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Problems with UI and Tagging

Just read an interesting post by an Anonymous Usability Designer about how Human Interaction Interfaces (i.e. operating system user interfaces) are still in the stone age. I couldn’t agree more. And I’m not just talking on your computer either, I think this problem is even worse on the Web.

I mean think about it. How many clicks does it require you to do something as simple as saving a bookmark even? How about saving something on del.icio.us where you have to tag and classify the info you want saved? It’s nuts. No wonder people are getting frustrated with technology. Instead of it working for us, we are working for it. It shouldn’t be this way. What would I like to see instead? Two things actually. More utilization of dragging and dropping. And, more usage of auto-tagging or auto-classifying of information that you are saving, which is where most people waste their time (or have to work for the technology).

For example, when I save a file or bookmark, I should be able to search or view those bookmarks by name, tag, date, and most importantly of all, relationship. Yes, relationship. I don’t know how many times I’ve remember a site I had visited because I remembered the original source site I found it through. By remembering this referrer site, I browse through it and again find the site I was looking for. But as I said above, I should also be able to search by name, sort by date (i.e. I found it a few days ago), or by tag (i.e. technology-related site).

Now this is where it gets interesting and you could probably save yourself a lot of time. Of name, tag, date, and relationship, tagging is the only thing that requires you to actually decide what you want it to be. Everything else can be automatically determined. The date and name are added by the system and yes, even the referrer, could even be tagged by your browser (since it just looks at the referrer site to the one you are on). Tagging though still requires your thought and interaction. But what if you created your categories ahead of time? Would that make things easier? I think so. Let me explain.

If you utilized a dragging and dropping method to grab a bookmark and drop it to say a side panel folder (which is always easily accessible), you could actually tag the bookmark while moving it. To do this, you just drag the bookmark and drop it upon the appropriate subfolder to place it within the appropriate category. That’s it. You’ve just sorted and tagged your bookmark by dragging and dropping it in one motion. What if you had multiple sublayers of tags? You could still accomplish this, assuming your folders were spring loaded. You just move the bookmark over the appropriate folder, it opens automatically to view more folders, and then you drop it on the one you want.

I actually wondered if there was another way auto-tagging could be accomplished and I realized that the sites themselves could auto-tag their own site, so that when a person saves the bookmark, those tags go along with it to define it. There is a problem with this approach though. Everyone has their own naming convention for their tags and, even more so, my usage of a site may differ from your usage of it (and therefore the tag could be totally different).

Again, all said and done, the most important thing here is that information should be auto-organizing and auto-tagging as much as possible. The less a person has to do to save a file or open a file, the more productive and focused they can be with their work.

BTW I’ve been utilizing something like what I’ve described above for the past couple of months and I’m enjoying the simplicity of it. I basically have my left 4/5ths of my screen space for where I display my current application in use and the right 1/5th of the screen is where I display folders to my files and information. Therefore, when I download a file, it is immediately accessible from this right side folder. Also whatever I’m currently working on, these files are immediately accessible in this right side folder area as well. I don’t have to go digging for them.

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Restructuring for the Second (2.0) Coming

I was just going to do a small bit of restructuring today but when I thought about it, I realized I had to shut down everything to do a complete restructuring of the entire site to rebuild its foundation for the new direction I’d like to go with. What direction is that? Well, that is the problem. I have all the building blocks of this new foundation but I just can’t seem to figure out how best to lay them together to form this foundation. Here’s what I’m talking about.

The Web is the Culture of the World – The Cluetrain gang have already implied this within the Cluetrain Manifesto and David Weinberger has already went into more depth in his book Small Pieces Loosely Joined. The Web is what we care about and what we believe to be important. It is our culture that we are defining on a daily basis. Most importantly of all, its culture is defining us back in return.

A Business with a Web Culture – So if the Web as a culture is defining us, how is it doing it? I starting thinking about what would happen if a business took on the same cultural values as the Web. Interestingly enough, I think there are already companies and organizations out there who are already thinking this way (i.e. small startups and open source organizations are perfect examples of this).

Feeling Connected – While technology can definitely connect us electronically, I kept feeling like something was missing. Every time I got offline and went outside in nature I felt more connected to the entire world than when I was online with millions of people. Why? I realized it was because I didn’t "feel" connected. Feelings relate to our emotions. People always say that the Web is about conversations about what people care about. True but go deeper than that. Yes, people are having conversations and telling stories online about what they care about but it is the emotions that they feel when those stories are told that makes them feel connected. If you tell me you went to the corner store to get some milk today, I could care less. If you told me you lost your dog, narrowly avoided a fatal accident, or can’t take your job anymore than I’m going to connect with you more. That’s because one story is factual (i.e. getting milk) while the others are more emotional. This is why I feel so empty on the Web today because there is a lot of factual information on it but very little emotional information (although the recent Hurricane Katrina disaster changed that quickly).

