Now, here is a new way of looking at the information from GovPulse, a site developed to “make such documents as the Federal Register searchable, more accessible and easier to digest…to encourage every citizen to become more involved in the workings of their government and make their voice heard.” The site is built from open source.
You’ll see that there is a lot more information readily available, organized in multiple ways, and really quite user-centric; some examples:
1) Number of Entries for the Day: The number of entries for the day are listed right at the top.
2) Calendar for Selecting Day of Interest: Next to the number of entries for the day, you can click on the calendar icon and get an instant 3 months of dates to choose from or enter another date of interest and be instantly take to there.
3) Statistics for the Day: The right sidebar displays the locations mentioned on a map and the types of entries and reporting agencies in pie charts.
4) Department Entries are Prominently Displayed: Both the number of entries for each department are identified as well as identifying their type and length along with an abstract for the entry. Each Department’s entries can easily be expanded or collapses by clicking on the arrow next to the department’s name.
5) Entries are Enabled for Action: By clicking on an entry, there are options to share it via social media to Twitter, Facebook, Digg, and Reddit to let others know about it and there is also a listing of your senators and representatives and their contact information to speak up on the issues.
Additional helpful features on the homepage–immediate access to areas that are last chance to act or what’s new, such as:
1) Comments closing in the next 7 days
2) Comments opened in the last 7 days
3) Rules taking effect in the next 7 days
4) Rules proposed in the last 7 days
Moreover, you have another map with bubbles showing mentioned locations or you can enter your own location and get all the entries subdivided by 10, 15, 20 miles and so on up to 50 miles away.
Another feature called Departmental Pulse, show a trend line of number of entries per department over the last year or 5 years.
At the top of the page, you can quickly navigate to entries in the Federal Register by agency, topic, location, date published, or do a general search.
There are other cool features such as when you look at entries by department, you can see number of entries, places mentioned, and a bubble map that tells you popular topics for this department.
Overall, I think GovPulse deserves a big thumbs up in terms of functionality and usability and helping people get involved in government by being able to access information in easier and simpler ways.
The obvious question is why does it take 3 outsiders “with a passion for building web applications” to do this?
While I can’t definitively answer that, certainly there are benefits to coming in with fresh eyes, being true subject matter experts, and not bound by the “bureaucracy” that is endemic in so many large institutions.
This is not say that there are not many talented people in government–because there certainly are–but sometimes it just takes a few guys in a garage to change the world as we know it.
Here is an impressive video (actually part 1 of 2) introduction to Wolfram | Alpha by Stephen Wolfram.
It is an “computational knowledge engine” ( or answers engine) that was released 2 years ago on May 15, 2009 and was named the greatest innovation of 2009 by Popular Science.
It differs from Google or a traditional search engine in that it does not deliver a list of links to documents or web pages, but rather it delivers computed answers from structured data.
As there are so many web sites that profess to answer our questions–whether Q&A sites like Answers.com and Quora or online encyclopedias like Wikipedia, I am intrigued by Wolfram Alpha’s computational knowledge niche.
While the site is useful for getting everything from the GDP of France to the height of Mt. Hermont, I found the Wolfram Alpha site struggling to answer a set of basic test questions:
1) Total amount (also tried “size”) of federal deficit — No, don’t want a definition of a deficit.
2) Number of U.S. embassies around the world — No, don’t want the U.S. population, density, language, etc.
3) How many employees at the Department of State — No, don’t want a list of U.S. states.
4) Air craft carriers in U.S. Navy – 11 (okay, yay!, but no list of what these are and no hyperlink, boo!)
5) (let’s try this) What are the names of U.S. aircraft carriers – No, don’t want the number of passengers and goods transported in 2009.
6) Planned number of F-35 to be produced — No, don’t want the function line F-35.
7) Members of House of Representatives – Yes, 435.
8) Time in Alaska – 3:46 am, thanks.
9) Age of International Space Station – launch November 20, 1998 (12.7 years ago) – informative.
10) Depth of Earth’s crust – 0-22 miles – not bad.
11) Volume of Pacific Ocean – big number provided – good enough for me.
