Options, choices, preferences, settings

I’ve recently re-read an old post by Joel. It’s more of a book really .. a book on UI design. Chapter 3 is about choices, and especially how the user doesn’t care much about making choices.. he cares about doing his task.

So I got thinking about SemNotes, and the choices I ask my users to make. Some are easy choices, like how often, if at all, the notes should be saved automatically. This one I think is good to have, but if you think otherwise let me know…

There is however another part of SemNotes’ settings dialog. It asks the user to decide what kind of resources to link the notes to. This will make sense to the very few people that have a clue about resources and linking but it is highly unlikely that the average user will know what goes on there, and what am I asking of him to decide on.

I knew from the very moment when I built the damn thing that it was a bad idea, but I really had more important things on my mind then – like how to make the query run faster, how to stop it from getting all people when I typed “person”, and so on .. And like all things that are meant to be temporary, it became permanent.. I’m afraid I was actually getting used to having it there..but I know it has to go..

Currently the situation stands like this:

  • The dialog has 2 tabs: the “General” tab and the “Linked resources” tab. – Now, it’s quite clear what general means, but not exactly so for the “linked resources”. So the first thing i have to do is find a more human name for it… See .. I assumed just there that the tab will still be in place.
  • The “Linked resources” tab contains in turn 2 more tabs .. Crazy, I know 🙂 The tabs are called “Types” and “Ontologies”. This again is quite wrong, because the users should not care or would not know of types or ontologies.
  • The “Ontologies” tab has a selectable list of ontologies available in the system. Only the classes defined in the selected ontologies will be available in the “Types” tab. I thought this complication is needed because of the huge number of classes available in the system, and having them grouped by ontology sort of made sense 🙂 It might not make that much sense for the average user.semnotes-settings1
  • In the “Types” tab, the user can choose which types of existing resources should be linked from the notes. Here another problem becomes apparent: there is a Person type, but also a PersonContact type. I can bet nobody cares about the distinction, other than the developers (and not even them sometimes). So what should be here is probably a list of generic terms like People, Projects and Events. When the user selects one of these categories, the application should know which actual types should be used.semnotes-settings2

What I imagine would make more sense for the users of SemNotes is something like this:semnotes-settings_mockup

or even something nicer, like this:


What do you think?


As so many geeky types mentioned on twitter, today is π day (for those who find writing the date “MM dd” natural, as opposed to “dd MM”).

However, today is also Einstein’s birthday, and being reminded of it by twitter as well, I decided to finally put up a poster I bought more than 2 years ago.

Albert Einstein (14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955)

Albert Einstein (14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955)

World Book Night 2011

This year I was a giver in World Book Night, an event for UK and Ireland, where 1 million books were given away. Participants could choose from 20 titles, all great books, hand picked by a committee. I chose to give Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. However, I will try to get my hands on the rest of the books in the list, at one time or another, because they all seem like interesting reads.

My decision was based on a vague recollection that my brother read it many years ago and loved it, but I never actually got to read it. The same string of events led me to read Dune – my brother read it, loved it, told me about it, then a few years after I decided to give it a try .. and boy did I love it! I remember reading all the Dune books in a summer and not wanting them to end .. I have the new set of Dune books for months, but didn’t dare starting them yet – we’ll see how that goes when I build up the courage.

I don’t remember me having any kind of influence on what he reads .. which is odd seeing that i’m the older one 🙂

All the books are gone now, I gave them to colleagues from DERI. Well.. I still have 4 on my desk, but they will be picked up by their new owners soon. I was happy to see that the busy folks in DERI have time (or try to make time) to read other things than research papers – I struggle with this a lot, evidence is my ever-growing “to read” list and stack of books. Some people who’d read the book before, said it was really good, so I’m quite happy with my choice.

This being the first edition of the WBN, there were some glitches in the organization – it was a huge event to coordinate, so I guess it was to be expected. Nothing too bad went wrong in my case. The most important part was actually getting the books, and I received the 48 copies with plenty of time to spare, so I could bring them to work one backpack at a time .. with a max of 24 books fitting in it – heavy! I had to register them on BookCrossing and each book got it’s own unique ID. With this ID it’s path can be tracked – this was done because the books were meant to be shared, so the persons who received them were encouraged to share them with others once they were done reading. It is not mandatory, of course, so if you received a book and liked it so much that you’d want to read it over and over again, or at least browse it now and again, you can keep it, it’s totally yours.

I liked the experience, so I will probably do it next year too, if there will be a World Book Night 2012.

P.S. I didn’t officially keep a copy for myself, although I was allowed, but instead I kept one for my dad, which I’ll give to him next time I go to Romania. I hope I’ll have time to read it by then 😉