June 01 - June 09, 2001
May 01 - May 31, 2001
April 01 - April 30, 2001
March 01 - March 31, 2001
February 01 - February 28, 2001
January 01 - January 31, 2001
December 01 - December 31, 2000
November 01 - November 30, 2000
October 01 - October 31, 2000
September 01 - September 30, 2000
August 01 - August 30, 2000
July 01 - July 27, 2000
June 01 - June 30, 2000
May 24 - May 31, 2000
May 1 - May 23, 2000
April 1 - April 30, 2000
March 1 - March 31, 2000
February 1 - February 29, 2000
January 1 - January 31, 2000
December 1 - December 31, 1999
November 1 - November 30, 1999
October 16 - October 31, 1999
October 1 - October 15, 1999
September 8 - September 30, 1999
August 29 - September 7, 1999
August 13 - August 27, 1999
August 6 - August 12, 1999
July 25 - August 5, 1999
July 17 - July 24, 1999
July 11 - July 16, 1999
July 01 - July 10 1999
June 09 - June 30 1999
June 01 - June 08 1999
All of 1998
of Web cartography. A discussion on a mailing list introduced
me to WebMap, an information
visualization technology that creates topographic maps of
Web spaces, in a manner strikingly similar to ThemeScape,
which I believe has been around far longer. In this discussion,
someone else mentioned Antarcti.ca,
Tim Bray's new foray into Web cartography, which has a public
version at http://maps.map.net/
(find peterme.com here,
and click "3d" for a city-scape representation.
Beware plug-in download.)
In the past, I've
been a sucker for these visualizations. Among my first pieces
on this site was a run-down of Way
New Interfaces. I find the Plumb
Design Visual Thesaurus useful (make sure it's set on
"2d"). I believe that such fluid, single-screen
designs better suit human cognition when it comes to interacting
with information, as they help maintain context, exploit recognition
over recall, and address our inate spatial memory.
But in the four
years that I've been observing and writing about such interface
modes, very little has changed. The "new" technologies
are pretty much the old ones with some new colors. And, most
frustratingly, not a single visualization model has caught
on. And, on the Web, if something catches on, it usually catches
on in a Big Way. (e.g., oh, Napster. Or Google.)
So, I've been putting
together thoughts for an article on "The Folly of Web
Mapping." (I've pitched it to one magazine--if you've
got suggestions for venues, please
let me know.)
My thoughts begin
with the question, "Is the Web mappable?" or, more
generally, "Are information spaces mappable?" Maps
represent static entities that have a generally agreed-upon
orientation. Information, though, is fluid, and attempts to
diagram relationships are wholly dependent on an individual's
perception. There are no universally agreed upon organizations
of information. If you asked a group of people to close their
eyes and imagine a map of a familiar physical space, their
minds' eyes would likely be seeing similar representations.
However, envisioning a familiar information space would no
doubt lead to wildly divergent constructions.
In fact, WebMap
adds complexity to the user's quest for information--whereas
before the visitor had to simply understand the Open
Directory Project's arbitrary taxonomy, now she must also
"get" the interface overlaid on it, an interface
that spatializes an inherent abstract construct (information
and the relationships between different piece of information)
in a fashion unlikely to map to the user's model of such relationships.
This leads to a
second question, "Why a map?" We all use maps, but
a wealth of anecdotal evidence suggests that maps aren't the
most usable tools. (For me, a primary association with the
concept "map" is how my mother could never navigate
using one.) On the mailing list that spurred this thoughtwander
of mine, Gary Stock wrote:
I spend considerable
time working with landowners and local government (zoning
commissions, elected boards) on a variety of land issues.
Cartographic literacy rates are virtually zero in the public
at large. Unless a profession _demands_ it (surveyors, planners,
field engineers) most folks recognize little more than the
big 'N' at the top -- and a surprising number have no idea
which way north is, anyway.
In my experience,
something fewer than three in ten will make any attempt
whatever to orient a printed map to their actual coordinates,
even when they are in view of, or standing directly _on_,
the site the map represents. Among those who make an attempt,
only about half are able to accomplish the task to some
degree of accuracy. Among those who must be _asked_ to orient
the map, fewer than half will do so usefully. By extension,
learning to orient graphic data to what's going on in their
_head_ must be generations distant from today (either forward,
or backward :-)
is bolstered by my experience in trying to get folks to understand
abstract representations of websites, be they site maps or
wireframes. Many, if not most, people have a difficult time
"filling in" such things.
