Carpool Conversations Vol. 2

In the second installment of Carpool Conversations, we talked about the dynamics of communication and collaboration. This image is a visualization of our thoughts.

Thinking collaboratively speeds the development of an idea. Talking about a problem helps us understand the problem. Conversation and collaboration are important to the process.

Another thought we had, that's not represented in the chart, is that "silence is a powerful tool". It seems that speaking less sometimes gets better results, and that moments of silence are important. For one, it's important to listen and it's important to think, both of which are markedly more difficult to do while you're talking. Secondly, repeating a point has the generally-unintended consequence of reducing the potency of the idea. If you keep talking after you've made your point, you have a tendency to stray from the initial message, thereby watering it down. At the same time, your listener doesn't have a chance to absorb the idea. Know your message, deliver it as clearly, accurately and succinctly as possible, then allow it to stand on it's own and flourish.

We didn't get to talk too much today (no pun intended), because for some reason the traffic was sparse and we make good time north.

Stay tuned for Carpool Conversations Vol. 3.

Posted by Nate Koechley on March 28, 2005 at 09:09 PM in Design, Idea, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Location: San Francisco, My life..., Social Networking and Community | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Information Esthetics (i.e.)

Lecture Series One: March–July, 2005

If I was in New York this spring, I'd definitely check out some of these lectures. Looks excellent, and these topics and critical as unfathomable amounts of information continue to be made available to the world.

Making data meaningful—this phrase could describe what dozens of professions strive for: Wall Street systems designers, fine artists, advertising creatives, computer interface researchers, and many others. Occasionally something important happens in these practices: a data representation is created that reveals the subject's nature with such clarity and grace that it both informs and moves the viewer. We both understand and care. This is the focus of Information Esthetics.

Information Esthetics, a recently formed not-for-profit organization, has organized a lecture series dedicated to helping this happen more often. World leaders in seven different aspects of sense-making have been invited to speak on topics from typography to visual perception, from charting to electro-mechanical engineering. The goal: to help expose the beauty experts see in their databases, better engaging their whole minds in interpretation; to help inspire art that's not just decorated with data but makes the data readable, satisfying viewers' minds as much as their eyes and hearts.

The format of the talks lets us explore more deeply than a typical panel or academic paper presentation. Each speaker will talk for a full hour, we'll break for a half hour of fine spirits and snacks, then sit down again for an interview/chat led by series organizer and interaction designer W. Bradford Paley. The intent throughout is to delve into the implications these profound ideas have for human communication in general—but also to share some simple techniques that people can immediately put to use in their own projects.

The lectures will take place Thursday evenings in the Chelsea Art Museum at 565 West 22nd street in Manhattan. They are free with the discounted $3 museum admission, and start promptly at 6:00pm on these dates:

  • Robert Bringhurst, March 31 · Typography and layout

    The distinguished Mr. Bringhurst is perhaps the most recognized typographer, a published poet, and the author of the fundamental contemporary work on typography: “Elements of Typographic Style.” http://www.typebooks.org/i-r_bringhurst.htm

  • Judith Donath, April 21 · Social computing

    Dr. Donath's group at the MIT Media Lab studies intriguing social interactions and produces some of the loveliest and clearest visual representations of these complex systems. She is a well-read and careful observer of fine art. http://smg.media.mit.edu/people/Judith

  • Ted Selker, May 12 · Situated devices

    Dr. Selker focuses on putting intelligence into everyday objects: his invention of the eraser-like IBM Trackpoint device transformed laptop keyboards throughout the industry. His MIT media Lab group continues to expand those explorations. http://web.media.mit.edu/~selker

  • Lisa Strausfeld, May 26 · Real-time charting

    Ms. Strausfeld is a partner in Pentagram, the respected New York design firm. Her dense, readable information displays are well structured, visually rich, and intellectually satisfying. http://www.pentagram.com/people-strausfeld.htm

  • Bill Buxton, June 16 · Supporting creative analysis

    Mr. Buxton is a musician, mountain climber, and interaction designer; former Chief Scientist of Silicon Graphics; and a well-known and controversial computer interface expert. He owns an art gallery in Toronto with his wife and has been developing user interfaces explicitly for designers for over a decade. http://www.billbuxton.com

  • Ron Rensink, June 30 · Visual perception

    Dr. Rensink is one of the world's experts on “Change Blindness” a feature of the human visual system that allows major changes to happen unnoticed right in front of one's eyes, allowing (among other things) magic performances to work. He studies human perception, discovering and sharing principles useful in design. http://www.psych.ubc.ca/~rensink

