All the pretty colors…

Making the blog rounds is Newsmap, a tool for visualizing what’s getting press around the world.

It’s based on a visualization style known as treemaps. I addressed this topic in an interview I conducted with Marti Hearst, where we called out Smartmoney.com’s “Map of the Market” as an example of a useful, usable, and engaging visualization.

Newsmap is quite keen, though Map of the Market, with it’s green-to-red coding signifying economic trends, packs more of a visceral wallop. Perhaps it would be interesting for Newsmap to not just demonstrate popularity whether a meme is gaining ground or falling. Of course, with news, we’d probably expect most items to lose ground, but it would be keen to see those few things that percolate into the mediasphere.

Things Worth Reading, March 28

“Looking Offshore: Outsourced UCSF notes highlight privacy risk – How one offshore worker sent tremor through medical system”, SF Chronicle.
Investigative reporting showing how the management of sensitive medical information is being outsourced overseas. Bits of it read like a good detective story.

“The staggering price of world’s best research”, SF Chronicle.
All about how journal publishers, namely Elsevier, exploit the free labor of academics for exceeding corporate gain, at the very expense of those same academics. It’s only a matter of time before these scholarly journals move online and become much cheaper (if not free). And good thing, too. The arrogance of these assholes is startling.
[I wrote about this a bit back, “As Goes The Typewriter Repairmen…”]

SET OF MACHINES FOR SAUSAGE MINI-SHOP

“A City is Not a Tree”, by Christopher Alexander. I hadn’t realized this essay was online. It’s one of my favorites from the very hard-to-find ZONE 1/2.

Findory.com
One of my new favorite websites. Similar to Google News, except with an overlaying of personalization that seems to work pretty good. It’s now a regular in my morning reading.

“Caring for Your Introvert”, The Atlantic Online.

The Joy Of Navigation Design

So, I wanted to find out more about designer Ann Willoughby, so I googled her.

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The top link is to a page on AIGA website.

So, now I know more about Ann Willoughby. But I’m intrigued. She’s listed in a box called “Meet Our Board.”

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Also in that box I see Nathan Shedroff listed as president. And I did a double take.

I’m on the AIGA site. I see a box labeled “Meet Our Board.” And I see Nathan is listed as President. Is Nathan president of the AIGA? That didn’t *sound* right, I thought somebody else was, but looking at Ann’s page, and clicking to his page on the site, didn’t give me any other clues.

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So, I desperately searched out navigational cues to figure out what was going on here. The URL: “http://www.aiga.org/Content.cfm?Alias=nathan_shedroff” is useless — there’s no suggestion of hierarchy or place there.

The word “Members” in the navigation bar seems to be highlighted (it’s black, the others are gray), but clicking it takes me to a page about member benefits and I don’t see anything about any boards.

Huh. So now what? Nathan is the president of what board? Clicking around the other global navigation elements (Forum, Publications, Initiatives) turned up nothing.

So I do a search on “Nathan Shedroff”, and here are the results (I can’t link to the results, because the results page does not provide a unique URL):

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Ahh! That looks like a breadcrumb. And it shows a thing called “about our board” in something called “communities of interest”.

Clicking “about our board” reveals this page. If you read closely, you might see something about the AIGA Center for Brand Experience. Well. What’s that? There’s little clue on this page.

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Going back to that search result, the link above “about our board” is “communities of interest.”

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Oh! Look at those things over on the right side. “Brand Experience”!

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And on that page, a link to “Meet Our Board”, featuring Ann Willoughby, who got me started on this wild goose chase.

All of this could have been mitigated with a few simple conventions/best practices in navigation design. All I needed were breadcrumbs on that original Ann Willoughby page to tell me where I was on the site, and how to click “up” a level. Barring that, the global navigation could have been better tied to the second-level navigation. If you look at the “Communities of Interest” page above, what you probably didn’t see was that there’s an item in the left-hand navigation that is now ‘selected.’ But because the left-hand navigation is so far removed from the global navigation, it never occurred to me that the two were related.

Had I clicked down through the site, this all might not have been as much of an issue, but when I found myself on a page deep within the AIGA’s labyrinth, care of Google, I was totally disoriented.

Now, ask yourself, how does the “Page Paradigm” help you here? The page paradigm totally ignored what became the *key* element of my research. My original “goal” was to learn about Ann Willoughby. On reading that page about Ann, my goal shifted, to learn more about this “board”. Shifting and evolving goals are not only common — they are the norm.

The page paradigm totally broke down, because I couldn’t click something to take me to my new, evolving goal, nor could I click the back button on my browser, as that would just bring me back to Google. Strong navigation design would have oriented me in this information space (AIGA.org), serving as a scaffold for attempting to deeply understand a topic and its relationships.

In thinking about it a little further, imagine someone coming to the site who isn’t as personally invested as I was in tracking this down (I’m friends with Nathan, and have met Ann, so I’m perhaps not typical). Upon clicking to Ann’s original page, and then to Nathan’s, that person might have simply assumed that Nathan is the President of the AIGA, and left the site, not realizing this was incorrect. And then this person could have acted on this incorrect information in some way. Navigation design isn’t just about finding things — it imbues meaning based on the contexts it provides.

Letter to the Editor of The New Yorker

Probably sent too late to warrant publishing.

For those of us who hoped that Hendrik Hertzberg would refrain from further paeans to Al Gore in his defeat in 2000, we were sorely disappointed by Hertzberg’s attack on Nader in the March 8th issue.

Gore’s defeat is Gore’s responsibility alone, as witnessed by the miserable manner in which he handled his campaign, including, among other things: placing a conservative on his ticket (thus further alienating the left); distancing himself from an extremely popular incumbent; and mealy-mouthed “nice guy” debates that allowed George W. Bush to appear articulate.

Also, it would be oh-so-nice if Hertzberg (and other pundits) got over Gore’s victory in the “popular vote.” Going in, all candidates knew that the electoral college is what mattered, and played the game accordingly. If the popular vote determined the victor, the campaigns would have been run very differently — and no telling who would have won.

Here’s to not living in the past,

Peter Merholz
Berkeley, CA

Tufte’s Glimpse

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Edward Tufte, “the information designer” (as NYT calls him), offers us a glimpse at his forthcoming book Beautiful Evidence in a section devoted to “sparklines” — teeny illustrations no taller than a line of text, that communicate data patterns. An intriguing notion, particularly relevant to computer/web displays, where such graphics can be dynamic.