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Magazines > Information Today > June 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 20 No. 6 — June 2003
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 persona—the suggested number for any given project is three to seven, so each one can remain distinct—serves 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 persona—one 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 the list.

To get specific information—whom to call or e-mail or even whom to complain to—you'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 aggravation—and fax paper—in the long run. For now, Ebbinghouse offers this insight on the looming spam wars:

It will take a lot to create the solution—probably 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.

Lauree Padgett is Information Today, Inc.'s editorial services manager. Her e-mail address is
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