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the obsession of The Story

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The Story was a satisfying and intriguing day out. Chatting to @lynsey_s in a break, we reflected that it felt different to the usual speaking events we get to go to.

(although I’ve not been to much in recent years…my charity days have been focused on very tangible tactical events on topics like RFID and SharePoint).

The eclectism of The Story is often present at web/ux events and many of the topics were familiar but there was something else. There was a continuous sense of being exposed to depth, detail and obsession. these speakers were talking about things they’d been doing for years and years (often every day of those years).

Updated: I think Phil Gyford’s comments about his presentation fit with my impressions:

“It turns out that I need to run a website on a very specialised topic for eight years before I’m in a position to feel confident talking about it.”


Written by Karen

February 19th, 2011 at 10:06 am

Posted in events

Search Solutions 2009

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Last week I went to the Search Solutions event, held by BCS in their lovely office in Southampton Street. There were maybe 50 people, 6 or 7 women and seemingly even less laptops (which rather made it stand out from the more web-focused events I usually attend – because of lack of laptops not the male-female ratio).

I didn’t make masses of notes but I did capture a few points and reminders:

Vivian Lin Dufour from Yahoo talked about Search Pad, an attempt to make search more “stateful”.

Richard Russell from Google explained how the auctions for Google Ads work. Always interesting to hear more about the money side of things.

Dave Mountain, a geographer (another example of Nominative Determinism?) talked about geographical aspects of searching. He explained that if the task is “finding the nearest cafe”, then the ‘near’ isn’t a simple statement. There are types of near: as the crow flies, in travel time, in the direction I’m already going. After all you may not be interested in a cafe that’s already 5 miles behind you on the motorway. He had some good slides covering this, so hopefully they’ll be made available.

Tony Russell-Rose discussed Endeca’s impending pattern library. Should be interesting – public version to be available in the new year.

David White of Web Optimiser talked amongst other things about the importance of cross-media optimisation. He asked why don’t more companies, especially b2b ones, have phone numbers in title/description of search results? He also touched on the growth of twitter as a substantial source of referrals (in response to a question about whether Bing was increasing referrals and thus changing optimisation tactics).

Richard Boulton, as well as discussing his efforts with open source search, introduced us to the marvelous concept of dev/fort/.

“Imagine a place of no distractions, no IM, no Twitter — in fact, no internet. Within, a group of a dozen or more developers, designers, thinkers and doers. And a lot of a food.

Now imagine that place is a fort.”

Well marvellous to me but I wanted to get married in a Napoleonic fort so perhaps I’m not typical. He also mentioned searchevent.org, a day dedicated to open source search systems, which will hopefully happen again sometime.

Andrew Maisey talked about a school of thought that search will increasingly become less important on the site. Dynamic user journeys will encourage more browsing.

(Food was pretty good as usual for the venue.  I’m hoping that we’re going back to BCS for our team away-day later in the year and then I can have more of the strawberry tarts.)

Written by Karen

October 5th, 2009 at 6:54 am

Posted in events,search

BCS IRSG – Search Solutions 2009

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I’m going to “Innovations in Web and Enterprise Search” at BCS next week

Search Solutions is a special one-day event dedicated to the latest innovations in web and enterprise search. In contrast to other major industry events, Search Solutions aims to be highly interactive and collegial, with attendance limited to 60-80 delegates.

Provisional programme

09:30 – 10:00 Registration and coffee

Session 1: (Chair: Tony Russell-Rose)

* 10:00 Introduction – Alan Pollard, BCS President

* 10:10 “Enterprising Search” – Mike Taylor, Microsoft

* 10:35 Accessing Digital Memory: Yahoo! Search Pad – Vivian Lin Dufour, Yahoo

* 11:00 “How Google Ads Work” – Richard Russell, Google

11:25 – 11:45 COFFEE BREAK

Session 2: (Chair: Andy MacFarlane)

* 11:45 “Location-based services: Positioning, Geocontent and Location-aware Applications” – Dave Mountain, Placr

