Monday, April 23, 2007

Storytelling: Nostradamus has the seven-year itch

Visual Blogging - Storytelling and interactivity: your future vision.
You have 500 word and unlimited images. On your blog page, write your vision for the future of media. 100 years is too far away. What will we be interacting with in 7 years? Keep your focus on interaction and storytelling.



Shedroff's 100 Years piece published in 1995 is a fascinating look 12 years back at the art and science of prognostication. 1995 was the year I got on the Internet (although I had been an AOL/Prodigy/Compuserve user since 1990).

Nathan speculated that in 100 years:

"Windows® will not exist (Bob® should be gone in less than 5)"


Ah yes, Microsoft Bob, born March 1995, the first major attempt to "humanize" the personal computer computing experience, a social interface that never caught on, the leading edge of Web 0.5.

Bob lasted just one year. RIP Bob. The future of media is people telling their own stories, in a format that will vary greatly based on the type of story. Computing in 1995 when Shertoff wrote his piece involved people interacting with their computers. Microsoft Bob might have been a good application for that, but computer users by and large are interested in interacting with other PEOPLE, not with the computer. Interacting with the computer is a means, not an end. Bob failed. But interpersonal interaction has developed exponentially.


The future of the media in 2014 will involve people telling stories. This will largely be amplifications of two developing trends, wikis and blogs. The wikis and blogs will be used both by journalists and the public, often interchangeably. The democraticization of technology will make the technical details of maintaining, designing, and publishing a blog (or adding comments on a blog with design elements) transparent to the user. There will no longer be a need to learn how to alter CSS for simple design elements as programming will automate this. The old media method of centralized mediation for storytelling will give way to the new media method of distributed mediation.

Posted by Picasa(image from Reichenstein, 10 Newspaper Myths Deconstructed)

Wikis are computer applications that allow visitors to add, remove, edit and change content. The community can tell stories about individuals and events. After the Virginia Tech massacre, the New York Times noted that the wikipedia article on the massacre, which appeared instantaneously, was developed from the contributions of 2,074 editors, "... creating a polished, detailed article on the massacre, with more than 140 separate footnotes, as well as sidebars that profiled the shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, and gave a time line of the attacks." This community storytelling has itself become an invaluable resource for the mass media. According to the New York Times: "As unfamiliar as it may seem, the contributors insist there isn’t even a shadowy figure who becomes the mastermind of the process." Wikipedia has catalogued under its history the thousands of edits to the Virginia Tech Massacre, a history of the story-telling process. (For some reason, users Mark Chilton., Jcbarr,, Ineffable3000, Jehb,, and Theguvnorgc decided to tell my story on Wikipedia.)

Since 1934, the News & Observer has carried its political column "Under the Dome" on a daily basis. This week, in an expanded version of the print column, (which will continue to run) Dome is now a blog. The political community has viewed this is as not just a useful attempt to expand the political news and take it to a wider office, but as a democratization of politics, which will enable others to tell their stories. Anglico, one of the main bloggers at BlueNC, welcomed Dome to the blogosphere, with his most telling comments: "I'm excited about this for lots of reasons, the most important being my favorite thing in the whole wide world: transparency. The blogosphere is one big happy fishbowl. We now have a direct line to a handful of people who play an important role in shaping the political agenda in North Carolina. And make no mistake, that's what they do. The stories they cover, the verbs they use, the angles they play, the things they leave out. It all adds up to agenda-setting, and I personally believe that's the name of the game .... With this new blog, the playing field gets leveled ... [i]n an open-source world ..." Anglico clearly envisions newspaper blogs that accept comments as a place for citizens to tell their stories, free of filtering.

Blogs will enable citizens to tell stories without filtering, whether in the comment function of a blog or in the writer's own blog, or as a guest post. Blog moderators can also promote comments to posts. For example, when the National Conference of State Legislatures' staff blog "Thicket at State Legislatures" posted on the effect of redistricting on voter turnout, I continued the story with my own comment inline. The moderator liked it so much he made it a guest post, noting "This originally appeared as a comment on Increasing Voter Turnout II. We thought it was important enough to publish it as a guest post." The comment became its own story, with the moderator promoting it from comments to the front page (until it vanished below the fold in a few weeks).

In seven years, we will be interacting with each other. Interacting with the computer, while important for techies, will continue to recede for most web users as it is a means and not an end. Storytelling will be the key to media in 2014.


(from Dilbert)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

persona 2: Jimmy Hattricks

Jimmy Hattricks lives in Minneapolis zip code 55407. His neighborhood is an immigrant community, a lower income urban mosaic with a mixed populace of younger Hispanic, Asian, and African-American singles and families.

Jimmy was born May 11, 1981, the day of Bob Marley's death. At age 25, Jimmy has lived in Minneapolis for four years. Jimmy got his GED last year, he dropped out of high school and fled South Philly, playing backup guitar for several bands until he got into hip-hop music marketing. Jimmy's income is derived solely from being the leader of a street team, being paid by record labels, bands, night clubs, record stores, and performance venues to paste up broadsides publicizing albums, bands, and live peformances. He spends his time stapling or glueing them on utility poles, vacant buildings, and storefronts.

