Welcome to Gmail

Welcome to Gmail: “A Gobble approach to email. In 1621, a few hundred Pilgrims and Native Americans sat down to celebrate a bountiful harvest. The feast lasted three days, and included fowl, venison, fish, berries, watercress, lobster, dried fruit, clams, and plums. There was no pumpkin pie, however. There was also an alarming lack of user-friendly webmail services.”

43 Things (a list of what people want to do with their lives) has in the largest font these:
– take more pictures
– work because I like to, not because I have to
– move to New York
– drink lots of coffee
– exercise more

Apart from the last one, I have done ALL of the above during the last year. Living in NYC. Quit my job to start for myself. Bought a digital camera and started taking loads of pictures. And coffee. Seems like I’m doing alright :)

Research shows that often people remember books by the color of its cover (“Well, it’s red…”). For some reason, organizing books by their color has been in the news recently. Peterme showed a picture of his bookshelf organized by color in The Tension between the Personal and the Public, there was the Adobe Bookshop in San Francisco that agreed to allow its estimated 20,000 books to be reclassified by color. Cataloblog points to an older effort by the New England School of Law to provide color as a limit on searching. My contribution to the list: the international childrens digital library provides color as one of their facets in the interface.

The England School of Law interface.

The ICD interface includes color and shape as facets.

The Adobe bookshop organized by color.

Peter Merholz’s bookshelf.

A google search for color indexing reveals more. Or try Google scholar for papers.

Boxes and Arrows: Redesigning Boxes and Arrows: “We could have redesigned ourselves, but we felt our community is one of our biggest assets, so we turned to them to help us envision our next generation of the website. We got many entrants, often fascinating, sometimes surprising, sometimes strange, all intriguing.”

“Intriguing”. Is that like saying, my cousin is a bit “special”? Probably not.

OhMyNews International: “OhMyNews, the revolutionary Korean citizen-journalism outfit which launched an English-language version earlier this year has done itself one better: it’s now training participatory journalists from around the world.”

Day 3: entrepreneurs

  1. Six days with the Akshaya project: day 1: overview
  2. Day 2: technology
  3. Day 3: entrepreneurs
  4. Day 4: promotion
  5. Day 5: training
  6. Day 6: conclusions

The Akshaya project uses an interesting business model: local entrepreneurs run individual Aksaya centers, and are expected to become profitable by themselves. This way the project won’t die of lack of funds once the initial interest or funding dries out. Sustainability.
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Any recommendations/tips around using CVS on Windows? The situation is this: I prefer an easy gui tool over command line because I won’t be using it that much. The CVS server is hosted somewhere else, I just need a tool to work locally with it on Win XP.

IA terminology: the paraphrase problem

The “paraphrase problem” is when a user adopts terms different than the terms used in the document they are looking for.

For example, a user might search for “laptop” but on your website these things are always called “notebooks”, so neither through the search nor through browsing can the user find it.

I thought I’d blog some responses on the mailing lists (sigia-l and aifia-members) on my research agenda for information architecture post. Good stuff, from many people much more clever than me.

By the way, for my Belgian readers and others: the AIFIA mailing list is members only, and in and by itself a great reason to become member of AIFIA. So sign up. At 20US$ for students and 40US$ for professionals, it’s great value. If you are from a third world country you can even sign up for free. Belgian readers: a company-wide signup is 200US$ a year.

Anne Miller: “HCI, human factors, anthropology, ethnography and so on are coming to and perhaps usurping AI because the problem spaces we investigate lead us to questions that involve categorisation (IA) issues. Thus we come to IA with an understanding about where IA fits in a broader problem space; what we don’t have but are in many ways developing are methods and orientations for dealing with categorisation problems. What does this say about AI? First is says that IA has a place. Second it says that IA would benefit from looking at broader problem spaces so that it can take charge of the development of techniques development. Third, it may say that IA needs to better define itself as a contributor in a multi-disciplinary research context so that IA researchers can claim their seat at the research table.

