Imx Fix in my experience
March 2002 Archives

March 31, 2002 9:01 AM

Jakob Nielson is doing a report on the cost of design changes and is soliciting data from you. In my experience, the cost of change is high and inevitable. The inevitability rises from the client always having their objectives thought out (to some degree at least) but often hasn't thought about how it's going to be accomplished. When you start building something (and writing in proverbial stone), they can see it, and the change requests start coming in.

A part of succesfully managing changes (which keeps costs down) is documenting the requests and making estimates on how much the proposed changes will cost in terms of dollars and time. Prioritizing those changes, and deciding if they actually contribute to the success of the project (which can be a political situation) will help keep you on target. So, in the end, you might have the data that Jakob needs...

We need:
> screenshot(s) of the "before" design
> screenshot(s) of "after"
> why the change was made
> the before vs. after numbers
Personally, I can't wait to see what sort of results come from this study. I've seen change processes devolve into a stream of conciousness that resulted in huge costs and missed deadlines.

March 28, 2002 11:47 AM

Last week I was talking to my CFO about wireless tech and how I am unable to get any broadband connection at my home. It's really a pathetic situation since there are several bandwidth suppliers within 5 miles of my home. They include Exodus Communications, AOL, WorldCom, PSI Net, Adelphia Communications and Verizon. None of the above can offer me high speed access, but Adelphia seems to be working to fix that situation by laying fibre and upgraded cable lines right in front of my house (which means it is still going to be a while until I get anything).

Ok, back to my CFO. I was trying to express to him how I thought the lack of last mile solutions (the 'last mile' being that mythical last step to the actual consumer's home) was hurting the networked economy. I argued that there are countless business plans out there that can't be viable until there is wider (not necessarily wide) spread adoption of consumer broadband. One way of doing that sort of thing is by setting up Wireless networks (based on 802.11).

My CFO argued back that I am not a typical internet user (which is indeed true) and that most people are still struggling with email. His point being that lots of bandwidth doesn't mean a new business opportunity is there. And this may be true, but even if most people are still struggling with the basics, there are lucrative markets out there that could be serviced by business plans that leverage broadband connections. To wit, GameSpy has been interviewed by C|Net where they cite the exact dynamic of meagre broadband adoption hurting the viability of more lucrative online gaming.

The video game market is huge, and online games are FAR more compelling that Solitaire to people like myself. What fuels my argument is that there are many people like myself out there playing these games. When I start up Tribes2 (a year old game) and logon, I typically see about a thousand servers. I don't play Quake, but it's market penetration is better than Tribes. Now, add more multipliers, like Unreal, Everquest, Ultima Online, Diablo, et al. Suddenly you have a market that could benefit from the Fat Pipe.

March 26, 2002 11:23 AM

So, Netscape 6.22 came out last week and it's still betaware. But, Gecko based browsing is in AOL's future and there will be ramifications. Now, I think Lie's quote about AOL going to Gecko is spot on when he says that "If AOL successfully deploys Mozilla...Authors will need to write browser-neutral pages...." But I think it's important to remember that the uptake rate of Gecko (as embedded in AOL 8?) is not going to be lightning fast, and even if it turns out to be fairly aggressive, I think we have a good year before Gecko becomes an entry in a project plan.

March 25, 2002 11:32 AM

Last week Boxes and Arrows made its debut, and did so impressively. One of the articles makes a timely point about meeting CEO's and other MBA types half way when you are coming from the world of design. The argument is based on wiring qualitative work (visual design, information architecting, etc) into the quantitative, balance sheet oriented mind set.

A while back, Louis Rosenfeld covered a facet of the topic in blog entry examining the ROI of Information Architecture. The tie in is that any provable ROI of 'designy' work makes the argument for having strong design and usability on a given project easier to make. And in times like these, you need to make any argument you can.

March 22, 2002 2:18 AM

My brother works over at PriceWaterhouseCoopers and sent me a link to an Anderson white paper about usability of government sites that was pretty interesting. What was more interesting was that he asked me for some more info on usability issues. It's great to see a guy like himself (an MBA, not an LIS) take interest in the issue.

