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Geo visualization made simple in flash:

Mikel Maron released WorldKit, an swf file which reads config.xml and datafeed.xml to produce a visulaization of the data on the world map (or any map) You must have already seen his near real time blog post visualization, World as a blog ( + ICBM + RSS). He also has an earthquake visualization. Also, here is an image of the population density of the world.

Webpage Color Blindness Check:

Q42 has a color blindness check tool for webpages. It re-colorizes any webpage you like into a palette that closely resembles the typical palette available to a person having a red/green color vision deficiency. This is the most common color blindness. It is also available as a bookmarklet. “1 in 12 people suffer from some sort of color deficiency”. It needs DirectX to work.

Usable Rich Internet Application Architecture:

My article on usable RIA architecture got published on Sitepoint. The article lists various usability constraints in the first two pages and later introduces a design pattern to introduce these constraints into the design process while designing rich internet applications.
Design constraints: There are certain basic likes and dislikes that users have with various types of interactions. Various things that users hate are: learning, repeating, waiting, searching, reading, security breaches, monotonous look, platform restrictions, rigid functionality and mistakes.
The design pattern: Dividing the application into pages and navigation will help. Each page is composed of data, components, logic, and presentation. The pages are encapsulated in the navigation shell, which again has data, components, logic and presentation. The complete article is available here.

Central’s mysterious console:

Why is a console present in central? My guess is that the console is there to present glancable information visualizations. It sits on the side and shows changes as new data comes in. Reading information from the console should be quick, with very little interaction. The user would want to keep the console open to see new information when the view changes. If this is the reason, both the initial apps got the console wrong. The acuweather and the movie app pods continuously change the display, which is like an annoying flash Ad. The user wants glancable information on the console, not a big table with lots of text or an annoying animation. It is a distraction and makes it difficult to notice new information. The pods would provide more value if they present the recent most information that is important to the user. For example if a new movie comes up in my favorite theater, or If the rating of a movie increases or decreases, I want to see it there. Also, it would be nice if the console had “always on top feature”.

One more thing, every time I click on something the movie finder starts downloading the xml file again to see if there are any changes. Why can’t it display the data it already has and then try to see get new data? Showing a downloading icon is enough to tell the user that it is getting new data. On another note, Kevin Lynch posted another short post after a long time, but no new info there.

How to innovate? A solution!!!

Rajesh Jain pointed to an interview with Andrew Hargadon on thinking Out-of-the-Box. He says, “Pushing people harder to think out of the box doesn’t work.” He argues that finding ideas, recombining them and introducing them to new markets is likely to be more successful than inventing new ones. There is an industry axiom that says that Microsoft takes three versions to get a product right. What Andrew Hargadon implies is that, inorder to jump the first two versions, look at others’ failures and reintroduce them with modifications. He also says that solving problems by applying patterns seen elsewhere (anology) is easier than come up with something that you’ve never thought of (invention). The interview is an interesting read.

Central: Easy or hard to use?

I clicked on one of those ‘Central Beta released’ links and downloaded it. The download was quick enough, but there was this unclosable window which got stuck to the center of the screen while central downloaded. I couldn’t do any other work during the download. OK, now the download was quick enough and central fired up.
The AccuWeather app was simple, type in your zip and get weather info. But the zip code field did not come preselected and double-clicking in the field also did not select all the text. After a lot of backspacing, I entered my zip and got the weather listings. There was a neat alert feature where I could set preferences for alerts to be sent to me. I added a few locations and deleted them from favorites. Closed the pod and reopened it. But the locations would not get deleted from the pod list (a bug!!?).
Now moving on to the movie finder, I wanted to find the rating of movies in a theater nearby. I typed my zip code and got the theaters list and clicked on the theater I was interested, which showed all the movies in it. The movie show times were listed but there were no ratings. I wanted to add my next-door theater to the favorites but could not figure out how to add it. After a little searching, i found that the “find a movie” tab also searches for theaters. Just “Find” on the tab would have made my search easier. I found my theater and arranged the movies in it by rating and also found the ‘add favorite’ button on the theater widget. The ‘add favorite’ action in the movie frame had a neat animation where the icon flew into the favorites tab. There were also neat zoom widgets everywhere which expanded to show more stuff. Links to related sites on the WWW were at the bottom of the frame. The resizing grip on the window corner dosn’t work.
Central apps had a little learning involved, but were easy to use after the basic behaviors were learned. I hope Macromedia has a set of usability guidelines for all apps in central, which will make the apps easier to access. In all, central is all I hoped it would be and a little better 🙂 And congratulations to the Macromedia Central team! The edit menu had a ‘Blast all on screen’ function, but I think the two apps that came with central did not support it. For more information Mike Chambers has a list of discussions / comments about Central

GUI Desktop : Saveable or Just Plain Obsolete:

Scott Johnson of Feedster posted a list of drawbacks of desktop GUI’s. All of them are valid points and all of the problems he talks about are solved by the web. But the web is not as powerful as we need. Task specific pages when connected through contextual navigation will make the applications a lot simpler and easy to use. The navigation metaphor has proved to be successful on the web why not use it on the desktop?

Learning from games:

Peter Seebach: “Everything I need to know about usability, I learned at the arcade”. The article says games are better at Streamlining, Reliability, Approachability, Adapting to the user and Managing Resources. I think, all interfaces can be split into two parts, visualization and navigation. The objects in a page are shown and interactions are made possible to make the task easier and these pages are linked up through contextual navigation. Interface visualizations have a lot to learn from game interactions.

Client side table sorting without flash:

Flash is not the only way to do client side table sorting. Signal VS Noise recently had a post on how to make table sorting simpler. What emerged from the coments were, an a-z icon to put on the sorted column and two demos of client side table sorting with dhtml/javascript 1, 2. Also on another note, Maxdesign shows how to create a simple list and use different Cascading Style Sheets to create radically different list options. One more unobtrusive sort. Dhtml sort.

Autocomplete using Javascript:

Sitepoint has a nice article describing a method to add auto-complete functionality to HTML input fields using Javascript. The article dosn’t have a demo, but Simon Willson’s post points to one on his site which auto completes color names. Users hate entering data, this script can make form filling a little easier. Update: Navneet in the comments points to a neat Javascript that fills flash forms with google autofill. But, isn’t it a security breach that pages can submit user info saved in google autofill without the users concent? On another note, Mook points to a method to resize flash object/embed tags dynamically.

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