Wednesday, May 30, 2007

LiveJournal in the Blogosphere

Work by Matthew Hurst on mapping the blogosphere has been blogged around recently, particularly because of his cool hyperbolic graphs of the huge data set of linkages, one shown above. I post here because I've got friends reading on LiveJournal -- I know LJ folks occasionally wonder why the press about social networking sites rarely mentions LJ, favoring MySpace and others. One reason may be that LiveJournal is a fairly close-knit and separate community site, with a lot of internal links via friends lists, and not a lot of other blogging post cross-over or linkage in. (I don't know how he handled syndication on LJ friends lists, if at all.)

LiveJournal's small network cluster is shown in the image as cluster #3. The others are (1) DailyKOS, (2) BoingBoing, (4) other political bloggers, (5) porn, and (6) sports fans. LiveJournal is further out than the porn fans, but bigger! Smaller than sports fans, though.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Goat Mockery

From a nice day at Drumlin Farm, in Lincoln, MA:

Monday, May 28, 2007

Design for Online Community: Past the Hype

I've posted my slides (PDF) from a recent "mini" Usability Professionals Conference talk about online community design. The talk was well-attended! Thank you if you came.

If you didn't, the gist is this:

  • In Web. 1.0 we talked about community off the web as well as on it, in IRC, USENET, MUDS, BBSes, etc. (My dissertation and books are from that era.)
  • There are a lot of sociology, anthropology, and linguistic studies of "community" that predate the internet. What can we learn from their definitions?
  • Designing community requires special skills and ongoing commitment to the group.
  • Good definitions help you understand "when you got it." This can influence your metrics.
Virtually every slide here could be a separate full talk, especially the metrics part. Let me know if you want any more references or help on the subject. This is my first in-depth look at this topic since 15 years ago, and like then, there was a lot to digest!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Funny Networks

I really appreciate a sense of humor in a network diagram. Here are two unusual ones found on visualcomplexity's feed, introduced with such sober and boring description that I was saddened for the VC readers who are probably missing the fun here.

The Story Map is a social network diagram of a wedding party, with the arcs annotated by relationship facts that link the nodes. It's beautiful and inspirational. Why are social network pics not funnier in general; relationships are, right? (Well, some. I guess professional ones aren't very. At least the publishable diagram versions.)

Next is a bigger investment, but worth it if you love detail (of the really obsessive type). An art project by Media A of massive size (10 meters), it's a representation of a fictitious designer's life spanning a century into the future. The Networked Designer's Critical Path is a PDF (3 MB) that takes time to download, but I guarantee it's very amusing and science fictional. Here's an excerpt (English in light gray):

Notice the chronic over-networking issue in the center there. Heh. My printer dialog says it would be 171 pages if I tiled to print this sucker at 100%. I'm tempted anyway.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Digg Labs Infovis

I've been enjoying the latest infovis apps from Digg Labs, co-created by Stamen Design (I want to be them when I grow up) and funded by Intel.

These cool applications let you watch digg news stories being posted and re-dugg in real-time. They're all good at different things, and compelling for different reasons.

My favorite in terms of "hypnotic to watch" is the swarm. It's eye-candy for the ADD set.

It does have some issues as a tool, however -- if I were them, I'd have prioritized the display of the text identifying the article over the other graphics, rather than letting it mix in with the background (see above). Also, I don't entirely understand the beautiful mysterious arcs that sometimes appear, but I'm not sure I care, either.

While watching a bunch of these, the role of time gets problematic for me. I'd like to be able to replay, or step backwards (like if I missed a cool event in the swarm). And watching the big arc display for "newly submitted" in the category of science is really boring, or was on Saturday night. (See if you can even figure out how to do that that!) Finally, I would far rather go right to the article itself than click through the digg page first. That's a minor quibble, though.

There's a definite long-tail problem on digg, isn't there -- lots of the same stuff gets dugg, and it's hard to find high-quality new stuff that matches your interests.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Design and Risk and Innovation (and CEO Pay)

Over on NussbaumOnDesign, there's an interesting thread on the role of designers in innovation. Designers thrive on risk, learn from it, and move on from it, so they're useful as models for innovation processes at companies. That's is the gist of a piece by IDEO folks summarized here on BusinessWire. Given this, design as a process reduces corporate risk during innovation, Nussbaum recaps:

Let me repeat--the design process cuts risk. When you do design (or innovation--whatever you want to call it), you use ethnography, prototyping and story-telling to develop a product/service/experience. These processes actually reduce risk. This is a fact that most CEOs simply do not get. It is far riskier to come up with a new technology in the labs, make it into a product and then throw it at consumers than it is to first start with your consumers to find out what they really need and want (the essence of design).
This admirable sentiment requires a definition of design as a process that involves good customer research, a definition not all would agree with, although I myself certainly prefer it and sell that as a service during design :-)

But for any good interaction designer, intuition counts, as well as the prototyping, empathy for the customer, focus on the desirable, and grounded research to inform that process. The risk in design is that there's never perfect and complete data, and at some point, you have to just follow that intuition and make something which might be a failure if one of a million details doesn't go right. And those final details are usually a team effort, whether the designer wants them that way or not: building a product is (usually) expensive and complicated, unless it's a garage Flash app.

