Web of data — third of five IA Summit 2007 themes

(Here’s the third post on the 2007 IA Sum­mit. You can find the first one that intro­duces the series and describes the first theme ‘tan­gi­ble’ here and the sec­ond one on ‘social’ here.)

Typ­i­cal­ly, IAs have con­cerned them­selves with the design of web sites. The metaphor most suit­ed and used for the web so far has been space. Even the term ‘infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture’ points to this. Nowa­days, besides hav­ing to tack­le the social dimen­sion (as per the pre­vi­ous trend men­tioned) IAs are forced to rethink the spa­tial metaphor in favour of a new one: the web as plat­form. This means design­ing for a web of data, where sites become data sources and tools to view and manip­u­late that data. This is a far cry from the old hier­ar­chi­cal mod­el. Like design for social soft­ware, IAs are still explor­ing this new ter­ri­to­ry.

There was an excel­lent pan­el on this sub­ject (notes and audio at The Chick­en Test), with amongst oth­ers Tom Coates and Matt Bid­dulph (both pre­vi­ous­ly employed by the BBC). Coates’ pre­sen­ta­tions (Native to a Web of Data and Greater than the sum of its parts) are essen­tial resources. He gave a super short overview of what design­ing for the web of data is all about. Matt went beyond screen based media into the realm of phys­i­cal com­put­ing (see the first trend) show­ing some cool exam­ples of Arduino pro­to­types feed­ing into Sec­ond Life.

Jared Spool talked about the usabil­i­ty chal­lenges of web 2.0 and focussed on (among many things) the short­com­ings of RSS and the dan­gers of mash-ups. RSS as a tech­nol­o­gy is pret­ty cool, but no nor­mal user intu­itive­ly under­stands its appli­ca­tion. This is a tech­nol­o­gy still look­ing for a killer app. Mash-ups are typ­i­cal­ly made by enthu­si­as­tic ama­teurs look­ing to com­bine avail­able data sources or inter­faces. This means we’ll see a wave of sites with seri­ous usabil­i­ty issues. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing per se, but still some­thing to look out for.

Spatial metaphors in IA and game design

Look­ing at dom­i­nant metaphors in dif­fer­ent design dis­ci­plines I’m in some way involved in, it’s obvi­ous to me that most are spa­tial (no sur­pris­es there). Here’s some thoughts on how I think this is (or should be) chang­ing. Infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture tends to approach sites as infor­ma­tion spaces (although the web 2.0 hype has brought us a few ‘new’ ones, on which more lat­er.) I do a lot of IA work. I have done quite a bit of game design (and am re-enter­ing that field as a teacher now.) Some of the design­ers in that field I admire the most (such as Molyneux and Wright) approach games from a more or less spa­tial stand­point too (and not a nar­ra­tive per­spec­tive, like the vast major­i­ty do). I think it was Molyneux who said games are a series of inter­est­ing choic­es. Wright tends to call games ‘pos­si­bil­i­ty spaces’, where a play­er can explore a num­ber of dif­fer­ent solu­tions to a prob­lem, more than one of which can be viable.

I don’t think I’m going any­where in par­tic­u­lar here, but when look­ing at IA again, as I just said, the field is cur­rent­ly com­ing to terms with new ways of look­ing at the web and web sites; the web as a net­work, web as plat­form, the web of data, and so on. Some of these might ben­e­fit from a more pro­ce­dur­al, i.e. game design-like, stance. I seem to remem­ber Jesse James Gar­rett giv­ing quite some atten­tion to what he calls ‘algo­rith­mic archi­tec­ture’ (using Ama­zon as an exam­ple) where the IA is actu­al­ly cre­at­ing some­thing akin to a pos­si­bil­i­ty space for the user to explore.

Per­haps when we see more cross-pol­li­na­tion between game design and infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture and inter­ac­tion design for the web, we’ll end up with more and more sites that are not only more like desk­top appli­ca­tions (the promise of RIA’s) but also more like games. Wouldn’t that be fun and inter­est­ing?

Using concept models to design for the web of data

Flickr concept model by mApplogic

I’m lucky enough to be doing some con­cept­ing and inter­ac­tion design work for a social web site. This pre­sent­ed me with the oppor­tu­ni­ty to inte­grate some stuff I found while read­ing on social soft­ware, and the web as platform/network. Here’s how I’ve been inte­grat­ing some of it.

