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Identifying Legitimate Voices

We get into interesting discussions in my disciplines. I feel like a native in both content strategy and information architecture, yet the two very interrelated disciplines are quite different in some ways.

Content strategy is born from two directions:
* Web content creation, editing and management
* Technical communication, which is even older, but now has a significant web presence

Information architecture has roots in library science, but also very clearly in actual architecture, like buildings. Both of these roots make IA the more academically tied of my disciplines.

My journey began in 1995, when I was lucky enough to work for someone who found this whole internet thing interesting, and who was sure there were going to be good ways for organizations to communicate with their customers/members/patients online. We were building client websites by early 1996, and we ran smack into all the issues that pushed the development of these two disciplines.

So my original calling was as a practitioner of these disciplines. And as an early-years practitioner, it was clear that there were no experts. In fact, working for a small, custom publishing firm in Nashville, as soon as I started going to web conferences and talking to other professionals, I quickly realized that I knew just as much as anyone working for a big brand or agency — which is to say, not much.

But we all learned, and over the years and lots of mistakes, these two disciplines emerged. And I grew to be an expert on a number of things related to my work. Hard-earned, sweat-blood-and-tears expertise.

We call these fields “disciplines,” which is interesting in itself, to me. I wouldn’t say that they are “professions,” which to me implies that you get a degree [MD, JD, RN, etc.] or a certification by some authorizing body [CPA, law license, medical license, etc.], or both. While lots of trade associations like to promote certifications, and plenty of perfectly legitimate folks stick letters after their last name, to me, there’s still a big difference between a discipline and a profession.

We also have another interesting distinction, particularly in IA, and that’s between practitioner and academic. I’m in a master’s program in information science at the University of Tennessee [Lord willing I'll finish in 2014!], and after practicing in my field and related ones for nearly 20 years after my undergraduate degree, I found it very interesting to plunge back into academia.

When you’re a practitioner, you can take any value you like out of academia, and I’d argue the good practitioners do, but you’re most motivated by practical results — thus the title practitioner. Someone who’s practicing. And is practical. [If they aren't, they won't be practicing very long.]

When you’re an academic, you don’t have the same pressure to be practical. In fact, you’re judged on an entirely different set of criteria. Did you publish enough this year? In what journals? How many books have you written? What press? Who reviewed your book? What conferences accepted your papers?

I don’t mean to sneeze on these things as a whole — but it’s awfully easy to get entirely divorced from the practical there. So I would also say, the best academics are motivated not just by the surface trappings of their profession, but by the long-term applicability of their work. The best academics stay in close touch with anyone who can use their insights in a practical way, in a symbiotic relationship that grows the discipline as a whole.

Here’s something else that happens when you don’t have a true certification or degree to practice in a field, however: We don’t have any external criteria to identify experts.

And I see a lot of us looking for ways to identify experts….who has standing to speak for us? To us? What is required of someone to stand up and say, “Listen to me!”

I’ve been weighing these things in my mind lately. I’ve done a lot of speaking the last couple of years, and it looks like I’ll do even more in 2013. And since before I started speaking regularly, I thought a lot about whether I was qualified.

My work is very deep in some parts of my disciplines, and barely surface-skimming in others. I have a hybrid of the kind of experience you’d get working at a large agency and what you’d get working for a large corporation, since my entire career has been spent at two small agencies with long-term customers, and one startup. Who’d be interested in what I had to say? Had I worked for enough major brands? Did my work still have value to the larger community? I didn’t have a master’s or doctorate in communication, information sciences, or human-computer interaction.

But I come down on the side that not only does my practical experience have value, so do my ideas that are borne out of that practice. I’ve given different kinds of talks: Some are how-to, some are motivational, some are what-ifs. A couple have been identifying a problem and demanding a solution that I don’t personally have figured out myself.

So in that light, I’m delighted to have helped with a couple of Cranky Talk workshops, the brainchild of Dan Willis and some other experienced speakers. I participated in a Cranky Talk workshop in Chicago in 2011, and “life-changing” would be an understatement. The idea is that new voices matter and have value, and we all ought to be pushing to be our best when we’re sharing ideas.

And then…Boom. There was a little Twitter chat related to this topic between Dan Klyn and Daniel Eizans yesterday, post IA Summit, [two guys I wouldn't hesitate to call experts], and Dan shared this transcript of Richard Saul Wurman’s keynote at the 2010 IA Summit, which considers the idea of expertise…and stomps it pretty flat. [The transcript is long, but please read it. Really, really valuable.] Wurman says we’re in a world and a discipline that are changing very, very fast, so the idea that we can be “expert” is laughable.

