User Experience Professionals are Here to Stay

I’ve decided to pour through my Gmail account to delete and archive old emails that I’ve been too busy to move from my inbox. Sure, I really don’t have to perform this task when I can just archive everything, but I’m pretty anal about categorizing my emails, even if I am not prompt at performing the task.

Today I stumbled across an email a colleague of mine sent out last July. He referred to a YouTube video that highlighted MS Vista’s speech recognition. All I can say is that while it performs admirably at times, quite a few times I found the video both painful and funny to watch (see below). It really confirms that the usability and user experience professions are here to stay.


Microsoft Vista Speech Recognition Tested – Perl Scripting

[Runtime: 10:33 | Please make sure you have the latest version of Adobe Flash installed on your computer to watch this video. To download it, please visit: http://www.adobe.com/]

– Hat Tip: Ari Weissman

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IA Summit Redux – DC Style

Is anyone going to the recap of the IA Summit 2007? Unfortunately, I will be unable to but I’d highly recommend going. Here’s the announcement:

If you missed the IA Summit in Vegas this year, fear not! DCIA will be holding a redux on Saturday, May 12 at 9am. We have commitments from several speakers to recap their talks.

Details:

Where: BCC Services Center
When: Saturday, May 12, 9am – 1pm
What: Mini-sessions, panel discussions, five-minute madness, networking, and bagels — lots and lots of bagels.
How much: $5 to cover the cost of food and venue

Speaker Detail Presentation File
Celeste Lyn Paul on card-sorting description PDF (519 KB)
Hallie Wilfert on her grandmother as IA description PPT (10.8 MB)
Stacy Surla on Second Life description PPT (6 MB)
Thom Haller on clear and useful content description PPT (8.5 MB)
Dan Brown on IA documentation description PPT (3.5 MB)
Austin Govella on IA’s impact on business description PPT (1.3 MB)
Lorelei Brown on lessons from failures description SlideShare (online)

We’ll be breaking into small groups to talk about several of the themes that emerged during the Summit, including: documentation for rich internet applications, management issues, and design processes.

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED: If you attended the Summit and would like to talk about your experience or lead a small group discussion, please drop me [Dan Brown] a line at brownorama@gmail.com.

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Super Smart Whiteboard Application

I had a very unique yet welcome happening the other day. My namesake, “Rob Fay” – a 16 year old living in Nottingham, England, decided to contact me. I had “Googled” my own name before to see if there were other “Rob Fays,” but I never decided to track them down. Well, I’m delighted that Rob contacted me.

Today I decided to check out his site and found an interesting find. I’m surprised I hadn’t stumbled across it sooner, but I believe it can inspire a company such as my own since we leverage whiteboard technologies with our learning curriculum. Check it out.

[Runtime: 04:43 | Please make sure you have the latest version of Macromedia Flash installed on your computer to watch this video. To download it, please visit: http://www.macromedia.com ]

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Google Calendar – First Impressions

Google Calendar

Today Google launched their own calendar offering. I created a Google Calendar for myself and my initial review is relatively positive, but not enough to make me a convert.

Pros

The definitive positives include the ability to manage multiple calendars, sharing calendars and delegating permissions to access these calendars. Also, there are a variety of ways to get notified of events – emails, SMS, etc.

Cons

The biggest negative, for me, is that there is no sync capability. Google allows you to import your calendar from another program, but there is no way to sync a localized version of your calendar, either on a client program, a handheld, or otherwise. In addition, it does not publish in the iCal format to allow for subscriptions. Why should I only be able to view the calendar on the site? Shouldn’t I also be able to subscribe to the calendar and view it using a portable device? Perhaps the thought is that all portable devices in the future will have a persistent connection to the Internet, but I for one cannot now justify spending a few extra bucks for my mobile phone provider to offer this option.

I understand that Google starts off with limited features and expands its offerings, but this sync criticism is one that I have with a majority of the web calendar offerings out there. My current solution is to use iCalx to host my calendar. Essentially, it is a site that offers webDAV technologies and uses PHP iCalendar. That way I can use a client like Apple’s iCal or Mozilla Calendar to publish and sync my calendar in the iCal format to the iCalx site. Then I can sync the client with my portable device (Palm).

