August 2004 Archives

Skype Goes Mac

Everyone in my family uses Macs, except for me. Unhappily, I use a Dell Inspiron 8200, a good machine, but not one without troubles, especially XP! We have 6 Macs now running with no problems, on a wireless network in my house, in Australia, and soon in Spain. I have been the only one to be able to use the Skype client, primarily for work. I am thrilled that the client has been ported to the Mac. Now I can see my family's presense online and talk to them when I wish! I also use Skype Out which has been a real money saver since I do interviews with people and participate on telephone calls around the world for pennies. Dan's comments are great.
Skype just launched a public beta version of its new OS X client software. This means the Voice over IP software that has almost 10 million registered users is now on every major desktop platform -- another major step forward for the product and the people behind it. I've been playing with a pre-beta version of the OS X software, and had some difficulty. The new version does seem to be an improvement. I already have VoIP at home, but this will be quite useful when I'm traveling and find a broadband connection, among other things. At the moment, I'm finding the most intriguing feature of Skype to be its built-in encryption. Since the product also offers instant messaging, I now have something that none of the big IM vendors are bothering to offer individual end users like me: end-to-end encryption. I'm asking my IM "buddies" to consider switching to Skype for this reason. Especially when I'm on a wireless system, IM shouldn't be visible to the entire world. I had a conversation with Niklas Zennström, Skype's co-founder and CEO, yesterday. It's no secret that he has big ambitions for this product and company, and some of those ambitions are starting to be more clear. One is connecting with other kinds of gear than just PCs. Zennström told me that Skype is launching a set of APIs, or applications programming interfaces, to help hardware vendors put the product on their handsets and other equipment. He said Siemens is already doing so. I wish Skype was more open in some ways, such as using industry standards. But the company has done a lot right so far, and it's hard to argue with its achievements. (I'll have more on all this in tomorrow's column.) Skype is a true phenomenon of the Net.

[Dan Gillmor's eJournal]

RSS made clear

This is an excellent, easy to understand article on RSS. I am glad that it was pointed out in this blog entry.

Halley points us to a piece by Dan Bricklin wrote a while ago that explains RSS so clearly that you could varnish your furniture with it. Nice writing.

[Joho the Blog]
Staying in touch with Robin Good's presentations and web sites allows me to stay completely up to date on the technologies used for synchronous communications and collaboration. In fact, I now work primarily in academic institutions, so this is a presentation that is very relevant to my work.
This is a Macromedia Breeze presentation I recorded for the e/merge 2004 conference on Blended Collaborative Learning back in July. It addresses issues relating to live collaboration and conferencing systems that can be effectively utilized in the academic world. It...

[Robin Good's Latest News]

Distributed KM

This is a very good article on the deficiencies of knowledge management systems and how weblogs provide a platform for sharing experience in a business context.

Distributed KM (via Steven): "Improving the productivity of knowledge workers is one of the most important challenges for companies that face the transition from the industrial economy to an economy based on information and knowledge (Drucker, 1999). However, most "knowledge management" efforts have failed to address this problem and focused on information management instead.
This paper briefly explores the failure of traditional knowledge management to adress the problem of knowledge worker productivity and argues that a deeper understanding of knowledge work is necessary to improve it. It then explores knowledge work and how it is supported with information technology tools today, focussing specially on the email client as a knowledge work tool."


It's Just the 'internet' Now

Important breaking news from

Effective with this sentence, Wired News will no longer capitalize the "I" in internet. At the same time, Web becomes web and Net becomes net.

BTW, what is the recommended spelling for email, e-mail, etc. ?

Recommended Web Design Books

Thanks to Robin Good's Latest News, I rediscovered Jakob Nielsen's Website and a great list of recommended books on web design and usability. It is worth checking out.

SharePoint Links Updated

This is a great set of links to sites that comment on Microsoft Sharepoint.

