Leaving your job? Now? I'm witnessing an interesting trend among
friends in the "internet industry"--many are considering
leaving their jobs to find better work (still within the industry,
just at different companies). You'd think, with all the blahblah
about market downturns and impending recessions, people would be
holding onto their jobs for dear life. Instead, it seems this upheaval
has unsettled people to the point where they're really taking stock
of their situations and thinking about what they really want to
be doing. It's jolted them out of their complacency. That can only
be a good thing.
The hyper-intelligent and super-good-looking Paul
pointed me to where I can buy
George Foreman grills in iMac-colors! Yessss! Lean-mean-tangerine
grilling for me! (Though, it seems the salton-maxim website is quite
slow and unstable. Sigh. Oh! I just found it at iQVC!
For less money, and with lower shipping! Yay!)
Bowl Thoughts. No reason pseudo-intellectuals can't have a field
day with America's Favorite TeeVee show.
decades to come, critical theorists
will be analyzing, frame-by-frame, the halftime show, particularly
the rendition of "Walk This Way" by Aerosmith, *NSync,
Britney Spears, Mary Blige, and Nelly; it was clearly the high water
mark of contemporary popular culture.
E*Trade's "Invest Wisely." (QuickTime,
Media) As if simply a chimp on a horse isn't enough, it's actually
damn funny. Runner up: The Pepsi ad with Garry Kasparov being dogged
by technology. Unfortunately, it's not on adcritic.
product: The iMac-like George Foreman Grills. Translucent colored
plastic meets low-fat meat cooking! At first we thought it was an
ad for Energizer or something, it was so surreal--young multi-culti
types dancing while hue-saturated appliances whiz around their heads.
Ad is not up yet on Adcritic, nor can I find the new grill for sale
on the Web.
I just find
the idea of this product fascinating. It's clear that they're trying
to break out beyond their more middle America and suburban markets
to reach urban types with fashionable styling. Wonder if it will
attempts at branding: Accenture and Cingular. Blecch.
the game? Well, it's clear that Collins was simply not ready for
a Super Bowl bid. 4 interceptions! Clearly a case of nerves.
Social interfaces. Victor
points us to some intriguing work
being done at IBM on developing
computer interfaces that better serve social and communication
needs. Stuff to read later...
I'm back from NY. Had a delightful time, natch. Highlight was
probably the wander around The
Cathedral of St. John the Divine. I simply adore that place.
If you plan on visiting, try to reserve a spot on the Vertical Tour--a
breathtaking romp through the nooks and crannies all up and around
the impressive edifice. Didn't eat enough Krispy Kremes. Ate plenty
of Belgian fries.
for content. So, a while back, I pointed to some stuff, and
wrote some stuff, about actually paying for content on the Web.
And it made me think, What content would I pay for? I realized that
I'd definitely pay to read the SF
Gate. I don't subscribe to the local paper, but I read it online,
and the information is valuable enough that I'd cough up, I dunno,
probably up to $50/year to access it. Maybe $20/year to access FEED.
And I'd happily give Jakob a nickel for each Alertbox.
More on self-organized sites. Two different people pointed me
Sites Begin to Self Organize" from the NY Times. Are you
all trying to tell me something? That I'm in a rut? Frankly, I'm
surprised that Epinions wasn't mentioned...
of which... The redesign of Epinions
launched! Halle-fucking-luia! I always felt uncomfortable when people
would critique the old site (good or bad) because I felt I had so
little to do with the design. This design, well, this is what I
primarily worked on my last 6 months as Creative Director. I accept
a fair amount of responsibility for what you see here. I'd love
your feedback. At some
point, there'll be a hefty case study in this.
disagree with Jakob, will that make it better? Jakob has a piece
in the Internet World Daily on how "one
of the most important usability metrics is time on task."
He goes on and on about WAP, and I don't know from testing WAP,
but I can tell you that, testing on Epinions.com, we realized that
"time on task" was an essentially worthless metric, except
for extremely particular (and brief) tasks like log in. Unlike traditional
GUI environments, the Web isn't about "getting things done."
It's still a lot about exploration and research. Oftentimes, the
longer someone spends doing something, the better.
