Donna, Designed for Use, Closes

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , ,

The impending closing of Donna has bumped a couple of thoughts to blog to the front of the queue.

First off, Donna is an iOS calendaring app that focusses on one’s agenda for that day and upcoming days with a targetted focus on the transportation timing and how that impacts your day. If your life has children that need transporting between activities or work that is out and about bouncing to meetings or work sites Donna is utterly indespensable. Donna puts a focus on the getting between places, so calculates the travel time to let you know when you really should leave, as it monitors traffic and weather conditions. The app offers four different modes of transportation and the related times for those: Driving, public transit, biking, and walking.

One of the best parts of Donna, which many other applications also do, is it reads your native calendar on iOS and augments it. It isn’t a separate calendar to lose things in if you forget. Content you may modify to help plan in Donna, like search to find the exact location for a meeting, is added to the calendar object and can be used in other calendar apps. I will focus a bit more on this in the following section on “Small Apps Loosely Joined”.

Not only will Donna give you a warning when it is approching time to leave, but it can send those you are meeting with notification that you are on your way and / or you are running late. Donna also monitors the weather and can advise on transportation changes should you be walking or biking. One other really helpful element is having the option to use Uber, if you are in a city that has it (Donna knows) and the event is that day (this was incredibly helpful this week).

One of the wonderful things is the evening of the day prior Donna provides a notification of how many meetings you have the next day, but if you don’t have any in your calendar(s) it tells you to enjoy your day, which is a wonderful little touch.

Designing for Use

The thing that stands out with Donna is not just its really good interaction design and really well designed information structures for easy to scan appointments, but it is designed to solve a pain point. Most specifically it is designed for use. The design is focussed on solving a problem and to be an easy to use solution for that problem, which is: I have meetings and activities in my day that take me out and around and sorting out the timing so I can optimize my day for my interests (get more time by driving, more health and environmentally focusse using bike or walking, etc.). Letting others knwo when you are late or on your way is really helpful and directly tied to the mobility of getting to meetings and activities. Having an app that pulls all the needed information around that task set is fantastic.

Donna isn’t designed to be a full replacement for a calendar, but is there to augment it and the use needs around the activities of getting between places.

Donna also understands what is needed as well as not needed. Allowing for modifying settings for alerts and notifications is really helpful. Understanding when alarms are not going to be helpful, understanding helpful user preferences when you are running late (auto send notes, how far ahead, or not to send at all automatically). Donna was built with the idea of a really helpful human assistant who looks after your schedule and is a step ahead of you. This framing of use and a helpful model really shines through in the app.

Small Apps Loosely Joined

Donna and many other calendar apps that are on mobile devices are not aimed at fully augmenting your native calendar service, but to integrate and augment that service. The model that is increasingly familiar is along the idea of small apps loosely joined model. This model puts a focus on using standard data structures, common object types, and a central app or service as a hub to provide a foundation for other apps and services to use the core object and augment it, often with data that fits the model type, and exends use.

With Donna the object is a standard calendar entry that has day, time, timezone, location, who are meeting with, notes, etc. But, the app can improve the data in the object, such as location. But, most of the apps not only improve the information within itself, but improve the core data so all other apps that use that object as well. The apps are often offering agency to do a task, or set of tasks, around the object. Donna puts the use focus on the use needs for getting there and communicating with others around that activity.

With calendaring, many using Mac or iOS opt for Fantastical to imput new calendar items as its native language parsing into a calendar data structure is incredibly good. Some people really like the interface from Fantastical and use it to view their day and upcoming events. There are an incredible amount of viewing your calendar / schedule options out there. Another smart agent for the calendar is Tempo app, which works to aggregate everything around a calendar item and pull it into easy reach (very much in the Come to Me Web model). Tempo pulls all the contact information for all participants in a meeting, all related email, all related files, weather, etc. all within easy reach as part of its view of the calendar entry. Tempo is as indespensable as Donna is for me personally (and I heavily rely on Fantastical for easy input, on my mobile I talk the calendar entry info into Fantastical and let it do its thing).

Who is Living the Small Apps Loosely Joined Life?

So who is working this way? Not so surprisingly, if one has been paying attention to how people actually are using devices and services, the user survey’s the past year or so have been asking about using more than one app for task types (calendaring, notes, reminders, text, etc.) and finding that 60% to upper 70% of those surveyed are using multiple apps for task types. Those surveyed have often been well outside of the geek and nerd camps that have worked this way for years, but regular folks who are not deeply adept technically. The focus on apps that do a task or set of tasks insanely well and easily trump a large app that does many things somewhat well. That one size fits all and category winner thinking has been dead for quite a while and is far from helpful model for thinking about much of anything.

The last few years, either in conferasions or listening to them, with people talking about their apps and how they do things on the devices (often mobile and tablet) it is increasingly common to hear, “I use a few apps to do…” what follows is calendaring, text documents, notes, mapping, driving directions, reminders, etc. and two or more apps stated and the specific tasks and user flow they have for each app. These were often non-geeks, but having surveys targeted at mainstream users and their habits and use patterns really brought home how mainstream this actually is.

Good Bye Donna

As Harry McCracken pointed out in Yahoo to Donna Users: We’re Dispensing With Your Indispensable App Donna has become indispensable for me. The great folks at Incredible Labs (that includes bud Kevin Cheng) did a fantastic job with Donna. Keeping Donna going was likely going to be a struggle as the computing to suss out location and needs as well as the and licensing the transportation times they used was not going to live a long time as an ongoing free app. The competition with other apps starting to incorporate similar time for transit models (yet clearly not designed from a perspective of use, but as a feature to add) likely was going to make things tougher as well as Apple adding transporation times and notifications based on that in Mac’s Mavericks version (adding it to desktop OS and not the mobile OS really was an odd move that is very un-Apple as it was not designed from a use in mind perspective).

It has been a while that I have been worried about the long run for Donna. A chat with Kevin about running a start-up in this space somewhat gave legs to that concern. Many start-ups have an exit in mind from the start and with any luck and perseverence it is a positive exit (not just shutting it and going bankrupt). I am really happy for Kevin and the other Incredible Labs folks as they got a positive exit for them and I wish them well at Yahoo (for all that are making that transition). Incredible proved they could nail a service that is designed for use, which leads to it becoming a really valueable part of people’s lives. Thank your for bringing us Donna as an agent to greatly improve our lives.

Resonance in Sound and Design

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , ,


  • The quality in a sound of being deep, full, and reverberating: the resonance of his voice.

  • The ability to evoke or suggest images, memories, and emotions: the concepts lose their emotional resonance.

Listening to the lovely and haunting Dead Already from the American Beauty soundtrack by Thomas Newman in high quality recording (lossless) and a compressed version (at 256 kbps) the beauty that is lost is in the resonance of the marimba / vibraphone and other instruments that make up the core of the musical experience. The this isn’t the white space between characters in print, but a grey space. It is beyond what is struck and to place a note in time and space, but what resonates out beyond that initial placement or use.

The last few years I have been reripping much of my musical collection as my main headphones improved, which are my main listening experience. The sound and experience is drastically different and exposes the gaps and the details that are missing in other listening environments. This combined with listening to music that is well produced and exposes and lets the musicianship and craft shine.

