Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Adapt or Die

Peter has another spot-on post about how upstarts like Moveable Type and erode the foundations upon which enterprise software companies base their business.

Even if these challengers seem like gnats to the SAPs and OracleSofts of the world, they should mind that buzz. Just like Basecamp and Writely versus to the MicroSoft dynasty, the threat looms small right now.

Still, these threats grow over time. Remember that one year ago, Firefox was barely a blip on the IE radar, now it's at least a fearsome wasp. The OS market has proven somewhat harder to crack, though Linux and Mac both have made inroads lately, though for different reasons.

These markets share the same trend - lowering barriers to entry. For a long while, the only choice for an enterprise would be suites of enterprise software and personal machines running the MicroSoft suite. Especially in the enterprise world, the products have not been built to enable users to actually get their work done, rather features and capabilities are created to satisfy the corporate purchasing managers.

To those who have to use and support this software, the situation looks like this:
  • Too many features
  • Hard to use
  • Harder to support
  • Difficult and resource-intensive to alter/add features*
The new players are attacking the problems of users with a "low-hanging fruit" approach. They make certain tasks, such a simple collaboration (Basecamp, Writely), CRM (, and enterprise services administration (Rearden Commerce) easy for end users, business owners, and IT support.
  • Give user just what they need
  • Easy to use
  • Easy to support - right now mostly hosted, but there is no reason that they can't be installed (Google Search Appliance, anyone?).
  • Simple to customize/add features*
When I read Peter's post, it reminded me of an incredibly interesting Supernova 2005 podcast of a presentation by US Navy Commander Greg Glaros from the Office of Force Transformation, formed:
Because our business model was broken, our methods of waging war were inadequate, and the enemy was out-adapting us.
He goes on to discuss that the Armed Forces are trying new ways to solve some of the same challenges that many organizations face: new operational tactics, managing information and communication, navigating organizational hierarchies, and dealing with an entrenched and sometimes rigid organizational structures.

In this case, it looks like government is recognizing its vulnerability before the private sector.

Organizations of all sizes are going to have to learn how to adapt and change more quickly. As the infoglut continues, new packaging and splashier marketing campaigns will have less and less effect on the success of products and services.

Senior managers must put decision-making power and information into the hands of the line-level employees and encourage two-way communication at all levels, or a more nimble, savvy competitor will take advantage of their vulnerability. Maybe the carnage won't be as gruesome as Commander Glaros' new approaches are designed to avoid, but it will be ugly.

The thing that bugs me is that all the drama is unnecessary. The tussles would be more interesting if all the players were nimble and clever.

* provides a special development platform, and I believe that Rearden is planning on offering the same at some point in the near future. Peter also talks about how Adaptive Path and Seed Magazine have modified Moveable Type as an alternative to traditional CMS platforms. Pretty powerful stuff.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

User Experience As Sustainable Advantage

If you want to see people finally starting to quantify and analyze why businesses need UX practitioners, read the excellent McKinsey Quarterly article on "tacit interactions" as a sustainable competitive advantage. (registration req'd) The article presents many charts and numbers on how hiring of knowledge workers is exploding. Please check them out, but I want to discuss their conclusions here.
Raising the labor performance of professionals won't be easy, and it is uncertain whether any of the innovations and experiments that some pioneering companies are now undertaking will prove to be winning formulas. As in the early days of the Internet revolution, the direction is clear but the path isn't. That's the bad news —or, rather, the challenge (and opportunity) for innovators.

The good news concerns competitive advantage. As companies figure out how to raise the performance of their most valuable employees in a range of business activities, they will build distinctive capabilities based on a mix of talent and technology. [snip] Best practice thus won't become everyday practice quite as quickly as it has in recent years. Building sustainable advantages will again be possible —and, of course, worthwhile.
The next revolution in interactions (registration req'd)

UX practitioners by nature constantly handle the complex interactions. By continuing to produce effective interactions with customers, both internal and external, our argument about how to demonstrate our value as purveyors will seem quaint and unnecessary. Plus, we were in the thick of the Web's emergence, and we will be in the thick of these new trends.
Jobs involving the most complex type of interactions —those requiring employees to analyze information, grapple with ambiguity, and solve problems —make up the fastest-growing segment.
The next revolution in interactions (registration req'd)

Sound familiar? Along with our ability to set context and capture information within a multi-dimensional space, we provide key connections between the various parties. As the transactional nature of business practice relaxes, our abilities to generate multiple approaches and solve problems become increasingly important - and less about technology.

We are developing our skillsets by adding people management, negotiation, budgeting, and political wiles. Add into this mix new software tools and networks (Web "2.0") that enhance our brainpower, we seem to be creating personal competitive advantage.
Technology and organizational strategies are inextricably conjoined in this new world of performance improvement.
The 21st-century organization (abstract)

This statement demonstrates why the Information Architect stands at the crux of these issues. We improve the performance of the customer (Internet) and employee (intranet) interactions with technology (interfaces).

Why not try lessening our focus on the technology interface and put it more on the organization and its interactions? Our understanding of the customer interaction has led us directly into the teeth of the need for organizational redesign in most companies. We should follow these possibilities.

Companies like MIG, Adaptive Path, and Ideo are turning towards the less technology-heavy issues to those of process, people, and strategic interactions. This is a very exciting development.

How many times have we dealt with bureaucratic policies of a corporation or a governmental organization - and experienced frustration similar to that of a usability participant? Too many times to count, I'm sure.

Our skills can help organizations do something about it, and the organizations are starting to wake up to that fact. We are ready for the challenge.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Filling the Media Vacuum

We in UXland like to think that the effects of technology are liberating and benevolent. Sometimes, though, we see unintended effects on our intellectual resources.

The pressure on the newspaper industry is growing far more quickly than these institutions can adjust. In the NYT this week, David Carr notes that "Google Base reverses the polarity" on the newspaper business model.
Instead of simply sending automated crawlers out across the Web in search of relevant answers to search queries, Google has invited its huge constituency of users to send and tag information that will be organized and displayed in relevant categories, all of which sounds like a large toe into the water of the classified advertising business, estimated to be worth about $100 billion a year.

This could be a fine thing for consumers, but for newspapers, which owe about a third of their revenues to classified advertising, it could be more a spike to the heart than just another nail in the coffin.
New York Times, November 21, 2005

One could ask "Why that is a big deal?" or merely conclude that the media is a bad business model. Still, we need to be aware that there will be unfortunate consequences when whole fundamental industries are uprooted.

