Wednesday, December 03, 2003

More people stirred up by Shirky

Further to my posting on Shirky's Semantic Web article, here are a couple more interesting postings:

And via Blackbelt Jones, a cool rejoinder to anti-semantic arguments from Paul Ford: Harper's Magazine.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Latent Semantic Indexing and search

Via Tom's theOTHERblog, a very interesting link to Patterns in Unstructured Data
Discovery, Aggregation, and Visualization
. Well worth a read.

Monday, November 24, 2003

More of interest with social networks

Via iaslash, here are a couple of articles by Stowe Boyd on social networks: The Promise and Pitfalls of Social Networking and Cracking the Social Code. I especially appreciate this opinion in the light of my previous thoughts:

"It is perhaps true that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but it is not clear that the friend of my friend is a friend of mine. Trust and regard attenuates rapidly in human relationships: a friend of a friend of a friend is unlikely to bring much social juice to bear. Except in narrowly defined and strongly affiliated groups (like religious sects, fraternities or within corporations), this transitivity of social capital does not really work."
I think I'll have to think this through in a more socio-mathematical way - what aspects of online trust that are of value can be tracked and transmitted and how can these be usefullly exploited?

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

It's not who you know in social networks

Via the New Scientist (15 November 2003) some detail of research by Cornell University into algorithms to track the most influential members of a network (as opposed to the best connected). Interesting...hmmm.

Making stuff useful...again

I've already ranted about this multiple times. Here's a back up quote via an interesting article called Design by or for the people? (via Infodesign) from Robert Brunner:

“it really doesn’t matter if something is usable. What matters is that it is in fact, useful. And even better if it is desirable."
. Let's make stuff useful - usability is a part, not the whole of this equation.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Blogging, memes, value

Was reading Knows and Memes from Many to Many - reminded me of the piece I was writing a while ago called Weblogs: dynamics and value. Strikes me that the transmission of memes "themes" could usefully expand some of my thoughts...

Wallop - Microsoft and the social network

Maybe this is the sort of hook that trust-based search could leverage: Microsoft is apparently developing wallop, which leverages Instant Messaging groups and contacts for "social software" purposes. Not much detail available yet.
Read the following:

Peter M's opinions about epinions have sparked my interest, I must check it out a bit.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Photographs of me (and others, natch)!

In entirely solipsistic and self-absorbed fashion, here are links to photos of me, my beautiful girlfriend Severine (to whom I'm getting married in a fortnight!) and Eric who came to pay us a visit in Glasgow a couple of weeks back

Just a bunch of interesting stuff: information visualisation, search...

Shirky, the Semantic Web, and even more on recommendations

I was reading Clay Shirky's The Semantic Web, Syllogism and Worldview, and found it a very interesting and challenging article. I do have a couple of thoughts on his ideas, however, and am not in total agreement.

  1. The semantic web is (initially) probably likely to be most useful for simple logic statements as opposed to more complex combinations.

  2. Examples of syllogisms are syllogistic in their nature: if insufficient or contrary information is given, then wrong conclusions will always be jumped to - garbage in, garbage out. The Brooklyn accent example, for instance, could be resolved by removing the generalisation.

  3. I agree that deductive reasoning alone is unlikely to create artificial intelligence, but a basic set of rules about the nature of things could form the basis for more complex probablilistic reasoning, I reckon. (Not that I'm claiming to know much about AI)

  4. Of course ontology creation is political and has a social context: all ordering and classification is. We comprehend the world through arbitrary symbols - why write an article if you don't trust the arbitrary rules of words and grammar? This is why I reckon that the semantic web isn't going to bea coherent whole (if it happens), but a series of smaller, overlapping (rather than co-incident) ontologies.

Anyway, I'd recommend the scepticism of the article: healthy, intelligent stuff. On another note, I noticed the following with interest toward the article's close:

"Social networking services [...] assume that people will treat links to one another as external signals of deep association, so that the social mesh as represented by the software will be an accurate model of the real world [...] and as a result, links between people on Friendster have been drained of much of their intended meaning. Trying to express implicit and fuzzy relationships in ways that are explicit and sharp doesn't clarify the meaning, it destroys it."
my italics
I don't 100 per cent agree with this. Yes, you cannot express the "true" value of a social network in this way, but if you are honest about precisely what you are attempting to achieve and the fact that the attempt is not going to be a perfect representation, then what's the problem? In my trust model, saying I trust B's opinion on everything is far from close to saying I really trust B's opinion on ice cream, trust him slightly less on sorbet, and don't trust him at all on frozen yoghurt, but I can gain value from expressing this relationship of "general" trust, and it is a far more maintainable (and therefore valuable) network for this.

