Yahoo! makes it easy to do the right CSS thing

Posted by bryanzug - 2006/05/11

Yesterday Yahoo! released another in its series of open source CSS/AJAX framework resources. This one includes a pretty cool Grids CSS library that will take the headache out of trying to do CSS layout.

For quick reference, take a look at the examples of their available templates and grids.

As someone who’s been trying to make the jump to CSS layout for a while, dealing with the necessary browser quirks has been a bit too much for me to make the full jump — most of the projects where I’ve tried to go full CSS have been too short for me to really get my head around things.

Standardized libraries like this make it easy.

This is where I think that Yahoo! really understands web developers and Microsoft just doesn’t.

I was at the Real World AJAX Seminar a couple of weeks ago in San Jose and got to hear Eric Miraglia from Yahoo! Presentation Platform Engineering present on why/what Yahoo! is making freely available with these libraries.

They have basically made these libraries free (even to their competitors) to make it easier for developers to increase the quality of user experience on the web — that makes me happy as a developer because they are making it easier for me to do the right thing (CSS layout, cross browsers support, etc).

Conversely, at the same conference, I got to see some of the Atlas platform from Microsoft that is supposed to do the same kind of thing — it was cool, but when MS keeps rolling out products that don’t support other browsers — well, it’s not a bridge builder for a developer like me.

With these two very different ways of doing business, it becomes clear, very quickly, that MS and I do not hold the same things dear — and that’s where they are losing this race with developers like me every single day.



Research survey on tagging

Posted by bryanzug - 2006/05/04

From the Ma.gnolia newsletter comes a call to participate in a research survey on tagging via ma.gnolia.com —

Tell Baruch College Why You Use Ma.gnolia Tagging is an active topic in academics these days, and the Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College in New York city would like your help in their research. The faculty of Statistics and Computer Information Systems are conducting a 10-15 minute survey about your experience with Ma.gnolia. The results will aid developers of all tagging websites create a better experience for you. The survey is anonymous and can be found at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=450142014755. Please note that Ma.gnolia is not affiliated with this independent survey, and no individual information will be shared or published.

After a few Mind Camp 2.0 discussions on tagging last weekend, I’m more interested than ever on getting ahold of some good research telling us why users use these services — and where we can find concrete ROI’s with them.

Right now, there seems to be general agreement that tagging and folksonomies are useful (except for Dave anyway, who, at Mind Camp, made some really good points about tagging being an early adopter edge case activity that regular folks will likely never do — consistently anyway).

My thing about all of these discussions that advocate things like tagging or informal learning tools like blogs/wiki’s is that they are very anecdotal. Am looking forward to some research that will help us separate fact from fiction.



AJAX Heat Map Mouse Tracking: Crazy Egg on the way

Posted by bryanzug - 2006/03/15

Nearly missed this Tech Crunch post the other day about Crazy Egg (Thanks Gernot!). It’s a new AJAX extension to your website that allows you to view heatmaps of user mouse tracking patterns.

Sounds like it’s dead simple to install — go to the article to look at the picture to get an idea of how it works.

Seems like some very useful visualizations to me — another arrow for the UX quiver (quiver, who says quiver anymore, really?)



Kathy says ‘Reducing guilt is the killer app’

Posted by bryanzug - 2006/03/14

Over on Creating Passionate Users, Kathy Sierra posted that ‘Reducing guilt is the killer app’.

I buy it — how about you?

Can’t tell you how easy it is for my eLearning and design efforts to get stuck in the mud because the system just doesn’t give users the feeling of ‘You can do it!’ (to quote Jaime Escalante who I saw speak once when I was in college — he was amazing — all he said for 20 minutes was that phrase — over and over — “You can do it!” — with a Cheech Marin accent — inspiration comes in many forms — some stand and deliver more that any visio diagram ever will — how can we create systems that, through their UX design, say this?)

Kathy nails it by identifying the emotional stress of not measuring up to all of the stuff people don’t know but that seems within reach (a kind of knowledge proximity, as it were).

And here’s her choice quote on what to do about it —

Help users revolt. Help them realize that perhaps their problem wasn’t their fault. Struggling to learn these tough technical topics? Maybe it isn’t you. Maybe it’s the way these topics are taught (or rather, the way they are not being taught). Part of our mission with the Head First books is to let learners off the hook! To say, “It is not your fault. Traditional learning experiences (including many text books) are usually not designed for the best interest of your brain…”

More on this later regarding Seth Godin’s recent talk at Google. I finally got my video iPod setup the other day and watched the video of it — some very important ideas in there — distilled very nicely.



The eLearning Access/UX Shell Game

Posted by bryanzug - 2006/02/09

One of the most overlooked necessities of success for an eLearning system is easy self-service access (and navigation).

Ever since the cut-to-the-chase design of Google’s interface beat the everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink design of MSN and others, clear and simple “Don’t Make Me Think” system design has become the expected norm of nominal users everywhere.

