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web development

The truth about students and search?

The truth about search seems to be more astonishing than anything you could imagine. Lin Lin, EBSCO Senior User Experience Researcher, talking at the UKeiG Annual Meeting last week, provided some startling revelations, drawing on EBSCO’s wide experience of observing search behaviour with students ranging from age seven to postgraduate - they should know, since they claim to have the largest user research team in the industry, So what is the reality of student search?

The seven classic books about computing

Library Image by Dmitrij Paskevic (CC0)


The books I’m thinking about might not be quite as old as the ones in the photo, but at least some of them will have I hope the patina of age. One of the slightly poignant aspects of working in computing is that the skills of many gifted individuals working in IT is lost within a few years – even if they commit their thoughts to a book. Unlike a novel or a work of art, the solutions and tools created by (say) Kernighan and Ritchie in The C Programming Language will one day be completely forgotten, as new languages and new processes replace them. That seems a shame.

Some hypotheses about

My first response when looking at was uncertainty. I've seen quite a bit of publicity, lots of mentions in discussion forums about, but it wasn’t very clear to me on looking at the website just what was proposed. “Annotate with anyone, anywhere” doesn’t really explain very much to me. I have visions of researchers sitting in a circle and annotating together – not very likely.  


RefME and the principle of One Click

It is common knowledge that sales of compact digital cameras have fallen in recent years.  A fascinating graphic on PetaPixel shows clearly how digital cameras first replaced the analogue camera market, but then in turn have seen sales falling since around 2009 – by some accounts falling by two thirds between 2009 and 2014. Most likely this was caused by the dramatic rise of the smartphone during the same period. Why did Smartphones eat into the market for digital compact cameras?


Don’t make me think! Revisited

This is the latest in a series looking at classic technology titles. For another example click here


Don't Make me Think, original cover


Don’t Make me Think! That title! There are few examples in publishing of a book title catching your attention and at the same time summarising what the book is all about. If books can be reduced to one big idea, then this is the perfect example. Essentially, if you want to build a website, don’t make me think when I use it. Now, fifteen years and a third edition after the book was first published (in 2000), is it still as relevant? Well, Steve Krug helpfully points out the original book’s limitations himself, in the introductory section to the latest edition. Most importantly the book was written before mobile became common. Nonetheless, the basic principle, that a user’s interaction with a website should be based on simplicity, is admirable and of course holds true for hand-held devices as for desktops and laptop PCs.

This is a book that displays its principles admirably. Krug is a great believer in using graphics, cartoons, and diagrams to explain his point. The book is very short (I read it in under three hours, and the original edition must have been even shorter).  

Why people prefer print to online TV listings

It is commonplace nowadays to predict the inexorable decline of print as it is steadly replaced by online information. Without wishing to be a luddite, I an intrigued when there are examples of print surviving and even prospering in the face of digital competition, especially when dealing with the display of information in a typical situation where users are seeking an answer. A recent Financial Times article pointed out that TV listings guides are not losing circulation – which is not what many commentators predicted. One common argument is that TV print magazines sell to an ageing audience who prefer print to online; but in fact, TV listing guides comprise three of the top five UK magazine circulations, with the top spot held by TV Choice – a print magazine that has increased its circulation by 63% since 2000, the very period when you might expect its circulation to be falling. What is it that people find so compelling about print TV guides?

Scribd: how to recreate the circulating library in digital form

Scribd puts me in mind of the circulating library. Early in the 20th century, many people consumed fiction from a circulating library - simply another name for a private library. Users were charged a fee for the privilege of borrowing books from the library. Instead of buying one book, the customer paid an annual subscription and could borrow books for a set time. Typically, the subscription enabled the user to borrow just one book at a time. For a higher subscription, the customer could borrow more books at once. 


Scribd home page


Faceted v hierarchical taxonomies - why all the fuss?

You might think that there need be no war over creating a taxonomy. When should you use a hierarchical classification, and when a set of facets? You might think it hardly worth bothering over. Yet some thesaurus experts fight to defend hierarchical taxonomies; you feel that if there were a pecking order of taxonomies (a nice idea, that), then hierarchical taxonomies would be ranked highest. If you don't believe me, try reading a recent post from Access Innovations, Down the Rabbit Hole.

The Lean Startup, or how the best entrepreneurs don’t listen to customers


"We really did have customers in those early days— true visionary early adopters— and we often talked to them and asked for their feedback. But we emphatically did not do what they said." This startling admission appears in the first page of The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses, by Eric Ries (2011). Should we congratulate him on his fresh approach, or laugh at him for missing the only true guidance that product development can trust, that is, the customer? The truth is somewhere between the two. Ries has written a book that some have labelled a key management text of the 21st century, while to a more jaundiced eye it reads like so many business books that come from America, combining evangelical fervour with rather dubious and questionable statements that have not been tested.

Wiley's Big Bang

Big Bang is certainly the way to describe it:  At the Mark Logic London User Group, Freddie Quek of Wiley described how Wiley achieved their “big bang”, the project to redevelop what had been known as Wiley InterScience and created the Wiley Online Library. It was a thrilling tale, delivered with all the excitement of an explorer discovering the source of the Nile, or a pioneer crossing North America.