Evidence-based usability guidelines

Tonight I attended a great presentation by the leads on the usability.gov project. (Despite the .gov domain, this is not a government-specific site.)

They really sold me on the use of evidence-based guidelines for making site design decisions. One of the many interesting points: practitioners tend to view their own experience-based usability guidelines as being strongly supported by research-- even if the research isn't there. We can point to research-based guidelines to resolve the inevitable conflicts that arise when many different parties (internal and external) bring differing design experiences to a project.

Currently there are 50 guidelines on the usability.gov site; by the end of this year 200+ will be posted. Awesome.

usability.gov/guidelines

JASIST KM Issue

The TOC for the special Knowledge Management issue of JASIST (JASIST Vol. 53 No. 12) is available.

Persuasive Architecture

That cute little feller over at grokdotcom.com is talking about “Persuasive Architecture,” which he defines as:

Persuasive Architecture ... [is] the aesthetically appealing and functional structure you create to marry the organization of the buying and selling processes with the organization of information. It’s the only way your Web site is actively going to influence, the only way you will pull (never push!) your visitors along the paths they need to walk to accomplish their goals – and yours.

Basically, good IA and good design combined with a sensible business approach will lead you to success. No big news there. They're talking about it over at clickz, too. It's nice to see IA mentioned in the business/marketing press, and, well, especially in a good light.

Knowledge Management: When Bad Things Happen to Good Ideas

Darwin Magazine is running a story on how a good idea –knowledge management– is dragged down by its execution (poor software, poor implementation). A good read to see how your hard work could be totally hijacked by (and is currently getting a bad rep from) a number of peripheral circumstances.

[The address from the link from above: http://www.darwinmag.com/read/040101/badthings_content.html]

New features: email notification, categories, better syndication

Adding a few new features (drupal modules).

Email notification
You can elect to receive email once a day to get notified of new posts (new blog entries and/or comments). Once you are logged in, select notification settings under your user menu in the sidebar.

(NOTE: If you tried to set this up this weekend and got permission errors, please try again. I forgot to set permission attributes. Oops.)

Categories
In case you haven't noticed we've started experimenting with the addition of a flat set of subject headings for each blog entry. Those subject headings are now accessible from the side navigation with indications of how many entries are available in each subject area. Since my blogging has been lighter this year, I plan to go through the old posts and categorize them, deleting dead links as I find them.

RSS syndication by category or user
This is a cool addition. I added the module that lets you syndicate by category or by user. In the syndicate box in the sidebar, select the More link beneath the XML icon to see your syndication options.

XFML
XFML feeds are available in the syndication box. You go, Peter. And thanks, Kristjan for the module.

Google News searches as RSS

This is pretty cool. Julian Bond is providing a way to turn Google News searches into RSS.

The Importance of Being Granular

Roy Tennant has a pretty good article in Library Journal on how granularity affects retrieval and impacts person-hours in Digital Library collections. Don't get turned off by the library lingo. The message is applicable to non-library collections.

Phoenix: Pared down mozilla for windows

Phoenix is sweet. Like Chimera, it's a pared down Mozilla with little of the bloat. You can also use gestures (look in the preferences).

Thanks, webgraphics

The difficulty of categorization

Peter V pointed to Philip C. Murray's KM Connection article, The difficulty of categorization discusses implications of using categorization in the enterprise. In it he, he cite's Bella Hass Weinberg's 1996 article from the ASIS Conference Proceedings, Complexity In Indexing Systems -- Abandonment And Failure: Implications For Organizing The Internet, to bring up the issue of difficulty in classifying documents from a large corpus of data. Weinberg's article discusses the issues in classifying the Internet. Murray's position is that a corporate body's "three ring binder of knowledge" is not a massive data source, so is not necessarily subject to all of the difficulties that Weinberg mentions. He states,

    I also wonder whether classification experts simply cultivate the perception that classification is extremely difficult. Even manual classification can be done quickly, if my experience with professional indexers is any indicator. It's not unusual for a professional indexer to generate a comprehensive, high-quality back-of-the-book index for a new title in less than three weeks.
He goes on to discuss the advantages of faceted knowledge access at a high level. What I find problematic with arguments that state essentially that classification is not so hard is that there are so many variables at play when we're talking about classification of any kind. These variables can include definition of domain, size and scope of the indexable corpus, and specificity of indexing to name just a few. Providing facets of classification is another level of complexity that begs for some definition of guidelines as well.

But I wonder, are most organizations just concerned with indexing a "three ring binder of knowledge" or are they also concerned with indexing all of the published material -- technical documents, memos, press releases, etc. -- of the organization? Are they concerned with indexing at the level of the document or at a more granular level, indexing concepts within the document. There are a lot of high-level articles floating around lately that give lip service to the value of classification. What I'm interested in are those articles that actually discuss the pain of implementing classification processes within large corporations. If you have citations for any good examples/case studies, please share them!