Resonance in Design

Thinking of resonance from an interaction design view is quite enlightening. The work of creation of usable interactions is good, but it is the first strike and it is not just white space that follows, but resonance of striking that interaction. This struck me a few years back when the iPhone came out (or one of its subsequent iterations) when I realized my Nokia E61i was faster at rendering pages and actions than iPhone, but what the iPhone did really well was manage and design the resonance after the person using the service clicked something. After striking for an action Nokia left white space and a void, but Apple crafted the grey space of resonance. Nokia would surface the result much more quickly, but with Apple that lag in the delay was not as perceivable unless you were watching the clock. Apple filled the empty space with fade-out, fade-in, activity notifications (windmill bars), which display for just a small amount of time usually. Much like the resonance of a marimba the sound and resonance can not last forever, nor very long, but it is enough to evoke beauty through filling the void.

The one or three second lag between clicking to trigger an action was painfully noticeable on a Nokia, but rather imperceivable on Apple devices. A longer delay is perceivable and painful no matter the interface and relies on engineering to resolve those issues. But, it is that resonance and understanding the design and crafting of it is what can separate a good experience from one that is more rough for the people who desire to use it and could find it of value in their life.


by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , ,

We are living in a time where there are not only many concurrent realities existing at once, but our understanding of “Now” is perhaps broader and more broken than most any time since the Middle Ages started sprouting into the Renaissance. This is nowhere more prevalent in our understanding of the future, particularly the near future. Future technologies and future living have been part of reality in and around us for decades. But the time gap between the few edge cases who are living with what most consider future technology and life to when it hits mainstream is ever increasing.

The Future is Here…

This stretch of living with future technologies as a regular part of our lives and those who are not there yet, or even living a generation of reality behind all while living in the same culture is something I’ve called the everynow. Everynow started about 2004 as a tongue-in-cheek riff on Adam Greenfield’s everyware term use. Everynow is the breadth reality in William Gibson’s “The future is already here - it’s just not evenly distributed” statement from 2003, which is an idea many have discussed for years prior, but with out such nice phrasing.

Breadth of Adoption Reality

It seems the everynow is about 20 years in breadth.

For years it seemed it was about 10 to 12 years and it was nice to see it in Steven Berlin Johnson’s wonderful book “Where Good Ideas Come From”, he talks about the reality of ideas taking about 10 years from inception to getting them into relatively broad public use. When you think of internet based email in the 90s and the use of corporate email internally and out through internet gateways to better connect freely and more unencumbered, it took about 5 years for email to get to roughly 99% inside the organization (many organizations were much closer to that 10 year mark). But, in the last couple years in particular that 10 years.

Internet of Things

This past week with Tom Coates’ Twitter account for his house, @houseofcoates getting some mainstream media press the difference from what Tom is doing (and thinking and playing with for a very long time) rather echoes things like MisterHouse which started in the late 1990s using X10 devices and services and internet enabling them using Perl. The demo site for MisterHouse allowed those on the web to see the live status of lights, messaging, home music service, and things like window shade open status, but also for quite a while allows any of us to modify them right from the web. Tom’s long interest and work with his House of Coates is the latest iteration and extension of this and his long work on web of data and internet of things. (By the way Tom’s work is quite good and worth tracking down.)

The chatter around the Internet of Things, which is far from mainstream exposure and partial understanding is nearly 15 years old since its first usage by Kevin Ashton, really took off around 2002 and 2003. Bruce Sterling’s still incredibly valuable framing of the Internet of Things in his Shape of Things book from 2005 added the incredibly helpful concept of Spimes to conversations (actually he seeded this in 2004 in a SIGRAPH presenation, “When Blobjects Rule the Earth”), thinking through, and development many of us had been wading in for a few years.

Information for Use and Reuse on Mobile

Another example is around mobile… When I think about this mobile explosion that has “taken place recently” there is very little that is different from the thousands of handfuls of us living with smartphones in the early 2000s and thinking of the capabilities and potentials and building them and living them, all while the many many thousands of us were swimming in the same pool of live with the billions of others around us. Many of use in the U.S. and Western Europe felt we were deeply behind those living in Japan and Korea and their understanding and living the realities of living a life with mobiles that augmented their reality as the devices and services enhanced their lives lived with the devices in them. As we developed use of our web based information for use on internet connected Palm and other similar devices in the 90s

But, from a consumer and early adopter framing the reality of what is potentially doable in the future and having that in place and in use for some time know then trailing all the way back to those living in prior realities and the frustrations (although they think they are manageable, but not realizing how poorly the tools and services are working for them) is pushing that everynow to a very confounding nearly 20 years.

Social Design for the Enterprise Workshop in Washington, DC Area

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I am finally bringing workshop to my home base, the Washington, DC area. I am putting on a my “Social Design for the Enterprise” half-day workshop on the afternoon of July 17th at Viget Labs (register from this prior link).

Yes, it is a Friday in the Summer in Washington, DC area. This is the filter to sort out who really wants to improve what they offer and how successful they want their products and solutions to be.

Past Attendees have Said...

“A few hours and a few hundred dollar saved us tens of thousands, if not well into six figures dollars of value through improving our understanding” (Global insurance company intranet director)

From an in-house workshop… “We are only an hour in, can we stop? We need to get many more people here to hear this as we have been on the wrong path as an organization” (National consumer service provider)

“Can you let us know when you give this again as we need our [big consulting firm] here, they need to hear that this is the path and focus we need” (Fortune 100 company senior manager for collaboration platforms)

“In the last 15 minutes what you walked us through helped us understand a problem we have had for 2 years and a provided manner to think about it in a way we can finally move forward and solve it” (CEO social tool product company)

Is the Workshop Only for Designers?

No, the workshop is aimed at a broad audience. The focus of the workshop gets beyond the tools’ features and functionality to provide understanding of the other elements that make a giant difference in adoption, use, and value derived by people using and the system owners.

The workshop is for user experience designers (information architects, interaction designers, social interaction designers, etc.), developers, product managers, buyers, implementers, and those with social tools running already running.

Not Only for Enterprise

This workshop with address problems for designing social tools for much better adoption in the enterprise (in-house use in business, government, & non-profit), but web facing social tools.

The Workshop will Address…

Designing for social comfort requires understanding how people interact in a non-mediated environment and what realities that we know from that understanding must we include in our design and development for use and adoption of our digital social tools if we want optimal adoption and use.

  • Tools do not need to be constrained by accepting the 1-9-90 myth.
  • Understanding the social build order and how to use that to identify gaps that need design solutions
  • Social comfort as a key component
  • Matrix of Perception to better understanding who the use types are and how deeply the use the tool so to build to their needs and delivering much greater value for them, which leads to improved use and adoption
  • Using the for elements for enterprise social tool success (as well as web facing) to better understand where and how to focus understanding gaps and needs for improvement.
  • Ways user experience design can be implemented to increase adoption, use, and value
  • How social design needs are different from Web 2.0 and what Web 2.0 could improve with this understanding

More info...

For more information and registration to to Viget Lab's Social Design for the Enterprise page.

I look forward to seeing you there.

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LinkedIn: Social Interaction Design Lessons Learned (not to follow) - 2 of 2

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , , ,

This is the second of two posts on the subject, the first post LinkedIn: Social Interaction Design Lessons Learned (not to follow) - 1 or 2 gives the lead-in to this post.

Lessons To Learn

Sadly, the new social functionality has broken much of worked well as an ambient social tool. More problematic was LinkedIn did not seem to grasp what it had: so to build on top of very good start, but it seemingly looked at Facebook for inspiration, but Facebook does not seem to be aware of good social interaction design practices.

When building social tools for broad audiences (more than 3,000 people) — which open services on the web are — there is a progression of 3 things that must be accounted for in the planning stages: 1) Velocity; 2) Volume; 3) Relevance.

