November 28, 2003

Network Theory

I just love it when a theory comes together (no, not my theory, I'm not that clever).

A pattern of network(s), be it mathematical, sexual, social, internet... WHATEVER, all look the same. (sorry, secure hyperlink so you'll have to copy and paste) This article aptly titled "The World's a Net" from New Scientist last year is where I first heard of the Barab�sian theory, but have since seen it in presentations of others in various forms. The memes are flying! Ben Fry from MIT has also been exploring the same patterns through how people use a website and visualising complex data structures inherent within the human genome.

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SCRUM & UCD - Deborah Hartmann

This Diagram is one Deborah sent me illustrating how she's approached the effort to integrate User Centred Design with SCRUM.
We're going to continue the conversation in the comments section underneath this entry. Feel free to join the discussion.

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November 23, 2003

Safeguarding against Dot Com Bubble.

Recently I have been asked to undertake some work for someone on a freelance basis. On inspecting the brief, it struck me that perhaps there was a lot of work represented for a company that did not yet exist. The company was to be founded on the web site and stock tracking software we were to build. Without going into the details, it seemed that the business model was just not going to work. So I said so, to the chagrin of those present who'd be happy to take the opportunity to make some money.

It is the web industry's responsibility to not just do what people ask. I believe that if you suspect a client is setting themselves for a fall, you should advise them so, even if it means losing an opportunity to make good money. It is a false economic opportunity as the more clients that are burnt by dot com failures, the less people will trust the industry's potential for investment. This ultimately leads to fewer jobs for the professionals working in the industry. Greed now equals recession later. You only need to look toward the 1980s to see this lesson in a slightly different form.

So, now I'm out of pocket because they're looking for someone else who'll just do the damn job and not be difficult and ask too many questions. Nice guys do seem to finish last. I hope for the client's sake it's a success. I fear it won't be.

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November 17, 2003

Visualising Information

Links to Information Visualisation things from Stamford university and Cybergeography's equivalent. This site also has lots of lush topics like 'Network Topology Maps' and 'Global Internet Diffusion'... ooer, don't that sound fancy?

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FAQs about FAQs answered

Here is some info on FAQs that Steve Schang pulled together... and was kindly posted to an IA list I subscribe to by Samantha Bailey

FAQ Research
No empirical research identifying best practices in FAQs was found. Anecdotal evidence for FAQ design was identified in several message threads on the SIG-IA and SIG-CHI listservs. In addition FAQs are mentioned in Jakob Nielsen‚s "Top-Ten Web Design Mistakes of 2002" and the Yale Web Style Guide.

FAQ Themes identified:

  • Use actual questions that users ask
  • Do not use questions that the business want users to ask
  • Do not use marketing information
    Placement/Use of FAQs
  • Provide FAQs when the user would ask the question based on user tasks/goals
  • Make FAQs searchable

  • Provide contextual link title. (i.e. Frequently Asked Questions About Opening a Checking Account) The link should not just be called FAQs
  • Do not use the FAQ acronym, instead spell out Frequently Asked Questions
  • Logically group and order questions
  • Ensure visual layout of FAQs is readable and scannable
  • Bold key phrases not entire sentences or paragraphs

  • Gather FAQs by asking call center what questions customers are asking
  • Use FAQ research to drive site design by making requested information more accessible
  • Update FAQs, remove questions that are no longer frequently asked and add new questions that are being asked
  • FAQs are a tool to reduce support type demands on staff

Yale Web Style Guide
The Web and other Internet-based media have evolved a unique institution, the FAQ or "frequently asked questions" page, where the most commonly asked questions from users are listed along with answers. FAQ pages are ideal for Web sites designed to provide support and information to a working group within an institution or to a professional or trade group that maintains a central office staff. Most questions from new users have been asked and answered many times before. A well-designed FAQ page can improve users' understanding of the information and services offered and reduce demands on your support staff.

Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, December 23, 2002:
Top Ten Web-Design Mistakes of 2002
#7 Infrequently Asked Questions in FAQ
Too many websites have FAQs that list questions the company wished users would ask. No good. FAQs have a simplistic information design that does not scale well. They must be reserved for frequently asked questions, since that's the only thing that makes a FAQ a useful website feature. Infrequently asked questions undermine users' trust in the website and damage their understanding of its navigation.

