home ....interface design .... web development .... movie reviews .... travel .... about peterme
petermeme Archives

June 01 - June 09, 2001
May 01 - May 31, 2001
April 01 - April 30, 2001
March 01 - March 31, 2001
February 01 - February 28, 2001
January 01 - January 31, 2001
December 01 - December 31, 2000
November 01 - November 30, 2000
October 01 - October 31, 2000
September 01 - September 30, 2000
August 01 - August 30, 2000
July 01 - July 27, 2000
June 01 - June 30, 2000
May 24 - May 31, 2000
May 1 - May 23, 2000
April 1 - April 30, 2000
March 1 - March 31, 2000
February 1 - February 29, 2000
January 1 - January 31, 2000
December 1 - December 31, 1999
November 1 - November 30, 1999
October 16 - October 31, 1999
October 1 - October 15, 1999
September 8 - September 30, 1999
August 29 - September 7, 1999
August 13 - August 27, 1999
August 6 - August 12, 1999
July 25 - August 5, 1999
July 17 - July 24, 1999

July 11 - July 16, 1999
July 01 - July 10 1999
June 09 - June 30 1999
June 01 - June 08 1999

May 1999

April 1999
March 1999
February 1999
January 1999
All of 1998

  past petermemes

January 29, 2001
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.

BLISS! 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!)

Super Bowl Thoughts. No reason pseudo-intellectuals can't have a field day with America's Favorite TeeVee show.

For many 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.

Best ad: E*Trade's "Invest Wisely." (QuickTime, Windows 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.

Best new 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 work.

Stupidest attempts at branding: Accenture and Cingular. Blecch.

Oh, and the game? Well, it's clear that Collins was simply not ready for a Super Bowl bid. 4 interceptions! Clearly a case of nerves.

January 27, 2001
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...

January 24. 2001
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.

Paying 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. ;)

January 18, 2001
More on self-organized sites.
Two different people pointed me to "Web 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...

Speaking 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.

If I 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.

January 17, 2001
Outta town.
And in New York from 1/18 - 1/22. So output will remain low.

Research 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 me.

The 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.

January 14, 2001
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.


That 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.

Slidy-swooshy 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 worth it.

Holding 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.

January 12, 2001
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 right now):

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 on!"

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 know anything.

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 large).

- 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 tasks done.

- 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.

The research 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 Electronic Commerce 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.

January 8, 2001
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 from blackbeltjones)

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.

I'm not 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.

January 5, 2001
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 don't.

Whether 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.

I guess 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.

January 4, 2001
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).

Search 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.

I'm also 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.

So much 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?

January 3, 2001
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 Games
  • Auctions
  • Zshops
  • Toys and Games
  • DVD
  • Video
  • Popular Music
  • Classical Music
  • Books

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.