January 25, 2002

Corporate blogging (or Blogging for Dollars)
Peter has some great thoughts about web logs ('blogs") and how they facilitate "free-ranging discussions hopping from page to page, with little structure apart from the hyperlink... Such discussions can be hard to 'follow,' but I think attempting to 'follow' them misses part of the point.."

I think it's likely to spur some good discussion. Personally, I've been looking into the use of weblogs within a corporate environment. I think they can help move "knowledge management" closer to something attainable.

I think what's really cool about blogs is the power they give people to share -- it's knowledge management at its most informal and chaotic. It's about a virtual community -- a community of communities if you will. I think there's a place for managed chaos in a corporate setting. Chaos is at the heart of much invention and innovation...

Blogging also has a aspect of reputation management as David Walker said on his site:
"Weblogs' users don't vote within the site; they vote by choosing the site as a reliable source of guidance. In effect, they say to the site's author: "you make the choices I'd make if I had time". The Webloggers become the makers and breakers of reputations within their (usually narrow) areas of interest. And the mass of Weblogs becomes another reputation management system."

In a corporate setting, a reputation management system could help people find subject matter experts and could help identify the most successful or valuable projects.
Why taxonomy is important
If you're struggling to convince business sponsors that building a taxonomy is important, you can probably get a few bullet points from Gerry McGovern's article on Clickz.com. He makes some excellent points about the challenges of creating a good taxonomy and why it's costly to business if done wrong. Here are just a few:
  • Web site classification impacts both the "map" and the "geography." Classification is not simply about mapping content that is already on a Web site. It also dictates the very structure of the Web site.
  • The organization often has a preexisting classification that is understood by its employees but not by its customers. A difficult decision needs to be made with regard to whether to design two classifications or create a single unified classification that is understood by both.
  • Web site classification is an ongoing process prone to error. Each time a new document is published on the Web site, it needs to be classified. If the document is classified incorrectly, then it undermines the entire classification design.

The first point about the "map" and "geography" is a great one. Site structure and navigation majorly impact site content. On the web, many second-level pages (right off the home page) are essentially navigation only pages -- 'branches" of the tree if you will. The navigation pages effectively become "meta-content". For example, the Yahoo World News page is really a branch page -- yet as meta content it provides the reader with an overview or summary of the day's news. No one wrote a summary, but aggregating microcontent on one page and providing navigation and structure to the leaves of the tree, the articles, provides a constantly updating overview.

On web projects, it's easy to focus either too much on the leaves or the branches. In planning a new site, where no content exists, it's common for team members to plan for a lot of branches without know how big the leaves really are. Sometimes they plan for a number of pages about "our unique business proposition", when in the end they end up with three paragraphs. Other times, when repurposing content or redesigning an existing site, too much focus is given to arranging the leaves, and branches are not well thought out. Those sites can end up with branches that are too short -- linking to too many pages from one page without proper introduction -- or they can end up with branches that are too "skinny" -- navigation pages that don't contain enough information about the pages they link to. It's difficult to get the focus right -- achieving a balance where each page from top to bottom works well. Often this requires restructuring existing content to make it work.

Many companies are moving in the direction of Corporate Portals...an internal web trailhead to all things related to the company. These often include a type of enterprise taxonomy, and can be very difficult to plan, implement and maintain. They require a lot of research, analysis and process -- even changing corporate culture to some extent. These taxonomies make the typical web site taxonomy look trivial in comparison. If you're looking at corporate portals or other technology to categorize web content, keep in mind that regardless of what the technology vendor says, the challenge of creating taxonomy has little to do with technology, and lots to do with unique user and business needs.

January 24, 2002

Web-based wizards and the Sorcerer's Stone
IBM's developerWorks site discusses the topic of web-based wizard interfaces. The author shares her learnings from designing and testing web-based wizards for nearly a year. She nicely covers the various project team roles involved in crafting a good wizard, including the roles of information architect and usability specialist. Reasons why you should not auto-tab in forms and why a controlled vocabulary is important are included and really make this article a gem.