Journalism has been long considered the "Fourth Estate" of government, a profession meant to keep watch on the public good. What will happen if writers can no longer find organizations willing to pay them for the work they do?
But if you consider newspapers to be a social and civic good, then some things are at risk. Google gives consumers e-mail, maps and, in some locations, wireless service for free. But for Google's news aggregator to function, somebody has to do the reporting, to make the calls, to ensure that what we call news is more than a press release hung on the Web.

News robots can't meet with a secret source in an underground garage or pull back the blankets on a third-rate burglary to reveal a conspiracy at the highest reaches of government. Tactical and ethical blunders aside, actual journalists come in handy on occasion.
New York Times, November 21, 2005

Carr's concern is very valid here, though he really should be saying that "professional journalism" rather than "newspapers." How will we find relevant, quality information? How will we trust that information? Who will doggedly pursue truth while we are doing our day jobs? Yes, newspaper reliance on classified ads as their main source of revenue is flawed and fast crumbling. But let's help the journalists find a business model that works. Maybe we need journalists, just not the media companies.

In Good Night and Good Luck, a major plot line revolved around the news and it's lack of contribution to the media company's bottom line. Edward R. Murrow had to do entertainment interviews in addition to his serious news pieces. To fund his attack on McCarthy, Murrow and his producer even personally bought advertising space.

Murrow's contribution helped hasten McCarthy's downfall. Who else besides the professional media were in the position to put a spotlight on the Senator and do the legwork to counteract the Senator's own investigative resources? Daily Kos even goes so far as to say that the media companies are even more cautious than they were back in the 50s.

If the UX community is serious about helping lead us bravely into a new world of citizen involvement by technology, we need to also be there to help business and government be inventive on the organizational side as well. Isn't organizing what we do?

Sometimes when we give up control, we might not like what fills the vacuum. Let's help fill it.

Thanks to Gawker for the reference.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Reality, Gorgeous Reality!

Thanks, John Battelle.

None other than that bastion of media gravity, the New York Times, is helping us get out the word (registration req'd) that there is not reason to fear the new Web buzz. We're not going back to the bad, old bubble days. My co-worker handed me a printout (egad!) of the article and said, "hey, this basically lays out all that you've been talking about for months."

Legitimacy in the larger context is nice, but I'm happy to keep pushing the envelope of how people can use technology in an empowering way. Discovering new opportunities to simplify our day-to-day tasks while giving us more insight into our lives (both inside work and out) entertains me to no end.

Don't get me wrong, I'd not complain if our innovations were less of a struggle and people at my company were flocking to talk with me about how we could do great things together.

I find that over time many co-workers learn to trust my "way of thinking" and approach me to help them work through problems. Though not always right, I'm not afraid to try something new and see if it works. This mindset draws some people to me and pushes others away.

Oh, the "selling" still goes on for the latter group. Stay "on message." Morph the terms over time. Tease their context out of them and redefine the terms. Learn more about their problems and figure out what issue is really behind the decisions.

All-in-all, IA serves us right whether you apply it to the Web, to a document, or to a conversation. It's all about setting the context, kid.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

More Than Philanthropy

Alex Steffen has a great quote from his talk with Bruce Sterling at SXSW '05 on what he calls "attention philanthropy."
"Not all of us have money to give to good causes, but all of us have attention to give to good ideas." SXSW, Mar 15, 2005, from Odeo

Amen!! He was discussing this in the context of being more responsible in our consumption by rethinking the things we buy (clothes, furniture, etc.) that contain toxic chemicals or have grave impacts on environment and natural resources.

When he said that, however, my brain immediately took off in it's own direction and tried to apply this idea to user experience and technology. I'm not even convinced that this is really "philanthropy."

Many of the darlings of the tech world right now were not the first movers in their industry. For example, both Google and Flickr both arose within industries that were considered crowded and (somewhat) mature. Little did they know that by rethinking the approach of the user experience and coming at the problems from a different direction a whole new opportunity would open up.

Now that I'm thinking more about these concepts, Peter Morville's concept of ambient findability applies directly here.
How do we make decisions in the information age? How do we know enough to ask the right questions? How do we find the best product, the right person, the data that makes a difference? Business Week, Nov. 9, 2005

The companies we find most exciting right now, whether they be upstarts like Flickr and 37Signals or innovative behemoths like the BBC, are gaining a competitive advantage by loosening their controls on the interface, find new opportunities and success by:
  • creating simple functionality
  • examining how their customers use it
  • finding ways to extend/evolve it
  • updating the business strategy around those opportunities
In some ways, this is ambient product development. With this approach to building technology, we're talking about the how to enable iterative business strategy to create a competitive advantage. This indicates a co-existence of business strategy and design that all of us really want to see across the board as user experience practitioners and technologists.

Further than that, imagine if every interaction we have as consumers whatever the channel were as useful as doing a Google search. Maybe, just maybe, it's possible.

Talk About Time-shifting

During a special presentation of the SD Forum in August, John Markoff discussed his book about the 60's counterculture and it's effects on technology today. As I reveled in my morning commute, made much more interesting with this kind of content, I came to realize that the counterculture just needed to go silent to gain some experience.

Having lost much of it's utopian trappings, the counterculture matured through the 70's and resurfaced slowly with the PC and the Internet. As Markoff discusses and "Web 2.0" embodies, technology is infused with attitudes less about command and control, more about connection, context, and sharing.

Letting go of some control actually provides benefits - less "whacking a mole" or putting out fires, and more putting something out there and finding opportunity. The concept of the next "boom" as the rise of co-creation makes a lot of sense and reconciles well with open source development, user-generated content, and better information-finding tools.

The current attitudes towards control and innovation seem to represent the intersection of the counterculture and Generation X. Many representations of this younger generation paint a picture of disaffection and laziness. However, I believe we just wanted interesting problems to solve and the opportunity to do work that has some meaning.

Subsequent generations will be even more demanding in this regard. They will have never known a time without PC's, and soon, without the Web.

Good times.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Reasonable Return on Effort

Anil's post about the reward for building and "flipping" companies these days really resonates with some of my ideas about how simple, useful tools are now being built rather than the flashes-in-the-pan from the Go-Go Bubble.

People are reasonably getting rewarded for building something, but rather than making VC's rich, they are allowing themselves to be absorbed by larger companies (somewhat similar to Kodacell in Themepunks).

My favorite part comes in the comment by David Nemesis:
As far as I'm aware nobody who's hit it big because of Web 2.0 has quit their day job, but a number of their day jobs are now being acquired or subsidized by BigCos, and the end result will be a healthier, more innovative Web regardless of whether it's tagged or Google Mapped or built with agile development practices. That's pretty exciting.

