Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Ambient Findability (UX/IA)

Peter Morville's Ambient Findability was a happy find from the corporate library. Some of the Amazon reviews note that it's rambling, bloggish, and tackles technology at such a high level that it doesn't have solid focus, but this is what made it such an enjoyable book. Rather than try to point at specific web 2.0 technologies (which are really more than just SOA - there's javascript technologies that aren't hooked into services - i.e. prototype extensions -, RDF [which is really about metadata] and RSS and Atom [which look like SOA, but offer accessible versions of RDF], piles of new usability features, particularly client-side, mash ups [and not just the SOA and APIs behind them, the very act of creating them], the extension into ubiquitous hardware [so many phones, so many iPods, so many Blackberries and handhelds, so many bluetooth ear pieces, so many people with wireless laptops...just consider how it looked three years ago, there's a difference], microformats, and new ideas about how to extend all of that stuff into the lives of consumers), he tackles the changes in technology from a holistic perspective. What does it mean to live in the age of information? How do we find things? How is the way we find things changing, and how is it still similar to the way it has always been? What is it like to spend almost all our time in a built environment? What are the consequences for those who don't know the appropriate ways to find data, or don't have access to systems that are evolving to deliver data in better ways? How is information becoming even more accessible - including what we can access? Will we eventually be able to find the history of any object and the history of all objects that have tangentially impacted that object? Not can we track a can of soda, but can we track that can of soda, who drank it, and which other cans of soda they drank?

Toward that end, Morville tackles RFID chips, search engine optimization (SEO - now making its way into the hands of those who create the sites, rather than residing with consulting companies), large search engine theory and search engine advertising (p. 112 - most users don't go past the first two pages of results, a user is five times as likely to buy an item after searching through a web site than by clicking in banner ads), sociosemantics, push, pull, precision, recall, decision-making traps, pattern recognition and, the favorite topic at Computer Assisted Legal Instruction conferences, taxonomies and folksonomies.

His book isn't perfect, and the field is changing too fast for it to be completely current, even though it was published in September 2005, but if you've never taken a good look at the direction things could be going, Morville's book can give you a big picture, a wide swath, of what may lay ahead in the immediate future.

If you're interested in findability and user experience (UX) and information architecture, Morville has both a findability site, where he blogs, and some information at his Semantic Studios site. He'll be coming to town (Minneapolis, St. Paul) for a Thomson Dialog conference and one other conference in mid-March and April if you scan the right column at the findability site.

Locally, visit MNteractive (who writes MNteractive), which posts a pile of material about the local UX/IA (interface design) scene, with frequent complaints about using Flash on your website, the direction of Groovy and JRuby, notes about local mashups, etc.

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