Chris Farum takes over Boxes and Arrows... sort of

Former Argonaut Chris Farnum has two great articles in this week's edition of Boxes & Arrows:

The Egreetings article is a case study of a project Chris worked on while at Argus Inc., wonderfully written from a very personal perspective, which talks about problems faced during and after the project was completed. Many of the lessons learned are detailed in the User Testing article, which, among other things, tackles the low fidelity vs. high fidelity prototyping arguement head on.

Jef Raskin setting up open source project

So the author of The Humane Interface, who pedantically claims "there is no such thing as information design"* has set up an open source project that will demonstrate his ideas.

Thanks Slashdot
ps - Jef's site is being slashdotted right now, Tues. July 30, but should recover tomorrow.

*(he's right, for a certain technical definition of information. The linked essay is a chapter from the book Information Design)

Some polar bear goodness

So while I'm impatiently awaiting the release of Information Architecture for the WWW, 2nd ed., I was wandering around O'Reilly's book site and found five sample chapters to whet the appetite. With this, and Christina's, and Jesse's books all coming out over the next few months, I'd better start saving those pennies....

UPA Site Redesign

The Usability Professional's Association is currently redesigning their website. The interesting thing is that they have a redesign journal of sorts that documents the process and many of the deliverables. What interests me most is how "usability professionals" are engaging in IA (not a bad thing)...and it underscores for me how little of the information architecture in the world is actually created by information architects.

Breadcrumbs -- Good or bad?

InfoDesign points us to Website Structural Navigation, a test of the usefulness of breadcrumb navigation. To spoil the ending:

“The impact is clear—navigation bars are good, but more so for advanced users than novice ones. For large websites, they are invaluable.”

While I'm encouraged with the results, something about this study rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it's the problems mentioned at the bottom of this page that seem like they could skew the results. Maybe it's the fact that users are probably more likely to navigate within a small section (i.e. from Fishing > Trout Fishing to Fishing > Carp Fishing to Fishing > Magazines) than jump from one section to something totally different (i.e. High School Cross Country to Fishing). Maybe it's the fact that breadcrumbs never stand alone, and work best in conjunction with other links. (In the Yahoo example, the bolded Yahoo! Sports link is much more prominent than the breadcrumbs, and I'd be willing to wager that, even when the breadcrumbs appeared, more people would select the Yahoo! Sports link than the Home > Recreation > Sports link.)

So, though the results will provide “proof” for those who seek to back up their belief that breadcrumbs are useful, there are enough flaws for the anti-breadcrumb lobby to jump on.

Serving suggestion: With grain of salt.

SURL Usability News, July 2002

From Wichita (Kansas, USA) State University comes the newest edition of Usability News, a publication of the Software Usability Research Laboratory.

There are a number of good articles (here's the list of all of them), but the two most IA-related are:

Also, buried in their easy-print version is a link to Optimal Web Design, which is FAQ of sorts, listing the questions most commonly asked about designing usable websites along with answers that draw on their body of research. It's like a power shake made with a dash of Jakob, a pinch of the Yale Style Guide, and several heaping scoops of SURL research and common knowledge, useful for short but thorough answers to major questions.

Facet analytical theory (FAT)

From SIGCR-L (last one before I leave):

A new research project at University College London (U.K.) - 'Facet Analytical Theory for Knowledge Structure in Humanities'

Facet analytical theory (FAT) is a novel method of indexing which deals with individual simple terms. It builds up a map of subjects "bottom-up" by clustering terms in a systematic way, rather than as a linear sequence. This research project will investigate the potential role of FAT in the development of the knowledge structure of multi-dimensional networks of subject terms for use with digital collections.

The project goal is to explore the use of a faceted vocabulary in a
joint humanities portal between two U.K. humanities gateways: AHDS and Humbul.

The source for building this vocabulary will be classifications such as BC2, BSO and UDC, and thesauri (e.g. AAT, HASSET etc.). The vocabulary will be maintained as a standalone authority file with entirely machine processable data and will be integrated into the portal architecture. It will support both browsing and retrieval across heterogeneous AHDS and Humbul resources.

Endeca

This has been mentioned on peterme, but not here, so I thought I'd say a little something about it.

I got a card in the mail yesterday extolling the benefits of Endeca and their “Guided Navigation (SM).” Sounded like another company coming up with a proprietary term for a common technique. And, well, basically, it is.

“Guided Navigation (SM)” is faceted classification. They clean it up a bit, expose the facets in an intelligent way, and have an integrated search, but don't let their service marked slogan make you think they've invented something new.

What they do have, however, is probably the best explanation of faceted classification I've seen, and since many have mentioned the need for a simple FC example/tutorial (CrocoLyle, Parallax), I thought it was relevant. If you already understand FC and can explain it well to others, well, this is probably old news to you.

Their Flash demo with narration (also available without narration) is an easy-to-understand description of FC, applicable for developers, IAs, and business people, and it'd probably even pass the mom test too. (It's also a great example of a good use of Flash.)

I'll probably use the demo because it explains faceted classification at a high level better than I can, but I'll make sure to mention that the idea certainly is not proprietary, and there are other technologies and systems (i.e. FacetMap, Flamenco) that can do the same thing.

Search:

Look Before You Ask by David Wertheimer talks search on Digital Web Magazine:

    "Let search remain to maximize your site's usability, but tone down its presentation just enough to encourage a click or two. The goal is not to eliminate search as an option, but to expose the audience to an alternate, and possibly superior, mode of site navigation."
Sad state of online car- and mortgage-buying services

According to this article The Disintermediation Blues On the sad state of online car- and mortgage-buying services "Back when the dot-com boom was peaking, there was a lot of talk about how online services would blow away their anachronistic bricks-and-mortar competitors. Some of that has happened. Amazon.com, for example, has played a key role in forcing many local bookstores to close up shop. But many other targeted lines of business have been far less successful. The missing ingredients in many of those areas are top executives who understand the human, rather than the technical, factors required for success."