This indicates that big companies are providing the infrastructure and support for interesting tools, rather than building up a new team to do the same thing as that tiny, new organization. Seems to me like everybody wins in this situation - at least for a time.

The Purpose-driven Life

Dan Pink is happy to report that people are slowly realizing that wealth and more possessions are not making them happy.

This desire for fulfillment is a great thing, certainly, but what he does not address is that the constant forces of more information and more technology also threaten people's ability to judge what would make them happy - let alone whether they are fulfilled or not.

Things like email and RSS feeds and podcasts and broadband are really wonderful additions to our connectedness.

As an IA, however, I'm starting to wonder how people can actually process all of this information effectively, to find a place where the information flows through them rather than at them - they can retain what they need and let go of the rest.

This is one reason I personally like, Furl, and Google Reader so much - they allow me to view information in my stream and come back later to delve into detail or see the bigger picture.

Those of us that work on technology have an opportunity to help our customers build this type of simplicity into everything that they use. At some point, I hope that organizations will start to see that both employees and customers deserve this care and feeding - it will benefit everyone involved.

I wonder if we even realize this yet.

Thanks to Mark Hurst for posting the Wharton article link.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Web 2.0: Getting the Mix Right

Yes, the Web is about people. It always has been. And, technology is involved, certainly.

When we began to work on the platform we lost sight of this fact, blinded by cold, hard cash and over-reliance on technology without any thought to it's usefulness to people. Fortunately, the cash wasn't endless, so we've been asked to be somewhat more practical.

With Web "2.0," we're just getting the mix right. At first we struggled with this new medium. Now, we're better at balancing on the tipping point. Taking the complex and making it as simple as possible.
  • Less big bang launches vs. More test-and-learn
  • Less solve all of your problems vs. More satisfy a single task
  • Less marketing flash vs. More word-of-mouth
  • Less words vs. More action
  • Less refreshing vs. More interacting
Peter's great new (and old) post alludes to the problem that I discussed here. I'm now refining my idea about what Jensen said.
"The universal problem seems to be how hard people have to work just to figure out what to do."
from Simplicity: The New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster by Bill Jensen

People actually know more of what they want to accomplish than might be apparent from watching them use the tools provided them. However, technology has filled our lives with tasks that have no impact on our goals and given us the "power" to generate tasks and information for each other.

Many technologies (e.g. Microsoft Office, CRM suites, etc.) generally have been built to levels higher than a task (a set of tasks for a person or organization). In order to do so, they had to standardize a persona or put in all features that all their various customers could use.

Still, that does not address the goals that engage people in the technology. Consider it at the level of inanity akin to hearing a mobile phone conversation absolutely void of any content.

1: "Hey."
2: "How you doin?"
1: "Cool. Where are you?"
2: "Home."
1: "Already? Nice!"
2: "Ok, talk to you tomorrow."
1. "Later."
2: "Bye."

The intent of this conversations is to be connected, to remind people that we are thinking about them. We're better served by solving simple tasks with technology - collecting data/information, creating new content, getting a picture of our overall progress on various goals.

As often discussed in usability or design conversations, we need to remember what people are actually trying to do and enable them to do so most effectively. With Web 2.0, we are actually showing how this might work.

I see the necessity of renaming the Web to Web 2.0 so we can distance people from history, and happy about the hope that this new outlook engenders. We're here to show other people that this is about listening and observing, not talking and controlling.

Go Web 2.0!

Thursday, October 06, 2005


The Podcast is not merely a "broad"cast medium. It can also a connect us and provide context otherwise unavailable.

One interesting way this plays out is in's "Unauthorized" Audio Tours. The first is for the MOMA. Yes, it's 11 mp3s. But, it's a big museum. I like the idea that at the least this is another perspective on the MOMAs collection. Makes the museum new to me even if I've been before.

I wonder what other similar applications this might have. Tours of San Francisco from the F Market? Weekly podcasts of the goings on in Chicago from people in-the-know? Freshman "initiation" at Colorado State?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Arc of the Organization

Cory Doctorow has been posting the first few chapters of his new novella, Themepunks, on The premise of the novella presents some very interesting thoughts on what could happen as large, "legacy" organizations start to find new ways to survive. In the book, Kodak and Duracell merge into Kodacell.
Capitalism is eating itself. The market works, and when it works, it commodifies or obsoletes everything. That's not to say that there's no money out there to be had, but the money won't come from a single, monolithic product line. The days of companies with names like 'General Electric' and 'General Mills' and 'General Motors' are over. The money on the table is like krill: a billion little entrepreneurial opportunities that can be discovered and exploited by smart, creative people.

Instead of selling off the pieces and going home, the new owners end the production of the companies products and become an incubator of sorts. Using the physical plant, infrastructure, and relationships of the larger organization, they enable small entrepreneurial ideas to come to market. Think of it as a mix of microlending, small-time venture capital, and contract manufacturing.
We will explore and exhaust the realm of commercial opportunities, and seek constantly to refine our tactics to mine those opportunities, and the krill will strain through our mighty maw and fill our hungry belly. This company isn't a company anymore: this company is a network, an approach, a sensibility.
from Themepunks, Chapter 1 by Cory Doctorow, September 12, 2005

After several years swimming in the pool of corporate life, I'm amazed at how much of our lives are spent trying to control things. Peter has rightly extolled us to let go, and we are trying to. Think of how difficult it is to do this for yourself, then extrapolate that out to an organization of 10,000 people. Maybe we can then see how crazy it must feel to the vast majority of organizations and institutions.
"I'll tell you, there's a downside to living in this age of wonders: we are moving too fast and outstripping the ability of our institutions to keep pace with the changes in the world."
from Themepunks, Chapter 1 by Cory Doctorow, September 12, 2005

I shudder to think what will happen if we don't find a way to remake large organizations before more limber and hungry ones siphoned away demand for their goods and services. Utilizing the infrastructure as throughput for others seems as good an idea as any I've heard.

Looking for some idea of changing organizations a few years ago, I stumbled on the Newfield Network and CIIS. Both teach "transformational learning" to address people's lack of meaning in work and encourage leadership in the community. The New Age bent and impressive expense waved me off during that lean time.

The cluetrain manifesto echoed some of these principles with a more practical, less mystical overlay.

Diving back to the corporate world rekindled my examination of the strange methods, hierarchies, and communications. Seeing cluetrain's promise of conversation playing out now with the new developments in technology, I'm hopeful to see that we see some movement in the larger organizations.