Here are some comments from others more worthy of commenting than myself (care of Blogdex):

Monday, November 10, 2003

Yet more recommendations

The paper from Macedo et al isn’t a million miles away from my idea. Essentially, it appears that their WebMemex system (apologies to Mr V. Bush? He’s in the references!) is made up of a tool to track a users web activity (ie. a record of page requests), a tool to link documents together by commonality of terminology (using Latent Semantic Indexing theory), and a system to recommend documents via the web activity of other people in an identified group.

There are a few things I found interesting and useful in this approach (other than Latent Semantic Indexing, which I read about, but didn’t understand, in another paper on a different issue):

  1. no recommendations are made per se – this is a tool that shares browsing activity;

  2. the yahoo chat buddies system is used to identify the social networks;

  3. trust is considered to be a reciprocated buddy, and you must have two or more reciprocated buddies for the system to work in order to protect the privacy of an individuals browsing path (with recommendations from only one buddy, you would know exactly which pages your buddy had visited).

I really like the fact that the social network is established outside of the application itself. The ties of trust should be able to work for other non-overlapping applications (in the same way that Sainsbury’s, BP, Barclaycard and Debenhams and share the Nectar Loyalty card): say for instance that Google, Amazon and Lastminute all used the same outsourced “trust” recommender system. This would reduce the burden on the user of duplicating information (single sign-on and then opting in to which companies can use your information), make it easier to maintain and much more likely that people would sign up to it (I reckon).

Equally, I appreciate the touch of protecting privacy through the use of a trust network only being valuable with anonymised input. I trust my friends’ opinions, but I don’t necessarily want to know which friend has made the recommendation (online trust being different in many ways to face-to-face trust).

It’s also made me think a little bit more about the trust network: where does the value come into play? I don’t really agree that reciprocation is necessary for trust – it’s more a case of mutual trust, so I don’t think it should affect any “trust values”. Additionally, I feel that mutual trust networks are more likely to be closed: closed networks in being less expansionist are less likely to be of use in covering a large dataset. I think that stronger and weaker trust links may overcome this: if I trust person A who in turn trusts person B, I may have some implicit trust in person B’s opinion, albeit at a lower level than that which I have with person A. As a rule of thumb, I would have thought that the small world six degrees of separation could express the outer boundary of trust value.

On another point, the principle of “it can be assumed that friends have common understandings and interests” expressed in the paper is an important one for trust. We cannot be 100% sure that I always trust A’s opinion on every matter, but it will be too time-consuming a task to filter out the unnecessary information. However, if the above assumption is true, value should come from the fact that A makes his recommendations in generally similar spheres to your interests, and that you are likely to be searching for recommendations within these spheres – which is the whole principle behind the pattern-matching side of recommendation engines anyway.

Overall, I have returned to my original idea, that, rather than seek to augment the quality of overall search results with a “trust weighting”, which I have been informed may be mathematically muddled in principle, a “search trusted sources” advanced option is the best bet. Essentially this could mean that a search engine could use keyword matching and popularity for a general trawl search where you’re just looking for as much information as you can find on a particular subject, and offer a “trusted sources” search where you really need to believe in the quality of the found artefacts (and then other searches for particular, known items etc.)

Anyway, this all bears a lot more structured thought than 15 minutes bashing it all out on a keyboard – I might return to this subject later. All comments appreciated, particularly those that may point out the errors in my logic!

Friday, November 07, 2003

Recommendations again

I haven't had a chance to read the full study yet, but the following from Automatically sharing web experiences through a hyperdocument recommender system
sounds very close to my idea:

"As an approach that applies not only to support user navigation on the Web, recommender systems have been built to assist and augment the natural social process of asking for recommendations from other people. In a typical recommender system, people provide suggestions as inputs, which the system aggregates and directs to appropriate recipients. In some cases, the primary computation is in the aggregation; in others, the value of the system lies in its ability to make good matches between the recommenders and those seeking recommendations.In this paper, we discuss the architectural and design features of WebMemex, a system that (a) provides recommended information based on the captured history of navigation from a list of people well-known to the users --- including the users themselves, (b) allows users to have access from any networked machine, (c) demands user authentication to access the repository of recommendations and (d) allows users to specify when the capture of their history should be performed. "

More once I've read it.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Recommendations updated

If it's worth saying...then someone's already said most of it in a better fashion already! Check out this detail on search from Autonomy (obviously). Although it doesn't touch on my trust issue, it does cover the pros and cons of the other bits and bobs, and talk about Bayes much more authoritatively.

