Friday, 18 December 2009

Usability for web sites - where?

This is the last posting for this year and we'll be having a 2 week break then leaving Yahoo and moving exclusively onto this blog site in 2010.

Don't forget to set up your RSS feed so that you can get the postings automatically just like the Yahoo Group. We're moving because it allows us more flexibility for archiving the posts under relevant headings which makes for a better resource for searching for information when you want it.

So, usability guidelines. How have these changed ? Yes, there are more resources now and they are more extensive. As the web has grown, and the number and range of sites expanded, the intelligence on what helps people view information - and make sales - has grown too. You can drill down under about 20 sub-headings about various usability aspects at:

This is a US government site that offers advice to web designers about how to design sites. But they do have a caveat:
Although considerable effort has been made to base the guidelines on research from a variety of fields, including cognitive psychology, computer science, human factors, technical communication, and usability; other disciplines may have valuable research that is not reflected in these guidelines.
That's a nice heads-up and shows the tenor of their guidelines.

Some people love him and some hate him, but whatever your view, Jakob Nielsen is a leading light in Usability. See his site for the latest at

Finally, for a more recent and UK centric view, and one with online Christmas shopping at its centre, have a look at the article from Imprezz. A staggering 42% of people abandon their online shopping because of a perceived or actual slowing of the site.

Merry Christmas and a fantastic 2010 from us.

Elaine and Andy

Saturday, 12 December 2009

RACI/RAM charts - do you need them?

You'll be forgiven for not knowing about these charts as we don't cover them on the general training course but we do cover them in our book. They can give a part answer to some of the problems that beset project teams particularly if people always seem to be countermanding decisions. RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. It is a matrix chart that defines people's responsibilities across project deliverables. RAM stands for Responsibility Assignment Matrix and some people prefer to use this term. So far, so good.

Do you recognise any of these problems?
  • 'My boss always overrules my decisions whenever she wants'
  • 'The approval process for even the simplest item takes so long today'
  • 'It seems everyone is putting together a spreadsheet on the same data'
  • 'Things are always slipping through the cracks'
  • 'I have the responsibility, but not the authority to get the job done'

Royston Morgan:

If any of these fit your workload, perhaps you might consider doing a matrix chart. You need to list the roles of your extended team across the top and then put deliverables/work tasks down the side. In the spaces agree with your team who is Responsible, Accountable, to be Consulted, and to be Informed. You write R,A,C or I in the space, or in fact leave the space blank if the person doesn't have to figure in the task. This gives you a blueprint of who should call the tune as the people Accountable should have the final decision. And there should be only one person Accountable in the chart for a task. The person Responsible for the task actually carries out the work or harnesses a team effort to achieve the task to the satisfaction of the Accountable person. When the same person is Responsible and Accountable – as might happen in our form of iMedia projects – then you can decide whether to put both initials in the box or allow A to imply both because there is no one else signified as Responsible.

This type of chart will clarify whose role is responsible for which task, and who is accountable for the final decision. This helps codify authority by implication. Authority to make decisions or allocate budgets can play a big part in potential conflict in projects – don't we just know. Our book, Managing Interactive Media page 84, gives a case study of a RACI chart for an e-commerce project, in case you have a copy.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Archiving reaches maturity

Remember when the word 'archive' for projects used to be a dirty word. Your managers wouldn't grant the time to you to archive as you got pushed into new urgent projects and your old ones hung around like the proverbial bad smell. Well, all's changing as digital online information becomes the norm. Given that, certain expectations about the stability of information and long-term access to it surface.

Digital archiving is now big business. If we look at massive infrastructure projects for archiving then our web projects look insignificant. But with success and focus come standards, so beware. We will be expected to conform to some digital archive standards sooner rather than later. Keep an eye out.

The government have recognised its responsibility for broken links in its online information in its Web Continuity Project. This recognises which version of a web page is being looked for and accesses that version rather than give the dreaded 'broken link' message.

Also, with online referencing becoming common – we use it all the time in these postings – there are concerns about changes to the referenced page, loss of contextualised meaning, misrepresentation and so on, over time. The 'ostephens' entry on the TELSTAR blog entitled, The When of the Web, gives a nice breakdown of some of these issues and some software solutions.