Wow, do I love that.

At the same time, I don’t spit on those who call themselves experts [hey, I've done it!], or those of us who look for experts to help guide us. We’re all the blind men feeling the elephant, and it’s going to take all of us to figure it out. Part of the fun is to hear divergent voices and argue the particulars. None of us can own the discipline alone, but we each have important things to offer.

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IA Summit: Search Strategies of Users With Low Literacy Skills | Angela Colter

I’m here EARLY Sunday morning for a session with Angela Colter of Electronic Ink. I saw Angela present last summer at Confab on measuring content and it was fabulous. And this topic really applies to my work so I’m really excited this morning. More on users with low-literacy skills in her article in Contents Magazine. 

Two things she wants us to know:

In the US, nearly half the population has low literacy skills. People push back when Colter says this — but she’s not saying they can’t read. But, their literacy skills are deficient to the point where they cannot easily understand and apply printed material.

Literacy includes skills like

  • Word recognition
  • Understanding sentence structure
  • Text search
  • Inference
  • Application
  • Calculations

Canada, UK and Australia have similar levels — in the upper 40s. Switzerland is lucky — only 25%. Portugal is 80%.

Good news: As designers, we can accommodate this population.

There’s a decent body of knowledge about people’s reading printed and online material. Kathryn Summers has done research on how to design online for people with low literacy.

Hasn’t been a lot of research on how they use search.

Colter did exploratory study with 27 people who read at or below 8th grade with three tasks:

  1. Watched them search
  2. “Will it rain tomorrow? Use Google to find out.”
  3. Pretend your doctor prescribed a new drug for diabetes…find out about this drug.

We get to watch an eye tracking study of a man trying to find out whether it will rain tomorrow. First thing he does is scan the entire Google home page. He wants to figure out the answer without having to come up with a keyword. Low-literacy users prefer to browse. When he did type a keyword, he looks at his keyboard, so he doesn’t notice the type-ahead suggestions on the screen.

He gets a search that tells the answer in an icon, but he’s not sure it’s the right answer, so he wants to click on the icon to go to the next page to confirm — but the icon’s not clickable.

Question from audience: Is his desire to confirm partly test effect? Colter says, yes, she’ll talk more about the challenges of moderation at the end, but seeking confirmation of first guess is still common behavior among this population.

This population completed their tasks successfully about 25% of the time.

Now we’re watching a woman looking for information on a drug.

She’s on a results page — she scans all page titles but reads descriptions on sponsored links only. On this page, they are the only ones with sentences and therefore are easiest to understand. They’re also at the top, of course.

Got to a page that had the information, but the first text on the page is the section of Google ad links. She cannot get the scent of information…we see her scanning the non-content-rich parts of the page for a painfully long period of time before she scrolls, and then finally she finds the information. From the eye-tracking, she reads it repeatedly, word for word — sometimes looking away and coming back. She has to be prompted to give the answer — she is not confident in her search either. She can share the information, but she does not paraphrase when explaining — she reads/says the sentence exactly.

Behaviors and Strategies of Low-Literacy Population

  • Failing to complete task/recover from errors
  • Formulating poor search queries
  • Avoiding typing
  • Revisiting visited links
  • Reading every word
  • Avoiding reading
  • Disguising problems

Moderating issues: People would forget the task, they would make up a new task that they could successfully complete, avoiding issues [my son does that for me, I left my glasses at home]. Think-aloud protocols are a cognitive burden for this population, so they can’t talk through what they’re doing while they’re doing it.

Suggestions to Help:

Many of the strategies to make your web page better for a low-literacy population are also the strategies you use to make your web page better for people.

  • Provide type ahead but let it stay
  • Make it easy to read
  • Make it look easy to read
  • Reduce distractions — make it easy to figure out where they information is
  • Address likely questions
  • Summarize, then elaborate
  • One point per page
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SXSW 2012: My Notes

Just made it to a few sessions this year at South by Southwest, but they were good ones. If you’d like to catch up, here are the notes I took:

Big Data and the Race for the White House

Jared Spool: The Secret Lives of Links

danah boyd: The Power of Fear in Networked Publics

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SXSW: Big Data and the Race for the White House

Patrick Ruffini is moderating, suggests another name for the panel could be “Moneyball for Politics.” Excellent — I’m clearly in the right place.

