TorCHI talk: Stories behind the links

On June 24th, I was honored to be part of the TorCHI program and talk about information architecture on ibm.com. The talk was entitled There is a story behind every link:

Ever wonder how a large corporate web site navigation system is designed, and how it evolves over time? How certain links find their way to the corporate home page, while other ones do not? How major changes in the corporation's business affect the web site navigation? And how the IA of the corporate web site can give clues about how well the business is doing?

If so, then join Keith Instone as he tells stories about the information architecture of ibm.com. Example stories may include:

  • The evolution of sitewide navigation categories like "solutions" and "services"
  • Worldwide information architecture challenges
  • The cultural shifts required to do something as (theoretically) simple as adding a "sign in" link to the masthead
  • Tracking the evolution of a single web page as it signals fundamental shifts in how the business is operating "behind the scenes"
  • The effect of selling off a key division of the company on the navigation system
  • Balancing the strategic goals while handling day-to-day requests for changes to the navigation
  • Techniques for dealing with executive home page link requests

The stories Keith tells will be in part determined by what you want to hear. Come prepared to select some high level links on ibm.com and see if Keith has any interesting stories to tell about them.

I prepared about 100 slides of possible things we could talk about, but, by design, the session was driven by what the audience wanted to talk about. Here is my (incomplete) list of what we covered:

  • Sign in / register, country location in the masthead today (logic for placement today, and in the future)
  • Who owns what, how to manage the millions of pages
  • Solutions, services, products and corporate strategy over the years
  • Masthead sign in challenges and compromises
  • My IBM: use as anonymous user, gateway to various applications
  • Who does the 3 prongs of user feedback: User research studies, analytics, qualitative user feedback
  • Search challenges: technology/budget, tagging, UI (easiest of the 3)
  • User-generated content (silos likely initially, integrated over time)
  • Accessibility challenges overall, why the link in the footer
  • Role based navigation (home page Learn about tab), task based navigation
  • Standards for page design ("what we offer" module as an example)
  • Content management, sharing, the "4th tab owners" of a solution page
  • Tactical, medium-term, long-term planning for changes (add 1 link now, work with groups for better tactical changes later, save some things for a big, strategic redesign)

As it happens with these things, you really had to be there to get any value out of my artifacts from the talk. For those of you who were there, you can download (below) a PDF of screen grabs from some of the parts of ibm.com that we talked about. And I included some of the text slides that I prepared ahead of time that were relevant to what we discussed. I included the "history of the ibm.com masthead categories" slide that several people have asked for.

There are lots more stories to tell: I will have to save them for some other talk.

Getting to "we"

When I first read Getting to "we" in the April 2008 Communications of the ACM, I really liked two things about the article:

  • The 4 categories of Information sharing, Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration, with technology examples for each. Good framework: I will throw those terms around more carefully now.
  • The mention of whole system change methods like Appreciative inquiry and Charrettes to get to collaboration. The Change Handbook includes a lot more methods. Over the past 2 years, I have found the Nexus for Change conference a great way to learn more about these methods.

(You can download the article from ACM above. It is also available at The Profession of IT series from Peter J. Denning.)

A few other folks thought this article was also worth mentioning:

  • Thomas Vander Wal points out that "most of the tools and services...do not even come close" to what we need for collaboration.
  • Jack Vinson expands on "collaboration and community" and ties in another CACM article about social ties.
  • Mark Lindsey summarizes the punchline of the article: "collaboration comes by failure of other plans".

Weeks later after first reading it, I am still finding it useful (I have gone back to it several times lately), so I decided to mention it here. This article is another nice data point on the "IT systems" meets "social change" landscape for me.

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Almaden bound

I am lucky. I am off to visit the Almaden Research Center next week for the Almaden Institute 2008 conference.

I did a little research about some of the (non-IBM) speakers to help me get the most out of the program. Here are a few links in case you want to learn more, too.

I managed to also plan 1 day of "extra time" to hang out with area IBMers that I do not get to see often enough, like Fred Sampson, Andrea Ames and Thyra Rauch. And do "real ibm.com work" with Rob Johnson. Finally, it will be nice to see EWHCI colleague Allen Cypher while I am there.

Three local job openings in Web UX

This could be a first: three Toledo-area job openings in web user experience, at the same time.

#1 is with the Toledo Zoo as a Web Project Coordinator: "...create a website experience that engages audiences..." is mentioned in the description (in today's Toledo Blade). I do not see an online description of the job to link to, however. Contact the zoo for more information, I guess.

