Friday, December 28, 2012

My Favourite Webslinger Posts of 2012

As the year wraps up, every year I reflect via this blog on my favourite posts from the past year.

Is Facebook an Echo Chamber?
A large study was released in January arguing that Facebook helps expose us to more and novel information, but although I love Facebook I discuss how my experience differs from the study's claims.

Top 20 Most Important Developments of the Internet
In honour of the Internet Society's 20th anniversary they asked for submissions from the public on what should make it into the Internet Hall of Fame - I offerred my 20 picks from the obvious (ARPANET and hypertext) to the forgotten (GeoCities and

Locative Media and Geosocial Networking - Overview Presentation
I was asked by one of Canada's top mobile carrier to speak to them about geosocial networking. Although I believe apps that focus exclusively on the geosocial networking may not last, embedded geosocial networking and media functionality is changing how we socialize, express, and discover.
(I also guest lectured on this topic to an undergraduate at University of Toronto in February.)

Canada's Walk of Fame - Needs Digital Footprints
In response to Canada's Walk of Fame lack of any people in digital media, I offerred my suggestions for some worthy inductees, such as Tim Bray, Garrett Camp, Lorne Abony, and William Gibson.

My Fondness and Frustration with foursquare
I was an early evangelist for the first great location-based service, foursquare, in this post I chronicle my love-hate relationship.

Putting Facebook and Flickr on the Map
If you look to your right of this blog, you'll see a link to "My Photos".  This page combines three of my greatest passions - the Internet, travelling, and photography.  I played around (for way too long) with various online photo mapping features to achieve a great way to display travel or local photos.

Notable Canadians in Digital Media and Technology
Every Canada Day, I update my list of famous and influential people and companies in digital media.  The list started out rather small, but has now grown to    over 200.

Explorations of Place and Media - An Interview with Shawn Micallef
A leader in locative media, Shawn Micallef, answered my questions on his early forays into locative media, [murmur] to his recent Twitter collaboration with Toronto's public transit and his plans for the future.

Tips to Get a SSHRC Graduate Grant
Although this topic, on how to get government grants for PhD or Master's research isn't normally within the Webslinger mandate, this post (which I update every year) has gotten the most response and views.

On Location in Baltimore
I presented at a conference in Baltimore (during Hurricane Sandy) on a study I did on how people use location-based service. While in Baltimore and armed with a new mobile device (a "superphone"), I thus had a chance to use new locative functionalities to explore new places.

Mobile Devices Are Changing Our Lives
Time Magazine ran a cover story on how mobile devices are changing our lives.  Despite the hyperbole that mobiles often engender, I offerred my suggestions on how they truly are changing our lives.

People Should Still Not Have to Think!
I got to meet one of the people who helped shaped my career, Steve Krug, the online usability god.  I took pages of notes on his presentation and got him to autograph my copy of his landmark book, "Don't Make Me Think".

Although I never see to have enough time to blog as much as I would like (and have a backlog of topics to get to), I did blog the most I have in four years. More importantly, I find blogging to be the most rewarding professional and creative outlet.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

People Should Still Not Have to Think!

I attended a talk recently by usability expert Steve Krug. His book written in 2000 Don't Make Me Think helped convince me in the early days of my Internet career of the importance of usability and the need to study it. So I totally geeked out when I had the opportunity after all these years later to hear him speak in person. I grabbed his book from my shelf, next to my other treasured classics such as by Nielsen and Holzschlag, and hoped to get an autograph.

Krug was sponsored by University of Toronto's Association for Information Systems, who very kindly squeezed me into their full event at UofT's Faculty of Information. His talk addressed the continued need for usability testing and recent developments that make it easier than ever to do so.

Despite the passage of time since publication of his landmark book, Krug still asserts that too much digital media design is not user-friendly and consequently "if you're not usability testing you must be nuts".

Krug noted that in the past usability testing was difficult and expensive, so there could be an excuse to not do it. Usability tests were conducted in speciality labs that had the ability to record testers and had a private room separated by one-way glass to allow developers/designers to observe unobtrusively. The labs and test experts were very expensive. Most often, labs were offsite. It was also difficult to recruit testers as they needed to physically be in lab.

But advances over recent years have made it easy and inexpensive to do usability testing. Now screensharing technology and software that records software usage is cheap and easy to use. So usability testing sessions can be set up pretty much anywhere and then broadcast to development teams located anywhere with an Internet connection. Remote testing is also an attractive option, Krug suggested, as it makes recruiting testers much easier and not much essential info is lost in the process.