Cultivating Technology – Therefore, if our emotions make us feel connected to the world then we need to instill that emotion into our technology so that it will in turn not just connect us but make us "feel" connected. How do you go about this though? Do you have to plug wires into your nervous system? No, I don’t think so. I think all we need to do is look at the culture aspects of what makes the Web work and then ensure that same culture is instilled in the technology we create (i.e. connected, open, sharing, reliable, etc) just as I believe that culture should be instilled in our organizations and businesses.

Using Technology To Help The World – With the horrors of the Hurricane Katrina disaster still not over, I kept feeling more than anything frustrated and helpless because I was finding that our current technology, which everyone raves about as being so great, was and still is actually quite pathetic and useless during this crisis. Yes, certain blogs were spreading the word of what was going on down there and others were raising awareness to get donations going but that didn’t help the people in immediate need down there. Tons of people were posting information such as "needing to find a person" to "needing help to get picked up from my home in New Orleans". And yet the information was spread out everywhere and there was no way to easily aggregate it all for easy viewing. In other words, we had all this amazing technology yet people still had to manually gather the information to make is usable and useful. It’s crazy and we need to find a better way. Thankfully Jeff Jarvis has spearheaded a new project called Recovery 2.0 which matches my own thoughts and will hopefully bring more awareness to this issue and get people working together so that the next time this happens the technology (i.e. Web 2.0) will be there for us to use.

Small Pieces Loosely Joined – Finally I kept coming back again and again to David Weinberger’s book title. To me those four words have so much meaning to them, it is really quite amazing, as they can be applied to so many things in our world today. For example, nature is a perfect example of small pieces loosely joined. No one system controls everything, yet all of them are equally important. Instead it is a collaboration of separate systems that all work together to create something amazing. I have this very strange feeling that small pieces loosely joined is also a perfect example of how the world can collaborate together and even more so how businesses, organizations, and even countries should be run, as many of them are getting too big and getting disconnected from what is happening on a local level. Smaller is better because it allows us to work more effectively on larger projects or goals.

Anyways, those are the building blocks of what I would like to do. As I said, I now have to figure out how they go together, so I’m looking for a single thread that somehow interconnects them all.

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Web2OS + Browser PC = Accessible Computing

While reading a post by Jake Tracey, in which he talks about his involvement with Chalk, a sudden thought popped into my head. With all these new Web 2.0 applications emerging, we are seeing a push more and more away from the dependency of the operating system to drive our applications to instead towards applications that can theoretically work on any computer. This is because all you should hopefully need in the future is a web browser which will become your portal to your Web Operating System which is where these applications will reside.

Now why I thought this was interesting was because I was reminded of a story earlier this year about Nicolas Negroponte and MIT working on a $100 laptop which would be given to children to use within the developing parts of the world. Now if you used the Web as the "operating system" for this $100 laptop wouldn’t it be almost possible to ditch the hard drive in it because you would only need enough flash memory space to boot up a browser (not to mention the system would boot almost instantly)?

If this is possible then basically you have a cheap inexpensive laptop that could participate, collaborate, and share on the Web like any other computer. If you plug USB devices into it such as a camera, then anything that is transferred to the laptop is actually being uploaded directly to this WebOS where all the person’s data resides. The end result is that you have a computing environment that would be pretty much accessible to almost anyone in the world. Even more so, as children are children, if one of these devices got damaged or destroyed then the child doesn’t lose anything because their files are stored online.

In addition, especially considering the frustrating Hurricane Katrina disaster situation right now in New Orleans, imagine how devices such as these would help relay information in disaster situations around the world? Once a WiFi emergency networking station is established, these $100 laptops could be given out to law enforcement officials and rescue workers to coordinate and relay critical situational awareness information that is needed to collaborate on such a huge undertaking. They could even setup these devices in various neighborhoods to give the local citizens a chance to talk to friends and family members in the rest of the world to let them know how they are doing.