Thursday, October 30, 2003


I was idly leafing through a book on probabilistic theory and the Web this evening - it was more than a bit beyond my maths, to be honest - and it set me thinking a little bit about recommendation and trust. [NB: I wrote a related piece about search a while ago, trust to my mind being the missing factor (after precision - i.e. accuracy of match between search query and returned results - and recall - i.e. number of references returned related to search query, whether full or partial matches) in search.]

From what I understand - and I might be miles out here - recommendation systems work on probability and/or pattern-matching. The probability side of it appears to key in to Bayes Theorem, which I seem to remember was a British reverend's realisation that you can make accurate forecasts by starting with a proposition and then amending that proposition as you receive a greater amount of information on that proposition. In the case of a recommender system for purchases, the more purchases the user makes, the greater certainty with which the system can predict accurate recommendations.

The other approach is pattern matching, where you have a matrix of users against purchasers and you can essentially say: ah, this user A bought X item and Y item and this user B bought X item, Y item and Z item, let's recommend item Z to user A (grossly oversimplified explanation, I know). Obviously this approach can be boosted by an ontological approach where the items are also related in an ontological scheme: this is really the approach with those books where you look up the title of an item that you liked and you get a "if you like this, you'll like these other books related by genre, theme, author etc. I don't know if the recommender systems use this, but I guess they do.

(Of course there's the self-evaluation method whereby you rate items you have bought or might buy, but that's a lot of items to rate. Trust networks would let a relatively small number of people rate a broad range of items for you with less effort)

My theory is that a far greater response to the accuracy of recommender systems would again come if you could associate trust in another's purchases via these systems. In this case, user A might thus far have purchased items X and Y, but he trusts his friend C's opinion, who has bought items X, Xa and Xb. In this case, if A could initiate a "bond of trust" between himself and C, the system could give a greater rating to C's purchases. If A trusted C and D (where D had bought items Xa, and Z, the recommender would have a great deal of information to go on.

Make recommendations to A: user B has a similar purchase pattern, but is not "trusted", weight his recommendation of Z as 1. A has bought items X and Y in a series (Bayesian approach), so is likely to buy Z, Bayesian rating 0.5. A trusts C and D who have each bought Xa, rating 3. A trusts C, who bought Xb, rating 1.5. A trusts D, who bought Z, rating 1.5.

Result: Z - 3; Xa - 3; Xb - 1.5 : strongly recommend items Z and Xa, recommend Xb if it is related in the ontology or if further purchasing evidence boosts its rating!

I know weightings are not usually additive, but I think it's a nice argument. The difficulties come in in displaying and storing the trust information (and for users to identify those they trust) - plus would people "trust" a store that asked them to give up relatively important (and, to an extent, confidential information: data protection laws spring to mind).

Just a thought anyway.

Monday, October 27, 2003


Via Tom Smith, here's an interesting use of mobile photos: extracting longitude and latitude information from jpegs! I reckon that this is another use for the emergency services (see my earlier posting from July) - swift pinpointing of a road accident victim's position, or also even criminal evidence during a court case (proof that someone was in a particular location at a partiular time)...interesting.

Content, Context and Use

Care of Unraveled, a little Don Norman wisdom:

  • Sometimes it’s not enough to make things work well. They also have to be fun.

  • Sometimes it’s more important to make things fun than to makes things work well.

  • We’re selling HCI wrong. It’s shouldn’t be about usability as much as user experience. If we’re going to make a difference, we need to talk the language of business. Consequently, it doesn’t matter if you have wonderful [usable] products if you’re not making money.

I pretty much agree with most of this - although I'm not sure it's the "whole truth" with regard to UX and usability. However, I do like the second point, as we should never forget the serendipity of people using tools for a purpose for which they were not designed, but which they achieve better than any designed tool for the purpose. I reckon that to an extent usabilty could lead to an over-engineered fit-for-purpose on the odd occasion: like anything else, all this emphasis on user-focused design is a single blind alleyway. Design should take into account all parties, materials and budgets. I seem to remember Don Norman making a quote about not designing for [either] budget OR usability OR aesthetics, but for budget AND usability AND aesthetics at the same time.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Information Architecture - How much to teach?

Because we are nice chaps, authors in our intranet CMS can create their own "subsite" menus. My problem with this is that they often make a cack-handed job of labelling and grouping. I've written an IA introduction in the CMS how-to guide, but I'm convinced that few - if any - actually read it. How do I get some basic IA knowledge into their heads, and how much do I give them?