As social tools start getting used they go through a progression one of them are these three stages of concern. Velocity of information is how quickly information is added by the community and has turn over on the in the frameworks. Volume is the mass of information that accumulates over time that will force how information is shared, found, and used. Relevance becomes essential when there is large volume and filtering is needed for information flows and for allowing people using the service to have a manageable stream of information that is relevant to their needs.

Many social services can go through these three stages in a few short months if they have 50,000 users or more. LinkedIn does not seem to have considered getting to and beyond the first stage in their planning.

Social Interaction at Scale & Volume

As LinkedIn has added social features they have created more streams of information in their flow. More streams lead to more velocity of information. This can be good if the basic concepts for understanding monitoring these streams as well as providing methods for moving things out of the flow so they can be acted upon or set into a personal task flow.

It seems as if the new social features are aimed at the roughly 80 percent that have 100 or fewer connections, not the moderate or heavy connectors who are the unpaid evangelists that have helped LinkedIn grow. Not understanding the value various segments bring to a service and how to satisfy those groups is rather short sighted

Social Tsunami on Homepage

The one thing that started the frustration with LinkedIn’s shift was the flood of unrelated social items on the homepage. Much of the social content shared is personal ID focused and not group or work focused (even when shared in groups or work related settings - a quick look at activity summaries regularly shows this).

One of the task flows I had with LinkedIn was to accept a connection or get notification of a connection then go to their profile page and download their vCard. The social tsunami that took over the front page of LinkedIn made that task all-but impossible. Part of it is the velocity of information running through the front page for connections increased, velocity the design did not account for.

Additionally, the new social components started eating up valuable real estate on that page and had no simple interaction design convention for minimizing, hiding, or turning off that module of functionality from the page.

Eventually the ability to turn off notifications to the social tools was added to the Settings page, but there is no notification of that functionality on where the problem exists, the pages where this container shows up (we learned this in software design in the early 90s). Also problematic is the social elements are clustered by task/tool relevance and not person or subject. Including pivots could greatly improve this as well as allow for shifting context by the person using LinkedIn.

LinkedIn Account & Settings Network Updates

Focal prioritization is essential to include in initial planning, as this becomes critical when dealing with the relevance stage or even handling a scaling volume of information. Each person using a service is going to have a slightly different set of priorities for relevance and focus. This is going to require some malleability of the system interface to allow for personal optimization of their relevance and streams.

This is not emergent behavior but the reality of what happens when systems scale. LinkedIn is built “;like a classic chamber meeting where networking is orchestrated”;, as stated by Margaret Rosas. Sadly, LinkedIn is not built for flexibility that is needed as systems scale to or beyond the volume stage. It is built as if this was a surprise, which prior to 18 months ago LinkedIn’s careful approach was much smoother with their growth of features and functionality.

LinkedIn changed its layout and structure of its pages to account for the coming new functionality, which is quite smart. But it did so in a manner that seemed to consider all notifications and functionality should have the same focus.

If you remove notifications, there is no ambient notification to let you know there is really any activity. The front page is part portal and part dashboard, but the distinct concepts around these two approaches seem to have baffled the interaction designers and developers.

LinkedIn: Social Node or Social Hub?

LinkedIn also seems quite schizophrenic as to its social purpose. It has built part of the social framework as if the rest of the web only allowed limited interaction with it, which it would make it just a node on a network. This destination framework does not account for people having any other service that provides social features that could easily be shared in or out.

The other side of LinkedIn is a hub, which information flows though. Inbound status messages from other services show up in LinkedIn’s pages as to the “applications”, but using connecting identity in a manner that permits not having Twitter messages I read elsewhere show up in LinkedIn would be more than helpful (yes, part of this is OAuth, which Twitter and many other have not deemed valuable yet (come on Twitter this is not rocket surgery). The applications and information it allows in is limited to a relatively small number of services. Having a small number of services integrated should allow for contextual relevance of the objects, but that would be assuming again LinkedIn was well thought through. This interaction with services would also benefit form LinkedIn offering OpenID as well as OAuth integration to ease the pain and security.

LinkedIn does not have an open API as of yet (this should have happened when they launched status and some other social elements). The LinkedIn API for status would allow LinkedIn to be a sharing out hub as well as the partially capable in-bound hub it already is. LinkedIn is a business focussed social environment, but has not realized its DNA is business based and there are task flows and workflows to enable that would make a lot of sense.

LinkedIn Forgot the “Me” in Social

All social begins with me. Social interaction is about an individuals intentions, actions, and their activities. What things a person wants to share with others and how interact with is one part of the social framework. Another other is consumption and working with the flows of content generated by others. LinkedIn did a decent job with flow until it started adding the more social features in the last 18 months. What LinkedIn did know (focus and purpose) they now show little grasp of understanding as their features have created more flow and more velocity for the information ebbing through the service with no planning for it. It takes very little understanding of social tools to know that this will likely happen and there are interaction elements that are going to be required to handle this, for example moving things out of the flow.

Many people want to see those they have just connected with, things they just published/shared and responses. There is also the desire to hold on to things that are relevant to the individual. This holding on to things requires a means to favorite or put it in place where things can be collected and worked on later. These things could be single comments in group discussions, people’s names/profiles who are surfacing, notifications, etc.

With the velocity of information increasing in LinkedIn the capability to perform a task and drop back into the flow where you were is gone. Any decent interaction designer for social tools knows this reality and had a stack of solutions to set in place from the outset.

Social Context in Groups

The math of social software for people is the mostly the one-to-one relationships and being able to see those. But, social software occasionally is about communicating to groups.

LinkedIn added group discussions, but did this as if the last 10 to 15 years in forums and groupware platforms never existed. The group discussions are not threaded nor do they offer the option to turn on threading for the discussions (this has been default for off-the-shelf forums for over 8 years at least). Also lacking is the capability to hold on to and collect valuable items found in discussions, let alone a means to personally contextualize them.

Another thing LinkedIn fails to grasp is contextual relationships to people in the discussions. For example, if someone I know has started or commented in a group discussion the service should highlight this. There is a potentially higher social contextual relevance for that piece of information. When information starts turning from a stream into a flood this becomes insanely important.

Once this reality of contextualizing is realized, there are a couple of options that are likely to be needed quite quickly after. One is adding new people in the discussion that we interact with; this context could be surfaced in the discussion or used to augment the rational surfaced in the recommendations.

LinkedIn Georgetown University GroupEmail from groups should not be from the organization name of the group as that looks like it is from the organization. I get official information from organizations, but lacking the understanding of contextual information for e-mail makes an even greater mess of e-mail and group interactions when this is lazily designed. The “from” should begin with LinkedIn group or some other notation.

Context for Events

When LinkedIn added events, I started getting invitations to attend them. But, the wording of the invites made it sound like they were personal invitations, which is not the context they were intended. It took quite a few rather embarrassing e-mails for many events, if they were really requesting my attendance or if it was just an announcement of the event. Understanding a modicum of social interaction and social etiquette would have saved those embarrassing e-mails.

Events also launched with many bugs (many have been ironed out, but most were of the rather blatant variety). One downside of events is there are already an over abundance of event tools, which work rather well (this is a really tough tool set to get right and build). Nearly everybody I talk to has wondered why LinkedIn did not use something like Confabb to license it or buy it (there are many event services available), rather than using their own resources on something that is not up to the level of competing products. Lastly, with regard to events, while the recommendation for connections is good in LinkedIn, the recommendations for events is absolutely horrid. If that is who LinkedIn thinks I am I need a new service now.

