dchase Weblog Archives

Linkless Post

There are no links in this post. That is because the information I originally wanted to reference is not available anywhere on the Internet. It is only available on paper (and eventually, I assume, on micro-fiche). It will only be available to people who are able to travel to a library or other such place that keeps back copies of newspapers (unless you hurry and pick up a copy of today's Boston Sunday Globe). The Globe's reasoning for not putting the contents of the Sunday Magazine online is that there was little traffic to the Magazine section online, a fact which they believe indicates that people would rather read articles in the magazine in printed form.

There are two major problems with this reasoning. First, the fact that people weren't going to a segregated portion of the site that was dedicated to the magazine indicates that they don't generally feel a need to go beyond the bounds of the main online section of the site. It does not mean, however, that readers would not find the content of the magazine of value online if it were found in a different context, such as the main online section. The article that I wanted to reference would have worked fine in the Education, Arts, or Business sections. My reading of the traffic data would lead me to conclude that most people don't recognize a distinction between a "magazine" and a "newspaper" within the context of a web site. Indeed, if the Globe had placed the stories found in the magazine section in other areas of the online publication, they may have found that those stories would have generated more views.

Little traffic to an online magazine section also does not indicate that people would rather read the information in printed form. Indeed - I'd argue that the lack of online activity for a Globe Magazine site indicates that there may not be a need to have a Globe Magazine in the printed edition of the paper. Everyone who gets the Sunday Globe gets the Magazine, whether they want it or not. Do those people who read the magazine read it because they find it of particular value, or because it is there? If there were no Magazine in the paper (but the articles that would usually appear there appeared in other sections) would circulation figures decline? The online traffic information actually indicates that most people probably don't really care about the magazine as a distinct section, not that they people would prefer to read that content in print.

The Boston Globe clearly does not understand that successful web publishing depends upon content and providing access to content, not organizing content. The Wall Street Journal gets it. On WSJ.com there are often numerous ways to get to an article on any given day. For instance, a recent article on Microsoft's discussions with AOL/Time Warner about including AOL in Windows XP appeared in both the "front page", in the tech section, and the money section. That's because the Journal editors understood that most readers would be interested in an important story about two of the world's largest corporations, and that most readers with specific interests in technology or financial markets might be interested too. Rather than maintaining the limitations found in print publishing to the web as the Boston Globe does, Dow Jones has taken advantage of ability of the web to provide numerous access points to valuable content.

People definitely have preferences for the medium through which they acquire information. I don't have figures, but I'm sure that most people would still rather read a printed paper than browse a web site for the same information (just as they prefer paper to parchment scrolls and clay tablets). But does that mean that those who prefer the tactile smudginess of reading words printed on 60lb news stock prefer to access different content than those who prefer using the cooly efficient clicking of buttons and whizzing electrons to navigate information? Of course not. Successful provision of information on the web means providing all quality content you have available to you in whatever way the consumers of that information could use it.

Oh, and the story... Well, it was about a student a MIT who developed a rocking chair that provided audio feed back to someone sitting in the chair as they told a story. The salient quote is "It's really hard to tell a story to a wall. In storytelling, the listener is pretty important." I had planned on expounding upon this w/r/t knowledge management. Systems designed with the expectation that people will just store their good ideas don't work. That's the same as telling a story to a wall...

Posted by Dick at 12:00 AM

Design is about people

Is the practice of software engineering for business or consumer applications different from other forms of industrial design? In both practices we manipulate technology so that it serves human needs. In a paper for the Communication Research Institute of Australia, David Sless illustrates good functional design with a brushed stainless door at a subway station. It's a beautiful door that blend seamlessly into its environment. While well designed from an aesthetic perspective, it's not well designed for human interaction. It has a handle, but it opens by pushing. It also requires additional signage to inform people what the door is actually for.

The bulk of the paper, however, is really about a fundamental methodology for successful design. In short, successful design of technology that humans will interact with cannot occur without human interaction. Sless estimates that 50% of the effort in a design project focuses on politics. The LEAN development framework recognizes this with it's inclusion of a distinct negotiation phase and an emphasis on collaborative development.

(CRIA paper discovered via good experience)

Posted by Dick at 12:00 AM

Love your enemy

Kara Swisher in the Wall Street Journal:
I actually covered retail for years before I covered the Web, and my one take-away was that too many retailers HATE their customers. Whoever gives the consumer an easy-to-use, simple and process-free experience, offline or online, will win, as long as they keep expenses in line.
Posted by Dick at 12:00 AM

Advertising as entertainment

Think about it - Ironminds: The Cloudmakers Phenomenon:
"I have indeed thought about the fact that this is an elaborate ad campaign. But no ad campaign has ever provided me with as much entertainment as this one has. Finding these Web sites and unraveling this mystery is a little bit like finding a secret decoder ring in your cereal box. Of course, that decoder ring was a marketing gimmick. Demographers hoped that you’d beg and plead Mommy to buy you the box if they put a secret decoder ring inside. A cynic regards this exchange as a kind of deceit: Cultural brainwashing of the direst bourgeois sort. I see it as value adding. That box of cereal is a better box of cereal because THAT box has a secret decoder ring in it. And now 1,500 of us are sharing secret messages with it. Pardon my trout, but wouldn’t you like to know what we’re saying?"
Posted by Dick at 12:00 AM


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