usability


Symbol for languages. Based on Image:Gnome-glo...Image via Wikipedia

If this isn’t one of the coolest things you’ve ever seen…

You probably thought it was Jetson’s material that someone could speak one language into a phone, and you could hear it in a different language on the other end.  Pretty great stuff, translation on the fly.  Think about looking at something that is written in a different language, and being able to able to see it in another, without having to go look it up somewhere!

That’s exactly what the Word Lens app from Quest Visual does – which you’ve got to see to believe (if not understand)!

I don’t know if this is exactly right, but “bastante salvaje” if you ask me!

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Del.icio.us logoImage via Wikipedia

It is a sad day, but it seems Yahoo! is shutting down delicious (see also).

Del.icio.us has been a reliable web-based bookmarking resource that has not only enabled bookmarking in the cloud, so bookmarks could be accessed from any computer you happen to be using, and sharing them with others.  It facilitated multi-tag classification of them, so that you could zero in on what you’re after by triangulating with related words in your own naming convention, and breaking free of traditional, hierarchical folder storage structure.

It has been a great resource for researching the language that others use to describe the topics and pages you are interested in, and has allowed, if not encouraged, the development of worldviews and, though some scoff at the word, folksonomies.

While this news is a shame, the truth is that the resource has not been leveraged, and some say it has been neglected, since it was acquired in 2005, which happens to be when I began making use, about 5,000 bookmarks ago.  I recently signed up for Pinboard (which has a one time cost of about $7 right now, and offers an auto logging archive for an annual subscription).  The thought of paying for something you’ve done for free might bother some, but Barry Graubart makes an interesting point in his post on this subject when he says “remember that the lack of a business model is what required Delicious to sell to Yahoo, who neglected it.”

I’ve long been compiling material for my (in progress) book entitled “Long Term Short Sightedness”.  I’ll have to be sure to save some room to write about this decision by Yahoo!

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Datasets in the Linking Open Data project, as ...Image via Wikipedia

Wow.  If you thought the Linking Open Data cloud had grown between September 2007 (right) and July of 2009 (below), take a look at this to see where we are NOW!

Instance linkages within the Linking Open Data...Image via Wikipedia

As Richard and Anja note on the site linked above: The cloud images show “some of the datasets that have been published in Linked Data format, by the Linking Open Data community project and other organisations.

Where is this going? Andreas Blumauer of Semantic Web Company, in Vienna, put it well: “15 years ago we all were excited when we published HTML for the first time and it didn’t take a long time until all of us were “on the internet”. Now we are starting to publish data on the web. Based on semantic web technologies professional data management will be possible in distributed environments generating even more network effects than Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 ever did.”

Some might ask where value derived from this cloud, or if membership in it just marketing?  Talis’ Tom Heath outlines, in the latest issue of Nodalities Magazine, that without Linked Data, there couldn’t be a Semantic Web.  Being linked and of use means having been made available following Linked Data Principles.  This includes: things having unique identifiers (URIs); that are in the form of hypertext (HTTP) so they are standardly navigable (dereferencable); at which destinations there is useful and standardly interprable information (in RDF/XML) describing the thing; and which contains links to other things (read: HTTP URIs which also contain RDF/XML).  Through explanation of the progression from FOAF files, (where the “things” at these “URIs” are individual people, collectively representing the basis for semantic social networks), to working out standards around what constitutes an information vs non-information resource (via httpRange-14), Tom makes the all important point that: each step along the way is an essential building block toward where we are going.

And where (at this stage) is this?  When Tony Shaw, of Semantic Universe, pointed to Linked Data in his recent article “Nine Ways the Semantic Web Will Change Marketing“, he was pointing to its impact on Marketing.  But beyond that, we can take from his explanation the broader capabilities afforded by it: findability, pullability, mashability, mobility – essentially interoperability, as applicable to any activity, sector or function which involves information (read: data).  Can you think of any that don’t?

Enabling data in this way (with all these building blocks) is “one” thing – moving control closer to the end user, and toward solutions and value.  Making it “usable” is yet another.  Every interaction is marketing (good or bad) for the resources of the interaction.  The opportunity this points to is, through the leveraging of those capabilties, to improve the experience around deriving those solutions and achieving that value.

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Early in my career, when working as a data jockey with an economic consulting firm, I was on a team for a particular project where, I’ll always remember, we were referred to (in the New York Times) as “nitpicking zealots”.  While I knew it was meant as a criticism, I took the reference then (as now, for that matter), as a complement – emphasizing the attention-to-detail in our analysis.