Models for Messaging Flows

One of the things that has been flawed in LinkedIn for quite some time is messaging flows. I liked that they pushed messaging out into e-mail and I could respond to a person from my e-mail. One thing that is missing is LinkedIn not updating their messaging flows. Looking in LinkedIn it is quite often impossible to sort out. When I stated I continually have this problem, Jess Leccetti stated, “I’ve had that exact problem! I thought it was my comp being buggy!” Messaging across various media channels is tough and most often fractured. But, when offering a solution it is important to get it right.

Profile Comments Go In...

Finally LinkedIn added the capability to for people using the service to add their own private comments on to other’s profiles. This is a great addition as it allows the means to add context to files. Sadly, it does not seem to surface that information in any other manner other than going to the individual pages.

This lack of functionality outside each profile page is really mind blowing, as it leaves out the capability for using it for tagging, contextual grouping, search aggregation, and use these aggregations for sharing up dates or filtering what is shared. There are emergent activities that could evolve out of these functionalities, but again this seems to not be well thought through.

One approach is a nice simple personal tagging or labeling interaction layer with clickable aggregation interface option. This would allow simply applying glue to personally thread items together through light aggregation. The current comment system only creates islands of context that have chasms between it and other relevant or related items.

Next Steps

LinkedIn needs to get some people in that grasp social interaction design. They purportedly have some, but I am not sure they have influence or the depth of knowledge needed (either is problematic). The LinkedIn service seems to be proof something is horribly wrong along these lines.

LinkedIn also seems to be a victim of not sorting-out what it wants to be. If it wants to be a Facebook for business, the route they are taking is not going to work well for the business users as it is greatly lacking solid functionality and cohesive interaction design with task flows enabled. LinkedIn needs to be LinkedIn and not a Facebook for business.

As many on Twitter have stated, one seemingly viable option is LinkedIn’s social additions of the last 18 months should all be thrown out and simply start over. The only piece that seems to have much positive feedback is the Q&A section, which is not something that I have interest in, but seems to work passably for others.

More coherently, a real reality check is needed at LinkedIn. They must to stop adding features and functionality until they learn to fix what they have added. They need to begin with understanding how social interaction happens, how it scales, and how people need it to work at scale. Stop looking at Facebook for what features to add. LinkedIn has some deep value as a work and business focussed social site, but that is going to require a different focus that what has been applied in the last year to 18 months.

I have deep fear that LinkedIn views what is happening is emergent (emergence happens when things are used in an unpredictable manner: whether wholly unpredictable or unpredictable in that context). What is happening in LinkedIn is not emergent. It is quite predictable: This is what happens at scale with social systems and their information flows.

A grasp of social systems and their uses at various levels of scale (and potential for various interactions and needs) is really needed at LinkedIn. The slowness to act (or, sadly, react as if this was an unknown potential) and fix what they have is not a great sign of encouragement for the organization. Hopefully having Reid Hoffman back as CEO and with Jeff Wiener as President can pull this into focus and set things on a sane path.

LinkedIn: Social Interaction Design Lessons Learned (not to follow) - 1 of 2

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , ,

Why LinkedIn Needs to Have a Better Grasp of Social

A heavy user of LinkedIn, I have been hearing identical complaints to my own as regular business networking event conversation fodder for the last six months or more. Light users of LinkedIn as well as those of us who have over 600 connections have nearly identical problems.

At its core the social interactions design is severely flawed and poorly thought through. LinkedIn integrates social interaction components and features as if they were playing a game of "me too" with Facebook. This is problematic as much of the Facebook social interaction design is poorly executed. I have stated how Facebook's DNA does not support business use (in Facebook for Business or LinkedIn Gets More Valuable. Oddly, now LinkedIn seems to be building the poorly thought-through Facebook interactions, implementations which are directly counter to their reason for being.

Wake-up LinkedIn! You may have money to get you through some sort of recession that lasts for a while, but your business relevance requires you to get these things right and get them correct now.

Too Many New Features, Too Fast

LinkedIn now has conflict and confusion about its primary focus as a service and what is the primary social object. Prior to 18 months ago LinkedIn was more or less a live resume and work connections site. The social object was the individual person and the focus was clear and social actions, while limited, were clear and focussed too. The addition of more social interaction and services has completely lost that sense of focus and could be one of the causes of poorly built social tools.

The last 18 months or so has LinkedIn seeming like it wants to be more of a Social communication site,  workplace social platform, and/or  general social site like Facebook with a quasi-focus around work-life.The lack of central understanding of what LinkedIn is also has increased the scatter shot understanding of social and voice (based on really confounding contexts for understanding). The inclusion of social elements that bleed into LinkedIn, with similarities to Facebook, are executing on the same social understanding of social interaction design that acts as if the last 8 to 15 years in digital social interaction design and knowledge did not exist.

This is a compilation of things that have been increasingly bothering me with the rollout of LinkedIn's social features. They seem to roll out features that are not fully baked. Then, they release new features rather than fixing the poorly thought through functionality already deployed. I have delayed writing this as I have heard many of these items were going to get fixed (but have not after far too long). I also have many friends at LinkedIn and have not wanted to rock their boat (but many of them have publicly and privately encouraged me to write this publicly).

Another reason for posting this is I am seeing these mistakes many places. Far too many "social x gurus" are just users of less than optimal systems. They don't grasp the less-than-optimal features are holding back the tool adoption, in addition to a lack of social interaction design.

This muddled social mess triggered Jonathan S. Knoll to proclaim on Twitter, "LinkedIn: the online community of people you don't really like."

What Worked Well

LinkedIn worked well for me as an ambient social network for business contacts. The last 3 or 4 years LinkedIn has been one tab that was always open in my work browser (until a couple weeks ago when I got fed up). I would watch the ambient flow of who changed jobs, titles, connections, and what they were seeking. These were social business clues that I used as opportunities to reconnect with people and see where I could help out.

LinkedIn was a great tool for strengthening business relationships. Quite often I would offer help to someone job seeking or send congratulations on new role or job. The communications often lead to chatting about working together, which had a really good business upside for me.

Watching people connect has value in finding people I already knew and had not connected with, as well as having some understanding of who outside a community is looking for help (those who say they can tell everything about a person by who they connect to don't understand social interaction dynamics very well, particularly around business relationships and business growth).

LinkedIn's recommendation services for finding others to connect with have been really good. The only other service that is this strong in my opinion is Plaxo, which is a service that increasingly has taken the place of LinkedIn for me. Plaxo understands volume, various levels of relationship, and keeping contact information current where you need it (in address books, not is disconnected services). LinkedIn is also really good for capturing and making recommendations of one's work.

Something LinkedIn has done rather well is its iPhone application, which really should be extended to other mobile platforms for smart phones. It finally enabled the ability to use contact information in a use context that matters and outside their service (mail does some of this but it is broken as in LinkedIn responses and external responses are not coordinated).

LinkedIn's question and answers section has been done rather well. Many people find it valuable and get good use from it. There are many things that could be done to augment it, particularly around using it to build an understanding of reputation around subject matter. It also could use the ability to easily hold on to (and annotate for one’s self) good suggested answers. This is the sign of a decently thought-through social platform.

The second part to this post, LinkedIn: Social Interaction Design Lessons Learned (not to follow) - 2 of 2 looks at some specific lessons learned from LinkedIn.

