Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Web 2.0 DNA

Reading through Brandon Schauer's article on the crucial DNA of Web 2.0 I was struck by an apparent oversight: if the network effect is a fundamental attribute of a Web 2.0 site/application, why are other core Internet attributes not also in the list.

For example, to my mind, a fundamental attribute for a successful Web 2.0 application is the asynchronous nature of the user's interactions with other users and with the application itself. That is, the application gains value from the fact that one user's interactions can take place days, weeks or months apart, and the value of that interaction is retained.

Another example for me is that of 'infinite virtual capacity' [Afuah & Tucci, 2001]. Web 2.0 brainchilds such as flickr would be far less valuable if not for the transparent manner in which the site's operators can continually expand the capacity of the system. If, instead, users were constantly confronted with limitations and allotments, the take-up - and therefore the value - would be considerably lowered.

[Afuah, A. & Tucci, C "Internet Business models & strategies" McGraw Hill, 2001]

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

David Heller's article on RIAs

I read an interesting article on UX Matters earlier today; a very good comparison between the 'old school' page-based Web application metaphor and the emerging rich internet application interaction metaphor being popularised by the later versions of Flash and the XML/DOM combo labelled by some 'Ajax'.

The article can be found here and I would recommend your reading it. David Heller presents a very clear, well constructed overview of the two metaphors; provides the reader with a framework for selecting when to use each appropriately; and discusses some of the advantages to be obtained from the use of RIAs for the particular task of user-intensive Web applications.

It is without a doubt one of the better articles on the topic that I've seen in recent times.

I might as well also mention that the initial swag of articles on UX Matters has been most promising, and I've enjoyed the more academic, journal-istic style of the articles.

[UPDATE: Apologies for the dud link to David's article. For some reason we had an extra http embedded in there, causing it to redirect to Microsoft of all places.]

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Politics as business requirement

I've been experiencing some frustration this past week with a client mistaking internal politics with "business requirements". Essentially, we're being asked to structure the underlying architecture of the web site to meet a set of poorly-defined requirements due to the clients' difficulty in influencing other departments with respect to the purpose of the new site.

The key issue we're having is with internal marketing teams not wanting to use a common taxonomy on a shared Web site. The internal teams represent geographic marketing regions, and firmly believe (wrongly, according to the user research) that they need the freedom of labelling information idiosyncratically within their regional section of the site. The internal Web team don't possess the political clout to veto this requirement, and so we're forced to put in place a solution architecture that will accommodate a loosely-defined page architecture - effectively undermining one of our key success requirements: consistent labelling across site sections.

In hindsight we should have been talking to these internal marketing teams a lot sooner, but the client had already produced such a comprehensive set of 'approved' documentation laying out the site's content strategy that we were lulled.

Something to keep in mind in future projects, definitely, but it raises an issue when attempting to create a balance between user & business requirements. When approaching our work I like to review with the business stakeholders their objectives - in the form of marketing plans, business plans, competitor activities etc - and how those objectives might best be achieved through the Web site under review.

At the same time, we'd be conducting user research - in the form of surveys, one-on-one interviews, etc - to determine the user's objectives at the site, and the major tasks that they may need to undertake.

Politics enters the mix when one group of internal stakeholders - for reasons of their own - skips straight to the definition of functional requirements and site features, labelling them as "requirements". All evidence and arguments to the contrary, for example all of that user research indicating that the 'requirements' achieve nothing, are brushed aside. There is no way to balance this type of requirement - balance is not in the picture for this stakeholder.

The only hope here is to attempt to 'sell' this stakeholder on the project vision as early as possible. Sometimes this works. Sometimes... well this past week speaks for itself.