GE's Ecomagination and BP have both been touting their refocusing in the mass media. It's easy to dismiss their messages as corporate PR bunk, but I prefer to accept them, albeit skeptically, for the time being. At some level (subconscious, perhaps?), corporate executives must have some clue that the hierarchical organization is fast becoming a relic.

The new organization will be that conversation from cluetrain - at some level, in some way we can't yet visualize. As Doctorow reflects these ideas back in Themepunks, he's trying to tell corporate citizens not to be afraid, but to help your company embrace what's happening before obsolescence claims it.

Focal Points

I like these two quotes, as they remind me that we're seeing a convergence of opportunity with wisdom. Information is no longer in control of the few. The transmission is not perfect, but it's there, and the work we're doing is focusing the picture... every so slightly... every day a bit clearer.
To rip off what rock critic Jon Landau once said about Bruce Springsteen: I’ve seen the future of business, and it’s The Cluetrain Manifesto. At first you may be tempted to hide this book inside the dust jacket for or something equally conventional. But in time you’ll see the book spreading. It will become acceptable, if never entirely accepted. It will certainly become essential. Why am I so sure? Because like nothing else out there, it shows us how to grasp the human side of business and technology, and being human, try as we might, is the only fate from which we can never escape.

Thomas Petzinger, Jr. from the foreward of the cluetrain manifesto, 1999

Invention inspires invention. Ideas are collapsing into each other, recombining, and having powerful effects. The Internet has always been a medium for democratization, and by reconnecting with our idealism we’re once again uncovering its poetry, nobility, and transformative power.

If you’re not yet amazed, inspired, and a little anxious, you might want to consider it. Then get a good night’s sleep and perhaps take a rejuvenating vacation. We’re going to look back at Spring 2005 as a milestone. Watch closely, ladies and gentlemen. Things are about to change in a very big way.

Janice Fraser of Adaptive Path, from her essay, "It's a Whole New Internet", April 2005

Thursday, September 29, 2005

What To Do?

The universal problem seems to be how hard people have to work just to figure out what to do. Task work has become streamlined, but knowledge work has become more cluttered and confusing. Making the right choices - fast, while everything's changing - is now the toughest part of getting our work done.
from Simplicity: The New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster by Bill Jensen
Let's add "learning new things" and "making new connections" to that last sentence.

I like to think that "Web 2.0" is about trying allow a more graceful pivot - one with meaning rather than random pivots whenever we feel like it. Seems like mashups, Backpack, and Yahoo! 360 all help us take steps from data to information or relate tasks to a goal. I can't wait to see how things evolve to help find knowledge in that information.

Tim O'Reilly posted this Meme Map from Foo Camp, which sets some context for the activities, but doesn't say what all of these inputs lead to. For example, harnessing collective intelligence is great, but it necessitates a way to filter that new information in a way that allows you to gain knowledge from it.

Like Bruce Sterling said at SXSW, the reward for solving societies greatest problems is a better set of problems.

Business Cycle Contraction

As you can imagine, with the fragmented attention span of the consumer, business cycles are contracting. This effect reveals itself spectacularly in the movie/DVD business, as the studios get to experience the same cycle twice.

DreamWorks' Shrek 2 experience details just that.
The DVD business is going the way of the movie business—the sales window is getting squeezed so that every bit of time after a movie opens or a DVD is released is more important then ever. We’ve seen this trend become more exaggerated over the past five years in the movie industry. People rush to see a movie in the first weekend after it’s released, then attendance drops off dramatically (unless it’s a sleeper, word-of-mouth hit). That drop-off makes it all the more important for movie studios to lure viewers that first weekend, which leads them to load up on advertising.
from Fortune Streetlife, July 12, 2005
Wait a minute. This trend points to two major things - those so-called "sleeper" movies are actually good. Most movies these days are not very good, unfortunately. When people see a movie that is truly inventive, interesting, funny, or just plain good, they tell other people. Memento and the 40-year-old Virgin were both movies that fit this mold. Quality generates word-of-mouth. Nothing else.

In the case of DreamWorks, they have to distribute the movies and DVDs ahead of time and advertise the hell out of them, so they have huge sunk costs.
But as DreamWorks found when it overestimated Shrek 2 DVD sales, DVD buyers have a super short attention span. The dilemma: If you flood the market with DVDs as soon as you release a movie (as DreamWorks does), and count that as revenue, then you’re stuck with lots of returns. That's why studios like DreamWorks are looking for other distribution channels.
from Fortune Streetlife, July 12, 2005
In this instance, now DreamWorks must take a big charge for returns. Thus, these cycles changes will demand different company planning and encourages them to explore things like on-demand distribution and whatnot.

As Seth Godin keeps repeating (and hopefully will until we get it), companies that focus on making truly remarkable products will be the ones that survive in our current over-saturated consumer culture.

I would add to that less reliance on mass marketing and big bang attempts to create a market for a product that people in which people may not be terribly interested. In the DreamWorks case, much of the problem is that they have to appeal to the parents, especially in the theater phase of distribution. The kids are the real consumers, but if parents aren't spreading the word-of-mouth, it's likely that the kids won't see the movies.

Part of me feels for companies like DreamWorks. I know people that do that kind of work - they are brilliant and creative people who do amazing work and don't want to see their companies lack of insight into their customers affect it.

Mass Marketing Is Broken

In his Chaos Scenario, Bob Garfield notes that "the cost of reaching 1,000 households in prime time has jumped from $7.64 in 1994 to $19.85 in 2004."

Plus, not only do you have to reach the people who are watching, you have to actually have their attention. Linda Stone's "continuous partial attention" theory suggest that your ad will compete with any number of other things - cellphone, email, etc, that will have a stronger personal connection to the viewer.

Think about how television watching has changed. In the 1950s and 60s, the entire family sitting around the television in the evenings, watching the advertisement on one of 3 or 4 channels. None of the main instant-on devices were available. They didn't turn on the radio or make a quick phonecall during the break.

Over time, that has devolved into the situation we have today - hundreds of TV channels along with the multitude of other opportunities for diversion.

Add in the proliferation of marketing channels - product placement, ever smaller billboards (see the coffee sleeve for a key example) - and you have a complete saturation of marketing messages for the consumer. This translates into a crisis for the Marketing Team. Still the majority of the marketing spend goes to the standard channels of TV, print, radio, and (now) online banners.

The old companies have the hardest time changing. Still, there are good examples. Toyota nailed it with Scion. They built these things from the ground up based on guerilla research with the younger set. The marketing approach has also shown this kind of ingenuity.