Optimizing Tagging UI for People & Search

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , ,


One of my areas of focus is around social tools in the workplace (enterprise 2.0) is social bookmarking. Sadly, is does not have the reach it should as it and wiki (most enterprise focused wikis have collective voice pages (blogs) included now & enterprise blog tools have collaborative document pages (wikis). I focus a lot of my attention these days on what happens inside the organization’s firewall, as that is where their is incredible untapped potential for these tools to make a huge difference.

One of the things I see on a regular basis is tagging interfaces on a wide variety of social tools, not just in social bookmarking. This is good, but also problematic as it leads to a need for a central tagging repository (more on this in a later piece). It is good as emergent and connective tag terms can be used to link items across tools and services, but that requires consistency and identity (identity is a must for tagging on any platform and it is left out of many tagging instances. This greatly decreases the value of tagging - this is also for another piece). There are differences across tools and services, which leads to problems of use and adoption within tools is tagging user interface (UI).

Multi-term Tag Intro

multiterm tag constructionThe multi-term tag is one of the more helpful elements in tagging as it provides the capability to use related terms. These multi-term tags provide depth to understanding when keeping the related tag terms together. But the interfaces for doing this are more complex and confusing than they should be for human, as well as machine consumption.

In the instance illustrated to the tag is comprised or two related terms: social and network. When the tool references the tag, it is looking at both parts as a tag set, which has a distinct meaning. The individual terms can be easily used for searches seeking either of those terms, but knowing the composition of the set, it is relatively easy for the service to offer up "social network" when a person seeks just social or network in a search query.

One common hindrance with social bookmarking adoption is those familiar with it and fans of it for enterprise use point to Delicious, which has a couple huge drawbacks. The compound multi-term tag or disconnected multi-term tags is a deep drawback for most regular potential users (the second is lack of privacy for shared group items). Delicious breaks a basic construct in user focussed design: Tools should embrace human methods of interaction and not humans embracing tech constraints. Delicious is quite popular with those of us malleable in our approach to adopt a technology where we adapt our approach, but that percentage of potential people using the tools is quite thin as a percentage of the population.. Testing this concept takes very little time to prove.

So, what are the options? Glad you asked. But, first a quick additional excursion into why this matters.

Conceptual Models Missing in Social Tool Adoption

One common hinderance for social tool adoption is most people intended to use the tools are missing the conceptual model for what these tools do, the value they offer, and how to personally benefit from these values. There are even change costs involved in moving from a tool that may not work for someone to something that has potential for drastically improved value. The "what it does", "what value it has", and "what situations" are high enough hurdles to cross, but they can be done with some ease by people who have deep knowledge of how to bridge these conceptual model gaps.

What the tools must not do is increase hurdles for adoption by introducing foreign conceptual models into the understanding process. The Delicious model of multi-term tagging adds a very large conceptual barrier for many & it become problematic for even considering adoption. Optimally, Delicious should not be used alone as a means to introduce social bookmarking or tagging.

We must remove the barriers to entry to these powerful offerings as much as we can as designers and developers. We know the value, we know the future, but we need to extend this. It must be done now, as later is too late and these tools will be written off as just as complex and cumbersome as their predecessors.

If you are a buyer of these tools and services, this is you guideline for the minimum of what you should accept. There is much you should not accept. On this front, you need to push back. It is your money you are spending on the products, implementation, and people helping encourage adoption. Not pushing back on what is not acceptable will greatly hinder adoption and increase the costs for more people to ease the change and adoption processes. Both of these costs should not be acceptable to you.

Multi-term Tag UI Options

Compound Terms

I am starting with what we know to be problematic for broad adoption for input. But, compound terms also create problems for search as well as click retrieval. There are two UI interaction patterns that happen with compound multi-term tags. The first is the terms are mashed together as a compound single word, as shown in this example from Delicious.

Tag sample from Delicious

The problem here is the mashing the string of terms "architecture is politics" into one compound term "architectureispolitics". Outside of Germanic languages this is problematic and the compound term makes a quick scan of the terms by a person far more difficult. But it also complicates search as the terms need to be broken down to even have LIKE SQL search options work optimally. The biggest problem is for humans, as this is not natural in most language contexts. A look at misunderstood URLs makes the point easier to understand (Top Ten Worst URLs)

The second is an emergent model for compound multi-term tags is using a term delimiter. These delimiters are often underlines ( _ ), dots ( . ), or hyphens ( - ). A multi-term tag such as "enterprise search" becomes "", "enterprise_search" and "enterprise-search".

While these help visually they are less than optimal for reading. But, algorithmically this initially looks to be a simple solution, but it becomes more problematic. Some tools and services try to normalize the terms to identify similar and relevant items, which requires a little bit of work. The terms can be separated at their delimiters and used as properly separated terms, but since the systems are compound term centric more often than not the terms are compressed and have similar problems to the other approach.

Another reason this is problematic is term delimiters can often have semantic relevance for tribal differentiation. This first surface terms when talking to social computing researchers using Delicious a few years ago. They pointed out that, social_network, and social-network had quite different communities using the tags and often did not agree on underlying foundations for what the term meant. The people in the various communities self identified and stuck to their tribes use of the term differentiated by delimiter.

The discovery that these variations were not fungible was an eye opener and quickly had me looking at other similar situations. I found this was not a one-off situation, but one with a fair amount of occurrence. When removing the delimiters between the terms the technologies removed the capability of understanding human variance and tribes. This method also breaks recommendation systems badly as well as hindering the capability of augmenting serendipity.

So how do these tribes identify without these markers? Often they use additional tags to identity. The social computing researchers add "social computing", marketing types add "marketing", etc. The tools then use their filtering by co-occurrence of tags to surface relevant information (yes, the ability to use co-occurrence is another tool essential). This additional tag addition help improve the service on the whole with disambiguation.

Disconnected Multi-term Tags

The use of distinct and disconnected term tags is often the intent for space delimited sites like Delicious, but the emergent approach of mashing terms together out of need surfaced. Delicious did not intend to create mashed terms or delimited terms, Joshua Schachter created a great tool and the community adapted it to their needs. Tagging services are not new, as they have been around for more than two decades already, but how they are built, used, and platforms are quite different now. The common web interface for tagging has been single terms as tags with many tags applied to an object. What made folksonomy different from previous tagging was the inclusion of identity and a collective (not collaborative) voice that intelligent semantics can be applied to.

The downside of disconnected terms in tagging is certainty of relevance between the terms, which leads to ambiguity. This discussion has been going on for more than a decade and builds upon semantic understanding in natural language processing. Did the tagger intend for a relationship between social & network or not. Tags out of the context of natural language constructs provide difficulties without some other construct for sense making around them. Additionally, the computational power needed to parse and pair potential relevant pairings is somethings that becomes prohibitive at scale.

Quoted Multi-term Tags

One of the methods that surfaced early in tagging interfaces was the quoted multi-term tags. This takes becomes #&039;research "social network" blog' so that the terms social network are bound together in the tool as one tag. The biggest problem is still on the human input side of things as this is yet again not a natural language construct. Systematically the downside is these break along single terms with quotes in many of the systems that have employed this method.

What begins with a simple helpful prompt...:

 SlideShare Tag Input UI

Still often can end up breaking as follows (from SlideShare):

SlideShare quoted multi-term tag parsing

Comma Delimited Tags

Non-space delimiters between tags allows for multi-term tags to exist and with relative ease. Well, that is relative ease for those writing Western European languages that commonly use commas as a string separator. This method allows the system to grasp there are multi-term tags and the humans can input the information in a format that may be natural for them. Using natural language constructs helps provide the ability ease of adoption. It also helps provide a solid base for building a synonym repository in and/or around the tagging tools.

