Jon Udell on Seeking Attention (ETech 2006)


Jon Udell is the morning's opening keynote. We are all seekers of attention. We all have ideas we'd like to promote and agendas we'd like to publicize. So, we all make claims on other people's attention. The focus of his talk is how to reward those who give us attention. Jon sees for patterns.

First patterns is what Jon calls "Heads, Decks, and Leads." An idea from the world of "dead trees" these give users information about context switches because they're hard and time consuming.

Writing good titles, naming things, is hard because there's a cognitive dissonance in trying to see what we're doing from the reader or listener's perspective. He gives an example from a blog post that shows up nice in the browser and in an aggregator, but not in the search research because Google only sees the document title and many blogs don't put the article title in the title box.

You see similar problems with search results that don't show author and dates. Jon recommends structuring document titles on the Web so that they contain information a searcher would like to know to make a decision. He shows a screencast of search results from things on IDG that has expanders that show you more information about the result on demand.

Jon's pet peeve is message titles in discussion threads. Threading is based on titles in many cases, so the technology reinforces repeating the title over and over and not giving searchers good information about the message contents.

The second pattern is active contexts. One example of an active context is what Jon calls "active collections." Active collections is the idea of collecting together all the related information about a resource, including tags, related documents, etc. and giving it a name. Active collections are future proofed because what you hand back to represent the active collection is a URL representing a query.

He shows another example of an active context. He's linked his Amazon wishlist to his library lookup project. He went further and hacked GreaseMonkey to modify Amazon so that whenever he looks at a book, a link shows up if that book is available at his local library. Clicking on the link takes him to that library lookup.

Another example is a slider at wikipedia that allows you to show changes and move through time by moving the slider. That's a big help for people who read diffs for a living.

A third pattern is canonical names. Names like "podcast" and "AJAX" show the power of names. URLs are another great example. ISBNs are an example of names that lack an important property. Each version of a book (hardcover, paperback) has a different ISBN without knowing what class they belong to. There's a service that maps an ISBN to the class it belongs to. Another example is the IT Conversations audio clipping service.

A fourth pattern is multimedia storytelling. We're natural story tellers. He uses the example of retrieving information about a particular audio clip by remembering how far he was on his run. Jon mentions the ACLU pizza ordering video and how it was incredibly viral and actually peaked before the technology community became aware of it. Another example is the iPod packaging spoof. As technologists, we need to be more aware of the power of these kinds of powerful stories to get our message out.