  • Tamara Munzner, July 14 · Large data sets

    Dr. Munzner specializes in information visualization: showing complexities in subjects that range from genetically-determined phylogenetic evolutionary trees to environmental sustainability. Her work is informed by an eye developed under her art-teacher father, and often reveals structure more clearly as a result. http://www.cs.ubc.ca/~tmm

This lecture series is an Information Esthetics production, made possible by a project of Digital Image Design Incorporated. The talks are presented by The Project Room at Chelsea Art Museum by producer/curator Nina Colosi, and are supported in part by the Department of Computer Science at Columbia University.

Generous volunteer efforts support Information Esthetics, including high-reliability Web site hosting by Michael Rosenthal, Web site supervision by Perry Metzger, and (soon) graphic design by Warren Kemp. Please contact i.e.director W. Bradford Paley if you would like to volunteer, be put on our mailing list, or otherwise participate.

If you go, please point me to your notes!

Posted by Nate Koechley on March 23, 2005 at 12:00 PM in Design, Events, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Knowledge & Content Management, Location: New York City, Search, Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Social Networking and Community | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack


Semantic Markup - Create, Support and Extract

Semantic Data Extractor

As Kevin Ryan pointed out at work yesterday, the W3's Semantic Data Extractor is a pretty sweet tool. I've been steadily promoting Layered Semantic Markup at work -- the importance of meaningful markup as the core of web development. This is a great tool to show that value, and remind that the reason you put meaning in is to get meaning out.

The tool tries to extract information from a semantically-rich HTML document. It only uses information available through the good usage of the semantics provided by HTML. “The aim is to show that providing semantically rich HTML gives much more value to your code: using semantically rich HTML allows a better use of CSS, and makes your HTML intelligible to a wider range of user agents (especially search engines bots).”

To see it in action, check out the new next.yahoo.com page. The Extractor handles it pretty well, showing a clear document hierarchy.

What is Layered Semantic Markup?

Today’s Wrong Solution is Tomorrow’s Constraint

Layered Semantic Markup (LSM) is not a technology, but a framework comprised of HTML, XHTML, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), Javascript, DOM and other Web technologies. LSM allows for appropriately implemented principles and standards.

LSM is a development framework for creating Web documents and experiences. LSM builds for the least capable devices first, then enhances those documents with separate logic for presentation, in ways that do not place an undue burden on baseline devices but which allow a richer experience for those users with modern graphical browser software. LSM supports all user agents, and is inclusive by design. (Progressive Enhancement - Unobtrusive Javascript)

LSM has structural semantic markup at its core, which provides lean, meaningful, accessible pages. This well-built core and the clear separation of structural, presentational and behavioral layers make this development philosophy superior to many short-sighted approaches.

Today’s wrong solution is tomorrow’s constraint. A holistic vision - an underlying philosophy - must guide technical decisions. LSM provides the strategy for a sound and future-ready approach.

LSM embraces Graded Browser Support by using one markup document, subsequently layered with stylesheets and scripts that provide a gradually enhanced experience across a wide variety of browsers and devices.

This approach has profound advantages over other browser support approaches such as graceful degradation. Graded Browser Support recognizes that advanced technology support is not a guarantee of the future, and that legacy software as well as alternative devices (mobile) must always be considered. Graded Browser Support defines support in terms of current capabilities, not in terms of legacy or obsolete software; it embraces accessibility, universality, and peaceful coexistence with more feature-rich browsers/devices; and it allows for adoption of new technology and strategies without leaving any browser/device behind.


This work is heavily influenced and contains directly passages from Debra Chamra's "Progressive Enhancement: Paving the Way for Future Web Design", Steven Champeon and Nick Finck's presentation "Inclusive Web Design For the Future with Progressive Enhancement", and Steven Champeon's "Progressive Enhancement and the Future of Web Design", all of which may be found here.

Thanks also to the great people who have endlessly debated and developed these topics with me: James Berry, Sean Imler, Todd Kloots, Jon Koshi, Mike Lee, Thomas Sha, Matt Sweeney, Chanel Wheeler, and Christina Wodtke; and everybody else; and to everybody who puts their ideas online so that others may be inspired. Thanks.