I was inspired by the con­cept mod­el of the Flickr ecosys­tem I saw in Luke Wroblewski’s pre­sen­ta­tion on social inter­ac­tion design (which was done by Bryce Glass) to try and cre­ate one myself. Coin­ci­den­tal­ly there’s a whole chap­ter in Dan Brown’s book (which Peter was smart enough to pur­chase and was lying around the office) on cre­at­ing con­cept mod­els.

One of the things I want­ed to do is make the site play nice with the web of data. To that end, I decid­ed to apply Tom Coates’ 3 basic page types to the design of the site. So what I did was first cre­ate a con­cept mod­el (of course fol­low­ing some research of the site’s busi­ness and user goals) and then look at the nouns and verbs in the mod­el. For each noun I cre­at­ed a sin­gle object view page and a list view page. For each verb I cre­at­ed a manip­u­la­tion inter­face page. Of course, all list type pages would get RSS feeds in the even­tu­al site.

For instance if you have a mod­el that states ‘Review­er rates Book’ then you’d end up with a page for each review­er and book, a page to list review­ers, a page to list books and a manip­u­la­tion inter­face for rat­ing a book.

Doing this result­ed in a nice list of pages that I could then analyse for com­plete­ness and/or redun­dan­cy. Of course this only works if your con­cept mod­el accu­rate­ly reflects what the site should achieve. If your mod­el sucks, your list of pages will too.

Anoth­er caveat lies in the fact that a con­cept mod­el tends to be very effec­tive for map­ping the func­tion­al aspects of a site, but not very suit­able for cre­at­ing an overview of its con­tent (which is often more push ori­ent­ed). If the kind of site you’re cre­at­ing involves more infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture than inter­ac­tion design you might want to do some addi­tion­al con­tent inven­to­ry work and fold that into the page list.

One last chal­lenge would be orga­niz­ing these pages in a coher­ent whole (beyond cou­pling lists to sin­gle items to inter­faces). I can imag­ine I’d attempt some card sort­ing to achieve that.

Final­ly, for cre­at­ing the con­cept mod­el I used the spe­cial­ized (and free) tool Cmap­Tools which is pret­ty nice in that it goes beyond visu­al­ly mod­el­ling the con­cepts but actu­al­ly track­ing the state­ments you implic­it­ly make when link­ing con­cepts to each oth­er.

Any­one else have expe­ri­ence with try­ing to inte­grate some of the stuff Coates was talk­ing about in their design of a site?

Signals from the Leapfrog offices

Or in oth­er words, what I’ve been up to, besides keep­ing myself busy over at Info.nl.

  1. Reboot 8 is shap­ing up to be anoth­er great con­fer­ence. I’m already look­ing for­ward to see­ing Matt Webb and Chris Heath­cote speak, among oth­ers. I’m also still think­ing about doing some­thing myself, the ques­tion is: what?
  2. While we’re on the top­ic of con­fer­ences, make sure you don’t miss The Web and Beyond — the 10th annu­al SIGCHI.NL event. I’ve been help­ing with the organ­i­sa­tion and must say it’s promis­ing to be an inter­est­ing look at the web 2.0 phe­nom­e­non from an inter­ac­tion design per­spec­tive.
  3. I have a heap of arti­cles and posts lying around wait­ing to be fed to my del.icio.us account (I actu­al­ly read all that stuff before both­er­ing you with it). Now to just find the time to tag them all – to think this stuff is sup­posed to have a low cog­ni­tive load!
  4. Right after vis­it­ing Reboot 8 I’ll be off to beau­ti­ful Italy for some much need­ed R&R. Be sure to keep an eye on my Flickr pho­to­stream for slight­ly crap­py cam­er­a­phone shots of Napels, Rome, Flo­rence and Venice. Look­ing for­ward to that!
  5. Final­ly, you may have won­dered about the “mar­tial arts enthu­si­ast” bit in this blog’s intro­duc­tion. Between all of the above I’m get­ting myself ready for some exam­i­na­tions in Take­da Ryu this sum­mer. When I get back from Vien­na, I hope to be a cer­ti­fied teacher’s assis­tant and sec­ond dan in Aiki­do. Wish me luck.
Now back to our reg­u­lar pro­gram­ming – death­ly silence while I get some more client work out the door.

