Data cleanup, and allowing for ambiguity.

In my recent talk about IA, I also mentioned the cost of data entry, and the advantages of keeping it simple for users (or I may have skipped that slide).

Related story about LinkedIn:

“The secret ingredient that most surprised me about their pipeline was Peter’s use of Mechanical Turk. A lot of their headaches come from the fact that users are allowed to enter free-form text into all the fields, so figuring out that strings like "I.B.M.", "IBM" and "IBM UK" are all the same company can be a real challenge. You can get a long way with clever algorithms, but Peter told me what when these sort of recognition problems get too hairy, he reaches for his ‘algorithmic Swiss Army knife’: the human brain-power of thousands of Turks.”

Nice example.

Related to the ease of data entry, by the way, is the fact that open text fields allow for ambiguity, a point I also tried to make in my talk.

When you ask users to classify themselves, it’s good to allow for ambiguity, because you’ll never come up with categories that everyone feels comfortable with. (Even with binary things like man/woman it’s good to leave some ambiguity, like “Other”, or “Would rather not share”.) Another good example of allowing for ambiguity from Google Health:


Tab stacking

Opera is attacking the old “too many tabs” problem with tab stacking. The UI looks like this:


Browsers aren’t the first to encounter the problem of too many tabs.

Amazon was a famous example, it went from something like this:


To this:


Which gave way to parodies like this one:


The problem, of course, is providing access to lots of categories. In the end, they’ve moved to a different paradigm and are back to the classic left-hand navigation:


I wonder if browsers will follow a similar evolution? Perhaps not, the problem space is a little different: they don’t have to provide you access to everything in their catalogue, just to what you’ve opened. It’s more like the icons in your Windows taskbar, which have a similar problem. They solve it by letting you group items of the same type:


Interesting to see where this ends up.

Usability day in Bogota

I gave a talk in Bogota last Friday on the world usability day, organized by Natalia Vivas (information architect at Zemoga) and Co. It was great, lots of people, lots of interest, and the talk went well even though quite a few people had to listen to it through simultaneous translation (with my thanks to the translator, a talk on categorization is not easy to translate).

Bogota is a great city, love it, there’s heaps of interesting stuff going on.

Thomas Floracks (who is doing a startup-like project at pointed me to hubhog, a coworking space for tech startups and such in Bogota, worth checking out.

Julián Amaya showed me Bogota and is doing great software development at

I uploaded my slides and notes to the always excellent Slideshare.