#2 is Web Interface Designer with TolTest, a construction management firm. "...Design web interfaces for TolTest’s next generation of internal and external applications" with "solid understanding of user-centered design principles and methodologies, information and interaction design".

#3 is Web Development Specialist/Designer at BGSU (PDF). "...Continuously improve navigation, accessibility, usability and brand image" based on a "knowledge of designing and implementing site architecture, functionality, data flow, user interfaces and intuitive navigation".

(There could be more - these are 3 that I found completely by accident. Let me know if you know of any other web user experience jobs in the area - I am happy to promote them.)

Perhaps there is something to the idea that customer experience is recession proof.

These 3 jobs are small potatoes compared to the big economic development news in the area, of course. Xunlight getting more funding and hiring. First Solar continuing to hire.

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Day 1 IA Summit notes

Brief and rough notes from the Saturday IA Summit sessions.

Jared Spool, UCD "rocks" but not in the way that you think

  • Good but quite different from the usual Jared talk; definitely more pontification, less on practicality and not as hilarious. If Jared keeps this up, he will start to rival Jakob for making over-simplistic statements that are partly true but can be really misinterpreted if not looked at with a critical eye.
  • I do agree with Jared that the world we work in has changed a lot since the IBM/360 (which I programmed in high school). "User-centered" was needed to combat the other forces "in the good old days" (that were not that good). If you were blindly following a UCD methodology in the past, you were doing bad UCD to begin with. If you are blindly following any methodology you are doing bad work to begin with.
  • I think what we do today is more about collaboration than the "put my discipline in the center of the process" battles from the old days. Collaboration with other professionals in the UX realm, collaboration with business, collaboration with development. And so on.
  • Human bar charts: stroke of genius.
  • Informing design is important but do not forget about another value of focusing on the user experience: the more strategic impacts of determining what to design in the first place.

Gene Smith, Tagging trends

  • General trend: adding more structure to user-driven tagging. Sub trends: Automanual tagging, community-driven structuring.
  • User + resource + tags model needs to be expanded now. Tags are being applied to the resource as a whole but also parts of the resource.
  • "Innovative" systems being built upon tagging. IBM Dogear referenced.

Tingting Jiang, Exploratory search and folksonomy

  • An entry in the mythical "research track".
  • Compared hierarchical classification, faceted classification, dynamic clusters, folksonomy.
  • Four user activities: Browse, search, being aware, monitoring.
  • User + resource + tags model with lines showing what the systems are doing. Resource-to-resource is a dotted line (no one doing it, apparently).

Bryce Glass, Reputation systems

  • Patterns: Levels, points, Top, Trophies, Ranking, Awards, Stats, Testinomials. Coming soon to Yahoo! Design Pattern Library.
  • More interesting (to me): The questions to ask the business to see what reputation system aspects are right for them.
  • Business goals? Community spirit? Member motivation? Measuring reputation? Inputs to the reputation? Etc.

Jess McMullin, Experience impact framework

  • How to work with your stakeholders better.
  • Know who they are (e.g., 8 types of people).
  • Know what motivates them.
  • Know what they do, their activities.
  • "Do what we do" in collaboration with them. Understand, solve and evaluate with them.
  • Get commitment to action.

Brandon Schauer, Wow factor

  • Business goal is customer loyalty: accomplish with "wow factors" within the experience.
  • People remember the high, the low and the end of the experience. "Total sum" that can stress the "average" not as important.
  • Build experience roadmaps to show how it all fits together, evolves over time, crosses channels.
  • Planning the experience and staging the experience, not just designing the experience.

IA Summit sessions

I just reviewed the IA Summit 2008 sessions and updated the list of what I want to attend. I am sure what I attend will be different for several reasons: getting caught up in a great conversation in the hall and missing a session, doing the "divide and conquer" with my ibm.com colleagues, or just changing my mind at the last minute.

A few trends / hi-lites / random thoughts:

  • Both keynotes are by "insiders" - Jared Spool and Andrew Hinton. Usually one of the keynotes is an "outsider" - and thus usually one of my favorite sessions. I am sure both keynotes will be awesome anyway.
  • This morning: back to back sessions on tagging (by Gene Smith, probably based on his new book) / tag clouds (by Garrick Schmitt).
  • Two chances to hear Peter Morville on Search patterns. I may alter my schedule to make sure I catch him the second time - there should be fewer people there and he will have the kinks worked out (but he may be grumpier).
  • Definitely not going to miss Jess McMullin and business + experience.
  • Sunday morning at 9am is a real downer: I need/want to go to all 3 sessions. Game experience vs. Taxonomy/UX vs. Placemaking.
  • Good to see a service design session, by Aaron Martlage (who I met at Emergence 2007). We need more service design / UX cross-over.
  • I may miss half of the sessions on Monday because of meetings. The sessions on Monday look good, but fortunately my "must attends" are all on the weekend.
  • In the past there has been a "research track" even if it was not called out as such. Is there one this time?

