Archive for October 2005

Getting Across The River

October 28th, 2005 — 10:33am

I can’t take credit for writ­ing this para­ble about the rela­tion­ship of infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture and inter­ac­tion design — that goes to another mem­ber of the IAI — but I can help share it.
A scor­pion who was an Infor­ma­tion Archi­tect and a frog who was an Inter­ac­tion Designer were stand­ing on the bank of a rag­ing river of infor­ma­tion.
“Let’s define the prob­lem” said the IA. “I can’t swim, but I need to get across that river.“
“Well — I can swim” said the ID “I could take you across, but I’m afraid that when we get halfway, you might pull out a Venn Dia­gram and hit me over the head with it.“
“Never!” cried the IA. “Let us brave the river of infor­ma­tion together!“
And so they dived in.
When they were halfway across the river, the IA took a out a wire­frame and stabbed the ID in the back with it.
As they both slowly sank beneath the waves, the ID cried “Why did you do that? Now we’ll both drown!“
Replied the Infor­ma­tion Archi­tect: “Because I was defined that way.“
I think the mes­sage is clear: What truly mat­ters is get­ting across the river. But that can be very hard to see, if your per­spec­tive doesn’t allow it.
Case in point: Spring of 2001, lit­er­ally a week after the bub­ble burst, I was in Vegas with the rest of the Expe­ri­ence Design Group from Zefer. We were in the mid­dle of one of those impos­si­ble to imag­ine now but com­pletely sen­si­ble at the time 150 per­son design group sum­mit meet­ings about the company’s design method­ol­ogy, prac­tice, group struc­ture, etc.
Our IPO had just gone south, very per­ma­nently, but that wouldn’t by clear for sev­eral months. After a mini-rebellion at which we the assem­bled design con­sul­tants voted to skip the summit’s offi­cially sanc­tioned train­ing and dis­cus­sion activ­i­ties in favor of lots of self-organized cross-practice some­thing or other ses­sions, I ended up sit­ting in a room with the rest of the Usabil­ity and IA folks from the other offices.
Who promptly decided to define all the other design spe­cial­i­ties in detail, because doing so was the key to under­stand­ing our own roles. From here we were to move on to item­ize all the tasks and design doc­u­men­ta­tion asso­ci­ated with each dis­ci­pline, and then define the implicit and explicit con­nec­tions to the spe­cific IA deliv­er­ables. In alpha­bet­i­cal order. Using flip charts, white boards, stick­ies, and notepads.
After five min­utes, I went and to see what the Visual Design­ers were doing. They were sit­ting in a cir­cle in a large and quiet room, dis­cussing their favorite exam­ples of good design in prod­ucts, expe­ri­ences, typog­ra­phy, inter­faces; their goal was to help show the value of design prac­tices to clients. Some of them were also prac­tic­ing yoga, though I’m not sure that was related. The over­all expe­ri­ence was quite a bit more — engag­ing. And use­ful / effec­tive / rel­e­vant, espe­cially out­side the bound­aries of the group. The visual design­ers wanted to get across the river, while the IA’s were taken over by the com­plu­sion to be dili­gent infor­ma­tion archi­tects.
Maybe it’s a per­spec­tive difference?

2 comments » | Information Architecture

Tagging Comes To Starbucks

October 25th, 2005 — 7:56pm

Get­ting cof­fee this after­noon, I saw sev­eral pack­ages of tasy look­ing madeleines sit­ting in front of the reg­is­ter at Star­bucks. For the not small num­ber of peo­ple who don’t know that shell shaped pas­tries made with but­ter are called madeleines — not every­one has seen The Trans­porter yet — the pack­age was help­fully labeled “Madeleines”.
Prov­ing that tag­ging as a prac­tice has gone too far, right below the word madeleines, the label offered the words “tasty French pas­try”.
Just in case the cus­tomers look­ing at the clear plas­tic pack­age aren’t capa­ble of cor­rectly iden­ti­fy­ing a pas­try?
Or to sup­port the large pop­u­la­tion who can’t decide for them­selves what qual­i­fies as tasty?

