May 24, 2005

Greasemonkey, BBC, Open Source

Greasemonkey Scripts are a fantastic example of why open source is such a good thing for the internet and software industry.

This is a library of scripts that you can load into your Firefox browser to enhance the way you view certain sites. The scripts are all made by various hackers, who in tinkering and playing with other people's web offerings, are doing a great service to the humble internet surfer and web industry alike. Want to auto log-in to friendster? There's a script for that. Want to compare your Amazon's book price with Barnes & Noble's, right on the same page? There's a script for that too. Want to add delicious tags to your blog entry on blogger? Yup, many of the things you think "I wish I could do 'x' on this site" are accommodated with a Greasemonkey script.

Some of the scripts I'm sure make web site providers nervous. For instance, there's a handful that block ads and put more useful things in their place. I know that the company I work for is pooing bricks over that one. Especially since this open source concept is so compelling that its likely to be popular enough to prompt Microsoft to accomodate something similar in IE, just so the Firefox browser doens't gobble any more market share.

When you open yourself up to the developer community, you can not only leverage cheap (or even free) labor, but exponentially increase your chances of hitting on a truly great idea. It’s progressive for any organization to open their doors to people ‘tinkering’ with their product, but doing so is reaping rewards for the BBC. The inspiration from a few clever developers can reveal concepts that the in-house team may never have thought of. Check out this fantastically brave idea by the team at BBC News. BBC Backstage.

The only reservations I have about Greasemonkey are 1. This is not for joe public yet. There's no way that the vast majority of internet users would be savvy enough to make the effort in installing plug-ins, script upon script etc. 2. There's no security guarantees. You must be able to understand the scripts and what they're doing so that you don't install something that will scrape your hard drive for your most precious data and send it to some scumbag in Eastern Europe, only to wake up the next morning with your bank account emptied, your website proffering pornography, your computer being used as a DOS attack drone... maybe I'm paranoid, but this isn't a risk that seems worthwhile.

But, that said, its a great idea and I think a hallmark of things to come.

Posted by Ant at 10:44 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 07, 2005

IA Summit 2005 - Dan Willis - Evangelism 101

Some more belatedly transcribed notes that I took at this year's IA Summit...

There are differences between Overt and Covert evangelism... choose which to employ based on your specific circumstance.

Enthusiasm - getting fired up about something is important. It is viral.
Group Dynamics - ensuring you're sensitive to how a group interacts.
Change - if you're not changing something, then you're not evangelizing, you're coaching.

'Change has its enemies'

IA Mechanisms to evangelize with:

Easy Sells: site maps, content inventories
Harder sells: conceptual wireframes, user task flows, non-linear interaction maps.

IA Building blocks

  • Primacy of user goals
  • User centered design
  • User research

Bad reasons to be an evangelist: Fame, power, it looks cool on a business card, chicks dig it. it's not about telling you what to do, its about getting people enthusiastic about doing it themselves.

Using evangelism for your own fame or power damages your credibility. Credibility is essential for an evangelist. Requires honesty, integrity , consistent excellence. The appearance of credibility is secondary

Good reasons to being an evangelist: The status quo is not enough. You have the passion and "mad" skills. You also just can't help yourself and are knitpicking about imperception and imprecision. Are you an evangelist and don't know it?

Evangelists solve problems rather than just alleviate symptoms. They trade ownership for consensus around new kinds of thinking. Evangelists act as if they are an outside consultant, whether they are one or not. They run workshops and initiate group creative exercises. Evangelists circulate information - email newsletters, collect timely articles from other industries. Psychology Today articles for example. A weekly newsletter is a good method to push people farther than where they wouldn't be pushed otherwise. Involving more diverse people than your group is a good way to start to create interest. Recruiting a few people to help with putting things into a centralized location is good.

Lead change from behind. Get people to run over the hill, but not by following you. The stimulate change by asking questions. They unearth and encourage expertise (especially under-appreciated expertise) They are a resource for, and supporter of other evangelists.