You almost never see a Yahoo! or Google advertisement. They don't need to. They launch a new product or feature, and key bloggers are all over it almost immediately. The user base grows organically (which, incidentally lets them gradually test the scalability of the web app). It stays in Beta mode until they're ready to launch it, then some online ads appear just in the right place, and there you go. New product.

At some point, every Marketing Team will need to deal with this issue. Right now, there's some experimentation, but online banner ads and popup ads are lame, print ad-like applications of online advertising. Should be interesting to see how it develops as the fire turns up.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Stop Wasting Our Time!

Blake's post on downloading MS Money is hilarious, if exasperating, but also stands as a monument to how big companies still don't get it.

The post culminates in a comment by BenJ:
Budgeting doesn't need to be so complicated anyway.

Amen! I think that's why we're all here.

Both Microsoft and Quicken employ some of the most intelligent software people on the planet, but getting a simple, easy-to-use software package out the door in such large companies will continue to be a problem until two issues are solved.

Issue 1 - Put together a small team and leave them alone.

Updating people and justifying decisions to a vast array of senior managers can suck up a huge, and I mean HUGE, part of a team's time. Once the project is determined to be worthy of funding and you have your crack team in place, put a trusted senior manager/executive in charge of monitoring them and leave them alone.

Encourage the team to be in contact with their colleagues on other teams so that they have insight into what other projects are doing, but it's hard enough to do this stuff right. Let them focus.

Issue 2 - Let users buy/build extensions to add functionality they need.

First, develop a simple, easy-to-use basic framework for the software and then create extentions to let users integrate functionality specific to their desired uses. This works well in basically any software (personal, business, or enterprise). For you business strategizers out there, this can be turned into an income stream quite easily.

In fact, go one better and let other people develop extensions. The oft-mentioned APIs (Google Maps and craigslist) that created are very powerful in generating ideas for future development. If you find one you really like, license it. In this case, your customer works with you and gets something back. Heaven forbid.

As I work in a large organization, I feel the pain of the MS Money and Quicken teams. These tactics do not need to be unique to 37Signals and Adaptive Path. It seems like people are now frustrated enough, the tools are available, and the audience is starting to look elsewhere.

Life is complicated. Software shouldn't make it worse.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


There has been much of chatter lately about whether design thinking or business thinking is better. I think it's time for some cognitive balance, no?

LukeW does a nice job of showing how the various aspects of each mindset fall out and stays away from saying that either is better (even if his leanings are somewhat implied).

We carp on the dichotomy between these in order to effect some major shifts in the way that businesses value the way we think as designers. Our endgame, I believe, is to find the place where the clarity of the bottom line meets the vision of design.

I work for a firm where the business folks run the shop. Luckily, my leaders are brilliant business thinkers, so we do very well bottom-line wise. Still, I believe we could multiply those numbers by applying some serious design acumen. That is what I work to affect every day.

Do I get carried away by the business tasks put in front of me? Sure, and that's a source of frustration. However, I constantly seed my coworkers with a different perspective and show them how we can use both sides of our "brain" to find the most effective product offering for both us and our customers.

So far, so good.

Thanks for pointing out the post, Victor.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Mini Epiphany*

Watching My Architect, I'm realizing why Richard Saul Wurman's voice has such resonance with me.

It's not about projects, or deliverables, or usability, or information architecture, or any of the designs (visual, information, etc.), the current practice of working on software helps us fit technology to our lives rather than the inverse. We're seeing the end of "more," the idea that more complexity and more tools and more information is better. "More" is how technology currently affects us.

Look for ways to give people tools that help them live their lives, rather than give them a reason to use a particular application. Google Search, Flickr, and Backpack are some of the best examples thus far.

Someday the masses of people will rebel against the flood of information and take a step back. Though it may be initially a rejection of technology, the dust will settle and, maybe, they will recognize that there are simple tools out there that help them find knowledge.

Our practice(s) encourage us to use the various art forms as mediums to create the foundations for that time, even if the current climate fights tooth-and-nail to maintain the short-term focus of the status quo.

*Ok, "epiphany" may be a strong word. Maybe "reminder" or "reset" make more sense. Sometimes it's easy to forget this in the interest of making a project real - you know, "Get it done." Anyway, I am hell bent on reducing information anxiety (glut, etc.) and am happy to remember my mission at the highest level on occasion.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Innovation/Information Overload Tipping Point?

New Scientist is having a bit of fun with people, "teasing" them to read on by leading with:
Human inventiveness is so finely honed, and the globalised technology industries so productive, that there appears to be an invention to cater for every modern whim.

But according to a new analysis, this view couldn't be more wrong: far from being in technological nirvana, we are fast approaching a new dark age.

[link from Tomalak's Realm]

Then, they go on and lay out theories about accelerating, exponential technology growth and a long, slow decline, a la cosmology.

What if these theories are really emblematic of a different question?

We may be seeing the extension of the "chasm" made so famous by Geoffrey Moore, as it becomes less obvious to those not immersed in technology what really works, or what is best for them. There may be somewhat more early adopters because of the various ways you can satisfy your tasks with technology, but it becomes harder to really know who to trust. Word of mouth becomes somewhat less effective because around

Or possibly people will reach a level of information overload that keeps them from acting on anything. If the level of technology can expand exponentially, then think of how information can explode even more. Our own Infinite Information Theorem. Think I'll pick up Wurman's Information Anxiety 2, unless someone out there "recommends" that I not do so.

One can easily see how the promise of the Internet capture some harmonic resonance, but we'll see more fractures before this manifests itself in a way that we can all use. Then, these dueling innovation theories will be long forgotten.

Work away...

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Not the Only Answer

I'm glad there are some true believers when it comes to tagsonomies and the demise(?) of controlled vocabularies. They are collectively making very good points, though I personally find problematic the assumption that no cultivation of these herds of keywords will be necessary going forward.

Thanks to PeterMe for pointing out this great Business Week story on collective power of "Us." At first glance, this story seems like a pie-in-the-sky, go-go Internet bubble anecdote. But it'’s not. This is the Web actually fulfilling the promise that the bubble hinted at. We weren'’t ready for it then, now we are growing into it - and nicely, thank you.

