Facetted Navigation Primer

A List Apart recently posted an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Search Patterns by Peter Morville and Jeffery Callender that presents a great description of facetted navigation (FN), a type of search interface.

FN is contrasted with just text searching (e.g., Google), taxonomies (e.g., Windows Explorer or Mac Finder), and tag-based interfaces (e.g., Flickr).  See illustrative figure below if you aren’t familiar with these types of interfaces.

Three types of search interfaces

My most recent encounter was at the online shoe store Zappos.  When looking for some shoes, the user is presented with a very dynamic FN:

Initial search (no facets selected)
Four facets selected

Driving, texting, and eating?

Multiple behavioral studies have demonstrated our difficulties with multi-tasking. A new study provides the neurological mechanisms for those findings (and more behavioral data, of course!).

From the LiveScience article:

For those who find it tough to juggle more than a couple things at once, don’t despair. The brain is set up to manage two tasks, but not more, a new study suggests.

That’s because, when faced with two tasks, a part of the brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex (MFC) divides so that half of the region focuses on one task and the other half on the other task. This division of labor allows a person to keep track of two tasks pretty readily, but if you throw in a third, things get a bit muddled.

Scientific American also has a nice writeup of this work by Etienne Koechlin and his lab. The SciAm article even gets into a bit of the task sharing/task switching debate:

The new work does not, however, show that the brain can actually execute two distinct tasks, such as letter matching, at precisely the same time, Paul Dux a psychology lecturer at the University of Queensland in St. Lucia, Australia, noted in an email to ScientificAmerican.com. The data reveal that though separate goals might be running concurrently in the brain, “there are still large dual-task costs” when people have to switch between two tasks making for “non-efficient multitasking,” cautioned Dux, who was not involved in the new research but has also studied attention in the brain. (Some commonplace activities, such as driving and talking on a cell phone frequently go hand-in-hand, but the brain is likely switching its main focus quickly between the two activities, perhaps a reason the pairing has been so dangerous.)

The tasks in the imaging study were letter and word matching tasks and appeared to require controlled processing. These types of tasks are resource demanding, error prone, and performed serially. I’ll go on record as saying I’d expect different results with more than two tasks trained to automaticity and with non-overlapping resource demands.

Here is a link to the original source*:

Charron, S. & Koechlin, E. (2010). Divided Representation of Concurrent Goals in the Human Frontal Lobes. Science, 328, 360 – 363.

*You may have to be on a network that subscribes to Science.

Trust & Electronic Medical Records

The Consumerist recently posted on something we haven’t tackled in our posts on electronic medical records: patient trust and privacy.

The California HealthCare Foundation recently released the results of a survey on electronic medical records and consumer behavior. The survey found that 15% of people would hide things from their doctor if the medical record system shared anonymous data with other organizations. Another 33% weren’t sure, but would consider hiding something.

Interestingly, the data come from a report titled “New National Survey Finds Personal Health Records Motivate Consumers to Improve Their Health.”

When people are asked about accessing their personal health records (PHRs) online, they said: (from the report)

  • PHR Users Pay More Attention. More than half of PHR users have learned more about their health as a result of their PHR and one third of those say they used the PHR to take a specific action to improve their health.
  • Low-Income, Chronically Ill Benefit More from PHRs. Nearly 60% of PHR users with incomes below $50,000 feel more connected to their doctor as a result of their PHR, compared to 31% of higher income users. And four out of ten PHR users with multiple chronic conditions did something to improve their health, compared to 24% of others interviewed.
  • Doctors Are Most Trusted. About half of all survey respondents say they want to use PHRs provided by their physicians (58%) or insurers (50%). Just one in four (25%) reports wanting to use PHRs developed and marketed by private technology companies.
  • Privacy Remains a Concern. Sixty-eight percent of respondents are very or somewhat concerned about the privacy of their medical records, about the same number who were concerned in a 2005 CHCF survey. PHR users are less worried about the privacy of the information in their PHR.

Online Banking Should Be Easier for Seniors

A new study has identified how poorly designed online and electronic banking is for older users and will seek to find remedies.

From the news article in www.theengineer.co.uk:

The new assistive technology developed by Newcastle and York researchers will be tried out by a variety of focus groups over 18 months.

Some ideas include a wallet shaped foldable display. One half would display recent transactions with dates and amounts, the other half your current balance, as a figure and an analogue quantity.

Monk said other assistive technology devices could mimic the ‘physicality’ of cash. This is important, he said, because many older people work in a ‘cash economy’ and are wary of ATM cards because there is no way to immediately see the amount of money being withdrawn.

From the comments section of the article, showing the need for this project:

I have an elderly relative who has arthritic hands. When trying to enter her pin number at the supermarket checkout, she cannot push the buttons on the keypad hard enough to make the number register. Could they be made more sensitive? Or perhaps replace the keypad with a touch screen? Or something else?

Here is a link to Andrew Monk’s homepage to stay tuned in for the results.

This news story was sent in by Darin Ellis of Wayne State University. Thanks, Darin!