Pushing this to the extreme, if these laptops (along with a cheap photo device) were given to the right citizens within such a disaster area (those who want to take charge of the situation and do some good), then these people could become the eyes and ears for the entire world relaying information on an ongoing basis to give everyone access to what is really going on and more importantly what needs to be done to alleviate the situation. As I mentioned before in my last post about the disaster, information is power. The more useful information that can be relayed from different areas of the disaster, the more that people can collaborate and help each other out. As many are seeing from the Hurricane Katrina disaster, a lack of information can have devastating effects which can result in men, women, and children losing their lives unnecessarily.

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I Want To Save The World

I’m feeling frustrated today. Why? Because I want to save the world but I feel so helpless. With Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath getting worse and not better, I’m reminded again by something that has been nagging at me for a very long time relating to the subject of technology. Basically I’m sick of people talking about how technology is making it an exciting time to be alive because it is making the world better (especially now that we have 65-inch Plasma TV’s). Well if technology is so great why do I feel like I can’t do that much with it to help these people?

Don’t get me wrong though, as technology is helping out to some degree (or maybe it is more of a change of culture). Due to the severity of the events, more and more organizations switched to blogging/human mode (instead of the typical edited news or formated press releases) so that they could get information out faster to others. Yet why I’m so frustrated is because after disasters such as these strike, technology still doesn’t appear to be doing much to effectively mobilize and organize the masses to the degree I would like to see it. Yes, people are donating in droves (so much so that donation sites are being overloaded) but what else are we doing to directly help those in need besides monetary assistance. If they say information is power, what the hell are we doing to pass on information to assist and empower the people on the ground in Katrina’s wake?

A perfect example of this is the frustration of a mechanical engineer who wants to help on the ground but can’t seem to contact anyone via the Red Cross or Salvation Army. Yes obviously there are communication problems going on but even if the lines were open would it make much difference? What the hell I am getting at here is the difficulty of trying to grasp what the hell is going on down there (i.e. lack of information) and also how to coordinate such a large scale recovery operation (i.e. project planning complexities)? And yet don’t diverse groups of people from all around the world collaborate on large projects, sharing tons of information, on the Web everyday? If so, what the hell is stopping us from getting together and collaborating on such a vital project such as this? Remember, the beauty of the Web is about everyone doing their own small piece in small groups to collectively help the overall greater effort because, when disasters of this magnitude strike, having a centralized command site to control and organize everything can actually slow things down instead of speeding them up.

So this is what I’m wondering (and I just posted this as a comment on David Weinberger’s blog). What would happen if groups of people starting getting together into "cells" (i.e. like a "terrorist cell") to do good (like the cells that comprise your body’s immune system)? Imagine samaritan cells of small groups of people working together with other cells to help people in the wake of the Katrina disaster? What would these people need to work autonomously instead of through a central command center? I’m assuming a communications network (i.e. the Web) that would provide them with information and lots of it. More importantly, they would need the ability to gather this information from different sources (i.e. web services) as well as filter the vast amount of information so that it could be usable to their locality (even down to their neighborhood).

The question I’m pondering today is do we have the technology to do this? If so, why isn’t anybody doing this? Is it because no one has had the idea to utilize the existing web services (i.e. Flickr, Google Maps, Technorati, etc) in this way yet (i.e. tagging real life objects and locations, such as a neighborhood or quarter of a city)? If we don’t have the technology today to do this effectively, will the Web 2.0 architecture give us this ability in the future?

I know one things for sure, I’d rather see more people working on technology that enables small groups of people to collaborate collectively with other small groups on a world cause or project than see people working on the next generation Uber 100-inch Plasma TV set that will make my life "so much better" and make me feel "excited to be alive".

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I Work For The Web

If the Web was a business, what would it’s culture be like?

I work for a daring, imaginative, adventurous, sharing, caring, diverse, open, trusting, honest, flexible, responsible, and connected company.

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Topic Aggregator?

The words "Web Neighborhood" in one of Jason Kottke’s posts got me thinking. David Weinberger posted the other day an apology to his friends because he was "unable to read all of their posts". I thought this was strange because he obviously would like to keep on top of everything his friends (in his "Web neighborhood") talk about but he can’t because he doesn’t have time to read all of their sites or RSS feeds. Yet I’m sure he would love to hear what they are talking about, especially if it relates to something he is talking about on his site.