By engaging with other disciplines (sharing disciplinary secrets!!!) does IA risk loosing it’s identify? Quite probably but then this is the nature of scientific (r)evolution (Kuhn’s Paradigm). It’s not so much that IA will loose its identity as much as that it will morph into something else through the integration of its methods with other methods and approaches. This is exactly what has happened to HCI.”

Peter Morville: ”
I’m not sure PeterMe deserves or claims credit for first bringing facets to IA. A bunch of librarians at a company called Argus did some of the earliest work in this area
I’ve always seen IA as an applied field
I agree that it would be great to see more research that’s specific and useful to the practice of IA, but practitioners have limited influence over the research agendas of academic institutions.”

Sarah Brodwall writes in to say she is investigating prototype theory and how it might apply to IA. Great! Go Sarah go!

Keith Instone: “So like Mr. Morville, I am not so pessimistic. To me the first step is getting the practitioners to explain the problems they are facing so that the researchers can study something that has value outside the ivory tower.”

Tessa: “Irrelevant is still a category and even the act of categorization dispels my fears – it must be the logic of it. My nightmare is that no one will want to put a label on our field…as long as there is a label for it, it still has some merit to some one, yes?!!”

Amanda Cossham: “But since I am trying to come to grips with this fascinating field all at once, I’ve been fairly ruthless and thorough in reading the literature and seeing how IA has developed. Have to say that I agree with Peter Van Dijck’s blog entry – there is a dearth of stuff at the moment.
It takes motivation from those working in the field to document and evaluate and then *disseminate* this information. ”

Thomas Vander Wal: “I agree with the seemingly stale nature of IA. I think there are a lot of innovative things going on, but few are bubbling up in research. ”

Grant Campbell: “The suggestions for future research you’ve presented are cool. They look like fun. Cognitive science, social anthropology, business theory–a truly fascinating range of ways to explore the field and to push its boundaries outward. But do people do research because it’s fun? Sometimes they do, I suppose. But usually they do research because they have to: either because they’re driven to it by inner demons, or driven to it by outer pressures. ”

Andrew Boyd: ”
I have a pet hypothesis, based on no real-world data whatsoever, that IA has evolved past the initial ‘new love’ phase of research. There has been sufficient research done such that IA can survive as a viable useful profession – to provide a set of tools for use in the field.”

Dmitri Nekrasovski: “I don’t think the problem is that HCI is usurping IA, more that HCI is (mostly) unaware of IA:

– The most recent CHI conference had six entries containing IA as a keyword, but most of them came from the design expo, a practitioner-oriented track. None were full-length research papers.
– Search the CHI archive for “findability”, and you will get no results that are even remotely related to IA.
– Ask your average HCI researcher (well, at least my colleagues :)) if they are familiar with IA, and you’re likely to get either a blank stare or a response to the effect of “isn’t that something web developers do?”

With respect to the original post, I definitely agree with the statement “there is a lack of deep IA research” within the research fields I am familiar with. Some of the reasons for this have already
been pointed out: the fact that the vast majority of IA’s are practitioners who have no time or inclination for research, the fact that IA has no research forum of its own. I would also add to these a general lack of awareness in the research community of what IA is,
what value it brings, and what interesting research problems can be found within it.”

And some more talk about IA’s role within the UX universe, and about how clients get confused with what we do.

Six days with the Akshaya project: day 1: overview

  1. Six days with the Akshaya project: day 1: overview
  2. Day 2: technology
  3. Day 3: entrepreneurs
  4. Day 4: promotion
  5. Day 5: training
  6. Day 6: conclusions

The Akshaya project, launched in December 2002, has rolled out complete internet access in all of the villages of one of the more backward areas of India using a mix of wireless technologies, and successfully trained one member in each of the region’s 750,000 households to use the computer. The team is now creating an innovative business model to ensure sustainability. Even though it is still only starting, it is widely considered a success story of using technology for rural development.

Over the following week, each day I will write about a different aspect of the project.
Continue reading

From the comments of this talk: identity is constructed differently in different cultures, for example, in many Asian cultures the “group” part of identity is more important, more recognized. So what effect does that have on blogs, who are an expression of identity? I wrote something about this on liga1.com a while ago but I let the site die. Dumb Peter, dumb!

