links for 22 October 2006

  • couldn’t make it to UI11? Me either, check out Jesper’s great notes from the conference here :)
    (tags: UI11)
  • “If everyone exposed to a product likes it, the product will not succeed… a product “everyone likes” will fail is because no one “loves” it. The only thing that predicts success is passion.” Something to keep in mind when concept evaluating.
  • GeoPress is a WordPress plugin that allows users to quickly and easily embed location information in blog posts. You can then embed a dynamic map, Microformat adr and geo output, and adds GeoRSS to the RSS output. Cool! :)
    (tags: wordpress)
  • I’m kind of interested in going along to PodCastCon (yes, I’ve been bitten by the bug). I think it might be interesting to listen/talk to people who do this frequently. They will also, apparently, have gadgets (which would be a good part of the reason I’d be going!). Anyone else going or thinking of going?

blog gardening (categories)

Garden

So, I finally took some time to go back an review the state of the categories on my blog this weekend. All in all, it took me about 2 hours to get things to a state that I’m now reasonably happy with. No wonder I was putting it off… it wasn’t fun. Quite an exercise in acquiring RSI thanks to the category management interface that WordPress currently offers. But that aside…

In retrospect, I think it’s interesting that I didn’t approach this as I would a standard information architecture project. Perhaps that’s because I’ve been intimately involved with developing the content and gradually evolving the categories. For this reason, I think, it actually didn’t occur to me to approach this project methodically… which is strange. Perhaps the outcome would have been better if I had! Nonetheless, I did manage to cut the number of categories down from 29 to 19 (still too many, is my gut reaction), and that includes adding two new ones! There were a few name changes as well… some of which I’m happy with and some I think are still not quite right.

There were two types of categories that were retired. The first were categories that were just far too general, for example, I’ve had since almost the beginning a category called ‘Considering’. God knows what possessed me to create this category in the first place since everything on this blog is more or less considered. Interestingly, it’s a category that I’ve used consistently over the past 10 months of blogging… but it’s completely meaningless, so it had to go. There were others similar to this that were just too vague, so posts in this category have now been more specifically categorised and I think that most of my categories are reasonably specific now.

The other type that was retired were quite specific categories on topics that I thought I might blog more about, but that I actually didn’t. For example, I had a category specifically for typography… but that’s not turned out to be something that I write about much, so it’s gone. Similarly, right at the beginning of blogging, I’d post little reviews of books that I’d been reading on my commute to and from work. It turns out that my blog is quite focused now, and that stuff like that doesn’t really fit in… so those have moved into a ‘random’ category (I still need some freedom to blog about whatever I like!), and my ‘Bus Reading’ category is now retired.

It was an interesting exercise and I think that my categories now much better reflect what my blog is about, which for me, was a big reason for doing this (also that it was embarrassing that they were such a mess before!). But at the same time, I don’t get the feeling that people have ever really used the category navigation very much… and if they did, it was for some of the more obscure and colourfully named categories… for example, another recently retired category – ‘lusting’ (it wasn’t anywhere near as exciting as the name might suggest!)

So, although it’s been an interesting exercise to potter around my blog and put things into some kind of order…. I wonder at the end of the day if it actually makes a difference to anyone other than me!

I know, for me, that the only time I usually see a blog is the first time I visit it, or when I stop in to leave a comment. Other than that, I usually read what you’ve written in RSS format. So the only time I’d be likely to use your categories is when I first ‘meet’ your blog and am orienting myself with who you are and what you write about. From there I either subscribe or not.

Does this sound like your experience? When do you use categories on other people’s blogs? Do we actually need them? Or are they more for the benefit of the blogger than the bloggee?

Image Credit: PartsNPieces @ Flickr 

Ms Dewey – Lessons in how NOT to design a search engine, brought to you by Microsoft

Ms Dewey

If you’re going to design a product with a smart ass attitude, then you really need to make an extra effort to make sure you get it right. Ms Dewey, a recent entrant to Search Engine Land, has all the attitude, but none of the smarts required to pull it off.

So, here’s the idea in general. You put a hot chick on a screen with a search field. So, you figure you’re going to get the edge on the male 18-35 market, yeah? Fair enough. What about the other 52% of the searching population.

Well, if Ms Dewey had not just the looks but also the intelligence to deliver a good search experience, they hey – she’s got potential to become the poster girl for information architects and interaction designers the world over.

