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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?

Anurag Acharya on the future of academic search

Anurag Acharya, one of the founders of Google Scholar, gave the keynote address at the recent ALPSP Annual Conference. His wide-ranging overview of the effect of full-text searching on academic content raised many good points, but one that struck me as perhaps the most intriguing was his call for more abstracts of scholarly content. This is a remarkably different to current feeling within many academic publishers, many of whom were betting some years ago that the published collection of abstracts was doomed, to be replaced inexorably by searching of the full text. Given that he argued that the electronic table of contents alerts for journals are obsolete, why did he argue for the continued existence of abstracts?

Amazon and the failure of metadata

Despite(or perhaps because of) being the world's biggest online bookstore, Amazon is a nightmare to use when searching for well-known books. The problem of finding a book on Amazon that exists in several versions has been very succinctly stated by Jim O'Donnell on a recent library listserv ("The Book-buying morass"), describes his problems trying to locate an adequate copy of Joyce's Ulysses for his library.


Peer review and the curious case of the Law review

Scholarly publishing is often presented as a paradigm of how scholarship should work: disinterested, rigorously peer-reviewed, and hence scrupulously fair. It came as a surprise to me to find there are some areas of scholarly publishing where this state of affairs is not quite the case. Legal publishing appears to be an exception to the above description. The Harvard Law Review, for example, is edited and published by law students at Harvard University Law faculty.

Single Figure Publications and nano-publications

Single Figure Publications is an interesting idea by William Mobley published in F1000Research. F1000Research is “a publishing platform offering immediate publication of posters, slides and articles with no editorial bias, [but with] transparent peer review” Mr Mobley proposes in his editorial that Single Figure Publications (SFP) should be a new format of short text pieces, shorter than a scholarly article, and, tantalisingly, close to machine readable. What does he mean by this? 




Libraries buy - and publishers sell

I subscribe to a number of library forums, and I was interested to read an invitation to contribute in a recent post. This sounds like an interesting initiative, I thought, so I looked at the proposal in a bit more detail. I was surprised with what I discovered. The call was for contributions to the "E-Resource Round Up" column for the Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship (JERL). To encourage library professionals to contribute, the editors state "This could be an ideal opportunity for you to report on programs that may benefit others in our profession". They helpfully provided some suggestions for what to write about, including "vendor activities and upcoming events". Plus, there was a gentle reminder that "contributions should not be published elsewhere". When I went to the website for this journal, it was available to subscribers only. I was invited to purchase the current issue, as an individual subscriber, at a cost of £122, or just the one article for £25. This is, after all, content about libraries created by library professionals as part of their working practice - being sold back to them, or in my case, as I declined the subscription offer, completely unavailable. 



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.