Fun & Games (and a new superhero!) for World Usability Day!

Usability Man

There’s some cool stuff going on now for World Usability Day 2006 (14 November). In London today we’re particularly honoured to have Usability Man (pictured in action above) helping us out with our mission to identify good and bad usability throughout London. Read more about him on the MakingLifeEasy website, and check out the Flickr Group where he’ll be sending photos live from the streets from about 3pm local time.

On a slightly less frenzied note, you can also participate in the Worlds Largest Cardsort. It’s online now so go, signup and try a sort.

Cardsorting is a tool that lots of Information Architects like to use to help them devise effective and usable website structures and terminology, but you don’t need to be an Information Architect to contribute. It’s dead easy and quite an interesting process.

There are loads of other activities happening all over the world. Even if you can’t participate, take a bit of time today to think about how good design DOES make your life easier through good usability, and how bad or thoughtless design makes your life unnecessarily difficult or even dangerous.

Usability. It might be a notoriously geeky thing to be interested in. But if you’re interested in usability, you’re interested in making life better for everyone. And that’s pretty special.

Happy World Usability Day!

links for 12 November 2006

I love like.com
(now this is what I call innovative search)

Like.com

Mary, my colleague who was in the room when Michael first sent me a link to Like.com can attest to how much I enjoyed playing with Like.com when I first saw it. And I’ve liked playing with it since then too! Within a short time from first hitting the site I had a few thousand dollars worth of shoes on my wishlist (I’m not telling how many of them I actually bought!). I’ve been looking at shoes online for a while now, and nothing else made me feel like a gal in a shoe shop as much as Like.com did.

You see, this is a site that *really* gives an online experience of what it’s like to try to find a pair of boots to buy that is anywhere near as rich as actually going to the shops and browsing (but without all the crowds and the hassle). In fact, it’s like being in the biggest and best organised shoe shop in the world. Your wish is their command.

I’ve been talking and thinking about the online shopping experience for ages now – talking (but strangely, not blogging yet!) about how the search and list style of presentation is so incredibly uninspiring, so empty, compared to the ‘toyshop’ type experience of real life shopping. In a real life shop, all the merchandise is arranged in a way that guides you into the experience, that moves you through the merchandise, that present similar types of merchandise together so that you can compare and contrast, and get a sense of what the current trends are.

Online shopping does none of this. Until Like.com, that is.

When I get to Like.com I have much more interesting paths into the merchandise than just choosing ‘boots’ or ‘casual’. Rather, I can get boots like Britney. That’s a much more exciting prospect. (Assuming, of course, that’s she’s not having a bad hair, track pants and ugg boots day!)

Then I get to see a whole stack of shoes that are kind of like Britney’s.

And then, I can tell Like.com to focus on a particular style of heel, and get me more shoes that have that kind of heel. Or I want that style, but can you find me some in red?

*sigh* It’s like having your own personal shoe shopper at your beck and call.

And as much as I adore the visual browsing (and I think it is browsing and not really searching), they then through in some fantastic faceted navigation, so that I can use a whole range of facets to further refine the range of shoes in view – from price range, to brand, to store, to heel style. So useful. So easy. Such a great way to finally find a few great pairs of boots.

(Sidebar: Can you see why all the boy bloggers have had so much trouble getting enthusiastic about Like.com? For once, they don’t have the domain knowledge to see how excellent it is. They much preferred the more geeky facial recognition that Riya was working on before.)

(Oooh, and while I’m tangenting, I have to say how the look of Like.com and the celebrity connection reminded me a lot of a great design/fashion site in Australia called Miijo)

Miijo

When I recently gave Ms Dewey a bit of a hard time, I got a few comments saying that I shouldn’t be criticising people who are trying to innovate. Well, here is an example of the kind of innovation I applaud. Here is a new way of approaching an old problem, of using technology innovatively, of taking a convention and making it better. And this innovation is good because it understands what the user is trying to do and it supports their experience and helps them achieve their tasks in a way that is better, more effective and more delightful than either the current online options OR the real life equivalent.

Go, have a play. Get yourself some Britney inspired boots. You’ll love it :)

Participation Culture

Today was National Ban Bullying at Work day. We had an awareness activity at work today – not that bullying and intimidation is something that’s rampant or even existent in our workplace, or in any work place I’ved worked in so far (thankfully), but it’s important not to take that as a given.

It got me to thinking about intimidation and participation though… and then to lots of other issues related to participation. It’s a vexed but important question in a Web 2.0 world.

Many of the projects we work on these days are all about community and participation. Now, some of us are participation junkies… there are so many things we want to participate in that we run out of time for all of them and end up being online way too long!

But there are many people out there who *should* be participating, but don’t.

There are plenty of reasons why people opt out – some of them are good reasons, like that they have something better to do with their time (you know, friends, family, ‘real life’).

But other reasons are not so great.

  • they don’t think their contribution is valuable/relevant/topic/important
  • they’re afraid that their contribution will not be valuable (which is different to the first point)
  • they’re afraid that they’ll be ‘wrong’ (they might not know the complete answer, they might miss something out, the might make a mistake)
  • they’re afraid that they’ll be not good enough
  • they don’t see the value of participation (there is no/not enough incentive)
  • they’re intimidated by louder voices that sound authoratative
  • they’ve seen other people attacked/confronted and don’t want to be subject to this aggression
  • they don’t know how to work the mechanics of participation (I’ve seen a lot of this lately with people trying to work the WordPress backend! same goes with mailing lists, wikis, podcasts and more)
  • they feel stupid/inadequate because they don’t know how to work the above mechanism
  • they don’t understand how the mechanism works and why it is powerful/interesting/important

Now, we know that when we create an architecture for participation, the majority of the participants will actually be lurkers. Of all people, Jakob Nielsen doled out a set of tips for how to get more people to participate (mostly about reducing the effort involved and increasing the incentive). These are all great tips, but they don’t touch on that issue of intimidation that is apparent in the list above (afraid, inadequate, don’t understand).

What can we do to address these more personal issues? How can we design architectures of participation that are supportive and welcoming and comfortable and secure?

Is this just about the people who populate the space? Or are there ways that we can design to promote this?

This is something I’ve been dwelling on for a long time now. I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts.

I know for me, I ‘listen’ to a lot of mailing lists but actively participate in very few because of several of the points I listed above.

To people who wouldn’t usually comment on a blog for example… why don’t you? is there something we can do to encourage you? do you feel tempted or are you just here for the read and not the interaction?

And for those who do comment/participate regularly – are there places where you feel comfortable contributing and others where you don’t? What makes the difference?