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February 23, 2008

No External Measure.

Our metrics for success with this project won't be the same as with a typical informational or commercial website. Many of you have hit on the idea, informed by the readings, that we will achieve success by including various content and usability functions in the site. Hit count is always a way to assess a website's popularity and thus is attractive as a proxy measure of success. Feedback is another possible measure, and establishment of a recurring user community would be an unmistakable sign that we've done a good job. All of these are useful, even unquantified, and we could choose any combination of them to define our success by the end of the semester. But that won't work for us.

We are working toward a fixed deadline with the end of this class, and that's where our point of measuring success has to fall. Whether some or all of us continue on as site administrators, contributors, etc. won't be relevant for the direct purpose of this class - determining whether we are successful in this context is fixed. For this reason, we will not be able to rely on hit counts, feedback, or the potential development of a user community to gauge our results. These metrics will simply take too long to develop.

So it's back to the first idea - the content and function of the site itself. Here we have total control over what happens, and can define our success exactly as fits our objectives and timeline. We've already done most of the groundwork for this, in the Forums this week and last, on Thinkature, and with Krista's audio/slide presentation. We have a functional outline of our site and how we want it to work. We can now define our success as following through with that outline, creating and posting our wiki to the web. Giving ourselves a little more specificity will help too. One way to do that would be to set content targets for each of our subsections (or for each contributor): 5 text articles, 10 photos, 20 external links (arbitrary numbers), and I'm betting some of you will have other creative ideas on this.

It might sound like none of this gets directly back to our very important question of audience. We can't account for the audience directly in our measurement of results, but we are doing so by design, and measuring the implementation of that design. In this way, we are still placing due attention and importance on the question of the audience.

February 22, 2008

Blueprints for Success are Provided by the User

Every person has a different opinion about what success is. For one individual, success for this site could be creating a well researched website that covers all aspects of the bridge. Another person could define success as having done extensive research on just one topic. It all can vary from person to person. For our purposes, I do feel that we need to agree upon an audience if we want to determine success with our user base, outside of an exit survey or a hit count.

I realize that we are shying away from the thought of a general audience. I would agree that this shouldn’t be used to define our audience. However, since we are developing a website on a topic that has already been researched, I do feel that we should use some type of academic anchor point, even if everyone is going to have access to our website. I believe that this will help us to create a better website by being more specific, and will also give us the chance to talk with real users of our site. I don’t think that we should be worried about those that just happen to stumble upon our website. I do believe that we should try to retain a specific user base be creating a site that they will keep coming back too.

In information architecture, they stress the importance of realizing that everyone has different perspectives. “The fact is that labeling and organization systems are intensely affected by their creators’ perspectives.? (O’Reilly, 2007, p.57) Because of the various perspectives we have when creating this site, it will be difficult to pull the topics together in a way that all of the creators (us) will be happy.

In the same regard, we could put together the best site in the world on this subject, and if no one wants to look at it, or come back to it, have we succeeded? We may say yes, or users may say no, for many various reasons.

Because of these two issues, I feel that it will be much more beneficial to our users, and much easier for us to compile information if we are putting together a website that will be based on an audience, and not what we THINK people want. I believe that when we have a happy user base, getting the information that they are seeking, we WILL be successful.

If there are a thousand websites out there, compiling information about the 35w bridge, there really won’t be any reason for users to choose our website over the next. If we just provide information to a broad, unidentified audience, we will just be an Internet echo.

We need to be unique, and it is my belief, that our audience’s need will determine our success.

Organization? Ahhhh, The A Type Personality in Me Loves This.

In our chapter, there was so much great information on how we can make this website a success. The main issue I see as a problem is classification. This issue encompasses all the subtopics like organization, heterogeneity, perspectives, politics, schemes, structure, and social classification. How will we classify all of our bookmarked areas so our website will be full of the correct information with an easy browsing system?

Labelling, classification schemes, and cataloging are all parts of organizing information in a way that is useful to all who visit. (Morville & Rosenfeld, p. 54) . Here is my take on how this can be successful, of course, keep in mind I am no expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I have visited quite a few sites and some are just plain crappy. I think we are all on the same page when I say we want ours to be wonderful, so here is my opinion.

