Tag Sorting: Another tool in an information architect’s toolbox

So marketers have already started advising companies to pay attention to tags. So I started thinking – what would an information architect do with the wealth of information given by del.icio.us / flickr / technorati tags?

The first thing that comes to mind is to use tags as a proxy for free-listing. Information architects or anyone else researching a domain IAs can perform a card-sort on tags instead of generating items for a card-sort exerise using freelisting.

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Card Sorting Analysis: One size fits all approach

Just noticed a tutorial on card sorting at CHI.. Here is the description:

“This tutorial will provide researchers with practical guidance and hands-on experience in card sorting and cluster analysis methods and tools…

-What is a card sort and cluster analysis?
-How do I perform a card sort and cluster analysis (tools and methods)?

-What else do I need to know to be able to perform this method in practice?”

My question is – why on earth are they restricting themselves to cluster analysis. Although they do not say so explicitly, I suspect they are probably going to mostly talk about “Hierarchical Cluster Analysis”. This is such a restrictive use of Card-sorting which is capable of being a general purpose user mental modeling technique.

We have used Hierarchical Cluster Analysis, K-means cluster analysis and Multidimensional scaling with great success. Different types of problems require different analysis techniques. Architectural problems might require Hierarchical Cluster Analysis, but I often find such analysis too restrictive and prescriptive (it gives me a structure – take it or leave it). In contrast, I find the results of MultiDimensional Scaling helps more in understanding the domain for an exploratory project.

I really need to put together some examples of visual deliverables for different types of card sort analysis. If only my clients would let me get out of those NDA’s, and let me share some examples!

Usability comes to open source!

No, I am not kidding. Tomorrow is the start of the usabilty sprint in San Francisco. Its a three day event bringing together developers from open-source projects, and several usability professionals.

“In a hands-on clinic format, usability practitioners will work with open source developers and users to make software more intuitive and user-friendly. A number of free/libre/open source (FLOSS) projects, including several nonprofit e-advocacy applications, will be part of the working sessions, putting usability principles to the test.”

Participating projects are

The sprint is the brainchild of Aspiration Tech and Blue Oxen Associates. Eugene Eric Kim from Blue Oxen will be speaking at the upcoming BayCHI about the sprint – so come by to hear all about it next month.

Apart from the participating projects, there are a number of observer projects. Its great to see this sort of interest in usability from open source developers and am thrilled to be part of this event. Hopefully, this will lead to the development of methods and means for usability practices to become an integral part of open-source software development.

For me, this will be a welcome break from consulting projects. Look out for updates posted from the sprint itself.

A new journal for “reflective practitioners”

Now that I am working as a practitioner, I am always on the lookout for journals and conferences that highlight “reflective practice”. Case studies do not have enough “reflection” while academic journals often have nothing to do with questions that one faces during practice.

I heard about a new journal “Journal of research Practice” from one of the editors himself. From the description, it sounds interesting.

Some of the points in their editorial focus statement resonate.

Institutions have flourished across the globe to nurture this kind of activity that has come to be known as research. Research has always remained partly unmanageable, partly deviant, despite historic tendencies to co-opt it into the so-called disciplines, professions, research centres, etc. That propensity of research, to maintain a degree of autonomy…

I would go beyond and suggest that in recent years, the internet has enabled the rise of a new type of internet enabled, independent researcher. I first realized this during my last year at Berkeley – that I could now do the same research on my own. Between subscriptions to a few academic journals, Google and a few trips to Berkeley/Stanford library, I can have access to everything I had while at Brown University or UC Berkeley. I would probably not have left the safe cocoon of academia if not for this realization.

Another thing I like about this new Journal is its explicitly multi-disciplinary focus. And its committment to open access.

Maybe this will inspire me to finally write down my thought about how the concept of validity is broken and a huge bottleneck for applied fields. We need to think about something called Implementable Validity.