help: abstract user value naming?

31 Jan 2006 - 2:06am
8 years ago
3 replies
509 reads
michel.milano
2005

I've got a little user experience puzzle, and was wondering if anyone
knows of some successful examples that have already tackled this.

------------
Short(er) version of question:

What do you label, on screen, query parameters that are variables,
but are selected in a context that is extremely literal, and is
selected by an end user who is constructing queries for a group of
people? Example variables are "me," when me will be evaluated at
query runtime as the person running the query. And these users are
non-technical people, not software engineers.

------------
Long winded version of question, with context, and I'd probably put
footnotes in if the medium supported it better:
I have this "enterprise" application that, amongst other tools,
allows users to create and run a search for information in the
system. These searches can be simple, or not. They can include a
mind-boggling number of criteria, and they can be saved to allow
re-running later. And they can be shared with other users, so that
those users can run the search too.

These searches can include directives to look for information
associated with a specific user in the system. I can browse a list of
my fellow system comrades, and from that list, I can select specific
individuals for specific criteria.

For example: find all documents of status "in progress" that have
been modified by user "Mr. Apricot." If I save that query and share
it, all of my peers can click on it to also see all documents of
status "in progress" that have been modified by "Mr. Apricot."

So far, complicated, but relatively straightforward.

All of this is done in a web interface, btw. So, the query example
above is just a phrasing of the search for discussion. The user never
sees any such nice, tidy expressions. The actual "search" a user sees
is a web page of form fields, and selections, like most any advanced
search.

The problem:
In addition to specific users, now add the ability to select a value
that represents "the person who is running the search." The person
building the search needs to be able to see this value on-screen,
understand it, and be able to select it. What is a usable interface
that allow this? How does this representative value appear on-screen
succinctly? What is the name of the category of selectable-items this
value is grouped within?

To broaden the concept, other conceptual values may also be available
(if we manage to implement them, depending on engineering resources
and/or something in the ballpark of actual utility):
- "All users with the same role as the person who is running the query"
- "All users in the same user group as the person who is running the query"

Taking the search example above, an equivalent with one of these
values would be:
find all documents of status "in progress" that have been modified by
"me", where me = whomever is running the query.

A first sketch might be to put a checkbox next to the label
[ ] me
and maybe roads lead back to that. But it isn't really myself i am
selecting, since anyone else running this (saved & shared) query will
see their own results. I am selecting the concept of "me," relative
to the person using the thing. So I am casting about to see if there
are better ideas.

In a landscape of all literal values, how does one communicate to the
user that they are selecting a non-literal value, a variable that
will be evaluated at run-time?

Are there any existing exemplary, or even cautionary, solutions? Has
anyone seen any applications (preferably ones accessible to
off-the-street shoppers) with something like this? Likely candidates
may be collaborative systems with concepts of "sharing," maybe
document management applications, or agent-type tools.

And, does anyone have notes on what general folks (not engineers)
might call these "relative variable parameters" that are used in the
queries? Abstract users? Conceptual values? User variables? etc.

Or - is this just really not an issue, and regular enterprise
application users easily understand all this?

Thanks in advance,
michel milano

Comments

31 Jan 2006 - 6:41am
jbellis
2005

Michel,
Some answers below.
www.jackBellis.com, www.UsabilityInstitute.com

----- Original Message -----
From: "michel.milano" <michel_milano at yahoo.com>
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] help: abstract user value naming?

> ... does anyone have notes on what general folks (not engineers)
> might call these "relative variable parameters" that are used in the
> queries?

Perhaps users won't have any name for this, any more than they would have a
name for Newsfeeds. I suppose you will find names like 'meta-values' or
'pseudo-values' in the trade, but the interface might not need a name at
all. In instructions, 'special values' might suffice. (As I just read in a
now 3-year old article, First Principles of
IxD(http://www.asktog.com/basics/firstPrinciples.html) "users learn
quickly..." Don't think that coming up with a great name will make clear to
uninitiated users a technological abstraction they've never experienced;
instead make bulletproof functionality that is well presented.

> Has anyone seen any applications (preferably ones accessible to
> off-the-street shoppers) with something like this?