And start planning for next year - Memphis, February 18-22, 2009 - only 10 short months away.....

T shaped people - link compilation

Too many things in the queue to write about, from Nexus for change two weeks ago and Internet User Experience / UXnet last week. And now heading out for the IA Summit, so there will be more things to add to the list.

So I better start addressing the backlog before I leave for Miami.

Here is one: I was very pleased to meet Zach Smith at Nexus U for many reasons. He works in Japan now but we traced back our roots - all of the way back to attending the same elementary school, just a few years apart.

As we talked about what we are doing now, we found a common topic of interest: t-shaped people. At the end of the day with Zach, I had a few minutes to compile a list of links to t-shaped-people-references-from-the-UX-community for him.

Hope you find the list of links useful.

RGP, Marc Lautenbach, March 6th

IBM's involvement with a local economic development organization continues. First, IBM did a consulting engagement with the Regional Growth Partnership (see my previous blog postings from August 2006 and January 2007).

Next week, RGP is hosting an event on March 6th where IBM Americas General Manager Marc Lautenbach will be talking. The information about the entire morning:

Innovation capturing global opportunity and building regional growth
Thursday, March 6, 2008
9:00 a.m. to Noon
The Pinnacle, 1772 Indian Wood Circle (Arrowhead Park), Maumee

Featuring: Marc Lautenbach, General Manager IBM Americas
"Globalization & competitiveness"

Panel discussion: Business, academia & government working together toward a knowledge-based economy
Including: Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, President, University of Toledo
Mark Wagoner, Ohio Senate (2nd district)

Every few years, an important IBMer comes to town. Bob Sutor came to talk in 2005, for example. I am looking forward to meeting Marc: I am not part of his organization, but I work with several IBM Americas people on a regular basis on ibm.com matters.

The panel is also very interesting to me. The role of information technology is becoming an important element in the local discussions about regional economic development. For example, recent meta-plan meetings have started the face-to-face sharing of information among the various groups, but now people are asking how to use Internet technologies, social networking, Web 2.0 and the like to continue the collaboration. If I get a chance to ask questions of the panel, I suspect it will be something like this:

If we want our region to be a key player in the knowledge-based economy, then I think the first step would be to have the local economic development leaders use the tools of the knowledge-based economy. How are business, academia and government leveraging the latest web technologies to help them achieve their collaboration goals? What obstacles are in the way of utilizing technology to help us succeed in our regional economic development?

I also found it interesting that Mark Wagoner will be speaking on the panel two days after the Republican primary, where he is running against Mark Hollenbaugh. (Disclaimer: Mark Hollenbaugh is a friend of mine and I have donated to his campaign.)

Should be a fun and informative morning!

Internet User Experience 2008: March 31 - April 3, Ann Arbor

It just keeps getting bigger and better - Internet User Experience, the "local" conference with "national" quality. It will be in nearby Ann Arbor, Michigan, March 31 - April 3.

IUE, in its 4th year, has expanded to 4 days. The first day has 2 all-day tutorials to choose from. The second day is the beginning of the main conference with 7 presentations and a night out-on-the-town. The third day has 2 morning panels, a presentation and 2 half-day afternoon tutorials. The last day is an interactive workshop.

You will see how web sites have been effectively designed for many different markets and target groups, ranging from 3-year olds to adult consumers to specialized professionals. You will see dramatic before-and-after improvements to established web sites. You will learn from experts in fields such as search engine optimization, online communities, and user experience management as they explain and debate the current state, future destiny, and current opportunities that exist for businesses with these evolving technologies and professions.

We are blessed to have such a high quality program for a locally-organized event. Dave Mitropoulos-Rundus, a Michigan UPA officer, is the main force behind this, but he gets volunteers from other local groups like MOCHI, STC/SM and Refresh Detroit, to help. It is a great example of how local User Experience Network collaboration can help pull off something "local" that is comparable to the other UX conferences.

Check out the schedule and register if you are interested. I have gone every year and it has been great. I will be there for at least part of the 4 days - see you there.

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