Reference: Ethan Zuckerman is interested especially in African blogs.

Anyways, listen to the mp3 with comments. It has some great ideas, and isn’t included in the video.

A research agenda for information architecture

Information architecture is a fascinating field, but for some reason, it lacks research, and now it seems to lack innovation.

Now I’m not sure why. IA’s are pretty open to input from other fields, at least, they used to be. But it seems that lately IA’s are starting to miss out on interesting experiments around categorization. At the same time, IA’s aren’t coming up with any new ideas. Name one. Faceted classification, sure. A useful idea, that has been out for a few years now, was presented to the IA world by a semi-outsider (Peter Merholz), and is pretty old. And IA’s were catching up with that one, not innovating. Experiments with faceted classification didn’t come from IA’s, and faceted classifications were already commercially implemented when IA’s started catching up. Was that the best we could do?

The most recent “new” IA idea was folk classification, or folksonomy. But IA’s are just observing what’s going on, what sites like Delicious are experimenting with, they are not innovating. Not adding much value, imho. Sorry. We’re not even doing the basic research: a lot has been written around folk classification in the social sciences, but has any IA taken the time to look at that experience and write about it, try to incorporate it into IA practice and knowledge. Don’t think so.

It get worse. IA lives in the professional realm, it is practiced by in-house IA’s and consultants, but is almost non-existant in the academic realm. Books are being written, and some new ideas are being formed, but there is a lack of deep IA research.

So in short: we, as IA’s, are not coming up with the new ideas. We seem to have stopped taking ideas from other fields and adapting them. We’re just observing experimentation with classification on the web, not participating. Are we becoming irrelevant?

In the past, IA has been clever to build on knowledge generated in other fields: information science, HCI, you name it we took it. In this post I am going to try to give some ideas for an IA specific research agenda.

Without research that lets us build our body of knowledge and answer the increasingly complex questions that are asked of us, IA as a practice might wither and fade away. I think that’s conceivable.

First, Peter Morville wrote a good overview of research related or relevant to IA.

So here are some questions, to get us thinking. Please improve on this. This is not an article, it’s a braindump blog entry.

Cognitive science.
Cognitive science looks at how we think. The field has build a strong body of work around how people classify or categorize the world.

For example, consider basic level categories. A fascinating concept. Surely, there is relevance to the IA world there. Who will investigate that?

“Compound categories”: why are top level categories like “Home & Garden” so popular? And what exactly makes them work? What are the trade-offs? (I made that term up by the way.)

And there is much, much more. The structure of cognitive categories, for example. How does that relate to our categorization effort on the web?

Who will do a linguistic analysis of search terms? There is surprisingly little work being done on what people actually search for. (This BBC analysis is a good one, but we should see dozens like this, not just one, with source data so plentily available.)

George Lakoff at Amazon

Business theory.
There are some fields of business theory that are directly relevant to an IA’s work. Business processes are one. Tony (?) from CMSWatch asked last year at the IA summit when IA’s would start working with business processes and develop a model that incorporates them into the IA body of knowledge (surely business processes should somehow help structure a website). When indeed? I know some work is being done in certain firms, but it’s not being shared.

Recently IA discovered the KANO model.

I’m sure there’s more I’m not aware of.

Social Science & Anthropology.
Anthropologists have long been interested in how we classify the world, and have developed a large body of work. IA’s have mostly ignored this. So which parts of this body of knowledge can be useful for us? Anyone?

How is information sharing social, for example? Where does trust fit? Identity?

Sorting Things Out – classification and its consequences.”

And more.
There is a sorry-for-shouting-HUGE amount of experimenting being done with classification, social classification and so on. Most outside of the IA disourse. Let’s get with the program. Maybe we should let go of this idea that we know a lot, that we have a lot of value to bring, and start admitting we stand nowhere yet, and we need to experiment, be open to new ideas, and embrace the web. I’ll shut up now.

Oh, wait. Finally, we should listen to outsiders. Don’t dismiss them because we know stuff they don’t.

Please add to the comments what you think someone should research. And if I have missed the point, let me know as well!

[Follow up from the mailing lists]