And, when it comes to eLearning systems, this consideration will often make the difference between whether your $100k+ investment in this stuff is going to return results that are more of a bang and less of a whimper.

A great case study of this reality can be found in a recent edition of Elliot Masie’s Learning Trends Newsletter.

In it, Graham Higgins, the Chief Learning Officer of Cathay Pacific Airlines, talks about how engineering their entire organization around employee’s easy access to self-service activities was the hedgehog concept that would lead to the eventual great success of their eLearning initiatives —

We started in the mid 90s with self help flexible benefits, you choose how to spend your benefit dollar value. From those who preferred to be looked after we had open hostility, we had taken away our care for them. 2 years later it was just the way we did things and it was smart, convenient, and gave people some control that they valued.

I love the fact that Higgins then goes into detail on how ‘putting something online’ is not the cure-all that many frame it to be. The hard lesson of many eLearning projects is that anteing up the cost to put training online is no guarantee of success.

Like its many capital expenditure cousins, eLearning has as good a chance as any of leaving organizations feeling like they’ve just paid big bucks to play a board walk shell game — all those promised benefits are under which one?

And yet, as Higgins points out with a couple of tipping points toward success, it doesn’t have to be that way.

First example he notes is that these projects require careful attention to user experience (UX) design — ie. Is this thing easy to use? Is it intuitive? Do I have to think how to do what I’m trying to do?

Self-serve, however, if it is on line needs to be designed with the same insight and investment as a commercial website. I have been in conversations with software vendors where they reassured me that the interface is not that intuitive but they will provide user training to make it work. No No No. That really is abandonment, if your customers feel that your site is hard to use they wont use it, why make it difficult for employees to self help. If customers feel that your site is there to push your choice of product they will go elsewhere, why should we design employee processes that don’t give choice, control and ease of access.

The important nugget to remember here is “ease of access” (and, if you know anything about me by now, you know that Steve Krug’sDon’t Make Me Think” approach to this stuff is the Bees Knees).

As Web Yada.Whatever.You.Wanna.Call.It has shown us, it’s doesn’t matter how much it costs if it’s not easy to access and use.

Another great point Higgins makes is that Cathay Pacific did not force folks into getting knowledge a certain way — instead, they focused on the knowledge itself. If you had it, you could test out, if you didn’t, you had easy access to get it in a way that suited you.

The step forward was to agree that if someone could take an assessment and demonstrate the capability to apply the new knowledge to his or her job, then it was not necessary to show that they had attended a seminar or completed the package. How they got that knowledge didn’t matter, we provided access to self teach tailored on line learning options for different work streams, copies of the policy, descriptions of cases, links to external websites, and email access to the in-house experts.

Combined, these guiding principles created a Buildup-Breakthrough Flywheel momentum that resulted in great success —

10,000 employees, and we hit 96% success within a couple of months. The main failure points? Some people could not remember their login in Ids and used their friend’s, no track or trace for them. Back to the design of easy access.

Good stuff to note on this eLearning journey.



Google’s New China Logo

Posted by bryanzug - 2006/01/28

I haven’t quite digested what I think about the whole Google censoring China results thing, but I just saw this icon treatment and, well, thought it was pretty powerful —

Google\'s New China Logo

Image surfaced in the thread here and is by Paul Bubel. Thanks to Jeff Nolan for surfacing it and tech.memeorandum for signaling it up through the noise to my Saturday afternoon attention span.



If software lived in meatspace

Posted by bryanzug - 2005/10/24

Great post on Signal vs Noise over at 37signals the other day proposing that “If software was physical you’d have to look away”.

It’s not only funny, but thought provoking as well (always a powerful combination in my book).

The idea came to mind again yesterday as I was talking with a friend who is a tech leader at a large healthcare organization in the Seattle area.

We were on the topic of content management systems (or knowledge management systems, if you prefer) and why the big expensive enterprise ones, like Microsoft’s Sharepoint products, result in so much suckage.

In reflecting on our discussion, I realized there are several ways to make the case — here are a few for instances —

For Instance 1: I can talk about how these types of systems don’t follow baseline “Don’t Make Me Think” usability principles — which works really well if the folks you are talking with are aware of Steve Krug’s work (and better still if they agree with it).

Even if they haven’t heard of “Don’t Make Me Think”, I’ve found that I usually sound smarter than I am (often the case — ha ha ha) because the title is funny and my sound bite description of Krug’s thesis often gels with folksy conventional wisdom — even if you don’t spend your free time studying human interaction and user interface design best practices.

(For the record, my soundbite synopsis of Krug’s thesis goes like this — “We think people use computers with much thoughtfulness, like many of us tech folks do — but, the research is showing they don’t — most folks actually go to a screen and just start clicking on stuff — often getting confused really fast and then giving up, or, alternately, settling into a process of smoldering frustration if they can’t accomplish the task at hand” — my colleague Christian Watson has posted this great picture of this point from the back cover of the book in his review of the second edition)

For Instance 2: I can describe how inflexible a Sharepoint system is when compared to some of the open source solutions that are quickly reshaping this business space.

