Wednesday, July 28, 2004

User Feedback...Good to Receive?

Sometimes I have a good old grumble at the feedback I receive for the company intranet (and not so often at the website feedback), but today, I was elated to receive an email from one of our CMS users in response to an upgrade email I had sent around. There were four elements to the upgrade, and the response went:

"1. good idea, 2. better idea 3. this is good too 4. this will make things easier"

Now according to this emailer, all we need to add is a wysiwyg spell-checker (in the pipeline) and he'll be happy as Larry.

My question from all this is as follows: should we be honest and say that it is "constructive" feedback (read "negative") that the IA/ID/UX practitioner should pay attention to, or should we say that the odd pat on the back is good for morale, and shows our attention to our users? Given that as Schiller said "Du Kannst nicht allen gefallen" (I think he said this - "You can't please everyone!"), when do you draw the line with a piece of feedback and say it's just not helpful (because it is too laudatory or unnecessarily critical)?

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Who needs permalinks?

So far as purple links and perma links are concerned, how's about the Bible for permanence. The Book, Chapter, Verse system has worked for a long time, and still does, as I discovered when guiding my friend Tom to a wedding reading in the Song of Songs (Chapter/Song 2, if you must know). Sometimes the oldies are the goodies, now where's my parchment?

Friday, July 16, 2004

Heuristics only take you so far

I've been at home nursing a fever the past three days, and apart from feeling sorry for myself, and watching the Peter Weir adaptation of Patrick O'Brien's "Master & Commander" (great Boys' Own stuff, and very good when you're down in the dumps), I've started reading "The World of Christopher Marlowe". The great thing about this book so far is that it puts Marlowe's writing into a very clear socio-historical context, including the virtues of a Cambridge education.

What interested me was the emphasis on heuristics for oratory and rhetoric: which reminded me very much of the advice drummed into me by a French lecteur at college - argument, counter-argument, synthesis and conclusion. Having a wayward mind, I found such linguistic corsetry a little frustrating at University, and I've always been of the opinion that rule-based learning only takes you so far. I think this lesson stretches into the world of the Web, and was summed up very nicely on Christina's Elegant Hack site with a posting on "Good Gut", where experience was highlighted over heuristics, heuristics are not enough...    

NB: not sure that I like the new HTML editor on Blogger - wasn't the previous instance sufficient without giving us all the virtues of a WYSIWYG editor? Did I really need to add colour to this post? I liked being able to add HTML in directly without an "edit HTML" option.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Amazon recommendations

I was checking out the IMDB the other day and noticed their Bayesian weighted ranking system

weighted rank=(votes cast/(votes cast+minimum votes to be in top 50)) x mean rating + (minimum votes to be in top 50 /(votes cast+minimum votes to be in top 50)) x mean vote across the vote population

I think I've got this right! Thinking about recommendations engines, I then thought I'd go and sort out my personal Amazon recommendations (as most of my Amazon purchases have been corporate) by ranking items that I own and/or have read/viewed/used. I was pretty surprised at how (simply)comparative the engine appears to be: most of my recommendations so far are for authors I have read before and/or other editions of books I have read/CDs/DVDs and just a little bit of "others who purchased this..." Maybe I'm mis-calling Amazon on this one, as I know other people who say that Amazon second-guesses their purchases, but I would have thought ranking a couple of hundred items would give slightly more interesting recommendations. Oh well, I shall continue ranking and see if I'm more satisfied. Anyway, I seem to remember that there is a recommendations engine expert at Glasgow University (I think he's involved with the Information Retrieval Group) - if I can remember his name, I might send him an email to find out a bit more about the nuts and bolts of recommendations (hopefully it will be comprehensible to someone without undergrad maths).

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The Joy of ...User Focus

After months of resource constraints getting in the way, myslef and a colleague have been working on some minor UI and functionality upgrades to our in-house intranet content management system. Small the changes may be, but I'm confident that they will bring fairly major user benefits (including the time I will save from not having to answer repetitive queries caused by the vagaries of the CMS). Hopefully we will continue to tweak our WYSIWYG editor until it writes beautifully compliant xhtml instead of the dog-eared HTML it spits out at the moment, but we'll have to wait and see on that one.

Murphy's Law Revisited

Humph! Having borrowed a power supply to test whether my PC is still alive (it's own power supply being dead to the world as of a few days), Murphy's law struck again. As soon as the replacement power supply was plugged in and switched on, the transformer coil started belching acrid smoke. I'm thinking I may have an inverse Midas touch when it comes to power supplies...

Monday, July 05, 2004

Murphy's Law

Isn't the extended version of this law not just that what will go wrong has to go wrong, but also that it will choose the most inopportune moment to do so? How's about starting work to get rid of a (human) single point of failure in a process, and then the same having to stay off work for two weeks with chickenpox (at his age!). How's about networking some standalone PCs so that they can be backed up to ensure (personal) important data is not lost - then the PC going kaputt before it can be networked. I can think of other things, but I do not want to conjurer le mauvais sort as the french say.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Diff'rent Strokes in Community Building

Reading Nancy White on Many to Many's posting on practical knowledge of social software technologies, and user's of one type (e.g. blogs) dissing other options of which they may have no practical knowledge, I am drawn to add the following: all these social software technologies can support one another, it's a question of horses for courses. Blogs are better for some aims, as are wikis, as are forums (or is that fora?), as are P2P shared workspaces, as are the Grooves, Sharepoints et al of the world. These can be combined to produce different results, and to offer full and enriching online community experience (much as I dislike the phrase "online community" - the community is offline, the glue holding it together is online). People prefer different tyes of technologies depending on their own boases for personal information control and communication - the phrase "one man's meat is another man's poison" springs to mind...

Bakerman, Bakerman, Bake Me a Cake

I wouldn't normally be flagrant in advertising a service, but if you are ever in Garforth (Leeds) or on the King's Road in Harrogate (both places in Yorkshire in England, and a very fine county indeed!), you could do worse than buy a piece of patisserie from one of M. Dumouchel's shops.

The reason this master baker has come to mind was in reading Metro (a free British newspaper for commuters) this morning. One of the stories referred to a Japanese girl who had paid £2,000 for a trip to Garforth in order to take an interview for a job with M. Dumouchel. Needless to say, such dedication beyond the call of duty landed the lady the job, and, if she learns to make a buche de noel (chocolate log) as tasty as those made by her patron, then it is money well spent.

"The Youth of Today" - Seven and Blogging!

Via Business Blog Consulting, I came across The seven-year-old-bloggers, a fascinating piece from the BBC on how early, early adoption of the blogging concept can take hold. I think that logs are pretty ludic in nature, which is one reason why they are appealing to individuals, and probably have taken a hold in the young mind more readily than say the concept of business blogging has. Anyway, you can generally be assured that children will learn how to do anything more quickly and more successfully than an adult if they are given the opportunity.