Jimmy lives in an urban row house, renting from an absentee landlord who lived in the neighborhood when it was all Italian immigrants. Jimmy is working class, with a household income of $34,070, including that from his live-in partner by civil union. Jimmy is very artistic, and is a practicing Rastafarian. He is an abstract thinker, and keeps up online with many cultural issues and music issues, especially the hip-hop culture. He is an advanced computer user, downloading both cutting edge and well established music of the hip-hop culture. He has a high-end Windows Media Center PC and a laptop with 2 Gig of RAM that he stashes in his car when on the road.

Jimmy has no brand loyalty, he will buy whatever is cheapest or castoff. He and his partner want to be recognized within the hip-hop culture. Jimmy is thinking of dropping the hip-hop record label street team and hooking up with the threadless Street Team.

Jimmy also enjoys reading about sports online, and is a big Minnesota Wild hockey fan. The arena is just a few blocks from his house. His birth surname was Wales, but he uses the surname "Hattricks" in his professional life to show his obsession with hockey. Jimmy is dyslexic, and sometimes has trouble reading information on the computer screen.


Jimmy is a useful case study for the newspaper website. This is a region with a substantial minority population that has not been heavy newspaper readers. Jimmy has not read the print edition of the Pioneer Press or its online for six months. With an accessibility issue, Jimmy represents that important user group as well. If Jimmy signs up with the threadless Street Team, he might be a potential advertiser on Pioneer Press/ as well.

Posted by Picasa

Persona of Scott Kennedy

Scott Kennedy lives in St. Paul zip code 55105. His area of town is a collection of young, mobile urbanites, a Bohemian Mix that represents liberal lifestyles. Its residents are a progressive mix of young singles and couples, students and professionals.

Scott is 43 years old, a college grad, and a native of St. Paul. He spent a year in an PhD program in English before dropping out. Scott and his wife live in an urban area of St. Paul, in a two story Victorian era house. In another generation, Scott would have been a novelist, but is a manager of an independent filmhouse. His household income is $51,558.

Scott loves to entertain in his sprawling house. Scott is a lapsed Unitarian, and does not criticize the lifestyles of his customers or neighbors, who are an ecletic mix. Scott considers himself a Renaissance scholar, with a broad personal library collection of hundreds of rare volumes.

Scott is an avid reader, but is rarely online. He is open to new experiences, and has told his friends that he wants to start following indy films online rather than continuing his expensive subscriptions to the daily and weekly issues of Variety that arrive in his mailbox to be carefully catalogued away after a late evening of reading while he finishes a Havana cigar preserved from the 1940s.

Scott's computer still runs Windows 95, and its media viewers were last updated in 1999, as Scott is afraid to download programs lest picking up viruses. He has tried to use the Internet to follow films, and his manager recently set up a website for his art house.

Scott is fiercely brand loyal. He read the Pioneer Press religiously for 25 years, but cancelled his subscription six months ago when the paper editorialized in defense of Mel Gibson.


Kennedy is a significant influence on the newspaper website redesign. He is a former subscriber in an area where newspapers are losing readership. He has broad connections in the community, and if he adopts the new website others of his ilk will surely follow.

Photograph courtesy Library of Congress, photographer Carl van Vechten

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

somber day at virginia tech


Posted by Picasa

A somber day for all Hokies. The website has been revamped, images gone, only a small VT logo. The website conveys a somber tone.


UPDATE: Thursday, April 19. The Hokie website is revamped again, this time an entirely black background with white letters, a highly emotional picture two columns wide on a 3 column layout with text 2x1 below the pictures. At the bottom of the page (not visible in the screen grab below) are text links to regular university functions. The grid is reinforced with a dashed white line running vertically between the columns, and with solid horizontal white line separators.


Classes resume, website returns to normal pre-April 16 colors on the top banner, but retains the right column of names of victims with white letters on a black background. A good transition back to the old layout.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Interaction design: Museums worst practices: Old Prison Museum

I'll refer you back to my best practices post to see the scope of the assignment.

The Old Prison Museum website (Deerlodge, Montana) is an example of bad interaction design.

It is basically a four page design, with a link for a self-guided tour, local links, and a contact page.

The interaction design is miserable. I can find none of the information my grandmother and son need. Only the contact page tells me even what city the museum is in. There is no information on parking, little on exhibits, nothing on accessibility or food. The design make the museum less attractive. The museum hours are listed, and the names of the tour guides. The grammar is atrocious, leaving a negative feeling: "Guided tour's are available."