So it dawned on me, why hasn’t anyone created a news aggregator that collates and groups news feeds based upon topics in the newsfeeds (I’m assuming determined by grabbing the keywords from the title or tags from the post or maybe even by looking at the links the post is pointing at like Technorati does?). For example, if there were a bunch of posts that had the word "Google OS" in them, couldn’t an aggregator gather those all under a similar heading? And even more so shouldn’t the aggregator be able to list these groupings in order from most items grouped to least so that in effect you get a  "most talked about headlines of the day" at the top to "side stories of the day" at the bottom, almost like you get in a newspaper? I mean you could go farther from there even. If you had a lot of items under one grouping, couldn’t the aggregator grab the PageRank of the site for each post within that group and list them from highest to lowest, so theoretically you are seeing the best site for the topic listed first while the others are listed below (which of course may not always be the case and maybe you could sort the list in other different ways)?

What do you think of this? I mean I know aggregators can do this do somewhat right now in that you can put in your own tags to search for specific things from your feeds but why not let the feeds sort themselves out instead of having to manually enter and look for specific topic keywords? I mean wouldn’t it solves "David’s Dilemma" because then he could just look at the topics / headlines of the day in his RSS news/topic/tag aggregator and easily see if any of his friends in his "Web neighborhood" are talking about the same thing he is? Or is there a news aggregator that does this already that I’m not aware of?

Actually taking this to the next level would be actually embedding this topic feed list below a post on your own site. So if you were talking about "Web OS" then below your post would be a "Related Feeds" list of all the other people on your feed list talking about "Web OS" as well. That way as soon as you finished adding your post, it would immediately show who else was talking about the same topic as you in your "Web Neighborhood"!

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What Do We Care About The Most?

More and more people always say that the Web is conversations about things that we care about. I wondered today what is the thing that we care about the most. My answer was that I thought that we cared about each other the most.

I found this quite ironic though considering how much we as a society are pushing each other apart. We all seem to be screaming for comfort and companionship from each other and yet, at the same time, we are yelling at each other to be left alone.

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Forest, World, Web

Tree -> Forest
Person -> World
Site -> Web

Walking through the UBC Endowment Lands today, I had a strange vision. Each tree in the forest in front of me was replaced by a person and all of those people together were the world. Immediately the vision changed again, instead of trees in the forest in front of me, I saw each tree as a website which together made up the Web. Everything seemed connected in small pieces loosely joined and yet this loose union enabled some pretty amazing things.

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Yentl Is So Wise

Hehe, ok this is hilarious because I found this bit of information off of a joke link on Boing Boing that said if you don’t like the content matter on their site then just go read Barbara Streisand’s news statements. Hilarious I know but I found this quote below by her which I found quite relevant to what I’m talking about.

I love information, but I’m afraid of the information age – too much information and not enough spiritual growth to handle it. I’m still afraid our technology is more advanced than our hearts. There’s something lacking now – this gap, this void between technology and compassion.

I’m hoping that our cultural values, the things that we care about the most, can hopefully change this and give our technology the heart it needs.

Anyways I’m off to watch Yentil, The Way We Were, Hello Dolly!, Funny Girl, and A Star Is Born. Laters! 🙂

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More Realizations of Small Pieces

It’s strange. I’ve been thinking more about David Weinberger’s book title of Small Pieces Loosely Joined and its relationship to other things I’m observing and realizing. I’ve already mentioned that I think posting small pieces of thoughts loosely joined initially is a better approach to take in this journal because it keeps my thought flow going, whereas if I focused on organizing a solid idea it would take longer to structure properly and thus slow me down. It is interesting that a lot of writers today are also using this same approach very effectively (including David with his book).

Now here’s where it gets slightly strange. I’m noticing comparisions to other things that emulate this same approach. A person could be no better of an example of this. So many people today in social settings are asked what they do for a living and then others define that person by their job. This couldn’t be further from the truth. A person is defined by many things, not just their job. I think this causes stereotyping too much and yet it always interesting to see peoples shocked reaction when they notice a female store clerk reading The Prince by Machiavelli instead of reading People magazine. People are diverse beings. Never underestimate them and what they can offer you and the world.

Nature is another perfect example of small pieces loosely joined. Diversity is natures greatest attribute as it allows it to sustain itself and grow. I remember watching a show by David Suzuki where he stated that the areas of forest with more diversity of life (i.e. animal, plant, insect) within it always regrew faster after a fire compared to areas that were less diverse. It makes a lot of sense though as it follows the don’t put all your eggs in one basket approach. The more diverse your assets and abilities, the more likely you’ll survive and overcome obstacles that may come your way. It is kind of strange though that we avoid using our collective diversity as a way of overcoming the world’s problems though when it may actually be our greatest strength.