Finally, for a taste of some of the larger projects that are around at the moment and what's going on, take a quick look at the JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) page. They have loads of money relating to higher education research and provision in the UK with some funding opportunities too.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Innovation and the creative industries

You know our stance on how Interactive Media is not really considered a sector in its own right and doesn't get picked up by government departments for statistical purposes – or many other purposes really. It boils down to where we get positioned in terms of being IT related or creative, as those denominations dictate the money allocation. Well, there might be a slow shift in the right direction of recognising we're a hybrid in the latest report from NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts).

"Our understanding of innovation has changed: where once it was understood to be largely the result of scientific research and development, it is now seen more widely to include changes to services, ways of working and delivery, customer insight and many other forms."

Previously they have been preoccupied with film and games as representing our form of `the creative industries'. This latest report- Measuring sectoral capability in nine areas of the UK economy' 26.11.2009 - looks at innovation in a newly-defined way and uses a correspondingly different analysis tool – the IVC (Innovation Value Chain). They chose Software and IT Services as one of their nine sectors and analysed that with their new way of describing innovation, they call `hidden innovation'. Not sure that they consider Interactive Media in this division of Software and IT services, but it does include consultancy, data processing and database design. Getting there, maybe!

We won't be surprised by the results: but they have been.

The sector reported the highest product and services innovation during 2006-9 compared to other sectors. This is a key indicator for NESTA's IVC. The average levels of innovation capability were relatively high when compared to other sectors in the report. They were surprised by the intensive team-working involved in the sector to access knowledge. Ah! Cross-functional teams strike again!

Take a look if this snippet tempts you at

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Free the data!

We have grown use to the idea that information is freely available on the internet and there are two news items this week that demolish or reinforce that presumption.

Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation have shown concern for some time that newspapers should charge for access to their stories. Added to this is a stance that news aggregators should also pay to reproduce the headlines from stories on other (such as News Corp's) web sites.

Tom Forenski of the Silicon Valley Watcher has an interesting analysis of how this might play out and why the 'simple' technical tactic of blocking aggregators with a robots exclusion file has been ignored in favour of attacking through the media.

I thought the thorny issue of whether taking headlines for links back to the orginal story infringed copyright had been settled years ago; it's certainly a common approach and is actively encouraged by RSS news feeds.

Murdoch Snr seems to be accusing organisations like, especially, the BBC, of getting news from the newspapers.

He is quoted in the Telegraph as saying "...most of their stuff is stolen from the newspapers now, and we’ll be suing them for copyright."

Oddly enough I see some resonance here, and not just with ITV's Michael Grade once saying that web sites that took broadcasters' content were 'parasites'. Broadcasters do scan the papers for stories and newspapers will regularly promote 'exclusive' stories into electronic media to build up interest in tomorrow's edition. TV coverage of the storm over Gordon Brown's sympathy letter was usually accompanied by extracts from an interview with the aggrieved mother which were brightly branded with the Sun logo. So the Murdochs (père et fils) must have a deeper concern, albeit one that I personally see brightly tagged 'self-interest' whenever the BBC is mentioned.

I doubt if many people think that traditional static-media-based notions of copyright can survive eternally in a connected world. I have shared the view of many that, as a classic example, Ordnance Survey's mapping data should be freely available. This includes the ability to map things to your location, usually by postcode. This isn't as simple as it might at first appear because OS get data from the Royal Mail to which they then map grid references. These dual rights are one reason it has been convoluted and expensive to access such data.

The OpenSpace project has opened OS data up a lot but this still has limitations to control the number of times you access their system, which has restricted large-scale use. Now commercial operations are starting using the system, which uses an application program interface (API) to access the OS data. To top this, the UK Government has announced that OS mapping will be freely available online from 2010  although I have not as yet seen the fine print.

The scheme's advisors are Sir Tim Berners-Lee (who of course always comes with his own tag of inventor of the world wide web) and Professor Nigel Shadbolt. Professor Shadbolt has reinforced the use of this data for what he calls hyper-locality; finding out what relates to your own street or postcode. He is also quoted on the BBC Web Site as believing that "... OS maps are more comprehensive in their coverage than other open source competitors which are already freely available online". This presumably doesn't refer to Google Maps (although rights issues do seem to limit how you can interact with them for hyper-locality) but is certainly true of the open map sites that rely on users inputting information. Cartography and GIS are a lot more complicated than most of us think.

