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Recommended Reading for Online Professionals
by Deborah Lynne Wiley
Next Wave Consulting, Inc.

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Super Searchers Go to the Source: The Interviewing and Hands-On Information Strategies of Top Primary Researchers—Online, on the Phone, and in Person
Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software
On-the-Job Research: How Usable Are Corporate Research Intranets?
Design Whys: Designing Web Sites that Sell

This month we visit with the Super Searchers again, take a look at the leader of the free software movement, and examine Web design from both usability and design points of view.

Super Searchers Go to the Source:
The Interviewing and Hands-On Information Strategies of
Top Primary Researchers—Online, on the Phone, and in Person

by Risa Sacks
edited by Reva Basch

ISBN: 0-910965-53-6
Published: 2002
Pages: 420 pp.; softcover
Price: $24.95
Available from: CyberAge Books, Information Today, Inc., 143 Old Marlton Pike,
Medford, NJ 08055; 609/654-6266;

When I finished this book by a very experienced telephone researcher, I felt like I had been at a dinner party with just a few too many people. There were several individuals that I wanted to engage further, but didn't have the time. And there were some that I felt I got to know too well or for too long. But mostly I just had an enjoyable and informative experience.

As with all the "Super Searcher" books, the purpose is to interview experts and to try to learn from their collective wisdom. This book includes 12 interviews, which felt like a couple too many. The interviews are divided into sections, with the first section covering primary research in general and providing tips on how to find the individuals to talk to in various situations and the importance of going directly to the source. Then there are two interviews with specialists in communications and interviewing techniques. I found the section on public records searching and competitive intelligence the most interesting, but then it is an area I know little about. The last four interviews were with journalists, who discussed how they use primary research.

The 167 sources mentioned by the interviewees are listed in the Appendix, along with the URL or citation. However, unlike many of the books in this series, the sources were not nearly as valuable as the techniques. The various skills involved in talking to people, digging through public records and other available sources, and connecting various pieces of information together into a coherent picture of a person or event are not easily learned except by experience. In some cases the examples given by the interviewees went on too long, but it is easy to skim through any sections that don't strike your fancy.

For those who need to do primary research, even on an occasional basis, you will learn some tidbits to help you get started. And, since nearly all the interviewees admitted to hating to make phone calls under some circumstances, if you are feeling a bit shy of picking up the phone and starting, this book will let you know you are in good company and give you the boost to get on with it.

Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software

by Sam Williams

ISBN: 0-596-00287-4
Published: 2002
Pages: 225 pp.; hardcover
Price: $22.95
Available from: O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.,
1005 Gravenstein Highway North,
Sebatopol, CA 95472; 800/998-9938

There are some people you hear a story about and you think that they can't actually be as crazy as that story makes them sound. Richard Stallman was one of those people for me, as I had heard bits about him, but not the whole story. This book presents about as complete a picture as you will find on this eccentric and passionate man, and I will leave it to you to judge whether he is crazy or not.

Richard Stallman is the man credited by most to be the founder of the free software movement, reacting to the beginnings of proprietary code and nondisclosure agreements as far back as the mid 1970s. He describes the movement as "free as in freedom, not as in free beer," meaning that the source code for software should be open to allow any programmer to improve and develop upon it. He is not necessarily against people selling the software.

This movement has split, with one faction deciding to call the cause a more politically correct "open source," but Stallman insists on using the term "free." It is one of many points mentioned in this book that makes you realize that this man in on a crusade. He is passionate and unable to compromise on his core beliefs. Indeed, a condition of being interviewed was that the book be available under the GNU Free Documentation License, developed by Stallman's Free Software Foundation. This allows the work to be freely copied, distributed, sold, and modified under the terms of the license, which is included in the appendix of the book.

