The blooming of information architecture at Google: A close look at facets, tags & categories in GoogleBase

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I just spent some time with GoogleBase and was amazed at just how deeply Google has embraced standard information architecture concepts and trends. We have categories, facets, tags. I kid you not. Google of the simple search box with a go button has come a long way indeed.

A few top level categories

12 top-level categories (e.g., course schedules, Events & Activities) show up when you post a piece of content. Interestingly they do not get exposed directly in the search interface, but get used indirectly. Google uses your initial query to place you in a particular category, and show the relevant facets. For example, the facets presented when you search for a vehicle name are different than when you search for a recipe. This is a good approach, but it does mean that Google needs to guess the right category to present the appropriate set of facets. Google Product Manager explains that “Google Base suggests attributes and item types based on popularity, which you can use to define and attach your own labels and attributes to each data item.” So there is some magic going on behind the scene to decide what sets of facets to show.

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Is MindCanvas a service or a tool?

mindcanvas logoThis question has cropped up a few times. The simple answer is: MindCanvas is a service that depends on a number of tools. Some we built, and then there are other tools we use to run the service. Its what market research companies call full service research – we understand your design question, we collaboratively create the study (using our templates etc.), we have contacts with panel companies if you need a specific type of sample… Once data gathering is complete, you get visualizations and all the data within a 1-2 days.

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Mountain View to get free wi-fi (courtesy Google)!

So the city I live and work in is going to get free wi-fi from Google. Google had made this proposal a while back. The Mountain View city Council just approved the deal. So, by June we might have city-wide free wi-fi. (As a note, between the planned NASA campus and free wi-fi, Google is increasingly making its presence felt in Mountain View).

Apparently, Google already has a test center for their wi-fi at Kapp’s Pizza Bar & Grill on Castro Street in Mountain View. IMO, a better choice would be Dana Street Cafe. Its really the best place to get a cup of coffee and hang-out in this area (its also right next to our office!). They already have free wi-fi (courtesy Live555), but the connection can be spotty. If I did not have to charge up my laptop periodically, I would probably never leave (weirdly they don’t let you power up, even though they have free wifi).

Upcoming talk on creating simple software in a geek-driven culture (the Firefox experience)

Terry Winograd runs an excellent series of talks on HCI at Stanford. This Friday, he is featuring a talk by Blake Ross and Asa Dotzler of the Mozilla foundation. This is a topic I have discussed in numerous discussions with my open-source friends – how Firefox does it (create user-friendly software), and how other open-source projects can learn from it? I look forward to finally learning more. More information about the class here. And here is the title and abstract:

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Game never-ending with MindCanvas

mindcanvas logo One reason that its exciting to be finally out with MindCanvas is because of the feedback you receive. For a while now, MindCanvas was something we talked about with friends, but not a public forum (I think that its good to release early, but not so early that your design vision is not communicated yet).

One of the first few feedback /queries we have received is about MindCanvas as a never-ending game linked to from someone’s website or software. This is a model we have talked about on and off (and it’s interesting to see it come up so early in discussions).

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Game-like elicitation methods: A new approach to user research (or MindCanvas is live!)

For the past year, if someone asked me what I am upto – I told them consulting, which is the truth, but only half the truth. The other half, which has kept me up at night (both literally and figuratively) is MindCanvas. No, don’t click the url yet – first hear the story.

We started working on it a year ago, but I have been dreaming of it for a long time. It probably started with seeing the boredom in the eyes of my research subjects (sorry participants) in graduate school. And continued with consulting, with every computer-based study I ever did. We do qualitative research as well, but truth be told – everyone resorts to surveys, at some time or other. The idea of basing product decisions on bored respondents robotically checking HTML boxes and choosing dropdowns really bothers me.

So, what is the solution? A better survey application with some AJAX peppered in? No, we wanted to go far beyond that. Our goal was to reimagine what online research can be. MindCanvas was the answer (a side-note about the name: it satisfies my geeky desire for it to be something about the mind. The words “brain” & “neuro” were summarily rejected by the rest of the team!)

mindcanvas logo MindCanvas is a research service to help companies gather insights about customers’ thoughts & feelings. We use Game-like Elicitation Methods (GEMs) to let online users participate in answering the complex questions that you face in designing a product or service.

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If its ethnography, its gotta be right: reflections on DUX 05

This thought came back to me again and again during the DUX conference that I just got back from. Many speakers told us about the “ethnographic research” they conducted. Sometimes they shared some video of their observations – of children playing, or people in their homes, sitting on a chair, or watching TV. And the audience would watch delightedly – look at that, its people! People playing, laughing, sitting, walking… It all seemed very rosy – “we observed some people, maybe for a few hours, maybe we lived with them for a week or two – they still send us postcards – the dears. And at the end of it, we had the Aha moment, when it all fell into place. And the product was born.” And everyone lived happily ever after.

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