Burn out...

Time for a rant (everyone else with a blog does it). I don't know about other people, but I've been feeling really burned out lately. Tired of keeping up -- I abandoned reading SIGIA-L a few months ago, although I still receive the mail. Here's what my SIGIA-L folder looks like in Entourage:

    sigia (2152)
Seriously. It's becoming an internal joke for me. Since I have it filtered, I never have to look at it, so it goes unread while I spend more time reading papers and articles. Where is this heading? I am getting tired of keeping up with IA at the moment. It's getting boring/tedious. Anyone else ever feel that way? It takes so much energy to investigate and try to understand things like computer science and what's happening with ontologies, topic maps, etc. This is the problem with being a generalist and trying to have your hand in so many things -- at least in trying to understand so many things.

Where I'm headed at the moment is taking a pragmatic approach to professional development. I was thinking of maybe taking a class in the fall to learn how to properly program in C (rather than just hacking Perl and PHP). Maybe focussing more on learning computer science aspects of information organization and retrieval and not spending so much time on learning more about creative design, interaction design, usabilty. Hell, I even entertained fantasies at one point before returning to Lucent of learning to become a woodworker -- something more tangible than dealing with computers, code and information. But I'm an information organizer by nature so I decided not to start over, but to focus on smaller pieces of the profession.

I think what is happening is that I'm getting intellectually fried. I have been working on a content inventory for a digital library collection, which we are now using to view the corpus of data we warehouse in order to conceptualize ways of providing access. It has been challenging and mind numbing and has left me wanting not to have to think about information organization at all.

So I don't know. Maybe it's just the NYC humidity softening my brain. I wish someone could give me something to inspire me to choose or not to choose a professional path. If it were possible, I think I'd do very well as a full-time stay-at-home-dad. :)

Ontologies come of age

[Note to self] Read Deborah L. McGuinness' Ontologies Come of Age, which Victor pointed to this week.

Amazon Light

Amazon Light is a Googlesque search interface using Amazon Web Services. Nice.

Thanks, Matt

In Defense of Search

Peter Morville takes Jared Spool to task on Spool's advice to keep users from using search because it stinks.

[T]o encourage taxonomy design at the expense of search system design is a bad message to be sending in today's web environment.

In the article in Digital Web, Peter says corporations do not invest enough in developing search systems. Peter has noticed in his engagements that corporations are spending lots of money on taxonomy and not enough on search. This is due in part because taxonomy is all the rage, but maybe also because people like Jared are panning search.

MacWorld NYC: Jakob look-alikes, Jaguar, Six degrees, Omni

Went to MacWorld, New York. Was not too exciting. Lots of the Windows Switch ads around town. The most amusing thing was that I saw Andy Ihnatko chatting with someone, sporting a leather cowboy hat. Funny. When I first spotted him quickly, I thought to myself, "Is that Jakob Nielsen". Then when I got closer I realized it was Ihnatko and thought again, "No, that's just what Jakob Nielsen would look like if he were a tad cooler."

Anyway back to the Mac. The Jaguar OS X was very nice. Don't want to regurgitate what you probably already know or can easily learn from Apple's OS X page. From an interface perspective I was pleased with Sherlock, which brings some of Watson's functionality into the core OS, and with new features of the finder. A search box is now built into the finder, spring loaded folders are back, and I saw someone demo a Find/Replace feature that I think was doing batchrenaming of files. Can't confirm that one.

Also saw a demo of Creo's Six Degrees, an application which is supposed to help you search through email, files and contacts to find related data. It looked promising, but I'm not sure it delivers the power to really connect related data. Have to play with it some more to verify. It sounds great for navigating project data on your machine.

Lastly I saw Omni Group's little table and watched someone demo OmniGraffle for kicks. Was amused when the demoer was scrolling through the palettes, saw "Garret IA" and said, "I have no idea what that is." I thought to myself, of course you don't, why would you. So I let him know that it was a shape library for Information Architecture diagramming. "Oh, OK," he replied and kept demoing. He probably still has no idea what it's for.

Information architecture concepts

New to me is this IBM developerWorks article "Information architecture concepts: Misconceptions expained" by Thomas Myer which aims at educating web developers about IA's and their role in the development of team-designed web sites.

An information architect is a vital member of a Web development team, playing a critical role in how content is organized on a Web site. This article seeks to clear up some of the misconceptions about information architecture and help define the role an information architect plays in Web site development.

Thanks, Digital Web

Improving Usability with a Website Index

The librarian (can I say that?) in me is pleased with Fred Liese's article in B&A on using indexes (the alphanumeric kind) on websites.

Using HTML for Early UI Prototyping

Joshua and Lucian pointed to this 4-5 step methodology for using HTML to create basic UI prototypes.

Proving Ground for Taxonomy & Information Architecture

Delphi Group is offering this seminar on taxonomy and IA. Not sure if this if of interest to anyone or even if it's worth attending a seminar offered by a market research company, but it may interest your clients, perhaps, if you are selling them on taxonomies.

Presenters include Carl Frappaolo and Mark Tucker, who have both written in the popular business media.

Minimalist Web Project

I am a big fan of minimalism in art and design. The Minimalist Web Project is an attempt to collect a list of sites designed with minimalism in mind. I'm a big fan of sites like those of agencies Method and Fourm. Simplicity lets content and functionality speak loudest I guess.

Joshua Kaufman has started an excellent discussion on the topic of minimalism vs. simplicity here on iaslash and on his blog. Nathan Shedroff's comments to Adam Greenfield about clarity over simplification are also interesting to read.