Ma.gnolia comma separated multi-term tag output

While this is not optimal for all people because of variance in language constructs globally, it is a method that works well for a quasi-homogeneous population of people tagging. This also takes out much of the ambiguity computationally for information retrieval, which lowers computational resources needed for discernment.

Text Box Per Tag

Lastly, the option for input is the text box per tag. This allows for multi-term tags in one text box. Using the tab button on the keyboard after entering a tag the person using this interface will jump down to the next empty text box and have the ability to input a term. I first started seeing this a few years ago in tagging interfaces tools developed in Central Europe and Asia. The Yahoo! Bookmarks 2 UI adopted this in a slightly different implementation than I had seen before, but works much the same (it is shown here).

Yahoo! Bookmarks 2 text box per tag

There are many variations of this type of interface surfacing and are having rather good adoption rates with people unfamiliar to tagging. This approach tied to facets has been deployed in Knowledge Plaza by Whatever s/a and works wonderfully.

All of the benefits of comma delimited multi-term tag interfaces apply, but with the added benefit of having this interface work internationally. International usage not only helps build synonym resources but eases language translation as well, which is particularly helpful for capturing international variance on business or emergent terms.


This content has come from more than four years of research and discussions with people using tools, both inside enterprise and using consumer web tools. As enterprise moves more quickly toward more cost effective tools for capturing and connecting information, they are aware of not only the value of social tools, but tools that get out the way and allow humans to capture, share, and interact in a manner that is as natural as possible with the tools getting smart, not humans having to adopt technology patterns.

Enterprise Social Tools: Components for Success

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One of the things I continually run across talking with organizations deploying social tools inside their organization is the difficultly getting all the components to mesh. Nearly everybody is having or had a tough time with getting employees and partners to engage with the services, but everybody is finding out it is much more than just the tools that are needed to consider. The tools provide the foundation, but once service types and features are sorted out, it get much tougher. I get frustrated (as do many organizations whom I talk with lately) that social tools and services that make up enterprise 2.0, or whatever people want to call it, are far from the end of the need for getting it right. There is great value in these tools and the cost of the tools is much less than previous generations of enterprise (large organization) offerings.

Social tools require much more than just the tools for their implementation to be successful. Tool selection is tough as no tool is doing everything well and they all are focussing on niche areas. But, as difficult as the tool selection can be, there are three more elements that make up what the a successful deployment of the tools and can be considered part of the tools.

Four Rings of Enterprise Social Tools

Enterprise Social Tool: Components for Success The four elements really have to work together to make for a successful services that people will use and continue to use over time. Yes, I am using a venn diagram for the four rings as it helps point out the overlaps and gaps where the implementations can fall short. The overlaps in the diagram is where the interesting things are happening. A year ago I was running into organizations with self proclaimed success with deployments of social tools (blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, forums, etc.), but as the desire for more than a simple set of blogs (or whichever tool or set of tools was selected) in-house there is a desire for greater use beyond some internal early adopters. This requires paying close attention to the four rings.


The first ring is rather obvious, it is the tools. The tools come down to functionality and features that are offered, how they are run (OS, rack mount, other software needed, skills needed to keep them running, etc.), how the tools are integrated into the organization (authentication, back-up, etc.), external data services, and the rest of the the usual IT department checklist. The tools get a lot of attention from many analysts and tech evangelists. There is an incredible amount of attention on widgets, feeds, APIs, and elements for user generated contribution. But, the tools do not get you all of the way to a successful implementation. The tools are not a mix and match proposition.

Interface & Ease of Use

One thing that the social software tools from the consumer web have brought is ease of use and simple to understand interfaces. The tools basically get out of the way and bring in more advanced features and functionality as needed. The interface also needs to conform to expectations and understandings inside an organization to handle the flow of interaction. What works for one organization may be difficult for another organization, largely due to the tools and training, and exposure to services outside their organization. Many traditional enterprise tools have been trying to improve the usability and ease of use for their tools over the last 4 to 5 years or so, but those efforts still require massive training and large binders that walk people through the tools. If the people using the tools (not administering the tools need massive amounts of training or large binders for social software the wrong tool has been purchased).


Sociality is the area where people manage their sharing of information and their connections to others. Many people make the assumption that social tools focus on everything being shared with everybody, but that is not the reality in organizations. Most organizations have tight boundaries on who can share what with whom, but most of those boundaries get in the way. One of the things I do to help organizations is help them realize what really needs to be private and not shared is often much less than what they regulate. Most people are not really comfortable sharing information with people they do not know, so having comfortable spaces for people to share things is important, but these spaces need to have permeable walls that encourage sharing and opening up when people are sure they are correct with their findings.

Sociality also includes the selective groups people belong to in organizations for project work, research, support, etc. that are normal inside organizations to optimize efficiency. But, where things get really difficult is when groups are working on similar tasks that will benefit from horizontal connections and sharing of information. This horizontal sharing (as well as diagonal sharing) is where the real power of social tools come into play as the vertical channels of traditional organization structures largely serve to make organizations inefficient and lacking intelligence. The real challenge for the tools is the capability to surface the information of relevance from selective groups to other selective groups (or share information more easily out) along the way. Most tools are not to this point yet, largely because customers have not been asking for this (it is a need that comes from use over time) and it can be a difficult problem to solve.

One prime ingredient for social tool use by people is providing a focus on the people using the tools and their needs for managing the information they share and the information from others that flow through the tool. Far too often the tools focus on the value the user generated content has on the system and information, which lacks the focus of why people use the tools over time. People use tools that provide value to them. The personal sociality elements of whom are they following and sharing things with, managing all contributions and activities they personally made in a tool, ease of tracking information they have interest in, and making modifications are all valuable elements for the tools to incorporate. The social tools are not in place just to serve the organization, they must also serve the people using the tools if adoption and long term use important.

Encouraging Use

Encouraging use and engagement with the tools is an area that all organizations find they have a need for at some point and time. Use of these tools and engagement by people in an organization often does not happen easily. Why? Normally, most of the people in the organization do not have a conceptual framework for what the tools do and the value the individuals will derive. The value they people using the tools will derive needs to be brought to the forefront. People also usually need to have it explained that the tools are as simple as they seem. People also need to be reassured that their voice matters and they are encouraged to share what they know (problems, solutions, and observations).

While the egregious actions that happen out on the open web are very rare inside an organization (transparency of who a person is keeps this from happening) there is a need for a community manager and social tool leader. This role highlights how the tools can be used. They are there to help people find value in the tools and provide comfort around understanding how the information is used and how sharing with others is beneficial. Encouraging use takes understanding the tools, interface, sociality, and the organization with its traditions and ways of working.

The Overlaps

The overlaps in the graphic are where things really start to surface with the value and the need for a holistic view. Where two rings over lap the value is easy to see, but where three rings overlap the missing element or element that is deficient is easier to understand its value.

Tools and Interface

Traditional enterprise offerings have focussed on the tools and interface through usability and personalization. But the tools have always been cumbersome and the interfaces are not easy to use. The combination of the tools and interface are the core capabilities that traditionally get considered. The interface is often quite flexible for modification to meet an organizations needs and desires, but the capabilities for the interface need to be there to be flexible. The interface design and interaction needs people who have depth in understanding the broad social and information needs the new tools require, which is going to be different than the consumer web offerings (many of them are not well thought through and do not warrant copying).

