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Devlearn 09 - Day 1

I’m in cold San Jose this week attending Devlearn 2009.

The first day keynote was by Andrew McAfee. He is the author of a recently published book, Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools for Your Organization’s Toughest Challenges.

I’m not going to describe the subject of his talk; there are many blogs that have done that already (here and here).

It was a nice talk and he gave many pointers. But he made no attempt to bridge the gap between Enterprise 2.0 and Learning 2.0. Or answer questions like ‘how Enterprise 2.0 can be used to leverage Learning 2.0?’

Maybe the breakout sessions were meant to do just that – and there were many, many sessions that had social media and especially Twitter in their agenda. This surprised me a lot, in a negative way. 

I found that there is a very big hype on using social media for learning. Many are talking about it and there seems to be a divide between those who have experimented with it or have a program for it and those who are just trying to grapple with their day-to-day learning challenges. The 2.0ers feel elevated, hip, trendy and scoff at the those who are still trying to make the best of taxpayer or shareholder money by being conservative and seeking out what works.

But all of this talk on social media I heard had a lot to say about the media part but very little on the learning part. They are still advocating the creating and access to content with very little attention on why this is being done and how is it going to help learning and improve performance in the long run. The systems view I think is missing here. The mantra seems to be “get social and you’ll learn”. This has a lot to say about the maturity of Learning 2.0.

Talking about maturity, there were many talks that were just blasts from the past – “How to grab attention”, “How to use video effectively”, etc. All I can say is, WOW!

Here is my frank opinion on the first day – the talks did not excite me but they did give me a good picture of the e-learning landscape in the US. It shows me what people are busy with and what they are experimenting with and what we can expect to see in the next few years. The total experience is more than the sum of the parts I guess.

But I can tell you what excited me – meeting Jay Cross. Here we are, two individuals on opposite sides of the planet, engrossed in each other’s work for over 10 years but never having met face-to-face. Then I finally see him and what a joy it was.

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The Information Architecture of Behavior Change Websites

This research report looks at the IA of sites that are designed to influence behavioral change, for example, giving up smoking. The report identifies 3 types of structure: hierarchical, matrix (hypertext), tunnel (linear) and the hybrid (a mix of the other types).

“The Internet has rapidly become an accepted part of daily life for hundreds of millions of people worldwide. As a result, it is reasonable to conclude that these revolutionary advances will act as a catalyst to expand the scope and impact of both persuasive technology, in general, and of Internet-based health behavior change programs. We have highlighted the important role that IA designs can have upon the design and likely impact of online behavior change programs.”

Via Adaptive Path’s Signposts.

Communities of Practice: Optimizing Internal Knowledge Sharing

Michael Hawley has written an article describing how ‘Communities of Practice’ or CoPs can save intranets from the findabilty problem.

“The key to intranet success is to provide value to employees and give them a reason to visit the site repeatedly. One of the primary ways to achieve this is to connect employees with the people and groups with whom they need to collaborate. Workgroups, or communities of practice, provide the basis for a living, growing, vibrant space in which people can access the information they need, share best practices, and contribute to a shared knowledge base.”

I don’t think CoPs can save intranets. The CoPs may solve the local findability problem but not the global findability problem. What if a staff from another department wants to find something that sits in a siloed CoP? We’ve seen this again and again. A new technology comes along and people get excited with it, start using it and then find out they are doing the same things with the new technology as before.

In my experience, intranets have seen progress when changes are made to the process—the way the work is done.

In his talk yesterday Michael Sampson mentioned that when e-mail and shared access came to the enterprise we learned to work with them and became comfortable with them because the technology worked and because there was nothing better for a long period of time. Now we’re seeing a fast pace of change in the technologies available in the enterprise. These are much better and more efficient but we resist giving up our way of working.

There is always going to be this gap and if we don’t do something to bridge it then CoPs and whatever comes next will just add to the chaos.

You Can Get There From Here: Websites for Learners

Amber Simmons writes about making websites 'learner-friendly'.
"Most websites are not learner-friendly. Web creators might aim for beautiful, accessible, usable interfaces to house their smart, web-native content, but they don’t often have learners’ goals or needs in mind—if they even know what those needs are... As an industry, we haven’t done our best to make our content-rich websites suitable for learning and exploration. Learners require more from us than keywords and killer headlines. They need an environment that is narrative, interactive, and discoverable."
You may also want to skim an article I wrote back in 2001 titled Serendipitous learning.

Anecdote Circles at High Speed

A great way to show a technique in action. Patrick Lambe speeds up a video of ‘Ancedote Circles’ and explains steps in the process.

Human behavior: the key to future tech developments

CNN reports on the increasing awareness and demand for digital ethnography education.

