From the Six Degrees weblog: “Disorganized or Just Disorderly?”, on the mess that we’re in with email filters and the hierarchical file system. I’ve been eagerly awaiting a look at their product since I heard Joel mention it, but it’s not clear when they will ship. A few screenshots are available.
It amazes me that email programs still don’t learn at least a little from our behavior. As an example, if I subscribe to a mailing list, the email program should help me out by noticing several messages with the same to/cc address and “Precedence: bulk” headers, and create a folder to file those messages in automatically. Why is this so hard?
Anyone care to guess what the difference between the OK and Cancel buttons is?
Meg talks about her experience using personas at Pyra in a new article on Boxes and Arrows.
Evan Williams, from Jan 31 2001: “And Then There Was One”, on the breakup of the Pyra team.
I saw Revolution OS at the Alamo Drafthouse here in Austin on Saturday. A really great film, and very approachable — it doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard of Richard Stallman or don’t know what a kernel is. Certainly the filmmakers didn’t entirely know the culture before starting the documentary, and I think that’s what makes the film work: It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it’s not invested in the open source movement’s success or failure. They’re just showing a slice of time in which the landscape of server operating systems was completely changed, and having some fun in the process.
Dave Winer mentions some of the thought his team put into making Radio Userland respond quickly to the user. Thank you. The thing that makes this possible (that most other apps don’t have, whether they are web-based or not) is the events page, a human-readable log of events and actions taken on your behalf by Radio. Instead of interrupting the user with error messages or “your blog has been published” notifications, those messages are hidden until asked for.
It would be nice if the user could tell at a glance if there were any fatal errors, though. On the desktop web site home page, add a more useful summary to the events area: “Events: 23 since midnight (1 fatal error)”, with a hyperlink to the specific problem events. (Maybe the software already does this?)
Every so often a web site will add something small that makes all the difference. Today the example of this for me was the Sample Code section of the Apple Developer site. A new popup menu allows quick viewing of source files before downloading the full archive. This change took minimal effort for Apple to implement, but it will save developers from having to download lots of small archives (cluttering up their desktop) just to find the piece of sample code they were looking for.
Martijn van Welie has some concise descriptions of web design patterns and types of navigation that have become common over the years. They are things we intuitively know from building and using web sites, presented together in a clean way.
But then, after I wrote the above, I see an article on Boxes and Arrows in which Jacob Nielson says: “Intuition is completely the wrong word to use — it’s not a matter of intuition. It’s a matter of being very good at pattern matching, being able to spot small things, and hold together the big picture of what that really means.”
Slides from the Veen and Lynch SXSW keynote are up. Also includes links to sites mentioned in the keynote and to Jeff’s notes. Very useful — more panelists should do this sort of thing, especially since its unclear whether video or audio from any of the panels will be made available.
First in a series of new Megnut columns for the O’Reilly Network: Attendee-Centered Conference Design.
Went out to Home Depot this evening to get paint supplies. On the counter was a hand-written sign that read: “Can’t do paint color matching because of computer death.”
Notes from the Simplicity in Web Design panel at SXSW are now online. “Someone suggested that tooltips were always useful, but someone else shot that down because of the time required.” I was that someone else. After the session I couldn’t remember whether I had made any sense or was just babbling. Apparently some if it got through. Although I may not have articulated it very well, my point was really this: Good icons are hard to design. Even the big guys like Apple and Microsoft frequently get it wrong. Icons can serve as a visual aid that guides the user in a certain direction, but don’t rely solely on your icons for meaning. Use labels, or get rid of the icons completely if they are distracting.
In the latest CRYPTO-GRAM, Bruce Schneier weighs in on the factoring breakthrough covered recently on SlashDot. While reading all the SlashDot posts — that could best be summed up as “everyone update their PGP key sizes, quick!” — I knew I would have to wait until Schneier responded to make sense of the issue. While giving credit to Dan Bernstein’s work as good research, he says: “The improvements described in Bernstein’s paper are unlikely to produce the claimed speed improvements for practically useful numbers”. And: “it will be years before anyone knows exactly whether, and how, this work will affect the actual factoring of practical numbers.” Whew.
It turned into a really beautiful day in Austin. I’m sitting outside on the deck with my TiBook. No cars, no phone — just the wind chimes and a few birds. To everyone who was in town for SXSW: You should have stayed through the weekend. :)
A few years ago, a friend gave me a copy of Alan Cooper’s The Inmates Are Running the Asylum. For some reason I never finished it. I saw it recommended yesterday and dug up my copy. A great book on the need for interaction design.
Which leads into… Next week is the User Interface 6 West Conference in San Francisco. (I won’t be going.) Peter Merholz was interviewed before the conference about his work with PeopleSoft.
At the SXSW keynote the other day, Jeff Veen pointed at his slides and said that they’d all be online by the next day. I smiled, thinking to myself there is no way those will be online within a week, if ever. So far that prediction has been correct. But as he was giving his talk, I recognized some of the slides from other Adaptive Path presentations.
A Pattern Language, a book mentioned in Veen’s slides, is also on the just updated Joel Spolsky book recommendations. It seems everywhere I look I see this book now. Maybe I should finally read it.
Cam writes: “The cool thing is that Kevin was very receptive to my concerns and actually echoed some of them, which tells me that Macromedia is very aware of how their products, especially the Flash Player, are perceived among both the end user and the developer crowds.”
I too got the impression that Kevin understands the issues. But he was still pitching Flash for some types of web applications. The question becomes if Macromedia can educate Flash users on when it’s appropriate to use Flash and when it’s counter to the way the web works. I don’t have high hopes that this will happen.
In the weblogs panel Doc asks: “How many people are blogging this live?” At least three or four hands went up.
I brought my PowerBook to the conference today. A big thank you to Wes Felter and Cory Doctorow for the AirPort connectivity. Cory mentioned that an extra hub and power strip will make things easier, so I might bring my little 4-port switch tomorrow morning.
Speaking of Cory, he will speak with Bruce Sterling in the keynote tomorrow. I’ve read and enjoyed most of Sterling’s novels, but I have to admit to being out of the loop on Cory’s work, other than the occasional trip to BoingBoing.
SXSW was a mixed bag today. Although it’s always good to hear Mike Erwin talk about security, the first panel really wasn’t so useful as a technical discussion (despite my lame attempt to steer it that way with a question about FTP). The second panel followed with the same result. Yawn. I can only take so much mention of Interactive TV in one weekend.
It was good to hear Jeff Veen speak at the keynote, though he seemed a little too accepting of Kevin Lynch’s “replace your entire site with a Flash interface” demo. That’s not the Veen I’ve read.
The best session of the day was Lane Becker’s “Everything New is Old Again.” It was great to connect with Lane again, who I hadn’t talked to since our brief encounter at a web development company back in 1996. I left my PowerBook at home, but to my right Wes and Doc were blogging away on their’s.
Ernest Kim and Jason Fried of 37signals ran a great panel yesterday: “Simplicity in Interface Design: A Game Show.” A lot of fun, with some good discussion at the end on icon design and designing for speed. Ernest and Jason really get it — I hope they inspire some designers to think about web sites in a new way, and finally start focusing on usability and page load time and cut the fancy graphics, roll-overs, and animations.