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Brrr! Coldfusion

Nothing to do with my company, this one. Just the joy of Macromedia. I started learning Baby Perl a short while ago, got so far, and sort of let it slide. In my search for an easy introduction to dynamic site programming, I dinked into Coldfusion Express (erstwhile product of Allaire, now swallowed and re-jigged as Coldfusion MX by Macromedia). An absolute joy so far - not done much with it, but it's relatively sweet & being tag-based easy to get to grips with (so far). I'll post some more when I get more proficient with it. Maybe time to write my own blogging software?

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

People are the Problem!

Via a Many to Many posting, the idea that People are the problem is one that resonates particularly strongly today.

Even the most usable tool has its problematic users who just do not appear to grasp the concept even when training is reinforced by follow-up sessions, support, feedback mechanisms etc etc. I'm irritable today because a user has blamed his/her likely loss of data on our CMS. Now our CMS has its faults, and may be to blame, but experience suggests with this indvidual that it is user error. This isn't a usability issue, because users are warned at every step to save, delete etc. which I feel this chap might not have done. The thing that got my goat is that he automatically blamed the system: this despite the fact that all usability textbooks say that users blame themselves for system errors - obviously the inverse case also applies! Nil desperandum...

Monday, September 22, 2003

Coffee and social networks

Watching the Open University Cooking Programme on Saturday morning (lying in bed, natch), I discovered the following fascinating fact: both the London Stock Exchange and Lloyd's shipping brokerage developed on the sites of coffee houses. Coffee houses in the 18th Century were renowned for bringing together diverse groups of people and for being places where "anything goes" conversations were accepted. I suppose this neatly ties up the anti-capitalist demonstrators' targeting of Starbucks - but then the French Revolution was fomented in coffee shops too.

Classify that!

A while back I wrote a short posting about the opening of a Dewey Decimal Classified Hotel. Via the pernickety SIGIA poster, Ziya, comes the gem that the Dewey Decimal Classification is not in the public domain, and in true septic fashion, the hotel is being sued. Read the story.

Monday, September 15, 2003

More facets

I've seen a lot of descriptions of facets, but never found a great layman's definition. Last night, I had a flash of inspiration: Top Trumps, the childrens' game, used facets for its comparison categories. If children can get it, surely everyone else can!

Friday, September 12, 2003

Social patterns

Haven't read this in any detail, but on a quick scan through, the PoInter: Patterns of Co-operative Interaction looks like an interesting point of reference for social/collaborative software knowledge. The pros and cons of ethno- methodologies was quite well put.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Facets, get your luver-ly facets

I've been pondering faceted metadata for a while, reading about Ranganathan, bits and bobs on boxes and arrows about implementing it on a site and so on and so forth, and I've reached the stage where I'm a tad blocked on the subject.

Faceted metadata is based around the fact that items share similar facets .i.e.
Diamonds might have an item, Gopal diamond whose facets are

  • colour (value - pink)

  • clarity (value - twinkly)

  • carat (value - 12)

All diamonds will share these facets and can be defined (and therefore organised, browsed and searched) by them.

Maybe it's just me, but - because of this very fact - facets only seem to be useful where there is a great degree of homogeneity between items - i.e. where every item on a site shares pretty much the same facets. This seems to be great for ecommerce sites where an item has a name, price, and other similar attributes ("facets") to it that are reasonably rigid, but not so useful for, say, a corporate site where items might be more heterogenous.

For this reason, certainly for documents, I just wonder whether a more rigid metadata set is better for this sort of site, Dublin Core for instance. I'm just not sure if I'm being short-sighted and have missed a trick somewhere with facets... Maybe I should try and read about topic maps now to cover all the bases.

UPDATE 11 September 2003

Well as an update, it's worth reading Tanya's implementation of facets with Movable Type at her site Pixelcharmer - the only drawback I can see (as with all facets) is that an item can only belong to one topic. This is because facets should be mutually exclusive - but I can think of instances where an article could belong to both "XML" and "CSS" at the same time. Still, it's a very nice job indeed (and partly answers my question)...

Friday, September 05, 2003

I'll be back...

Not a reference to Mr. Schwarzenegger's recent "egging", just a comment that I'm back from a relaxing holiday in the Highlands of Scotland and the Mountain of France. Information-wise, it is interesting to note that France is still a couple of web steps behind the UK in some respects despite (or perhaps because of) its headstart in online information with Minitel (although to be fair, the British did have a dive forward with Teletext/Ceefax as well). Nevertheless, the only time I have worked on a French-based project, I found the Parisian team I worked with to be very switched on. Note to self: I'll try and remember the name of the company and add it on later.