Conclusion

I have no problem using a web program like Google instead of a client program, but it must at least offer a way to subscribe to the calendar for viewing on other platforms and devices. Google is on its way to solving the problem of sharing and collaborating using calendars, but until they can offer a subscription and a syncing feature, it will not replace my current solution.

Update

I spoke too soon. Google does offer the ability to view the calendar from other applications by offering both an xml feed and an iCal subscription! Yippie! Now they just need to let users create entries from these other applications so they can be synced to the Google calendar.

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XP on a Mac

Joy of Tech - XP on a Mac

Well, it looks like there’s a relatively stable way to get Microsoft and Apple to play together on a Mac. Have you been successful?

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Which Stakeholder is Greater?

I understand that one of the big reasons Grants.gov went with its current solution was so that people could fill out forms offline. However, I wonder which stakeholder is more affected – the person who cannot have constant Internet access or the person who has a Mac (or another alternative OS) and has to jump through additional hoops in order to submit his or her application? I am amazed that any research institution would not have constant Internet connectivity. Do we know what percentage of applicants might fall into this category? Dave indicates that as many as 33% of the Grants.gov audience uses a computing platform other than Windows OS. I just cannot imagine that 33% of applicants in the grantee community would not have access to the Internet. As I’ve remarked tongue-in-cheek in the past,

“There are federal mandates such as Section 508 that provide for equal access to web applications for handicapped individuals. Shouldn’t there be an equal access technology policy too?”

My point being that official G2C business systems should allow for multi-platform accessibility. Granted, I’ve spoken about the alternative of using Citrix, but this is not a particularly intuitive solution for many people. At least there are some offers of help.

Frankly, I do not think that it would be such a stretch to create a product that is available on multiple platforms. Sure, perhaps they cannot have something available “for every platform imaginable,” but this is not forging new ground. For instance, a tool like JEdit is Java-based and can therefore be run on multiple platforms. It is a text editor that handles a variety of plugins, including fairly robust XML editing. Now, although I do not know all the technology requirements for a tool to be able to transmit the data to grants.gov, it seems to me that something similar can be created that meets the requirements for offline application creation.

If Grants.gov is unwilling to “host” grantees’ data centrally, then it seems that this saved money could easily be used to resolve this issue. It’s just a shame that they did not think to include the multiple platform requirement when they initially contracted with PureEdge. I guess the saying goes “better late than never,” but it sounds as though there are some angry people – I’ve been monitoring this dissatisfaction for almost 2-3 years now.

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Grant.gov Usability Incompatability

Grants.Gov

Today’s Washington Post catches on the problems Mac users have identified for a while now – that Grants.gov does not support Mac users unless these users use a Citrix workaround.

Scientists should focus on science, not on how to submit applications for funding. It seems to me that the process should be intuitive and quick – not painstakingly difficult to figure out. The Grants.gov issue starts off with usability problems because it does not support a variety of computing platforms. Why does the grant community gush about NSF’s Fastlane system? Well, you don’t need to get bogged down in instructions to figure out how to use it and it is platform independent.

Perhaps Grants.gov should determine why scientists love this system. Previous posts about Grants.gov here and here.

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Best Buy Offering Windows OS on Apple Powerbooks

Apple Windows

It looks as though Best Buy is offering Apple Powerbooks with what looks like the Windows 98 OS! This post may get a lot of traffic, so let me stop the speculation now by saying that Best Buy is NOT offering Powerbooks with Windows. BB simply needs to work on their Photoshopping skills.

Product here and expanded image here.
Hat Tip to Durden2.0.

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CoverFlow

CoverFlow is an innovative software program available for Apple computer owners (Tiger only). This is a great program for those who are visually-oriented. CoverFlow visually displays your music collection by cataloging the MP3 tags and then pulling cover art from a variety of sources such as Amazon.com. Below are a few screen shots from my music collection.

CoverFlow

CoverFlow

CoverFlow

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Egocentrically Altruistic Web 2.0

John Battelle recently asked readers to come up with a tagline for the next Web 2.0 conference. This will be the third such conference.