Comment » | Information Architecture

Psychogeography Comes to Central Square

October 17th, 2005 — 8:43am

Art Inter­ac­tive and Glowlab, a local “net­work of psy­cho­geo­g­ra­phers” is using Cen­tral Square as an exhi­bi­tion and inves­ti­ga­tion space for the next nine weeks, con­duct­ing exper­i­ments with laugh­ing bicy­cles, art/clothing made from trash, and other psy­cho­geo­graphic phe­nom­ena.
Wikipedia says, “Psy­cho­geog­ra­phy is “The study of spe­cific effects of the geo­graph­i­cal envi­ron­ment, con­sciously organ­ised or not, on the emo­tions and behav­iour of indi­vid­u­als”, accord­ing to the arti­cle Pre­lim­i­nary Prob­lems in Con­struct­ing a Sit­u­a­tion, in Sit­u­a­tion­niste Inter­na­tionale No. 1 (1958) .“
I first heard the term psy­cho­geog­ra­phy while read­ing J.G. Ballard’s The Ter­mi­nal Beach, Con­crete Island, and Crash. Richard Calder is a more recent exam­ple of a writer work­ing with these ideas. (Note to the curi­ous: Calder’s writ­ings include some *unusual* tastes and fla­vors.) Calder may have optioned one of his nov­els for film pro­duc­tion. Of the mem­bers of the Sit­u­a­tion­ist Inter­na­tional men­tioned by Wikipedia, I’m most fami­lar with Guy Debord’s writ­ings, from quite a few sem­ina ses­sions on media the­ory, cul­tural the­ory, post­mod­ern the­ory.
Regard­less of psychogeography’s ori­gins, all roads lead to the inter­net now: a quick Google query turns up, which links to an essay titled Dada Pho­tomon­tage and Sitemaps that com­pares Dadaist pho­tomon­tages to the fami­lar sitemap. The first two cita­tions in the piece are the Yale Style Guide, and Tufte’s Visu­al­iz­ing Infor­ma­tion.
The cir­cle closes eas­ily, since one of the link threads leads to, where you find a page on [Gen­er­a­tive] Psy­cho­geogr­pahy. Ran­dom note; socialfiction’s ban­ner car­ries ref­er­ences to “cartho­graphic sadism * gab­ber avant-gardism * exper­i­men­tal knowl­edge * DIY urban­ism” — all likely cadi­dates for Amazon’s SIP sta­tis­ti­cally improb­a­ble phrases list­ings. Per­haps most intrigu­ing is “disco social­ism”. Now that might catch on in some pub­lic pol­icy cir­cles that could use a bit of help pick­ing a good back beat…
A quick selec­tion of events that looked inter­est­ing:
6:30PM — 8:30PM: N55 Artist Talk & Din­ner
Hosted with the Cen­ter for Advanced Visual Stud­ies at MIT
Dan­ish artists’ group N55 cre­ates mobile tools and sit­u­a­tions for every­day liv­ing: a work­place, a mod­u­lar boat, a shop, a fac­tory, a clean air machine, a com­mune, and even a per­sonal rocket. Food & Drink pro­vided. NOTE: This event is hosted at CAVS, 265 Mass Ave, 3Fl (Bldg N-52, Rm 390), Cam­bridge MA.
6PM9PM: Glowlab Party!
Hosted by the Boston Soci­ety of Archi­tects. All young artists, design­ers, archi­tects and their friends are invited to enjoy good food and cheer and become a part of a grow­ing net­work of young pro­fes­sion­als who are shap­ing the future of Boston. Free drinks & enter­tain­ment. RSVP to
For those of you with fash­ion incli­na­tions (spurred by watch­ing too much InStyle?)
12PM5PM: DIY Wear­able Chal­lenge
Make an inter­ac­tive out­fit from Cam­bridge trash and dis­carded elec­tron­ics Led by Jonah Brucker-Cohen and Kather­ine Moriwaki.