Tools and Sociality

Intelligence and business needs are what surface out of the tools capabilities and sociality. Having proper sociality that provides personal tools for managing information flows and sharing with groups as well as everybody as it makes sense to an individual is important. Opening up the sharing as early as possible will help an organization get smarter about itself and within itself. Sociality also include personal use and information management, which far few tools consider. This overlap of tools and sociality is where many tools are needing improvement today.

Interface and Encouraging Use

Good interfaces with easy interaction and general ease of use as well as support for encouraging use are where expanding use of the tools takes place, which in turn improves the return on investment. The ease of use and simple interfaces on combined with guidance that provides conceptual understanding of what these tools do as well as providing understanding that eases fears around using the tools (often people are fearful that what they share will be used against them or their job will go away because they shared what they know, rather than they become more valuable to an organization by sharing as they exhibit expertise). Many people are also unsure of tools that are not overly cumbersome and that get out of the way of putting information in to the tools. This needs explanation and encouragement, which is different than in-depth training sessions.

Sociality and Encouraging Use

The real advantages of social tools come from the combination of getting sociality and encouraging use correct. The sociality component provides the means to interact (or not) as needed. This is provided by the capabilities of the product or products used. This coupled with a person or persons encouraging use that show the value, take away the fears, and provide a common framework for people to think about and use the tools is where social comfort is created. From social comfort people come to rely on the tools and services more as a means to share, connect, and engage with the organization as a whole. The richness of the tools is enabled when these two elements are done well.

The Missing Piece in Overlaps

This section focusses on the graphic and the three-way overlaps (listed by letter: A; B; C; and D). The element missing in the overlap or where that element is deficient is the focus.

Overlap A

This overlap has sociality missing. When the tool, interface, and engagement are solid, but sociality is not done well for an organization there may be strong initial use, but use will often stagnate. This happens because the sharing is not done in a manner that provides comfort or the services are missing a personal management space to hold on to a person's own actions. Tracking one's own actions and the relevant activities of others around the personal actions is essential to engaging socially with the tools, people, and organization. Providing comfortable spaces to work with others is essential. One element of comfort is built from know who the others are whom people are working with, see Elements of Social Software and Selective Sociality and Social Villages (particularly the build order of social software elements) to understand the importance.

Overlap B

This overlap has tools missing, but has sociality, interface, and encouraging use done well. The tools can be deficient as they may not provide needed functionality, features, or may not scale as needed. Often organizations can grow out of a tool as their needs expand or change as people use the tools need more functionality. I have talked with a few organizations that have used tools that provide simple functionality as blogs, wikis, or social bookmarking tools find that as the use of the tools grows the tools do not keep up with the needs. At times the tools have to be heavily modified to provide functionality or additional elements are needed from a different type of tool.

Overlap C

Interface and ease of use is missing, while sociality, tool, and encouraging use are covered well. This is an area where traditional enterprise tools have problems or tools that are built internally often stumble. This scenario often leads to a lot more training or encouraging use. Another downfall is enterprise tools are focussed on having their tools look and interact like consumer social web tools, which often are lacking in solid interaction design and user testing. The use of social tools in-house will often not have broad use of these consumer services so the normal conventions are not understood or are not comfortable. Often the interfaces inside organizations will need to be tested and there many need to be more than one interface and feature set provided for depth of use and match to use perceptions.

Also, what works for one organization, subset of an organization, or reviewer/analyst will not work for others. The understanding of an organization along with user testing and evaluation with a cross section of real people will provide the best understanding of compatibility with interface. Interfaces can also take time to take hold and makes sense. Interfaces that focus on ease of use with more advanced capabilities with in reach, as well as being easily modified for look and interactions that are familiar to an organization can help resolve this.

Overlap D

Encouraging use and providing people to help ease people's engagement is missing in many organizations. This is a task that is often overlooked. The tools, interface, and proper sociality can all be in place, but not having people to help provide a framework to show the value people get from using the tools, easing concerns, giving examples of uses for different roles and needs, and continually showing people success others in an organization have with the social tool offerings is where many organization find they get stuck. The early adopters in an organization may use the tools as will those with some familiarity with the consumer web social services, but that is often a small percentage of an organization.


All of this is still emergent and early, but these trends and highlights are things I am finding common. The two areas that are toughest to get things right are sociality and encouraging use. Sociality is largely dependent on the tools, finding the limitations in the tools takes a fair amount of testing often to find limitations. Encouraging use is more difficult at the moment as there are relatively few people who understand the tools and the context that organizations bring to the tools, which is quite different from the context of the consumer social web tools. I personally only know of a handful or so of people who really grasp this well enough to be hired. Knowing the "it depends moments" is essential and knowing that use is granular as are the needs of the people in the organization. Often there are more than 10 different use personas if not more that are needed for evaluating tools, interface, sociality, and encouraging use (in some organizations it can be over 20). The tools can be simple, but getting this mix right is not simple, yet.

Getting Info into the Field with Extension

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This week I was down in Raleigh, North Carolina to speak at National Extension Technology Conference (NETC) 2008, which is for the people running the web and technology components for what used to be the agricultural extension of state universities, but now includes much more. This was a great conference to connect with people trying to bring education, information, and knowledge services to all communities, including those in rural areas where only have dial-up connectivity to get internet access. The subject matter presented is very familiar to many other conferences I attend and present at, but with a slightly different twist, they focus on ease of use and access to information for everybody and not just the relatively early adopters. The real values of light easy to use interfaces that are clear to understand, well structured, easy to load, and include affordance in the initial design consideration is essential.

I sat in on a few sessions, so to help tie my presentation to the audience, but also listen to interest and problems as they compare to the organizations I normally talk to and work with (mid-size member organizations up to very large global enterprise). I sat in on a MOSS discussion. This discussion about Sharepoint was indiscernible from any other type of organization around getting it to work well, licensing, and really clumsy as well as restrictive sociality. The discussion about the templates for different types of interface (blogs and wikis) were the same as they they do not really do or act like the template names. The group seemed to have less frustration with the wiki template, although admitted it was far less than perfect, it did work to some degree with the blog template was a failure (I normally hear both are less than useful and only resemble the tools in name not use). [This still has me thinking Sharepoint is like the entry drug for social software in organizations, it looks and sounds right and cool, but is lacking the desired kick.]

I also sat down with the project leads and developers of an eXtension wide tool that is really interesting to me. It serves the eXtension community and they are really uncoupling the guts of the web tools to ease greater access to relevant information. This flattening of the structures and new ways of accessing information is already proving beneficial to them, but it also has brought up the potential to improve ease some of the transition for those new to the tools. I was able to provide feedback that should provide a good next step. I am looking forward to see that tool and the feedback in the next three to six months as it has incredible potential to ease information use into the hands that really need it. It will also be a good example for how other organizations can benefit from similar approaches.

YouTube New Interface and Social Interaction Design Santiy Check

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , ,

YouTube has released a new design for the site and its individual video pages. This gets shared in Google Operating System :: User Inferface Updates at YouTube and TechCrunch :: YouTube Updates Layout, Now with Tabs and Statistics. While the new design looks nice and clean, it has one design bug that is horribly annoying it has mixed interaction design metaphors for its tabs or buttons.

Update: YouTube has changed the "favorite" from a button action to a tab, but they forgot the unfavorite functionality. Once you favorite you can not change your mind. Who is leading these choices that should be well understood? Let's chat, I would love to help.

