Comparing left- and right-justified site navigation menus

A comparison between left- and right-justified site navigation menus - James Kalbach and Tim Bosenick have published the results of recent usability testing on the location of navigation menus.

The punchline is that there was no significant difference in task time between the two conditions. They conclude that we should rethink our devotion to left hand menus. I disagree - when there's no significance performance difference, then user expectations, de facto standards, and project goals should guide these decisions. I think that still leaves left-hand menus with the upper hand. (thanks Column Two)

Advertising: A Cry for Usability

Advertising: A Cry for Usability - Advertising is frequently interruption-based, posing a serious usability flaw. It's very obvious on the Web as pop-up ads, audio, animation, Flash ads, and exit pops make the Internet increasingly difficult to navigate and use, and its content increasingly difficult to read.

I find the idea of usable advertising interesting - there seems to be a fundamental conflict between an advertiser's goals and a user's goals. But since advertising supports the service, the overall value is greatest when the two can be aligned. ( thanks Other Blog )

One title to rule them all, one title to bind them....

Well, over on Beth Mazur's IDblog Dirk Knemeyer suggests that information design should assume a director role over all the other disciplines in a project and that IA isn't a discipline, but a tactical practice. Hope he wore asbestos undies ;-)

Seriously, I'm not sure that one can argue for ID, IA, or interaction design as the 'director' without also making the case for the other two disciplines. Experience Architecture or Design seems a better fit for said director role. I've said more to that effect in the comments on Beth's blog.

(thanks Gunnar)

IT & Society special issue on Web Navigation

On SIGIA, Dick Hill points out this journal. Edited by Ben Schneiderman, the Winter Issue of IT & Society was dedicated to Web Navigation and contains articles ranging from user frustration, to PDAs, to browser design.

Introduction to social software

Lee Bryant has compiled a fantastic introduction to social software: Smarter, Simpler, Social.

Social Software is reaching early stage critical meme mass, and is sure to be fueled by the current Etech conference being blogged right now. One thing I've noticed is that there aren't that many connectors between the social software community and the user experience community. This strikes me as a bit odd, since social software is all about the user's experience. Maybe I'm wrong and those connections are prevalent, but so far I haven't seen a lot of them.

Matt Jones has discussed social software. Lou and Peter wanted to put more social things in Polar Bear 2. Many IAs blog. My point isn't that UX people aren't interested in socialware, but that socialware folks don't seem to be reaching out to UX. Last week, in a small group of social software developers, someone said "I think we have pretty much all the major players here" which totally blew me away.

Building a Metadata-Based Website

From Boxes and Arrows: Building a Metadata-Based Website - The online world has been flooded in recent years with talk of metadata, structured authoring, and cascading style sheets. The idea of a semantic web is gaining momentum. At the confluence of these two broad categories of activity, new models of websites are emerging.

Brett Lider's talk at the Summit was great - now folks who couldn't make it can see the early horizon for next-generation CMS.

IA Tools - The Comic Book Edition

Dan Willis has done a great job distilling core IA tools into 1 page explanations complete with quirky characters. Fun, and hopefully useful in explaining what IAs can offer.

Data visualization through facets

Pointed out by Steve Mulder on SIGIA: Iokio has a demo of a product selection tool that uses different facets to choose a digital camera. Sliders allow the user to adjust cost, weight, and resolution with real time feedback on available models. Thanks to Joe, who discovered a direct link to their Camera Finder Demo.

Trust By Design

Peter Morville tackles the credibility issue with his usual flair.

Since Studio Archtype and Cheskin released the first large online trust study in early 1999, I've been interested in trust, and particularly the propagation of credibility through social networks and word of mouth. While BJ Fogg has released research that includes whether or not a friend recommends a site, I have yet to see anything that addresses resonance effects within social networks. If two separate friends recommend a site, I'm more likely to visit. Whether it's word of mouth or RSS feeds, personal recommendations from people I trust are my biggest credibility factor, and I don't see credibility research addressing that as much as it could.

The collected resources in the 'see also' sidebar with Peter's article are a goldmine of recent thinking - I'll have to dig and see if there's much about resonance there.

Paper prototyping discussion

In case you missed it, author Carolyn Snyder has weighed in on Keith Instone's earlier paper prototyping post about her book and paper prototyping in general. The discussion is well worth a read. Thanks for stopping in Carolyn! :)

History of Semantic Networks

Matt Webb points to this great paper describing 6 different types of semantic networks. Applicable to the ontologists among us, semantic networks also make great diagram fodder. Not sure what a semantic network is?

A semantic network or net is a graphic notation for representing knowledge in patterns of interconnected nodes and arcs. Computer implementations of semantic networks were first developed for artificial intelligence and machine translation, but earlier versions have long been used in philosophy, psychology, and linguistics.

What is common to all semantic networks is a declarative graphic representation that can be used either to represent knowledge or to support automated systems for reasoning about knowledge.

Poynter Online: The Art of Explanation

Poynter has started a site to show infographics created by journalists covering the war. Much as I dislike the subject matter and war in general, the idea of getting the designers and journalists to explain how they developed the infographics is a great educational tool. More about the site:

The Art of Explanation showcases the efforts of visual journalists as they help readers find clarity. This is a place to share ideas and processes to improve the credibility and necessity of information graphics.

Alertbox: Low-End Media for User Empowerment

The April 21 Alertbox is about keeping it simple - not a simple user interface, but simple media for the content.

In short, the fancy audio and videos are not worth the effort.

