Archive for the ‘Users’ Category

Guidelines for Effective Collaboration – (anything over 1 is poor use of others)

Sunday, March 13th, 2016

Guidelines for Effective Collaboration by

From the webpage:

We are a remote team, therefore effective communication is one of the most important foundations on which we build our technology and our company. Below you will find a thorough guide to enable your work and empower your teammates to get their stuff done, while keeping interruptions to a minimum. These guidelines apply to Ride employees and consultants who work under the Engineering Team.

Before you scan these and nod in agreement, take out a pencil and make a tick for each of the first seven suggestions you have followed before asking others for help in the last week.


Here’s the equation for each request for help:

7/your-tick-count = (anything over 1 is poor use of others)

Now destroy the written evidence and try to do better this week.

The First Time A User Tests Your Product

Saturday, March 12th, 2016

Two humorous reminders that design and user testing should go hand in hand.


…but not if they have to do anything

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

Americans want to be safer online – but not if they have to do anything by Bill Camarda.

From the post:

In the wake of non-stop news about identity theft, malware, ransomware, and all manner of information security catastrophes, Americans have educated themselves and are fully leveraging today’s powerful technologies to keep themselves safe… not.

While 67% told Morar Consulting they “would like extra layers of privacy,” far fewer use the technological tools now available to them. That’s the top-line finding of a brand-new survey of 2,000 consumers by Morar on behalf of the worldwide VPN provider “Hide My Ass!”

A key related finding: 63% of survey respondents have encountered online security issues. But, among the folks who’ve been bitten, just 56% have permanently changed their online behavior afterwards. (If you don’t learn the “hard way,” when do you learn?)

According to Morar, there’s still an odd disconnect between the way some people protect themselves offline and what they’re willing to do on the web. 51% of respondents would publicly post their email addresses, 26% their home addresses, and 21% their personal phone numbers.

Does this result surprise you?

If not:

How should we judge projects/solutions that presume conscious effort by users to:

  • Encode data (think linked data and topic maps)
  • Create maps between data sets
  • Create data in formats not their own
  • Use data vocabularies not their own
  • Use software not their own
  • Improve search results
  • etc.

I mention “search results” as it is commonly admitted that search results are, at best, a pig’s breakfast. The amount of improvement possible over current search results is too large to even be guesstimated.

Rather than beat the dead horse, “…users ought to…,” yes, they should, but they don’t, it is better to ask “Now what?”

Why not try metrics?

Monitor user interactions with information and test systems to anticipate those needs. Both are measurable categories.

Consider that back in the day, indexes never indexed everything. Magazine indexes omitted ads for example. Could have been indexed but indexing ads didn’t offer enough return for the effort required.

Why not apply that model to modern information systems? Yes, we can create linked data or other representations for everything in every post, but if no one uses 90% of that encoding, we have spent a lot of money for very little gain.

Yes, that means we will be discriminating against less often cited authors, for example. And your point?

The preservation of the Greek literature discriminated against authors whose work wasn’t important enough for someone to invest in preserving it.

Of course, we may not lose data in quite the same way but if it can’t be found, isn’t that the same a being lost?

Let’s apply metrics to information retrieval and determine what return justifies the investment to make information easily available.

Consign/condemn the rest of it to search.

All Talk and No Buttons: The Conversational UI

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

All Talk and No Buttons: The Conversational UI by Matty Mariansky.

From the post:

We’re witnessing an explosion of applications that no longer have a graphical user interface (GUI). They’ve actually been around for a while, but they’ve only recently started spreading into the mainstream. They are called bots, virtual assistants, invisible apps. They can run on Slack, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, plain SMS, or Amazon Echo. They can be entirely driven by artificial intelligence, or there can be a human behind the curtain.

Not to put too sharp a point on it but they used to be called sales associates or sales clerks, if you imagine a human being behind the curtain.

Since they are no longer visible in distinctive clothing, you have the task of creating a UI that isn’t quite as full bandwidth as human to human proximity but still useful.

A two part series that will have you thinking more seriously about what a conversational UI might look like.


Can Good Web Design Create Joyful User Experiences? [Is Friction Good for the Soul?]

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

Can Good Web Design Create Joyful User Experiences? by Daniel O’Neil.

From the post:

The next revolution in web design is Joy.

Karen Holtzblatt, who is one of the creators of modern interaction design, argues that the discussion about interaction design needs to change to focus more on the idea of “Joy,”—for want of a better word—both in life and in use.

What does this look like for users of sites? Well, in short, the fundamental role of website and app designers is to help users avoid doing anything hard at all.

And yet we don’t always want things to be easy; in fact if everything is easy, the sense of accomplishment in life can be lost. Jesse Schell recently gave a talk called “Lessons in Game Design” that explores this idea. In Schell’s talk, he gives a lot of examples of people who seek out—in fact, expect—challenges in their gaming experience, even if they were not easy. Schell argues that many games cannot be good unless such challenges exist, largely because games need to appeal to the core facets of self-determination theory.

