Tag Archives: information organisation

(Disruptive) Innovation in Assembly

The concept of disruptive innovation, pioneered by Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen, describes the way in which industries might be overhauled by new products of services that—rather than treating on existing practices—diverge in new, disruptive directions offering more value or convenience to consumers (see Bower and Christensen, 1995, p.44). Disruptive innovations have dramatically changed the space in which technology platforms can operate, and the history of progess is a catalog of the ways in which the desire for convenience has trumped almost every other concern.  Disruptive innovations appeal to convenience, ignore accepted wisdom, and disturb prevailing habits. Well-managed companies have collapsed because they failed to capitalise on innovations that were inferior in quality to their own, yet won popular support by diverging in meaningful ways. Services that reshape online communities have proliferated exponentially in the last decade, and the most successful ones have embraced the transformative effects of change and disruption.

To survive and thrive in this constantly iterating and innovating environment, it is vital to facilitate and promote an openness and adaptability. The smartest companies are doing just this by stepping outside themselves and allowing third-parties to strip, re-purpose, and recompose their services through the use of open-data platforms and accessible API’s. Soliciting contributions from developers, leveraging people, and allowing innovation and creativity to emerge naturally feeds the value of an organisation and builds functionality.

In an age of the ‘mashup ecosystem’ empowering these third-parites to remix and reinterpret how to use a service is an undisputed best practice. Encouraging an engaged community of developers not only creates openness in a platform, but it allows for alternative interfaces, sophisticated tools, and encourages others to do meaningful work for you. The plugins and clients spawned from community contributions doesn’t just address gaps in incomplete solutions: they provide entirely new solutions.

True insight comes from examining how users are actually making use of a service, and building around these qualities. Offering stimulating, integrated services is the cornerstone of Web 2.0, and failing to embrace community development is a consequence of a lack of ambition.

Source: IFTTT

A magnificent example of a service pursuing a trajectory of consistent improvement is IFTTT (If this then that). IFTTT is an incredibly easy to use service that calls on the API’s of over 50 different popular web services in the one place. Services such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Dropbox—all proponents of open API’s to begin with—are brought together under the IFTTT umbrella to create a truly limitless set of possibilities. Based on a series of ‘recipies’ IFTTT allows users without any complicated programming knowledge to setup complicated triggers and sequences of events that connect and interact across services. By hooking together the powerful API’s of each platform, a user can create simple automated workflows such as: User A takes a photo in Instagram which is automatically added to a Dropbox folder, which in turn triggers Tweeting a link, and cross-posts it to Facebook. User B—an avid follower of User A—is immediately notified by SMS, since they’ve hooked IFTTT up to their Twitter feed and phone to provide seamless alerts to content that interests them.

IFTTT demonstrates not only the potential of API’s to provide unanticipated and rich user-experiences, but fully embraces what Web 2.0 represents: empowering users to be the final authority on how technology enriches their lives.

Additionally: If you have even the slightest interest in innovation and innovative practices I cannot stress enough how vital Clayton Christensen’s work is to explore.

Some further reading options include:

Bower, J. J., & Christensen, C. (1993). Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave. Harvard Business Review, 73(1), p. 43-53.

Christensen, C. (2003). The Innovators Dilemma. New York: Harper Business Essentials.

Christensen, C. (2007). Bracing for disruption. Electronic Engineering Times, (1461), p.83-88.

Christensen,  C., Dyer, J. & Gregrsen, H. (2011). The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press

Christensen, C. & Wessel, M.(2012). Surviving Disruption. Harvard Business Review, 90(12), p.56-64.

Christensen, C. & Wessel, M. (2013). Innovating over the Horizon: How to Survive Disruption and Thrive, [Slideshow] Retrieved: http://blogs.hbr.org/events/2013/04/innovating-over-the-horizon-ho.html


The Map Defines the Territory

Information architecture (IA) is a fascinating and compelling part of information organisation. Search is not a solved problem. Indeed, searchability and findability are among the most nagging problems facing information professionals. Findability—or lack thereof—is one of the defining elements of user experience. Unfortunately, it is also a source of endless frustration. It has the worst usability problem on the web. User needs and goals are obstructed by systemic failures in findability, and a website that is not easy to navigate is functionally useless.