So now I've
poked around the Web, researching map usability, and how maps
are attuned to human cognitive processes. I've had difficulty
coming up with much, but a few interesting leads include Making
Maps Easy to Read, Cartography,
GIS, and Visualization, and The
Process of Reading Statistical Maps: The Effect of Color.
A final, and possibly
tangential, point to this discussion is the emerging field
of "new geography," which, in part, marries semiotics
and cartography to suggest that maps are not straightforward
depictions of the world as it is, but rather highly loaded
artifacts designed with explicit intent that skews the representation.
There was a great book review in Harper's
a couple months back on this academic trend. A Google
search on "cartography
semiotics" turns up some interesting leads, including
the home page of Alan
MacEachren, who seems to be a leader in this field.
So, this is something
I've been thinking a lot about. If you've got thoughts or
resources to contribute, please
share in this discussion!
Corrupts, PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely" -- Edward Tufte.
Run to your nearest newsstand and pickup the latest issue
of The New Yorker, featuring "Absolute PowerPoint,"
a revealing look at corporate America's favorite software tool.
Ian Parker writes the kind of feature I ought to--a compelling
mix of history, theory, story, and analysis.
Applied Cognitive Psychologist. I rented The
on DVD, mostly to watch the documentary on the making
of the film. Often referred to as "The Master of Suspense,"
I'd label him more broadly as "The Master of the Cinematic
is comprised of interviews with folks who either worked on
the film or have studied it. Two stories of Hitch's genius
stuck with me, both around his inate understanding of human
One was a discussion
of the scene where mayhem occurs outside the Tides restaurant,
including an explosion at a gas station. A number of things
are happening at once, and Hitch realized that he needed an
extremely high shot to re-orient the audience. He intuitively
understood the audience's cognitive state, and how to best
serve it through his craft.
is told in the documentary by Veronica Cartwright, who played
the lead child in the film. Oftentimes there were scenes featuring
masses of birds just sitting, providing many of the films
most delightfully ominous moments. Now, most of the birds
were simply dummies, and little Veronica asked Hitch, "Won't
these scenes look fake with all the fake birds?" And
Hitch explained, "As long as there are a few real birds
mixed in, and they're moving, the audience will think all
the birds are real." And it's true. It works. The bits
of movement here and there lead the brain to think there's
movement everywhere (probably because our brain doesn't assume
Anyway, folks getting
degrees in the field of visual perception could do worse than
to simply study the films of The Master.
Through Stories. Buzzing
through the blog community is the story of Kaycee Nicole,
the 19-year-old leukemia victim who posted tales of her struggle
on a weblog for 2 years, who died last week, and who, it was
discovered recently, never existed. Read
this for backstory.
In thinking about
the hoax, the thing I return to is the power of narrative
in making sense of things.
It's true that
"narrative happens." Whether intentional or not,
we use techniques from narrative and storytelling to make
sense of the world. Fill in the gaps. Etc.
exploit narrative expectations. Debbie (the "mother"
who perpetrated the hoax), proved to be a master storyteller.
She told the perfect teen-cancer-survivor story. It almost
reads like an afterschool special. Cute teen girl, taken down
in the prime of life, fighting against the odds, providing
insightful commentary about what's happening, etc. etc. Debbie
tapped into *what we want to hear* in such situations, even
when, if it were broadcast on TeeVee, we'd likely dismiss
it as hokum.
here is the robustness in how the narrative was portrayed.
It wasn't just a weblog. Kaycee had member pages on collegeclub,
an AIM account that was actively used, and received and sent
physical packages through the post. If Electronic Arts had
put together something like this, folks would calling it a
"marvel of cross-media storytelling" or something.
around on the web for "storytelling narrative understanding
world" I found a page on Narrative
Psychology featuring a lengthy essay on "Narrative
Partitioning: The ins and outs of identity construction",
all of which addresses the cognitive underpinnings of storytelling,
narrative, identity, and other tasty topics.
and improve. I recently stumbled across Microsoft's Adaptive
Systems and Interaction research page, which has tasty
bits on a range of topics from user modelling to collaborative
filtering to visualization to conversational systems and more.
You can read about the research that lead to that annoying
little paper clip!
