my online notepad
spellweb.com democratizes the spelling of words, letting you step into the shoes of the dictionary editor. This is a more extensive method of determining "common usage" than that of dictionarys: The Webster's Collegiate Dictionary references a mere 15 million documents, whereas spellweb taps into the hundreds of millions of documents indexed by Hotbot and Excite. You could find out, for example, when "ecommerce" will become more popular than "e-commerce".
This ease-of-use study of e-commerce sites leaves me thinking "shoppers need to get anywhere from anywhere" - implying the need for a completely non-linear navigation method. Conceptually I'm thinking about this as a star configuration where the user is always at the center of the star and can get anywhere from that point (within one, maybe two clicks). Once they move, then their new position becomes the center of the star. This is basically an excercise in validating the navigation; at every stage you check to see if all the points of the star are available.
I just added the Webinator search engine to this site. It looks like a good option for a site like this (small, ISP-hosted). I could've installed some sort of cgi but that's clumsy and has limited functionality. Some folks cleverly point you to a commercial search engine with a link that forces queries on that site only, but jumping to a commercial search engine that looks completely different is too jolting to the reader.
This version of the Webinator does display the search results on the Thunderstone servers, but I get to customize the header and footer and control the indexing. And no other junk is displayed on the page (like ads, which a lot of other free search engines do). They also pattern the functionality after Infoseek's engine, a nice model to follow.
The incredible potential for innovative human-computer interfaces in Linux was another thought resulting from Neal Stephenson's In the Beginning was the Command Line. For example, an auditory interface could be added rather easily. One of my favorite interface gurus, Bruce Tognazzini, makes the converse observation:
...Linux, on the other hand, is a double disaster. It is a disaster, first, because having two major windowing systems, each with infinite customizability, in a system designed for building major mission-critical applications is just stupid. Second, it is a disaster because the Linux community is blissfully unaware that there is even a problem.
A social conflict curriculum,, like this one, has been in place in my town for years. It started in the aftermath of a post office shooting incident. Hopefully more school districts will adopt similar curricula after the recent Denver high school shootings. Better yet, why not take this opportunity to adopt emotional intelligence principles on a wider scale?
We'll have open source management once the current generation of programmers become managers. We'll have freely distributed requests for proposal (RFPs), vendor bids, network intelligence, inter-company desktop support databases that communicate... They'll do less work of better quality, like the code they're writing now.
See a bit of the future: virtual RFPs and real-world bids.
In general, user-center design, particularly on the web, is visual design's neglected step-sister. It is by far the case that people learn how to make their sites look good before they learn how to structure the information and the interface well. And as much as I'd like the whole world to wake up and realize the importance of user-centered design, I think visual design (and eventually audio design) will have an even greater role in the future. As internet users become more savvy they'll filter the "reputable" sites by judging their design along with the content. The three key elements - design, content, and usability - will all have to be done well, but it's design and content that will get noticed. A friend pointed out to me that she never notices good information design, she only notices bad information design. When it's good it's transparent.
The story of the computer graphic user interface is one critical part of Neal Stephenson's In the Beginning was the Command Line. The essay is fascinating and the author nails many substantial observations. However I disagree with this one:
If you are like me, and like most other consumers, you have never used ninety percent of the available features on your microwave oven, VCR, or cellphone. You don't even know that these features exist. The small benefit they might bring you is outweighed by the sheer hassle of having to learn about them. This has got to be a big problem for makers of consumer goods, because they can't compete without offering features. It's no longer acceptable for engineers to invent a wholly novel user interface for every new product, as they did in the case of the automobile, partly because it's too expensive and partly because ordinary people can only learn so much.Is he implying a "wholly novel user interface" is a necessary new feature which manufacturers need to make their product competitive? Probably not. I think features are features and they can (and should) be accessible from an easy-to-use, familiar interface. New functional features would be easier to introduce and use within the context of a friendly GUI.
So if you don't have to invent new interfaces all the time, it's not expensive to invent one good one and evolve it over time. This also keeps people from having to learn so much. People have already learned (and GUI designers have already created) several kinds of interfaces: the desktop metaphor (windows), menu-driven, telephone keypads, etc. Programmers can leverage these existing designs and source code to lower costs and customers can leverage existing knowledge to ease the learning curve.
The Sopranos, I learned recently (since I don't have cable), is set in the town I live in - Montclair, NJ. This HBO show is about a family of Italian mobsters, as if we needed another perspective on this situation. On its own terms The Sopranos is actually very well written and produced. But does the world need more Italian-as-mobster stereotypes, much less New Jersey-as-a-haven-for-decrepitude stereotypes? And now that this show is set in Montclair I shudder to think of what negative reactions will grow. Personally I think the setting says more about what HBO writers think of Montclair (a beautifully rustic, progressive town) than of where modern day mobsters are likely to live. Or maybe that's just wishful thinking.
Bringing audio into the computer user-interface is one of my long running interests. I just posted a paper about it right here.
New Jersey's division of taxation actually has some interactive forms, so I was able to tell them I won't be filing my taxes on time there from a web page. For the Feds I had to actually fill out part of a 1040A form to calculate my estimated taxes and mail them another form to send the same message.
