May 2008 Archives

Made to Stick

Made to Stick is the best non-fiction book I've read in a long time. It's jam-packed with interesting facts, useful ideas, and inspiring stories.

Made to Stick

Here are a just a few of my favorites:

Becoming an expert in something means that we become more and more fascinated by nuance and complexity. That's when the Curse of Knowledge kicks in, and we start to forget what it's like not to know what we know. (p.46)
In Hollywood, people use core ideas called "high-concept pitches." You've probably heard some of them. Speed was "Die Hard on a bus." (p.58)
Proverbs are the Holy Grail of simplicity. Coming up with a short, compact phrase is easy. Anybody can do it. On the other hand, coming up with a profound compact phrase is incredibly difficult..."finding the core," and expressing it in the form of a compact idea, can be enduringly powerful. (p.62)
The most basic way to get someone's attention is this: Break a pattern. (p.64)
When our guessing machines fail, surprise grabs our attention so that we can repair them for the future...Unexpected ideas are more likely to stick because surprise makes us pay attention and think. (p.68)
One important implication of the gap theory is that we need to open gaps before we close them. Our tendency is to tell people the facts. First, though, they must realize that they need these facts. (p.85)
This realization - that empathy emerges from the particular rather than the pattern - brings us back full circle to the Mother Teresa quote..."If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will." (p.203)
How can we make people care about our ideas? We get them to take off their Analytical Hats. We create empathy for specific individuals. We show how our ideas are associated with things that people already care about. We appeal to their self-interest, but we also appeal to their identities - not only to the people they are right now but also to the people they would like to be. (p.203)
The story's power, then, is twofold: It provides simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act). Note that both benefits, simulation and inspiration, are geared towards generating action. (p.206)
A review of thirty-five studies featuring 3,214 participants showed that mental practice alone - sitting quietly, without moving, and picturing yourself performing a task successfully from start to finish - improves performance significantly...Overall, mental practice alone produced about two thirds of the benefits of actual physical practice. (p.213)
Stories are like flight simulators for the brain. (p.213)
Stories have the amazing dual power to simulate and to inspire. And most of the time we don't even have to use much creativity to harness these powers - we just need to be ready to spot the good ones that life generates every day. (p.237)

You can learn more at This is a must-read for teachers, parents, saints, and anyone who cares about the enduring impact of their ideas.

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Luke Wroblewski: Interview

I talked with Luke Wroblewski about Search Patterns. Luke is Senior Principal of Product Ideation & Design at Yahoo!, Principal of LukeW Interface Designs, and the author of Web Form Design, a new book from Rosenfeld Media.

Our conversation began with a look at Search Monkey and Glue Pages. Search Monkey is an open platform that allows developers to enhance search results with rich media and structured data. The search gallery shows available enhancements such as Epicurious and Search Monkey is an important step towards the vision of search as a platform.

Glue Pages are specialized, enhanced, federated search result pages for select queries such as apple, banana, coffee, etc. This flexible, modular platform may fold into Yahoo's open strategy so developers can create custom results.

Luke went on to highlight a few behavior and design patterns:

  • Query Refinement. Most users won't refine pre-query. They don't know the size and range of the index. But they will refine post-query, and it provides tremendous value.

  • Search Assistance. Studies show a correlation between the number of words in the query and satisfaction with results. Search Assist improves query richness. Tips (e.g., did you mean?) improve confidence and suggestions (e.g., related concepts) can shift users into exploratory mode.
  • Layout. For query refinement tools, we found the right rail is the least discoverable. The top is the most obvious, but suggestions can get in the way of results. That's why search assist is on top but hidden by default. Other examples include Local and Shopping.
  • Vertical Search. In verticals such as News and Games, we've found that people are fine with two search boxes, one for the vertical and one for web search. In each vertical, we're selectively exposing structured metadata (e.g., pricing in Autos) to support the decision making process.

In the future, Luke sees deeper integration of applications into results. The query is an expression of intent. Sometimes users simply want to find information, but often they want to complete a task or achieve a goal. For instance, if you're searching for indiana jones, you may want to watch the trailer, find a nearby theater, invite friends, and buy tickets. We can get them closer to the action.

For inspiration, Luke keeps an eye on interesting startups, but feels it's critical to also look outside of search at the broader trends on the Web. At present, rich content is drawing users' attention, the barrier of entry to application development is falling, and social tools are producing mountains of potentially valuable social data. So, according to Luke, we can expect to find some interesting results in the future of search.

Note: If you'd like a copy of Web Form Design, use this discount code (FINDABILITY) to save 10% off direct purchases from Rosenfeld Media.

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Tom Chi: Interview

I talked with Tom Chi about Search Patterns. As senior director of user experience at Yahoo!, Tom led last year's major redesign of Yahoo! Search which featured the launch of Search Assist.

Search Assist has two components. First, auto-complete identifies when users need search suggestions by measuring typing speed and responding to hesitations. This feature has dramatically reduced the number of misspelled queries. Second, auto-suggest identifies related concepts, and helps users to move forward (refine), backward (expand), and sideways (related).

Tom explained that this innovation resulted from careful analysis of user behavior and psychology. Their studies showed searchers hadn't become more sophisticated over the past five years, and that users often blamed themselves for poor results. By studying the ways users fail, Tom's team saw an opportunity to help users make the query smarter, one simple step at a time.

This was clearly a good move. Since launching Search Assist, Yahoo! has seen significant improvements in user satisfaction, and a 61% increase in successful task completion. And, in a recent Keynote Benchmark study, Yahoo! took first place in the search assistance category.

Tom noted that thinking creatively about how you define the problem is essential to innovation. There are conspicuous opportunities (e.g., social, multimedia, ubiquitous access), but we must also seek the less obvious possibilities (e.g., making search invisible).

He finds inspiration in such works as Edward O. Wilson's The Diversity of Life. As Tom noted "any system, as it becomes more complex, approximates a biological system." That's an intriguing perspective for someone tasked with inventing the future of search. Good luck Tom!

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Potawatomi Trail

I took my wife's Garmin Forerunner 205 for a spin on the Potawatomi Trail last weekend. The high-sensitivity GPS receiver had no problem in the deep woods.

Potawatomi Trail

And, it was super easy to upload the data for access via Google Maps and Google Earth. I took a few photos too. I love Michigan this time of year!

Strange Connections

However, I'm still excited to be leaving for Georgia tomorrow and then Orlando for Endeca Discover 08. Should be fun (and hot)!

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