Not the Vulcan
Way. In response to my solicitation for good business-y
writings, a friend pointed me to The
Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations.
Sigh. More to read.
And Yet Even
More To Read. It turns out that there's a new sister site
of Arts and
Letters Daily and SciTech
Daily Review--the Business
Daily Review. You'll recognize the format, only this time
pointing to (duh) interesting Web articles on business matters.
Don't let the
shitty ads fool you. Angel
Eyes [I know that's not the film's site, but there's
a link to it there, and I like the humor with which the proprietor
accepts her newfound popularity] is a smart little character
study and love story, quite well-crafted, and Ms. Lopez shows
off some fine acting chops in a film that provides one of
the best leading woman roles in a long time. This film is
being torpedoed by bad marketing, I think trying to capitalize
on "J. Lo's" urban appeal and present it as some
cop thriller, when in fact it's a touching girl-meets-boy
tale with it's heart in the right place. Hell, I *cried* at
this film. I hope it finds an audience.
I recently dipped into Arts
and Letters Daily and SciTech
Daily for the first time in a while. What a treasure!
More time in my life, please.
who have contributed to the Business-y
Books discussion! Un
chien de merde offered up a particularly tasty suggestion.
And more thoughts always welcome!
through blogs. The folks at elearningpost have written
knowledge management through blogging," an engaging
discussion of weblogs, stressing how their conversational
aspects lead to the creation of stories that process and analyze
blogs, I, like Ev,
was interviewed on video for a CNN segment on weblogs. The
role I play in this segment is the "blog historian,"
where I discuss the meaning and import of weblogs, and relay,
yet again, the coining of the word "blog." It's
pretty clear that the CNN folks had the segment shaped before
they talked to anyone-- they pretty much have to know what
you're going to say before you're going to say it.
silly. The NTKMart
is open for business, featuring most notably Jakob
as a Che-like revolutionary
Quite a few things
on my mind. On a few different subjects.
Now that I co-own
a consulting firm,
I'm reading more business-oriented magazines and books. I
was quite taken with a couple of articles in the latest Harvard
Inside The Lives of Your Customers" and "Swarm
Intelligence: A Whole New Way to Think About Business."
(both abstracts, must pay for full article.)
The former, written
Seybold, is a well-presented discussion of user-centered
design methods that sound pretty much like contextual
design. I like that it's printed in the HBR--I think it'd
make a good sales tool to convince clients of the utility
of these methods. ("See? This very smart woman published
in this esteemed business magazine said you should do it!")
The latter, written
by Eric Bonabeau (read
another article by him) and Christopher Meyer (more
from him here), offers a few high-level case studies on
how business processes can be modeled after the workings
of ant colonies and other self-organizing systems. Particularly
interesting in how practical business applications are being
found for complexity theory. Hrm... There's actually a whole
issue here on evolutionary models for business organizations.
In fact, the whole
journal looks intriguing.
that note, suggestions for business-y
books are welcome. (QuickTopic discussion.)
On a different
tack is this NY Times article on internet
business consultants, which proves, more than anything,
that pretty much any reader of this website is likely more
clueful than these supposed experts, and that there is seemingly
no cure for boneheadedness.
I've been thinking
about how Adaptive Path relates with it's clients. Being small,
we have the fortune to engage them personally. Working
with larger firms is a corporation-to-corporation exercise;
when you work with us, you don't work so much with "Adaptive
Path" as you do with "Mike" or "Jeff"
or "Janice," etc.
And as such, our
idea is to come in and actually listen to and observe our
client organizations. It's important for an external organization
to make sure its solutions work within a client's existing
set-up, whether or not those current processes seem fucked
up to you. If you don't tailor to their idiosyncratic processes,
clients will reject your solutions the same way a body rejects
a potentially helpful organ transplant. The typical practice
wherein consultants bulldoze their clients with some supposed
"proven methodology" won't work, particularly when
it proffers solutions that require clients to change behavior.
The solutions might not be rejected outright; in fact, the
client might happily receive them and thankfully write the
final check. But don't be surprised if 1 year from now your
effect is nil.
This isn't to say
that Adaptive Path doesn't hope to make organizational change.