Going to talk about all the uses for big data, how it’s used in politics for prediction, fundraising, more.

Patrick Ruffini — in Republican politics and tech for the past 3 presidential cycles. Now president of Engage, a DC political consulting firm.

Dan Siroker was product manager at Google and saw Obama speak, so became director of analytics for ’08 campaign. Now runs Optimizely.

Alex Lundry‘s first client was the Mitt Romney gubernatorial campaign. He is VP and director of research at Target Point Consulting.

Josh Hendler on Kerry campaign in 2004, then DNC, now Global CTO at H+K strategies.

Kristen Soltis, VP at Winston Group.

Ruffini – You can’t manage what you can’t measure. I’m a R myself but my hat goes off to the Obama team for doing such a good job with analytics. We are spectulating a lot today b/c campagin doesn’t release a lot of their strategy. One thing that’s assumed is that they’re doing a lot of mining on unstructured text — from tweets, comments from door to door campaigners, anything.

The culture of measurement started in 2008 — now passing baton to Siroker. He had an analytics team in Chicago. Siroker’s showing the splash page from BarackObama.com in 2007. He’s going to do a live multivariate test with us. They’re testing variations of the media and the button. We see 4 variations of button, 3 images and 3 videos. Few people chose “right” answers — but the answers improved their signup rate by 40% and added 2.9 million to the email list and $57M to the bank.

Siroker showing a Facebook app they optimized in similar way for great results.

Lundry’s firm started work offline with a “terrestrial” voter file. They’re using data modeling to try to make informed judgments about whether you’ll vote, who you’ll vote for, etc. Asks room if we saw Prius drive down the street, how many of us think the driver voted Obama? All room thinks so. Talks about how we can start to quantify it. Puts together a few variables…trying to figure out how you’re likely to vote. Doesn’t take many variables to get very specific.

What’s new now? Data harmonization — eliminating walled-off data gardens. How do you make the systems interoperable? Push to standardize data across the organization. Lundry says this is primary objective of Obama campaign. We are slowly lowering the wall between online and offline data.

Lundry says the real question now is who owns the data? In 2004, GOP had big data advantage, and in 2008 the Ds leapfrogged them. Now Lundry thinks they’re more even, but the data is owned, managed and used differently.

Hendler says the big questions now are related to gatekeeping … earlier this century, campaign staff would get huge boxes of paper shipped to them in the field office, with walk lists on them for door to door campaigning. All data decision-making was centralized, info was printed and used in the field. Now, some people are giving more access to staff and volunteers on the campaign, on the ground.

In 2008, saw wider access – volunteer could pull voter lists at home and make calls to support candidate. Data pulled in real time. In 2012, seeing more of this. Hendler says there’s greater possibility for success when you share your data wider within the campaign.

Also, trend to have more accessibility for data for more people. NationBuilder gives anyone access to a voter file. Ohio’s put the voter file on its website, available for download. Lots of organizations collaborating to share voter data now.

Hendler says analysis is really changing — you’ll have terabytes of data, but in the past, you had to have a really expensive solution to do ad hoc queries on terabytes of data — in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now, services like Hadoop or Hive let you do this much more inexpensively.

Another big change is move from periodic to real time. Before, you build a model, maybe refresh it once or twice over the campaign. Now, shift to real time. Online data is being leveraged, and that’s real time.

Another big change is the kind of models that can be made. Historic models were, are you D or R? How likely to vote? Now, also modeling likelihood to unsub, likelihood to volunteer, best channel for giving, etc. Helps you figure out how best to treat potential voters/donors/volunteers.

Soltis comes from a more traditional side of the industry. Talking about Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 that makes it very hard to poll by cell phone — but 27% of households in US are now cell phone only. Online surveying is improving but has drawbacks. Soltis says, if it is harder to ask, we have to get better at listening.

Challenge: volume of conversation may have no relation to votes.

Twittersentiment.appspot.com: Measuring sentiment. But first result was “Who said it – Newt Gingrich or Buzz Lightyear?” Is that positive??

Shows another example of sentiment analysis not being effective.

Survey: Landline bias. Sentiment analysis: Online/activist bias. Soltis says, it’s not always wrong, but it’s different. It’s a variable universe and subject to interpretation. It’s evolving in real time and may be good to ID new trends. Surveys are a contained universe with concrete results — but it’s just a snapshot in time. It’s good for message testing.