12) Largest lottery winnings – No, not the movie, “The Lottery.”
While Wolfram Alpha is impressive in mathematical and scientific prowess, too often, the answers just did not compute for the everyday questions posed.
As busy people juggling many different roles in life, it’s nice to actually get an answer back when you have a question, rather than have to start searching through thousands or links from the traditional search engine page.
But when instead of getting answers, you see messages that the search engine is “computing” and then coming back with null or void responses, we are left worse off then when we started.
We shouldn’t have to think long and hard about what we can ask or how we to ask it; the search engine should be user-centric and we should be able to be ourselves.
As search engine users, I think we have the right to expect that our focus should be on how to apply the answers rather than on the engine itself or else something is wrong.
There is an amazing web site for creating, sharing, and exploring information visualizations (a.k.a. infographics)–it is called Visual.ly
There are currently more than 2,000 infographics at this site; this is a true online treasure trove for those who like to learn visually.
The infographics are categorized in about 21 areas including technology, science, business, the economy, the environment, entertainment, politics, and more.
I’ve included an example, from the Social Media category, of an infographic called The Conversation Prism developed by creative agency, JESS3.
As you can see this infographic displays the spectrum of social media from blogs and wikis to Q&A and DIY sites–it is a virtual index of social media today.
What I really love about infographics is that they can convey such a wealth of information in creative and memorable ways.
Moreover, there is such a variety of infographics out there–basically these are limited only by the imagination of the person sharing their point of view and their talents in conveying that information to the reader.
As someone who is very visual in nature, I appreciate when the content is rich (but not jumbled and overwhelming), and when it is logically depicted, so that it is quick and easy to find information.
In the example of The Conversation Prism, I like how it comprehensively captures all the various types of social media by category, color codes it, and visualizes it as part of a overall communications pie (or strategy).
To me, a good infographic is something you can relate to–there is a aha! moment with it.
And like a great work of art–there is the opportunity to get a deeper meaning from the visual and words together then from the words alone.
The shapes and dimensions and connections and distances and colors and sizes–it all adds meaning (lots and lots of context)–I love it!
I could spend hours at a site like visual.ly learning about all the different topics, marveling at the creativity and meaning of the information being conveyed, and never getting bored for a second.
He quit a job as a hedge fund analyst to start a free and now highly popular educational websiteKhan Academy.
Khan is the founder and sole faculty of the academy, and has posted over 2,100 educational videos on topics ranging from:
Khan goal is to “educate the world“ providing the tools so that everyone can learn at their own pace, and where teachers are facilitators.
Khan explains the concepts of the various subjects slowly and clearly and uses an electronic blackboard to demonstrate examples and problems.
The Khan Academy also provides exercises, test prep (like for the SAT, GMAT, etc.) and a dashboard for tracking student progress.
As of today–26 May 2011–Khan has served up over 56 Million lessons!
According to BusinessWeek (May 23-29, 2011) Khan’s work was recognized in 2010 by donations that included $1.5 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, $2 million from Google, as well as others.
Of course, there are other free learning sites out there, but to me Khan Academy seems unique in its breadth and depth of core academic learning–plus they are all taught by Khan!
Khan Academy is becoming the “free virtual school” for the world, and his students seem to love it.
While Khan is doing a super-human job, one suggestion that I have is to consider adding social collaboration tools (chat, blogs, groups, and so on) to the site to enable students to discuss about the material and ask questions and even post their own insights that others can benefit from.
Also, opening some element of this up to crowd-sourcing (like Wikipedia) may help this to grow even bigger and faster.
At some point, even a King Khan needs some help to educate the masses.
Apple has an amazing self-sufficiency model, where they have only 6 desktop support analysts for 34,000 worldwide employees, 36 helpline agents for 52,000 computers, only 38% of their IT budget is for baseline operations and 62% for innovation, and their IT spend is just .6 of 1%. These are numbers that most CIOs dream of. And of course, that’s only the beginning of the Apple story…
There is no doubt about it Apple is firing on all cylinders.Apple has become a $50 billion a year company building and selling technology products that consumers are salivating for—whether it’s a MacBook, iPhone, or the new iPad—everyone wants one, and I mean one of each!
