July 2008 Archives

Information Shadows

Mike Kuniavsky's fascinating Information Shadows keynote explores the serialization of everyday objects in today's era of ubiquitous computing.

Bike Shadow

It's required reading for fans of Spime, Everyware, Blogjects, and UFOs. Mike's written several articles too. Sounds like a great title for a book!

Strange Connections

Coming soon to You(r)Tube: Gut Bots.

I'm taking Three Cups of Tea and Cost on vacation. Any more suggestions?

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In reading Stephen Denning's latest book, I was most engaged by the preface in which he tells his own personal story about undertaking an ambitious quest to transform knowledge management at the World Bank.


In 1996, as part of a politicized reorganization, Stephen was stripped of his responsibilities and told to "look into information" which at the World Bank had "all the prestige of the garage or the cafeteria - a wasteland from which no traveler had ever returned."

After some investigation and reflection, he was struck by the immense potential to share the knowledge of the bank's world-class experts beyond the boundaries of the organization. This vision of "the knowledge bank" was received with strong enthusiasm and even stronger resistance. Several managing directors saw the idea as a serious threat to their power and authority.

Ultimately, Stephen gained the support of the bank's president, and was able to pursue his vision. What struck me most was his conception of this modern corporate experience as an against-the-odds quest:

I opted to set aside any idea of career advancement and commit myself wholeheartedly to making change happen, accepting whatever indignities I might have to suffer. I would do whatever it took, even if the effort were to take a decade.

This reminds me of Lawrence Lessig's mission to Change Congress (his recent keynote is well worth watching). Whether or not you agree with his politics, it's hard to deny he's on an ambitious, inspiring, terrifying quest.

As Denning notes, questioning oneself is a natural prerequisite to the quest:

Most of the great heroes of history have hesitated when faced with the issue of whether to proceed with leadership or not. Homer's Odysseus hesitated for seven years before leaving the island of Ogygia, where he was living with the nymph Calypso. Hamlet spent forever agonizing over whether to act or not.

So, if you're agonizing, perhaps you can draw inspiration from Denning and Lessig. But, if you're in the Northern Hemisphere, I recommend waiting, and enjoying the final few weeks of summer. Then, you can begin your quest.

Strange Connections

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea. - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I stumbled upon this great quote in Designing for the Social Web.

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Risks of Riding

Last summer, I bought a mountain bike. Since then, I've had a great time rediscovering the joys of cycling on trails and roads. I even participated in my first triathlon. Cycling is a great way to stay in shape, or so I thought.

Bent Bike

Then, two weeks ago, I had an accident. While riding down a hill on the Poto, my front wheel hit a stump and stopped dead. My bike and I did a complete forward flip. I landed on my back and managed to bruise a few ribs. The accident really shook me up, and it still hurts to breath deep.

Then, yesterday, while riding downtown, I got hit by a car (driven by a distracted Ann Arbor Art Fair artist). I escaped with only a scratch and a bruise, but my bike's front wheel got mashed.

So, now I'm wondering whether the long term dangers of riding a bike outweigh the health benefits. Don't get me wrong. I'll keep riding because I'm stubborn and it's fun. But I'm no longer convinced it's good for me. If you can point to any good data on the subject, I'd appreciate it. Thanks!

Strange Connections

If you have this Findability Study, please send me a copy. It's free, but their registration system is broken. AIIM should read their own study, if they can find it!

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Expanding Results

There was a good thread on the IAI Members List recently about expanding results during faceted search. For those not on the list, here are a few highlights:

Q. I'm restructuring the faceted search sidebar on an e-commerce search results page. What's your opinion about the user being able to expand results within a given search term, as well as narrow them?
A1. I do think it's worth enabling users to expand as well as narrow. NCSU's stacking breadcrumbs are an excellent way to show context and support relaxing one or more criteria. When I'm using Amazon, I often begin with a query (e.g., hitch rack), then navigate the category structure (Sports & Outdoors > Car Sports Racks > Bike Racks), and then wish I could remove my original query term (so I can see all items in the category, not just hitch racks), but with Amazon, I can't do that easily.
A2. In some usability studies we've done (at NCSU Libraries) we found that without prior training, a small percentage of users take advantage of this de-selection functionality. Most folks seem to ignore it. For those that "get it" it can be quite a handy tool for managing a large result set as it allows the user to expand and contract with minimal interaction...The larger the catalog, the more I think facet management tools (like de-selection buttons) add value.

For more, here's the thread. Not a member? Time to sign up!

Strange Connections

I'm now an official UX Pioneer. To learn how my parents' laughter drove me into a career in information architecture, read my story.

Tim Spalding, founder of LibraryThing, intends to replace the Dewey Decimal System with the Open Shelves Classification. Go Tim!

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