Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wiki mark-up

James Robertson has written a post stating that wiki mark-up has no future and that the future lies in WYSIWYG style editing.

James mentions that wiki fanatics are likely to take exception to the post but I can't see any reason why a true wiki fan would.

Surely the whole Idea of wikis are to open content creation up to the masses and wiki mark-up has to-date kept wiki editing limited to those that know it. It is plainly annoying. I liken it to a nineteenth century version of HTML but with all the variations making the old Microsoft vs Netscape vs W3C battles look like teddy bear picnics.

So James you're absolutlely right and with some of the newer tools I've seen the market agrees with you (no matter what those unwashed, friendless wiki hooligans may say).

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Malaysian intranet and portal conference

I am pleased to have been invited to speak at the
"2nd Annual Portals, Content Management ande Collaboration Conference".
being run by DZ Hampton and being held in Kula Lumpur, Malaysia 21-24 April 2008.

My slot will be on the 23rd and is titled "Discovering effective content management strategies".

I will also be running a post-conference IA workshop:

Post-Conference Workshop 3
24 April 2008 (09:00 – 12:00)
"Creating user-focused information
architecture for intranets and portals

The conference has a great SE-Asian and international speaker line-up and I'm really looking forward to meeting delegates from across the region.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Users have common goals, fears and hates

A great recent post from Gerry McGovern in which he highlights that every website is NOT different and that he is tired of the associated babble (my word) that goes with defining sites e.g. "emotional branding".

Right there with you Gerry.

Obviously everything has an emotional attachment to some degree but most websites are about task completion, as plain and boring as that sounds. Over the 11 years I worked on websites and intranets without any exception any site that doesn't deliver on basic task focus and completion fails.

This applies across all sorts of sites to any site, intranet, e-commerce, government, video sharing, forum, search, Users want to do something quickly, easily and get a quick result (and as Gerry amusingly points out for free...).

It's unfortunate that web professionals are still having to fight the fight against excessive marketing vernacular. I have recently (unsuccessfully) tried to argue against the automatic playing of unrelated audio for site visitors to a non entertainment site.

Same battles I was fighting back in the 90's and unfortunately still losing the occasional one.

So despite all the growing awareness of usability, user focused design, IA, accessibility etc etc there's still exisits fundamnetal ignorance about websites even with those that actuallly manage them.

Cool is not always good. Wow factor is as fleeting and fickle as your users are.

End result is frustrated users, bad business opuibicity and eventual effect on a company or organisation's bottom line.

The way forward is to continue to educate clients, users and manages. Stop trying to convince them with best practice and gurus and focus on reports, stats, clickthroughs, research, MONEY. Hard data.

Convince them with business logic not website logic eventhough they generally lead to the same place.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Intranet Innovation Award winners

James Robertson has published an article announcing the winners of the inaugural Intranet Innovation Awards.

Congrats to all the winners. Special mention to NZ winners Dorje McKinnon at Sungard (gold) and to the folks up at Northland Region for getting a special mention.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Intranet management evolution - independence for intranet teams

In most organisations where intranets and portals have been following an ongoing iterative evolution model (not out of any good modelling practice but more on budget imperatives) they have generally started off in IT or IS departments.

As intranet strategy and maturity has grown many have had the day to day management and strategy moved out of the technology arena moving into a less techy focused areas (communications, knowledge management, marketing, HR etc) while IT keep looking after the infrastructure.

I have (until recently) always thought this was a good thing.

Everybody is the problem

I have found numerous issues with the above approach across some of the intranets I myself have managed or been involved in.

(Quotes displayed are paraphrasing of actual statements heard over the last few years. Some creative licence used in places for greater effect).

Communications and marketing are poor usability people (don't get me started with IT)
Having seen a search box moved from a logical top right location because the communications/marketing managers wanted "more images in that location instead to make the site look better " (despite the fact that 50% of site traffic went to the two searches located there...), I simply do not think most communications and marketing managers do not yet have the capability to truly understand the online user paradigm. They see it as a campaign or 'communications tool' which it is but it is so much more.

Or in an intranet where the news had had 20,000 views in one year ( less 5 news views over one year per user - with a user base of 4,000 and probably about 150 stories, Biggest story got about a 500 views) "What? open up the 2nd level navigation on the homepage so users can access work related information better... no I want more news and images to build the news area instead."