Year One included the tagline “The Web Is a Platform” to which Battelle remarks,

“That felt spot on, because the idea of the web as a place you could build on the work of others was a pretty new idea.”

Year Two included the tagline “Revving the Web” to which Battelle remarks,

“…because it was all about the services and businesses and opportunities that arose from the Web – all of which taken together made the web more robust and more exciting.”

For November’s conference, Battelle suggests the tagline “Disruption” by indicating,

“…the year the Web – in all its forms – really flexes its muscle and begins to seriously turn the soil of the global economy in deep and permanent ways. Think of the disruptions in the media and entertainment industries – probably the deepest disruptions so far. But we’re only in the first inning or so of the disruptions in the mobile and communications space (how excited do YOU think AT&T is about Google offering free Wifi, for example? Or eBay buying Skype?). And the disruptions of search and clickstreams on commerce is only now beginning, and the same is true for the massive IT industry (Microsoft Live, anyone?). And the disruption on our cultural life – in government, for example (can you say warrantless wiretaps meets the Database of Intentions?) – is only beginning to dawn on all of us.”

(more…)

Afraid of Google Earth

Google Earth

Back in May I discussed the potential misuse of a powerful mapping tool like Google Earth. Today, the New York Times reports that international governments are afraid of the potential for misuse of this technology. Since the New York Times will eventually make the link to their article obsolete (unless you pay for a subscription), I felt compelled to include some of the more interesting tidbits…

From the Dec 20, 2005 edition of the New York Times, “Governments Tremble at Google’s Bird’s-Eye View”

“Lt. Gen. Leonid Sazhin, an analyst for the Federal Security Service, the Russian security agency that succeeded the K.G.B., was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying: “Terrorists don’t need to reconnoiter their target. Now an American company is working for them.”

“India, whose laws sharply restrict satellite and aerial photography, has been particularly outspoken. “It could severely compromise a country’s security,” V. S. Ramamurthy, secretary in India’s federal Department of Science and Technology, said of Google Earth. And India’s surveyor general, Maj. Gen. M. Gopal Rao, said, “They ought to have asked us.”

“Andrew McLaughlin, a senior policy counsel at Google, said the company had entered discussions with several countries over the last few months, including Thailand, South Korea and, most recently, India.”

“When you have multiple eyes in the sky, what you’re doing is creating a transparent globe where anyone can get basic information about anyone else,” said Mr. Gupta, the Sandia analyst. His recommendation to the Indian government, he said, would be to accept the new reality: “Times are changing, and the best thing to do is adapt to the advances in technology.”

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You Gada.Be Kiddin’ Me

Gada.Be Logo

Well, I may have found a search tool that makes up for some of the limitations of my last post regarding Rollyo. It seems Chris Pirillo of G4TechTV’s Call for Help fame created gada.be, a search tool that allows for unique easy-to-remember urls along with capabilities for RSS search feeds. I look forward to the development of this tool. If I had two nickles to rub together, I’d even consider investing.

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Catching up to Google?

Today, Yahoo! introduced its Instant Search beta – it allows users to potentially return answers as you type. Think Google’s “I’m feeling lucky” but without the wait, because Yahoo’s search beta leverages AJAX technologies.

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Phishing for a Sucker

This is the second phishing attack I’ve received in the last 2 months. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Webster defines phishing as

“The practice of luring unsuspecting Internet users to a fake Web site by using authentic-looking email with the real organization’s logo, in an attempt to steal passwords, financial or personal information, or introduce a virus attack; the creation of a Web site replica for fooling unsuspecting Internet users into submitting personal or financial information or passwords.”

Notice the email I received. It looks authentic, doesn’t it? However, when I click on any of the three links in the message, the address that displays does not match the address in the email. Instead, it links me to a very different address.

PayPal Scam

PayPal must go through incredible pains to fight off these malicious people. They have a great “protect yourself” page that offers some good advice for users.

This social engineering almost suckered me, and I would consider myself rather savvy. This type of scam is generally successful because it played on my fears that someone had broken into my account. I react with feeling before I think it through. Fortunately, once I got to the page that asked for my personal financial details, I realized that I better slow down. That’s when I looked at the web site address and noticed that it was not, in fact, PayPal.