At any rate, I started putting together an overview of the field, and come up with the stuff you see below. I found it pretty interesting to see what I included and what I didn't...

Usability is a varied field under a parent field called Information Architecture (IA). The most well known and controversial Usability person is Jakob Nielsen who's AlertBox is usually a good read and offers practical advice. Im my opinion, Nielsen is the Pat Buchanon of web design due to his somewhat right wing, reactionary and rigid rules. He's a scientist, not an artist.

Nielsen has several books out on the market. The Designing Web Usability book is pretty good, and is a common sense guide to good usability. His other, more recent book is a good visual guide to the mistakes of others, which helps you avoid those mistakes in your own work.

Nielsen is one of many elder statesmen of software and application usability wonks. His contemporaries include Tog, Don Norman, Jef Raskin and Alan Cooper.

Raskin wrote a great book called "The Human Interface" that is academic, but approachable and very readable. He gets bogged down at times in interface efficiency which I think is a low priority in commercial web design (my opinion!). For applications that involve repetitive tasks, Raskin is a great person to look to for help on designing humanely. but again, he's not a visual designer. Neither is Tog, even though he worked with Apple on the Mac interface back in the good ol' days.

Cooper is the stand out in my opinion. His company is an IA firm that offers help on designing apps that are usable, attractive and user centric.

If we go a little younger, we find more designey types of people. These include Peter Morville, Louis Rosenfeld, Peter Merholz, Nathan Shedroff and Jesse James Garret.

Morville and Rosenfeld wrote the seminal book on usability and IA called "Information Architecture". I own it, and when I read it, I knew everything already, but it was great to see all of the basics encapsulated in one book. Another book called "Web Navigation: Designing the User Experience" is, in my opinion, a sister to the IA book. Both should be read and understood thoroughly by any User Interface professional.

Nathan Shedroff wrote Experience Design which is a nice visual book that present examples of design experiences, which are not always web based. I really like Nathan's style and subscribe to his preachings. Recently, he was the lead IA on the new Herman Miller Red site.

Jesse James Garret has produced a visual Vocabulary for interaction design that I have slowly adopted in my work at WebCritical. I've made my own modifications to it, but it works as a flow charting language that is tailored to the needs of the web interaction designer.

Beyond these people there are MANY other resources on the net that can be of help to the Information Architect. I won't bother listing them all here, because Garret has a nice list available on the web. But it doesn't mention 37signals which has a good periodical about good and bad design on the web.

March 20, 2002 3:57 AM

A couple of days ago I posted my response to a discussion on the WebDesign list about Flash and it's promise as a platform for web apps. In that thread there were a lot comments going back and forth about Macromedia trying overthrow HTML and other standards on the web. I think that's pretty far fetched, and like Christine Perfetti and Jared M. Spool say, Flash is A New Hope for Web Applications.

I'll go one step further and say that, on the client side, Flash achieves what Java set out to do. For the most part, Flash runs everywhere and predictably without porting the code to other platforms. Java never got anywhere as a browser-based/client-side technology for a few reasons that are not going away. First, Java Swing is newer technology that is not natively supported by any of the browsers. Second, AWT is supported, but is widely considered to be a bear to work with and looks terrible next to a Flash app. Third, IE6 on the PC doesn't ship with Java support (forcing the user into an unlikely 6 meg download). And last, Java bytecode is bloated compared to Flash code (which can also be bit-streamed) which makes the horrible reality of 56k a little easier to bear.

March 19, 2002 12:04 PM

I find it pretty discouraging to hear the folks at Jupiter Media Metrix say that 'pay for content' is not going to be a huge success. I'd like the believe that the content would be compelling enough for a 'micropayment' of some sort. Ars Technica would be, in my opinion, a good example where the pay-for content is worth buying. And I think it's interesting to note that the stuff worth paying for online is generally far superior than the shwag we pay for at the grocery store counter (imho).

