April 06, 2002

Pictures taken on the road: American Mile Markers
Kodak has a feature story on Matt Frondorf, an engineer who took a trip from New York to San Francisco with his 35mm camera snapping pictures out his car window once every mile. The resulting photos are very cool, as is Matt's story about how he did it -- changing film every 36 miles!

“I think I got what I hoped to get,” he says. “I wanted to be able to assemble long, continuous pieces to get a feel for vastness. To look at one wheat field doesn’t have the same quality as looking at the whole wheat belt.”

He made the trip of over 3,300 miles in just 6 days. Tip: I preferred looking at the Qucktime movies rather than the Flash "picture viewer" -- seemed to be a better way to experience the photos.

[via Slashdot by way of Alterslash]

April 05, 2002

Anti-Simplification - How to Make Life Harder for Users
If we find out which factors make applications more complex, we can learn through bad examples which pitfalls to avoid.

[via cognitive Architects]

April 03, 2002

Need a LIFT in the accessibility department?
Digital Web reviews UseableNet's LIFT for Dreamweaver, a product that helps you build and test sites for compliance to section 508 and W3C standards. I haven't tried out LIFT, but after reading the review I'm more curious now.

April 02, 2002

Usability can save lives
Boxes and Arrows: The story behind Usability.gov
"One minute, a researcher seeking grant information is pulling up an NCI [National Cancer Institute] website for details on what grants are available and where to apply. The next minute, an ordinary citizen is frantically searching NCI websites for any information -- any clues about a type of cancer for which the doctor is testing them. Every day, NCI disseminates life and death information. Usability.gov ensures that users and their web behaviors are kept in mind when designing sites."

See also: my previous comments on the NCI guidelines.

On a related note, I'm very proud of some volunteer work I was involved with a while back for a Minnesota based cancer charity: The Children's Cancer Research Fund. It's a phenomenal charity, and if you're looking for a good charity that really makes a difference in people's lives, you'll have a hard time finding any better. (The site's been redesigned since I worked on it in 1997.)

I remember the heart-wrenching day when I learned I had to remove the photo of a beautiful, smiling little girl from the home page -- she had lost her battle with cancer. I'll never forget her face and the darling smile she wore under a flowered hat that I'm sure covered a bald head.

About a year later, I was proud as I could be that the large corporation I worked for donated the use of its corporate jet to take another little girl home from Minnesota. She too was losing her battle with the disease and needed to fly home to be with her family in the end. It was in the middle of an airline strike, and the doctors were afraid she wouldn't get a commercial flight home in time. CCRF gave us a call to see if there was any way we could help. A call was placed to our CEO, and within minutes we had the go-ahead to do whatever we could to help, with no questions as to the cost.

There was no follow-up story in the paper, no community relations release. It was just a large corporate giant silently committing an act of kindness because they could, and because it was the right thing to do. It's a side of corporations that never gets its due -- all too often we see corporations portrayed as cold, heartless, greedy monoliths. What I saw that day was genuine caring, giving and a willingness to help the community and individuals -- with nothing wanted in return.

The Boxes and Arrows article just reminded me of those days working with CCRF. It pointed out that the NCI's Usability.gov site can help researchers and doctors save more lives. The site can help cancer victims find life-saving information. Sometimes, usability can mean the difference between life and death.

April 01, 2002

Google tweaks search results

Either I've scooped everyone on this or I just can't find any documentation of this as a prior Google feature. Google now includes a "Description" field in a search result listing for any page that has a listing in the Open Directory. See this example. It's a nice addition as it provides the user a nice short description of a page. The way they do this also makes sense since there's an editorial process for those descriptions in the Open Directory whereas description meta tags are often used to mislead search engines.

Learning from hypertext's history

The web wasn't the first hypertext system created; many systems came before it: Intermedia, Hypergate, Hypercard, and Storyspace are just a few. In the early days of hypertext experimentation, developers came up with many different ways to represent links. A short historical sidebar to a HypertextNow article outlines some of the different link representations that were explored. After a comparison of different methods at the Hypertext '87 conference (a full 15 years ago), the consensus was that links should be hidden until users elected to show them. Why? Because the other methods had various issues: they gave links too much emphasis, they wasted screen space, or they looked strange and confusing.

Then Mosaic came along and ignored everything that had been learned -- it showed links as underlined blue text. "A link, even the most minor footnote, sticks out from its surrounding text almost as if it were blinking."

Lessons learned: Resources on Hypertext from Useit.com:
The technology behind Google's great results
"Page and Brin developed groundbreaking technology for converting poop to pixels, the tiny dots that make up a monitor's display. The clean white background of Google's home page is powered by this renewable process"
A better printable page
NUblog you how to prepare online content for offline reading, covering some good tips in the process.