It may not be PayPal. It might be an email from a bank, or some other seemingly reputable establishment. Or it might be the great African money laundering too-good-to-be-true scenario I’m sure you’ve seen. If you haven’t yet been the fortunate recipient of these emails, here’s the scenario as described by my buddy here and here.

Be vigilant, my friends, and sorry to say, but we must be skeptical and distrustful in this Internet age.

PayPal Scam

Scam Home Page

Notice the address line. Also, notice under “what’s new” that these malicious persons have a link for “PayPal introduces new homepage” to cover their tails in case the real PayPal site were to change their look and feel. You can type any made up username and password to move to the next “verification” screen…

PayPal Scam

They Want Your Credit Card and Bank Information!

Update

A worthwhile video shows the scam in action.

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Google Talk

Google Talk Logo

Yesterday, Google entered into the instant messaging wars by introducing its minimalist Talk client. Google based its instant messaging client on the existing open-source Jabber protocol. What’s interesting is that although Google includes audio speech capabilities (only for Windows users), BetaNews indicates that

“Future additions to Google Talk will include support for the SIP protocol used in VoIP communications, which would allow the client to directly contact phones based on the technology. Google said it was aligning with Earthlink and Sipphone to make these features possible, but provided no timetable for planned availability.”

Right now I’m not particularly excited by this news. What’s another instant messager? I do think it was a good choice to use an open-source protocol. However, what I’m more interested in is how Google will tie this technology in with its other current and future service offerings.

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Enterprise Information Architecture and the Need for Knowledge Management

James Melzer, fellow CLIS graduate, spoke to my grad school class last week regarding Enterprise Information Architecture. James has a great complement to Lou Rosenfeld’s original.

I was a little stuck on James’ use of content/document/record, but I realize I do not have the library background that he does for discerning these document types. Of note is that James indicates that good IA precedes good CM development. Consequently, his diagram seeks to convey the relationship between the two.

My argument would be that we must broaden the definition of Information Architecture, because IA is not simply used as a precurser to CM or other types of information system development, but also for KM development. Unfortunately, not all knowledge is captured in a system electronically. Isn’t a part of the job of an Information Architect to also perform information audits to determine where both information and knowledge stores reside, particularly if they are not captured electronically or if there’s unnecessary redundancy?

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The World Just Got Smaller…

Chatting with my father-in-law

My father-in-law and I recently purchased a small video camera (iSight) that can be mounted onto the top of our Apple computers. The purpose of the camera is so that we can both see and hear each other remotely using a combination of the camera and “instant messenger” chatting software that most of us have already used. We had a great time – both video and audio were really good – not choppy like I anticipated it might be. The video was a little fuzzy, but only when I had it fill the entire screen. Nonetheless, it was amazing! I felt like we were sitting across the table from each other. In fact, during another “chat” I put the camera on my laptop, and leveraging the wireless connection in my home, I was able to take my laptop around the house so my father-in-law could see home improvements, etc. from his home hundreds of miles away. Amazing!

Chatting with my father-in-law

Anyway, I was hoping to lure friends and family into getting one of these. There are a few hurdles – you need a high speed internet connection (no dialup) and your computer must be relatively new (you do not have to have an Apple Macintosh). Think of all the long distance costs you will save because chatting this way is free – only the cost of the high speed internet service (and the camera)!

This has been done in the business community for a while now for holding remote conference calls. For instance, CNN recently decided to use Apple’s technology to aid them in their efforts for real time remote reporting.

The psychotherapy profession should really start embracing the use of this technology in order to provide alternative services. For instance, what if a psychotherapist needs to see a family, yet one of the parents happens to be away for business during a planned session. Typically, the appointment would either be cancelled or it might be missing an important viewpoint if the psychotherapist decided to see the reminder of the family anyway. A certain number of counselors already do therapy by telephone or by email, but I think there are 2 limitations with these laternatives. First, doing email “therapy” tends to lend itself more to helping one individual, not many at once. Second, it is common knowledge that a majority of communication occurs nonverbally, so much is lost using the mediums I mentioned. However, using relatively inexpensive webcam technology could be something the profession needs to consider. The major concerns would involve the legal (insurance), confidentiality, security, and archiving issues, but I think these could be reasonably resolved.