For those of you that don’t know, there are a lot of free tools out there that are hands down kicking Sharepoint’s ass — examples include Xaraya (customer facing implementation of which can be seen via these sites from Sacred Heart Medical Center of Spokane, WA and The Schwab Foundation), Drupal, WordPress, Moveable Type, Mambo, Writeboard, etc.

For example — I can make most of the open source tools look like this or this or this (if it makes usability sense) but I can only make the Sharepoint site look like an ugly stepsister of this even if it is, to put it politely, not optimal for my users.

For Instance 3 (The Closer): I could take the 37signals cue and just say, “If Sharepoint existed in meatspace, you’d have to look away”.

The folks with good visualization skills would immediately feel nauseated, say “Yep — you’re right” and we’d all be moving on to the next topic.

This third method, in my book, is a noteworthy and cost effective method of rapid systems prototyping — ha ha ha



Cerner Health Conference 2005 Presentation

Posted by bryanzug - 2005/10/11

As promised, here are the files from my panel presentation “Web-Based Training: Effective & Affordable Solutions” from the Cerner Health Conference in Orlando on October 10, 2005.

The PowerPoint File:

http://elearningskinny.com/wp-content/cerner2005zug.ppt

The Flash .exe file demoing the Children’s CIS WBT structure and interaction model. (Intended for 1024×768 screen resolution):

http://elearningskinny.com/wp-content/chc2005bryanzugwbt_demo.exe



The Moment Your PowerPoint is Done (A musing on the mystical result of reduction toward simplicty)

Posted by bryanzug - 2005/10/06

It’s fun to watch effective solutions propogate across industries and disciplines.

That’s what struck me as I finally watched the ‘Identity 2.0’ presentation Dick Hardt of Sxip Identity gave at O’Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) a couple of months ago in Portland.

While the presentation was brilliant in it’s content (he really made a technical subject very easy to understand to folks like me who went to public high school) — his form is what grabbed my attention.

If you do any public presenting in any industry (executive, teacher, supervisor, project manager, sales, pastor, etc.) — GO WATCH THIS VIDEO NOW!

(Yes, I know I’m shouting — but hey, I need to get your attention and that’s the rarest commodity these days.)

Hardt uses a conversational and simple PowerPoint (apologies for the CamelBack) style that will have a big impact on what these types of presentations look like in the future.

The thing he does so well here is what any seasoned graphic, mulimedia, or user interface (UI) designer tells the novices around us to do everyday –

Simplify, simplify, simplify!

Use white space!


Or — the one I picked up somewhere many years ago — the voice of the aged design guru who, in passing his years of wisdom to the young grasshopper now before him, leans in and in a classy foreign accent says –

“Zhe first prinicple of design is to take zhevrything possible out of zhe design – ZHEVERYTHING!!”

“Zhuntil it nearly breaks.” (This part is whispered)

“Zhuntil the thing nearly stops working.” (Again, whispered)

“…zhe moment when you’ve done zhat and you can do no more – zhis is the moment you are finished…” (This is when the guru sighs, and dies)


So it was great to watch Hardt run with it — spectacular, funny, and simple — in a way that that the whole became more than the sum of its parts.

Then, to top it off, Hardt notes that he did not invent the style but picked it up from Larwence Lessig.

Wow — very cool — I have been a big fan of Lessig for years but have never seen or heard him present. Nice to see effective solutions go viral (and to note, yet again, that we are all standing on the shoulders of giants — forget this and you will be left behind).

For me it begs the Myst (or Narnia) question of whether we are creating new things or whether we are (re?)discovering things that have always been around, but that we’ve forgotten or never noticed.

It’s a kick to watch this reduction toward simplicity (HTTP, XHTML, web services, AJAX, etc.) generate things that are nearly mystical (Web 2.0, The Long Tail, Kurtzweil’s spiritual machine musings, and other rings of power).



Default Chic

Posted by bryanzug - 2005/09/27

Obviously haven’t gotten around to changing the default template in WordPress for this blog – which got me to thinking about how many tech blogs I see around that just have one of the default blog templates installed.

I’m calling it “default chic”.

It really is a cooler than you fashion statement (ha ha ha) – my content is so compelling that you really should just get over my default out of the box HTML & CSS.

Truth is, within about 15 minutes, most of us could find a decent and free template to upload and replace Mr. Blue OSX Pill Top here.

Worse yet are those of us with design skills. We really could customize something original and aesthetically pleasing within 2-3 hours, but, alas, we just can’t be bothered – as they say, the cobblers children have no shoes.

One of my favorite tech blogs is that of technical project management wunderkind Scott Berkun. He’s got me completely smitten – his conversational, humorous and pragmatic approach to project management continuously helps me navigate all those areas of life where I have to work with other people (e.g. work, home, yada, yada, yada…)

I’m such a goner — I would stalk Berkun if I had the time.

And, yep, you guessed it – though he’s trying to get a custom look and feel together – he’s still strutting default chic.


This AM googling for “default chic” returned 886 results.



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