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When your spouse meets an ex-girlfriend

Do you know the feeling when your wife/husband/significant other/whatever meets and spends time with a former girlfiend/boyfriend/spouse/whatever?

That was the initial feeling I had as I read Mike Moran's report on Peter Morville's talk at the Enterprise Search Summit.

Mike is my 2nd line manager at ibm.com; I worked closely with Peter for 2 years at Argus (1999-2001). Nice to have my new "wife" saying good things about my former "wife".

Flamenco goes open source

Yee-ha! Flamenco, the leading faceted browsing research platform, has officially gone open source. See also: Flamenco section at SourceForge.

I was lucky enough to get a preview copy of the code to test out a few months ago. It was easy to install and within a few hours I had learned just enough Python to make changes. I plan on using it for some of my personal sites - perhaps reviving Usable Web on Flamenco, if I ever get the time.

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HICSS minitrack: Ideal for IA research

In the week following the IA research panel, I have uncovered a few more things of interest. First and foremost, I found a good place to publish your IA research. Check out the blog for people interested in contributing to the HICSS-40 minitrack on Using Information: New Technologies. The blog is being used to help coordinate the submissions for the conference.

The call for participation lists many beloved IA topics, like social tagging, content analysis, search and access mechanisms, and use of rich media. "Media literacy" - that sounds like a key item to go into the IA Research Agenda.

I think this will be a great venue for IA issues. I must admit, however, that I have never attended HICSS. It is 40 years old, but I have not looked at the proceedings much in the last decade. I am pretty sure it is one of those "every one who attends has a paper" conferences (which is fine with me). Back when I was doing research in the early 90's, I recall some decent papers from this event - not as high quality as some other conferences. With Dan Russell and Jonathan Grudin organizing this minitrack of papers, then I am sure these papers will be good.

I see lots of other things of interest to information architects. The mini-track on Using Information is part of the Digital media track with other minitracks like information retrieval and search effectiveness. There are also parts of other tracks on HCI, socialware, semantic web and many knowledge management topics. There will be lots to keep an IA engaged.

June 15, 2006 is the deadline to submit. I plan on submitting something myself, if I can get the OK to travel. Hawaii in January sounds too good to be true!

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Star Trek and breadcrumbs

Jared Spool offers his opinion on the value of breadcrumbs, referencing my breadcrumb analysis.

I would have to agree with Jared that breadcrumbs are most useful to tell users "where they are" - location breadcrumbs - when they "teleport" to a deep page within a site.

For example, this page on Star Trek teleporting has a breadcrumb that makes it pretty easy to see where I am within the sciforums site. For this BBC article on teleporting without a breadcrumb, it is harder to tell at first glance if this article is actually "science" or "tv".

The jury is still out on attribute breadrumbs. In database-driven sites, there often is not 1 "true" location for a piece of content. What I call "attribute breadcrumbs" - a list of locations for a given object - might help out here. For example, the attribute breadcrumbs for this book on teleportation tell me at a glance that this book is more about spirituality than science. In a real bookstore, there is 1 place on the shelf - attribute breadcrumbs show all of the locations the book may have been placed. We need some research here to see if/when these breadcrumbs help.

There does not appear to be as much value for path breadcrumbs on sites. The browser does an acceptable, but not perfect, job of keeping track of a user's path.

Anyway, designing a page that stands alone and does not require the user to start at your site home page has always been wise. Breadrcumbs are one tool at your disposal for this.

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Ambient findability

The Lemur book is almost out - using my B&N gift card to go order it now.

This also marks the launch of good Peter's blog - not to be confused with Peter, Peter nor Peter (I forget which of the other Peters is bad/mean/saintly/etc).

European IA conference

Congrats to the group of European information architects who have put together Europe's first IA conference. The program looks good and it is wonderful to see IA catching on around the world.

I am in the middle of moving my online calendar from here to here, but I have added Euro IA as one of those things I'd love to go to but can't.

Breadcrumb short paper accepted

I am the third author, with James Blustein and his student Ishtiaq Ahmed, on a short paper that was accepted for Hypertext 05 (Austria, September).

"An Evaluation of Menu Breadcrumbs for the WWW" reports on an experiment with an advanced type of breadcrumb.

I contributed with the background research, advising and a small bit of writing - the real work was done at Dalhousie.

I will not be able to go to the conference. The last Hypertext conference I attended was 2000 in San Antonio - and that was only to present a tutorial. I honestly cannot recall which one was the last one I attended in full, but I went to several in the mid-90s.

The proceedings are always interesting to read - I will have to recap some of my favorites someday.

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Nature trails and navigation trails

Take twelve separate trail web sites and unify them under a common brand while still maintaining some sense of individuality.

Paul Boag's highlights and lowlights of his project with the UK National Trails website was a refreshing reminder that we are all struggling with the same issues: designing a good user experience means solving political and technical problems.

The scale is a lot larger with ibm.com, but we also deal with serving individual business unit needs. How to let each brand speak with its special voice, yet still be a part of OneIBM. How to convince them to join the common infrastructure so that we can build the experience that our customers demand. How to merge silos. How to build it all so it works and the technology limitations do not drive the user experience.

It is also a reminder that "all politics are local". For a naive outsider like me, all of the UK trails are one and the same, so why some trails would need their own site is beyond me. I am sure there are very good reasons for a trail to stand on its own; this redesign project probably revealed more festering politics than it solved design problems.

Still, it all looks like a step in the right direction. Good job, Headscape, and thanks for sharing your story.

I also like this story because the whole idea of the national trails is to link separate footpaths and small roads into a system, filling in gaps as needed to make them all fit together. They link-together in the physical world just like I do every day in the virtual world.

Finally, I just could not resist the irony of a site about real-world trails that contains virtual trails.

About the navigation stress test

About the Navigation Stress Test.

History

  • The idea of a navigation stress test was introduced in my September 12, 1997 Web Review article that evaluated Adobe.com. (Internet Archive copy)
  • First public presentation was at the "User-Centered Design" panel at Seybold Seminars, New York, 1998. Jeffrey Veen described that panel as "common sense".
  • The test was incorporated into various Argus Associates reports and presentations from 1999-2001.
  • The Art & Science of Web Design uses the stress test 3 basic questions to describe "The Three-Panel Layout" (starting on page 47).
  • I further refined the test for various "Web Navigation Discussion" presentations in 2001/2002. The largest crowd was at a Puget Sound SIGCHI meeting.
  • Mentioned in Chapter 7/Navigation, pages 111-112, of the 2nd edition of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. And on pages 48 and 120 in the 3rd edition of IAWWW.
  • Worksheet translated into Spanish by Christian F. Leal Reyes, December 2004 (but I cannot find a working copy any more).

Similar Work

These are similar navigation reviews that were developed separately (as far as I can tell).

  • Don't Make Me Think includes a "trunk test" (starting on page 87 of the first edition).
  • James Lewin's Rapid Web Development in IBM developerWorks, September, 2001, has a section on printing out pages and reviewing them for common interface problems.

Related Research

Michael L. Bernard, Software Usability Research Laboratory, Wichita State University, has done research on where users expect to see certain elements of the page (like home, internal and external links).

References

"Bread crumb" for online navigation

The first published use of the term "bread crumb" for online navigation was in 1987 by Mark Bernstein. One early reference is The bookmark and the compass: orientation tools for hypertext users, SIGOIS Bulletin, 1988.

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