November 25, 2008

International Children's Digital Library now available on iPhone

One of my largest research efforts at the Human-Computer Interaction Lab is the International Children's Digital Library (, which continues to grow in stature and global recognition. We have recently added several hundred books and deployed two HCIL innovations that taken together allow book text to be clearly displayed even when surrounded by deep colors and lush illustrations, which we find so often in the ICDL's children's picture books. And this is not all. This work also allows us to manipulate the text to varying degrees, which in turn allows us to offer beautiful, well placed translations, on the page. The exemplary books of the ICDL have never been more readable.

And now, we have taken the ICDL mobile.

In support of the library's vision of making as many books available to as many children as possible, the ICDL is now open on a variety of mobile devices. You can already visit the Library from the small and wondrous devices made available to children around the world by the One Laptop Per Child organization and on Intel's ClassmatePC educational laptop. And now, as of this week, you can tap your Apple iPhone or iPod Touch to get the free ICDL for iPhone app and read all about the six Mongolia brothers in search of knowledge, the gray peacemaker cat that does something most unusual to the other cat's ears, or a version of the Three Little Pigs that you surely have never heard before. The initial four books will be updated over time as we offer more books from our much larger collection.

November 20, 2008

FolderShare, Live Sync, Live Mesh???

Ok, it is has been two years since Microsoft bought ByteTaxi's FolderShare and rebranded it as Microsoft FolderShare. Aside from keeping it running, putting the Mac version on life support, and killing off the fee-based "pro" version, they haven't done much. But today I received the email below from their team.

WTF? How could MS be pushing Live Sync and Live Mesh at the same time when the products are nearly indistinguishable??? And with each not mentioning the other and without any indication of how users should decide which product to use. Does Microsoft know that they are investing in two very similar and competing products?

And to abandon their existing customers with no automatic transition path, and to warn them they will probably not even be able to get in, and that they should manually copy the names of their folders and sharers onto what, paper? Plus, I'll make a bet that the reason for this is so that they can abandon mac support without ever saying so.

FolderShare runs on the mac - but the encryption is totally broken so you have to run it without encryption, and it is an old pre-Intel binary so it runs only in the emulator and hogs a huge amount of processor time.

Live Mesh, which theoretically runs on the mac has a bug so it works great - as long as you only want to share folders on your desktop. I can't get it to share any other folders. (Yes, I have reported this, but to no avail).

And there still is no paid "pro" service - which is probably the one MS service I *would* pay for.

Oh, and it is still "beta" after two years of buying ByteTaxi and being version 2.0.


November 7, 2008


Sometimes the most obvious ideas are the hardest ones to have. Who could imagine in our recent political climate that the executive branch of our government would open the floodgates to ask the entire world for their advise on how to set up the government? The thinking of the status quo might think that is a sign of weakness - but of course the "new" model interprets this as a sign of strength. To ask for other's opinions shows that you are sure in what you know, and that you don't know everything. Yesterday, the Obama office of the President-Elect announced, a site asking for advise and ideas on every policy issue.

That is, interestingly enough, the essence of the approach of interface designers. Designers are experts. They are confident in balancing the many conflicting requirements of what it takes to solve hard problems. They also know that they don't know everything - and thus the work with their users through particpatory design and a million other approaches for learning from the broadest set of stakeholders.

It looks like our new government is thinking the same way that us HCI'ers have for decades.

November 4, 2008

Design for Democracy

For election day, I want to point to some fantastic work exploring how to improve the design of voting ballots and other material related to elections. Marcia Lausen's book, "Design for Democracy: Ballot + Election Design", part of the related AIGA Design for Democracy project does the job. She presents case studies, showing problematic designs and very clear and simple redesigns that addresses their problems. The lead example is to look at the infamous butterfly ballot of 2000, and she makes the case very clearly that while the constraints inherent in these problems make for a hard design problem, it is still possible to have a clear solution. She then goes further to express general design principles that can be applied to a broad range of specific situations. And she goes beyond just ballots, looking at voter registration, election administration, and more general election design issues.

Unfortunately, the reality of our voting landscape makes it so that the vendors don't act like they care much about these issues, and the politicians that manage elections don't seem to have the skills or resources to implement good solutions. But hopefully, the clear direction and advice that comes with this book will help.