My own experiences with technology have taught me that developers do not necessarily have the perspective to design usable systems. What they may think is an effective system is designed to only support an aspirational, best-case-scenario for navigation. What looks elegant from a coders perspective may not provide an optimal—or acceptable—experience.

Examining the council websites of the cities of Melbourne, Hobart, and Perth highlighted some of these elements. Melbourne and Hobart both demonstrated integrate, sensible designs that kept the same standard layout for the overall navigation of the website, and loaded pertinent content into a dynamically updated frame. Perth, however, insisted on having new subsets of menus and navigations for different sections, many of which had no visible ties to overall structure and obfuscated access to content. Intuitive architecture should provide universal navigation with no ‘orphaned’ avenues of browsing. Every page of the website should be able to function as a landing page with a completely accessible hierarchy of menus demonstrating where the user is, how they got there, and where they can go. As with physical architecture, information architecture relies on firm foundations to build anything stable. Logically relevant parent categories, proper meta-tagging, and a well-represented taxonomies form the bedrock on which any information-rich website should be built.

It is unforgivable for large entities such as a city council to build sloppy websites. All websites—especially those in the public sector—should be doing the right thing by default. Ease-of-use should be rigorously tested through prototyping and wire-framing, and consistency of style and standards should be paramount. Coders hate redundancy, but having logical replication of data facilitates how users really make use of websites—often in a meandering, scattershot approach.

The core thing I have taken away from information architecture is that it has to be—like a building—designed from the ground up. Every element must have a strong foundation of accessibility and functionality that relates to how people are actually using something, rather than designing with your own plan in mind then instructing people how to use it. IA relies wholly on taking an objective approach to design that Isn’t self interested. Developing good IA habits demands stepping outside your own perspective and engaging with that subjective, user experience of using a website.

Six Degrees of Web Navigation

The pseudo-game ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’ is born from the idea that any actor in a feature film can, in six-or-less ‘hops’ via other actors be connected back to the ubiquitous Kevin Bacon.

I like films. I like watching them, I like collecting film trivia, and I like talking about films. I am fairly indifferent to Kevin Bacon as an actor, but have become fairly adept at this game over time simply by force of circumstance and watching too many films.

For this week’s activity I invited a friend who is only passingly interested in film to use the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com) to play this game against me. I asked that he navigate the connective web of actors orbiting Bacon while speaking to his decision making processes and the usability of IMDB as a tool for finding out what he needed to know. I chose to examine this scenario specifically as it gave my observed user a compelling motivation for performing complex searches (beating me at the game) and it offered a wide variety of approaches to navigating a resource (IMDB).

Through a combination of observation and direct, focussed question I arrived at some understanding of his needs when using the site. He was extremely helpful in keeping up a running commentary of his navigation through the site, and gave me a great set of talking points that resonated with what I had been reading about UX design. Many of his searches fell apart immediately with poor choices of searching methods, but the fact that almost any meaningful piece of data (names, dates, titles, genres etc.) had fully realised, relational links to every other piece of data made recovery a breeze. Rarely did the interface or tools of IMDB inhibit his progress, and he candidly offered that he liked how it ‘just worked’.

The first thing that struck me was how similar many of the concepts in good UX design were to those praised in good writing: Explicit is better than implicit, concise is better than verbose, constrained is better than unconstrained. At every step of this process, my observation was finding that IMDB had nailed the basics — search was simple, intuitive, and unobtrusive. The site had set out to do a specific thing and that focus on simplicity had allowed it to be great at something. Prompts were clear and consistent, default options were well-configured to reduce effort, and the various toggles and actions favoured punchy, active verb use such as ‘Remember my search’, and ‘Enable additional fields’ rather than less-friendly, subtractive alternatives.