Monday, August 18, 2003


I'm off on my hols & will probably not have access to blogger for a couple of weeks - so no new postings for a while.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Blog Qualities

Just a quick note, I'll get back to this later. I was reading "On the bursty evolution of Blogspace" (Kumar, Raghaven, Novak, Tomkins) and pondering what the defining qualities of a blog are. So a very brief starter for ten is:

  • it's closely linked to time - date stamping, date ordering
  • usually to a single person - which ties it in closely to trust and reputation
  • highly linked (whether cross-blog postings, blogrolls or intra-blog linking in terms of Comments etc.) - this then means (along with point 2) that they form a tight sense of community

Anyone else have any particular "defining" thoughts...

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

I feel clairvoyant...

I was mightlily chuffed to see via Metro that Firefighters in Fife, Scotland, are being equipped with Nokia photo mobiles to take pictures at fires and road accidents to send on to consultants at hospitals in Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy. I mentioned a short while ago that I thought this was a great opportunity for photo mobiles, and I'm glad to see it actually happening.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Six Degrees of Speed

My girlfriend was delighted today when, within three hours of sending an email (or courriel in this case) to a long-lost friend (whose email she discovered via a google search) she had a response from said-friend who was having drinks in 10 minutes with a girl whose wedding they are both about to go to in a few weeks. It might easily be put down to networks and the small world theory, but all the same, it's always surprising when it happens so swiftly.

My colleague, Jeremy, also had a dose of the same medicine when sending around a fun email getting people to compose film, book and song titles which might use the comedy haircut term, Mullet, in them. Jeremy was stunned that within two hours of pinging this message to no more than a half-dozen people, he was getting responses from across the UK, Switzerland and the Middle East.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Photo Mobiles

Here in the UK, we are currently being bombarded with ads from mobile phone players like T-Mobile (in its distinctive pink livery - not a Germanic colour in my book) to pick up on 2.5G/3G picture messaging services.

Most of the ads are trying to get people into "mob" activities - suncream fights, pillow fights, frisbee throwing etc. All well and good, but not really a world changing benefit.

Anyway, reading through the venerable Big Issue recently, I came across a small clipping explaining that Junior Doctors in Wales have been using photo mobiles to take pictures of X-Rays and forward them to consultants for assistance in diagnosis. It strikes me that this is a great use of the service - it could be extended maybe to teh general public with a 999-PHOTO number where, say, if you were at the scene of a traffic accident you could post a message to this service and receive a text of instructions from a trained medical professional while the emergency services beetled over to you ("Don't take off the motorcyclist's helmet, check his/her airways are clear...")

So, I reckon a big push for the medical services industry could be on its way.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Trust/Reputation in Search

I've been wondering whether reputation can be conveyed in any other way in search algorithms than Google's PageLink algorithm (which seems to me to be a measure of popularity - albeit in a network sense - rather than of reputation). I was reading an article in the ASIST Journal called "When Documents Deceive" by Clifford A. Lynch on the bus home, and came across the phrase:

"The question of formalizing and recording expectations...[of] trust in behavior [is] very poorly explored. There are a number of avanues: certification or rating services that might be consulted, or webs of individuals vouching for behaviour of others"
I'd been pondering whether it might be possible (particularly in an intranet) to modify a search engine so that when a user rates a page, he or she can also see in his/her search results how people like him/herself have rated the pages and/or how people he or she trusts rated the pages. This might seem a bit daft, but I was wondering whether, a bit like FOAF, a search engine could have a "who do you trust?" section, where you log-in, and then identify other people on a database whose opinion you trust. Search results might gain extra weighting within the overall results based on their "reputation" rating 9where the results would be specific to your trust network). I suppose the problem is placing the burden on users of registering and keeping their "trust networks" up to date, and the fact that it would become a very large database, but that detail could be ironed out by brains greater than my own.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

Bah! Humbug

A section of the company intranet needed some serious IA attention. Because,perhaps more than any other section of the intranet, it focuses on end user needs and tasks, I ran a 20-person card-sort to get some idea of end-user ideas on groupings and labelling of these groups. Got some useful results, turned them into a decent wireframe with our CMS, then my boss presented the results to the "section" working group.

The working group said they didn't care for a lot of the user-focused stuff and wanted to stick to a fairly "departmental" viewpoint. Although I accepted this with gritted teeth, it was still fine as we had manged to make some significant progress on the section structure. So I re-worked the wireframe (not a small job) and we re-presented the findings for the working group's approval.