Still, there are dangers.
Quite often, the best solution to a problem comes from the sudden flash of insight from a solitary genius such as Charles Darwin or Albert Einstein. It would be a tragedy if these folks, sometimes unpopular in their times, got lost in the cooperative crowds. Clearly, peer production has its limits. Almost certainly, it will never build railroads, grow wheat, run nuclear power plants, or write great novels.
Interesting that some of our Darwins and Einsteins would encourage their own demise. I suspect that they are thinking of their own trajectory as well. I'm interest to hear what they have to say about their next iteration.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Kudos & Questions

On the vocational cross-over front:

Victor shows how the design community is "trying" to open up about what it means to be a designer. Of course, the controversy is just as juicy; a skill the design community strives to perfect.

Then, there is this story on
Web usability expert Jakob Nielsen predicts that more people will live in rural settings, with technology enabling them to do almost anything they like, be it work or play, without leaving their homes.

Does it scare anyone else to the core of their being that Jakob is talking about anything other than web page real estate? Furthermore, why can I find almost NO protest on the web? Is no one else listening to Mr. Nielsen at this point? That's too bad.

Thursday, May 26, 2005


Listening to a Forum this morning about "Green" MBAs, I was struck by the fact that they were not really talking about environmental questions so much as starting to look seriously at teaching business people that think holistically about the non-marketing effects of their business.

Individually, businesspeople are starting to realize that work/life is not a balance, but rather all "life." One panelist, an MBA student, professed a desire to stop compartmentalizing her life - seems to me that she's not alone.

A caller made a wonderful point about how capitalism is about extraction and processing of resources for profit. This force has accelerated through the Industrial Revolution, and now we must turn our attention to cultivation and management of resources with the understanding that these activities affect more than the bottom line. In turn, the bottom line must change to better measure these things.

"Sustainable business" includes being responsible about resources, but also indicates a growing awareness of as a change in attitude about how the corporation is involved in it's community. Things like GE's Ecomagination and BP's focus on environment and society are easy to view cynically, but maybe we should take a step back and see them as people within business trying to change their organizations from within. To be sure, there are external forces guiding the efforts, but the employees are also global community members.

The tenor was strikingly similar tenor to our discussions of "design thinking" and our attempts to use design practice to influence business decisions. Nod to Peter for pointing out that we do not hold a monopoly on this type of thought; the discussion this morning on Forum shows that we, gladly, have plenty of company.

Another panelist mentioned that business is a "conversation" with customers. Design practice can help business deeply understand the discussion with it's clients (Internet projects) and internal ones about processes (intranet projects). These conversations are growing in their influence on the business strategy and, maybe, just maybe, on how the "bottom line" is calculated.

We may not be back in the go-go days, but it seems that some of the prophecy mentioned throughout the Cluetrain Manifesto is finding some light of day - the web is breaking down the control of these conversations. Companies are starting to figure out how they can change to better understand these different aspects of the discussion. I, for one, am happy to contribute.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Noise Baton

With Paradox of Choice, I'm nervous there is no answer. Noise just gets louder, as we buy Real Simple magazine and retreat to Pottery Barn for mock rustic reminders of simpler decades.

Christina, What we are learning now is that the 50's was the WRONG answer to the scariness that was WWII and the crumbling of our fantasy of isolationism. The Marshall Plan was a gruff admission that we needed to expand our idea of "neighbor." Now, we know that someone halfway across the world should be considered a member of our community based on shared knowledge or experience or need for some piece of information we have.

The term "intelligencia" is evolving from "one with knowledge*" to "one who extracts knowledge from the whole of available information." We can no longer go to one mentor to relieve our worry of noise. We have to rely on a patchwork of our own intuition, the exponentially expanding body of information, and a cadre of sages and interesting thinkers to help us craft our own knowledge base.

Jonathan J. Harris is one of those people. You are one of those people. I have hope (and humility) that my talents are conspiring to take me there. Press on!

*As defined by a learnedness based on the generally accepted classical theorists, mostly from Western cultures.

Certainly Not Perfect, But I Can Live With This

Thanks, Bloglines. Over the last few weeks, I've increased my blogreach 500% with no effort. None. If anything, I've come to truly understand how much interesting* thought is out there and how blogging might not feel contrived.

Through metacool, comes Good Enough is the New Perfect, which I am usurping to generate momentum for this blog. Half-baked ideas? Help me finish them up. Sneaking suspicions? Call me a rumormonger. Brilliance? Only if we're really lucky (odds akin to winning the lottery).

I have a tendency to let ideas simmer within for a good long while before trotting them out for public consumption. Lately, I've started to realize that my "blinks" are ready for observation and will help me iterate them more quickly.

So watch out UXers and geek voyeurs, here we go. Feel free to poke and prod. We'll all learn something.

*Aside from the fact that the picture is certainly not from Wisconsin.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Thomas Vanderwal's post on The Art of the Pivot is right on. Our current media environment allows us new kinds of serendipity that even Al Gore couldn't have envisioned. I, too, would like more opportunities for this kind of interaction - especially on the iPod.
Man, I love that Kings of Convenience song. Wish I could rate it right now, because I'll certainly forget later.*

However, there is a flip side to this benefit, one that is disturbing and portends an epidemic of ADD/ADHD-type syndromes/disorders. The fact that when you can forever pivot, you may never get anywhere; the Internet assumes a bit role as interactive TV.

covers some of the dangers here in a plea for more attention and analysis from current design students. She's been flexible in teaching her design students, but they are losing the ability to focus on anything long enough to make simple connections.
And so I ask, Are my students condemned to put forth half-baked design ideas in a world that desperately needs their help? Are they--and we--losing analytical skills? Those questions hang heavily in the back of my brain like over-ripe apples about to fall from a tree.

I would like to suggest that some things cannot be learned without devoting one's full and undivided attention to them--no matter how much we celebrate multi-tasking. I suggest that it may be impossible to grasp difficult ideas and remember useful facts by surfing from one Web site to another. Without our personal storehouse of well-reasoned ideas and reliable facts, we cannot hope to be analytical, at those many times when life and work require us to use all the gray mater we can fire up.

Amen, Susan! I think all of us have felt the pressure to read everything and know everything and do everything. Not only to we have to be aware of the pivot opportunities, we also should be aware that every time that pivot appears, we're going to lose some of those that are trusting us to lead them down a path.

Let's remember that we need to open up the pivot opportunities to allow for wonderful, new connections, but also enable those who are looking for us to lead them to knowledge, not just data, information, or recommendations. We can do so much more.

*Ok, the fact that writing this post reminded me to rate that song heard in the car on the way home today proves Thomas' point. So be it. Please excuse me while I take care of that small detail...

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

A Tiny Bit Farther

Livia has been asking how is IA practices can assist with innovation in business. As time goes by, I think we're seeing more reference about how this can work.