Ruffini: If you had unlimited resources, what would you want to figure out? Lundry wants to figure out how to analyze candidate preferences in a multi-candidate primary. [He's one of the Rs on the panel...I bet he'd like to figure that out. :) ]

Ruffini asks about how does Facebook change consumer/political data marketplace? Hendler says that Facebook is incredibly powerful. Have to figure out what data you can collect on Facebook you can actually use. FB is really sensitive about what data can be pulled from Connect.

Hendler thinks mobile apps will begin to supplant email … ability to communicate via notification with target audience. Soltis thinks that mobile holds some really interesting potential for pollsters.

Question fr audience on data security: Lundry jumps in to say data security is critical, privacy, etc. New question: Is there a different expectation of privacy of politically related data than with your consumer data?

Hendler thinks there is — political organizations are often talking to people who haven’t opted in. But they have to speak to voters.

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SXSW: Jared Spool—The Secret Lives of Links

OK, the few hundred people in the room here with me are the ONLY people at SXSW not hearing Frank Abagnale talk right now.

Wow. The great benefit of coming to see Jared Spool talk is getting to see him dance to Beyoncé’s All the Single Ladies.

I gotta call him out…he says we’re going to talk about science and the work of a well-known “woman scientist.” It’s a reference to Lisa Simpson, but the gender ID is sticking in my craw. Is it ironic? Can’t say.

So, here we are to the main point — the secret lives of links.

We’re starting 4/8/2011–the day Congress tried tried to shut down the budget “one of the times.” Ha.

CNN writes a story about it, and they put up a bunch of links. They kept restructuring the links. Spool shows a bunch of versions of the CNN home page from that day, each time with new links/photos/stories. He starts wondering about the work behind that.

Spool — I’m not a designer, I’m a researcher. “It’s a life goal of mine never to have to design a website.”

But he decides to design a page where where CNN doesn’t have to redo the page with all the new links.

So there’s a blank page with huge CNN logo, and these links:

  • The Most Important Story
  • The Second Most Important Story
  • The Third Most Important Story
  • An Unimportant Yet Entertaining Story
  • Yet Another Snooki Story
  • Ad for Crap You Don’t Need

Spool — Of course that wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t make you click. But CNN has this on its page, in effect. We don’t have to add links for all those things.

Links secretly desire to get you to the content.

Shows CNN from 2007 — design is different, but those same things are there.

Shows NY Times and LA Times from 4/8/2011, and Huffington Post, same elements, same links…different words. The links are all communicating to get us to the story.

Body of science about how links do this.

Research on the scent of information, originally from Xerox PARC. The way people naivgate large information spaces, mathematically, is the same as a bee looking for nectar. We are ingrained “informavores.” We use the scent of information to get us what we want.

Note: Ah, he’s taking me back to my smallbusiness.com days 12 years ago.

Difference in MIT and Oberlin home pages — MIT doesn’t have a lot of links telling you how cool they are — Oberlin does — “because if you don’t know how cool MIT is, you shouldn’t be on their home page.”

Ohio State makes it easy for you to find useful info about the school.

Walgreens site: Very busy page. 20% of users are clicking on “photo,” 16% on search and 11% to refill prescriptions. Overall, the 5 most clicked-on links account for 59% of traffic, but they only account for 3.8% of area of the page.

Prime violation of Fitt’s Law: If it’s big and close, it’s easier to hit. On the Walgreens site, you see what’s important to the company — it’s not the same thing that the user cares about. It’s because there was a meeting at Walgreens and the marketing people won.

“We all know what happens: When marketing people win, puppies die!”

“Skip this ad” — The 3 most helpful words on the Internet!

Links secretly live to emit the right scent.

Trigger words: Words that matches the user’s goal and signals where to click.

Initial theory about web design and usage in 1995: We expected that people who’d never used the web wouldn’t be able to find things as easily as people who had a lot of experience at using the web. Instead, some sites were really good at getting people to what they wanted, and other sites were really bad. It was the first time we realized the design mattered — design trumped the user’s experience.

Signs of design failure:

  • Back button
  • Pogosticking
  • Using search box

Back button indicates design failure: Of all user research Spool has done, 42% of site designs help people reach needed content. If clickstream includes 1 back button, drops to 18% success. If 2 back clicks, only 2% success rate in finding needed content.

When a user loses the scent, they use the back button…but the page is no more helpful than it was before.

The back button is “the button of doom.” Once they do that, you’ve lost them.

However, do NOT code out the back button!! Ha, Spool says someone did that and blamed it on him. It’s a predictor — you don’t fix anything by removing the functionality.

