Navigation In a Multidimensional World of Data

navigation (cc)In my last post, I picked on The Trouble With Tagging - and when you consider tagging in the context of content, you run into the trouble of navigation. Content Management Systems permit tags to be used as a way to find similarly tagged content. This is in the hope that the content itself will be similar simply because it's tagged the same, but that's not necessarily true.

If we consider it in the context of real world 3D navigation - something I know something about - using tags as they are presently popularly lused - we're taking a single data point and extrapolating where we are. While it's true that you need to know where you are to know what's around you, the reality is that it's just not a great way to navigate content. 

3D Navigation

In the days when Second Life popularity was at it's peak, 3 dimensional navigation of content was so interesting that Amazon.com spent some money exploring the idea of navigating products in 3 dimensions. That didn't work out too well, though intuitively it made some sense. The trouble was that the finding of a book in a bookstore, while charming to some of us, is not what made Amazon into the powerhouse it is. The foundation of Amazon was being able to allow people to find what they wanted quickly and purchase it quickly - allowing those lucrative spontaneous purchases where we consumers don't have time to think about whether we should actually spend the money. 

I watched in Second Life as Amazon.com did their R&D, and came to a conclusion before their project ended: Nothing they could do in a virtual world could measure up to what they had done in a 2D world (your browser) simply because they had taken multidimensional navigation to a new level. 
While much of the Internet was busy selling their goods, Amazon.com was finding ways to connect things through navigation that were working. That's why Amazon.com is still standing and many people who were late to the game remain unknown. 

There Are Still Issues

Consider what I wrote in Online Shopping User Experience vs. Design. It remains flawed because not everyone sees the world the same way, and because we use nouns and adjectives as single points to navigate by. 

The future will likely be using more than one point to navigate by. It works for use everywhere else but on the Internet. 

Online Shopping User Experience vs Design

Design vs. User ExperienceSome time ago, I swore I would never buy shoes online - and I did. Some time ago, I swore I would never buy pants online - and I did. Some time ago, I swore I would never buy a car online - and, again, I did.

These are tributes to two things: better and more informed user experiences online that mitigated the risk when I was busy swearing.

But yesterday, I was looking for shirts, and Amazon, Google and a myriad of other websites failed. It was the sort of failure that was so ubiquitous that I had to write about it - unlike buying a car stereo at Crutchfield.com instead of Amazon.com because of user experience (and better prices).

I decided that I would like a few mandarin collar long sleeve shirts with pockets since I've lost weight and some of my older shirts make me look skeletal. Someone on the planet would make what I wanted - I'd stopped wearing these shirts because the simply are hard to find, but resolved, I spent a few hours yesterday trying to find them and was sorely disappointed that I couldn't find what I wanted... and that, though they might be there somewhere on this big blue marble, the user experience sucked horribly.

Most sites, as an example, won't allow you to search between long sleeve and short sleeve shirts (at least for men). That is disappointing because it's a shirt buying basic. Then comes the problem where a mandarin collar is also called a banded collar (and on Google, the 'silhouette' is identified as a Roundneck).

What probably makes the problem worse is the fact that I have no patience for shopping. I don't like having to sift through hundreds, if not thousands, of shirts to find the right one. I know what I want. I know my way around search tools. I know how this search should have been designed. I know how shirts should be tagged. I know that when I search for mandarin collars, banded collars or roundnecks (not to mention 'China collar')... I shouldn't see regular collars in the search results.

Once again, we find where the algorithms are limited. C'mon, folks, get it together. 

Or hire me and let me do it for you. :-)

Flickr, UX and Creative Commons Search

Creative Commons Search on Flickr Is AnnoyingYou'll notice I use a lot of images from Flickr - some mine, some others - but all are Creative Commons Licensed. I have a fair amount of images on Flickr, I pay for a pro account and have really no other issues with Flickr but one.

Every time I do a search for a Creative Commons Licensed image - really, the only ones that matter to me since I can use them legally, I have to do go through 5 steps every damned time.

(1) Do a search.

(2) Wait for results to start loading.

(3) Click Advanced Search.

(4) Select the Creative Commons search.

(5) Click 'Search'.

There's no way for me to set this as a default search type. It has been as annoying to do for as long as I can remember, through at least 3 evolutions of Flickr changing their user interface.

If there is one thing Flickr could do, it would be to fix it so that I didn't need all these steps to do what I want and, I might add, what I pay for. It's not that my $25 or so a year entitles me to controlling what Flickr does - but it really would be nice if they addressed this for those of us who contribute toward the Creative Commons and who use it on a regular basis.

C'mon, Flickr. This is really bad ux.

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