Serendipity (definition) and browsing are really closely related words. Serendipity is one of those words that I just really like. It took me a while to learn (I kept forgetting what it meant), but now I love it. Serendipity. Serendipity.

Scott Andrew is starting to play around with linking strategies. (via Matt).

I think a lot of people lately have started using Google functionality, like backwards links and similar pages when browsing the web. I was thinking about this, and decided to experiment with search terms. When I’m writing something, I usually do a few google searches. Why not shares those search terms, which constitute valuable information, since I usually have to try a few before finding the best ones.

Google searches: “serendipity browsing” and “supporting serendipity“, which lead me to this interesting PPT file: Collaboration in the digital library (PPT), from Lancaster university, which makes good points like:

– Collaborative, situated learning just happens because of physical affordances.
– Collaboration (in searching in libraries) happens, it matters and we should build interfaces to support it.

… and uses ethnographic methods.

Did I mention serendipity?

Getting over hierarchies

I am getting pretty close to letting go of hierarchies when developing websites. I’ve been looking a lot at:

– The work of George Lakoff (at

Topic maps.

I’ve been playing around with faceted metadata on a site of mine. What I’m experimenting with:

– What other navigation support do we need to keep after we’ve added metadata navigation. What can we throw away?
– How to best presents this rich metadata?


– A list of methapors we live by.
– Funny this, I’d seen it before but didn’t know about Lakoff back then! The Metaphor System Used to Justify War in the Gulf
Metaphors of terror
Metaphors we compute by.

Chains and teams

I learned a few things about teams during the past two years:

– Good teams are crucial to successful projects.

– Process is crucial too, but good teams play with process, ie. adjust it to their needs for the project. Bad teams follow process literally and then complain about it.

– You can not afford a role in the team (visual design, IA, copy writing, …) that is weak. You can only afford weak members if someone else picks up their role.

The client is part of the team. The team needs to educate the client and put them in the right mindset to work together.

– Specs are secondary in a good team. Specs can only convey say 40% of the nessecary information. Good teams talk, they don’t throw specs at each other. Specs are insurance that everybody understands each other, nothing more.

– Working together from a distance is only effective if you know each other well.

Of course this all assumes web-like projects. I’m not talking about launching the space shuttle, although many of the same ideas would apply. (Not the spec one)


A Yahoo category: Home > Society and Culture > Food and Drink > Drinks and Drinking > Coffee > Kona Coffee (via the Rockabilly Librarian) The depts of the net never cease to amaze.

Seriously though: I was thinking: most forms of expression have brought forth a number of really interesting and rich genres. Think music, or photography. On the web, it seems like its still early days, because really, most sites just aren’t very good… There are a few blogs out there I enjoy, and some useful sites. But mostly its fairly drab.

I think one of the problems is that we’re still in a stage where most web designers (and I use the term broadly) are concerned mostly with form. Or technology. Not content.

That includes most of the weblogs, and most visual sites (the Flash crowd). Few people actually think about what they have to say, and how to say it. Almost none use the strengths of the web to reinforce their point. I’m hoping some bright kids will come up with the really good stuff soon. Us old timers will probably hate it :) Come on kids, surprise me!

I know of the blogger crowd, and the Flash crowd. But what other experimentation is going on? Porn? Maybe the real strengths of the web are being discovered at unlikely places like Geocities. I’m gonna have a look right now!

Referrer logs

I’m on page 1 on Google for the following terms:

– defining business requirements
– temp work london consulting
– information design belgium
– personal site of information architect
– resume and sequel server (strangely)
– resume objective profile programmer
– van design specification


The great WikiNow

I was following links from Victor to other people’s attempts to combine wiki’s and weblogs. Turns out there are not only conceptual differences that make this a Hard Thing:

– A weblog is timebased
– A wiki exists in the Great Now

… but also cultural differences:

– A wiki is very much a group effort.
– A blog is a soapbox, an individualistic effort.

Bring this together with Hofstede’s work on cultural differences, specifically the dimensions Power Distance, Collectivism and Individualism, and it turns out that blogs will appeal to cultures which value individualism (US), and wikis to cultures which value collectivism more.

However, it so happens that countries which value collectivism more (which should encourage wiki-ing), often also have a greater power distance (ie. you don’t question your superiors), which may lead to less wiki-ing.

Costa Rica is the only country Hofstede tested that has small power distance, yet a high degree of collectivism. So Costa Rica wikis should rule.

Which leads me to conclude, dear Watson, that wiki’s and blogs are very good examples of how culturally determined values influence web use.

Personal planning and key logs

Since I’m having all this change in my life, I’m trying to find something a bit more meaningful to do than developing silly websites. It’s like a key log moment, trying to find what matters.