The American manual alphabet in photographsImage via Wikipedia

For me, that focus has long been coupled with heavy emphasis on usefulness (ok, and logic) as a driving factor in doing or creating anything.  “Stick-in-mud” – maybe.  “Drive you nuts” – sure, the family says this sometimes…  But things just need to make sense.

So it shouldn’t surprise me (or anyone else) that, in my recent Experience Design mini-masters  project, I had an overriding need for the product idea my team was to come up with, to be of real use and value.  The first task was to evaluate whether design principles had been followed in the creation of a particular product (the Roadmaster – a single-line scrolling text display for use on a car).  Then we were to apply these design principles to come up with a different product/application making use of the technology for the context.  We performed our review by considering the Roadmaster’s affordances (what the design suggested about its use); its mapping of controls to meaning or functionality;  whether it provided feedback during use; its conceptual model and obviousness of purpose; any forcing functions, limters or defaults.  Having developed a “sense” of the product, as it was, we were embarked on the design effort by adding interviews/surveys to gather research on potential market need/desire.

Without getting into our conclusions about the Roadmaster product itself, of particular interest is where we ended up going with our design as a result of performing our own contextual inquiry.  Some great ideas emerged among the different teams, for which each team prototyped their design (using Axure), performed usability testing, and presented results.  Most of the teams designed mainly for social-media driven applications.  With our own goals including not just usability, but the usefulness factor mentioned above, we discovered potential in re-purposing the device – to be directed not to other drivers, but to the driver of the vehicle in which it is installed.  Specifically, to aid hearing impaired drivers – whether for receiving guidance from a driving instructor, instructions from a gps, or conversing with a passenger.

The design, which at one point we dubbed the “iDrive” (for reasons that will reveal themselves), involves mounting of the scrolling text display out in front of and facing the driver, and integration of speach-to-text conversion, so that as words were spoken, the driver would see these words displayed out in front of them, without their having to turn to see the hands or lips of a person commnicating with them, nor would they have to look away from the road to read directions on a gps screen.  In its simplest form, the design calls for an iPhone (or similar) application to perform the voice-to-text conversion, transmitting the resulting text to the display for the driver.  An extension of this concept could incorporate detection and display of other sounds, such as a honk, and which direction it is coming from. Since the program, we’ve found that the required voice-to-text conversion capability, in a mobile app (e.g. for the iPhone) as we called for in the design, does exist, so with the combination of the technologies (display, conversion, mobile application, and gps capability), the serving the hearing-impaired-driver market in this way should be within reach.

A side-note to this post: The faculty of the UXD program, Dr. Marilyn Tremaine, Ronnie Battista, and Dr. Alan Milewski, helped to revealed for me that the formal processes of experience design, and particularly contextual inquiry, parallel closely with what I’ve sought to achieve through the joining of the disciplines of Usability, Value Network Analysis (perspectival), and a dash of Semantic (extensible and interoperable) thinking.

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Morning FogImage by Nick Chill via Flickr

I have a tendency to think on the edges or outskirts of domains – in the interstices – where domains overlap with one another.  When the morning fog clears, I typically get brainstorms that result from word plays that bridge multiple domains that may be on my mind.

For example, while attending a meeting this week on Usability in the context of Agile development, I had the thought that there ought to be an application of the methodology within the realm of cooking – and the Scrum component of agile could be referred to in this context as “Scrumtious”.

Another of these hit me while walking out of the grocery store, and no doubt subliminally having picked up “low cal” while thinking about communities and marketing within them, that a calorie conscious faction could refer to their region as a “Low Cal Locale”.

On the heels of my wife’s latest marathon (her fifth), I’m thinking there ought to be a womens’ triathlon called the “Iron Maiden”.

The Scrum project management method. Part of t...Image via Wikipedia

If I had a nickel for every one of these wordplay thoughts, my pockets would bulge each day! My kids tend to be my reluctant test-subjects for these sometimes painful ideas.  As I trust their untainted minds, they are sometimes the end of the line; sometimes though, in the spirit of Agile development, they’re the beginning of an iterative process.

