are typically high level, not very concrete and do not offer much in the way of direct practical application.

Kneymeyer makes the "Information Design" as uber-discipline argument in a more polished way than when we first covered the discussion over at IDblog. While I completely agree that there needs to be a vision holder, I really don't think that it's in ID's best interest to claim that. And finally, what Dirk is calling "information design" I think is far better served being called "experience design"...

Usability Heuristics for Rich Internet Applications

Usability Heuristics for Rich Internet Applications - Over the coming months and years, RIAs will move from cutting edge to mainstream. That transformation will accelerate with the Flash and user experience communities working together to understand and develop best practices and shared knowledge.

Grant Skinner and I revisited Nielsen's 10 heuristics and share some thoughts on how they apply to Rich Internet Applications. Currently in the comments the debate largely reflects 2 things - animation, and what makes an RIA different than other apps.