Saturday, January 20, 2007

Defining Terminology for News Aggregators a paper from Microsoft

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Via the Touchstone Blog a good find on a Microsoft authored paper on feed reader behavior that attempts to define terminology for news aggregator applications. It looks like it was published for the upcoming Computer/Human Interaction 2007 Conference in San Jose, CA according to the small print on the front page.

The paper is written by four authors and is a short read that they hope will lead to further discussion on the topic of user interfaces for RSS news aggregators. i would label the aggregators that are being addressed- a self subscription RSS feed model (user find feeds and subscribes)- which is different from the traditional news aggregators that bring a universe of news content to the user that is already indexed and rich with metadata and then the user filters within that aggregator's content domain. The findings however are useful to both.

The majority of the paper addresses things that people in the information delivery business already know, but i think it is good to define a common vocabulary. Some interesting items from the paper:
  • A vocabulary for the characteristics of the application's environment in which the software is executed, 'Desktop', 'Web-based', 'Widget' and 'Mobile' aggregators
  • A vocabulary that describes the user interface of the aggregator, as well as the actions the interface affords
  • Although a very small user behavior study (34 users interviews), several user patterns emerged around 'Folder/Feed Selection', External Navigation Techniques and 'Session Termination and unread items'

When doing user interface design work for tools that deliver content to enterprise users, it is always important to understand the user behavior within the content set that they have access to. I constantly think about my own RSS reading habits and talk to enterprise workers about their consumption habits and needs as well. After looking at the user patterns that emerged around which folder or feed to read first, i would put myself in the 'Routine' strategy- which is defined as having a specific routine that i always read, frequently in a specific order, depending on the place of mind i am in (work vs. home). That is find and dandy today but as my attention is further thinned out as feed content becomes a big part of my enterprise content consumption- this routine strategy will probably become inadequate, hence why i think that aggregators that will provide attention strategies will in the long run become the choice of enterprise users.

And here is an interesting aside, the word 'aggregator' is not recognized by my Blogger spell check. I remember that it used to be in my custom dictionary in Office suite (just checked and it is no longer so perhaps it was added by Microsoft recently?) and the Merriam webster dictionary doesn't have the word 'aggregator' listed as well although other online dictionaries that cover computing do.

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