Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ignored Web and UX Problems

Continuing Problems of the Web

This is a quick and brief summary of some of the problems I’ve observed on the Web.  (I don’t have time to list others…)  I don’t know if anyone or any company has even recognized these as problems, nor if any research/work is underway to solve these problems. 

Linear Discussions
  •  Common Pattern: 
    • A common Web pattern is: 
      • Blog or social network posting, followed by comments/discussion
  • Problems arise when:
    • The comment count exceeds about 20 postings
    • Comments are too verbose
    • Comments branch into off-topic areas 
  •  Observations: 
    • Frequently, high-comment-count discussions suffer from:
      • Overly verbose responses which no one has the time to read 
      •  Uninformed comment entries because comment authors do not take the time to read the other comments
      • Variations on, or repetition of, the same sentiment
  • Ideas:
    • Summarization:
      • Do  not allow traditional comments.
      • Instead, allow commentors to do the following:
        • Nominate brief sentiment statements on posting topic (less than 10 words).  Common examples:
          • “That’s cool!”
          • “I agree.”
          • “Well, have you thought about X?”
        • Vote on nominated sentiment statements as being on- or off-topic
        • Agree with or disagree with approved sentiments (single click, not words).  (Display vote counts next to sentiments.)
        • Nominate a brief sentiment as the basis for a disagreement vote on an existing sentiment
        • Optional recursion (tree or graph structure)
        • Offer nominators of sentiments voted as off-topic the option of creating distinct discussion.
    • Group into distinct lists, accessed via single buttons:
      • Branched topics
      • Sentiments voted as off-topic
    • Use semantics to further distill sentiments into three-part structures (RDF-like)
    • Use something like a Tree widget in combination with other UI widgets to support more effective user navigation of a discussion and its sentiments, etc.
Incoming Stream Postings Buried
  • Many people do not have time to monitor their social network(s) incoming stream feeds frequently.
  • As a result, when they do get the time to check in, many interesting posts are pushed down so far in their queue that users never see these postings.
  • There are many problems behind this problem, including:
    • Stream Posting Prioritization 
      • Many people post too frequently, and have a low "interesting post" density.
      • To the best of my knowledge, no social networking platforms currently have Machine Learning incorporated into their platform which allows users to privately rate/rank their interest level in postings of specific posters and topics/keywords.  
      • Thus, social networking platforms have no basis on which to group and prioritize incoming streams into a more structured, non-linear feed.  
      • (Although, they could make an attempt to track how much time users spend reading/viewing various posts.)
    • No Topic Trees
      • No social networking platform that I am aware of offers users the ability to list the topic areas in which they post, nor the topic areas in which they are interested.
    • Multiple Personas
      • Sometimes users follow people because, for example, they might be a technical community manager and periodically post on interesting, professional/technical subjects.
      • Unfortunately, these people publish personal postings as well under the same user ID, and we start seeing postings about their cats, or restaurant visits.
      • It would be helpful if social networking platforms allowed users to define multiple personas so that users could post under a specific persona so that users could follow only the persona(s) of interest.
      • This problem area could also be improved via Topic Trees.
  • Busy people simply do not have the time to read lengthy postings.
  • Sadly, these same people are often the ones who might offer the most insightful comments.
  • Posters should take the time to be concise and maximize the clarity of their postings.
Real Estate
  • From mobile devices to desktops, many web pages simply waste too much screen real estate (pixels).
  • Form and Function
    • Often, website or app designers pursue “form” without an associated “functional” benefit.
      • Example: Lists of posting summaries with too many lines of text per posting, or wasting too much space on unnecessarily-large “pretty” posting images.
 Mobile Smartphone Ergonomics and UX
  • A few problems for single-handed usage:
    • Placement of UI elements (buttons) either too far (or too close) to a user’s thumb making it uncomfortable or impossible to reach these elements.
    • No left/right handedness setting
      • In their Settings menus, phone UI frameworks should support a user’s ability to specify that they are left- or right-handed.
      • The position of UI screen elements should then adapt based on this information so that all users can comfortably reach these UI elements.
  • Lazy image load causes discontinuous scrolling
    • When scrolling through posting lists, users expect scrolling to be smooth.
    • Lazy loading of graphics/images which are sometimes included in posting “header” summaries in posting lists can cause the scrolling user experience to be “jumpy.”
  • Poorly-tuned UX scrolling momentum/velocity can cause problems:
    • If too slow (high “coefficient of friction”), then too many fling gestures are required.
    • If too fast, (low “coefficient of friction”), then users cannot easily control list navigation. 
  • Scrolling Directionality Constraints
    • Users should be able to smoothly scroll documents, images, and other content in any direction.
    • Sadly, in many cases only vertical and horizontal scrolling are allowed, and even then, the horizontal scrolling can be very cumbersome.
 Semantics-Based Surveys
  • I, for one, have never taken a survey which allowed me to precisely express my sentiments regarding the purpose/subject of the survey.  There are two reasons for this:
    • Survey authors are unable to assemble the “right” questions.
    • There is no support for semantics-based “statements about statement.”
  • What is needed is a lightweight semantics-based framework which makes it easy for survey authors to enumerate the “actor” concepts/elements in the query space for which they are seeking user input - ideally, without the author even knowing that semantics are being used under the hood.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The need for provenance and other metadata for Web content