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Day 191: Sticky Notes Mean ProductivityImage by quinn.anya via Flickr

If you haven’t already encountered Google’s newly released Sidewiki, it is a web annotation feature accessible via browser plug-in or their toolbar – and is essentially a means for people to comment on pages and, unlike tools for making notes for just yourself (like sticky notes on your screen, or the electronic equivalent), these comments are visible to others who use it and visit those pages – right on the page with the content.  This isn’t a new concept, but one that gives cause to consider the “traditional” dimensions of web experience.Generally speaking, users of web resources have typically thought of the pages they view as being depicted in the way intended by the owner of the domain (or page).  If we want to get philosophical, ownership of the rendering of the page, it could be argued, is the user’s – and plug-ins empower such customization, as this is referred to.

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...Image via CrunchBase

Similarly, functionality of a site is has typically been considered by users to be provided/delivered by, and/or controlled by the site owner.  In the context of beginning to think of rendering as being other-webly (i.e. from other than the provider), the same holds true with respect to functionality.  The functionality being added to the experience here is around the ability to comment, and to see comments of others, about the page.

This starts to bring home the concept that the browser is acting as the actual platform, rather than the page/site itself.  In this case, we’re talking about the bringing together of the page’s content with toughts or opinions about the page – or about things that are on the page.  So in essence, what sidewiki adds is a virtualized forum – where the forum content is in the hands of Google rather than those of the owner of the site – but is displayed alongside the content itself.

Image representing AdaptiveBlue as depicted in...Image via CrunchBase

This is not altogether different from what AdaptiveBlue’s Glue does – though there are a couple of key difference.  In both cases the user must be using the plug-in in order to see or add content – akin to joining the community.  And in both cases the comment / opinion content that is generated as a result, is in the control of the plug-in provider.  The first, and most notable difference (for now, at least) is that sidewiki “acts” as if the user generated content is about the page which it annotates, while Glue’s emphasis is on the asset to which the page refers.  The key benefit of the latter, in the cases where the commentary relates to an asset referenced on the page, is that it decouples the item referred to from location which makes reference to it.  This translates to Glue displaying  the comment on any page in where the same item is found, as opposed to just being seen on the same page where the comment was made.  This difference won’t likely persist, and seems more a matter of emphasis/focus and positioning.

Since the annotations are only visible to users making use of the particular service used when making the annotations, the more of these services we see, the more fragmented the sea of commentary.  The next level may be about “aboutness”, and differentiation by the ability to determine relatedness of otherwise unassociated commentary and content – and making the virtual connection between the two for the user.

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Wall Street Sign.Image via Wikipedia

Look for tangible examples of semantic technology being employed, and you often encounter government and life sciences projects, NLP enhanced search services (such as Hakia or Cuil), or the much written about systems such as Freebase or Twine, where the semantic aspects are related to how the information in them is connected (TrueKnowledge brings the semantics closer to the surface).

For the 2008 Semantic Technology Conference, its organizers (Semantic Universe) wanted to take a look at what is going on in terms of applying these capabilities within a few sectors. For this, I organized a panel to discuss the use of the related tools within the financial space. What follows is a summary of an article I wrote on what we learned. The full writeup is in the latest issue of Talis’ Nodalities Magazine (see Issue 3, which is full of great material).

The long and the short of the discoveries were:
– There is in fact work going on here;
– the most visible of which is in financial publishing;
– and most paradigmatic, it seems, is the potential in financial reporting

The article includes perspectives shared during the panel session, which Dr. Christian Halaschek-Wiener, CTO of Clados Management, moderated – as well as descriptions of activities from some who were not able to join us. Key in digging into the topic was consideration of different realms within “finance”, and the business processes within those realms:

§ EDI/Transaction Enablement: Ioachim Drugus (SemanticSoft) EDI related work in Transaction Enablement/Management for the realm of Trading;
§ Credit Ratings: JR Gardner (Digitas) explained large Credit Rating Agency use of taxonomies, ontologies, RDF and OWL to enable interoperability of enterprise systems. Kendall Clark (Clark & Parsia) explained later that their Moodys had motivated and sponsored the recently released version of the Pellet reasoner.
§ Insurance: Jonathan Mack (Guardian Life) gave an Insurance perspective and discussed implementation within large enterprise.
§ Banking: David Palaitis (Citi) shared during our planning efforts that their use of RDF and ontologies for a Fixed Income group to improve the functioning of a legacy Regulatory Compliance system. Similarly, Shahin Nassiri (JP Morgan) outlined having defined a business process taxonomy, and maping applications to that taxonomy using OWL.
§ Identity Management: Tom Ilube (Garlik) couldn’t stay for the panel, but explained their applicability to the consumer needs in banking and finance, with identity monitoring and management built on semantic architecture.
§ Information Industry: Christine Connors (Dow Jones), and Tom Tague (Thomson-Reuters /Calais) shared what they and their media organizations are doing around direct delivery of financial information, with discussion of semantics for machines and people, respectively.
§ Information Services: Leo Keller (Netbreeze) and YY Lee (FirstRain) shared how they utilize NLP and classification capabilities to scour global content and serve up processed information in function-specific wrappers for segments of the financial community.
§ Financial Reporting: Eric Cohen (PriceWaterhouse Coopers) explained the potential impact that XBRL could have on the financial information landscape – from reporting and processing of financial information, to its distribution and analysis. Related to this, Elmar Drewitz (DrewITz Consulting) is working on XBRL to OWL mechanization for transformation of financial reports.

