The Multitasking Man

The first Keynote on this years British HCI conference was by Stephen Payne who talked about task switching and studying of multiple texts. He talked about how users use different strategies to find the information they’re looking for and how it is important to give clues to which content is the most relevant.

So in this world that’s overloaded with information, how do you choose the best text?

According to Stephen Payne, most people use a satisficing strategy when reading trough texts. That basically means that you study a good enough text, instead of keep looking for the best one. So you pick the first text and keep reading until you’ve learned enough or get fed up. The consequences of this is that it’s important to create texts that have good readability and that are skimable as well, which can be made by dividing the text into smaller patches.

One other thing Stephen Payne talked about was the fact that the give-up time for a task is depending on the sucess with the information seeking in the previous results. So if the first page the user looks at is good, the user has more patience looking for information in the next page. And so if the first results are bad the user’s patience and give-up time decreases.

The consequences this has for search is related to content tuning and ranking. Because if the first results are bad the users have less patience looking for the information they really wanted. By providing sponsored links for example, one could control the top hits for specific keywords and then make sure that the most popular searches get good results. This does not have to be the way to go, but it is absolutely an option one could use to aid ranking of documents and improve the user’s perceived quality of the search results.

Usability 2.0

A lot is happening in the world of enterprise search. Recent blog posts include discussions of how enterprise 2.0 tools can be integrated into corporate systems; see discussions of taxonomies or integration on Social Glass for example. Or take a look at Bill Ives examples of people who achieved success with E 2.0, on the FAST Forward blog. These new trends are also starting to affect how we talk about usability. A couple of months ago there was a seminar about how web 2.0 technology have consequences for usability. (Watch the video from the seminar Usability 2.0.)

This week I am attending the 2007 HCI conference in Lancaster, UK. I will present an article, written together with Mattias Arvola, discussing how prototyping techniques can structure conversation in different stakeholder groups. On this traditional HCI conference, web 2.0and search technology have also entered the scene, with both keynotes and papers being presented about these subjects. Therefore I am looking forward to many interesting presentations and discussions about what effects enterprise 2.0 tools have on usability. So stay tuned for reports from the conference…

A Change of Focus to Search Driven; or Control vs Openness Part Two

The Shift Towards Portals with Search Driven Functionality

A lot of the people I meet in my work use these new web 2.0 tools daily. They ask me why metadata and taxonomies have to be so complicated when you can do “that web 2.0 stuff” with tagging. They say they prefer “the easy way” and prefer folksonomies over structures; they don’t think they can trust the structures anyway. People, who would like to work in an organization like Charlies.

Traditionally intranets are about control; we want to control what information people get and when and how they get it, instead of trying to make sure that people have the information they need when they need it.

I did some sketches for a search driven portal the other day. One of the comments I got was: “Wow! Why can’t we do that?” Actually, people are doing that. There are dozens of services out there like iGoogle and Superstart; all about customizing the experience for each user. This is like the intranet I want!

In order to achieve this, the companies need a change of focus. It is not about having control over every detail, or about just seizing control. It’s about finding a way to manage communication and make it easier for people to find what they want when they need it.

The search vendors have started to realize that. There is a shift towards portals with search driven functionality.

The design is not static, but reflects what is new and important to you, the specific user.
There are no menus in several levels; instead information about current events and information about what has happened since the last time you visited, take up the information space. Web 2.0 tools such as wikis and blogs can be used internally to improve communication and collaboration.

Are you looking for something special? Search for it! You don’t need to know where it is in order to find the information you are looking for.

This is off course the vision, where few organizations have dared to go. But there are off course exceptions to this. I have been working in a project where there is no fear of seizing control over every little detail. The aim is instead to understand how to best support the users in their work, using enterprise 2.0 tools and search as a vital part of the solution. I would like to see more organizations like Charlie’s…

The Right Information at the Right Time; or Control vs Openness

There is obviously a difference between what people want and do and what the organisations think and want to do.

I saw a good definition of what enterprise 2.0 is the other day. Meet Charlie is a good example of how web 2.0 tools can be used in the enterprise area. Because people do use them; these new tools have changed the way we communicate and collaborate. If your not an organization that is.

I think social media is here to stay. Things like flickr and youtube ultimately changed the way we deal with our photos and videos. Look at the competitive analysis valuecurve for flickr to see how it changed the business behind photo services. (Flickr is now also the second most popular photo site.) And social media isn’t just for kids. You can find booktips from the library in Norrköping at youtube, many professionals have profiles on LinkedIn, we subscribe to dozens of blogs and blog ourselves.

There is a lot of professional networking going on on the web. People of today have a need to share their thoughts and ideas. So there are a lot of Charlies out there. Howcome there are so few of his employers?

According to Gartner, today 80% of Business is conducted on unstructured information, which is about 85% of all data. And yet most of the development för IT is done for the rest of the information, the 15% that is structured and semi-structured. People go for openness and collaboration but organizations go for structure and control…

Challenges for the Interaction Design Community

I attended the conference Business to Buttons in Malmö last week. Two very interesting days with lots of seminars and discussions with interaction design colleagues. Amongst many other things I attended a workshop about the future of media interfaces and got some interesting new ideas.

The three greatest challenges for media interfaces in the future are according to Karen McGrane and Kevin Kearney:

  1. Designing the physical interfaces, interactions and affordances of whatever kind of devices people will have. The new multi functional mobile devices will need to do everything well and therefore the interfaces will become increasingly complex.
  2. Finding and designing tools for navigating, finding, and filtering information. With all the new kinds of content (traditional media, user generated media and things you didn’t even know existed) available on the internet the challenge for interaction designers will be to help people filter through all the different kinds of information to find what they are looking for.
  3. … and off course, it has to make money.

In his seminar, Jonas Löwgren talked about pliability and how you can create user interfaces that encourage exploration. He showed some interesting examples of how that can be done. Another cool way of visualizing large amounts of information is Photosynth, recently presented by Microsoft. You can watch the presentation at Youtube or try the demo yourself.

All of this have interesting implications for the importance of search technology. Search solutions in the future must aid users in navigating through vast amounts of information as well as encourage exploration. This is a challenge I look forward to as a designer.