Pogosticking: When the user bounces around the information hierarchy. Clickstreams without pogosticking: Success 55% of time, but with pogosticking only 11% success.

Only 3 ways to get from home to target page:

  • Search
  • Hierarchy
  • Featured content links

Users behave the same way on all sites Spool has tested except one. Normally, user comes to page, scans page for trigger words. If don’t find trigger word, they type keyword into search box. On Amazon page, they don’t scan for keywords. They go straight to search box. “After many years of business, Amazon has trained every user of the web that they never put anything useful on the home page.” Big laugh.

When users use search, they type in trigger words. We should call the search box “BYOL — bring your own link.” If you look in your search logs, you will find a list of trigger words. Code your search logs to find out what page the users are searching from — so you’ll know what page to put the trigger words on — and possibly on the page before.

If users don’t use search, they succeed 53% of time. If they do, they only succeed 30% of time.

Spool evaluated more than 10 apparel shopping sites. Huge correlation between how many pages users visited and what they bought — the faster you get them to what they want, the more they buy.

Do not design for pogosticking — give people the information they need up front — don’t make them click. You’ll sell more and your users will be more successful.

When users say “clutter” they mean, there’s way too much stuff I don’t care about on this page. They do not mean, it’s too typographically dense. You can add density as long as you’re adding information they want and need.

Now he’s shouting…love this. “Learn more” is the 2nd most useless pair of words in web design, right after “Click here.” At what point on a product page do you click and NOT want to learn more???

Good design is invisible. You don’t notice when it’s working well.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics site has some great design…you might not guess by looking. Showing designs that work for expert and inexpert audiences: links that are trigger words and then short explanations for inexpert.

Links need to look really good, but they need to look like links. Links don’t have to be blue and underlined. And thank goodness — blue and underlined are two awful choices. Underlining changes the shape of the words, and blue is hard for people to discern. The only problem is when we don’t make it clear in a design what is a link. Links need to be distinct.

Spool pauses, then: I believe if you look up clusterfuck in the dictionary, you will see United. The man flies a lot, he would know.

Links don’t have to be blue and underlined, but you do have to establish a visual language for them.

We are making it hard for users to get to content. Now he’s calling out links in the middle of magazine articles, like on the Time magazine site.

All this computer generated crap is ruining the experience. Now he’s slamming those links to words in articles — article in Chicago Tribune about law firm from Alabama, and the word “Alabama” links to everything the paper has ever written about Alabama. Such a pet peeve of mine.

People decide what they’re going to click on before they move the mouse — rollover menus kill the experience. We throw other options in their face while they’re moving toward their intended target.

Other issue with rollovers: Users want to move their mouse in a straight line, but they leave the target area by accident and the rollover disappears.

Links should:

  • Deliver user to desired experience
  • Emit the right scent
  • Look good, while still looking like a link
  • Do what the user expects
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SXSW: danah boyd on The Power of Fear in Networked Publics

Always interesting to hear what danah boyd is thinking and writing about. Notes below are a mixture of quotes, paraphrases and near-quotes.

boyd starts off by recommending everyone attend Baratunde Thurston’s keynote at 2p.

Started with three points….I missed one.

  1. We live in culture of fear.
  2. Attention economy….SOMETHING.
  3. Social media is ramping up the culture of fear.

What are our responsibilities in the culture of fear?

Kranzberg’s First Law: Technology is neither good nor bad — nor is it neutral. boyd says: We shouldn’t pretend that it is.

Social media is now genuinely mainstream — it is no longer just a home of geek culture.

Culture of Fear
Fear is employed by marketers, politicians, media etc. to regulate the public. It’s used to control and surpress.

boyd doesn’t want to dismiss the value of fear as a real emotion. It’s a reasonable reaction to many situations.

How is fear used to control, particularly in an American context? Uses example of 9/11. Says it’s not new — look at Cuban Missile Crisis. As a country, we’ve been in “orange” alert for more than a decade now. Fear is operationalized in a public environment to keep us controlled. We don’t even reflect on it — we just do as we’re told.

Humans are terrible at actually assessing risk. — Freakonomics one book that writes on this. Also Barry Glassner’s The Culture of Fear.

Parents worried about Internet — but the MOST risky thing a parent can do is let the child ride in the car with them. Fear isn’t logical — it’s about the perception of risk. The things we don’t understand are the things we’re afraid of. Fear combined with insecurities is amplified. The intersection of young people and technology produces moral panic. Many historical cases remind us of the absurdities.