“As trained observers of how people in a society live, ethnographers can help companies figure out what people need and then work with designers to meet those needs with new (or more often tweaked) products and services. In a world in which ever more people are using technology products on a daily basis, such skills are increasingly in demand.”

The PEP Talks videos

PEP stands for Passion, Experience, People. It's an event where experts share their passions with college students. Nice talks all around. From Chis Rockwell on Mind of Design to Jim Hendrickson on "choosing" vs. "following" your career path.

Attending Devlearn 09 and KM World 09

The good folks at Devlearn have given me a journalists pass to attend Devlearn this year. So I am going. While I’m there I’ll also be attending KM World. I think it will be a terrific opportunity to meet the community and make new friends. If you are going as well and if you like to connect do mail me at maish-at-elearningpost.com. Looking forward to these events.

Why Are Web Sites So Confusing?

Andrei Hagiu assistant professor in the Strategy unit at Harvard Business School tries to rationalize why websites are so confusing:

“Thus, consumers coming to the supermarket to buy daily staples (say, bread and milk) might be induced to also get expensive chocolate if they have to walk past the corresponding aisle anyway. Shoppers visiting a mall for its anchor store (say, Macy’s) may decide to stop by a small design store while walking around the mall. And while flipping through the pages of a magazine in search of the article promised on the cover, readers are exposed to advertising, which produces most of the revenues.”

“In the same way, Google faces a subtle issue in designing its search result pages: consumers are mostly interested in the “objective” (i.e., middle) search results, but all revenues come from the sponsored search ads on the right hand side. The result is a compromise between what users want and what produces more revenues. For any given search, the 11th objective search result might be more relevant than any of the sponsored search results displayed on the right; yet it will be displayed on the second search page only—well beyond the reach of most users.”

The Myth of Usability Testing

Robert Hoekman Jr. discusses the reliability of usability tests in the latest issue of A List Apart.

“Usability teams also have wildly differing experience levels, skill sets, degrees of talent, and knowledge, and although some research and testing methods have been homogenized to the point that anyone should be able to perform them proficiently, a team’s savvy (or lack thereof) can affect the results it gets. That almost anyone can perform a heuristic evaluation doesn’t mean the outcome will always be useful or even accurate. Heuristics are not a checklist, they are guidelines a usability evaluator can use as a baseline from which to apply her expertise. They are a beginning, not an end.”

The essence of qualitative research: “verstehen”

Nice post by Sam Ladner on sample size when conducting qualitative research. Ladner says “Folks, qualitative research does not worry about numbers of people; it worries about deep understanding”. I can relate with this because I’m writing a response to a proposal that has stated the problem only briefly but has spent the rest of the proposal describing how they want the research to be executed, along with the exact number of people to interview, etc. This is an example of a quantitative proposal to solve a qualitative problem.

Libraries and Readers Wade Into Digital Lending

NY Times reports on the emerging trend of borrowing e-books from libraries. It’s all nice but there are some cracks—e-books are treated as physical books. “Most digital books in libraries are treated like printed ones: only one borrower can check out an e-book at a time, and for popular titles, patrons must wait in line just as they do for physical books. After two to three weeks, the e-book automatically expires from a reader’s account.”

Google Wave’s Best Use Cases

Life Hacker asked people: How would you use Google Wave? They got over 600 responses. Here is a list of their top picks. Cool!

“Dozens of teachers, students, and academics of all stripes wrote in saying that they need better and faster ways to communicate and collaborate in and out of the classroom…”

7 principles for decentralized publishing

Jane McConnell writes about 7 principles for decentralised publishing on the intranet.

“If you are a large, global organization, you will have many different types of content with varying degrees of ownership depending on the source: business unit, country, function, etc. Ask the different business units and functions to define their own guidelines for what type of content require approval by what level or role.”

Barriers to Intranet Use from Forrester

Bill Ives has summarized a Forrester report on “What’s Holding Back Your Intranet?”. The findings are not surprising.

“They found that 93% of employee respondents said they use an intranet or company portal (Forrester uses the terms interchangeably) at least weekly, and more than half reported daily use. However, they found that these intranets were mostly accessed for basic functions such as company directory, benefits information, and payroll. Access to collaborative tools, what some might called an enterprise 2.0 capability was ranked fourteenth.”

A Look Behind The Curtain At YouTube’s User Experience Research

Jason Kincaid writes about how YouTube tries to constantly test out and understand how its users are using the website.

“To help gauge the Watch page’s ideal layout, YouTube invited in a number of users and gave them magnets that represented different elements from YouTube and other popular video sites. The results were not surprising, but they present an interesting challenge to YouTube: the vast majority of users chose to streamline their page as much as possible, featuring a large video player, a search box, and a strip of related videos. But the site’s heavy uploaders, who are obviously key to YouTube’s success, tended to favor a more complex site with a greater emphasis on analytics, sharing, and social interaction.