I am quite intrigued by the discussion of “friction:”

The first concept is friction. Any effort we take as human beings involves specific steps, be they throwing off the covers when we wake up to browsing a website. The feeling of fulfillment is in the stated goal or objective at that moment in time. When there is friction in the steps to achieve that goal, the effort to accomplish it increases it, but more importantly the steps are a distraction from the specific accomplishment. If, for example, I wanted to drive somewhere but I had to scrape ice off my windshield first, I would be experiencing friction. The step distracts from the objective.

Recalling Steve Newcomb’s metaphor of semantic friction between universes of discourse.

The post goes on to point out that some “friction” may not be viewed as an impediment. Can be an impediment but a particular user may not see it that way.

Makes me wonder if information systems (think large search engines and their equally inept cousins, both electronic and paper) are inefficient and generate friction on purpose?

To give their users a sense of accomplishment by wrangling a sensible answer from a complex (to an outsider) data set.

I haven’t done any due diligence on that notion but it is something I will try to follow up on.

Perhaps topic maps need to reduce “semantic friction” gradually or only in some cases. Make sure that users still feel like they are accomplishing something.

Would enabling users to contribute to a mapping or “tweeting” results to co-workers generate a sense of accomplishment? Hard to say without testing.

Certainly broadens software design parameters beyond not failing and/or becoming a software pestilence like Adobe Flash.

How Rdio Onboards New Users

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

How Rdio Onboards New Users

User Onboarding does a teardown of Rdio, a highly successful music streaming site.

Highly successful does not equal perfect onboarding!

Interesting exercise to duplicate with your web/application interface.

UX Directory

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

UX Directory

Two Hundred and six (206) resources listed under the following categories:

  • A/B Testing
  • Blogroll
  • Design Evaluation Tools
  • Dummy Text Generators
  • Find Users to Test
  • Gamification Companies
  • Heatmaps / Mouse Tracking Tools
  • Information Architecture Creation Tools
  • Information Architecture Evaluation Tools
  • Live Chat Support Tools
  • Marketing Automation Tools
  • Mobile Prototyping
  • Mockup User Testing
  • Multi-Use UX Tools
  • Screen Capture Tools
  • Synthetic Eye-Tracking Tools
  • User Testing Companies
  • UX Agencies / Consultants
  • UX Survey Tools
  • Web Analytics Tools
  • Webinar / Web Conference Platforms
  • Wirefram/Mockup Tools

If you have a new resource that should be on this list, contact

I first saw this in Nat Torkington’s Four short links: 28 October 2014.

User Onboarding

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

User Onboarding by Samuel Hulick.

From the webpage:

Want to see how popular web apps handle their signup experiences? Here’s every one I’ve ever reviewed, in one handy list.

I have substantially altered Samuel’s presentation to fit the list onto one screen and to open new tabs, enabling quick comparison of onboarding experiences.

Asana iOS Instagram OkCupid Slingshot
Basecamp InVision Optimizely Snapchat
Buffer LessAccounting Pinterest Trello
Evernote LiveChat Pocket Tumblr
Foursquare Mailbox for Mac Quora Twitter
GetResponse Meetup Shopify Vimeo
Gmail Netflix Slack WhatsApp

Writers become better by reading good writers.

Non-random good onboarding comes from studying previous good onboarding.


I first saw this in a tweet by Jason Ziccardi.

Information Aversion

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Information Aversion by John Baez.


Why do ostriches stick their heads under the sand when they’re scared?

They don’t. So why do people say they do? A Roman named Pliny the Elder might be partially to blame. He wrote that ostriches “imagine, when they have thrust their head and neck into a bush, that the whole of their body is concealed.”

That would be silly—birds aren’t that dumb. But people will actually pay to avoid learning unpleasant facts. It seems irrational to avoid information that could be useful. But people do it. It’s called information aversion.

John reports on an interesting experiment where people really did pay to avoid learning information (about themselves).

Do you think this extends to learning unpleasant information about their present IT software or practices?


Sunday, August 17th, 2014

AverageExplorer: Interactive Exploration and Alignment of Visual Data Collections, Jun-Yan Zhu, Yong Jae Lee, and Alexei Efros.


This paper proposes an interactive framework that allows a user to rapidly explore and visualize a large image collection using the medium of average images. Average images have been gaining popularity as means of artistic expression and data visualization, but the creation of compelling examples is a surprisingly laborious and manual process. Our interactive, real-time system provides a way to summarize large amounts of visual data by weighted average(s) of an image collection, with the weights reflecting user-indicated importance. The aim is to capture not just the mean of the distribution, but a set of modes discovered via interactive exploration. We pose this exploration in terms of a user interactively “editing” the average image using various types of strokes, brushes and warps, similar to a normal image editor, with each user interaction providing a new constraint to update the average. New weighted averages can be spawned and edited either individually or jointly. Together, these tools allow the user to simultaneously perform two fundamental operations on visual data: user-guided clustering and user-guided alignment, within the same framework. We show that our system is useful for various computer vision and graphics applications.

