In Other Words
By Lauree Padgett
It's summertime, and while the living might be easy
(at least according to Gershwin's Porgy and Bess),
if you're a TV buff, it means there's going to be a
lot of reruns on. Well, reruns and baseball. While
I can watch episodes from my favorite TV shows over
and over again and laugh or cry at the same parts,
not everyone has the same fondness for repeats. A few
years ago, NBC took its clever "Must See TV" slogan
and, for the summer, plugged its repeat fare by proclaiming, "If
you haven't seen it, it's new to you." And when you
think about it, that's basically what I'm doing with
this column. If you haven't read the articles I'm talking
about from the current issues of ONLINE and Searcher,
they're new to you. You may want to check them out.
If you're involved in any aspect of designing or
promoting a Web site for your company or client, Alison
J. Head's piece, "Personas: Setting the Stage for Building
Usable Information Sites" (ONLINE, July/August
2003, p. 14), may give you a whole new perspective
on how to reach the consumers your content is attempting
to attract. A persona, to use Head's definition, is "a
hypothetical-user archetype developed for interface
design projects and used for guiding decisions about
visual design, functionality, navigation, and content."
Alan Cooper's bestseller, The Inmates Are Running
the Asylum, has put Web personas in the spotlight.
Cooper maintains that a company will have far greater
success by designing a site molded to suit the tastes
and criteria of one specific user, or persona, than
in trying to please every potential user's every
need. According to Head, there are three key benefits
for utilizing personas when planning all types of
interface design projects:
First, personas introduce teams to hypothetical users
who have names, personal traits, and habits that in
a relatively short time become believable constructs
for honing design specifications. Second, personas
are stand-ins with archetypal characteristics that
represent a much larger group of users. Third, personas
give design teams a strong sense of what users' goals
are and what an interface needs to fulfill them.
Personas are developed through ethnographic interviews
with actual and potential users. Although some demographic
data is collected, the focus of the interviews is to
obtain qualitative, not quantitative, information.
Writes Head, "Interviewers need to gather stories,
quotes, and anecdotes from interview subjects that
pertain to their environment and behaviors...." Another
important piece of the persona profile is uncovering
the subjects' unstated goals, not just getting a recitation
of their daily tasks.
Each personathe suggested number for any given
project is three to seven, so each one can remain distinctserves
a different purpose. One will be the primary "star" of
the project. The others take on supporting roles, contributing
to design considerations, but are not as "high maintenance" as
the primary persona. It's even valuable to have a negative
personaone who will never be satisfied with or
perhaps never even use the site.
Head concludes, "When personas are used in combination
with other user-centered methods ... there is a strong
likelihood that a far more usable design will be developed."
A Spam-Free Diet
While I may never tire of watching Bosom Buddies,
there is one type of rerun that I'd like to
send to the moon: those beyond-annoying, unsolicited
e-mails thatoffer everything from cheap drugs to cheap
thrills. If you're tired of having your Saturday morning
sleep or midweek dinner interrupted by telemarketers
and are ready to put a hit out on Ed McMahon for all
the sweepstakes notices that litter your mailbox, Carol
Ebbinghouse's latest Sidebar column (Searcher,
July/August, p. 36) has some news that will make you
feel like a winner.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Telemarketing
Sales Rule, which will create a national Do Not Call
register, was scheduled to go into effect July 1. Once
you're on the national list, marketers can face legal
prosecution if they call. You have to renew your do-not-call
status every 5 years, and the list will not include
charitable organizations, long-distance carriers, and
a few others, such as companies you've done business
with over the last 18 months. Individual states are
also taking steps to curtail telemarketing efforts.
As for e-mail spam, Ebbinghouse reports that while
this is a tougher fight, progress is being made. Again,
both the FTC and individual states are filing lawsuits
with some success, especially when spammers are using
deceptive subject lines or making false claims.
What about junk faxes? The Telephone Consumer Protection
Act prohibits unsolicited advertisements from being
sent via fax, a ruling that's held up against First
Amendment challenges in court. States also have a range
of fax laws, such as requiring 800 numbers to appear
on sent faxes so recipients can call to be taken off
To get specific informationwhom to call or
e-mail or even whom to complain toyou'll want
to read over the sidebars at the end of Ebbinghouse's
column. By putting forth just a little effort, you
may save yourself a lot of aggravationand fax
paperin the long run. For now, Ebbinghouse offers
this insight on the looming spam wars:
It will take a lot to create the solutionprobably
a combination of technology and legislation that can
both be enforced and upheld in the courts. Blacklisting, "white
lists," and other market responses will likely be incorporated
into the solution as ever new "patches" are developed
to fill in the gaps.
In the meantime, thanks to Ebbinghouse's thorough
coverage, you can enter the spam wars fully armed and
ready for action.
Now it's off to find the remote and see if I want
to watch the Atlanta Braves manhandle the Philadelphia
Phillies or click on over to see what's happening in
the wonderful world of TVLand, where June Cleaver never
has to deal with solicitors (unless you count Eddie "Gee,
Mrs. Cleaver, that's a lovely dress" Haskell), Alice
never dreams of serving spam to any of the Bradys,
and the only "facts" Joe Friday is interested in are
of the "who, what, where, and when" kind.
Padgett is Information Today, Inc.'s editorial services
manager. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.