Outta town. And in New York from 1/18 - 1/22. So output will
in design. So, because a) I can't say no and b) I'm a masochist,
I'm writing an article on the use of research in design. (Pretty
broad, eh?) I'm interested in how research informs the design process
at all steps... From up-front ethnographic stuff to iterative design
and testing to log file analysis to market research to cognitive
science to academic approaches, and on and on and on. If you have
any good leads on a) research being done and/or b) how you've incorporated
research into your design processes, email
work never stops. Which is why I ain't done written anything
for a bit. One thing: I'm totally entranced by this
photo. A big rig barrelled into the California state Capitol
building. The pic shows the aftermath. It's surreal. It looks like
a painting. The saturated hues, the varied light sources (I'm enamored
of the glow from the building's windows), the smoke reason, the
lone firefighter, the green lawn.
Book idea? I had a little thoughtwander on the ride home from
Farley's. I'd just finished the first chapter of Information
Anxiety 2. Though a tad banal, it's filled with the kinda
stuff that gets me thinking, and when I start thinking, my feet
tap, and I tend to hop up and down, because I can't keep still when
the mental gears are turning. Anyway, what I was thinking is that
the world might be able to stand a tract on what I'll call for now
"Interaction Anxiety." Think of it as a kind of cross
between Information Anxiety and The Design of Everyday
Things. Ascreed/diatribe/rant/polemic/explanation of how interfaces
shape our lives. And our struggles with them. And their adverse
effects. (I'm watching teevee as I write this. I HATE those Carl's
Jr "don't bother me, I'm eating" ads. Hate hate hate.)
The point would be to have it be from a... person-sympathetic point
of view. This wouldn't be a book for designers on how to design.
or business people on how to run their business. It would be for
people on the problems we face with interface.
chick from Mannequin! Kim Cattrall has somehow become
a bona fide sex kitten. There's a bad Pepsi One ad featuring her,
in what I assume is her Sex and the City persona (I don't
watch the show...). Now I, and, I assume, many geeks, have a wholly
different association when thinking Kim
Cattrall--as Crow's lust object on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
fun! So, I've totally fallen for the sexily hidden interface
of Bang and Olufsen's Beoplayer,
an MP3 app. If you're familiar with B&O's physical products,
you know they're the high point of sleek industrial design. Everybody
loves the CD player that you open by casually waving your hand in
front of it. The Beoplayer offers similar elegance, remaining totally
hidden until you call for it (by waving your cursor to the side
of your screen). It violates HCI principles left and right,
but the experience of using this delightfully understated tool is
up the Fort. Tom von Alten wrote me, chatting about usability
stuff, permalinks, and bicycling in the rain. I took a dip into
his personal site, which
is a delightful collection of thoughts and essays on all manner
of topics. peterme says check it out.
Usability bashing for fun and profit! So, Dale Dougherty is
getting a lot of attention for his "Invasion
of the Usability Experts" article, where he rants against
being told what to do by usability gurus. Which is all well-and-fine,
except that his argument is intellectually unsound, and does nothing
to promote the dialogue of further discussion, and instead reinforces
this "fer or agin'" mentality. I I wrote a rant about
it on a mailing list and thought it deserves posting here (excuse
the sloppiness of the writing... I simply don't have time to edit
Dale knows he can garner plaudits bashing those mean ol' usability
folk, because, well, those mean ol' usability folk don't let us
do what we want to do, and that makes us angry, and if I say they're
full of hooey, than people will clap me on my back, and say, "Right
So, my main question is who is Dale Dougherty to be railing as
such? I know Dale has an esteemed history chronicling the web,
largely from a technological perspective. Is Dale a designer?
Has he ever designed anything? What was it? Was the design any
good? Dale is a journalist. Rule number 1: Journalists don't actually
So. Let's take address some specific points
- Drop Down Boxes. By and large, Jakob is right about this one.
And he isn't the only one to have said this. Drop-down boxes obscure
choices. Pretty much the only consistently valid use for drop-down
boxes is when filling out forms. Interfaces that try to pack navigational
choices in drop-down boxes, or functionality like list-sorting,
typically just end up obscuring such choices. Why do I know this?
I've seen user after user ignore drop-down boxes, even though
the information in it was of high relevance to them. They didn't
know to look there, when, say, sorting a list, because, well,
since when is that what drop-downs are for? Drop-downs are for
selecting from a pre-defined set when filling out a form (by and
- It would be nice if Dale came out and say that it was Mark
Hurst of Creative Good who wrote that "wrote that $14 billion
would be lost in online holiday shopping because 47 percent of
the people who start an order fail to complete it." And, you know
what, maybe Mark is right! Maybe he's not. I don't know. Suffice
to say, *a lot of money* is lost due to bad interface. And suffice
to say, Mark's rhetorical tactic of FEAR is well-suited to his
target audience--which isn't designers, or usability types, or
Web journalists. It's business people. They understand fear. Mark
is trying to get their attention.