Lo and behold, some of them said - "I thought the purpose of this exercise was to focus on tasks and users". This from the every people who had rejected the initial user- and task-focused structure. Sometimes I despair! Send me valium.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Blog geography

via Tom at the OTHERmedia's blog, I've posted this blog to Blizg - it shows the closest blogs to mine geographically (that have been entered on Blizg) and the closest to mine topically (by analysing meta tags). Check out my listings: very nice.

Baby Perl

Because I haven't done any programming to speak of since I was nine or ten, and dabbling with BASIC on a BBC B Micro, I've decided to start to learn Perl. I've got my SAMS book and a couple of O'Reilly guides, and am ready to go.

Friday, July 04, 2003

Hierarchical labels

There have been a lot of postings on SIGIA with regard to Jakob Nielsen's kind of bland article on information foraging recently - but the article itself did send me off in search of some information retrieval articles. One I found called "Web Page Design: Implications of Memory, Structure and Scent for Information Retrieval" by Kevin Larson and Mary Czerwinski at Microsoft research had some interesting conclusions (and I'll be honest, I was naughty, and skim-read the body, jumping to the conclusions). The conclusions are great because they suggest that if you ensure that the "information scent" (to use the in "meme" du jour) at each classification level is strong - i.e. label things clearly such that they give you a clear idea of what they are, and what else you'll find if you follow the link; and aim for a middle-path between a broad and shallow in terms of your site structure.

Not rocket science, but it's nice to have a justification for what seems like good practice.

The Web for the blind

I read a posting on Accessify about the RNIB supporting individuals in the UK in accessibilty cases. It looks as though we are moving toward a situation, as in the States, where W3C-type guidelines might have a basis in law. It's worth keeping an eye out on this one


Check out this interview with Julie Howell of the RNIB on Made for All.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Making "stuff" useful

Postings on Peter Merholz’ blog and Idblog that I’ve commented on have sparked off a train of thought in my head: the art of making stuff useful (as semantically neutral a statement as I can make it).

I’ve been pondering this for a bit: my thoughts are partially related to Lou Rosenfeld’s attempt at an all-encompassing image of how different fields relate to one another (I'll link to this when I can remember where on his site it is), but much more to my own position where I do a bit of Information Architecture and design, a bit of editorial work, some graphic design, some usability (and very amateur psychology and ethnography) along with business strategy etc.

Sometimes it’s difficult to relate each discipline to the other, but I feel that the common denominator is “usefulness”. I’m not trying to set this out as a new discipline, more as a connector, a way of thinking about the other things. It might seem like a reduction ad absurdum (and maybe it is – commonality is often reductive as menu items often show), but I like to think of it as a mantra in the back of my head: is this useful to the end-user, is it useful to the business, is it useful full stop (what’s the use of it?)?

Richard Buchanan kind of hit a similar note in his essay “Good Design in the Digital Age” in the book Used – Browser 3.0: The Internet Design Project when he stated:

”Qualities of usefulness, usability and desirability play a central role in good design for websites and all digital products. But there is one final step to turn them into useful tools of product development: discovering the proper balance of all three qualities for a particular product and the people who use the product.”
I’d extend this beyond “three qualities” and user/product demands, but it’s essentially my point. I could extend the analogy further, as I was considering an essay-length posting, but brevity is king, so I’ll stop here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Reputation and Trust (an update)

While reading an O'Reilly piece on captology, I came across a URL that I'd completely forgotten about, and meant to mention in an earlier piece on online trust and reputations: the Stanford Web Credibility Research pages. Anyway, it's very interesting reading - even if you have read it before. I suppose this is a bit of a "note to self"

Friday, June 20, 2003

Annual Report - hooray

I was co-opted into the company's annual reporting this year owing to my editorial experience - I suppose it's nice to do some print work for a change. I've just got advance copies of the report in, and I'm really chuffed with the results given that I was responsible for design and production (as well as a whole heap of proofing). I've really enjoyed working with the design agency and printers that I selected for us to work with, so want to say thanks to them also. They are:

Emperor Design

Pillans & Waddies

All I can say is it's clean, austere and feels...well, a bit Swiss. Just what I was after.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Seek and ye shall find...

Just read Tim Bray on searching, where he says only Librarians use advanced search, and that most users want one "natural language" search box. This is all very well, but it doesn't always mean that users will get the results they want - the thing about searching (and finding) is that your results are only as good (or precise) as the question you ask. For most of us, vaguely defined queries get satisfactory results (or at least "satisficing" results) - if we follow information foraging theories this is because the value/effort pay-off is enough.

Anyway, I dream about our intranet search engine working - we can't enhance it with a thesaurus or fuzzy matching or best bets or anything else, because it rarely works. My colleague, Rik, is dreaming of getting "googled". At the moment, I think we are "googlied".

