June 30, 2004

  • Thought

    ThinData and Bennett Gold have created three one-page PIPEDA Checklists that are definitely worth signing up for and downloading. The three checklists give you a handy reference on the privacy issues around online newsletters, contests and event registration.

June 10, 2004

  • Dumb Smart Search

    I was just trying out the new version of Napster and when I searched for “China Crisis” I got results that included David Sylvian and Asia albums.

    Why might that be?

    Well, David Sylvian used to be in a band called “Japan” which is close to China and “Asia” is where China is.

    I’m surprised I didn’t get “Dishwalla” as one of the results!

    Napster seems to have some sort of “concept” search algorithms in use that really doesn’t make sense in this context. Given that Napster knows I’m searching for an artist, it seems that there are two approaches to expanding search beyond the original term, “spelling” and “related projects”.

    There are band and artist names that are hard to spell or that you only vaguely remember from youth (was “Hitchin’ A Ride” done by Vanity Fair or Vanity Fare?). In this case implementing something like Google’s “Did you mean…?” feature would be very smart. I want this kind of help so I don’t have to remember how to spell Alanis Morissette (Napster catches typos on her last name).

    If I’m searching for “Tin Machine” it might be useful to offer results for frontman David Bowie as well. “Related Projects” searches could be very helpful particularly when you remember David Byrne singing some song but you don’t realize that it was from a solo album not a Talking Head disc.

    The problem with Napster is a search on Tin Machine produces “Tony McKinney”, “More Machine Than Man”, “Nick Gilder and Time Machine” and (very oddly) “The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem”. These are guesses at possible typos but because they aren’t identified as such it looks like they have a really bad search feature.

    Lessons Learned:

    1. Smart search is dumb if it does not take into account the user’s goal in doing the search in the first place.

    2. Tell the user why you are presenting results that are not expected (“No matches found for Tin Machine. Did you mean…? Artists related to Tin Machine include…”).

    3. Hard code results for very popular searches so you can give really relevant information.

June 7, 2004

  • Mind Maps and Outlines

    I find these mind maps very interesting.

    I’m a big fan of using outliners to organize my thoughts. I use ActionOutline right now and find it very useful. I like building a list of stuff and then making “sub-stuff” by indenting. This is a standard way I organize thoughts for articles, business plans, strategy work, prioritizing tasks, etc.

    When I first saw a mind map I thought they might replace outlines as my metaphor for the way my mind works. But after looking at it more I can’t really see how a mind map is more useful at explaining the relationship between things than an outline. And with an outline it is easy to “promote” or “demote” ideas as you realize that they have a different priority than you originally thought. It seems that you’d have to redraw your mind map to do this.

    And while discussing this with Alyson, we both decided that neither tool really captures items that meet multiple needs or are related in more complex ways. For example, “clean up office supplies” might be a task related to “declutter office”, and “cut spending”, and “make administrative tasks more efficient”, and “make room for new printer”. Mind maps and outlines both seem to fail at capturing these multi-dimensional relationships.