Fear cannot be combatted through data. If it doesn’t match their perceived experience, people reject the data.

The Attention Economy
We have built this through social media — provides a fertile ground for the culture of fear.

Quote from Herbert Simon: “In an information-rick world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes…the attention of its recipients.”

Social media gives us massive quantities of uncurated information. How do we cope with the onslaught?

Haha. Now shows a funny slide: Book in 1994 called The Internet Yellow Pages. This book looks very familiar…

Most of our tools are designed to make people feel guilty for all the things they haven’t read. No matter how we feel, one thing is clear: Amount of information is not going to decline. It is really hard to get people’s attention.

The more attention-seekers are fighting for attention, they seek to leverage emotion. Fear is so effective, so it is used more and more.

Fear is used in a more complex way on social media than it is on broadcast media. It’s personal and spread by each other in networks.

Radical Transparency
The notion that putting everything in the open will make people more honest. The logic rests on the notion that people hide things. The reality is much messier than that. People think about this in disrupting power structures, but it’s used against real people in more complex ways.

The practice of “outing” is not new. Tells story of Oliver Sipple.

What are real implications of Anonymous? Is radical transparency really effective?

In boyd’s work, most incidents of hate on teens happen with people they know.

With protestors/rioters, crowdsourcing who the rioters and looters are — method of control. Idea that people are controlled when they feel they are surveilled. Those are are oppressed and marginalized are usually those with the least amount of power.

The Ideal of Progress
The idea of outing etc. is that we’re moving toward an era of greater progress — that the incremental harm caused by outing will have a greater good. boyd says paths are often not linear…the ideal of progress may be an illusion.

Tolerance is often espoused as a neutral notion, but it’s not.

Exposure to new people doesn’t automatically produce tolerance, even though we might want it to.

There’s far more bullying, with more damage to youth, at school, than there ever is online. But the Internet has made bullying much more visible to adults, making adults leap to assumptions about where bullying happens.

Power in Networks
The people who make the networks control the system.

Talks about how the Kony 2012 film took advantage of powerful network building — across disparate networks. Invisible Children had been laying the groundwork with its network building for years. The problem is that nuance is lost.

In this country, there’s been a rise of hatred along with the rise of social media. With fearmongering. To say that we didn’t build this does a disservice — though we want technologies to be used for idealistic purposes. What happens is that these aren’t neutral technologies. How do we deal with this?

We don’t have good answers.

Through social media, we are ramping up the attention economy and creating new networks. We need to think about how that works long before it builds things we don’t like.

boyd doesn’t have good answers but challenges audience to figure this out.

Social media can be a great disruptor but it’s being used to enforce the status quo by many.

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Letting Go of Perfection: Developing IA Agility

Chris Farnum and Serena Rosenhan from ProQuest

They’re going to talk about their journey from waterfall to agile methodology, and how they accommodated its demands with their IA work.

They’re showing a lovely waterfall chart…business case, functional design, tech design, implementation, test, release.

Waterfall lets you think through all the implications. Most IA activities happen in the functional design space.

Gives the Wikipedia definition — iterative, incremental approach to development. See http://agilemanifesto.org for more.

In agile, requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration. Planning has to be adaptive.

Agile chart — it’s a cycle, not a flow. Planning, requirements, design, develop/test, iteration release. [These roll up into product releases.] Where does IA happen now?

Still performing lots of IA work in the design phase, but it’s much shorter and more frequent.

What they were comfortable with in waterfall:

  • Define systems, navigation, etc. in comprehensive, scalable user experience
  • Use upfront research to inform designs
  • Provide detailed and elegant deliverables to developers
  • Save $ and development effort by reworking and testing before code is written.

In agile, can only design for known requirements. Can’t do all the research up front. Can’t do detailed deliverables – no time. Coding begins before design is finished. Where’s the benefit?

What are the requirements for success in agile? Had to let go of old ideas of perfection, change how they think and work.

Opportunities in agile:

  • Design iteratively
  • Freedom to make mistakes earlier
  • Working prototypes for testing come earlier
  • Refactoring…it’s a good thing!

Changing how they thought:

  • You don’t have to understand the whole universe up front.
  • You have to prioritize requirements
  • Have to focus on simplicity
  • Personas and use cases are critical to agile success
  • It’s OK for to have a moving target

Increment your way to perfection. Additional features aren’t always better, and elaborate designs do not always create the perfect UX.