Sadly. She’s just a pretty face. Ms Dewey doesn’t just fail to deliver a good search experience. It’s downright annoying. It’s not that I’d prefer a different interface, it’s that I can’t stand using this one!

The concept is a little fuzzy to start off with. After all, most people would agree that people who are performing the task of searching are really looking for it to be a rapid transaction. Enabling people to get their search done quickly and to give them fast and accurate results are the keystones to good search experience. How does the Ms Dewey character add value to this? Well, frankly. It doesn’t.

Not only does it take a LONG time to return search results (around 10 seconds when I was playing with the site this evening), but you have to go through an annoying and repetitive inanity from the character before you get your results. (Something about a girl always being prepared). This adds no value to the user experience. All it does is make me wait. And wait.

I can’t tell you what the results are like, because for some reason or other, there were no search results available for anything. When it is working, apparently, you’re given results from the Microsoft Live search engine – with some special Ms Dewey Easter Eggs for searches on terms such as beer and boobs. Lovely.

So, in terms of passing the first test – letting me achieve the task that is my key reason for being at this site – Ms Dewey fails abysmally.

There are other things that really bother me about this site though.

  • The call to action for the search is all wrong. Now, I was there knowing that this was some kind of search engine, but also with experience of things like Ask Jeeves and Subserviant Chicken. The call to action reads ‘Ms Dewey, Just Tell Me’ followed by a text field and a button that says ‘search’. So, this is a different kind of search engine… am I supposed to structure my search query differently? The woman on the screen is ‘conversing’ with me… am I supposed to write my query as a question?Of course, with a few experiments (assuming the search is working) I’d quickly learn that standard search queries are what’s required here…. but Ms Dewey isn’t exactly the most friendly gal. I don’t think she’d be too nice to me if I did something dumb here. The call to action makes the action required from my ambiguous. And it makes me, as a user, uncomfortable.If you’re going to screw around with a convention as strong as this one, you’ve got to think about the outcomes.

    I’d be interested to see the search terms that are being entered and whether or not people ARE actually taking a much more conversational tone in their query structures.

  • The feedback whilst I’m waiting for my results is all wrong. Sure, the text changes to tell me that Ms Dewey is now thinking, but Ms Dewey looks to me as though she’s doing anything but thinking. Thankfully, she does stop the pouting and carrying on, and maybe even cracks a smile, but she doesn’t really do anything different to indicate that she’s actually carrying out the task I’ve asked her to perform. She looks as though she’s about to start filing her nails.If you’re going to make me wait that long for search results, then at least give me the impression that you’re taking seriously the work that you’re doing for me. Especially when you have such a big stage and an actress to do so.
  • Can you be mean to your users and deliver a good experience? One of the nice things about some of the apps that have come out in the web 2.0 era is that many of them have an injection of personality – hooray! I can’t think of any, though, that take an bored and impatient attitude with their users. Rather, they tend to be more friendly and playful.Ms Dewey has much better things to do than wait around for you to make a search. Funnily enough, that’s where all of the work seems to have gone in this project… a series of different sequences of Ms Dewey being bored, or huffy or pouty, or entertaining herself with a magazine or mobile phone whilst waiting for you to search. Personally, I could do without the attitude. Especially that, in reality, it’s me that spends time waiting for Ms Dewey to do her work… all I want to do is make a search.

    Personally, I get enough of this attitude in shops and restaurants around London, and I certainly don’t need it in a search engine.

    And that sequence about Ms Dewey learning more as we search more so she can rule the world…. all the more disturbing when you realise that this is actually a Microsoft project.

Yep, that’s right. Microsoft are responsible for Ms Dewey. Although, you won’t find any mention of them on the site. Microsoft says:

“Who says search can’t be fun? At Windows Live we are constantly exploring new and creative ways to promote our search offering and deliver relevant information in an interesting and engaging way. The Ms. Dewey website is just one example of these efforts.

This is not an advertising campaign. This really just an experiment for exploring different ways to introduce people to search and Live Search specifically. We are not promoting the site but simply putting it out on the Web for discovery.”

Well. I’m dead keen to explore new and fun ways to search, but for me Ms Dewey is a half baked idea that could potentially be interesting, but that needs to be a whole lot smarter and a whole lot nicer before it becomes a valuable addition to the suite of possibilities for search.

What’d you think?