As part of an information services organization in a large corporation, I've seen the great distances my colleagues have had to go to make an enterprise level taxonomy work for our customers, who have been the catalysts and partners in its development and use. Over the 4 years that I've used our taxonomy on the back end as an indexer and as a site developer -- but not as a subject matter expert creating/defining the terms and relationships of the taxonomy -- I have to say that there is not much about classification at the enterprise level that seems very simple to me. It is very clear that representing knowledge (automatic or manual) is never simple to do, and when done right, can never be always right and never serve everyone. Concepts can change, indexers will represent knowledge differently, environmental elements will affect priorities and sometimes shift the language and understanding of your subject matter. It's all very slippery. That being said, however, without classification it is clear that knowledge retrieval is hampered and the bottom line is affected. And I guess that necessitates the need for information professionals and information retrieval systems.

DonnaM's blog

Donna Maurer, and IA from down under, has started an interesting blog where she is capturing thoughts that occur to her as she works through IA, interaction design, and usability problems on the job. I find it can be helpful to remember what I've been thinking while trying to solve problems on a project, and exposing your thought processes in a journal of some sort helps when you have to go back and figure out, "Now why did we label that category such and such 3 months ago?". Good stuff.

Dilbert on interface design

xblog found these. Don't share them with your technology team.

Icons

I have a new set of icons available. I've used these in the recent past for wireframing various interfaces.

EII (Enterprise Information Integration)

InfoWorld has an interesting article about the EII space which is all about aggregating information from disparate systems serving data as XML. The Information Aggregation article talks about EII as the middleware that can cull data from multiple systems and repackage as XML for consumption, for instance in consumer facing applications. The article talks about the key players who are trying to establish a presence in this space.

KM on a budget

(Is KM an allowed topic here?)

Knowledge management has been knocked around in my organization for so long with so little understanding of what KM is. On the one hand, there is the belief that everything that transpires in your business is an archivable knowledge asset -- hard copy ephemera such as scribbles on paper napkins or meeting leave-behinds; verbal ephemera such as telephone conversations, chats with colleagues at conferences or at dinners; electronic documents such as email and binary files. In reality, I haven't seen the promise of a tool that allows you to capture all this transferable knowledge and then share it easily, but have heard the promises from vendors over the last 5 years. As the term recedes from everyday parlance in large right-sizing organizations such as my own, the need for knowledge management is still pressing. Which brings me to the The 99 cent KM solution, David Weinberger's short essay on KM World that proposes that low-budget tools such as email list applications and weblogs will get you far.

I'm tending to agree that these tools may be sufficient for a lot of small organizations. My understanding is that Knowledge Management is about being able to communicate store and retrieve knowledge. KM is tool and technology agnostic. In these tight-budget days, I still hear the term kicked around a lot, but I hear less and less about initiatives to research a technology to support KM. I don't know that the low budget tools are sufficient to support KM for large organizations, but they certainly seem like sufficient for creating some knowledge sharing until the killer KM app arrives, no?

sessions.edu ILU's

Tom found sessions.edu's ILU's, Flash based interactive tools to help in design work. The first ILU available is an fun Flash-based color wheel thing for finding color combinations. They have more ambitious applications planned for diagramming flow and laying out pages. Should be interesting to see how they develop this. Maybe they can integrate their proposed tools to create something similar to Michael Kopcsak's IA visualization prototype.

Thanks, Tom.

Lou's presentations (and we'll respect the deal, Lou)

Lou Rosenfeld has a deal for you - he'll post his presentations on his site, so long as you listen to a plug for his upcoming IA tutorials on the NNGroup tour - one basic, one more advanced. Whether or not you're able to attend, Lou's presentations are a treasure trove of IA goodies.

Scope Creep article at A List Apart

Hal Helms takes on scope creep at ALA. Most interesting is a web-based wireframing tool and a tool for online annotation of prototypes called DevNotes. These both require ColdFusion on the server. (Though Hal mentions a PHP version of the wireframing tool, I couldn't find it).

thanks Scott

Article: Getting from Research to Personas

Cooper's Director of Design Kim Goodwin has an article in the latest UIE newsletter about distilling usable personas from that pile of research data.

Standards for distributed information architecture

The articles in this month's iteration of Digital Web Magazine all focus on standards, and their importance to the present and future of the web. In addition to markup standards like HTML and XML, and presentation standards like CSS, there are formats like SOAP and XML-RPC, which use existing web standards as a basis for communication and transactions between web sites.

However, there is currently no standard for allowing web sites to share data with respect to their categorization, organization, and labeling. Creating standards for distributed information architecture would allow for easier and more effective combination of content, resources, and metadata across sites.

Spirituality and the Architecture of the Web

David Weinberger gets interviewed at spirituality.com (don't look too closely at the name of that site or you'll turn into an oxy-moron) about how the Web is a spiritual thing. One of the more interesting bits quoted here:

Too much information is simply noise. But with 20 billion pages on line, we are waaaay past "too much." Fortunately, we are evolving ways of finding what we need, either through brute force searching, or, most efficiently, by relying on the judgment of people we trust.

That's a powerful idea hidden in there: that Trust is in essence the greatest "search technology" we have.