IT sometimes çonfuse online terminology (still)
Information architecture? ''Yes we have a Microsoft IIS server box cabled to a Oracle backend db linked through to Peoplesoft 9 all behind a supa douper triple authenticated Firewall etc etc.

Usability testing - "Yeah that manager said it seemed to work fine during our UAT. He signed the release."

Silo-ed business groups do not care about other units
The training people want all courses linked on the homepage, procurement want little visited links on the homepage, as does every other team.

"Share a content area with another business unit. No we want our own with all our pictures".

"Put those pages under Finance and purchasing? But we are called the 'Corporate business asset accounting procurement systems and management sub-division'...."

IT think everyone else are Luddites
IT think communications and marketing people focus mostly on words, pictures and perceptions (and yes they do:) ). But this view can neglect the value of utilising the user and business engagement skills that many communications and marketing people may have. A lot of the web 2.0 for business features that I am seeing put to good use are being pushed by the non-IT areas (eventhough it tends to be IT staff being early adopters of these areas).

Communications and other units think IT are business unfriendly
IT push technology directions - "Sharepoint will solve all our problems" or "Open-source! open-source! open-source!" without considering business or more often USER needs.

Without true governance pet schemes can go ridiculous
"Second life is the new thing. Lets invest half our budget to work out how we can leverage Second life as our new intranet."

Essentially these types of internal politics have meant that many intranets are static and caught in between responsibilities and expertise and without the proper resolution of these issues they are basically just sitting there rotting with a few dedicated professionals looking around for ways to extract themselves from the mire.

Standalone operational teams with consultative governance structures are optimal

The optimal solution is an intranet team that is independent of the direct line management of either of the two. I see no issues with it being part of a wider online team (I think the whole web/ intranet models are starting to converge more and more and the sharing of resources can only mean a good thing for the normally 'ugly sister' of the intranet).

If a standalone team is not organisationally possible than a strong governance and operational structure (with input from all key stakeholder groups) should be in place (should be in place regardless) to ensure:
  • True organisational ownership of the intranet
  • Shared insight to business issues and objectives
  • Brand/technology/pet project and ideology influence is kept to a minimum and diluted when progressed
  • A true reporting and accountability direction for the intranet manager and team
  • Allow for cross organisational budget financing and direction

Evolution of management models

As intranets evolve, so do governance models, and I think its time to start considering the independence of online and intranet teams from all the traditional areas to ensure true business accountability, transparency and business and user responsibility is taken. The other groups have provided their expertise at the right time to help the development of the intranet and obviously ongoing expertise and involvement is still required in respective areas of expertise.

Even if it is just a single person (putting aside line management) the intranet should still be managed'' outside these areas and reporting to a governance, and if need be, an operational group as well.

In organisations that have already done this I have seen a much more robust , professional and user focused approach to the intranet which for end users means a true organisational intranet not an organisational one with a specific business unit bias.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Virtual user research in Second Life

Just reading a write-up User testing in Second Life by Lisa Herrod at Sitepoint, of a presenattion at the recent OZ-IA confernece in Sydney, User Research in Virtual Worlds from Gary Bunker and Gabriele Hermansson, both from Hyro.

Interesting indeed.

I am a slight cynic of the whole Second Life virtual world model especially when users are flocking to webpage models of social interaction like facebook, mySpace and leaving second life to a slightly faddish geek set at the moment.

I am currently playing around with a few online card sorting tools and think they are great tools for IA validation and wide spread quantative research but not replacements for good live person exercises.

I do not believe good focus groups can be run in a virtual environment as one can not view the side looks, or comments, the physical reponse to a comment from other participants where real value can be produced. It's not what they say but what they do. Valid for actually user testing but equally valid for focus groups and interviews.

The whole point of focus groups is person to person interaction and discussion. The presentation of avatars and digital represenation of discussion items does not truly do this justice.

Also its ridiculous to think that second life represents a wide enough user base for most websites. Second life is well overrepresented by narrow audiences and age groups. We don't even know that an avatar is actually a 45 year old white female, or a 15 year old etc etc.

Real people skills are the key the success in user research. The need to talk and engage with actual users represented as they truly are. We need to move away from technology itself to make technolofgy more friendly and intuitive for users not the other way round.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Wiki in the enterprise

Shiv Singh has written a post on the evolution and issues for the wiki at his well known online agency Avenue A/Razorfish.

He shares an informative and useful presentation with screenshots and usage figures.
Very worthwhile if you're currnetly managing or looking at wikis internally.

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