Victor notes that Chris Conley from IIT is selling a New Kind of Professional. I like how Victor pictures different disciplines vying for the "prize," but won't make it until they realize that a great way to make progress more quickly is to cooperate and share knowledge. Some of you, I'm sure have been part of project teams that actually worked together.

At this same time, Roger Martin from Toronto's Rotman School of Management tells Fast Company:
"Business people don't just need to understand designers better -- they need to become designers."

Well, the opposite is true as well. Designers need to become more business savvy in their practice. Who better to learn from than the business people? Why not teach each other on-the-fly? And, of course, we could share knowledge with engineers as well.

The Fast Co. article also mentions that designers (and, by extension IA practice) examine a "mystery" and propose a "rough solution" with our imaginations. We can also help make sure that solution is validated and refined. This approach balances out the business tendency to boil down new problems into familiar analogies and apply old solutions in new ways.

In practice, both approaches will balance each other out as we come to appreciate the other's expertise and ways of thinking. We've all over-thought design solutions, esp. within groups of designers. It would be nice if, occasionally, someone said, "why don't we just... like we did over there?"

Then, throw in Dan Pink's A Whole New Mind, which, from what Christina and Dan Brown say, is an amalgamation of analytical and creative thinking on a level that we only toy with at the moment. Certainly there are some of these people out there right now, we all know a few. I'm happy to follow in their footsteps and find how my talents and experience lead me to a set of skills portable no matter the economic environment.

These issues are what have encouraged me to join the "other side" as a product manager. From the business perspective, however, I'm learning that my situation is asking me to use my IA chops more than pure business ones and try to find ways to illuminate UX principles in the business context. Progress seems to come in fits and starts, but it is happening. Stay tuned...

Watch Out, Big Boys

I hope others with passion for UX find it heartening to see companies like 37signals (Basecamp) & the iRise suite getting some notoriety these days. For me, they exemplify the idea that solving a difficult problem simply and well can often trump over-engineered, feature-laden applications.

These two solve distinctly different problems but do so in a space that's very analogous - a (seemingly) simple, yet very functional approach to tasks/needs that most individuals or organizations deal with on a regular basis. Until now, the choice has mainly been to institute ever larger and more complex software, MS Project or RequisitePro, respectively.

Whether or not these two applications actually do/do not knock MicroSoft or IBM off of their pedestals is beside the point. Rather, I believe that this is the start of where simple, flexible tools and processes start to trump the bloated, micro-managed practices put in place in large organizations and allow small groups of people to make big leaps very quickly.

In fact, 37signals just launched Backpack for your personal information. Hey, they knocked that silly project management thing; why not tackle something a bit more difficult.

In the end, it's about people sharing their contexts, listening to each other, capturing the results, and doing something with the collective intelligence. Most of us need less time haggling about requirements or "managing" the project. Instead, let's build things that solve real problems.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Partial Answer to a Good Question

A wise friend of mine asked me a couple weeks ago what I'm attempting to accomplish with this blog. My answer at the time was something to the affect of, "I'm trying to connect the various thoughts that pop into my head as I go about my day and ricochet around the Web."

Last week, I happened on Scott Berkun's truly amazing essay, Why smart people defend dumb ideas.

My preference when discussing an idea or determining an action almost always results at some point with a desire for me to let it ferment in my head for a bit. Then, at some strange moment, usually when I'm driving home upon my iPod's aural surf or enjoying how well my favorite baseball team is starting the season, the "answer" will hit me.

Now, I have few more thoughts about her question.

For 7 years now, I've been talking with and watching people use technology. For 12 years, I've been talking directly with customers or watching them interact with companies. The entire time, I've felt that the businesses have very strange ways of making decisions.

Back in 1999, I was asking around about why websites had interesting functionality or looked "cool," but you could basically forget being able to actually use it or find anything. Another swami pointed me in the direction of usability.

I found that interesting, and watching over 2 years of weekly user testing certainly helped my education along. I quickly discovered a major dissonance. The focus of usability tests (we were doing) was "does/doesn't the ui work," while the participants were revealing more interesting and far-reaching subtexts such as "Why would I want to do this?" or "I'd prefer to do this another way."

The funny thing was that, though they were generally on the same side, designers and usability folk were, at that point (and only slightly less so now) talking almost the same language, but with different accents or foci. At first, I tried to bridge that gap by working with the designers (through product managers) to set the stage for the context of a project and what ui issues might pop up in the project.

Shortly, the PMs started to come to me when the project started to discuss how their business problem might best be solved. This cemented my interest in the path which we've started down - finding a way to answer some of those issues to which the aforementioned users were alluding.

Now back to some of those "very strange ways of making decisions." Usually businesses are driven to action by:
  • some particular business driver (cut service costs, increase a particular transaction)
  • a desire to offer a new service
  • some competitor offered a feature, and we have to copy
  • some executive whim (said dumb idea) cascades down the org, most of which have little or no mechanism to diffuse or redirect the idea.
  • desperation
Lately, I'm struck that the design community might just be ready to help business rethink how they make decisions. That is an intensely interesting problem to me, and one that I'm convinced could entertain the lot of us for a very long time. Still, as with any new ideas (or new uses of old ideas, if you must), there's a lot of noise out there diverting the application of said solution and different possible threads.

Thus, I'd like to use this blog for:
  • Capturing interesting ideas that help connect what users need to the strategic directions of organizations
  • Connecting seemingly unrelated ideas to the above affect
  • Making a contribution to the larger context of our discussions about UX (or whatever we end up calling it), technologies, and the greater interaction environment.
Certainly, these items will continue to evolve. Just wanted to capture them now.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Are We Satisfied With Our Self-satisfaction?

Thanks to Alex and Gene, sanity has a voice in the universe.

However fun it is to make pronouncements about user experience being dead* or ontologies being overrated, we should know better.

Isn't our entire purpose of being to bring context to different constituencies within relationships - not only to each other but to the data that is manipulated? Whether usability practice, interaction design approach, UCD methods, etc, we vie for a spot at the adult's table, and our pontification propensity subverts that desire.

I, and certainly not just me, have higher aspirations. If we play our cards right, we may just be part of the next leaders of our still-fledgling web channel. Take a lot of empathetic practice, use it not only in our outputs but as part of our "sales" processes, and watch the pure business types scramble to find their third dimension.

I'm going to have a blast and hope you will join me.

*Grrr. PMe just had to post now with a much more interesting perspective that I certainly agree with. Thanks, Peter.