CHI-WEB Summary post for FAQ Design Tips
  • Use actual questions customers ask not what marketing wants you to know
  • Provide several different ways to display FAQs
  • One large scrollable list of FAQs
  • Integrated with search
  • Put FAQs in context of product
  • Map FAQs to user goals/tasks
  • Integrate FAQs at the right place and time based on user goals and tasks
  • The term FAQ should die. It does not provide context for the user
  • Bold essential phrases to facilitate scanning. Don‚t bold entire paragraphs or sentences.
  • Use the question and answer format.
  • Logically order questions. (i.e. listing top five most asked questions first and then alphabetically or categorically.)
  • Index and make FAQs searchable

CHI-WEB Summary post for In-line Help vs. Separate Help Documentation
  • Use inline help for complicated, infrequent tasks
  • Use separate help documentation for simple, frequent tasks.
  • Context sensitive help is more useful because it does not take user out of initial context.
  • Adjust FAQs frequently. They represent actual questions asked.
  • Contextual help may clutter screen and reduce user efficiency

SIG-IA Labeling an FAQ link (link 2)
FAQ name describes a format for content, question and answer, rather than being descriptive of the content.

A usability test of Internet savvy users showed that most of them could not accurately define what an FAQ was. Resulting in the designers spelling out "Frequently Asked Questions" in the site's navigation.

SIG-IA FAQ Design Tips
Advocates linking to pieces of the FAQs to users at the moment they may have the question.

SIG-IA FAQ Strategy

  • Ensure that the layout of the FAQ is readable and scannable.
  • Arrange FAQs in multiple places around the site. Have fewer contextually relevant FAQs versus long lists.
  • Make sure they are questions people really asked not just questions we would like them to ask. (Gather data from multiple source ˆ call centers, website feedback, etc.)
  • Use FAQ data to drive site redesign, making most requested information more accessible. Site design driven by making requested information more accessible requires updating the FAQs highlight what the new frequently asked questions are.

SIG-IA Writing for the Web
  • Link relevant documents from the FAQs.
  • Make FAQs searchable.

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Fired for Blogging

Yikes! Michael Hanscom got fired for blogging about his work. Damn, I always though Microsoft were the Gistapo, but this just goes to show they don't *uck about with this kind of thing. Just as well I refer to my workplace as 'The Corporation'... which is so cryptic, I mean, really...

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Writing for the Web

A checklist for when writing for the web from Clearwater Communications. Its a concise and evolving list of sound concepts.

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November 09, 2003


'Tis the season for farewells. On Friday evening we sent off Gideon who's leaving The Beeb to go work for a fashion outfit called Chunk. It was a messy, debauched and fun evening that led from pub to bar to club.


Mark McClure, who worked with us to help design Connector, also had a leaving do as he is Australia bound in a few weeks. The Easton pub is a very nice discovery. I'll be frequenting it more often.

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November 04, 2003


Very good article all about RSS Feeds.

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Faceted Classification article

This Article is about faceted classification... more specifically, Faceted Application of Subject Terminology.

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Syntagm Articles

Articles written by William Hudson who runs a UCD list over here in the UK are here and worth a read.

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November 01, 2003

Wifi and bad B.A.

Just got back from the USA. Am feeling jetlagged and grumpy as British Airways did a fairly average job of getting me from there to here. Stuck faffing about on the runway for 2 hours in Denver becuase they knew that a strong tailwind would save them a few hours on the journey. What with that, hardly any water service on the trip itself, mistimed inflight video (so you got to see half of a movie before it was switched off for descent) with constant announcements interrupting it and finally 'congestion' at heathrow terminal delaying us another 20 minutes... and then another 10 because the ground crew pissed off before attaching the gangway... I feel that their good reputation is ill deserved. Give me Malaysian Air any day.

Met a nice chap on the shuttle who was also headed for London. We got chatting about free wifi and where to get it in London among other things. It prompted me to do some research. Here's what I found.

News story on ZDNetUK on WarChalking

Matt Jones (founder of WarChalking)

Official WarChalking site

Map of Wifi nodes in London

And finally, a bunch of other good resources from Gavin.

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