* 12:10 “Librarians, metadata, and search” – Alan Oliver, Ex Libris

* 12:35 “UI Design Patterns for Search & Information Discovery”- Tony Russell-Rose, Endeca

13:00 – 14:15 LUNCH

Session 3: (Chair: Leif Azzopardi)

* 14:15 “Search-Based Applications: the Maturation of Search” – Greg Grefenstette, Exalead

* 14:40 “How and why you need to calculate the true value of page 1 natural search engine positions” – Gary Jennings, WebOptimiser

* 15:05 “Search as a service with Xapian” – Richard Boulton, Lemur Consulting

15:30 – 16:00 TEA BREAK

Session 4: (Chair: Alex Bailey)

* 16:00 “The Benefits of Taxonomy in Content Management”, Andrew Maisey, Unified Solutions

* 16:25 Panel: “Interactive Information Retrieval” – details to follow

17:00 – 19:00 DRINKS RECEPTION

via BCS IRSG – Search Solutions 2009.

Written by Karen

September 24th, 2009 at 6:42 am

Posted in events,search

might finally get to London IA in the Pub

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As Martin has picked my local The Harrison for the next London IA gathering, and moved it so it doesn’t clash with the Linked Data meeting … I might actually get to an IA in the Pub meeting.

In fact, I’ll probably be the first one there.

London IA in the Pub – London IA.

Written by Karen

September 4th, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Posted in events

alternatives to conferences

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I’m very pleased that London has just had a conference dedicated to user experience design. UX London is a great step forward but I didn’t actually go. I love the annual IA Summit but this year I didn’t go to that either.

I’m thinking about the autumn and winter conferences and if I don’t plan them into my diary now then I certainly won’t be able to fit them in. I’ve got time but having moved into the non-profit sector has rather changed my perspective on the big events. I’m wondering if they represent real value.

Looking backing on past conferences, I’m intrigued by what I brought back from them. I don’t keep paper or CDs so any handouts are long gone. I still have my beloved UX trading cards from IA summits and a surprising number of promotional rubber ducks have been passed on to my nephew.

I’m not convinced that building up your network is enough to justify steep ticket prices, flights and hotels. Surely we need the presentations to actually teach us something? Information architecture conferences have become less specialised, covering a broader range of web design and management topics. If you are a regular attendee then you’ll have seen the big name speakers run through their spiels before.

There’s usually some intriguing presentations from less familiar speakers but you don’t actually have to attend to find out what they have to say. The presentation slides and audio are increasingly available after the event and bloggers are likely to report or twitter the highlights. You can contact speakers direct if you see a presentation that looks particularly interesting. Most will be more than happy to talk to a fellow enthusiast. Remember if they’re not giving a big presentation then they probably aren’t being paid to speak anyway.

There are other ways of staying up to date and building your network. You can get involved in local groups and professional bodies. The time spent attending conferences could instead be dedicated to commenting on blogs, participating in mailing list discussions, and attending coffee mornings and cocktail hours. You might be surprised by the rewards.

There are cheaper events out there too. Conferences like d.Construct and FOWD, academic led events like ISKO, FIND, Create and Visual Methods, and ‘unconferences’ like Bookcamp. In London we have the extremely popular London IA mini conferences. And the big conferences and trade shows often have free seminars that are sometimes as good as the main paid-for programme. I never pay to attend Online Info anymore (very disappointed last time I attended the main event) but I always pop along to the exhibition seminars if I’m free.

So don’t feel you have to pay. You might have to put a bit of leg work in but you might actually be more satisfied with the result.

Written by Karen

July 16th, 2009 at 6:17 am

Posted in events

conferences to learn IA at

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I  was asked for some advice about conferences  to attend if you are just learning about IA.

