Steve Krug at Adobe Seattle

I had the pleasure of hearing Steve Krug, author of the book Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, at the Puget Sound SIGCHI meeting on the 25th. This is a great little book that’s been on my bookshelf for a while. Steve’s a great speaker and a deep thinker about the subject of web usability, so it was an interesting talk. Some of his key points:

  • There are two things that every designer overlooks: “You are here” indicators and page titles.
  • “You are here” indicators need to be louder than you think they need to be in order to grab attention. These can be in the form of tabs that are shaded to match the page background (he uses StumbleUpon as an excellent example), or in any other format that makes the indicator “pop”. Steve has a confessed bias towards tabs, though.
  • There needs to be a top-level “Home” option – simply having the logo link back to the home page isn’t enough. This is so that it’s easily locatable and so that people always know where they are in relation to the main page. If you use subnavigation under category tabs, center the subnavigation under the tab.
  • Prominent, well-placed page titles are a must. Steve says that “if I look at a page from 50 feet away, I should be able to guess the content of the page”. This doesn’t mean that it has to be the biggest word or even the boldest word on the page. Rather, it means that the page title needs to be well-placed at the top of the content space. It should take advantage of its prominence and its location on the page. He offers up the idea that WYCIWYG (what you click is what you get): in other words, if you click on the link, the page title and the text of the link should convey the same idea. This doesn’t mean that a link named “Contact Us” links to a page with the same title; you could use a variant such as “Get in Touch With Us”, so long as the main idea is conveyed.
  • “So Steve wants all sites to look the same?” No. There are exceptions to these rules (entertainment sites and sites that are meant to be puzzling, to name a couple).
  • The best piece of advice I’ve heard in a while: if something on a web page doesn’t work for a group of people using the site, that’s not an indicator that you have to scrap the design and start over. Steve is a big advocate for making the smallest tweak possible that makes the site more usable.

MSIM Winter Electives – LIS559

Here’s the official course information for LIS559, listed below as a possible elective:

Ethics, Imagination and Leadership: A Cross Cultural Approach
LIS 559
3 credits; Tuesdays 9:30 am – 12:20 pm
Cheryl Metoyer, Professor

This course will identify the ethical issues which effect leadership in the information professions. Students will examine leadership models reflected in the research of library and information science. They will then analyze the literature of culturally diverse groups with the intent of discovering alternative models and understanding the implications of alternative leadership models.

I’ve already registered for eight credits in the required core courses IMT530 and IMT580 – I only need to select an elective at this point.

Question of the Day

A question that sparked from one of my IMT510 readings (Fisher, Theories of Information Behavior, ASIST Monograph Series, chapter 30):

Research is also needed on how information needs are expressed and recognized as information grounds . . . and how they can be used to facilitate information flow, including how employers can alleviate the stressors of unemployment by helping laid-off employees establish or identify replacement information grounds that can facilitate the availability of information required during times of transition (p188-9).

The question: can companies become more competitive or successful by supporting employees even when they aren’t employees of that company any longer?

MSIM Winter Electives

My approach to the MSIM program thus far has been to select courses that sound interesting and fun.  I didn’t enter into the program with any particular final goals – I don’t have an answer to “What do you want to be” yet (though the scope has been narrowed a bit).  It’s time to consider electives for next quarter, which currently involves the following list.  Mike Crandall, the head of the MSIM program, suggested at some point also taking some policy courses from the Evans School or the Program on the Environment to incorporate some of the sustainability stuff I had mentioned in my application, so some of those courses are also reflected below:

  • IMT 546A, Data Communications and Networking (4 credits)
    Sat 8:30 – 3:20, five class meetings total
  • LIS 559, Special Topics in the Social Context of Information (1-4 credits)
    Tue 9:30-12:20
  • INFO 498, Special Topics in Informatics: Programming Semantic Structures (1-5 credits)
    Tue/Thu 11:00-12:20
  • PB AF 506, Ethics and Public Policy (3 credits)
    Wed 9:30-12:20

This is in addition to the required courses:

  • IMT 530, Organization of Information Resources (4 credits)
    Tue/Thu 1:30 – 3:20
  • IMT 580, Management of Information Organizations (4 credits)
    Mon/Wed 1:30 – 3:20

Just to provide a visual structure for how all these interrelate:

Potential Schedule W08 

Other relevant courses from the Evans School and the Program on the Environment: 

  • ENVIR 416 Ethics and Climate Change (5)
    Conflicts with required course for Winter.
  • PB AF 590 Environmental Policy Processes (3)
    Not offered Winter.
  • PB AF 593 United States Energy Policy (3) 
    Not offered Winter.
  • PB AF 596 Ethics and Values in Environmental and Natural Resource Policy (3) 
    Conflicts with required course for Winter.