Applying averaging to images, particularly in an interactive context with users, seems like a very suitable strategy.

What would it look like to have interactive merging of proxies based on data ranges controlled by the user?

User Experience Research at Scale

Monday, August 4th, 2014

User Experience Research at Scale by Nick Cawthon.

From the post:

An important part of any user experience department should be a consistent outreach effort to users both familiar and unfamiliar. Yet, it is hard to both establish and sustain a continued voice amongst the business of our schedules.

Recruiting, screening, and scheduling daily or weekly one-on-one walkthroughs can be daunting for someone in a small department having more than just user research responsibilities, and the investment of time eventually outweighs the returns as both the number of participants and size of the company grow.

This article is targeted at user experience practitioners at small- to mid-size companies who want to incorporate a component of user research into their workflow.

It first outlines a point of advocacy around why it is important to build user research into a company’s ethos from the very start and states why relying upon standard analytics packages are not enough. The article then addresses some of the challenges around being able to automate, scale, document, and share these efforts as your user base (hopefully) increases.

Finally, the article goes on to propose a methodology that allows for an adjustable balance between a department’s user research and product design and highlights the evolution of trends, best practices, and common avoidances found within the user research industry, especially as they relate to SaaS-based products.

If you have an interest in producing products/services that meet users’ needs, i.e., the kind of products or services that sell, this is an article for you.

How To Design A Great User Interface

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

How To Design A Great User Interface

From the post:

The goal and only purpose of a user interface (UI), as the name implies, is to create an experience for the user.

Many automated solutions exist to make UI design simpler and faster; however, the designer must understand some basic rules of how to design a user interface. Because the focus is centered on the potential user, the user’s needs must primarily drive all design choices.

What are the needs of the user?

  • To accomplish the task with relative ease
  • To complete the task quickly
  • To enjoy the experience

The single most important characteristic of the UI is that it has to work well and work consistently. Secondly, the UI must carry out commands and respond quickly and intuitively. Lastly, but still very important the user interface should be visually appealing to the user.

Projects like Egas may give you a boost in the right direction for a topic map authoring/navigation interface but you are going to be ultimately responsible for your own design.

This post and the related ones will give you an opportunity to understand some of the primary issues you will face in creating a great user interface.

If you have no other take away from this post, notice that “impressing the user with how you view the paradigm” isn’t one of the goals of a great user interface.

A language for search and discovery

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

A language for search and discovery by Tony Russell-Rose.


In order to design better search experiences, we need to understand the complexities of human information-seeking behaviour. In this paper, we propose a model of information behaviour based on the needs of users across a range of search and discovery scenarios. The model consists of a set of modes that users employ to satisfy their information goals.

We discuss how these modes relate to existing models of human information seeking behaviour, and identify areas where they differ. We then examine how they can be applied in the design of interactive systems, and present examples where individual modes have been implemented in interesting or novel ways. Finally, we consider the ways in which modes combine to form distinct chains or patterns of behaviour, and explore the use of such patterns both as an analytical tool for understanding information behaviour and as a generative tool for designing search and discovery experiences.

Tony’s post is also available as a pdf file.

A deeply interesting paper but consider the evidence that underlies it:

The scenarios were collected as part of a series of requirements workshops involving stakeholders and customer-facing staff from various client organisations. A proportion of these engagements focused on consumer-oriented site search applications (resulting in 277 scenarios) and the remainder on enterprise search applications (104 scenarios).

The scenarios were generated by participants in breakout sessions and subsequently moderated by the workshop facilitator in a group session to maximise consistency and minimise redundancy or ambiguity. They were also prioritised by the group to identify those that represented the highest value both to the end user and to the client organisation.

This data possesses a number of unique properties. In previous studies of information seeking behaviour (e.g. [5], [10]), the primary source of data has traditionally been interview transcripts that provide an indirect, verbal account of end user information behaviours. By contrast, the current data source represents a self-reported account of information needs, generated directly by end users (although a proportion were captured via proxy, e.g. through customer facing staff speaking on behalf of the end users). This change of perspective means that instead of using information behaviours to infer information needs and design insights, we can adopt the converse approach and use the stated needs to infer information behaviours and the interactions required to support them.

Moreover, the scope and focus of these scenarios represents a further point of differentiation. In previous studies, (e.g. [8]), measures have been taken to address the limitations of using interview data by combining it with direct observation of information seeking behaviour in naturalistic settings. However, the behaviours that this approach reveals are still bounded by the functionality currently offered by existing systems and working practices, and as such do not reflect the full range of aspirational or unmet user needs encompassed by the data in this study.