Yes, as you say doc mgt systems, like Documentum, (or maybe it's just Oracle
under the hood) support meta-values such as <Today> and <Yesterday> on which
to search and then share or save re-usable searches.
>
>How does this representative value appear on-screen succinctly?
I suggest putting the values right in the lists of otherwise more literal
values, probably floated to the top, emphatically distinguished as a
separately-sorted section within the list, and distinguished by a visual
convention... I like angle brackets (they're a little more visible in most
typefaces), but parentheses would seem to be the simpler non-technological
device:

<Me>
<All Managers>
- - - - - - - -
Anderson, J
Barson, W

***

31 Jan 2006 - 11:43am
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

Off the top of my head, have you considered the "Rules Wizard" in MS
Outlook?(Tools > Rules and Alerts > New Rule) as a launching point? I
haven't thought about this in-depth at all so I'm sure I'm glossing over its
problems, but I've always sorta liked the way is uses plain English to
construct rule statements on the fly. It's like using Mad Libs forbuilding
rules.

-r-

On 1/31/06, michel.milano <michel_milano at yahoo.com> wrote:
>
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> I've got a little user experience puzzle, and was wondering if anyone
> knows of some successful examples that have already tackled this.
>
> ------------
> Short(er) version of question:
>
> What do you label, on screen, query parameters that are variables,
> but are selected in a context that is extremely literal, and is
> selected by an end user who is constructing queries for a group of
> people? Example variables are "me," when me will be evaluated at
> query runtime as the person running the query. And these users are
> non-technical people, not software engineers.
>
> ------------
> Long winded version of question, with context, and I'd probably put
> footnotes in if the medium supported it better:
> I have this "enterprise" application that, amongst other tools,
> allows users to create and run a search for information in the
> system. These searches can be simple, or not. They can include a
> mind-boggling number of criteria, and they can be saved to allow
> re-running later. And they can be shared with other users, so that
> those users can run the search too.
>
> These searches can include directives to look for information
> associated with a specific user in the system. I can browse a list of
> my fellow system comrades, and from that list, I can select specific
> individuals for specific criteria.
>
> For example: find all documents of status "in progress" that have
> been modified by user "Mr. Apricot." If I save that query and share
> it, all of my peers can click on it to also see all documents of
> status "in progress" that have been modified by "Mr. Apricot."
>
> So far, complicated, but relatively straightforward.
>
> All of this is done in a web interface, btw. So, the query example
> above is just a phrasing of the search for discussion. The user never
> sees any such nice, tidy expressions. The actual "search" a user sees
> is a web page of form fields, and selections, like most any advanced
> search.
>
> The problem:
> In addition to specific users, now add the ability to select a value
> that represents "the person who is running the search." The person
> building the search needs to be able to see this value on-screen,
> understand it, and be able to select it. What is a usable interface
> that allow this? How does this representative value appear on-screen
> succinctly? What is the name of the category of selectable-items this
> value is grouped within?
>
> To broaden the concept, other conceptual values may also be available
> (if we manage to implement them, depending on engineering resources
> and/or something in the ballpark of actual utility):
> - "All users with the same role as the person who is running the query"
> - "All users in the same user group as the person who is running the
> query"
>
> Taking the search example above, an equivalent with one of these
> values would be:
> find all documents of status "in progress" that have been modified by
> "me", where me = whomever is running the query.
>
> A first sketch might be to put a checkbox next to the label
> [ ] me
> and maybe roads lead back to that. But it isn't really myself i am
> selecting, since anyone else running this (saved & shared) query will
> see their own results. I am selecting the concept of "me," relative
> to the person using the thing. So I am casting about to see if there
> are better ideas.
>
> In a landscape of all literal values, how does one communicate to the
> user that they are selecting a non-literal value, a variable that
> will be evaluated at run-time?
>
> Are there any existing exemplary, or even cautionary, solutions? Has
> anyone seen any applications (preferably ones accessible to
> off-the-street shoppers) with something like this? Likely candidates
> may be collaborative systems with concepts of "sharing," maybe
> document management applications, or agent-type tools.
>
> And, does anyone have notes on what general folks (not engineers)
> might call these "relative variable parameters" that are used in the
> queries? Abstract users? Conceptual values? User variables? etc.
>
> Or - is this just really not an issue, and regular enterprise
> application users easily understand all this?
>
> Thanks in advance,
> michel milano
>
>
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2 Feb 2006 - 12:35pm
michel.milano
2005

thanks, jack and andrei,
for some thoughts on how to present the abstract "user" values
to a user.

> but the interface might not need a name at
>all. In instructions, 'special values' might suffice. (As I just read in a
>now 3-year old article, First Principles of
>IxD(http://www.asktog.com/basics/firstPrinciples.html) "users learn
>quickly..." Don't think that coming up with a great name will make clear to
>uninitiated users a technological abstraction they've never experienced;
>instead make bulletproof functionality that is well presented.

and thanks for this reminder.
good to return to basic principles now and again, as a strategy for
getting out of being too close to the subject at one moment.

- m. milano

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