So the value propositions exposed through this effort included not just search efficiency, data integration and interoperability – but business process management, increased delivery speed, security, and user experience/usability, to name a few. Significantly, we also saw that the financial world’s leveraging of these technologies is to come not just of efforts from within, but from the providers of information services to it.

Be sure to read the full article for more detail. Hopefully this is the beginning of the conversation. Where and how else are you seeing these tools being implemented within and/or for financial purposes?

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Talis’ Paul Miller just posted about a panel he moderated on facilitating ‘unexpected re-use’ of data, during which participants discussed ways they’ve seen their work having created “unanticipated opportunities to push data in new directions”. I wasn’t present, and this may have been part of that discussion, but as interesting as the “push” he mentions (and perhaps even more in keeping with the ultimate goal, if there is such a thing) would be the “pull” of data to unanticipated purposes and by unexpected parties – and the opportunities to do so.

It makes sense that the “push” perspective is being discussed within the development and evangelist perspectives. Paul points out that the discussion emphasized (as I’ve also done here in the past) that adoption (by investors, companies and end users) is not driven by applications being semantic or based upon semantic technologies, but by their addressing and solving real needs. That perspective is typically driven by the end user and by those who look to enable and capitalize upon addressing their real needs in terms that resonate with them.

Not only would it be “interesting to repeat the experience [of his panel] at… business-oriented event[s] such as next week’s Semantic Technology or Linked Data Planet in June” – but this is exactly what is necessary to begin to bridge from the former perspective to the latter – to help people begin to understand and start to formulate where those opportunities to “pull” may lie.

Bridging this gap is the objective of the session I’ve organized for next week’s Semantic Technology Conference (posted about previously) – to paint the spectrum of a the financial domain and examine application of semantic technologies within needs and processes within its sub-domains. Through this effort, we’ll hopefully thinking and discussion across the lines of the sub-sectors, and foster thought around cross utilization and new ways to make use.

Someone recently shared DarkCopy with me.  This seemingly has little to do with my recent writings, and some would call it silly – but under the surface, it is pretty relevant.  Some of  the key drivers of the things I’ve chosen to write about include: efficiency, productivity, drivers of value, usability, tools for enablement…

So many of our environments tend to promote wearing no blinders, so you don’t miss anything that might be relevant.  In contrast (particularly relative to my previous post), this is a “simple” tool that lets you make efficient use of your computer for writing – a place that can otherwise prove to be the most distracting place to work (if you don’t count just being within voice-reach of one of your kids or your spouse, or the phone or your pda, or…   Sorry, I’ve got to go; my phone is ringing, an important email just popped up, and someone is at the door.  I guess I should have been writing this in DarkCopy!).

One of the projects I’m working on at the moment (building a Financial Track for the Semantic Technology Conference) ties together a couple of personal threads of interest – and in the process I’m discovering some interesting things going on out there. While attention tends to be drawn to cool gizmos and social hype, there’s a quiet creeping of semantic tools into “real world” uses, for real needs, if not competitive advantage.

As I’ve described in value network discussion, it is through latching onto already existing activities, that mechanisms not obviously associated to end-users objectives (but which underlie achievement of them) become adopted in the main-stream (as the bed of the stream – where cool gizmos might alternatively be the visible banks of the stream in this analogy –  beneath it all is the real stuff). I digress (sort of).

And this is the “stuff” of the conference session I’ve organized, which features examples from different financial sub-sectors (banking, asset management, real estate, insurance…) in support of numerous functional purposes (research, credit analysis, compliance, risk management…) for a number of value objectives (efficiency, thoroughness, flexibility, security, usability, profitability…).

Let me know about examples you’re aware of in this space.

By the way, if you plan to attend, you can use this discount code (ST8EH) to save $200 when you register, on top of the $100 you save by registering by April 21!

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