Ondergrond.org — HKU-studenten aan de folksonomy

Via com­men­taar op een recent artikel op open.info.nl kwam ik op de site Onder­grond – een folk­son­o­my voor / van street art. De site is een EMMA-afs­tudeer­pro­ject van een aan­tal HKU-stu­den­ten. De site daagt bezoek­ers met behulp van stellin­gen en vra­gen uit om bij foto’s van graf­fi­ti en stick­ers tags achter te lat­en. Een inter­es­sante manier om het dilem­ma “waarom zou een bezoek­er taggen” te tack­e­len – het principe doet me in die zin denken aan Hot or Not. Het plezi­er zit hem in foto na foto hersen­loos te voorzien van meta­da­ta. Het risi­co is natu­urlijk dat hier­mee het ontstaan van “metacrap” alleen maar in de hand wordt gew­erkt! Aan de andere kant zijn de vra­gen soms wel wat moeil­ijk, dan moet je goed nadenken, en is het effect van de laag­drem­pe­ligheid weg.

Ik weet niet of Maarten en Sjors Inter­ac­tion Design hebben ges­tudeerd, maar op dat vlak ver­di­ent de site wel nog wat aan­dacht. Het is flink zoeken geblazen in het onder­grondse, de nav­i­gatie is eigen­lijk bij­na niet aan­wezig. Miss­chien dat dit niet de focus heeft in hun project, maar het zou toch mooi zijn als het de tag­ger makke­lijk wordt gemaakt zijn weg te vin­den naar inter­es­sante con­tent!

Edgeio launches

Devel­op­ment of an open plat­form for list­ings con­tin­ues with yesterday’s launch of Edgeio. This ser­vice picks up on blog post that are marked as a list­ing using a Micro­for­mat-like tag and col­lects them on a web­site for users to search through. They have some nifty inter­faces in place to allow you to zoom in on list­ings that are close to you. One thing they haven’t addressed yet (but are aware of) is the prob­lem of fake list­ings and spam.

Struc­tured Blog­ging is work­ing in the same field, but from a dif­fer­ent angle (focussing on the blog­gers, not the site that col­lects list­ings). I wrote about them ear­li­er over here (in Dutch). The biggest chal­lenge for the Edgeio crew is prob­a­bly gain­ing crit­i­cal mass to be able to com­pete with the likes of eBay.

Every­one was blog­ging about this yes­ter­day, here are some of the posts:

  1. TechCrunch » Edgeio Launch­es
  2. Read/WriteWeb: edgeio launch­es with same goals as Struc­tured Blog­ging
  3. WeBreak­Stuff » Edgeio launch­es
  4. GigaOM : » Edgeio Launch­es, Final­ly
  5. Rus­sell Beat­tie Note­book — Play­ing with EdgeIO

Remix en auteursrecht (open.info.nl)

Onlangs ver­scheen een aardig artikel in het Tijd­schrift voor Mar­ket­ing van de hand van Fer­ry den Dopper, waarin een aan­tal web 2.0 aspecten wor­den uit­gelegd aan mar­ke­teers. Eén van die aspecten is remix – het fenomeen waar­bij één of meerdere web­sites wor­den gebruikt als basis voor een nieuwe dienst. Den Dopper staat daar­bij heel kort stil bij de juridis­che impli­caties van deze waardeto­evoeg­ing door der­den. “Some rights reserved” schri­jft hij en citeert daar­bij het Cre­ative Com­mons-ini­ti­atief.”

Lees verder op open.info.nl »

Yahoo! buys del.icio.us

Wow. Yahoo! con­tin­ues on it’s shop­ping spree. Now they’ve bought social book­mark ser­vice del.icio.us. I guess I’m just glad I’ve already got an account with del.icio.us — oth­er­wise I’d have to strug­gle through Yahoo!‘s hor­ri­ble sign up process… Con­grats, del.icio.us!

Update: Dan Saf­fer writes about all the users bemoan­ing the takeover.