So, how can this change the way you work?

Tells John Mayo-Smith’s story of two ways to build a pyramid.

How do you create a fully functioning system and then increment?

Think in terms of basic functions, enhancements, embellishments. Farnum shows an example from their work — how they pared down to basic functionality — think of the engineering behind the basic functionality.

Rosenhan has nice phrase — bifocal design. Keep an eye on the big picture, the framework, but deliver on very detailed design of small aspects of the system.

Deliverables are not the end goal. You may still create deliverables, but how you do it will change in agile. You have to think lightweight. From the Agile Manifesto: Working software over comprehensive documentation.

You do NEED documentation — don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Use “dirty deliverables” — sticky notes on butcher paper for a sitemap.

ProQuest uses simple, annotated wireframes — but often incomplete wireframes. Just what’s necessary.

Create simple user stories with links to details.

Do you have to let go of perfection to be agile? Just remember it’s not about perfect deliverables, it’s about a highly usable product.

Here are the slides from this talk on doing IA in an agile environment.

 

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Architecting Search-Engine Friendly Websites – Shari Thurow.

Next up, a talk from Shari Thurow on search engines and IA.

Thurow is starting with the basics of SEO. If you don’t do these 4 basic building blocks, you can forget it. Doing them makes your content easy to find — both on Google and your internal site search.

Thurow hates search engine spam. She turns people in regularly for it.

Why should IAs care about SEO? Because people search.

Thurow shows a couple of pages from a website — beautiful images — but no copy. Search engines can’t evaluate them.

Talks about a usability test on a site with a high-tech audience, with a huge Flash presentation at the top. It was the shortest usability test she ever did — the users hated the Flash so much they wouldn’t look at the site.

SEO is optimizing for people who use search engines.

SEO is not magic pixie dust.

Two great sites for SEO: Apple and Mayo Clinic.

SEO covers architecting, designing, writing, programming.

What search engine optimizers need to do:

  • Need to label content
  • Organize website content so it is easy to find
  • Ensure search engines can access right content
  • Ensure search engines can’t access undesirable content

4 Building Blocks of SEP

  • Keywords: Text
  • Architecture and design
  • Link development
  • Searcher goals

Most important text: Title tag, Most important [top] content, URL structure

The first two, keywords and architecture, are on-the-page and entirely within the site owner’s control.

The latter two are off-the-page criteria. In off-the-page criteria, quality trumps quantity. Who links to you matters more than how many you have.

Many SEOs don’t pay attention to searcher goals. Navigational [people want to go to a website], informational, transactional

For navigational, people rarely look past slots 1-2. When site links show up, something in the search indicated navigational intent.

Up to 80% of searches are informational. When Wikipedia shows up in results, something in the search demonstrated informational intent.

Least common type is transactional query. Here, people don’t always type in the words they expect to see on the page. [They don't type, "watch" or "cart" when they want a video or to purchase something.]

Thurow shows this horrific result….when you search for

United.com FAQ

You get in Google what looks like the right page…but you go to the page, and there are no FAQs. Total fail.

Are you communicating to humans and technology the right information scent and aboutness of your content?

We know that content can be organized in multiple ways, but we have to determine how the target audience would organize it. SEOs think everything needs to be organized by topic. Keyword research tools shouldn’t be used to create architecture. But it is helpful to find out how people label things.

SEOs and IAs both work on labeling — are we using the right keywords on our labels? Are we properly indicating aboutness?

Prioritizing: Don’t put too many links/labels on the page, but definitely put them in the right order. Usability testing can help you figure this out.

Don’t put glossary content in a popup window — you’ve orphaned that really informative content to Google.

Information architecture decisions have a direct impact on SEO. Don’t wait til a site is ready for launch to bring in an SEO.

Most pages on a website should be treated as a point of entry. Do you give users enough context to figure out how to get where they need to go?

Some findability solutions can cause search engine problems — faceted classification, tagging and site search pages.

Thurow is an amusing and educational speaker. Great info.

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The Future[s] of IA

This session is from Peter Morville and Karl Fast.

Morville speaks up for defining the damn thing — says it’s central to information architecture.

The kinds of information architecture

  • Classic IA — The polar bear book.
  • Web strategy — Making web, mobile and social connect.
  • Cross-channel – Making physical and digital work together.
  • Intertwingularity — Ubiquitous, ambient findability.

All exist today but they are unevenly distributed.