Wednesday, June 18, 2003


I've finished Krug's Don't Make Me Think and Garrett's The Elements of User Experience and still have the other two to finish. The best thing about each book is not that either teaches you anything completely new, but more that they help you to clarify the knowledge that you already have from an information architecture and guerilla usability perspective.

Personally, I've found the fact that both books sent me back to basics of more value than anything new I could have learned. Common sense is often (but not absolutely always) such a valuable commodity

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Purists and realists

I have recently been accused of taking a purist approach to problems - which I suppose is a fair enough criticism - as opposed to taking business and political realities into full account.

My point is that I try to act as Devil's advocate: someone will always remind me of the fact that I might not be proposing a "real" solution, taking a purist standpoint forces people to give me some useful feedback which I can then use to modify my point of view and my proposed solution. Is this an obtuse way of working?

Monday, June 09, 2003

Testing images support

mark thristan

Does this work? Just seeing if I can call on photos from my free webspace for future reference. Hopefully, it should display a photo of me

Sunday, June 08, 2003

One for the L-I-S educated

Reading the latest issue of The New Scientist, I noticed a short story about a new hotel in the U.S. This hotel has 10 floors for each of the main Dewey Decimal classifications, and the rooms are themed around sub-classifications according to the floor. Is this Information Architecture?

Monday, June 02, 2003

Weblogs: dynamics and value

UPDATE - 17 June 2003

Just a link to an ur-document on the issue of blog popularity: Clay Shirky's Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality.


I've been reading in and around some postings by Tom Coates on Plasticbag, related how thematic weblog discussions develop, and how the theme (or "meme" as everyone appears to be using Dawkin's phrase nowadays) is transmitted across the complex network of inter-relations in the blog. Coates was commenting on the original piece Dynamics of a Blogosphere story, where it appeared that four types of posting occurred - opinion, vote, reaction and summation - at different times in the blog discourse - and highlighting the differences between blog stories and bulletin boards (among other things). Ross Mayfield had also picked up on this line, along with several others, but it sparked a few thoughts in my head about the value of a weblog discussion.

The value of the discussion as a whole strikes me as being formed of the two obvious strands - qualitative and quantitative. A highly linked discussion will have a high qualitative value owing to Reed's Law (that in a many-to-many community, where n is the number of nodes/groups in the network, the network's value is 2n). Likewise, links - whether inline, in blogrolls, or as trackbacks, can be seen as a commodity exchange - the greater the number of links into a blog posting, the greater its inherent "value" (in a quasi-financial sense) - as evidenced in the wider web by Google's linking algorithm and Amazon's book ratings system.

As always, however, quantity is not the only rule of thumb. The judgement of the quality of a particular posting will be made by each visitor him- or herself based on a number of tacit understandings: is this information of interest to me? have I come across this author before? what do I know of the author's experience or personality? what is his/her position in my particular "social network"? how well written/formatted is his/her copy? So trust and reputation evidently also have a sizable role to play in in a particular posting's valuation.

When postings are linked to one another, and commented upon, the valuation of a thematic discussion, as opposed to a single posting also comes into play. According to power laws, it is likely that 80% of interesting comments and postings are likely to be posted by 20% of authors (and that 80% of traffic and linking will also be to 20% of postings). As the discussion grows, the amount of "noise" in the discussion is likely to increase - and the emergent value of the the sum of the postings (i.e. a single thematic discussion) might out-weigh the value of a single contributor's viewpoint (which may be overlooked as it occurs on the fringe's of the discussion regardless of its validity). The question arises that the volume of "feedback" might make it difficult for a new reader to read the entirety of the discussion.

I don't really think, however that "reading the whole discussion" is where the value of blogging resides necessarily (unlike Wikis or bulletin boards, for instance). Blogs offer a number of points of access into a discussion, and the threads sometimes follow a linear course, but more often than not spread off in a number of directions. Blogging's value appears to lie in this multi-valency. A blog posting itself - as a singularity - is a monologue. The moment that someone posts a comment to the blog, it becomes a more-or-less linear dialogue. The moment that someone writes a new posting either based on the original blog, or linking to it, the discussion becomes two dialogues. These dialogies can split up and re-join at any number of points along the way, but seem to tend towards expansion rather than restriction, until the thread peters out.

I'll try and put some flesh on the bones of these ideas at some point, as its rather late in the evening and I haven't finished work yet.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Trust Networks continued...