Finally, the data is unique in that is constitutes a genuine practitioner-oriented deliverable, generated expressly for the purpose of designing and delivering commercial search applications. As such, it reflects a degree of realism and authenticity that interview data or other research-based interventions might struggle to replicate.

It’s not a bad thing to use data from commercial engagements for research and is certainly better than usability studies based on 10 to 12 undergraduates, two of whom did not complete the study. 😉

However, I would be very careful about trying to generalize from a self-selected group even for commercial search, much less the fuller diversity of other search scenarios.

On the other hand, the care with which the data was analyzed makes it an excellent data point against which to compare other data points, hopefully with more diverse populations.

Targeting Phishing Victims

Friday, July 26th, 2013

Profile of Likely E-mail Phishing Victims Emerges in Human Factors/Ergonomics Research

From the webpage:

The author of a paper to be presented at the upcoming 2013 International Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting has described behavioral, cognitive, and perceptual attributes of e-mail users who are vulnerable to phishing attacks. Phishing is the use of fraudulent e-mail correspondence to obtain passwords and credit card information, or to send viruses.

In “Keeping Up With the Joneses: Assessing Phishing Susceptibility in an E-mail Task,” Kyung Wha Hong, Christopher M. Kelley, Rucha Tembe, Emergson Murphy-Hill, and Christopher B. Mayhorn, discovered that people who were overconfident, introverted, or women were less able to accurately distinguish between legitimate and phishing e-mails. She had participants complete a personality survey and then asked them to scan through both legitimate and phishing e-mails and either delete suspicious or spam e-mails, leave legitimate e-mails as is, or mark e-mails that required actions or responses as “important.”

“The results showed a disconnect between confidence and actual skill, as the majority of participants were not only susceptible to attacks but also overconfident in their ability to protect themselves,” says Hong. Although 89% of the participants indicted they were confident in their ability to identify malicious e-mails, 92% of them misclassified phishing e-mails. Almost 52% in the study misclassified more than half the phishing e-mails, and 54% deleted at least one authentic e-mail.

I would say that “behavioral, cognitive, and perceptual attributes” are a basis for identifying users. Or at least a certain type of users as a class.

Or to put it another way, a class of users is just as much a subject for discussion in a topic map as any of user individually.

It may be more important, either for targeting users for exploitation or protection to treat them as a class than as individuals.

BTW, these attributes don’t sound amenable to IRI identifiers or binary assignment choices.

Discovering User’s Models (Instead of Selling One)

Saturday, July 13th, 2013

Cultural Anthropology/Anthropological Methods (wikibook)

From the homepage:

Ethnography is a qualitative research method used in social sciences like Anthropology where researchers immerse themselves in other cultures for the purpose of recording information about their lifestyle for comparative research.

The built-in semantics of the TAO model (actually of the TMDM) have been discussed recently. Capturing the semantic models of our users is more important than to imposing a default model on their data.

How would you react to someone who was trying to sell you a service on the basis that your model for data is obviously inferior to what they are offering?

Not the start of a great sales pitch?

But that is what the Semantic Web and Topic Maps have been pushing. Abandon your current model! Salvation is just a new model away!


I don’t dislike the TAO model. We need a model to start the conversation about the user’s model.

But does every user of topic maps have to march in lock-step with the built-in semantics of the TMDM or can they fashion their own semantics?

A sales pitch that starts “We can help you capture your data model, for preservation/migration and add new capabilities to your existing infrastructure.” is a lot less threatening.

What do you think?

Quantitative Research and Eye-Tracking:…

Monday, June 24th, 2013

Quantitative Research and Eye-Tracking: A match made in UX heaven by James Breeze and Alexis Conomos.

From the post:

Administering many sessions of usability testing has shown us that people either attribute their failures to forces outside of their control (e.g. “The website doesn’t work and needs to be fixed) or to things they have influence over (e.g. “I’m not that good with computers but I could probably learn how to use it”).

A person’s perceived influence over outcomes is known, in psychobabble, as their ‘locus of control’ and it has a profound effect on usability testing results.

Qualitative data and verbatims from individuals with an internal locus of control often reflect a positive user experience, even when they have made several errors performing tasks. Similar to the respondent in the scenario depicted in the cartoon below, these individuals attribute their errors to their own actions, rather than failures of the product being tested.


The higher end of research on user experiences with technology.

Being aware of the issues may help you even if you lack funding for some of the tools and testing described in the post.

FuzzyLaw [FuzzyDBA, FuzzyRDF, FuzzySW?]

Monday, May 20th, 2013


From the webpage:


FuzzyLaw has gathered explanations of legal terms from members of the public in order to get a sense of what the ‘person on the street’ has in mind when they think of a legal term. By making lay-people’s explanations of legal terms available to interpreters, police and other legal professionals, we hope to stimulate debate and learning about word meaning, public understanding of law and the nature of explanation.