Interesting book reference: Designing Effective Wizards: A Multidisciplinary Approach
"Nuts-and-bolts guide to designing wizards Includes checklists and examples The complete guide to wizard design. Practical usability and design techniques for successful wizard and software projects"

The Web Design Pattern for a Wizard by Martin van Welie provides a nice overview of what wizards are good for, the principle behind them, and the basics behind creating one. Not familiar with patterns? Try this past post for more information.
Who needs bookmarks?
Recent discussion on WebWord talked about how some folks are using Google instead of bookmarks. When I first discovered Google (they were in "beta"), I made it a personal mission to tell everyone I knew about it.

My new mission is to tell folks about Powermarks, a really great utility that is so much better than Google for returning you to your previous haunts. It's better than bookmarks because you don't have to think so much about organization. I mean do you really want to create a whole taxonomy for your bookmarks (aka favorites)? With bookmarks, I could never figure out where I put things, plus navigating through the various folders took too long. Powermarks allows you to do a very fast search of things you've "powermarked", and it also lets you add metadata (keywords) to each entry. It ends up being faster and more accurate than Google (really). Since all my hundreds of Powermark entries are for web pages that have already passed my "smell test", I can generally find something useful without having to scan very many search results. It's also great for those times when I think "didn't I read something about this once?" -- I can quickly find it in my powermarks.

Someone mentioned Powermarks once on CHI-Web or SIGIA, and It's really changed the way I work ever since. I can retrieve information much faster than I ever did before. For example, in a matter of seconds, without opening any new browser windows, I just looked up the URLs for CHI-Web and SIGIA. Since it's a desktop app, there's no network or page load delay...yes, native apps are still good for something!

Oh, and one of the really cool things the software does is synch your "powermarks" between PCs!

January 22, 2002

Dialing for Doritos
When I read that Doritos will abandon their Super Bowl advertising this year and instead triple their investment in online advertising, you could say I was a bit surprised. Given that millions of people actually watch the Super Bowl just to see the ads (as many as 8% of the 120 millions viewers by some accounts), while studies show more and more web users have "banner blindness", I have to wonder what the snack food marketing folks know that we don't. I understand that web ad prices have plummeted and that the cost of 30 seconds time during the Super Bowl would buy year long exposure online -- even on major name properties like MTV.com. What I don't get is Doritos' campaign featuring a character named "Clive" and a fake "underground" site called fortheboldanddaring.com.

I'm sure most of their online target market of 12-24 year olds will hear about this fake site, and realize they are being targeted and being treated like total fools who can't see the difference between the real thing an a bad corporate parody of it. I'm also not sure how this underground site will help sell Doritos' products. Just like the Pets.com puppet didn't drive sales of pet food, my prediction is Clive and the related campaign will create a buzz, win lots of awards for the ad agency, but fail when it comes to the bottom line. Then again, I could be wrong -- maybe this is just so clever I don't get it.

I'm reminded of a quote from that epic "rockumentary" This is Spinal Tap:
"It's such a fine line between stupid and...clever."

January 21, 2002

Seek out the experts
The Royal National Institute for the Blind has a fascinating site, especially if you're doing any work around web accessibility. They have a very comprehensive list of access technology suppliers.
Wall Street Journal Redesign
The WSJ Online has redesigned their site...and it appears they are moving in the right direction. The redesign "tour" hints that they are moving their online layout to be quite different from their print heritage:

"Newspaper readers and Web users don't always have the same needs. So we've reorganized our navigation in a way that works better online. We've moved some sections and pages, and given some of them new names that more directly describe the subjects they cover. "

They seem to have improved their article format by adding a related links sidebar -- a much under-used feature on most web sites. After all, what is the web without links? You guessed it...without links it's pretty much newpaper content trapped in a browser. :-) Great "related links" can add tremendous value (see Strategic Linking Techniques by John Rhodes of Webword.

Another change is the move to 2 site maps. One is really an index that they call an alphabetical site map. The second is a typical site map (if there is such a thing) listing the site's sections and primary pages under them. See Jakob's recent Alertbox article for a good discussion of site map usability.
[thanks to Christina at ElegantHack for the WSJ pointer]