IA Summit

The IA Summit is still the main event of the IA year. There are usually 3 days of multi-tracked presentations preceded by 2 days of workshops. It is certainly a great place to meet IAs and to get a feel for what is currently capturing IAs imaginations. The pre-conference workshops usually include some good ones for people starting out. That said, the conference presentations themselves are more and more about general UX and web design. There’s a lot of philosophy, strategy talk and many presentations are focused on what highly experienced IAs should do next. If you are new to IA you might struggle to find more than a couple of presentations about the details of the craft.

The conference is very good value for money, especially when you consider how well fed you will be. If you are US-based then definitely go and make sure you sign up for a pre-conference. For everyone else, go if you can get your company to pay, otherwise consider some of the more local options (assuming you have them!).


EuroIA is the younger sibling of the IA Summit. Still very good value for money but slightly smaller and with fewer of IA big names. It can actually be a better place to get to grips with the basics as the European market is a bit less developed and there are still plenty of people wanting to talk about tackling typical IA projects.

Oz IA, IA Konferenz, Italian IA Summit

There’s a growing number of country specific IA conferences. They’ve got a good track record of attracting well known speakers for the main presentations. If your country runs one of these, I’d definitely suggest attending your local conference first. Just make sure you can speak the language!

Usability Week

An expensive option, especially if you go for the full five days. In spite of the title you can do two full days of IA tuition and you’ll get taken through the basics in a structured way. Just don’t expect small tutor groups. The tutorial audiences are huge. A good intro if your company has deep pockets but I’d be wary of shelling out for this myself.

UX London

In spite of the name, this was actually a good alternative to the IA Summit for Londoners, with many of the same regular speakers. For learners, Donna Maurer’s workshops would have been a great start and the rest of the event a good chance to see the usual suspects speak. Hopefully this will happen again next year.


Oddly the IA Institute’s own conference isn’t really about the craft of IA, more the philosophical and creative landscape it sits within. Fascinating stuff but if you are new to IA you should go for the pre-conference workshop which tends to be more practical.

UX Intensive

Not so much a conference, but actually my best recommendation to people looking to learn about IA. Adaptive Path run great training events and UX Intensive is a nice balance of detailed IA craft and the broader UX context. Not cheap but well worth the money. You can also choose to just attend the IA day.

None of these options are cheap. The cheaper conferences really need you to pay out for pre-conferences to get value for money. And most people will need to shell out for travel and accommodation too. In my new non-profit mindset I’ve been thinking about cheaper alternatives and that’s a topic I’ll come back to later.

Written by Karen

July 15th, 2009 at 6:52 am

summer science

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A good friend of mine is Young Scientist Centre Manager at the Royal Institution. The centre doesn’t open until September but in the meantime we were invited along to one of the Institution’s Family Fun Days.

We were treated to a lecture about the science of rock music, demonstrations of the world’s largest whoopie cushion, and received instructions on how to make two coat hangers sound like Big Ben (strangely the most impressive bit of the whole day).

On our friend’s recommendation we also went to the Royal Society for their  Summer Science Exhibition.

This was a bigger, busier event with the emphasis more on cutting edge scientific research and less on hands-on stuff for kids. In retrospect I spent most time on the biology stands and now feel well educated about ladybirds and snails. Goo-making seemed to captivate the kids.

There seemed a curious bias amongst the medical stands which seemed strangely focused on female anatomy, including a stand with real human placenta in a bag, which provided the ick factor for the grown-ups.

We did a bad job of collecting all the freebies but we did come away with slinkys. So we were kept amused on the journey home.

I’d recommend both events to science fans (and to fans of grand buildings) but the RI event is particularly good if you’ve got kids.

Written by Karen

July 6th, 2009 at 1:52 pm


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UXLondon may make up for the fact that EuroIA will probably never come to London.

The line-up is quite the who’s-who of the IA community:
Jared Spool and Eric Reiss are always hugely entertaining, Peter Merholz is usually thought provoking and you should expect some very practical stuff from Donna Maurer, Luke Wroblewski and Margaret Hanley.

Looks like more good stuff from the Clearleft team.

Written by Karen

January 6th, 2009 at 7:03 am