The author does a good job of trying to present this man from several different vantage points. He delves a bit into his youth and upbringing to try to find reasons for Stallman's behavior, and he has contacted many colleagues, friends, and other sources for information and opinions on the man. He clearly spent time with Stallman himself, yet you are never quite sure of his opinion of his subject.

Understandably, there needs to be a fair amount of technical explanations and jargon to express what is happening in Stallman's life. The book reads like a short history on computers and software development and then the cultural reactions to parts of this history. I found it interesting, but have to admit that I still don't know what makes this man tick.

On-the-Job Research: How Usable Are Corporate Research Intranets?

by Alison J. Head
with Shannon Staley

ISBN: 0-87111-550-6
Published: 2002
Pages: 110 pp.; softcover
Price: $135
Available from: Special Libraries Association, 1700 Eighteenth St., NW,
Washington, DC 20009; 202/234-4700

This brief report provides tidbits of wisdom for those involved in designing or using a corporate intranet. Its author, Alison Head, an award-winning ONLINE magazine contributor, owns a Web design consulting company. Usability testing conducted with managerial, administrative, and research staff at seven different companies determined how well their intranet could meet their needs and how easy it was to use. The companies were Bechtel Corporation, Chevron Corporation, Fireman's Fund Insurance Company, Gale Group, Gilead Sciences, Sun Microsystems, and Synopsys.

A survey was conducted first to establish the types of information the staff frequently required. Tasks were then developed to see if they could, indeed, find this data. The most common requirement was for contact information for others within the company, yet the task of finding the contact information for the director of human resources could not be accomplished by 56 percent of the tested users. In fact, a significant percentage of the tasks could not be completed by a large number of the participants.

The report describes the methodology used and summarizes the results of the testing. Some design recommendations are given based on the results, but the analysis and recommendation parts are a bit too short for my liking. I guess it is difficult to go into great detail when you are trying to generalize findings across different sites. You will have to take the paragraphs of general suggestions and apply them to your own situation.

The tasks included finding internal company news, external news, information on competitors, and so on. It is interesting that most participants were not aware of the content on their intranet and often tried to complete a task by going directly to a known site on the Web. Users found that cluttered screens and long lists of choices made it difficult to choose a link to follow.

A short exit survey at the end of the testing elicited the users' perception and feelings about the intranet site. The majority thought the sites were easy to use, even when they failed to find the information they needed to complete the assigned tasks. This highlights the need for true usability studies rather than simple surveys to determine the success of your intranet.

Design Whys: Designing Web Sites that Sell

by Shayne Bowman
and Chris Willis

ISBN: 0-201-79304-0
Published: 2002
Pages: 256 pp.; softcover
Price: $40
Available from: PeachPit Press,
1249 Eighth St., Berkeley, CA 94710

It is nice to find a Web site design book that talks about more than how to make the site look pretty or flashy. Even though this book is aimed at graphic designers, a large portion of the content is devoted to making the site functional and easy for the user. After reading the previous book and discovering how bad your site really may be, read this book to determine how to fix it.

The authors focus on the entire process of creating a functional Web site. Although the main point is to create sites that sell a product or service, their concepts apply equally to all Web sites. You need to have a specific target audience for the site, and you need to be able to profile you average user. The authors talk about designing the site for one—create a profile and make sure your target user is satisfied.

The book includes chapters on good commerce design, information design for commerce, interaction design for commerce, and presentation design for commerce. The authors want you to understand the process and provide references for further information on the specifics of how to implement their ideas.

This book is a nice combination of project management, graphic design, usability, content management, and customer service. It is much more practical than many books I've read on this topic, and also much less hands-on. Its goal is to guide you through the process of creating a user-friendly Web site, no matter what your budget. The pages are liberally sprinkled with real and illustrative Web sites, so you can literally see what the authors are talking about. If you are about to create or redesign your Web site, take a look at the tips in this book first. I am sure your design will be better for having done so.

Deborah Lynne Wiley ( is Principal of Next Wave Consulting, Inc. 

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