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Long Tail Wagging the Dog

So much to say, but other professional insanity restrains me. Take that as you will. To whet your whistle, an illustrative snippet of the long tail attempting to unleash it's authority.

Lost chanteuse Fiona Apple has a finished album, shelved since 2003, that Sony executives do not consider "commercial enough for release." The rumors around the recording and status of that album motivated long-time Apple fan Dave Muscato to start the Free Fiona campaign, including a website and a protest at Sony's offices in NYC.
(see the MTv News story, Jan 2005)

Now, by itself, you would think that this is a nice story of a fan trying to generate noise for a favorite artist no longer thought of by the fickle music-consuming public. However, some of the album is circulating on the Internet, and a Seattle station has played a few songs.

Support seems to be growing from the ground up, exemplifying a niche market trying to flex it's newfound power in mass media. Once these consumers realize that they have some sway, the (soon to be formerly-) dictatorial music executives will find their power slowly(?) usurped.*

Sony might go ahead and release this album online, say, and let her fans carry the torch for a while. Then they get to see how it does before doing a more expensive, marketing-driven release. Think of it as a Beta is the New Black for the media markets. When will consumer-facing businesses wake up and try to ride the wave rather than continue building dikes in rising seas?

*And there is the possibility that the change will not be so gentle. More on that later.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Wise Crowds

Victor mentions the 4 characteristics of "wise" crowds from James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds.

It strikes me that, "wise" crowds, even if they are hierarchical, have effective information circulation amongst team members of all authority levels. Maybe "wise" refers to an enlightened ability to limit the amount of personal spin put on the information, or, instead, "filtering" information effectively no matter what direction it's headed.

This filtering sounds much like what IAs do.

I propose that information flow, in most organizations, acts much like an clogged artery - some of the passages are working just fine. As blocks forms and grows, the other parts of the system must work harder to pump the same amount of blood. Couple this with the crush of information that the modern workplace must synthesize with this interference, and the effectiveness of the entire system suffers, possibly with terrible consequences.

IA can help avoid both of these situations by providing some insight into where the blocks are forming, how to circumvent them, and lead the exercises that increase the vessels ability to pump the blood.

Better, Stronger, Faster.

Karl Fast suggests the book Complexity by Mitchell Waldrop. Can't wait to dig into complexity theory.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The iPod Therapist

"Music therapy is the systematic use of music, within a developing relationship between patient and therapist to restore, maintain, and improve physical, emotional, psychosocial and neurologic function."
Institute for Music and Neurologic Function

I'm finding an interesting effect of iPoding. Much like smells, I'm finding that songs are triggering certain memories.

"We Are Each Other" from the Beautiful South's 0898 or, really, anything from the Housemartin's The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death conjure up images of my Junior year of college, looking over the campus from the 13th floor of Tower 2. Good times.

Or, Poe's "Angry Johnny" or "Trigger Happy Jack (Drive by a Go-Go)" putting me in my awesome apartment in the Central West End right after college.

One must also be careful about what ends up in your iPod "session." OMD was cool for a suburban St. Louis high school stud like me, but after Tesla Girls comes on, say, the third time, you're begrudging iTunes for finding it in the "archives" folder. Or, send you running to take out the Propellerhead's "History Repeating." (The shuffle function's shortcomings are well-documented, but come on!)

God forbid that heavy rotation ruins the soothing nature of Bill Wither's Use Me Up or the emotional impact of Jeff Buckley's Morning Theft.

Still, with the effects of these rememberances, I'm starting to wonder if these constant, system-driven reminders of times past will start to connect us to thoughts, ideas, or moments long (or lately) forgotten - allowing us to spend a tiny bit of extra time adding to our language studies, or finding that one additional piece of information that proves your hypothesis.

Will the iPod help us continue to slowly expand our capacity for knowledge, reducing slightly how much time we're caught up in "managing" our current library?

Maybe, instead, we'll just get to sleep before midnight for once.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Moment of Inspiration

(Or Connecting to the Web Way Out)

During Brett's presentation Why Amazon Is Not Enough from the IA Summit, I made a connection between a fantasy of mine* and what the web can do.

Long have I harbored a pet peeve with our education here in the US. In my experience and hearing other people talk about it, our system is geared towards certain types of learning methods (mostly memorization). Generally, certain people do very well in these environments; I certainly did. However, over time, I am understanding that I don't really learn that way; I just adapted to the system.

Hearing the discussions on NPR about No Child Left Behind and the new SATs, I find more about different ways that people learn and that education in our country (at least) has not yet widely embraced these alternative methods. You do see more magnet and alternative schools, but they are certainly not the norm.

With this in mind, Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age hit me like a brick when I read it a few years back. The premise of the story is that a young girl is given a book that "binds" to her and teaches her "everything" based exactly on her personal mindset and intellectual ability. As you can imagine, that resonated with me.

Now, back to the IA Summit. Brett was talknig about how the web can be more than recommendations, extrapolating to consumers controlling their information (CMI). Then it hit me: when you look for recommendations, you're trying to learn something. As you build your knowledge on the subject, it would be good to have a "learning guide" that you've built yourself out of various sources and media.

Well, what about a way that your Personal IA (see Thomas Vander Wal's Personal Info Cloud) were to help you:
  • build the guides - directing you to sources that you have returned to repeatedly for other reasons
  • remind you of things you've learned before that relate to this
  • suggest people you already know that may know more about this
  • point you to people/groups to whom you aren't yet connected
  • sent out inquiries on the web (anonymously?) and aggregated the responses (Google Answers? Ask Jeeves?)
  • present this body in a way that you, particularly, can understand
Not much farther on from this would be the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer from Diamond Age. That's the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night. I love my job.

*not that kind.

Monday, March 14, 2005


Livia wants some hypotheses on IA as change management.

Here's one:

Most organizations vacillate between two extremes. Either they institute too much structure and control with bureaucracy (see the Rational Unified Process) and inflexibility, or they allow too little control or structure (take your pick - or WebVan, anyone? Suggestions welcome).

Information Architecture can create a "loose" structure(s) that:
  • Frames the problems, opportunities, and constraints
  • Allow for varied perspectives (of both project stakeholders and the end-users)
  • Removes much of the politics from the decisions made in the project
  • Maximizes the benefit for everyone
Thus, IA can allow change to happen without strangling creativity or allowing too much flexibility.

Come on, let's prove that one!

Friday, March 11, 2005

Emergence of the IA Furies

So, Jesse, issued a clarion call this week at the IA Summit. Beware those the incur the wrath! To dispell my own displeasure at the wanton waste of hard work and contribute to society (finally), I start... now.