To demonstrate the ease of doing such a test, Krug organized a testing session on the spot. He tested the mobile application Clear.

As usability testing should be done not for "statistical validity but actionable insight" the power of his impromptu test was immediately apparent as the tester reached roadblocks in her usage. The tester was requested to express her thought processes out loud (i.e. think aloud protocol) as she used Clean and was able to clearly articulate her problem.

Within moments, the tester provided evidence of problems and direction for changes. It wasn't complicated, expensive, or time-consuming but the input gained would dramatically improve the application (and likely make them more money).

Krug six maxims for usability testing
I condensed the maxims as follows:
  1. Do usability testing (with 3 people) every month.
  2. Start testing earlier in a project than you think (e.g. test prototypes or competitors products).
  3. Recruit loosely and grade on a curve (i.e. don't get so hung up about finding the ideal target user that you don't test as frequently).
  4. Make usability testing a spectator sport (i.e. invite as many people from the team to observe testing sessions together as "usability testing is the ultimate way to resolve debates around design issues").
  5. Prioritize findings - you'll uncover a lot of problems so identify the top three problem by participant.
  6. Tweaks are better than redesign.
Tips on testing mobile apps & sites
I asked Krug for some tips on testing mobile applications or sites. First, he noted that one can share their screen usage of a mobile device just as easily as a website (as witnessed by the Clear test session) so special video cameras to record mobile device usage are not necessary.

I also asked how one can overcome the difficulties of testing a mobile app or site in the context of use, particularly when the context is important - as with location based services. Krug offerred three points:
  1. How important is the context? Is it essential functionality? If not, testing in context may not be that crucial.
  2. How realistic does the context need to be, that is can it be simulated?
  3. Even if context is crucial, there is still tremendous value testing anywhere as problems will still be uncovered.
So the message is clear - just test. And do it frequently.

At the end of Krug's talk, I hesitantly took out my book to ask for his autograph. While waiting in line to talk to Krug, I noticed another person doing the same thing  - for the same reason. I'm clearly not the only person who has found his advice tremendously useful and influential.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Learn How to Use Digital Media Strategically

A few years ago, I was managing a website for a financial services company and wanted to take courses to improve my ability to use online communications effectively and strategically. I also wanted courses geared towards those managing online media, but the programs I found in the Toronto area covered mostly the technical (i.e. programming or development) or design elements.

I ended up taking the e-Business program at University of Toronto's School for Continuing Studies. At the time, it was the only such program in the Greater Toronto Area.

Although it was a good program, e-Business tends to deal mostly with the infrastructure and business processes required to have a business online.

Educational programs on digital media management are expanding, but I still find that there is not much with a marketing, communications, strategy, and operations focus.

So I was really excited to hear from a colleague, Eden Spodek, that she in conjunction with other experienced professionals will be launching a certificate program in Digital Strategy and Communications Management with the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Education in 2013.

The Digital Strategy and Communications Management certificate program aims to help professionals "make sense of the digital and social media landscape" and to learn to use new and emerging digital media for organizational goals.

Classes start January 2013 consists of three required courses taken consecutively:
  1. Foundations in Digital Communications Strategy and Social Media
  2. Social on the Inside: Internal Communications On and Offline
  3. Advanced Practices in Digital Reputation Management
Some of the learning outcomes (from their website) include:
  • Integrate digital, social and mobile platforms into a strategic approach to communications management
  • Develop and implement goal-oriented and outcome-based measurement and evaluation techniques to communications strategy and tactics
  • Use social and digital channels to strategically engage management, employees, partners and suppliers to develop and maintain relationships built on trust
  • Develop creative, measurable and relevant digital and social media plans and strategies that blend earned, owned and paid components and leverage analytics to demonstrate ROI
I asked Eden to whom the program is geared towards and she replied that it "is targeted towards anyone who recognizes the importance of creating and disseminating online content as part of their job and wants to do so strategically. Previous experience is not necessary as there will be a lot of hands-on instruction. Class participation will be encouraged and with a strong emphasis on learning by doing."

Eden adds, "We anticipate there will be a lot of two-way mentoring between students because they will have different levels of experience. For example, most digital natives will be familiar with the tools but won’t necessarily know how to develop a strategy. More seasoned practitioners may not be as comfortable with the tools yet may have a lot of experience developing communications and marketing strategies. These two groups will have a lot to learn from and share with each other."

All the courses are offerred at University of Toronto's St. George campus. But it is possible that online courses may be offerred in the future. As Eden states, “U of T's School of Continuing Studies considered an online version from the beginning and development is likely to begin following the pilot of the first course.”