Apple’s slogan of “Think Different” is certainly true to form. It’s reflected in their incredibly designed products, innovation in everything they do, and the keen ability to view the world from their user’s perspective.
Here are some amazing stats on Apple (heard at the Apple Federal CIO Summit, 8 April 2010):
Apple as the highest gross revenue per square foot in retail at $6250.
Apple’s online store is the most visited PC store and is a top 10 retail website
iTunes has over 125 million user accounts and does 20,000 downloads a minute
The iPhone 3GS is ranked the #1 smartphone in customer satisfaction by JD Power Associates and has over 150,000 apps
Apple processes over 1.9 million credit card transactions per day
Apple’s MobileMe has over a million subscribers
Apple is ranked #1 in customer satisfaction by Consumer Reports, 10 years in a row.
Apple is ranked the most innovative company by both Fortune Magazine and Business Week.
Here are some of Apple’s self-proclaimed keys to success:
Steve Jobs—A leader who makes it all happen
Innovation—Rethink things; “If nothing existed, what would it make sense to do?”
Consumerism—Focus on the entire customer experience and make it excellent
Avoiding complexity—Simplify everything so that it completely intuitive to the users and be good at deciding what you are not going to do.
Attention to detail—This involves creating an immersive experience for the consumer that permeates the design process.
“The concept of 1”—Build consistency across products; standardize, simplify, and architect around commonalities.
Learnability—Users should be able to quickly learn their technology by watching others or by exploring
People—Smart, motivated employees and a special emphasis on their intern program
While the key factors to Apple’s success are not a recipe that can simply copied, they do offer great insight into their incredible accomplishments.
Next stop for Apple seems to be taking their success in the consumer market and making it work in the enterprise.This will go a long way to addressing users concerns about their technology at home being better than what they use at work.
We are all familiar with personalizing websites like Yahoo.com to make them more appealing, functional, and easy to navigate.
Now, according to MIT Technology Review, 9 June 2008, websites are being personalized not by the person, but rather by systems “that detect a user’s cognitive style” and changes the website accordingly
What is cognitive style?
Cognitive style is how a person thinks. Some people are more simplistic, others more detail-oriented, some like charts and graphs, and some like to be able to see and get to peer advice.
Why is cognitive style important?
Well, if we can figure out a person’s way of thinking and what appeals to them, then we can tailor websites to them and make them more useful, useable, and more effective at selling to them.
“Initial studies show that morphing a website to suit different types of visitors could increase the site’s sales by about 20 percent.”
So what’s new about this, haven’t sites like Amazon been tailoring their offering to users for quite some time?
Amazon and other sites “offer personalized features…drawing from user profiles, stored cookies, or long questionnaires.” The new method is based instead on system adaptation “within the first few clicks on the website by analyzing each user’s patterns of clicks.”
With cognitive style adaptation, “suddenly, you’re finding the website is easy to navigate, more comfortable, and it gives you the information you need.” Yet, the user may not even realize the website has been personalized to him.
“In addition to guessing each user’s cognitive style by analyzing that person’s pattern of clicks, the system would track data over time to see which versions of the website work most effectively for which cognitive style.” So there is learning going on by the system and the system gets better at matching sites to user types over time!
If we overlay the psychological dimension such as personality types and cognitive styles to web design and web adaptation, then we can individuate and improve websites for the end-user and for the site owner who is trying to get information or services out there.
Using cognitive styles to enhance website effectiveness is right in line with User-centric Enterprise Architecture that seeks to provide useful and usable EA products and services. Moreover, EA must learn to appreciate and recognize different cognitive styles of its users, and adapt its information presentation accordingly. This is done, for example, in providing three levels of EA detail for different types of end-users, such as profiles for executives, models for mid-level managers, and inventories for analysts. This concept could be further developed to actually modify EA products for the specific end-user cognitive styles. While this could be considerable work and must be balanced against the expected return, it really comes down to tailoring your product to your audience and that is nothing new.