Bill Gates' house is one big immersive environment. If you take that concept beyond comfort and entertainment you could create a more robust user interface, one you could interactive with in more ways than just staring and clicking. I don't know if you'd want to live there, but it might be fun to work there.
There's a huge distance between the designers of enterprise software and the end users. Users of small office/home office software talk to the vendor and are only one or two small steps away from the software company. Enterprise users complain about software to their help desk, which may or may not communicate with whoever is in charge of standards, rollout, and purchasing. Only purchasing and management deal directly with the vendor and they could be completely oblivious to the end user's suffering.
This is one way I explain how an enterprise-only product like Lotus Notes fails to demonstrate the same refinements over time as Microsoft Office. Notes is reviewed in Enterprise media like Network Computing which, because their audience is System Administrators, has to place emphasis on performance and administration over usability. Oblivious to the criticism they deserve, Lotus demonstrates their misguided conception of how people work on their web site:
You've left yourself extra time to become familiar with Notes R5. You arrive at work early. You've got a meeting first thing, but you've left yourself extra time to become familiar with Notes R5. You'll be happy if in an hour, you can bring up Notes and check your calendar for where your morning planning meeting is being held.As someone who has done software training I could only wish for people who were so excited to learn this stuff. And if it takes an hour to learn where your meeting is, people won't bother and the tool will never earn the return on investment that justified its purchase in the first place.
Mimicking operating system user interfaces is one method I use when designing web interfaces, 'cause:
The Motley Fool has some pretty obvious information architecture problems, so much so I'm surprised they're as popular as they are. Instead of categorizing their articles by topic, they're listed with site-specific terms. What's the difference between "Lunch News" and "Evening News"? Is what I'm looking for in the "Fribble" section? While they're probably banking on the overall Fool theme to engage the reader, these titles must be difficult even for veteran Fools.
They could take a lesson from Salon and visually separate the ads from the content, making both easier to absorb.
.edu, U.S World & News's lame title for their college rankings at http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/home.htm. What else can they do to alienate themselves from the schools they look to for cooperation?
The first systematic attempt at genocide was not during World War II but earlier in Armenia. Few people remember this, and those that do know the situation is sadly forgotten. "Those who forget the past are destined to repeat it," which is why we must remember the 1.5 million Armenians who died as a result of the same kind of racism that now turns Serb upon Albanian.
It's Easter Sunday and I'm thinking about our fear of death, a fear which keeps us from living lives worthy of our potential. The immense devotion of our culture and society to repress or postpone death too often serves to build unrealistic expectations, so that we end up reacting to death as if we didn't know it was coming.
Death only occurs within the perspective of a single person; humanity continually generates itself, the world evolves, the universe retains balance. If we rise above our own pithy perspective then death fails to scare us and ceases to be the cause of our inhibition.
The Good Gray Poet elequently says:
... The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
Why I'm growing suspicious of Gomez.com: The Gomez Advisors web site attempts to provide Consumer Reports-style ranking of online services along with industry analysis. They started to attract eyeballs last year by ranking online securities brokers and later online banks. At that time entrants in the online broker field failed to clearly distinguish themselves (i.e. although commissions varied there were no direct correlations to value; consumers were unaware of feature sets; there was a complete lack of discussion regarding acceptable trade execution times) so the Gomez analysis and rankings filled a consumer need and did so with an air of impartiality and validity.
In the past they earned trust by concentrating on one industry, personal finance, along with better than average reporting. Fast forward to April 1999 and Gomez has expanded into "your shopping-bidding-trading on-the-web advisor." I believe they had potential to expand into other e-commerce segments such as travel planning and still retain their trusted status. But as they try to encompass the entire shopping arena their focus becomes blurry. Their shopping offerings are sparse, lack depth, and vary widely.
Julio Gomez, formerly of Forrester Research, goes beyond the Forrester model of merely analyzing and goes on to rank and recommend, a commendable approach. But if this Consumer Reports-style analysis is to work they must build the respect Consumer Reports has by shunning advertising. In that scenario that are faced with either releasing a paper edition or selling subscriptions, two questionable business propositions. So instead Gomez is selling ads on their site (in one case to a company included in their online broker rankings - "Mr. Stock") and hoping we'll continue to put our trust in them. I don't think they'll go as far as Consumer Reports with this approach.
SIDEBAR: Because I feel uneasy ranting without providing solutions, I'll say that the community model could work well for Gomez. While Gomez has a section called "Community" it is really just a message board, which too often becomes an outlet for frustrated customers instead of intelligent dialog (see related comments on Yahoo! in my 4-1-1999 entry). A good example of community done right is the photo.net site. The primary difference is the aspect of interaction: at photo.net the moderators and contributors all interact with each other whereas the Gomez visitors merely leave a bit of knowledge behind. There's no forum for Gomez members to ask questions (or criticize the reviews).
Why I like Clearstation: Clearstation is a financial web site launched last year. They originally focused on technical analysis partially using the methods of Gerald Appel. A private company, they were bought by E*Trade this week, and hopefully a new infusion of cash will make the site even better.
Copyright 1999-2002 Victor Lombardi