Morville has been working with the Library of Congress for 3 years — improving their web presence. [Good!! Their sites are horrible!! Whew!] He has given them lots of wireframes and recommendations, but says the most important work he’s done is educating them on the need for IA.

Morville shares a great quote from Jorge Arango:

Where architects use forms and spaces to design environments for inhabitation, information architects use nodes and links to create environments for understanding.

Making the argument that everything is intertwingled –we don’t have the vocabulary to talk about how intertwined our information, products, experiences, spaces and knowledge are.

Who gets it? Who makes intertwingled experiences?

  • Apple
  • Nike–Making running social. Conspicuous consumption->conspicuous experience.
  • GlowCaps–Medicine bottles that remind you to take your meds.
  • Smart scales that can tweet our weight: Morville: “A good reminder that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

Need to keep redefining what we do to stay flexible.

IAs need to go beyond wireframes — map the org chart, the systems, the workflow, the people and the process.

Going back to the first IA Summit, IA is about empathy for the user.

Karl Fast is up next.

Facebook is the largest photo repository in the whole world…and it isn’t their core mission. Talks about number of searches in Google, number of videos uploaded to YouTube. The numbers are too boggling for us to understand.

We are now in a place that we have always tried to achieve–ubiquitous access to information. Says it is a disservice to argue [like Nicholas Carr in The Shallows] that information overload is bad for us.

We don’t just have more information — we have more information, computation, devices and people.

How do we deal with all this information? Three ways:

  • Deliberate structure — the IA approach.
  • The Google approach — Computation.
  • Coordinated group action — the Wikipedia approach.

Three new ways:

  • Deep interaction — Not just touch. Why do we talk with our hands? Just like raising voice, pausing, it gives extra information. Why do we do it on the phone? Ah, it’s learned behavior. Why do people who are blind talk with their hands? Cognitive psych studies about this suggest that gesturing helps us think, and that not gesturing constrains our thinking.
    Embodied cognition tells us that thinking about our brain as the processor, the body as the output, and senses as input is a very limited view.
    Spectrum: One one end, mind and body are separate. Other side, mind and body are integrated with each other and the world around them — Fast says we’re far on the first side, and we need to shuffle over toward the integration side.
  • Coordination — or orchestration. Our lives are about coordination.
    PHINGS — Physical, Haptic, Interactive and information-rich, Networked and Next-Generation, Stuff on Surfaces
    We coordinate information, but people, things, etc.
  • Mess — Compares two images of Steve Jobs…one in spare environment that appeared in Time, an iconic image of “the genius at work.” The second, a photo of his home office, a complete disaster. Fast says mess is a fundamental part of how we work and learn. Why do we think order is better? Why is mess negative?

Fast: Information is cheap. Understanding is expensive.

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The History of Information Architecture…And What’s Changing

Great panel to kick off the conference:

Changes they’ve seen:

  • Schleicher notes that today, more developers are moving toward IA, and prototyping is changing the conversation.
  • Scott worked at Borders.com 10 years ago, and notes that companies who don’t support ecommerce and the web do not succeed anymore.
  • Schleicher points out that people are increasingly recognizing the value of context in any decision.

Schleicher: You need to understand the impact you want to have, as much as you need to understand the user.

Stemen would love to get rid of the idea that everything needs to fit into a hierarchy. [I love this idea, but I also still struggle with getting people to understand the need for organization, finadability and even the customer experience -- never mind getting them to go beyond hierarchy.]

Schleicher: Still absolutely essential to visit real users and see their spaces or places. Did work for Ford and visited customers…and their cars. Made very effective decisions for the website based on knowing how real people used their cars.

Question from the audience: Does the panel expect all IAs will have to have development skills in the future?

Scott says no. It’s fine to, but the skills of communication, empathy and user understanding are central to IA.

Stemen: Cites Paul Resnick as saying that when you design at the edge of your understanding, your design will be amateurish. You need to understand a couple of levels deeper than where you’re designing.

Question from the audience: How have end users changed?

Scott: What hasn’t changed is basic biology and cognitive structures. What has changed is how much we use technology and how much more [frequently] we relate to it. Technology will be pervasive.

Schleicher: Most user research done 10 years ago is obsolete and dead. The user will be dead in 5 years — we will have technology as our copilot and not our servant. The changing demands of the workplace are radical right now.

Danger for the future: Stemen says his concern for the future is that IAs become all about documentation and just have to update the wireframes to match the comps….[Oh wait. That happens already.]

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