Broken Interaction Design on Buttons or Tabs

YouTube New Video Interface As the image shows the Share, Favorite, Playlists, and Flag buttons or tabs all have similar design treatment, but they do not have the same actions when you click on them. Three of the items (Share, Playlists, and Flag) all act as tabs that open up a larger area below them to provide more options and information. But, the Favorites acts like a button that when clicked it marks the item as a favorite.

This is incredibly poor interaction design as all the items should act in the same manner. If the items do not have the same action properties they really should not look the same and be in the same action space. Favorites should be a check box or a binary interface for on and off. That interaction patter more closely matches the Rate section and seems like it should have been there rather than showing a lack of understanding interaction design basics and confusing people using the site/service.

Social Sites Seem to Share a Lack of Interaction Understanding

This should have been a no brainer observation for a design manager or somebody with a design sanity check. YouTube is far from the the only site/service doing this. Nearly all of the services are not grasping the basics or are broadly applying design patterns to all user scenarios when they really do not fit all scenarios and user types (nearly every service I talk to know exactly the use type a person fits into but never takes this into account in optimization of design patterns that match that use need). Facebook really falls into this hole badly and never seems to grasp they are really making a mess of things the more features and functionality they are bringing into their service without accounting for the design needs in the interface.

My seemingly favorite site to nit pick is LinkedIn which I use a lot and has been a favorite, but their social interaction additions and interactive interfaces really need much better sanity checks and testing before they go into production (even into the beta interface). LinkedIn is really trying to move forward and they are moving in the right direction, but they really need better design thinking with their new features and functionality. Their new design is ready to handle some of the new features, but the features need a lot more refining. The new design shows they have a really good grasp that the interface needs to be a flexible foundation to be used as a framework for including new features, which could benefit from treating them as options for personalization. LinkedIn has pulled back many of the social features and seems to be rethinking them and refining them, but they really need some good sanity checks before rolling them out again.

Social Interaction in Enterprise Tools

The befuddled interaction understanding is not germane to commercial or consumer public social web sites, but it also plagues tools aimed at the enterprise. This is not overly surprising as many of the social enterprise (enterprise 2.0) tools and services are copying the public web tools and services to a large degree. This is a good thing, as it puts the focus on ease of use, which has been horribly missing in business focussed tools for far too long. But, the down side for enterprise focussed tools is they are not for the public web they are for business users, who most often do not have familiarity with the conventions on the public web and they have a large cognitive gap in understanding what the tools do and their value. There is less time for playing and testing in most business people's worklife. This means the tools need to get things right up front with clear understanding of the use needs of the people they are building for in business. This seems to be lacking in many tools as there is much copying of poor design that really needs to be tested thoroughly before launching. Business focussed tools are not hitting the same people as are on the web, which will work through poor design and functionality to see what things do. It is also important to consider that there are a wide variety of types of people using these tools with varying needs and varying interaction understandings (this will be another blog post, actually a series of posts that relate to things I have been including in workshops the last six months and presenting the last couple).

Mash-ups and the Model of Attraction

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , ,

I have been thinking a lot about web2.0 mash-ups like Housing Maps since I was on a panel with Paul Rademacher. Particularly I have been trying to make sense of mash-ups in the context of the Model of Attraction. It was not difficult to use these models as a lens to better understand what is going on in these mash-ups. The irony is I needed to do a tiny mash-up of my own to better understand what is going on.

Let us use the Housing Maps as our sole example. Housing Maps takes the housing listing information from Craigslist and displays them by location as a layer in the Google Maps. Paul had built the tool in his spare time as the result of showing up at the same location to rent twice. The visual representation of the listings on a map helped him keep from doing this again. The visual representation also helps others better discern proximity and location (next to a freeway is why it is cheap, or near playground for junior, etc.).

The interpretation of this mash-up and other web2.0 developments require using a slight mash-up of the Model of Attractions's receptors (the receptors are intellectual (cognitive), perceptual (sensory), mechanical, and physical). One uses the receptors as a whole to design and develop information/media access for people in different contexts, with different devices, varying needs, and in different contextual needs. In the case of understanding the Housing Maps we know what the mechanical receptor is, it is a desktop/laptop computer as that is what the interface requires to use the tool. Housing Maps implicitly requires full visual capabilities, and the means to control a pointing device (mouse, etc) for the physical receptors.

The two receptors we will look at are the Intellectual Receptor and the Perceptual Receptors. The Intellectual Receptor is used in the design and development phases to understand how a person thinks about the information/media by understanding vocabulary, information structures, complexity of conveyance (what level and style of writing are used to convey the ideas), level of detail used, the amount of explanation given, use of metaphors, etc. The Perceptual Receptors are used to understand what sensory elements are understood by the people using the information/media. The sensory elements are comprised of visual, auditory, motion/animation, touch (haptic), etc.

The Housing Maps requires understanding the limitations of the resources being used prior to Paul's remixing. The information that Paul was using was Craigslist to find a new place to live. Craigslist is a rich information source that has a large variety of things for sale or giving as well as social connective communities (personals pages). Paul was using the housing section in the San Francisco Bay Area as his information source. The housing entries have descriptions of the properties for rent/let/buy, much like the old classified real estate ads in the newspapers (remember those) but with a little more detail and often including photos of the property. One element that many of the properties include is a location variable (address).

While the Craigslist information is rich and robust and a fantastic resource, Craigslist has a simple interface. This interface, much like that of a classified ad is about providing the information and using the space efficiently. The reality is no mater what is done to the visual appearance of Craigslist the information in text form and the photos are just those simple elements. A map included in each of the entries would be a little more helpful, but it is still rather limiting as it does not give an idea of what is really on the market and where all of the properties of interest are located (in the given parameters of the person's query). We have the Intellectual Receptors largely sated. The Perceptual Receptors (what does the page look like how does a person interact with the information (passively/actively)) could use a little more tweaking, but within the context of the static HTML page the information interface offers little opportunity for improvement.

The missing element in the Craigslist information is not data that is missing (except where locative data is not included in the Craigslist entry). The missing element is in the Perceptual Receptor which then augments the Intellectual Receptor. The contextual framework for locative information is missing from the interface. The array of information provided in the Craigslist interface needs another vector to view the information (Craigslist limits by price, rough geographical area, type of property arrangement (rent/lease/sublet/buy/share/own), animals, and keywords). This vector is a more fine grained view of the location information and put into a context that helps make sense of the information easily. The context is a map, which works well for displaying location-based information.

The Google map is used for the visual representation layer, which provides the context to the location information. The Google map is an open interface that is available to use for the display of location relevant information from external data sources. The interface if very helpful for this type of information and it is freely available for those with the skill sets needed to parse and feed the information into the Google maps interface.

The web2.0 mash-ups extract information from one source and display that information in a different interface. Tools like Bloglines do this with feeds and display the information in an interface separate from the website's interface from which the information was posted by the content creator/owner.

These mash-ups serve to provide the person consuming the information a tool that works for their needs. In a "come to me web" this is very important. The content provider/owner would have to invest many resources to provide a broad array of interfaces to search each person and each person's needs and desires for information. Additionally, as it is with nearly everything on the web the interface that aggregates information from a broad variety of information sources provides a richer set of information for the person to use and analyze for their own needs. Not only are the Intellectual Receptors augmented by the network effect of the information, but offering the personal consuming the information a means/lens (for their Perceptual Receptor needs) to view the information/media in means that adds value for their need is required for people to better embrace the web as a source of information that is a layer woven into their life rather than technology tools that augment their lives.