This reminds me of the old-time Alertboxes - nothing too surprising, but good to keep this article handy so that I can reference it the next time someone gets gung-ho on the rich media.

K-Logging: Supporting KM with Weblogs

I wrote an article in Library Journal that may interest some ia/ readers. Here's the abstract from Ebsco:

Discusses a type of weblogging called knowledge
logging or k-logging. Information that can easily be put onto web sites; Organizations that can communicate knowledge easily with K-logs; Software that can be used for k-logging; Librarians who should provide content, share knowledge, and provide access.

Alertbox: Paper Prototyping

I pretty much agree with Jakob's April Alertbox Paper Prototyping: Getting User Data Before You Code: paper prototyping is not used as often as it should be.

I think the reasons center on fear factors -


  • People are afraid to talk directly with users, especially "naked" like this - it is much easier to have some technology between you and users
  • Some designers are afraid of the unpolished look - if the design is not 100% complete visually, they are afraid the results will be tainted.
  • Some are afraid of losing the online context, that you lose something without the user's hand on a mouse.

While losing context does happen with paper, it is generally OK to lose that for initial designs. With paper, people do see it as a more informal design and give better feedback overall.

And when you use the paper format to your advantage and let users really get creative, creating parts of the own designs on the fly, then you really get to see the benefits. You can do so many more things with paper designs - so much more than just measuring completion times and gathering opinions.

I have not read Carolyn's book yet - but I did scan it at CHI. I hope that one of her messages goes beyond Jakob's "earlier is better" article - for some design tasks, paper is just plain better than building anything with code.


This is a first in a new series for ia/ - "beat reporters" who watch an area and blog it. I volunteered to "beat Alertbox" so I will be adding my own comments to Jakob's articles.


Keith


PS I have very little association with Morgan Kaufmann - I have reviewed some proposals for them, and I eat their desserts at CHI every year, but that is all.

MetaMap

MetaMap is an interesting visualization of metadata initiatives.

With the exponential development of the World Wide Web, there are so many metadata initiatives, so many organisations involved, and so many new standards that it's hard to get our bearings in this new environment.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the names of most of these new standards are represented by acronyms. The MetaMap exists to help gather in one place information about these metadata initiatives, to try to show relationships among them, and to connect them with the various players involved in their creation and use.

The MetaMap takes the form of a subway map, using the metaphor of helping users navigate in "metaspace", the environment of metadata.

Thanks, Catalogablog (David Bigwood)

IA is like...Dating!

Keith Instone pointed me to this great poster from CHI:
Dating Example for Information Architecture. Clever, humorous, and good for explaining IA to people who have no idea what a sitemap is, but have bought or received a dozen roses.

There's also a short write-up of the piece (280kb PDF) that Keith sent by email. If you know where the "official" location of the write-up is, please let me know in the comments.

Forrester on Yahoo! and directions in search space

Forrester weighs in on Yahoo!s new search features (account required) claiming that a new emphasis on user experience will give search engine leaders a competitive advantage. Forrester likes the new Yahoo! for its streamlined (more Google-like) search entry page, cleaner and easier to read search results and use of text ads over banners. The market research company makes a few suggestions to the top search engines to put their results in context and add to the user experience:

  • Yahoo! should use its directory to package and filter results. -- They're basically suggesting that the company use its taxonomy across Yahoo! news, financials, services, etc. to create "More like this" linkage between content.
  • Google should dynamically cluster its high-quality results. -- This seems a no-brainer. I think Northern Light must have used clustering. Teoma does. Information professionals see advantage in it, but somehow Google hasn't done it in search results. Forrester suggests that they consider clustering functionalities similar to what Vivisimo offers.
  • Overture should optimize for specialized searches. -- This is an interesting suggestion. Forrester suggests that Overture might consider uses taxonomies in subject areas that have broad appeal, but limited scope, such as "Perosonal Health" by partnering with builders of taxonomies and ontologies.
  • MSN should research users to support the richer search scenario. Seems like they suggest that MSN invest in user research to invent their future because they have the dollars to do so. It doesn't make predictions for how MS N can innovate this space.
Piles of documents

Some interesting speculation on Mac Rumors about Apple integrating a finder feature called Piles that creates a finder metaphor based on the physical act of viewing/sifting through a pile of documents on a desktop in meatspace. Here's a description from an earlier Tog article.

Apple holds a patent on this one. Developed by Gitta Salomon and her team close to a decade ago, a pile is a loose grouping of documents. Its visual representation is an overlay of all the documents within the pile, one on top of the other, rotated to varying degrees. In other words, a pile on the desktop looked just like a pile on your real desktop.

To view the documents within the pile, you clicked on the top of the pile and drew the mouse up the screen. As you did so, one document after another would appear as a thumbnail next to the pile. When you found the one you were looking for, you would release the mouse and the current document would open.

Piles, unlike today's folders, gave you a lot of hints as to their contents. You could judge the number of documents in the pile by its height. You could judge its composition very rapidly by pulling through it.

Teaching taxonomies: a hands-on approach

If you happen to have a Montague Institute membership, you might want to check out this article (full text with screenshots only available to members) discussing how to get a diverse team of professionals thinking about taxonomies. The full article features some excellent examples from their learning lab that show how taxonomies can be utilized in enterprise applications, e.g. email, contacts, document management, taxonomy management. Their taxonomy administration UI and user-facing UI are excellent examples. If you attend one of their sessions, apparently, you get to work with the apps in the learning lab.