- As to the Levittown argument, well, hogwash. Jakob acknowledges
that each site needs a unique design to address the differing
tasks that users face at them. Jakob rails against the inconsistency
of user interfaces to accomplishing those tasks. Jakob doesn't
want all the houses to look the same--he knows they need to be
built different to serve different purposes. He would like all
the doorknobs to work the same, all the stove settings to map
the same, so that people can simply use the tools to get their
- That Jakob 'doesn't like the Web' is perhaps Dale's stupidest
notion. I doubt Jakob would have spent 6 years writing about something
he hates. He wouldn't loudly and repeatedly support notions of
micropayments, a technology that is feasible only in the online
world, if he hated the Web. Dale is engaged in sloppy and manipulative
rhetoric to make his point that you shouldn't listen to Jakob
because he doesn't like that thing that you like. Jakob has never
said "the web doesn't work." And Jakob's point about content is
by-and-large true for many many sites, particularly e-commerce
ones. (And Dale's suburb notion is an interesting one, considering
that there have been many reports of how people are fleeing the
suburbs and returning to denser residential regions, because,
they realized, the suburbs WERE bad planning.)
Let's unpack Jakob's
statement further: "Web content is intellectually bankrupt
and almost never designed to comply with the way users behave
online. Almost all websites contain content that would have worked
just as well in print. Even online-only webzines are filled with
linear articles with traditional blocks-of-text layouts. No hyperlinks,
no scannability. New forms of content that are optimized for online
are exceedingly rare, and I keep returning to the same four examples
when I am asked to name good writing for the Web: Tomalak's Realm,
AnchorDesk, the Feed Daily mini-column, and Yahoo Full Coverage."
How can Dale say that Jakob 'doesn't like the Web' when Jakob's
main complaint about online content is that it doesn't utilize
the glorious capabilities the Web affords it?
- My final issue with Dale is that he offers NOT ONE REASONABLE
ALTERNATIVE to whatever those nasty usability folks go on about.
Not one. He cops out. He grouses and grouses and then feels good
about himself and the kudos he knows he'll receive and then is
done. How is that advancing the dialogue? At all? Look, there
are many worthwhile arguments to make against Usability Gurus
and usability as it's practiced in the Web environment. But these
aren't them. The only thing Dale's column validates is that it's
easy to criticize that which you don't understand, and get lots
of support doing so.
never stops. So, for the new gig, I decided to type "buying
behavior" into my handy-dandy Google
Toolbar (perhaps the best browser extension EVER), and came
up with a bunch of tasty results. Among the tastiest is the December
1999 issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication on
and the Web. Lots of deep research pieces on the subject--too
much to talk about here. It's a two-part piece, so don't forget
to click to the second bit.
Get Your Self-Organized. The Economist
features an article on the utility of self
organizing maps in project management.
THE rivers of electronic information gushing around the world’s
companies ought to reveal a lot about how people communicate within
these organisations. But until now the very volume of data involved
has defeated attempts to analyse it. A group of Finnish academic
physicists has, however, developed some nifty software to help
with the task. And, judging by the startled reactions of some
of the managers who have seen the results, it could be of much
more than purely academic interest. (link
January 7, 2001
Thoughts on Aging. So, 2001 is working out to be The Year That
I Got Older. I'm 28, and in the last few weeks my body has exhibited
a few signs that time marches on. My hair is noticeably thinner
up top. My torso is a bit thicker in the middle. Not much to do
about the former--just get my hair cut more often, as it looks better
shorter. The latter, well, I'm trying a couple things--be more physically
active (bike to work almost every day, though we have rain forecast
ahead), and eat less (not finish every meal placed in front of me).
It's much easier for me to be active than to not eat whatever I
want. I've never been one to deny myself pleasures I seek, and eating
good rich food is among the most pleasurable experiences I know.
complaining, and I recognize that to many my 28 years seem terribly
young. This is more just a Note To Self. I recognize that my corporeal
form has undergone what feels like a small quantum shift. It will
take some getting used to.