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OCLC Pilots Socially Constructed Metadata

October 16th, 2005 — 1:22pm

OCLC has caught the socially con­structed meta­data fever. A release on the OCLC site titled “User-contributed con­tent pilot” dis­cusses a pilot pro­gram to allow Open World­Cat users to add pub­licly vis­i­ble meta­data, in the form of reviews and descrip­tive details, to exist­ing records.
This looks the lat­est step in the wave of explo­ration of meth­ods and mod­els for putting socially con­structed meta­data into prac­tice that’s play­ing out in pub­lic. (Is this nec­es­sar­ily done in pub­lic? I’m curi­ous to hear thoughts on how this might be done with closed or cloaked com­mu­ni­ties, like IBM’s intranet).
Broadly, it looks like a wide vari­ety of enti­ties are fol­low­ing the stan­dard new prod­uct or ser­vice devel­op­ment cycle with regards to socially con­structed meta­data. A sim­pli­fied ver­sion of this cycle is:
1. Con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion, tech­nol­ogy devel­op­ment
2. Prod­uct devel­op­ment
3. Intro­duc­tion to mar­ket
4. Mar­ket Accep­tance and growth
5. Ongo­ing Mar­ket as con­ven­tional prod­uct
A quick review of known social book­mark­ing / tag­ging ven­tures dis­trib­uted over a num­ber of orga­ni­za­tions sup­ports the idea that each exper­i­ment is at one of these stages.
Some visu­al­iza­tions of devel­op­ment and pro­to­type cycles are avail­able here, and here.
Where’s it headed? I think we’ll see at least forms forms or appli­ca­tions of socially con­structed meta­data sta­bi­lize and become pub­licly rec­og­nized and accepted in the near future, with more on the way that will sur­prise every­one. Those four are:
1. Fee for ser­vices mod­els, pay­ing for access to pre­mium qual­ity pools of col­lec­tively man­aged infor­ma­tion under pro­fes­sional (paid) edi­to­r­ial cus­tody. OCLC could adopt this model.
2. Non-commercial com­mu­nity dri­ven pools of social knowl­edge. This might be
3. Deploy­ment as an enabler or attribute of other prod­uct / ser­vice mod­els. Flickr is an exam­ple of this per­haps.
4. Pub­licly free but com­mer­cial­ized infor­ma­tion min­ing oper­a­tions, deriv­ing sal­able value from for­mal­iz­ing the seman­tic rela­tion­ships between peo­ple, groups, and infor­ma­tion objects. might fall into this group, or maybe Clouda­li­cious.
5. Some­thing very inno­v­a­tive I will wish I’d thought of when it’s released.
Excerpts from the OCLC release:
“As of Octo­ber 9, 2005, Open World­Cat users are able to add their own con­tent to author­i­ta­tive World­Cat infor­ma­tion about library-held titles. Avail­able under the Details and Reviews tabs, this func­tion­al­ity per­mits those who have located library items through Open World­Cat to return to the inter­face and add eval­u­a­tive con­tent.“
“User-contributed con­tent will help extend the OCLC cat­a­loging coöper­a­tive to include non-cataloging library pro­fes­sion­als and — more impor­tantly — patrons. Their shared par­tic­i­pa­tion in World­Cat con­tent cre­ation and man­age­ment could fos­ter a larger sense of library-centered com­mu­nity and gen­er­ate more inter­est in library resources.”

Comment » | Social Media

Usability Everywhere

October 9th, 2005 — 8:30am

Usabil­ity issues pop up in the strangest places. For exam­ple, Mon­day night, while I was sit­ting in the Lis­bon Tourist Police office, fill­ing out a report on how I’d just been robbed. The offi­cer han­dling my report took a moment to apol­o­gize for how long it took him to com­plete the process. He said, “We have a new inter­net based sys­tem to fill out all the forms, and its very con­fus­ing.” Seems that Accen­ture cre­ated a .net based envi­ron­ment for the Por­tugese police to record assaults on trav­ellers, but they didn’t pay proper atten­tion to user expe­ri­ence and usabil­ity con­cerns. The offi­cers use all the clas­sic workarounds: com­pos­ing text in a word-processor before past­ing it into input fields, post-it notes for short­cuts and pass­words all over the work­sta­tions; and they live in fear of hit­ting the wrong nav­i­ga­tion but­ton and los­ing all their in-progress work.
It’s not as good as get­ting my wal­let back, but it might make a good anec­dote at the next IA cock­tail hour.

2 comments » | Travel, User Experience (UX)

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