Ambient Findability

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Mobile phones. They are the future. I’ve been saying that for awhile and giving no mulligans to those companies who are not embracing mobile or who are embracing it in a singular fashion (i.e. a company built on an iPhone app).

Most of us use iPhones, Android devices or Blackberries. Maybe a few odd people have a Palm Pré. We are mobile. We do email, stay in contact with friends and lovers via text message, Twitter, Facebook, and get driving directions via Google Maps. We find restaurants, bars, shopping and bus stops – all from our mobile devices. We play games, leverage the “nose down in the phone” as a “get away from me” messaging tool.

We use our phones for everything, don’t we?

Relatedly, I don’t even like to watch TV in real time. My shows are consumed via the web, and have sometimes been viewed on my phone.

Gone are the days of the traditional approach to media and findability. In an information now era, it’s important to have ambient findability… the ability to discover exactly what I want, at exactly the right time and on the right device. This is not a new concept either. Peter Morville wrote about it in his book Ambient Findability: What We Find Changes Who We Become (O’Reilly, 2005). He defines ambient findability as:

  • The quality of being locatable or navigable.
  • The degree to which a particular object is easy to discover or locate.
  • The degree to which a system or environment supports navigation and retrieval.

This morning, I commented about how I wish the Black Keys, one of my new favorite bands, were coming to Austin. Of course, my omnipresent Twitter following were sure to inform me that the Keys were just at ACL Festival and had done off-ACL shows.

I would have known that had I Googled, but I didn’t.

Here’s the problem: With ambient findability, I should not have to proactively find out when my favorite bands are in town. This information should be delivered to me via text, email, or other notification. I should not have to remember to pick up the Austin Chronicle to find out where these shows may or may not be.

In a different world, if I’m walking around in downtown Baltimore, for instance, it would be awesome if I recieved some sort of notification when I’m in proximity of something that may be of interest to me. Foursquare recently announced some new initiatives that notify a user when they are in proximity of something on their to-do list. This is an excellent step in the direction of ambient findability.

These are the premises of findability that need to be included in every consumer-facing product and startup. It is the next generation of the web.

Photo Credit: Paul Veugen

Search and Findability

I’m at WordCamp San Francisco 2008 today and had the distinct pleasure of giving a talk on Search and Findability. Distinct pleasure because it was the first session of the day at 9am. And if any of you know me, then you know that I don’t do mornings well. :-)

My session was about Search and Findability. There seemed to be a lot of misunderstandings about what the session would be about. Findability is not SEO. SEO is an aspect of Findability. SEO makes a blog findable for search engines.

Really, Findability is all about the right data being available to the reader, whether that reader is human or a machine (search engines). To that end, theme structure is a major area of concerns. Theme developers can setup their themes to have related posts or popular posts functionality, as well as attention to search implementation. I suggested theme authors should provide search results in full format, and not simply excerpts.

Secondly, findability is all about metadata and descriptive data. Microformats provide a human semantic understanding to machine-oriented descriptive data. Examples are

1
rel="nofollow"

,

1
rel="tag"

as well as WordPress built in XFN. Human understanding of machine data.

Multimedia content should take advantage of descriptive content. This means image tagging, show notes for podcasts and caption text for videos. Of course, and understanding of tags and categories is helpful.

Thirdly, I touched briefly on Ambient Findability, a concept introduced by Peter Morville in the O’Reilly publication with the same name. Ambient Findability suggests that no matter what, where or how, content should be easily findable. At b5media the mantra was “the right content, at the right time, to the right person on the right device”. Morville asks three questions:

  1. Can people find your blog?
  2. Can people find their way around your blog?
  3. Can people find your content, products and services despite your blog?

Finally, I suggested four plugins/features that can enhance the findability of a site:

  1. Possibly Related Posts – Only available for WordPress.com users.
  2. Search Everything – makes all areas of WordPress content available for the default search
  3. Microformats plugins – adds additional Microformats support to WordPress: Micro Anywhere, Blog Summary and Save Microformats
  4. Lijit for WordPress – our new plugin that allows registration and configuration from inside of the WordPress admin. Also, it makes it possible to hijack the theme search form.

The slide deck from the session is available below. It is Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial licensed. In other words, use the idea, use the concepts, use the deck in it’s entirety as long as you attrbiute me. I’m Aaaron Brazell from Technosailor.com in case you didn’t know. Oh, and if you make money, I expect a cut. ;-)

Findability Abwc2008
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