Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tagging in real life

I recently got seconded to work half-time on the Digital New Zealand project (more info coming soon) as a User Experience Analyst.

Since then, I’ve spent quite a lot of time explaining to people - like my Mum – what that job title means. I explain it by saying that it’s my job to help with the design of the web tools and experiences we’re building, so that people come to use them, they’ll move through any steps easily, and accomplish what they wanted to do without get lost, confused or frustrated.

Then I make an analogy to real world usability. You know how swinging doors have those metal panels on them that you place your hand on when you open the door? It’s not that the door won’t open if you push it somewhere else. The metal panel is just there to subtly indicate what you should do. It helps make your door-opening efforts work. Same as the iPhone makes that comforting little clicky sound when you tap things into it. Doesn’t need too – but it helps you understand that the device is paying attention to you.

I think it’s because I’m making lots of real/virtual comparisons at the moment that Nina Simon’s recent post on Designing from Virtual Metaphor to Real Experience jumped out at me.

The post is about ways we might integrate some of the useful elements of social networking sites into the physical world. Nina’s found a great example of this idea in action: like many great ideas, it’s astoundingly simple.

The library at the Hague in the Netherlands has introduced a simple form of tagging in real life. They now have two returns drop-boxes. One is for all items, and the other is for amazing books. Staff take the ‘amazing’ books and put them in the ‘amazing books’ display for visitors to browse. But they also tag them ‘amazing’ in the Library’s collection database.

I was in a session with Stephen Abram earlier this week, where he talked about how people describe their use of libraries. For many, it's not about getting books out – it’s about the human contact, the community. This tagging project seems to me to be a great way to up the human interaction element, online and in real life.

Speaking of online/real life intersections, while I was mulling posting about this idea, Douglas was twittering about tagging issues in a far more intellectual manner. We've teamed up, and his post will follow hard on the heels of this one.

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