Eight Random rules of evangelism:

  1. Be shameless - do what you have to do to make change happen, no matter how personally embarrassing. Your Audience + your goals = your envelope.
  2. Be fuzzy. Skill sets are more useful than job descriptions. Utilize different levels of evangelism for different challenges or projects. Low level - newsletter. Med - involved in meetings. High level - redesign project
  3. Don't be fuzzy - demystify everything. Use existing words if commonly understood. If not, create a new common language. Utilize a common perspective - that's the beauty of user centered design. Demystify doesn't mean to explain absolutely everything - don't lecture.
  4. Be tactile - Bind squishy concepts to hard pixels. Action Items, High concepts/practical implications, illustrations, case studies.
  5. Own Minutia
  6. Fear the incremental. Incremental change is frequently is confused with evolutionary change.
  7. Encite the riot, but try not to lead it. You will be more effective if the self interest of those being evangelized is greater than their own.
  8. Protect your poets and pirates. Poets who tend to describe things in unique ways. and are those who are most likely to not care about working outside the normal. Rebels that don't play in the sandbox, but can singularly change the world. Pirates work together and rebel to create change. They resent attempts to protect them. They are sometimes surprisingly and fiercely loyal to the company. They dominate the sandbox. Keep them away from management. they cayn't appreciate them. Point them to ones who can. Translate their work. Over deliver on giving them credit for it. Praise of Poets must be meaningful and well-timed. Empower your pirates...

...out of time

Posted by Ant at 04:46 PM | Comments (1)

IA Summit 2005 - Panel - Social Classification (Folksonomies)

Some more belatedly transcribed notes that I took at this year's IA Summit...

Del.icio.us, furl, citeUlike, Wists, Technorati, live journal, flickr, vimeo, gmail, 43 things - all use social classification.

Types of social classification are broad and narrow. Broad: many users tag one resource. Narrow: few users tag one resource.

Folksonomy is about public tagging (vs private tagging on sites like GMAIL and Furl)

Issues with social classification are Retrieval, Quality, Authoring, Economics, Scalability, Usability

Peter Morville - Folksonomies... are they better than nothing?

Extremes of saying search is bad or search is good is not helpful. Apophenia - searching for the noise rather than the signal. Context is all important - is folksonomy relevant to categorizing a research site? Hierarchies and controlled vocabularies are becoming more relevant, not less.

Google is much better that Flickr. The quality of the search of flickr will decline as more people use it and the quality of the tagging decreases.

Google documents aboutness. The "linked to" value tells us more than the content or the metadata.

Five Lessons of Folksonomies
1. Leverage what already exists (or happens)
2. Tap wisdom of crowds (and users)
3. Tap compulsion to share (pennies not dollars)
4. Context counts (always avoid generalizations)
5. Never underestimate people's thirst for anarchy

Thomas Vander Wal - Folksonomy: a wrapper's delight.

Metadata: relatively hard, expensive, resource intensive, not easily emergent, can be hierarchical.
Tags: Relatively easy, generated by users for free, users have an immediate self interest, users find instant payoffs, emergent, flat.

Narrow folksonomy works best where the object does not have text that is searchable or easily found. It can be emergent.

Peter Merhorlz - Metadata for the masses

Uses wine classification as an example of how traditional classification 'blocks the light' from other taxonomies that may resonate more with users. Sometimes controlled vocabularies use terms that are foreign, or not appropriate for the content. This is a barrier to people tagging from a controlled vocabulary.

The entry of new terms into the social classification scheme is rapid and easy. New terms can emerge very quickly at a minimum of cost.

Seeing what other people tag things with influences what you tag a thing with.

There are issues surrounding synonyms. Sometimes things are just tagged incorrectly. Bad data is a problem. There are caveats to overcome.

Desire lines are worn paths [Note: this is also known as emergence]. Using folksonomy to pave the worn paths.

Merging folksonomies with established taxonomies may be a useful idea.

Folksonomies all allow for a poetry in classification that traditional classification schemes are scared to go near. There is a gut visceral level phenomenon occurring around what people call things. "me" is not "self portrait".

Findability vs Discoverability. Folksonomies can be inspiring because of their discoverability. The serendipity involved in typing a term (e.g. 'color') is very compelling.

Tag inversion - people are starting with the tags and then finding objects to fill those tags. This is the opposite to traditional approaches of tagging a piece of content. This is creating communities that surround the idea of creating 'square' or 'round' photo.

Questions
Are there contexts where taxonomies are completely useless? PMO - Yes, where people won't tag things, no matter how you try and get them to.

Making tagging content accessible - how do we make the tagging task appealing to the masses? PME - folders.... are there systems that lay people use to organize files that we can learn from such as folders and files? Incetivize the tagging task with rewards. Refer to BJ Fogg's presentation!

Posted by Ant at 04:31 PM | Comments (0)