The top navigation bar is consistent between the four pages, that's the only thing positive I can say.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Interaction design: Museums best practices: Holocaust Museum

You, your mother (75 years old; with bad knees; sweet old lady, with a great sense of humor and interest in anything that he grandson is interested in) and your 15 year old (energetic and mercurial) son, Josh, are planning to visit XXXX city and go to XXXX museum for a 4 hour visit. You need to make sure that the trip to the museum will go well, so try to plan for any and all disasters before hand.
A few potential disasters or concerns:
Mom stresses about traffic and parking. She will nag you increasingly every minute that you circle a block looking for a space. What is the parking situation?
Mom's knees tend to ache after standing for awhile. She will want a wheelchair or to go back to the hotel. Can you get her a wheelchair?
Josh is bored by 'old-fogey stuff'. Is there a contemporary or bleeding edge exhibit that will win cool points in Josh' eyes - and how would you know if it is cool enough?
Josh always loves to eat and mom is happy to pay. Is there a restaurant/food option that might be attractive to both of them? Is it a cafeteria or a restaurant? Price?
Tour guides / audio tours... maybe you should get one of these and just not worry about keeping everyone happy. What's available? How much? Do you need to reserve in advance?
Is there really enough to see here for a 4 hour visit? Or should you plan for other events in the area - what else is close by?
Are there special events or performances that you should plan your visit around.

My best practices site is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I've been there twice and am familiar with the area, so should have a feel for whether whatever advice I find is likely to be accurate.

I'm going to be looking for quick access to the following information:

  1. Parking and traffic

  2. Handicapped access

  3. An appealing exhibit for a male teen

  4. Onsite food info

  5. Tour guides/audio guides

  6. How much time can you spend there

  7. What's nearby of interest

  8. Any special exhibits at the museum

I start with the index page, which has enormous white space (well actually blue and white) on the left and right, so the site appears quite open:

The top Navbar appears quite useful, with a mouseover submenu that's just what the doctor ordered for my family visit.

19 menu choices appear on the "Museum info" slot, including the potential helpers "Plan a visit, hours, directions", "museum cafe", "Exhibition information" a FAQ, and contact info. Excellent navigation, this menu is front and center. Next step, see how many of my questions will get answered right away.

I start by going to the plan a visit page, which looks like it has the potential for getting me started


Wow, a "getting here and parking" link that has info that should calm down mom. There's a map with a blowup inset and a detail on parking that will let us know about wheelchairs:

"Parking: The Museum has no public parking facility. There is a paid parking lot at 12th and C St., SW (east of the Museum) which costs approximately $4 per hour, and hourly metered parking along Independence Ave. Area public lots fill early in the day, and street parking is restricted. There is no street or lot parking west of the Museum. Expect to walk three to five blocks to the Museum entrance if you choose to bring your car. Staff are ready to facilitate passenger drop off at the driveway by the 14th St. entrance for visitors needing personal assistance. There is also limited, four-hour bus parking available at D and 14th Streets. Accessible public parking: For vehicles bearing the appropriate access tags, the National Park Service has designated approximately ten accessible parking spaces at and around the Washington Monument, along Independence Avenue west of 14th St., and at the Tidal Basin parking lot."

How could we ask for more information?


Two bites at this apple, a detailed page on accessibility that summarizes things nicely, and for those that obsess about it, a 26-page downloadable accessibility guide that's in .pdf. The site does not make the mistake of only offering this as a .pdf. The accessibility page told me right off that wheelchairs are available from the Check Room (wherever that is). The FAQ page tells me "Museum facilities are accessible to persons with physical disabilities. Elevators serve all areas, and each exhibition incorporates program accommodations (films are subtitled in English, and audio-only portions have text accompaniments). Wheelchairs and some visual aids may be borrowed at the Check Room free of charge."


The museum's easily findable exhibition webpage carefully lays out all the exhibits. I'm sure the exhibit "Give Me Your Children: Voices from the Lodz Ghetto" will appeal to my teen son.


The top menu bar has an easily recognizable link to the Museum Cafe', with a menu and an online order form. Yum!


The FAQ page tells the user "The Guided Highlights program offers tours to all interested visually impaired, blind, and blind-deaf individuals and their friends and families. The three-hour tours cover highlights from the Museum's Permanent Exhibition, using visually descriptive language, tactile reproductions of objects and architectural elements, and visual aids. Please make reservations for the tours at least two weeks in advance. Tours can be arranged for any day the Museum is open for times before 1:30 p.m."


The easily findable FAQ page tells me "It can take several hours to see the entire exhibition, and most visitors spend about two hours. Selectively viewing the exhibition can reduce time. Visitors are free to explore the exhibition at their own pace... What if I only have an hour to visit? What can I see? While the Permanent Exhibition can take over two hours to visit, there are a number of other exhibitions, displays and resources you can visit for as little or as much time as you might have available. No entry passes are necessary for any of the items listed..."

The navigation and layout of the Holocaust Museum website is very appealing, especially given the somber nature of the exhibitions. The interface is wonderful, and easily navigable. The interactions design keep you on the site and tells you where you area.

Kudos to the web designers. Now, off to find a museum with a bad interface.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

week 12: interaction design;Ultimate Toobars

The David Pogue podcast on TedTalks was enlightening. My favorite illustration of the absurdity of design elements carried to an ultimate was his illustration of what the screen of Microsoft Word would look like if you open all the toolbars. Not much room to type! Here it is:

(screenshot above from the podcast)
You could do it yourself at home by opening MSWord and going to the view>toolbars menu. The default has only 3 of the 20+ available toolbars active.