YouTube’s task is to figure out a way to appeal to both sets of users.”

HBR: The Simplest Way to Reboot Your Brain

The Harvard Business Review has an article by Robert Stickgold where he writes about the benefits of sleep:

“A report in the June 2009 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that a nap with REM (or “dream”) sleep improves people’s ability to integrate unassociated information for creative problem solving, and study after study has shown that sleep boosts memory. If you memorize a list of words and then take a nap, you’ll remember more words than you would without sleeping first. Even micronaps of six minutes—not including the time it takes to fall asleep, which is about five minutes if you’re really tired—make a difference.”

Large documents: PDF it?

Ginny Redish explores when to PDF large documents, and more importantly when not to.

“However, realize that, with most PDF files, you are providing a paper document on the web rather than web-based information. If the document looks like a paper document or if it is large, people are likely to print it rather than read it on the screen. You have distributed the document; you have saved the printing and shipping cost; you have shifted the cost and effort of printing to your audiences – but have you really met their needs?”

Fads vs Business Value: Knowledge Management & Enterprise 2.0

Oliver Marks cautions on using the 2.0 prefix as another way to bottle old wine—for example, KM before and Enterprise 2.0 now.

Like the vast amount of blogs, there’s now a glut of content online with mostly nothing new to say (with honorable exceptions of course) on the topic of using web 2.0 technologies in business, the wonder of Twitter and on and on, in slide format. It’s far from clear who most of this material is aimed at - like the CD Roms ten years ago not many people actually look at this stuff unless there’s a compelling reason to.

Google enhances search results to include page sections in snippets

Google announced yesterday that they’ve enhanced their search results page to include page sections of long pages in the snippets area. Here is an example they’ve given.

The rationale is that we can do directly to a section in the page if that’s what we’re interested in. That’s a nice idea—it’s an attempt at auto-indexing the page using page sections. It provides more information on the page, assuming that the page sections are labeled properly.

But what’s really interesting that is the fact that this is another opportunity to reveal sequence, like in a table of contents. Showing a sequence in a page really gets to the guts of what the page is all about. Google already shows a sitemap in the search results, which gets to what a site is all about.

Now the only thing Google needs to figure out is how to reveal sequence across pages and sites. So for example, if I were to search for “diabetes” then I should get a sequence that links to different pages and sites and the sequence includes what is diabetes to treatments to living with a diabetic to home remedies. Guess that was what the Knol was supposed to do.

1-day Masterclass in SharePoint Collaboration with Michael Sampson

We’re organizing a 1-day Masterclass in SharePoint Collaboration with Michael Sampson. This is taking place on 5th Nov at Grand Hyatt in Singapore. We’re offering an early-bird price of S$420 if you register before Oct 20th (a real bargain folks). 

So why are we doing this? There are many SharePoint projects taking shape these days and that’s good in one way—it tells us that collaboration is getting the attention and budget it deserves. But many of these projects are done solely from a technical point of view, and this is a problem. Collaboration as we’ve come to understand demands more than just a technical perspective. It requires asking the right questions, planning to get the right answers and making the right decisions along the way that align with business objectives. This is the gap that we hope to bridge with Michael Sampson in the seminar.  So if you’re in Singapore or in the region, this is an opportunity to understand the many paths ahead with SharePoint (or any other collaboration tool) and how to choose the right ones (and how to avoid the wrong ones).

Zombie home page chronicles

Now this is serious fun. I’ve seen this happen so many times. From Tales from Redesignland.

Read the entire episode.

Intranet governance cycle

I’ve posted a new article at PebbleRoad on intranet governance.

This article offers a system view of intranet governance. It is based on a simple strategy that can be applied across different areas. The areas that I’ve covered are: information organization, publishing, collaboration and applications.

This article is based on a presentation that I put together for the KM Singapore conference.

Systems Thinking: A Product Is More Than the Product

A good read by Donald Norman on the need to look at the systems view when it comes to designing products—“A product is actually a service. Although the designer, manufacturer, distributer, and seller may think it is a product, to the buyer, it offers a valuable service.”

Videos- Mayo Clinic Transformation Symposium

I’m deeply interested in heath care design. I think this is one of the areas that badly needs reform. But I’m confident that reform will come sooner than later simply because of the attention that this area is getting from some of the brightest minds in design. In the last few months we’ve seen many new books on the subject, Designing Care by Richard Bohmer is just one of them. Rosenfeld Media is working on another, Designing for Care with Peter Jones that should be out sometime next year.

Last week the Mayo Clinic hosted a symposium on innovations in health care experience and delivery. I’m watching the videos right now. The speakers include the likes of Tim Brown of Ideo and Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School. The topics include the need for richer conversations to design thinking to innovation.

So it seems like the forces are coming together and the conversations have started. Health care is up for reform!

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