There are a few provocative comments following up on this later on Nussbaum's blog, suggesting that until designers put up their own capital, they are less risk-taking than their clients or the businesses that run with their ideas. A quote from the comment by Chris Conley:

Actually one could argue that designers simply ask their clients to take risks on them and their work. Few designers put their own capital at risk. I would also argue few understand the notion of investment and return which is how risk is manifest and monetized in business. Designers mostly have a cost mindset just like most business managers. An investment mindset is something that needs to be taught and is part of a innovation toolkit. Until designers put up their own capital (and not just the proverbial sweat equity) and take real equity positions in ventures, the risk is truly being born by someone else.

But there are other real risks for designers apart from personal capital, which Conley doesn't acknowledge: loss of credibility, reputation, credit (including financial reward), missed opportunities at other companies/agencies while betting on this job or client, and others that may be more important to an individual designer. Personal risk management is about all of that, too.

Edited to Add: Actually, after drafting the above and going to bed, I've woken up fairly incensed at the idea that designers should be putting up their own money in order to experience "real" business risk. Point one: Many of them do, because what they're motivated by is seeing their ideas in the world. They quit and go to startups, they do their own thing online, etc. This is fairly clearly "their own money." (At one company, when I couldn't get usability bugs taken seriously, I considered bribing engineers to fix the bugs I had filed. I was a hair away.) Point two: CEOs and other executives certainly don't put up their own money, and they're paid outrageously in comparison, so don't talk to me about money here, Mr Conley! Hmmph. Here are some articles on the pay issue, if you want to get educated about this:

Note especially that even if they "fail" they have enormous severance/retirement packages, suggesting there isn't much financial significance to their failure.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Wow: Lotus Blossom

This is fast (no load time waits and a genuinely frenetic pace), simple (text and music -- turn it on because you need it), and even better, genuinely funny: Lotus Blossom.

Go watch! Where you can do it with the sound on. (Don't watch if you might have issues with strobe effects in place.)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mathematica Graphs and Other Demos

More fun stuff for people who like pictures, but don't necessarily follow all the math: Wolfram has a downloadable viewer and a bunch of fun interactive demos that let you play with sliders and manipulate pictures to generate fun stuff. There are a whole bunch of categories, including "unsolved problems" that might really pique the interest of the math folks. I personally like the graph theory demo section, because of the issues I have with making sense of social network visualizations.

Note to dowloaders: You download the app. Then you start it. It launches a splash screen but seems to do nothing else. Then you click on a demo link on the website and choose "run." That runs it in the application viewer on your machine. To put a demo through its paces, try "Autorun" from the menu under the small + in the upper right corner of the little applet!

Swiss Farms in the Spring

It was early, and the mist was burning off the valleys, so these look a bit like watercolors.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Asshole Test

Surprisingly apropos of recent posts on management, there's another popular book going around now: The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't, by Robert Sutton, one of the authors of the well-cited and enjoyable Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management.

Sutton also has two blogs, on which he's posting rousing, blood stirring commentary on the reception he's getting for the assholes book. One is "official" at Harvard Business Review: The Working Life. There's a pointer there to an online test you can take to determine if you are an asshole, and it includes gems I've posted about before, such as: “You are constantly buttering up your boss and other powerful people, and expect the same treatment from your underlings.”

His other is his personal blog, Work Matters, which has even more about the book's reception. If you're interested in asshole managers and hostile workplaces, they're both good reading.

Sadly, I suspect even assholes are passing these on -- consistent with the "Incompetent People Don't Know They're Incompetent" findings I've posted about before. And I fully understand the potentional implications of my pointing this out. :-)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Swiss Bunnies

I've been away for a week and a half, looking at green hills and mountains, tinkling cows (their bells, not relieving themselves), and other cute animals. These are Swiss checkered rabbits, who are good friends. They live in Ballenberg, an outdoor folklife museum. I think it's fair to say that their disapproval is less intense than that of your average American variety, although it seems to be a basic trait of the species.