Ambiguity and heterogeneity may be good ideas. I thought we had way too many labels on del.icio.us, but this could work towards the ambiguity and heterogeneity on a sub-topic level. Morville & Rosenfeld say "The heterogeneous nature of web sites makes it difficult to impose any single structured organization system on the content." ( p. 56). Classifying all of this information into a main group of topics is going to be the hardest thing to do.

To classify this information on a main topic level, we should look at schemes like the exact organization scheme (Morville & Rosenfeld, p. 59). I know the topic scheme shows under the ambiguous scheme but I think we can use it as an exact also. Since our website will have a more defined aspect than that of, say, Google with its total ambiguous style, the exact organization scheme with some ambiguity included seems to be the best answer. A chronological scheme may also work, but maybe as a subtopic.

I am not sure we need to concern ourselves with task scheme since we will not include a comment section or any interactive aspect. Our audience scheme, per Krista, will start with the University, however these audience schemes break a site into smaller, audience-specific mini-sites which I cannot see a use for yet (Morville & Rosenfeld, p. 65). Metaphors scheme might be fun to play with. As for using multiple schemes (hybrids scheme), except for a few cases, Morville and Rosenfeld state, "...when you start blending elements of multiple schemes, confusion often follows, and solutions are rarely (balanced)" (p. 67).

Organization seems like it will follow right along with whatever scheme we use. Using the top-down approach sounds feasible. "Because hierarchies provide a simple and familiar way to organize information, they are usually a good place to start the information and architechture process" (Morville & Rosenfeld, p. 69). This is where Thinkature was supposed to come in, if it worked, (sorry Krista, but it was a bear!). We have to think about a good balance in breadth and depth: do not give too many options, group info at page level, USER TESTING! (Morville & Rosenfeld, p. 71). Hypertext may work to lead us from a topic to a list of all the subtopics.

Anyway, I feel I have just rambled because, again, this is all new to me until I can use it and apply it. I really cannot wait to see what others are saying and how this thing ends up. My parents are excited, my kids are excited, even my dog, Brutus, wags his tail every time I mention the words "Information Architecture".

Windows to Success... Take a peek if you dare!

Success comes in many forms, shapes and sizes. Most often, success is measured in $ and is vastly business oriented. I, personally, have never found money to be a means to success, nor an accurate measure of success. My reasoning is because it is purely quantitative and lacks the qualitative component to make it viable. There are other measures of success that diminish the singular quality of wealth. Things like happiness, freedom, and control. Now some might say that those are all qualitative and lack the quantitative component and to an extent, they would be right. This is because people compare themselves with other people. They measure success based on others. In this, they become limited and essentially achieve no success at all because they lose their freedom. They are bound to the worry that another might get ahead of them and so they strive to produce more. In this production they essentially waste time out of their limited life which they will never get back and still "end the game" with less then those who have "more" life left. Does this make sense?

Continue reading "Windows to Success... Take a peek if you dare!" »

February 21, 2008

Defining our success.

We will know we have succeeded when our goals have been met. That is, we build a media-rich site, we include original, well-researched text, we provide links to primary resources, and we provide audio and video components. From this broad base, ‘success’ can be more clearly laid out as the accomplishment of our sub-topic goals. So, each general goal should be tailored to fit our individual areas. Within each sub-topic, the content should reflect our goal statement, and the sub-topic success can be measured independently from the other sub-topics. There are some additional goals that we should meet that are more general – for instance, our ‘media-rich’ site needs to not only be built, but must function as well. Our search feature should return relevant results, our links and audio/visual files must work, and editable areas should function as designed for users.

Updated note: Okay, reading my post I feel pretty closed off to elaborate thought compared with most of you. Mut, my basic premise is this: the idea of success is so general that defining it can become overly broad...just like we needed to clarify what topics make sense for our project given that we are an STC class, I think it is important to get down to the bare bones of success for our project. A rubric, of sorts, of minimal points which must be addressed outside of our general, individual ideas of what success really is. In completing certain points of the success rubric, I would hope that we would all learn something. For instance, just in selecting our individual topics, we all learned/continued to use del.icio.us - a success, clearly for us as individual students...but not really a point that the success of our final product will be measured against. If we don't clarify a few points to define success for our project, we may never feel like we have succeeded, as clearly the site will continue to morph and grow - and will not reach a traditional end-point.

schematics of a usable web wiki

Throughout the past couple of weeks I think that we have successfully implemented our thoughts throughout newer developments including delicious and thinkature. I do believe that the hardest part is over in the beginning phases of development, because just getting the ideas down onto something concrete is half the battle. I feel that the audio file pointed out a huge gray area for the class, which was that our audience was not general and that it was variable. The audience analysis depends on the topics brought about by the concerns and repercussions of the collapse. Although, the collapse of the bridge could affect many people around the country, our wiki will be very successful if we can narrow the focus of the audience. Step one in our success should be accurately narrowing our audience analysis.

The second main focus for success should be shed upon developing task lists. In BrownEtAl, task lists "help you to create a more accurate schedule, and a detailed task list helps to better track the progress of the project." I agree with this 100%. Task lists can always change throughout the course and development of a project, but to get them down in a sequential order is again half the battle. You can map progress with office project or excel which gives you duration time slots which is extremely useful.

The third and main focus for success is putting the wiki together in a usable way on the web so that people that seek out information can easily find it and gather it in a timely fashion. How do we do this? Organizing our information under categories that cater to the cognates of visual rhetoric (emphasis, arrangement, conciseness, clarity, and ethos). Usability.gov claims that 63% of web users don't find the information they need on their first try, and it takes the average person 7 seconds before they give up on the site altogether. If we can develop a website that is pleasing to the eye and user friendly, I think that is success entirely.

Success is Relative

I decided to consider the question of success in terms of past work I've done on websites. Generally we gauge the success of a site based on the number of hits it receives. Since attention is the new currency as we have heard in both the books Connect! and Wikinomics, the number of hits a site accumulates directly correlates to the revenue it produces. However, the more I thought about what would constitute success for our wiki the more I believed that it would very from my typical understanding of success.

i think that the wiki will be successful if it accurately presents the plethora of information, regarding the bridge collapse, found on the web. The wiki will no thrive on the number of the people who visit it but rather the number of people who contribute to it. The better we are at adding and organizing information the more successful it will be. If it's only purpose is to help one person understand the true magnitude of the bridge collapse then it will be successful. If each of the 14 of use involved in the course contribute, it will fill that position and be successful.

I'm not sure we will actually know if it is every successful. It is hard to measure it's value to those who visit it. However, we will be able to measure both the quantity and quality of information contained in it. The success will ultimately rest on the quantity and quality of the information we contribute to it and the usability and understanding it will provide to those who visit. While we can measure what we do we will never really know the impact it has on the readers.

S-U-C-C-E-S-S That's the way you spell success. Let's go!

I remember in my younger years, I heard the cheer that goes: S-U-C-C-E-S-S That's the way you spell success. Let's gooooooooooooooooooooo! The [team] is the best. Let's goooooooooooooooooooo! They stand out from all the rest. Let's gooooooooooooooooo! Let's go, let's go, let's really go! That may not be much, but something so lighthearted (like a cheer) could really have a lot of meaning.

Krista asked, "What does success look like? Based on what we've said so far about our project goals and plans, how will we know if we've succeeded or not? What specific indicators should we look for?" Take the part of the cheer that says, "They stand out from all the rest." If we have a website about the 35W bridge collapse that stands out from all the rest, we have something that sets us apart. That could be thought of as success. People flock to sites that stand out due to a number of reasons--because it's refreshingly different, because people pass on the word about the site that they remember because it stood out in their mind, and so on.

If you take what was written in the readings this week, it was summarized in Project Planning and Tracking, "Every project needs a project plan. Ideally, project plans need to include the scope, assumptions, requirements, tasks, schedule, and costs for the project. The more detailed your plan, the better you will be able to track your progress as time goes by (Brown et al, 2007, p. 113)" From this, if we completed all the steps of our project plans (scope, assumptions, etc.) and stay on top of it and not lag behind, we'll be successful because we completed all the necessary steps to make the website a reality.

When we are completing our tasks, we have to remember that: "Time is money, and for most projects, the cost of your team's time will be the largest percentage of your expenses. (Brown et al, 2007, p. 107)" I totally agree with that, so we should definitely use our time wisely! If we do, we could accomplish so much more than if we didn't use our time wisely, thus success is closer to our fingertips. Related to time, I was surprised to read, "Whenever two or more people share a task, the total amount of time required to complete that task goes up just a bit because the people involved need to spend additional time coordinating their efforts (Brown et al, 2007, p. 97)" I thought that it would take less time because you have two people instead of one to complete it. Honestly, I thought that it would take 1/2 the time because two people were sharing the task. Nonetheless, there are advantages such as getting a second opinion and the ability to cover more ground or cyberspace rather. They also say "two heads are better than one!"

Regardless if we have a partner for a task or not, we all are a part of a team. I'm not trying to sound like a coach or a cheerleader, but we can do it! If we all complete our work, the website will be on its way to launch into the world wide web. That is the first step of knowing that we succeeded. Let's not stop there. Let's go above and beyond. Let's stand out from the rest (as I mentioned at the beginning). If we stand out, we know people are going to our site. If we have a site that's working--great, we succeeded! If we have a site that's working and heavily hit--great, we really succeeded! Bring in your talents! Search far and broad so that serendipity comes to you! Sometimes I think success is not the definition of others but each individual's definition . . . If we are happy within ourselves and know that our effort was spent wisely (and we didn't waste time as I mentioned time is money earlier), we have succeeded. In the end, I hope everyone is proud of what they have contributed to the site.

Continue reading "S-U-C-C-E-S-S That's the way you spell success. Let's go!" »

A Measure of Wiki Success

What does success look like? In contemplating this question, I was rather stunned by the realization that I have very little professional experience to inform my answer. In theory I “collaborate? with others everyday yet neither my teammates nor clients rarely—if ever—pose that question. Given my inexperience, I found the ideas presented in this week’s readings very helpful. The way Brown et al. structure the question of defining success is very constructive. Morville and Rosenfeld offer many specific indicators of quality and pose important ethical questions. Together, they comprise an effective framework with which to measure the success of collaborative projects like the wiki we’re creating for this class.

In their book, Managing Virtual Teams, Brown et al., frame the issue of success by asking “Why are you doing this project?? and “What will be different when you finish the project successfully (Managing 2007 pg. 99)?? Both these questions ask about the purpose of our project: to provide the public with a comprehensive, informative site that focuses on scientific and technical aspects of the bridge collapse. (Thank you Krista for providing the purpose statement!) In addition, everyone probably has academic or personal reasons for taking this class that are also important measures of success but which can be evaluated individually. In my case, for example, I am taking this class to advance my career.

While the first question is more general, the second question leads to specific answers and terms of success. Applied to our class project, my answers would be:
• there will be a new, and hopefully unique, wiki about the scientific and technical aspects of the bridge collapse;
• the wiki will meet our stated goal of being a media-rich site containing original, well-researched text, and direct links to primary resources and media.
Academically and personally, I will have learned about emerging technology by using Web 2.0 applications to participate in the class, write about our reading, and collaborate on the creation of a wiki.

These answers include broad, qualitative terms such as “comprehensive,? “well-researched,? and “media-rich? that are easier to evaluate when they are redefined in more precise and measurable terms. Some of this work is already done:
• “Comprehensive? refers to the breadth of the wiki’s content. The content of our wiki will include the twelve topics we will research individually.
• “Well-researched? could be defined by the same general standards applicable to all University writing and research.
• “Media-rich? implies a mixture of content in various media including video, audio, still images as well as text.

“Informative? is another qualitative aspect that Morville and Rosenfeld suggest many specific ways to define and measure. Applying their principles of good information architecture to our wiki will lay the foundation for an informative site. They discuss various methods of organizing content but argue that good information systems have a cohesive organizational scheme and a structure that enables the user to form a quick “mental map? of the site (Information 2007 pg. 69).

The authors argue that organizational schemes based on topics are most cohesive. Logic is the primary advantage of topical organizational schemes. Topical organization “ … defines the shared characteristics of content items and suggests logical groupings of items (Information 2007 pg. 58).? Topical schemes also define the “universe of content? encompassed by a site, giving users a good idea of what they will find there (Information 2007 pg. 63).

Morville and Rosenfeld recommend top-down organizational structures because they aid users in forming a mental map of a site. Top-down structures anticipate the most likely questions of users including: where am I, what’s important and unique about this site, how do I get around this site, how do I search for what I want, what’s available on this site, what’s happening on this site, and where is the contact information (Information 2007 pg. 44). The top-down structure has the additional advantage of being more familiar to users and simpler to use than systems structured from the bottom-up.

Other characteristics of good organizational structure identified by Morville and Rosenfeld involve taxonomy design and labeling. In their view, the most effective taxonomies are hierarchically structured with content organized in discrete or mutually exclusive categories (Information 2007 pg. 70). Well-designed taxonomies also strike a good balance between exclusivity and inclusivity, the amount of cross-referencing and the breadth and depth of the site (Information 2007 pg. 70). Good labeling systems have the following important characteristics:
• representative of the content they link to or precede
• consistent style, syntax, specificity, comprehensiveness, presentation
• differentiating
• user-centric
• contextual, i.e., meets the user’s expectations not personal associations
• narrow in scope (Information 2007 pg. 98–100)

Finally, I think another important measure of success involves addressing several ethical issues. First, we need to make our site accessible to people with differing physical abilities. Secondly, although our content will not focus on social aspects, I think that in general, our treatment of the subject must be dignified out of respect for those who were injured physically and emotionally by the bridge collapse.

This seems like a daunting list! At the same time, breaking success down into specific indicators makes success seem by far more attainable than lofty-sounding but vague goals. I look forward to applying these new ideas to both the wiki project and my own job.


Sources
Brown, Katherine M., Huettner, Brenda, James-Tanny, Char. Managing Virtual Teams: Getting the Most from Wikis, Blogs, and Other Collaborative Tools. Wordware Publishing, 2007.

Morville, Peter and Rosenfeld, Louis. Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. O’Reilly, 2007.

The Metafilter model

How we will know we're successful? I think the best way to approach this is to examine other sites. I'll rely on my old favorite, Metafilter, for inspiration. Now, Metafilter isn't a wiki, and isn't specialized like our site will be, but it's a highly successful community site that draws hundreds of thousands of users. I think we can draw some lessons from the Metafilter model.

First, the navigation is clear, easy to find and simple to navigate. When the site requires participation, the authors have provided thorough, concise directions that guide EVERYONE through, not just those who are familiar with the internet. Second, there's quality control happening, which I think is applicable to our site, as well. Matt Haughey's (Metafilter creator) goal was to gather the "best of the web," and while not everyone agrees, Metafilter has interesting, intelligent content. It's a filter, which is an important concept for us. We don't want every single scrap of 35W information on our site; we want the most accurate and pertinent. I think it can be tempting with sites like this to make an encyclopedia, but I think we serve our audience best if we filter the information.

Metafilter's also successful because everyone has a voice. Now, this is difficult to police, but I think if our audience feels like they can contribute or participate somehow, they'll feel more engaged and more likely to return to the site. Whether this is through editing the wiki or uploading videos or providing additional research, I think audience participation is essential, especially with a topic like this. Disasters feel universal, and if we're especially gearing this to a UMN audience (as suggested in the Moodle), then the site will feel even MORE personal. A wiki, in its purest form (as I understand it), belongs to everyone.

We'll know we're successful when we have a clean, coherent, interesting and engaging product - not just by our standards, but by our visitors', as well. We have an organized task list and game plan - as long we stay focused, we'll have a successful site.

Achieving Success

It's really difficult for me to explain what success looks like, so I am going talk about what I took from this weeks readings and apply them to our project . To achieve success it is important to start with a plan that includes a purpose and goal to help you get there. The fact is that the Internet is such a largely used tool that it makes it difficult to narrow in on a specific audience. You cannot assume that our audience is going to have the background knowledge for every topic that we cover. It is imperative to provide comprehensive material that is well-researched and accurate. This will include informative text, photos and video and presented in a way that is fun and interesting.

Creating a task list has helped us come up with a plan and now our goal is to effectively organize and present them in an interesting way. The topics we have come up with include: environmental factors, chronology, structural causes of collapse, charities/victim compensation funds, taxation issues, similar collapses in US, internet/citizen journalism, political repercussions, redesign plans, traffic impact and preventative measures. While all of these topics are related to the bridge collapse, they provide a variety of information for each individual interest.

The organization of information is a major factor in determining success. Our audience is variable and not general. There are many different reasons people may seek out our site. We need to organize the information so that the people can find the right answer to their questions. For this reason it should be easy to navigate so that they don't get lost and frustrated. For if people don't get the information that they are looking for they are not likely to return and that would leave us unsuccessful. A piece from the readings that relates to this is "As the Internet provides users with the freedom to publish information it quietly burdens them with the responsibility to organize that information." (Information Architecture, pg. 54). Anyone can create a website, but not everyone can do this successfully. "By recognizing the importance of perspective, by striving to understand the intended audiences through user research and testing, and by providing multiple navigation pathways, you can do a better job of organizing information for public consumption." (Information Architecture, pg. 57).

So to conclude, I feel that every project needs a plan. This will help to ensure that the information is presented in an organized, informative and use-friendly way. By doing so we should be able to achieve success.

Success looks like…consistency and organization

What does success look like? I’m not sure, so I’m going to ramble for a bit and see what comes out. I’ve looked at the scope and I’ve looked at the requirements. I’ve got a laptop, a digital camera that can make movies, a digital voice recorder, software, and I’ll have plenty of gumption once I am free of my job in a week. So far—nothing scary. Whew!

To relate this to the readings, I think Morville and Rosenfeld’s best bit of advice is “…it is impossible to create a perfect organizational system. One site does not fit all!? (57). I think it’ll be a good thing to remember because sometimes it can be easy to get wrapped up in the little details and forget the overall goal. I guess that’s the project management part…speaking of which, the Brown chapter on PM was an excellent and easy to follow overview of the process. Most of the info was not new to me—I’ve worked in a logistics department, so I am used to seeing project schedules and assumption and requirement lists, but I’m not so familiar with task list generation.

But the main ideas that jumped out at me this week were consistency and organization. I liked that consistency => predictable systems => easier to learn (99). Users come to expect certain things when they click on certain links and if they don’t get the expected result, it’s confusing.

As for an organization system on the bridge site, I see both exact (chronological, 60) and ambiguous (topic, 63) schemes being used. Chronological because the collapse happened on a specific date and events have occurred since then (rubble clearing, examining rubble for structural defects, bidding new bridge, choosing design, building begins, milestones, etc.).(I also chose chronology as my area in the task list.) Topic because someone might just want to use a “serendipitous mode of information seeking? (62).

In terms of structure, I see a hierarchy being used. The example of breadth and depth on page 71 was a good illustration of what seems to be a fine line between too much clicking and topics spread too far. I don’t think the database model has much use here, so if someone disagrees, please chime in.

I liked how the authors used conversation to describe the interaction, or lack thereof, between users and a website (83) and the purpose of labels, “…information architects must try their best to design labels that speak that same language as a site’s users while reflecting its content…Labels should educate users about new concepts and help them quickly identify familiar ones.?

One last thing, when I was reading the chapter on labeling, I had a sudden flashback to when I worked at National Car Rental about 8 or 9 years ago. I remember sitting in an office with a Perot System’s contractor and a res dept supervisor doing content analysis. At the time, I didn’t know she was an information architect, but after reading this book, I guess that's what she was. Perot Systems was converting a paper-based resource to online help, so she would quiz us about how it was used by the different users, what the sections were, what the topics and subtopics were in the chapters, and so on. She also asked what we thought was missing since the new software was rolled out. She was very thorough and detailed in her questioning—so much so that it began to seem tedious because we just sat there while she typed. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how it turned out or if it was ever finished since there was some turmoil and movement with the company.

February 19, 2008

Could this be Web 3.0?

Someone shared this video at a gathering of designers I attended last week. Being more of a right-brained sort of person, I really enjoyed it. Whether you're right-brained or not, however, it is poetically and politically thought-provoking about where the Internet could go:

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/26