It'll be interesting to see how this pans out.

Friday, 13 November 2009

A blog by any other name ...

We have decided to take the plunge and open up the iProfessionals group even more. Since it doesn't seem to be possible to let anyone read the Yahoo group without also letting them post graffiti willy-nilly, and also to give us more flexibility, we are moving over to Google's Blogger system.

The new iProfessionals URL is although we will run the two in parallel for a while and copy recent posts over to the Blogger version ... and keep the archive intact.

Initially I have set the comments to be open to anyone who is logged in to Google, either with a Google account or an OpenID. So please feel free to chip in to any discussions.

If any of you would like to contribute new postings then I will happily add you to the blog authors list ... just drop me an email at You don't have to have anything to say now, this is some forward planning.

Why is it theiprofessionals and not just iprofessionals? That one is already taken. You should check it out.

We won't make Technorati's top 100 blogs list just yet.

What do you think? Is this a step in the right direction? You can still set up an email notification if you want and you can even get an RSS feed of the posts and discussions. Going for Google's existing system was a pragmatic decision and I have already used Blogger for my Infrared 100 centenary site and am using Google Analytics and Adsense on some of my own web pages.

(Funny story: I put Adsense ... contextual advertising... onto my page about the BBC Domesday Project and initially it put up adverts for glass domes! It has since settled down to surprisingly relevant things like data backup and storage but I was rather amused by that first stab. It reminded me of a parsing system I once used which thought that Andes ... as in the mountain range ... was the plural of the word and.)

I am all in favour of using existing and even shared services if they're appropriate. You see this happening a lot in the consumer world, notably with even professional photographers using either Flikr or SmugMug rather than building (or having built) portfolio sites of their own. Are these the kinds of things that you should recommend to your clients? Well yes, if they do the job and the client's brand or reputation isn't diminished by it.

A client of mine is experimenting with one of the social networking recommendation systems called ShareThis which gives an easy way to flag pages on things like Twitter, Delicious, Stumbledupon and even Blogger. It's too early to tell whether this will increase traffic but it does add an extra option for analytics to your pages.

And then there is SideWiki. It's not a wiki ... more a Post-It note ... but it is on the side. Have you come across this yet?

Never mind what you may want to scribble on your web pages, this lets anyone scribble on them. You'll need IE or Firefox to try it out.


You can take this one of two ways: it is encouraging grafitti (back to that again) or it provides a way for experts to add insight to existing pages. More likely something in between. As a publisher (how grand that sounds) you can launch a pre-emptive strike by adding your own sidenote to your own pages, as I have done on the home page of Invisible Light.

It raises an interesting issue as well. I think that until now the content of a web page has had a well-defined publisher, but who is the publisher of a web page plus its SideWiki? Can they be joint if they have no real connection with each other? If the web page publisher does not activate SideWiki they may not even know that comments are being posted.

And finally ...

Getting examples is often difficult, especially understandable legal ones. I recently came across a web site called Chilling Effects whuch describes itself thus: "Chilling Effects aims to help you understand the protections that the First Amendment and intellectual property laws give to your online activities ... [and] encourages respect for intellectual property law, while frowning on its misuse to "chill" legitimate activity."

Obviously this collaboration between the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a group of law schools is based on US law (especially the First Amendment bit) but it still makes interesting reading and is an example of how legalese can be translated into people-speak.

For example ... legal issues around web linking: ( In this you will see that Chilling Effects' comments about inlining of images and framing do not seem to concur with Graham Smith's notion (in 'Internet Law and Regulation') of an 'Implied Licence'. When lawyers disagree, treasuries tremble!