Simple as Pen and Paper

I sat down for a job interview back in June 2006 with Robbie Cape, CEO of the then-unlaunched Cozi, housed in the Smith Tower in downtown Seattle.  The interview was for a software development position, and thus I was grilled by a couple of members of the Cozi team on writing software code (I don’t recall doing particularly well on this).  What I remember most, though, was talking with Robbie, who described his product thusly: putting down the pen he was taking notes with, he fluttered the top page of his notebook a bit and said that he wanted his product to be as transparent as pen and paper.  Lofty goals, to be sure, but for some reason, that very image has stuck with me, and it’s haunted me quite a bit lately.  Part of the reason for this are the titles of IMT 510 and IMT 540 this year: Human Aspects of Information Systems and Design Methods for Interaction and Systems, respectively.

As I’ve read a lot of the readings that have been assigned, particularly for 540, the idea of user-centered design – that the software should be written to suit the user’s purposes, rather than the user adapting to the software’s purposes – has been at the forefront.  There are various different approaches to this, of course, but the central idea is that users should not be forced to accept whatever decisions the developers have made for them without any input into the process.  Ease of use, it is said, cannot be achieved without involving people who are somehow affected by the software – to coin phrases from Value Sensitive Design and Hosmer, the direct and indirect stakeholders.   This makes me think quite a bit about the pen and paper metaphor.  The fact is that pen and paper is only easy to use because we, as a society, make it so; for the longest time, it was quill and paper.  The next advancement in technology could very well make it stylus and “ePaper”, some sort of electronic device that is as thin as paper but that remembers everything we write on it by storing it within a very large internal memory.  But I digress – the point of design is to ensure transparency.

Can the simplicity of pen and paper ever truly be matched by a computer program or an information system?  An open question, since many are attempting to do this.  In reality, it likely is only what it is – a metaphor.  But what if it were doable?  What kind of world would we have then?

MSIM Cohort Nationalities

A breakdown of the different nationalities for my cohort of the MSIM program was announced at orientation and at the last all-iSchool meeting. The breakdown is as follows across 32 incoming students for the third Day MSIM cohort:

  • China (4)
  • India (6)
  • Taiwan (5)
  • Korea (2)
  • Phillipines (1)
  • New Zealand (1)
  • Washington State (10)
  • Texas (1)
  • California (1)
  • Ohio (1)

And a gratuitous graph that adds nothing to the conversation:

MSIM 2009 Cohort by Nationality

LinkedIn “Invitation Flocks”

I’ve observed an interesting phenomena the last week or so with my LinkedIn account: I receive invites from one person in a single company, rapidly followed by two or three people from that same company. This morning it was people from Blum Shapiro (which, to my knowledge, I’ve never heard of and know nobody there). Before that, it was Creative Financial Staffing. Now, just as a matter of personal preference, I take a “closed networking” approach where I only connect with people I actually know or have had contact with – that wasn’t always true, but has been for quite a while. This happens occasionally with different companies, which seems like an odd pattern to me. I’m assuming this is good (word is getting out about me), but given that the invitations are generic and come out of thin air, it’s hard to know what to think.

Update (5:25PM): I sent this post along to the LinkedIn Bloggers Yahoo! Group only to find that a number of them had also received the same invitations from both companies.  That’s prompted me to mark the three invitations from Blum Shapiro as “I don’t know this person”, which, if that’s done enough times by a certain number of people, can lead to very bad things happening to your LinkedIn account.  I regard such tactics as connection farming, or to put it not so nicely and squarely in the bin of rubbish where it belongs, spam.  I normally just archive such invitations and move on, but I feel very strongly about people who indiscriminately attempt to connect to large groups of other people with absolutely no basis for that connection.

That said, connecting with individuals because you feel you can gain something from the relationship is not bad at all – some of my connections via LinkedIn happened for exactly that reason.  But have a reason – don’t just send me a generic invitation in the hopes that I’ll blindly hit “Accept” just to get you out of my hair.

More Strange E-Mails from Evergreen State

Since I still have an active staff account, I still get e-mails sent to staff and faculty members, hence why I’m able to post them. If they didn’t want me to do so, they should’ve killed my account when they had the chance!

Subject: Ham cooking in the longhouse kitchen oven
Date: Thu, 11 Oct 2007 16:16:43 -0700
To: "All Staff & Faculty" <>

Hello. A student with the designated key to the Longhouse kitchen came
in to set up for the Common Bread meeting and he found hams cooking at
325 in both of the ovens. Are you missing a ham or two?

I turned OFF the ovens because he didn't think it was anyone else from
the group since he's the only one with the key.

Another mystery of the longhouse---spontaneous ham baking...