The SharePoint Links on the right nav of my blog have been updated.  I've been remis, and there are lots of good bloggers out there. I still haven't found a good getting started document, though... if anyone can point me to one I'd be very grateful.  The target audience is people who have very basic computer skills, and aren't very familiar with navigation concepts, etc., so it all has to be spelled out (and I'd really like to not have to write it ;-)  For you RSS readers out there, here's the list:

[LauraJ's Weblog]
I was very intrigued by this post and I actually implemented chatango on this website. I have also put it into my email signiture. I am interested to see if people use the functionality.

Chatango is a lightweight flash based chat program that lets you put a chat window on your web page. If I'm online, you can chat with me. Otherwise you can leave me a message. I'm going to try it out in this post. If it proves to be useful, I'll give it a more thorough testing in my sidebar.

Comment - TrackBack

[Joi Ito's Web]

Information Architecture Heuristics

Louis Rosenfeld presents a great list of criteria for providing feedback on websites.

Just finished a brief heuristic evaluation of a client site, basing part of my feedback on a set of questions that I find quite useful for just about every IA-related project. Every information architect should always have a set of favorite questions in their back pocket; they really do come in handy.

I categorize mine into groups that correspond to the five areas that a user is most likely to interact with a site’s information architecture:

  1. Main page
  2. Search interface
  3. Search results
  4. Site-wide navigation
  5. Contextual navigation

This approach works for me because it underemphasizes the main page, which all too often garners way too much attention at the expense of the other areas. There are plenty of other ways to group IA heuristics: top-down versus bottom-up; search versus browse; content versus users versus context; by users’ information needs (e.g., known-item versus research versus open-ended); and so on. Pick what works best for you.

Ok, on to the questions (and some brief comments):

Main Page

  • Does it support multiple ways to reach content? (By “ways,” I mean search, site-wide navigation, site index, site map, etc.)
  • Does it highlight the best ways to reach content? (Supporting the few most useful ways of getting users to content is obviously more important and cost-effective than providing them with all possible ways.)
  • Does it orient the user to what this site is about and content is available? (Important if there are many newbies visiting the site.)
  • Does it serve users who have been here before and know what they’re looking for?

Search Interface

  • Is it easy to find and consistently placed?
  • Is it easy to use? (The simple "box" and a search button are usually sufficient and generally all a user will put up with during his first stab at searching.)
  • Does it support revision/refinement? (Searching is an iterative process; hopefully your site acknowledges this. "Revise your search" is probably a more accurate and better way to think of the thing called "Advanced search".)
  • Are query builders used effectively? (Query builders include spell-checking, stemming, concept searching, and thesaural searching.)

Search Results

  • Are useful results available at the top of the list? (Wouldn’t that be nice? Hard to test though.)
  • Is it clear what the query was? (Most search engines will repeat the original query.)
  • Is it clear what was searched? (Especially important if your site employs search zones.)
  • Is it clear how many results were retrieved?
  • Are useful components displayed per result? (These should help users understand enough about a result to distinguish it from others.)
  • Are the results grouped in a useful way? (Usually results aren’t grouped at all, but clustered results are becoming more and more common.)

Site-wide Navigation

  • Is it possible to move through the site without experiencing click fatigue?
  • (Try out a few common scenarios.)
  • Are breadth and depth balanced?
  • Are labels clear and meaningful? (Metadata 101 stuff here.)

Contextual Navigation

  • Is it clear where I am, both in terms of which site and where I am in the site? (For more on this topic, see Keith Instone’s Navigation Stress Test.)
  • Are there a few navigation options that lead me where I’d want to go next? (Related links are rare, but incredibly useful when implemented well.)
  • Are they clearly labeled? (More Metadata 101.)

Clearly, there are dozens of other questions that could be added to this list (feel free to suggest some here). And probably many better alternatives to this grouping scheme. But if you’re starting out, you might find my list helpful.


Why the sudden interest in Exec Ed programs, in particular for custom developed learning events? Overall, according to Business Week, business schools are reporting increases of 20 to 30% over the previous year. Some schools with strategy and leadership expertise are reporting an increase of 90 to 120%. What is it about the current business climate that is inspiring company executives to allocate resources to this type of learning program? What is motivating the change?