The explanations gathered in FuzzyLaw are unusual in that they are provided by members of the public. These people, all aged over 18, regard themselves as ‘native speakers’, ‘first language speakers’ and ‘mother tongue’ speakers of English and have lived in England and/or Wales for 10 years or more. We might therefore expect that they will understand English legal terminology as well as any member of the public might. No one who has contributed has ever worked in the criminal law system or as an interpreter or translator. They therefore bring no special expertise to the task of explanation, beyond whatever their daily life has provided.

We have gathered explanations for 37 words in total. You can see a sample of these explanations on FuzzyLaw. The sample of explanations is regularly updated. You can also read responses to the terms and the explanations from mainly interpreters, police officers and academics. You are warmly invited to add your own responses and join in the discussion of each and every word. Check back regularly to see how discussions develop and consider bookmarking the site for future visits. The site also contains commentaries on interesting phenomena which have emerged through the site. You can respond to the commentaries too on that page, contributing to the developing research project.


Have you ever wondered that the ‘person on the street’ thinks about relational databases, RDF or the Semantic Web?

Those are the folks who are being pushed content based on interpretations not their own making.

Here’s a work experiment for you:

  1. Take ten search terms from your local query log.
  2. At each department staff meeting, distribute sheets with the words, requesting everyone to define the terms in their own words. No wrong answers.
  3. Tally up the definitions per department and across the company.
  4. Comments anyone?

I first saw this at: FuzzyLaw: Collection of lay citizens’ understandings of legal terminology.

Organizing Digital Information for Others

Friday, May 17th, 2013

Organizing Digital Information for Others by Maish Nichani. (ebook, no registration required)

From the description:

When we interact with web and intranet teams, we find many struggling to move beyond conceptual-level discussions on information organization. Hours on end are spent on discussing the meaning of “metadata”, “controlled vocabulary” and “taxonomy” without any strategic understanding of how everything fits together. Being so bogged down at this level they fail to look beyond to the main reason for their pursuit—organizing information for others (the end users) so that they can find the information easily.

Web and intranet teams are not the only ones facing this challenge. Staff in companies are finding themselves tasked with organizing, say, hundreds of project documents on their collaboration space. And they usually end up organizing it in the only way they know—for themselves. Team members then often struggle to locate the information that they thought should be in “this folder”!

In this short book, we explore how lists, categories, trees and facets can be better used to organize information for others. We also learn how metadata and taxonomies can connect different collections and increase the findability of information across the website or intranet.

But more than that we hope that this book can start a conversation around this important part of our digital lives.

So let the conversation begin!

The theme of delivering information to others cannot be emphasized enough.

Your notes, interface choices, etc., are just that, your notes, interface choices, etc.

Unless you are independently wealthy, that isn’t a very good marketing model.

Nor are users going to be “trained” to work, search, author, the “right way” in your view.

An introduction to be sure but this short (50 odd pages) work is entertaining and has additional references.

Very much worth the time to read.

CHI2013 [Warning: Cognitive Overload Ahead]

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

I have commented on several papers from CHI2013 Enrico Bertini posted to his blog.

I wasn’t aware of the difficulty Enrico must have had done to come up with his short list!

Take a look at the day-by-day schedule for CHI2013.

You will gravitate to some papers more than others. But I haven’t seen any slots that don’t have interesting material.

May be oversight on my part but I did not see any obvious links for the presentations/papers.

Definitely a resource to return to over and over again.

…The More Things Stay the Same (TECO Line Editor)

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

I just started reading Programming As If People Mattered by Nathaniel Borenstein.

To start chapter 5, Nathaniel relates this story about TECO, an “infamously powerful but hard-to-use line editor…”:

As you probably know, TECO is a line editor in which all of the commands are control characters. To enter some text you would type control-a, followed by the text, and a control-d to end the text. When I was first learning TECO I decided to type in a ten-page paper. I typed control-a, followed by all ten pages of text, followed by the control-d. Unfortunately, as I was typing in the paper I must have hit another control character. So when I typed the final control-d I received the message: ‘Unknown control character–input ignored.’ An hour of typing down the drain.

If that sounds like amusing but ancient history, recall in RSSOwl and Feed Validation a single errant control character in an RSS feed makes RSSOwl refuse the entire feed.

The date of the TECO story isn’t reported but TECO was invented in 1963. (Wikipedia has a nice article, TECO (text editor))

Fifty (50) years later we are still struggling with a sensible responses to errant control characters in data feeds?

Are you filtering non-valid control characters from RSS feeds?

Or are you still “current,” circa 1963?

Who nailed the principles of great UI design?

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Who nailed the principles of great UI design? Microsoft, that’s who by Andrew C. Oliver.