Your thoughts on the iProfessionals blog please.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Social Network Marketing

There's still a lot of confusion as to how to make best use of the incredibly successful social networking sites in terms of marketing. With Facebook now well in the lead for use in terms of numbers of people and time spent there, (New Media Age, Social Circles, 5th November), and with a majority of US companies saying they will employ a social media specialist, (2009 Digital Readiness Report, Essential Online Public Relations and Marketing Skills), the social network trend is enticing mainstream business.
But it seems that brands are having a rough time working out what interactive users want. Since social sites favour word-of-mouth or tips from trusted others, some brands have fallen foul if the trusted haven't liked their offerings. This news gets spread virally just as fast – if not faster – than good news!
Interactive users also want input into shaping ideas that they might then promote. The 'active' user's profile is very different from the passive user's profile of static communication channels. Maybe new profiling can move towards a better understanding. It's an emerging field full of landmines, so tread carefully.
See The CMO third online survey results about future market trends at:
and the 2009 Digital Readiness Report at:

Thursday, 29 October 2009

New day ... new operating system

Today is the day when the Karmic Koala debuts, hot on the heels of Windows 7 and slightly cooler on the heels of Snow Leopard. The aforementioned koala is the name for the latest incarnation of Ubuntu ... 9.10 if you're counting ... and completes a triumvirate of interesting changes in the wonderful world of the operating system.

Let's get the big cat out of the bag first. Apple's Snow Leopard was basically a sprucing-up of its predecessor (Leopard ... thanks for asking) and was mainly intended to make your snazzy Mac run a bit better and give you a few gigs of disc space back for all those Lady Ga-Ga downloads you've been hoarding.

Windows 7 is Microsoft's replacement for the somewhat unloved Vista. It too aims to be a nippier and more considerate manager for your hardware/software interface but apparently it will be very different to Vista. All those people who haven't shed their XP yet (or worse) are being encouraged to do so.

There is something mystic about the number seven of course: seventh sons of seventh sons, seven sisters (tube station and stars in Orion's belt), seven judges weighing the good and bad deeds of a dead Egyptian pharaoh ... seven the largest number that can be stored in a byte. When Apple released System Seven back in the middle ages they touted that as a big change to their OS. It had coloured icons for goodness sake!

The Karmic Koala (sorry ... I keep wanting to sing Karma Chameleon) ... is the latest Ubuntu 'distro' of Linux and is one of the most popular. According to the Ubuntu web site ...

"Ubuntu is an African word meaning 'Humanity to others', or 'I am what I am because of who we all are'".

It aims to be easy to use and is going head to head against Windows 7 (and presumably Apple) with better user interface, faster start-up and features to make life easier for netbook users and the Linux novice. Ubuntu and their friendly koala image are saying that Linux is for everyone.

More info ... and free downloads ... at

Funny, you wait for ages for a new OS and three come along at once.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Time, cost, quality and Agile?

If you remember, we've been concerned about how to get a fit between Agile methods and the Time, Cost and Quality mantra of project management for some time now. Gradually this aspect is being addressed because companies have to find a way to work with their clients to ensure that they get paid fairly for their time and expertise. Agile tends to be labour intensive because at least two programmers work on developing small pieces of functionality in limited amounts of time. They test as they go and demonstrate their product to the client frequently.

Recently a Danish friend explained how his company balanced the dilemma by working back from the time allowed for a project – say 3 months – and the number of 4 week 'sprints' that his team would allow the clients in that time, namely 3. (For those not working with Agile yet, a 'sprint' is a short period of development time allocated to program defined functionality and show this to the client.) We can see this way working if you define the sprint time and know the project end time. But not everyone works to a 4 week 'sprint', some have 2 week sprints, or, variable sprints according to the functionality that is being designed and tested in a sprint.

Finally we've found a great article that defines '10 types of contract for your next Agile project'. Peter Stevens writes about Agile and the relationship with different ways of working (contracts) at:

His analysis about the risks involved with a particular type of contract and the affect on the relationship with the client is particularly valuable. Do take a look.

Daljeet Sidhu gives 10 tips to identifying a quality service firm from web designers. Do you measure up? His tenth point is:

10. A Good Web Design Company Gets Honest about Rates and Turnaround Time

Even the most efficient Web designers can combine only two of the three features (High quality, speed and low cost) when designing your web-site. Professional web design teams will provide you accurate estimates about their rates, speed and turnaround time. Firms that are more expensive often have smaller waiting lists. If sufficient time is available, you can get a high quality website at a lower cost.

Slightly different perspectives on whether time, cost and quality can be achieved and what you have to do to keep your clients on-side. Perhaps there's truth in both.