Got Topsight?

If you’re doing UX work on intranet and collaboration tools, you may have experienced first-hand how research and design inside a company is quite different from when you’re doing it for customers out there on the web. In addition to the usual kit of analytics, you can really get to know the users. Do the job right and you’ll know them by name, learn how they work, see how they work with and against their tools, rules and processes to get the job done.

How many people do you need to interview? Obviously more than the mythical 5-7 people but I’ve found that the number depends on how big and diverse the organization is. You’ll usually find similar tasks done differently across locations (geographic or in the building), teams, units, specialties and departments. To succeed you’ll need to look at the work itself, not just the workers.

Happily, Clay Spinuzzi has written a book on how to conduct this kind of research. It’s called Topsight and is available on Kindle and in print. In it, you will find a guide on how do design your field study, how to conduct it and how to interpret the results. It’s very hands-on and includes several tools for mapping the work and making the small, medium and large-scale issues visible. Topsight focuses on the tangible stuff – information, interfaces, tools, processes. You won’t risk your intranet research project turning into a ethnographic study of corporate culture (which is in itself great, just not as valuable for our projects).

I’d love to get your feedback on the book’s design and content. Clay wrote it after teaching my team a half-year course in field studies and analysis methods from activity theory and actor-network theory. We’ve incorporated Topsight into several projects here at BEKK (where I work) and the results have been very positive. I’m interested in seeing how designers can use these methods to uncover how work is actually done and how we can help information flow more appropriately.

Five things I want from a deferred reading client

I follow a lot of interesting people on Twitter. For better or worse, a lot of them have morphed into link-posters, so there’s a lot of interesting stuff coming my way, too much to read right there and then.

In 2009 I described how I get through tweeted links. Since then tools have come and gone and new habits have emerged.

Here’s what I want from a deferred reading client today.

1. Zero-excise defer/remember across devices, browsers and apps.

I know it’s not easy but I wish it was possible to mark items for deferred reading in the FB app too, etc. I’ve set up a IFTTT job that pushes faved Tweets into Evernote and Read It Later. I fave tweets using Tweetbot’s triple-tap-to-fave (you can set triple tap up to do a lot of things) but really, a button or hit zone for faving directly in the timeline with *one* click would be better.

2. Readable view options that understand the writer’s formatting, now or later.

Readability has nice options and good fonts but sometimes destroys explanatory typography and fudges image loading. Evernote Clearly sort of understands what to do. Read It Later has OK formatting and a few nice options but boring fonts and doesn’t let me make pages more legible right then and there.

3. Painless access across devices with background sync’ed local copies and cloud backup.

Waiting for the various reading clients to sync is incredibly annoying. Having copies of pages in Evernote has been a life saver more than once. For a while I used BrowseBack to save everything I read but it’s a separate web client that operates in the background, stupidly duplicating your browsing bandwidth and requiring a separate login. A plugin that just saved whatever you were reading in your preferred browser would be a more elegant solution. In terms of having a copy and being able to browse through what you’d read before it was great, especially when looking for an item that you remembered the looks, but not the title of.

4. Great refindability

This could use text mining, metadata, content popularity, the item’s topics, your tags, others’ tags and time/date/geo tags. When I’m done reading I might want to add a comment, tag it or throw it into a bundle without jumping to yet another tool.

5. Intelligent suggestions for related items, topics, writers is something I haven’t found yet.

Back when Delicious was still alive I would always do a reverse search on a URL to see who had tagged it, see how they had described it and then explore their links. Now that everyone’s tweeting links instead it’s a lot harder to see their link sets. By connecting a deferred reading client to my Twitter account, I could offer my tweeted/shared links to others too.

That pretty much takes care of active reading. But what about passive reading, i.e. vacuuming my Twitterstream for links and following people’s shares and posts in other channels?

The now-defunct ReadTwit did a great job of this and turned my tweeps’ links into a full-content RSS stream that was easy to skim. Instead of mentally parsing 100 characters in a tweet and deciding whether to fave it or not (and thus push it to a deferred reading client), everything goes in and I skim the feed, mark a few for late reading or read them at length in the original design or in a more readable version and tag them.

The line between a newsreader and a deferred reading client is quite blurred. For me, a blend of Feedly, Read It Later, Readability and the old Delicious would be perfect, but for now I am stuck with a discombobulated mix of the same apps. Read here, save there, tag over there. Bah.

What would work for you?

Medfører innsikt en delingsforpliktelse?

Jeg begynner å bli ganske lei av å lese bloggposter som “Derfor bør du bruke sosiale medier internt i organisasjonen” og “Tre enkle steg for bedre samhandling”. Men det er vel bare prisen man betaler for å være tidlig ute.

Og ulempen er: om de som kan, ikke deler, så leser folk bare innleggene til folk som ikke kan.

Altså: enten må du dele det du kan, eller så må du se på at folk som har mindre kompetanse enn deg dele, bli hørt på og kjøre båten på skjær … fordi du ikke gadd å bidra.

Jeg har brukt snart åtte år på å forstå hva som får samhandling til å fungere, hvilke faktorer som bidrar eller blokkerer, hvordan forståelse kan muliggjøres i stor skala og utrolig mange andre ting. Jo mer jeg leser, jo flere fagfolk jeg blir kjent med og jo flere metoder og verktøy jeg lærer meg, jo vanskeligere synes jeg det blir å gi entydige råd og kjappe svar. Du verden så moro det var å tenke “vi kan jo bare erstatte Word med Wikier, så blir det enklere å dele, og så …” yeah, right.

Dette er ikke et nytt problem: Bertrand Russel formulerte det godt: “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision”. Tvil og motstridende opplysninger til side: medfører innsikt en delingsforpliktelse? Objektivisten i meg sier selvsagt nei, forvalteren mener dog det er viktig.

For meg er den største ulempen at vi overfokuserer på verktøyene og glemmer virket. Spør meg ikke hvorfor, men vi hopper rett til løsningen uten å stille diagnose, kartlegge aktører, regler, flyt, rammer – ja nesten hele schmæla unntatt dokumentene og datasystemene. Før vi kan foreskrive løsninger må vi forstå hva folk egentlig gjør, hvordan, hvorfor og hvor glippene er. Hva gjør de for å finne, klippe opp, destillere, reartikulere, omstrukturere, raffinere, revidere og utnytte hva de finner av tall, fakta, informasjon, innsikt og teft?

Det er flusst av metoder, verktøy, teorier og lærdom å benytte, men den opplyste dialogen mangler. Hvordan kan vi få den på plass?