Why gender is a text field: more on ambiguity

This post explains why they left gender open as a text field. See also my recent post about ambiguity. This is gonna be a theme if I ever write about classification again.

Another good post about gender and dropdowns.

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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:

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Tab stacking

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

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

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

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To this:

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Which gave way to parodies like this one:

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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:

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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:

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Interesting to see where this ends up.