From the post:

One of the best articles I’ve ever read on user interface design is this 12-year-old classic — written by Microsoft, no less. Published long before smartphones and modern tablets emerged, it fully explains the essence of good UI design. Amazingly, it criticizes Microsoft’s own UIs and explains why they are bad, though it was written at a time when Microsoft was not known for its humility.

Because my company has a mobile application division — and increasingly does full application development in our enterprise open source division — I often have to explain what makes a good or bad UI to customers. I’ve frequently referred to this article by way of explanation.

To give you an idea of my assessment of the “12-year-old classic,” I have saved the page and converted it to PDF for local reading/printing.

It is worth re-reading every month or so if you are interested in user interfaces.

Or should I say if you are interested in successful user interfaces.

Read Andrew’s post as well. It updates us on the continuing releance of IUI (Inductive User Interface) for desktop, web and mobile interfaces.

I first saw this at DZone.

Patterns of information use and exchange:…

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Patterns of information use and exchange: case studies of researchers in the life sciences

From the post:

A report of research patterns in life sciences revealing that researcher practices diverge from policies promoted by funders and information service providers

This report by the RIN and the British Library provides  a unique insight into how information is used by researchers across life sciences. Undertaken by the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for the Study of Science, Technology and Innovation, and the UK Digital Curation Centre and the University of Edinburgh?s Information Services, the report concludes that one-size-fits-all information and data sharing policies are not achieving scientifically productive and cost-efficient information use in life sciences.

The report was developed using an innovative approach to capture the day-to-day patterns of information use in seven research teams from a wide range of disciplines, from botany to clinical neuroscience. The study undertaken over 11 months and involving 56 participants found that there is a significant gap between how researchers behave and the policies and strategies of funders and service providers. This suggests that the attempts to implement such strategies have had only a limited impact. Key findings from the report include:

  • Researchers use informal and trusted sources of advice from colleagues, rather than institutional service teams, to help identify information sources and resources
  • The use of social networking tools for scientific research purposes is far more limited than expected
  • Data and information sharing activities are mainly driven by needs and benefits perceived as most important by life scientists rather than top-down policies and strategies
  • There are marked differences in the patterns of information use and exchange between research groups active in different areas of the life sciences, reinforcing the need to avoid standardised policy approaches

Not the most recent research in the area but a good reminder that users do as users do, not as system/software/ontology architects would have them do.

What approach does your software take?

Does it make users perform their tasks the “right” way?

Or does it help users do their tasks “their” way?

….Like A Child’s Story Book [Visual Storytelling]

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Articulating Your Content Strategy Like A Child’s Story Book by Michael Brito.

From the post:

I used to read “Love You Forever” to both of my girls when they were little. Even thinking about it today, I still get choked up. It’s really a heartfelt story. What I remember the most about it is that it uses imagery to tell a very significant story (as with most children’s books). The story is about a mother’s unconditional love for her son; and then chronicles her son’s life growing to an adult and starting his own family. The sad conclusion shows how he reciprocates his love to his mother who has grown to be an elderly woman. There are just a few sentences on each page but the story and illustration is powerful and you can even follow along without even reading the text.

Michael makes a great case for visual storytelling and includes a Slideshare presentation by Stefanos Karagos to underline his point.

Before you view the slides!

Ask yourself what percent of users have a great experience with your product?

The slides reveal what percent of users share your opinion.

I doubt you have noticed that I am really a “text” sort of person. 😉

The lesson here isn’t any more foreign to you than it is to me.

But I think the author has a very good point, assuming our goal is to communicate with others.

Can’t communicate with others as we would like for them to be.

At least not successfully.

Seeing the Future, 1/10 second at a time

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

Ever caught a basketball? (Lot of basketball noise in the US right now.)

Or a baseball?

Played any other sport with a moving ball?

Your brain takes about 1/10 of a second to construct a perception of reality.

At 10 MPH, a ball moves 14.67 feet, while your brain creates a perception of its original location.

How did you catch the ball with your hands and not your face?

Mark Changizi has an answer to that question in: Why do we see illusions?.

The question Mark does not address: How does that relate to topic maps?

I can answer that with another question:

Does your topic map application communicate via telepathy or does it have an interface?

If you said it has an interface, understanding/experimenting with human perception is an avenue to create a useful and popular topic map interface.

You can also use the “works for our developers” approach but I wouldn’t recommend it.

About Mark Changizi:

Mark Changizi is a theoretical neurobiologist aiming to grasp the ultimate foundations underlying why we think, feel, and see as we do. His research focuses on “why” questions, and he has made important discoveries such as why we see in color, why we see illusions, why we have forward-facing eyes, why the brain is structured as it is, why animals have as many limbs and fingers as they do, why the dictionary is organized as it is, why fingers get pruney when wet, and how we acquired writing, language, and music.

