UX vs. UE

From the time I first heard enough about user experience to need an acronym for it, I’d mostly heard it called “UX”.

Now, though, I’m around people who consistently call it “UE”.

Google says UX beats UE in the context of user experience by 141,000 to 58,000.

That in itself isn’t very interesting. What I really want to know is, is the choice of UX or UE revealing? Do all the cool kids call it UX? :-)

Eating one’s own UX

Lou Rosenfeld, who is taking the contrarian move of starting a publishing company devoted to user experience books, has raised the question of how to improve the UX of technical books.

Hallelujah! One of the chagrin-inducing aspects of my iSchool experience this year was being assigned to read a usability book that was itself unusable.

Perhaps once he gets this worked out for his own books he could create a niche doing UX consulting for the publishing industry…

Reviving application-based research in computer science

Ed Vielmetti has blogged about his attempt to find good research papers in what he calls “experimental computer science” for a conference to be held in 2007:

Experimental computer science generates “artifacts”, things that you can use and touch and see and experience directly. The most famous example of the field would have to be Doug Englebart’s 1968 demo of his new mouse. Englebart had written some papers about the mouse for peer-reviewed journals, but that did not get his work wide attention. It was putting together a demo and a video that showed the system (not just the schematic) in action and demonstrating what it could do that made it real for people.

(There’s fascinating historic footage of Engelbart’s mouse demo at Stanford’s Mouse Site.)

Ed’s criticism of computer science research resonates with me. I got my undergraduate CS degree in 1984. Since then I increasingly have the sense that if I were to return to a CS graduate program, I’d spend my time doing proofs about algorithms. Personally I’d be more interested in doing research that involved building stuff. (Not building enough stuff is my chief criticism of the non-CS graduate program I did eventually enter, but that’s another story.)

What I want to know is, is there a better name for what Ed wants than “experimental computer science”? Are these “applied” papers, papers about “systems”, “how-we-done-it-good” papers, N-letter acronym or YABA papers? There must be a buzzword that the authors of “micropapers” use to disparage their dwindling competition.

RIAs and the death of the page (rumors greatly exaggerated)

I’m in my final morning of the Information Architecture Summit in Montreal. One of the costs of staying in a cheap off-site hotel was that I didn’t have ready access to my computer (not wanting to lug both a PowerBook and the conference proceedings with me everywhere) and so haven’t blogged about the conference in the way I’d hoped. Maybe I’ll catch up, maybe not. I’ll start with a session for which I have notes at hand, the one on Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) by Dennis Schleicher, Jennifer King, Tara Diachenko, Pat Callow, Gene Smith, Livia Labate, and Todd Warfel.

RIAs are web apps which transcend the page-by-page model of web design (“the death of the page” was one slogan batted about at the session) and are built on platforms like Flash, Ajax and Laszlo. Advantages of RIAs include smoother transitions based on a wider variety of user inputs and more nuanced responses than the click-and-load model; lower latency because the app can anticipate user actions and pre-load what it will need next; and built-in media support that avoids the gotchas of external players. Some RIAs you may have seen include Gmail, Google Maps, Map of the Market, and Newsmap.

A couple of the presenters showed how they used RIAs in recent commercial applications and the rest talked about the potential and challenges to IA presented by RIAs. They saw the challenges as centering on matters like how to design cinematic elements like plot arc in an IA context and how to create wireframes with dynamic elements or some other method with which to communicate specs to developers. To further the discussion they’ve registered riaia.com, yet to be populated with content.

I have to say that I’m skeptical, not about the potential for RIAs but about the idea that their advantages exceed their disadvantages by enough for the “death of the page” to be remotely in consideration. One obvious problem is that the richest platform for RIAs, Flash, is proprietary and closed. Another which I asked about in the session but which wasn’t seriously addressed was what pageless systems mean for functionality like linking to, saving, and bookmarking content (to which in retrospect I would add harvesting, searching, syndicating and semantically marking content). The only item in this category of problems that got much discussion was how RIAs complicate web metrics (how to log and crunch stats on non-click-based interactions).

I find it curious that the panelists’ view of the challenges presented by RIAs was so IA-centered and not at all user-centered. I’m sure IAs will invent the vocabulary they need to talk to developers and if it means the death of the wireframe, then so be it. What matters most is what RIAs mean for users, particularly the loss of the affordances (see my shiny new usability vocabulary!) provided by the page model.

Taking my skeptic’s hat back off, there’s whizbang stuff going on in the RIA field, especially what Google is doing with Ajax. I hope the panelists do get riaia.com off the ground as a place to keep up with it.

Neuglygism

Too many people have been decrying the word folksonomy for me to link to them here. Personally I think folksonomy is quite cute, but it drives me crazy anyway because it implies that a folksonomy is a taxonomy. In fact it’s nothing of the kind: a taxonomy is by definition hierarchical while a folksonomy is all about overlapping categories.

However, in one of the texts we’re reading for a KM course I found an absolutely horrendous word:

Techknowledgy.

Meaning technology as applied to knowledge management. That’s so ugly it’s beautiful.

Indeed, a job search aggregator

Indeed is a recently launched job search site which seems to have been paying close attention to the best practices of specialized search sites in other domains. It follows the Google rule of a clean, simple interface with additional power-user features if you go looking for them.

Indeed aggregates jobs from many sources including newspaper ads and other job-hunting sites. There must be some very interesting data mining and intellectual property work under that hood.

You can subscribe to its results via e-mail or RSS feeds, with one-click shortcuts to send results to your aggregator at Bloglines or My Yahoo. You can even create a “JobRoll” for inclusion in your own site. The uses for that last feature might not be immediately obvious (would you want to post job leads in your personal blog?) but it could be very handy for student or professional organizations or for small employers that list jobs at Indeed.

Searches are geographically based, by city or zip up to 25 miles (like a dating site?) Indeed suggests related search terms and keeps track of recent searches for you, but more cleanly than pushy sites like Amazon.

And for people who enjoy obsessing over minutiae there’s a “JobGeist” feature which tracks the most numerous recent job listings by title, location and company, with up/down trend information soon to come. I note that Dallas and Houston are in the top 10, with Austin ranked at 25. (It would be interesting to see the city numbers proportional to population, and maybe sliced up by occupational field; heck, why not a map?) Among employers, Computer Sciences Corporation and the headhunter Cybercoders are way out front, with more than twice as many jobs as the next employers in line; I wonder whether that simply means that those companies provided Indeed with direct feeds and other comparably-sized employers show up only through intermediate sources? Another interesting exercise would be to try to correlate Indeed’s numbers with those from state and federal agencies which track employment.

In a quick comparison with Monster Jobs I see that Monster claims to have “hundreds of thousands” of job listings, while Indeed says it has 1,691,810 as of this morning. Monster requires a login to search and its interface is noisy, with animated GIFs, widgets all over the place, and — good lord! — display ads. The Monster features apparent at first glance that are lacking from Indeed are resume posting services for applicants, and “networking”, which I guess means discussion boards and such. Leaving those things out seems to fit with Indeed’s model of doing one thing cleanly and well.

I haven’t yet put it to the acid test of trying to find a job through Indeed, but so far it looks to me like they got everything right.

(Full disclosure: founder Rony Kahan is a friend of mine but this post is uncompensated. He didn’t even pay for lunch!)