Rather than edit the previous blog, here's some further trust -related information as promised.

a few months ago, at an intranet benchmarking forum meeting, I heard a lecture by Adam Joinson of the Open University on Psychology and the Internet - I've got a Powerpoint of his lecture - if anyone wants it, just send me an email. Much of what he had to say about how we are more trusting on the internet is borne out through the example of my friend Jamie, who appears to be very successful in online flirting! I'd also point to the sample chapters of We Blog: Publishing Online with Weblogs by Paul Bausch, Matthew Haughey and Meg Hourihan which point out how a personality can be "constructed" online.

The oxytocin issue is discussed in To Trust is human in the 10 May 2003 edition of the New Scientist. Oxytocin is a lactation-related hormone, which I always remember being told is very important in mother-baby bonding. It looks like it might also have a role to play in other human bonding/trust relationships. The New Scientist archive is open to subscribers.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Trust networks

Aaargh - stupid me. I'd just written a lengthyish posting on trust (oxytocin, wikis, Open University lecturers, online flirting and business) when blogspot refused to post it! Oh well, I'll try and recover my thoughts and re-post it later on along with a few useful URLs.


I'll add more resources later - probably not until Friday

Friday, May 16, 2003

Books, lovely books

Through work, I've just received Rosenfeld and Morville's 2nd version of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, Bob Boiko's Content Management Bible, Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think, and Jesse James Garrett's Elements of User Experience. I've read parts of all of them before, and enjoyed the first version of IA 4 WWW, although found it very much an introduction for beginners rather than for the more experienced Information Architect. I've started reading Elements of User Experience on the bus in and from work, and like the expanded explanation of Jesse's famous diagram (later expanded upon by George Olsen). I like to think I'll use a few paragraphs of it to communicate some core user-focused/user experience ideas to others, as they are nice and succinct. The opening, mind you, does rip off Don Norman's The Design of Everyday Things.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Banging head against a brick wall

I feel sometimes like I am banging my head against a brick wall. Our intranet menu plays host very frequently to the "I'm more powerful than you" playground contest. Pressure is put on the intranet team to add new top-level items to the menu based upon a department's "importance". Those putting the pressure upon the team are impervious to any clear explanations of user-focus or findability - our job - and generally try to assume an "I don't care what you say, I'm more important than you" attitude.

We have tried a number of ways to improve this situation: concerted communications efforts and - a measure which has been partially successful - user-focused card sorting exercises, which do deliver some form of "scientific proof" to those higher up the ladder that no-one thinks departmentally (apart from them!). Does anyone else have any experience of this specific problem, and have any useful suggestions for resolving it?

Contact me if you have any suggestions

Friday, May 09, 2003

How do you follow up a training exercise?

I've been training some colleagues in our intranet Content Management System this morning. It's a bespoke system, and generally works pretty well. Most people attending the training pick up the basics very quickly (in about 2-3 hours), and we provide them with sand boxes to play with their new-found skills. We also have a user guide, which, while it does not cover 100% of the functionality of the system, has been user-tested to provide an insight into the basics.

What I want to know is:

Is there anything else I can do in terms of follow up to ensure that this training sticks?

Contact me if you have any suggestions

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

A propos social software and social networks, I am pondering how some people can attain a kind of "negative node" position in a network. They appear to achieve this by blocking progress, engaging in political sniping and keeping "knowledge" very much to themselves. Some corporate cultures positively seem to breed these types: at the moment I'm wondering if merged companies are particularly prone to these attitudes - loyalty to oneself in the face of a lack of job security and continuity, as well as substantial loyalty to previous network connections, turning in and creating this negative exchange.
After many efforts to try and inflict some early stage user testing on the intranet, I have finally succeeded in rolling out some card-sorting exercises in order to cut the gordian knot of the "why isn't my department at the top-level" argument. The results so far have been intriguing - the most interesting aspect is the interest that the test subjects have taken a) in doing the test b) in finding out about the "results" and c) in asking for more information about the card sorting methodology. It really helps if you can get hold of a software-based card-sorting technique - it beats writing out endless sets of cards - jorge toros CardZort and Card Cluster work nicely.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

I've been reading about social software and social network analysis recently. My main aim is to try and find quick and dirty ways to leverage a knowledge base in a company using the company intranet. I am sure that wikis, blogs and bulletin boards may have a role to play. Interesting background information on the subject is available at the Social Software Alliance Wiki. I've found Valdis Krebs' details on social network analysis an interesting approach to defining the networks that exist in a company beyond business-defined roles and relations. I came to Krebs and the subject of SNA via Peter Morville's incredibly useful introduction to the subject. I've also come across an interesting social software blog. I'll put my thoughts together in a post when I've had a chance to digest the various ideas, but headshift's great essay Smarter, Simpler, Social is a great overview of everything "social".