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WordPress Vulnerability

WordPress Logo

WordPress and Secunia reported on August 9 that there is a critical security vulnerability in WordPress 1.5.1.3. I can attest to that.

Yesterday I had a very important presentation to give as part of my graduation requirement for grad school. My presentation was entitled “Don’t Get Caught in the Web: Using a website to enhance small business opportunity.” Part of the presentation involved a demo of a live website that I created for my wife’s private practice.

2.5 hours before the presentation, I casually checked the site from work and was presented with a page that read, “Account suspended. Please contact support/billing immediately.” What?! After 52 minutes waiting on the customer service line with my webhost, I was told that they do not provide support over the phone. Instead, I needed to use the form submission to communicate support requests via email. Aarrgghh! Now about 1.5 hours before showtime.

I did use the submission form and received a reply more quickly than I anticipated. My provider suspended my account because they thought I had introduced a malicious IRC bot onto my own webspace. Sorry, I’m not that technically inclined, just enough to install WordPress and to customize it for my liking.

Long story short, a hacker infiltrated my webspace through a vulnerability in WordPress 1.5.1.3. It appears a patch may be available to close this vulnerability, but thankfully, my webhost support contact made a file change on my space to hopefully plug this security hole.

Fortunately, the presentation went off without a hitch and I could access the website. After two more weeks of a summer school class, I will be done with my program. In retrospect, I realize that perhaps I need to use a stricter password for my WordPress account. Security has become a serious issue, folks, and yesterday it became that much more personal to me.

Update

On August 14, WordPress 1.5.2 was released to address these security issues.

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When Stealing Bandwidth is Good

Jeff Gates of Life Outtacontext opened my ignorant eyes to an internet faux pas with his entertaining July 23rd entry entitled, “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even.” Jeff first provides the common definition for stealing bandwidth:

Stealing Bandwidth: “when someone links directly to internet files from another Web site without the owner’s permission. ISPs (Internet Service Providers) often limit the amount of monthly “traffic” to or from your Web site. So, often victims of bandwidth stealing are charged whenever other people use their files in this manner.”

As a relative newbie to the blogosphere, I thought it would be wise to save web server space by pulling in images from other sites rather than copying them onto my web server and linking to them from my site. I hadn’t even considered copyright issues.

However, are there times when stealing bandwidth is good? I would argue that if you pull files from another site, common courtesy suggests that you should also provide a hyperlink to the source story or topic you reference. At the end of the day, don’t web sites want to attract readership? If I use an image from another location and I also cite where I grabbed it from (without altering it), wouldn’t this be a positive thing? Wouldn’t it be similar to quoting an author and including the appropriate references to the quoted passage? It seems to me more of the social “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”

I wonder what executives at photo sites like Flickr think about this issue. Flickr allows people to share photos, and quite often users provide a creative commons license for their images. How does Flickr feel when a gazillion people link to images on their servers? They even encourage users to link to their personal images for their individual blogs!

I am in a position now where I do not have a large readership. I pay for modest web hosting services, so bandwidth is not yet an issue for me. If I started attracting a gazillion readers who stole my bandwidth by linking to images on my site, I’m sure I might have a different opinion about this issue. But then again, if I had a gazillion readers, wouldn’t bandwidth already be an issue that would be my responsibility to resolve?

I sincerely want to hear your thoughts on this issue.

Update: August 5, 2005

I went to the Drudge Report this morning and found that the images Drudge displays are a result of him linking to these files from other sites. Now wouldn’t that be interesting if the image owners did a move similar to the one Jeff Gates pulled?

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Thanks, Chad

Chad Dickerson

Chad Dickerson, CTO at InfoWorld, announced yesterday that he will be leaving the company to join Yahoo! Research Berkeley. I’ve read his columns much like a moth is attracted to a flame. Fortunately, I have never gotten fried crispy in the process. One of my past criticisms of InfoWorld was that they tended to focus more on the “T” in IT. However, despite his position, Chad also focused on discussing issues surrounding information.

I thank Chad for his tenure at InfoWorld and wish him well at Yahoo! Keep your readership informed.

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