March 15, 2002 3:36 AM

Here's an article at New Scientist about a search engine that attempts to show search results in a more 'visual' format. Here's a quote...

Rather than returning lists of possible website hits the new engine, called Visualization Information Tool (VisIT), shows results as icons. These represent groups of sites, with the most relevant ones towards the center.
Ironically there isn't a link to a demo in the news article, so I had to use Google to find the search engine. The other ironic thing is that I clicked on a link to read about something else and instead got that article from last June. Sheesh.

March 14, 2002 9:31 AM

I couldn't resist to post my response to a message on the WebDesign list...

at 3/14/02 8:28 AM by Zak McGregor wrote:



> "We've been looking at how people work on the Internet, how people use

> Internet applications, and what we saw was that...HTML was breaking down

> in a lot of cases," said Eric Wittman, Macromedia's director of product

> management for Flash. "


> So I gather that Macromedia is gunning to replace an open standard with

> a proprietary technology, and wants to rid the world of HTML? This seems

> absurd, but it's not April 1st yet. 

Be sure to keep within context here. This is in reference to *web applications*, not normal, content based, web sites.

I have worked on a few complex web applications, and HTML was indeed breaking down on us. The reason being that Netscape 4.7 is a completely different browser to code for than IE (which we all know) and both have odd bugs that cause application crashes. Quite often, HTML and some incredibly sophisticated JavaScript was just barely able to meet the business needs of the client.

If we could eliminate the (business and development) liability of wildly inconsistent DOM, HTML and JavaScript implementations, we would have a massively easier (and cheaper!) way to built a web app that could be called robust. Also, not having anything resembling a client side IDE is a problem for serious web app development. Using the Flash authoring kit (or LiveMotion) can mitigate that problem to some degree.

> What does this mean for the vision of client-independent content

> delivery? How has Macromedia addressed it's inherent weaknesses when

> compared to html, for example word weighting, full indexability [sic], the

> ability to display on devices other than windowed GUIs, the inability to

> link to specific information in Flash, bookmarking issues, printing

> issues, etc?

When it comes to the web applications I have worked on, issues like "full indexability" do not matter. What does matter is predictable results in a highly complex environment. In me experience, DHTML can't provide that.

I welcome any technical advances in Flash technology to make web apps more robust, usable, and "codeable." I don't feel like that will be any threat to (X)HTML's future.

March 13, 2002 8:51 AM

There's a new OpenGL based 3D interface available for Mac OSX called 3DOSX, that looks pretty cool, but doesn't feel terribly productive to me. For a long time, folks like Jef Raskin and many other old school GUI pontificators have been saying that WIMP interfaces (Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointing device) are getting long in the tooth. But, I don't think any of the proof-of-concept 3D interfaces are going to replace WIMP any time soon.

The 3DOSX user experience is actually pretty good in terms of navigating the space, and always knowing where you are (in relation to everything else). Revealing that frame of reference is one of things that GUI professionals should always be striving to do and that present WIMP interfaces could improve upon. Forgiving its performance problems (one frame per second), 3DOSX is a far cry from the speed at which I can rifle thru WIMP based file directories, but is still a pretty good advance on a demonstration 3D interface from Microsoft. They represent the file tree as a hallway where you move forward and back to pick up files off of virtual easels. The files have thumbnail previews that help you understand what's inside. But while watching the demo video, I can't help but not know where I am in any sort of file hierarchy.

So, having a sense of spacial relationships between files would be a good advance, but here's a few problems that need to be overcome...

  • After finding the file I need, when I go and do something with it, will that be 3D also? I can't imagine working in TextPad or BBedit in a 3D interface.
  • 3D interfaces cause the user to manipulate the mouse WAY more than with a WIMP interface (which is a significant user experience issue in my opinion).
  • Performance issues for these interfaces are prohibitive (even with an NVidia GeForce).
  • I'm used to the WIMP interface and understand it. Plain and simple.