Studying PubMed usages in the field…

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Studying PubMed usages in the field for complex problem solving: Implications for tool design by Barbara Mirel, Jennifer Steiner Tonks, Jean Song, Fan Meng, Weijian Xuan, Rafiqa Ameziane. (Mirel, B., Tonks, J. S., Song, J., Meng, F., Xuan, W. and Ameziane, R. (2013), Studying PubMed usages in the field for complex problem solving: Implications for tool design. J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci.. doi: 10.1002/asi.22796)


Many recent studies on MEDLINE-based information seeking have shed light on scientists’ behaviors and associated tool innovations that may improve efficiency and effectiveness. Few, if any, studies, however, examine scientists’ problem-solving uses of PubMed in actual contexts of work and corresponding needs for better tool support. Addressing this gap, we conducted a field study of novice scientists (14 upper-level undergraduate majors in molecular biology) as they engaged in a problem-solving activity with PubMed in a laboratory setting. Findings reveal many common stages and patterns of information seeking across users as well as variations, especially variations in cognitive search styles. Based on these findings, we suggest tool improvements that both confirm and qualify many results found in other recent studies. Our findings highlight the need to use results from context-rich studies to inform decisions in tool design about when to offer improved features to users.

From the introduction:

For example, our findings confirm that additional conceptual information integrated into retrieved results could expedite getting to relevance. Yet—as a qualification—evidence from our field cases suggests that presentations of this information need to be strategically apportioned and staged or they may inadvertently become counterproductive due to cognitive overload.

Curated data raises its ugly head, again.

Topic maps curate data and search results.

Search engines don’t curate data or search results.

How important is it for your doctor to find the right answers? In a timely manner?

Spatial Orientation and the Brain:…
[Uni-Sex Data Navigation?]

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Spatial Orientation and the Brain: The Effects of Map Reading and Navigation by Rebecca Maxwell.

From the post:

The human brain is a remarkable organ. It has the ability to reason, create, analyze, and process tons of information each day. The brain also gives humans the ability to move around in an environment using an innate sense of direction. This skill is called spatial orientation, and it is especially useful for finding routes in an unfamiliar place, following directions to another person’s house, or making a midnight raid of the refrigerator in the dark. Spatial orientation is crucial for adapting to new environments and getting from one point to another. Without it, people will walk around in endless circles, never being able find which way they want to go.

The brain has a specialized region just for navigating the spatial environment. This structure is called the hippocampus, also known as the map reader of the brain. The hippocampus helps individuals determine where they are, how they got to that particular place, and how to navigate to the next destination. Reading maps and developing navigational skills can affect the brain in beneficial ways. In fact, using orientation and navigational skills often can actually cause the hippocampus and the brain to grow, forming more neural pathways as the number of mental maps increase.

A study by scientists at University College in London found that grey matter in the brains of taxi drivers grew and adapted to help them store detailed mental maps of the city. The drivers underwent MRI scans, and those scans showed that the taxi drivers have larger hippocampi when compared to other people. In addition, the scientists found that the more time the drivers spent on the job, the more the hippocampus changes structurally to accommodate the large amount of navigational experience. Drivers who spent more than forty years in a taxi had more developed hippocampi than those just starting out. The study shows that experience with the spatial environment and navigation can have a direct influence on the brain itself.

However, the use of modern navigational technology and smartphone apps has the potential to harm the brain depending on how it is used in today’s world. Map reading and orienteering are becoming lost arts in the world of global positioning systems and other geospatial technologies. As a result, more and more people are losing the ability to navigate and find their way in unfamiliar terrain. According to the BBC, police in northern Scotland issued an appeal for hikers to learn orienteering skills rather than relying solely on smartphones for navigation. This came after repeated rescues of lost hikers by police in Grampian, one of which included finding fourteen people using mountain rescue teams and a helicopter. The police stated that the growing use of smartphone apps for navigation can lead to trouble because people become too dependent on technology without understanding the tangible world around them.


Other studies demonstrate that men and women develop different methods of navigating and orienting themselves to the spatial environment because of differences in roles as hunters and gatherers. This could explain the reason why men get lost in supermarkets while women can find their way around in minutes. Research done at Queen Mary, University of London demonstrated that men are better at finding hidden objects while women are better at remembering where objects are at. In addition, Frank Furedi, a sociology professor at Kent University, states that women are better at making judgment calls while men tend to overcomplicate the most basic navigational tasks.

The use of map reading and navigating skills to explore the spatial environment can benefit the brain and cause certain areas to grow while the use of modern technology for navigation seems to only hinder the brain. No matter which strategy men and women use for navigation, it is important to practice those skills and tune into the environment. While technology is a useful tool, in the end the human brain remains the most sophisticated map reader.

Very interesting post on the impact of GIS systems on the human brain and gender differences in methods of navigation.

Question: Gender differences in navigation are more than folktales so why do we have uni-sex data navigation interfaces?