{Dodgy explanation:} When lumberjacks cut down trees and make them go down the river, the trees sometimes get stuck in the river. The lumberjack must then find the key log, the one that, when he moves it, will make all the other ones start moving again. It’s all about dependencies. (From the Dune books – Frank Herbert)

The Washington Post has an interesting article on scenario development. (via Overmorgen) But I think I’m gonna let go. Go with the flow, see what happens. All this planning my life can’t be healthy.

Is it Art? Is it Science? (No, it’s superman!)

Here’s the thing with ethnography: they seem to have the feeling they need to prove they are a real science.

I was trying to find out where I’d heard that before, and then it dawned on me: photography. I studied photography, and a surprisingly large part of photographers felt this strange need to prove they were Art (the classes were in the Academy of Arts, together with painters, sculpters and such).

I always tought that was pretty silly, also because “Art” is such an undefined thingie.

The value of ethnography, as I see it, lies in the extended attention you give a certain thing. If you look at and think about something for so long, surely you’re gonna come up with some good ideas about it.

Which reminds me of a story I read about a guy who was manic-depressive. He was talking about one of his manic phases (which last a few months), and how he spent a whole afternoon staring at a glass of water, touched in his deepest soul by the beauty of it, by its connectedness with all things. A Zen master would approve, I thought.

One of documentary photography’s classics is “Let us now praise famous men” (book at, by James Agee (writing) and Walker Evans (pictures). It is a documentary examination of poor families in the US. Is it Art? Is it journalism? Is it ethnography? Nobody can tell. But it stands tall, even after all these years.

One of the most famous documentary filmmakers ever (he shot those really long black and white movies in prisons and schools, but I can’t remember his name for the life of me…, please let me know if you know his name) was in Bogota a few years back, at a conference on documentary film.

A friend of mine was there. She told me he was asked if he considered his films Journalism or Art. (The films are very impressive, and in a dry style, very journalism like. There are no voice overs, nothing added, just roll the camera and edit.) To the shock of many present he said “Art, of course.

It’s strange how these disciplines have this urge to prove their worth by being “Art” or “Journalism” or “Science” or anything else with a capital. Surely it’s all the same? I’d rather concentrate on making something that stands, regardless of which of the cultural maffias approves it.

The WIKI way

From Raelity bites: “I suppose the most perplexing thing is how little crossover there appears to be between the Wiki and Weblog worlds. In my mind, they’re like peanut butter and chocolate. Yet reactions to this not-particularly-bold assertion suggest something more along the lines of broccoli and jello.”

My ideal tool = Wiki + Weblog + Translation features + faceted metadata for navigation. When, people? When will it be here?

Better questions, not more answers

I can’t believe how good Frank Herbert really was. I was looking at Dune messiah, containing quotes from the Dune books, and couldn’t help noticing how much IA’s have in common with the mentats described in the books. Information architecture is very much about asking better questions. Read the Dune books if you haven’t already!

Here’s a quote:

“Above all else, the mentat must be a generalist, not a specialist. It is wise to have decisions of great moment monitored by generalists. Experts and specialists lead you quickly into chaos. They are a source of useless nit-picking, the ferocious quibble over a comma. The mentat-generalist, on the other hand, should bring to decision-making a healthy common sense. He must not cut himself off from the broad sweep of what is happening in this universe. He must remain capable of saying: “There’s no real mystery about this at the moment. This is what we want now. It may prove wrong later, but we’ll correct that when we come to it.” The mentat-generalist must understand that anything which we can identify as our universe is merely part of larger phenomena. But the expert looks backward; he looks into the narrow standards of his own specialty. The generalist looks outward; he looks for living principles, knowing full well that such principles change, that they develop. It is to the characteristics of change itself that the mentat-generalist must look. There can be no permanent catalogue of such change, no handbook or manual. You must look at it with as few preconceptions as possible, asking yourself: “Now what is this thing doing?”
The Mentat Handbook ~ Children of Dune

Moving to the USA

So I’ve quit my job, and I’m moving to the US. ( if you know someone in NY/NJ who is looking for an information architect with a focus on CMS, metadata, internationalisation.)

Something I realised yesterday: when a client comes to me with an idea for a website, they have something in their head that works really well: a fantasy.

Requirements gathering is a bit like discussing sex in that way: the client will have this fantasy of a website, and ofcourse, in their heads it all works perfectly. Like a sex fantasy: in your head it may be great to have sex with 4 people on the beach (random example), but most people realise that that doesn’t nessecarily mean they want to act this out in real life.

The client though, he can just see it. The site will be perfect. You need to get them down in the real world, because when you actually try to build this baby, all the real life constraints set in, and that’s when things get hard. Prototyping is good for giving them that taste of real life…