It's clear that many organizations aren't set up to optimally
utilize their internet resources, and some alterations will
help. But the only alterations that will be accepted are
those that decrease effort. Which requires studying the
client organization the way you'd study their customers--get
an understanding of their work processes, what the pain points
are, and how you can smooth out the roughness. You must provide
a solution suited to fit their specific needs; there is no
"proven solution" that, when applied, solves all
This past weekend
I participated in a kind of salon with some extremely smart
folks, where the main topic of discussion was "change."
And it was pointed out, by someone
far smarter than me, that all of us in the room hoped to be
agents of change, and, as such, we must consider how to make
our potential subjects of change receptive to it. And that's
not an easy problem. There's probably nearly as much work
in preparing an organization for change as there is in instituting
An a different
note, folks interested in valuable research being done on
how people perceive the Web should head to the Stanford
Web Credibility Research Page, discussing valuable work
headed up by BJ Fogg (linked to previously) on what leads
people to believe what they find on the Web. I believe BJ's
research on persuasive
technology to be rather important. For folks to understand
that the computer, by its nature, is a persuasive technology.
This work, along with the work
of his colleagues Clifford
Nass and Byron
Reeves, is beginning to reveal fascinating details as
to how we relate to our communications technologies.
This weekend I
the first novel published by McSweeney's.
It's good. It's a little different. Each book's cover sports
a unique drawing by the author. Read it.
And about my last
post? Well, I'm bigger, and feeling better. But I haven't
totally shaken it.
feel very very small. And a little ill.
on the Internet! The
latest issue of The Comics Journal
focuses on internet publishing. Stories range from the seethingly
short-sighted, heavy-handed, miss-the-point idiocy of Gary
Groth's anti-Reinventing Comics screed, to a well-researched
expose on the rise and fall of Stan
Lee Media, and a delightful
interview with Tristan Farnon, the demented creator of
the incomparable Leisure
Town. Oh, and there's an
interview with Scott, but you'll have to buy the printed
issue to read it all.
You all think
about this stuff, too much, too! The discussion
board for my Further
Reflections piece has been quite active, and often informative.
Well worth a look.
All your recommendations
are belong to us. Steven
Johnson interviews Cory Doctorow on OpenCOLA.
Issues discussed include social intelligence recommendation
engines, self-organizing systems, the difference between relevance
and recommendation, and lots more good stuff.
I think about
this stuff too much. I've just written a sizable piece
on some Further Reflections
on Information Architecture, spurred by my attendance
of the Intranets2001
conference last week. I'm trying to stir up the dirt, putting
forth that information architecture is not the property of
information architects, and suggesting that IAs might want
to recast themselves as (gasp!) marketers.
The Edge of
No Edge. Cesium
writes in with a pointer to "Office
Sprawl: The Evolving Geography of Office Space,"
a report on how metropolitan office spaces are shifting from
downtowns to suburbs and outskirts. No secret to those of
us in the SF Bay Area, though it leads to no end of traffic
headaches. Our roads were designed to have San Francisco be
The Center of Everything, and San Mateo and Santa Clara and
Contra Costa counties to be bedroom communities. Overtime,
those counties (particularly San Mateo and Santa Clara, which
comprise "Silicon Valley") have become industrial
hubs, such that there is no "direction" of commute
IBM is smarter
than you. I've been marvelling at the disconnect between
Media take on IBM's sidewalk spraypaint campaign for Linux,
and the response from those to whom the campaign is directed.
The press chastises IBM, a sentiment I've been seeing on some
mailing lists I'm on. But the Slashdot kids, perhaps the most
difficult to please, cooler-than-thou, annoying engineering
types you can find, are eating
Which proves, I
think, the campaign's brilliance. The cost of spraypainting
is minimal. The cost of cleanup is minimal. The press publicity
has been huge. And the winning over of the hearts and minds
of "fuck tha establishment" elite Linux geeks? Well,
as MasterCard would say: priceless.
Fashion is a
Fleming and I deconstruct Style.com.
In your face.
In the latest issue of his newsletter, Alan
Cooper strokes his chin over possible second-order effects
of wireless technology, which is where he thinks the real
interesting social impact will occur. He posits the notion
of multiple faces--how we'll use wireless technologies to
augment how others see us. This idea is similar to the Media
Lab's Thinking Tags, which
I wrote about after CHI 98, a main idea of which is instead
of having computers turned inward, looking at us, we face
them outward, so that, like clothes, they provide others with
further context about who we are.