Posted by Nate Koechley on February 9, 2005 at 03:22 PM in Accessibility, Internationalization, CSS Media Types, Browsers, Design, Engineering, Idea, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Layered Semantic Markup, References, Search, Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Software and Tools, Visual Design, Web Development | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack


SMS Clipping with Yahoo! Local Search

Send search results to your phone from your desktop.

Yahoo! Local released a new search feature today, allowing you to quickly send clips of search results to you phone via a free SMS text message. You can do this directly from the search results page - no page reload necessary. It couldn't be easier:

Here's how:

From the front page of Yahoo!, click the "Local" tab to toggle the search box, and enter a local search. (Or use http://local.yahoo.com directly.) Search for anything you'd find in a yellow pages, or anything with an address. All your saved addressed from Y!Maps and other Y! sites should be available as locations to search around.


From the search results page (SRP), click "Send to Phone" to send the listing to your phone. It's sent via SMS I think.


The Send interface is straight forward, and let's you enter a phone number, or select a previously used or saved mobile number. (It seems to default to whatever number you've registered with http://mobile.yahoo.com, though that step isn't necessary.)


From the standard SRP view, you can click "View Results on Map" to see them graphically displayed around your search location. (Viewing results on a map is great, and also lets you quickly find nearby parking, ATMs, restaurants -- even nearby public restrooms.)


From this map view, click any of the numbered representations for more information, and the option to "Send to Phone".


Enter the recipient phone number in the same manner as from the SRP list view.


The resulting message looks something like this:


Give it a shot, it's pretty good. (And if you haven't played with Local search, this is the perfect opportunity.)

Congrats to my friends Chris and Jason, who were both involved with the webdev work on this.

Update: Gary Price at Search Engine Watch has an entry on this now.

Posted by Nate Koechley on January 26, 2005 at 12:11 AM in Accessibility, Internationalization, CSS Media Types, Browsers, Gadgets, HOWTO's and Tutorials, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Knowledge & Content Management, Search, Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Software and Tools, Web Development, Yahoo! | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack


Metafilter Tags

Matt Haughey writes: "Jumping on the delicious and flickr bandwagon, I've added tags to MetaFilter"

Posted by Nate Koechley on January 20, 2005 at 01:30 PM in Blogging, RSS, Idea, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Knowledge & Content Management, Metadata, Pop Culture, Social Networking and Community | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack


Must Provide Volume Controls

Rule: Volume controls and a Mute button must exist for all online audio.

I ended up on a promotion page for American Airlines. I was actually interested in the demo they offered, so I clicked to watch. The demo had an audio track but no way to turn off the volume. Because I couldn't turn it off, I immediately closed the window. For me, this reaction is sometimes nearly automatic - almost a type of panic. In this case, I was listening to music.

Unfortunately for American Airlines, I wasn't as interested in their audio narrative as I was in the music I already had. Plus, I didn't want to switch over to iTunes and then back again. If you want be successful online, forget about the audio. If you really can't, make it opt-in. No matter what, leave the user in charge, or they'll leave you.

Posted by Nate Koechley on January 17, 2005 at 11:11 PM in Accessibility, Internationalization, CSS Media Types, Design, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Web Development | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack



For all the news junkies out there, and for those of you interested in visualizations, check out newsmap if you haven't seen it before.

  • Notice the legend in the lower right corner. Color = age.
  • The size of the area represents the number of sources.
  • Layout controls are in the lower right corner too. I think I prefer "standard" over "square".
  • You can select countries across the top. Each country will get a proportional section of the page. Turn on US, NZ and Canada, and notice how different stories are variously prominent.
  • Archive controls are in the lower left. You can examine news from earlier in the day, or earlier in the week.

Posted by Nate Koechley on January 11, 2005 at 02:41 AM in Design, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, News, Social Networking and Community, Visual Design | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack


Looking for Music?

Enter an artist you like here, then explore: http://www.musicplasma.com/

Posted by Nate Koechley on January 5, 2005 at 11:07 PM in Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Knowledge & Content Management, Metadata, Music [1], Social Networking and Community | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack


Blog Torrents, P2P and the Development of De-centralized Media

Broadband Daily posts an interview with Nicholas Reville of Downhill Battle, which just recently released Blog Torrent, a very exciting new initiative:

Blog Torrent is a key first step of our plan to make software that builds participatory culture. Video (specifically television) is a huge part of culture. But it's still an extremely top-down medium-- even as the tools to make high quality video and animation have become extremely cheap, very few people watch any significant amount of video other than what's on networks and cable. We think homemade video can compete directly against professional television, especially as reality shows have brought down viewers expectations about the production values needed to make engaging TV.