I really do want the help of the community here. Understanding the route cause will help me to propose learning solutons to my clients.

Thanks for your help

Usability Test Data Logger

This is a great set of materials and instructions for collecting data on usability. I am doing User Experience design now and will move on to testing soon. I'll try this tool and let people know the results.

Todd Zazelenchuk has developed a usability test data logger, a customised spreadsheet for recording and presenting the results of usability tests. To quote:

Most people use Microsoft Excel to analyse the results of usability tests, but did you know you can use it to collect the data too? This spreadsheet allows you to measure task completion rates, analyse questionnaire data, and summarise participant comments. It even includes a timer so you can measure time-on-task.

[Thanks to the eGovernment Resource Centre.]

[Column Two]

All of sudden, and I don't know why, my Windows version of iTunes 4.6 stopped recognizing the CD drive and would not play or import CDs. The Apple Support site was useless. So....I've been researching this for some time and finally I discoverd an answer. Here is the error message that kept coming up:


Then I got this much more "Severe" error when I tried to reload the app:


And finally I got a clue:


iTunes uses Gear Software drivers to read and write to CDs.

You can find the updated drivers at GEAR Drivers

Downloading and installing these drivers fixed my problem!

I read this interview today when I should have been working. It was worth it! I have used Wikipedia successfully,but I really like the full story. So click through and read the interview with Jimmy Wales.

Via the Creative Commons Weblog, Slashdot has an excellent interview of the amazing founder of WikiPedia, Jimmy Wales

The online collaborative encyclopedia WikiPedia has already more traffic than its commercial competitor Britannica. Here are some quotes:

[I] "Was wondering if you view the Wikipedia as a competitor or an additional tool compared to a World Book or an Encyclopedia Britannica?

Jimmy Wales:
I would view them as a competitor, except that I think they will be crushed out of existence within 5 years.
It is my intention to get a copy of Wikipedia to every single person on the planet in their own language. It is my intention that free textbooks from our wikibooks project will be used to revolutionize education in developing countries by radically cutting the cost of content.
Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing.
I have every confidence that we'll be just fine. The thing is: everyone loves Wikipedia. When I asked the world for $20,000 last January, we raised nearly $50,000 in less than a week."

[Loic Le Meur Blog]
I discovered IT Conversations recently and it is a great resource. It presents recordings of presentations at important conferences and it also presents conversations with other IT luminaries. It is a great resouce. I am very interested in Skype and I am a good user of the product,so I am glad that I found Niklas' talk.
Niklas Zennström, founder and CEO of Skype, presented this keynote at Supernova 2004 by telephone.

[IT Conversations]

This is a plug for Skype. I read Stuart Henshall's post about the global VoIP to PTSN deployment and while I did not appreciate the magnitude of the deployment effort, I certainly appreciate the service. I am a user who conducts long telephone conferences with European clients via Skype and it is really cheap to use the service. Sound quality is usually great and I a pleased with the usability of the product. I want to get my colleagues to use the product as well, but they don't seem to want to be tied to their PCs with a headset; they would rather talk on the phone. (I find a headset much easier for talking and taking notes at the same time). I wish other applications would pick up the Skype technology and use it as their VoIP connection to other users and to people who still use the PTSN.


There is not enough aggregated information or conversation about user experience and how to design productive experiences with electronic products. I really applaud these guys for putting this together.

Lou Rosenfeld has highlighted the creation of a new organisation: UXnet. To quote:

UXnet is dedicated to exploring opportunities for cooperation and collaboration among UX-related organizations and individuals.

For individuals, UXnet offers a way to connect to the broadly drawn UX community. In particular, our Events Calendar and Groups Directory will provide a way for individuals to find out about events and groups of interest.

For organizations, UXnet is a way to explore opportunities for collaboration and a way to reach practitioners in related UX disciplines. We invite organizations to participate in UXnet.

We're certainly going to be helping out the UXnet folks however we can...

[Column Two]

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