Pay, for content? Bah! Scott's latest "I
Can't Stop Thinking!" is on how artists earn money from
their work. Scott is Sancho Panza to Jakob's Don Quixote when tilting
at the micropayment
windmills. Maybe they have a point. Maybe they
or not micropayments work, I think Ev hit on something with "Pricing
Matters." Way, way back in the day, when I worked at Voyager,
we sold subscriptions to a serial comic on the Web (an online version
of Narrative Corpse).
The cost was around $3, and I think we released a new installment
every week (details are hazy, as we did this, oh, 5 years ago).
And you know what--people paid. It was a low-enough price-point
to be an afterthought, a high-enough price point to warrant going
through the payment hurdles, and it was desirable (underground comics)
content you weren't going to get anywhere else. We didn't have tons
of subscribers, but we did have enough to support the costs of the
endeavor. And if we were to do it now, with an easier payment mechanism
(say, PayPal) and far far larger Web audience, I think it would
even be bigger.
what I'm saying is that Scott shouldn't give away the next ZOT!
series the way he did last
time. Experiment with charging $5 for it, and see what happens.
The place to be. The upcoming ASIS Summit focuses on Practicing
Information Architecture, and might prove to be the most worthwhile
conference for Web designers this year. I'm not saying that just
'cause I'm speaking. I'm saying it because this conference is about
how people actually do their work, stressing case studies and processes.
They've extended the early registration deadline to January 12
(even though the registration form still says Dec 29).
goodness. So, I'm engaging in my yearly research on search engine
interfaces. (Last time I did this was January
22, 2000.) Trying to find in-site searches that rock. Having
trouble coming up with interesting results. Any in-site search engines
that make you smile? Tell me.
looking for good research on search interface design. And have found
very little. It's usually too mired in arcane information retrieval
research pertaining to how experts use highly specific databases.
I'm looking for simpler research on how normal people use in-site
searches. One great resource I found is Next
Generation Web Search: Setting Our Sites. The abstract:
The current state of web search is most successful at directing
users to appropriate web sites. Once at the site, the user has
a choice of following hyperlinks or using site search, but the
latter is notoriously problematic. One solution is to develop
specialized search interfaces that explictly support the types
of tasks users perform using the information specific to the site.
A new way to support task-based site search is to dynamically
present appropriate metadata that organizes the search results
and suggests what to look at next, as a personalized intermixing
of search and hypertext.
for that theory. Lawrence
pointed out to me that a search for "beethoven" on Amazon
returns results in this order: classical music, books, video, popular
music, DVD, zShops, auctions. Oh well. Which leads one to wonder,
what is Amazon doing, then?
Amazon watch. The degree to which Amazon exposes what they're
trying to do is fascinating. A search for "jungle book"
on Amazon reveals an odd sorting of site departments:
- Computer and Video
- Toys and Games
- Popular Music
- Classical Music
The high placement of
Auctions and Zshops shows that it's clear that they're moving away
from being a warehouse that sells products towards being a marketplace
for everyone. It's particularly interesting to see Books last--its
down there either because a) Amazon figures everyone knows Amazon
sells books, and they'll scroll down until they find it, and maybe
pass some other interesting options along the way or b) Amazon is
downplaying book sales, because they lose money on book sales, because
of their discount and shipping policies. None of the computer and
video games I looked at were discounted, which might account for
their higher placement.
Then, when you get to
a book page, they don't hide the used
offers. And no doubt Amazon makes much more money off helping
people sell used books than they do offa selling new books direct.
(Judith pointed out to
me this rather egregious
example - I could buy it new for $23.95 or used (or remaindered)
for $4.75. Hrm. Whatever shall I do?)
Amazon has seen the light,
and it is Half.com. Additionally,
they continue to exploit the value of being an information vessel.
They're testing a new feature called "Sponsored
Results", where "anyone can promote a product to our
more than 25 million customers. Whether you're an author, publisher,
musician, record label, manufacturer, or distributor, you can place
your product in a "Slot" in the left column of our search results
pages--starting for as little as a penny per impression!"
The problem is, all of
these new Amazon maneuvers are at the expense of the best customer
experience, which is what got them those 25 million customers in
the first place. A search for "jungle book" should make
it easy to get to the book and movie, not round and round with this
other stuff. A search for "elmo" shouldn't return sponsored
results for a George Foreman grill (as it does for me). As places
like Walmart.com and Bluelight.com get their acts together, Amazon's
got to be careful how they treat their shoppers.