Addictive Topic Map Forums

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

They exist in theory at this point and I would like to see that change. But I don’t know how.

Here are three examples of addictive forums:

Y Hacker News: It has default settings to keep you from spending too much time on the site.

Facebook: Different in organization and theme from Y Hacker News.

Stack Overflow: Different from the other two but also qualifies as addictive.

There are others but those represent a range of approaches that have produced addictive forums.

I’m not looking for a “smoking gun” sort of answer but some thoughts on what lessons these sites have for creating other sites.

Not just for use in creating a topic map forum but for creating topic map powered information resources that have those same characteristics.

An addictive information service would quite a marketing coup.

Some information resource interfaces are better than others but I have yet to see one I would voluntarily seek out just for fun.

…the most hated man in America [circa 2003]

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

John E. Karlin, Who Led the Way to All-Digit Dialing, Dies at 94

The New York Time obituary for John E. Karlin, the father of the arrangement of numbers on push button phones and a host of other inventions is deeply moving.

Karlin did not have a series of lucky guesses but researched the capabilities and limitations of people to arrive at product design decisions.

Read the article to learn why one person said Karlin was “…the most hated man in America.”

I first saw this at Human Factors by Ed Lazowska.

4 Reasons Your UX Investment Isn’t Paying Off [Topic Map UX?]

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

4 Reasons Your UX Investment Isn’t Paying Off by Hilary Little.

You can imagine why this caught my eye.

From the post:

“Every dollar spent on UX brings in between $2 and $100 dollars in return.”

We all know the business case for doing user experience work: investing upfront in making products easy to use really pays off. It reduces project risk, cost, and time while improving, efficiency, effectiveness, and end user satisfaction.

(Don’t know the business case? Read this or this. Or this.) But what if you’re investing in UX and not getting results?

There can be many factors behind an under-performing user experience effort. Anything from a lack of tools to the zombie apocalypse can wreak havoc on your teams. Addressing either of those factors are outside my area of expertise.

Here’s where I do know what I’m talking about. First, rule out the obvious: your UX folks are jerks, they don’t communicate well, they don’t understand business, they aren’t team players, they have such terrible body odor people stay 10 feet away …

Next, look at your organization. I’ve based the following list on observations accumulated over my years as a UX professional. These are some common organizational “behavior” patterns that can make even the best UX efforts ineffective.

Let that first line soak in for a bit: “Every dollar spent on UX brings in between $2 and $100 dollars in return.”

Then go read the rest of the post for the four organizational patterns to watch for.

Assuming you have invested in professional UX work at all.

I haven’t and my ability to communicate topic maps to the average user is poorer as a result.

Not that I expect average users to “get” that identifications exist in fabrics of identifiers and any identified subject is at the intersection of multiple fabrics of identifiers, whether represented or not.

But to use and appreciate topic maps, that isn’t necessary.

Any more than I have to understand thermodynamics to drive an automobile.

And yes, yes I am working on an automobile level explanation of why topic maps are important.

Or better yet, simply presenting a new automobile and being real quiet about why it works so well. 😉

Sharpening Your Competitive Edge…

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

Sharpening Your Competitive Edge with UX Research by Rebecca Flavin.

From the post:

It’s part of our daily work. We can’t imagine creating a product or an application without doing it: understanding the user.

Most of the clients we work with at EffectiveUI already have a good understanding of their customers from a market point of view. They know their target demographics and often have an solid sense of psychographics: their customers’ interests, media habits, and lifestyles.

This is all great information that is critical to a company’s success, but what about learning more about a customer than his or her age, gender, interests, and market segment? What about understanding the customer from a UX perspective?

Not all companies take the time to thoroughly understand exactly why, how, when, and where their customers interact with their brand’s, products and digital properties, as well as those of competing products and services. What are the influences, distractions, desires, and emotions that affect users as they try to purchase or engage with your product or interact with your service?

At EffectiveUI, we’ve seen that user research can be a powerful and invaluable tool for aiding strategic business decisions, identifying market opportunities, and ultimately driving better organizational results. When we’re talking to customers about a digital experience, we frequently uncover opportunities for their business as a whole to shift its strategic direction. Sometimes we even find out that the company has completely missed an opportunity with their customers.

As part of the holistic UX process, user research helps us learn more about customers’ pain points, needs, desires, and goals in order to inform digital design or product direction. The methods we generally employ include:

Great post that merits your attention!

What I continue to puzzle over is how to develop user testing for topic map interfaces?

The broad strokes of user testing are fairly well known, but how to implement those for topic map interfaces isn’t clear.

On one hand, a topic map could present its content much as any other web interface.

On the other hand, a topic map could present a “topicmappish” flavor interface.

And there are all the cases in between.

If it doesn’t involve trade secrets, can anyone comment on how they have tested topic map interfaces?