March 11, 2002 8:33 AM

Even my non-geek friends know about Cringley's (somewhat larcenous) experiments with free wireless broadband internet access. And the idea is great, and gaining ground on the supply side. Witness the Newbury Open Network in Boston (well, it's one node's worth of access right now, but they plan on growth). Unfortunately, I have to assume that people will abuse this and any other Café Area Network (CAN) that comes on line.

I'd like to believe that CAN's would make the last mile problem a memory, but just as soon as people get access to a valuable resource, at super low cost, the abuse will happen. Just look back a few years to AOL's move to a fixed price model for unlimited access. That led to a massive increase in average online times, and severely taxed the modem pools. It was bad enough to warrant a class acton suit.

What do you think the CAN owner/operator will think when they see the bandwidth consumption rates when Limewire freaks find a megabit in the air?

March 8, 2002 3:39 AM

I was reading thru some blogs just now and found this link at to Joel Spolsky's latest meandering. In it he says...

You have to design things before you implement them.
I hope this isn't a revelation to anyone out there in dotcom land. In my experience, methodologies like XP can make things move more quickly, but more quickly to what? If there's no thought about what you are building, or why, or for whom, then you've failed before you have begun. Also, IMHO, I think the price of change is way more than people think it is, so refactoring should be thought of as a problem, not a solution. To put it another (overly simplistic) way if you don't have the time to do it right the first time, when are you going to have time to right the second time?

March 7, 2002 8:52 AM

They both output SWF files that can be read by the Flash Player plugin, so there's the interoperability that we need. They both tend to adhere to their parent company's way of doing interfaces, so that helps those who know the other apps they produce. Unfortunately, Macromedia keeps changing the interface for Flash in dramatic ways (which was needed in my opinion, once. New interfaces for each version is not a good thing).

The major difference will be the work flow (pretty vital in my opinion) and the features supported (of course). Here's Adobe propaganda about the differences. I think it's pretty funny that Adobe has this sort of thing on their site and Macromedia makes no mention of LiveMotion on their site.

At any rate, one of the most important features available in both development environments is the XML support. Adobe's Scripting Guide (a PDF on the install disk) says the following...

LiveMotion also supports transmission and reception of eXtensible Markup Language (XML) files. Using XML, a LiveMotion application can take input from the user, generate an XML file, and send the file to a server application that parses the XML and stores the data. The application then responds with either an XML file for processing by a movie clip or with an HTML file for display in a Web browser window.
Sweet. So, now it's time to start using Flash for web applications instead of interstitials that offer 'skip intro' as a merciful escape module.

March 5, 2002 6:55 AM

In this C|Net article, Rob Glaser of Real Networks says "The PC is the most flexible platform today. But five or 10 years from now, the majority of our users won't be on PCs." To which I say, good luck and good riddance. TV/PC convergence is as popular today as push technology (read: not!) and Real Video is, at best, a misnomer. Moving the biz plan to the world of television (no boubt in a internet like way) is going to be tough. The really scary thing is this Microsoft-ian comment from Glaser "We want people to look at the payment like their water bill, electrical bill or phone bill."

March 3, 2002 10:51 AM

Web application/site development can be a long and multi-faceted process involving one or many people. If you know this already (newbie!), or are eager to learn more (masochist!), then you might want to look into 'Web ReDesign: Workflow that Works'. I picked it up a few days ago (45 well spent dollars at Barnes and Noble) and am happy to see it validating many of the work processes I have been involved with for the last two years. One point made has a particular resonance with me so far...
Having only one response to [a] Client Survey is particularly important because when working with several individuals you will get several opinions. The client, as a unit, must be aligned with common goals.
I have seen this in the wild, several times, in several different ways. Often, direction comes from all angles with no one person clearly in charge (and CYA activity is more important then ever). Sometimes there is one stakeholder, but they can't make up their own mind and attempt to make everyone they talk to happy. This is almost worse than getting it from all sides. Every once in a while, a client comes along who is on target, but they are usually other consultants ;^)
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