Here is a public Google+ URL to an interesting discussion regarding provenance and other metadata for Web content in which I entered a few thoughts: (I hope that this link works, both now and in the future.)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Learn to recognize, and learn from, examples of Innovation

This will be a short, perhaps silly blog, but less is more, right?
For many years, when I periodically need a pick-me-up while coding, 1:10 times I end up with one of my favorites: Peanut M&Ms. In the past, I have always ripped open one end of the package and either poured the M&Ms out onto a (reasonably) clean sheet of paper on my desk, or poured them into my hand, a few at a time.

This past Thursday, I really needed a pick-me-up at work, so I made a trip to the candy machine and returned with a nice, yellow package of Peanut M&Ms. But for some reason, this time I opened the package at both short ends and along one of the longer sides. I then unfolded the wrapper and laid it on my desk (see photo below – some M&Ms are already missing, by the way…).

I thought, wow, this is pretty cool! This method of opening the package enabled me to see all of the M&Ms at once and also provided a clean resting place.
I suddenly realized that this was an example of Innovation! (albeit a minor example)
One thing about innovation is that, without realizing it, you do something (sub-optimally) the same way for a long time and never even stop to think if there is a different, perhaps better way to do this thing. Sometimes it takes an outsider (aka “fresh pair of eyes”) for new ideas to be voiced.
But at other times, you begin a task in a slightly different fashion (in this case, I didn’t open the package by tearing the paper as I usually do - I separated one end by pulling on opposite sides of the paper) - and this slight disruption in your traditional neural network “pattern” gives your brain a chance to consider alternate next steps.
In this case, it unexpectedly occurred to my brain: “Hey, why not open up three sides?” After doing this, I noticed that I could unfold the package and had a neat, clean little resting place for my M&Ms.
So why would I waste my time describing this? Well, the above incident immediately reminded me of a book I read over a decade ago: The Ideal Problem Solver ( One of the big takeaways for me in reading this book is that often, a more optimal solution exists, but the reason we never discover this solution is because we never look for a solution because we never perceive the present situation as being a “problem” in the first place. Once a situation is recognized as a “problem,” solving the problem and improving our task/situation becomes relatively easy.
So, I encourage readers to consider training their minds to be more cognizant of/perceptive to repetitive tasks or situations. It could very well be that a task or less-than-ideal situation can be dramatically improved or even eliminated if one simply sees that situation as a “problem” to be solved. Once this perception is made, solving the problem is often very straightforward.
The End.