More from the BlogTorrent site:

What is Blog Torrent?: Blog Torrent is software that makes it much easier to share and download files using the bittorrent protocol. Blog Torrent is easy to install on your website: we don't use MySQL so installation is as easy as uploading a folder to your web host, and all administration happens in the web interface. Blog Torrent is easy for users: even if they don't know what bittorrent is, they get an installer that downloads the file they want. But most of all, Blog Torrent makes publishing with bittorrent painless. Just click "upload", pick a file, and you're done. This is our preview release and it has a lot of bugs and rough edges... but we're smoothing them out for the next version, so stay tuned.
Why does Blog Torrent matter?: Making it easy to blog large video files means that people can share their home movies the same way they share their photos or writings. It lets people create vast networks of truly peer-to-peer video content-- video that was made by individuals and shared with individuals, no bandwidth budget or distribution deal needed.

We'll definitely be seeing more torrent news lately, and this convergence with the blogging world / blogging technology can only help.

Posted by Nate Koechley on December 14, 2004 at 12:34 AM in Blogging, RSS, Engineering, Idea, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Social Networking and Community, Software and Tools, Web Development | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Chaos = Cooperation

A new Wired article, Roads Gone Wild suggests that removing street signs, curbs and crosswalks can lead to less accidents.

It begins with this compelling premise: "Build roads that seem dangerous, and they'll be safer.".

It caught my eye for a few reasons. One, it shows that design is everywhere. It's traffic flow too, not just pixels and RGB codes. (Of course I know that, but I still enjoy learning more and more about the design efforts all around us.) Two, it shows that taking things away is often a more effective solution than adding things. Three, it makes me reconsider what and how I design for the web. On the web we try to make things "intuitive". This article strikes me as evidence that more explanatory and instructional text, more user-hand-holding, and more manipulation by the designer to achieve "control" isn't the path to success.

[He considers] most signs to be not only annoying but downright dangerous. To him, they are an admission of failure, a sign - literally - that a road designer somewhere hasn't done his job.

It also reminds me of the disbelief I felt in Rome this spring. Primarily, I was amazed that massive four-lane round-abouts could work. Without cross-walks and without traffic signals or indications of rights-of-way, incredibly dense traffic seemed to almost-peacefully coexist. Across Europe there are cafés more or less in the roads and plazas, all without obvious problem. This article describes just that, and the explanation makes sense:

Monderman ripped out all the traditional instruments used by traffic engineers to influence driver behavior - traffic lights, road markings, and some pedestrian crossings - and in their place created a roundabout, or traffic circle. The circle is remarkable for what it doesn't contain: signs or signals telling drivers how fast to go, who has the right-of-way, or how to behave. There are no lane markers or curbs separating street and sidewalk, so it's unclear exactly where the car zone ends and the pedestrian zone begins. To an approaching driver, the intersection is utterly ambiguous - and that's the point.

Monderman and I stand in silence by the side of the road a few minutes, watching the stream of motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians make their way through the circle, a giant concrete mixing bowl of transport. Somehow it all works. The drivers slow to gauge the intentions of crossing bicyclists and walkers. Negotiations over right-of-way are made through fleeting eye contact. Remarkably, traffic moves smoothly around the circle with hardly a brake screeching, horn honking, or obscene gesture. "I love it!" Monderman says at last. "Pedestrians and cyclists used to avoid this place, but now, as you see, the cars look out for the cyclists, the cyclists look out for the pedestrians, and everyone looks out for each other. You can't expect traffic signs and street markings to encourage that sort of behavior. You have to build it into the design of the road."

Outside of web design and any parallels there, the article hits on things I feel in everyday life. I want to live where being a pedestrian is possible. I want to live in a neighborhood where people hang out outside, and kids play on the sidewalks and in the streets. I want outdoor cafés.... I don't want parking lots and drive-thru's and strip malls.

"They'll go to places where the quality of life is better, where there's more human exchange, where the city isn't just designed for cars. The economy is going to follow the creative class, and they want to live in areas that have a sense of place. That's why these new ideas have to catch on. The folly of traditional traffic engineering is all around us."

I've only captured parts here; the whole article is worth a read.

Now I'm off to drive north from the Silicon Valley to San Francisco, up the crowded, slow, mind-numbing 101 North.

Posted by Nate Koechley on December 8, 2004 at 07:37 PM in Information Architecture, Interaction Design | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack