Link: TextExpander Abbreviations

I spent some time following Zach Holmquist’s lead this morning:

That was all I needed to have the lightbulb go off, and to motivate me to finally cleanup my TextExpander Snippets. No more ;; or ,, confusion. All I had to do was simply split groups of snippets into period separated by objects and functions.

Having a system makes easy work of repetitive tasks, and having a taxonomy makes large amounts of information easier to work with. Setting up systems and taxonomies can be daunting, especially because good organization schemes often don’t reveal themselves until a certain critical mass of objects have been developed, at which point it often feels easier to just go with the ad hoc taxonomy that you started with. But it’s worth spending some time to get your system in order. The productivity pay-off can be huge.

Link: A unicycle for the mind

I go back and forth on the Apple Watch, but my first reaction was “I don’t get it.” Why would I pay $350 for something that doesn’t do anything significantly different from my iPhone? Especially when I don’t wear watches anymore? Why am I not excited about this? Do I just not get it?

This perspective helps clarify my thoughts: Where Steve Jobs called computers a bicycle for the mind, Jorge Arango calls the new Apple Watch a unicycle.

Unicycles share a few features with bikes, so you’d be forgiven for thinking they are similar. They are both human-powered and use similar components—wheels, pedals, saddles, etc. However, they serve very different purposes. Bicycles amplify human energy to allow the rider to travel farther and faster. Unicycles, on the other hand, are not transportation. They are entertainment. We stare in bemusement at unicyclists not because of the distance they cover and the speed they sustain, but because they can remain upright in a tottering one-wheeled metal pole with a seat on top. (Sometimes while juggling knifes!)

Read the rest. It’s pretty bang on.

Oh, and FWIW, I think Apple Pay is probably the most underrated announcement from Apple last week. That’s the thing that has potential to drive significant changes in behavior. If I had to bet, I’d say Pay will outlast and outperform Watch.

Link: Where new ideas take root – FT.com

(via Bob DuCharme on the Taxocop mailing list; free registration required to read the article on FT.com.)

When you’re on the inside of any system, it’s hard to see things from other perspectives. But companies and organizations are starting to realize the benefit of making the effort to organize around how customers think of the information domain.

But a couple of years ago Mike Mack, Syngenta’s CEO, took the bold decision to switch tack. He realised that while the previous organisational map made perfect sense to scientists, Syngenta’s customers – ie farmers – looked at the world with a different lens. Most notably, they did not usually wander into an agribusiness store and say: “I need fungicide.” Instead they just said: “I want to grow better rice.”

So Mack reorganised the entire company into eight divisions defined by crops, not chemistry. Thus if you walk around the greenhouses, labs and offices near Windsor today as I recently did you will see chirpy labels saying “rice” – not “fungicide”.

What would it mean to flip the taxonomy at your business? Internally or externally? If we did that where I work, I suspect we’d streamline a lot of processes that we usually struggle with.

UPDATE 9-13-14: Bill Schrier says pretty much the same thing about governments: People Live Horizontally but Government Organizes in Silos

Link: Selling Information Architecture

Smart stuff from Abby Covert:

In my opinion, IA is not something that needs to be sold. IA is already inherent to whatever someone is working on or has in place. If you are making something, you will be tackling the IA within and around it. With or without me you will “do IA.”

I guess in sales speak we could say “IA is included for free in all projects” — because a system without an information architecture does not exist. Rather than selling information architecture, I find that I do have to “explain” what it is and why it matters so that it can be worked on and improved upon (not ignored or inherited which is all too often the case)

Whether you’re interested in “selling” IA or not, the fact is you’ll probably have to explain what you do to others. Probably multiple times. Per day. You could do worse than have a few of Abby’s scripts memorized.

What Screens Want

I’ve had this piece open in a Safari tab for months and I regret that I’ve taken so long to read it. Adapted by Frank Chimero from the talk he gave at the Build conference in November, 2013, What Screens Want is an outstanding essay, both visually and conceptually. Ostensibly about responsive design and web and interaction design generally, the piece ends up getting at the heart of what this design is all about: making technology work better for humans. It’s about how we’re current trapped by a vision of the web that’s about commerce and transactions and not at all about making the world a better place.

We used to have a map of a frontier that could be anything. The web isn’t young anymore, though. It’s settled. It’s been prospected and picked through. Increasingly, it feels like we decided to pave the wilderness, turn it into a suburb, and build a mall. And I hate this map of the web, because it only describes a fraction of what it is and what’s possible. We’ve taken an opportunity for connection and distorted it to commodify attention. That’s one of the sleaziest things you can do.

If you care about creating a better internet, take the time to read What Screens Want. It’s well worth it.

Overthinking Simplicity

Photo by Wade Morgen - http://flic.kr/p/bDmwy4
Via Marco Arment, I found this post by Lukas Mathis about his experience switching from an iPad to a Windows Surface tablet. The main reason he gives for switching is that the simplicity of ithe Pad makes it hard for him to do productivity work, er, productively.

“Apple has decided to make the iPad as simple as possible, but sometimes, this simplicity comes at the expense of power. Not having any kind of window management or split-screen view makes the iPad much easier to use, but it also means you can’t look at an email and at a Pages document at the same time. Preventing apps from interacting with each other cuts down on complexity, but it also means that it is difficult or sometimes even impossible to use multiple apps in conjunction on the same task. Not having any kind of system-level concept of a file or a document means that people are less likely to lose track of their files or documents, but it also means that you are often very limited in what you can do with the things you create in an iPad app.”

Simplicity is a tricky thing to grapple with. What kind of simplicity are we talking about here? Simplicity in visual design? In a solution? Of a process? The iPad simplifies much of the cognitive overhead required to use a computing device. It simplifies app installation and upgrades, peripheral management (in that you don’t need peripherals to use the iPad), battery management, connectivity, portability, app management, file storage, and lots of other aspects of computing. In doing so, it simultaneously makes some aspects of computing more complex.

As Mathis points out, for some computing tasks where having access to two apps at the same time increases productivity, the iPad offers a less than ideal experience. If you need to do these kinds of tasks frequently, the iPad has not simplified them for you. In fact, it has made these kinds of tasks more complex, not less.

Mathis’s argument put me in mind of the trade offs I wrestle with when designing taxonomies and navigation. When designing navigation labels, shorter words and phrases are better, right? Well, not if they make it harder to understand the thing being labeled. Fewer choices in a navigation menu are better, right? Not if the things your customers are looking for are left out. A global header with two or three choices is simpler than one with 15, right? Not if you’ve made the customer click to find something they could have found previously at a glance, or if they never click because they simply assume you don’t have what they’re looking for.

These trade offs often take the guise of aesthetic simplicity versus functional simplicity. These are not equivalent, though they are frequently conflated. Aesthetic simplicity removes buttons, decoration, text, and anything else that’s visually superfluous. Functional simplicity removes steps in a process or cognitive overhead (the need to think intently about your interaction or experience). Both types of simplicity are desirable, but I believe that functional simplicity ultimately wins over more users than aesthetic simplicity.

But the dimensions are a bit more complex than this simple dichotomy. Functional simplicity exists on a spectrum. What’s simple to me may not be simple to you. This is somewhat analogous to the way experts tend to use more precise terms than laymen. It’s simpler for horticulturists to communicate using correct Latin plant designations, for instance, than to try to struggle through the ambiguity using common names.

For Mathis, the iPad isn’t functionally simple. From his perspective, the Windows Surface — by allowing the use of two apps at once — is simpler than the iPad for his most important or frequent tasks. For me, the additional complexity of the Surface overall isn’t worth trading my iPad to get a simpler experience for this particular use case.

To each his own. Simplicity is in the eye of the beholder, and it’s great that we have a choice of devices — and terminology — to meet our individual needs.

Photo by Wade Morgen – http://flic.kr/p/bDmwy4

How Search Amplifies Enterprise Collaboration

There’s so much good stuff in this post by Christian Buckley. It’s about enterprise collaboration, but his points apply to issues of findability generally. The central idea that sticks out to me: context is key to findability, and social interactions are great sources of contextual cues. As Buckley points out, though, context is mostly missing from modern search and navigation.

I also love this comment from Steven Flinn summing up the different modes of finding:

  1. Follow — when you are aware of sources of generally relevant information
  2. Search — when you are aware that you have a need for some information now, but don’t know where it is
  3. Discovery (i.e., recommendations) — when you have a need for some information now, but are not even aware you need it and/or that it exists.

Don’t like

Smart post by jeswin about how Facebook is broken by design.

In the end, there is a lot to learn from this massive social experiment. Your friend circle and impulsive actions such as ‘likes’ cannot predict what you want to read. Indiscriminate sharing is a bad idea. A large social network isn’t the best way to find information.

Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom

Data, information, knowledge, and wisdom… for all the importance these concepts take on in our lives, the terms we use to describe them are poorly understood, often confused, and frequently used interchangeably. But to a student of information management, each word has a specific meaning.

What’s the difference? Consider this: if you’re driving for the first time outside of the US and your speedometer reads 85, do you know what that means? How about if you notice the letters “kph” next to the 85? So you know that’s kilometers per hour, but do you have any idea how that translates to miles per hour?

Or how about if I show you this set of numbers:

19-1664

What does that mean to you? Nothing? It’s just data, right?

What if I told you it’s a Pantone swatch number? Now what does it mean to you? My guess: unless you work in a print shop, probably not much. Here’s a bit more information:

That’s Pantone 19-1664, aka “True Red”.

So now you know.

The examples above demonstrate some of the subtle shades of difference between the words that make up our data-information-knowledge-wisdom continuum (sometimes visualized as a pyramid).

  • Data is a collection of points with no discernible meaning.
  • Information is data in context.
  • Knowledge is information that has been assimilated in the mind.
  • Wisdom is the application of knowledge.

Sure… sounds easy when you say it fast. Maybe a visual example will help:

This is data: an undifferentiated mass of individual letters.
Data

This is information: by organizing a meaningful arrangement of letters by color, a message emerges from the data.

Information

This is knowledge: it’s the same undifferentiated mass of individual letters as before, but you can still read the message because you know where to look; you’ve assimilated the information.

Knowledge

This is wisdom: because of your previous experience, you can make a pretty good guess which one of these grids is more likely to contain a message.

Wisdom

If you’ve confused these terms in the past, you can be forgiven. The imprecise use of these words is rampant. I looked up information in Wordnik, which shows the American Heritage Dictionary definition using the term knowledge to define information.

[bangs head on desk]

But you no longer have to be confused, gentle reader. Go forth and use your newfound knowledge wisely.

App.Net as a proto personal cloud service and VRM accelerator

http://flic.kr/p/dhu7NB
Photo by Sam Howzit – http://flic.kr/p/dhu7NB

If you haven’t paid much attention to App.net (ADN) lately, maybe it’s because it was easy to dismiss the service early on as a mere Twitter wanna-be. But it’s clear now that ADN’s Twitter clone (alpha.app.net) is only a demonstration of one kind of app that can be built on the ADN infrastructure. ADN founder Dalton Caldwell believes his team is creating a personal cloud platform that will be home to a multitude of interesting services.

It’s still early days for App.net, but after poking around the service for the past few months and listening to a few podcasts where Caldwell has talked at length about what his team is trying to build, I’m convinced that ADN is something the VRM community should be paying more attention to.

Here’s the thing: ADN is not a true VRM service and it’s not a true personal cloud service, but it bakes in some of the core elements of each. And the way the service is constructed is prompting its growing base of developers and users to think differently about their relationship to web services. And this new way of thinking could lead these users directly to true VRM and personal cloud services in the future.

ADN could be an accelerator for VRM if the VRM community chooses to see it that way.

Here are some data points I find interesting. See what you think:

Core Values

Take a look at ADN’s core values. The first two are:

  • We are selling our product, NOT our users.
  • You own your content.

Right off the top, these values set ADN apart from services like Google, Twitter and Facebook, whose motives are more aligned with advertisers than with users.

The rest of the core values emphasize financial and philosophical alignment with members and developers. ADN is building a sustainable business that benefits when its users benefit.

Privacy and Terms

Read the Terms of Service and the Privacy Policy. Go ahead. Here’s the thing: you can actually read them. They’re short, written in straightforward language, and they’re kept in a GitHub repository so you can suggest changes. The App.net terms aren’t perfect, but they’re not bad and on the whole they’re user-friendly.

Sounds like a personal cloud to me

ADN has defined a File API that allows each user free access to 20 GB of disk space for storing images, documents, or any other type of file. (The company has hinted that more storage may eventually be available for a price.) The benefit of storing your files on ADN is that you can allow them to be accessed by any service using the ADN API (what Lou Franco calls BYOBE, or Bring-Your-Own-Back-End).

So, for instance, if you joined a Flickr-like photo sharing service that stored your photos in the ADN file store, you could switch to a competing ADN-enabled photo sharing service at any time and you wouldn’t have to rebuild your photo library from scratch. You could just point the new service to your photos and keep on truckin’. Or use the two services side-by-side. It’s up to you.

While this would fail some tests of a true personal cloud (such as the ability to pick your own file server) what App.net offers within its service is personal cloud-like, and I’m not aware of any other popular web services that offer something similar.

Your data is your data

In addition to porting files from service to service, ADN allows all of your data to move freely via its API. That means your messages, your list of followers and who you follow, your list of interactions, and anything else that ADN stores can be reused by any app using the ADN API. Or, you can export your data and social graph and take them to another service.

Expressing intent with ADN

Project Llama wants to expand ADN’s annotations so that users can tag their accounts with keywords that describe themselves and what they’re looking for. So, for instance, I might tag myself as a “hockey fan” who is looking for “Tampa Bay Lightning tickets”. I don’t think Project Llama is thinking of itself as building a VRM-type expression of intent, but it’s not to hard to see how it could become one.

Straight from the horse’s mouth

Here are some recent podcasts where Dalton goes into detail about what he thinks ADN is:

A big but…

My argument is not that App.net is a true VRM service or even a true personal cloud. For one thing, App.net isn’t focused on enabling relationships with vendors outside of the ADN universe. For another, currently App.net is just a another silo. A true personal cloud service would be agnostic about where files or graphs are stored.

However, Dalton Caldwell believes he’s creating a personal cloud. And, certainly, with its emphasis on individual control of personal data, the aims and intentions of App.net echo the values espoused by the VRM community. And ADN is prompting developers to think differently about the types of apps they build and their relationship to user data in a way that makes true VRM solutions a more obvious next step. And that is something that the VRM community — that all of us — should be celebrating and supporting.

I’m @stumax on App.net. I’d love to have you follow me there. And if you’d like an invite for a free ADN account, email me at stumaxis at gmail.