Usability 2.0 ?

What will “2.0” stand for in usability? My guess is as follows. Version 1.0 has attempted to find the one optimized user interface, e. g. an ideal menu tree, or a perfect classification of items. The next generation usability has learned from the users of the read/write Web 2.0 that there are alternate usage profiles, and it acknowledges that there are different cognitive styles.

These cognitive styles apply to all stages of knowledge processing:

1. At the concept level, some people feel more comfortable with delimited chunks of “encyclopedestrianized” knowledge items, while others seek for context. Some people work with words as if these had a single fixed meaning, while others like to cluster individual partial-meanings of different words as synonyms into concepts on a more abstract level.


The consequence for the user interface might perhaps be a greater or lesser emphasis on alphabetical, direct, lookup for relevant terms.

2. The next stages of knowledge processing/ creation/ reflection include the gradual transformation of the internal concepts into a communicateable form, into notes to self and notes to others, into conversations, and into publishable artefacts. These stages can be thought of as taking place on a continuum of growing distance from the individual’s mind,

(click for M. Beottger’s original graphic)

including notes to “me (now)”, “me (later)”, utterances within a closely familiar group sharing many of the fuzzy terms of the emerging notions (shared meaning making), and shared artefacts on social software servers.

The salient point is that different people feel more or less comfortable at different “places” on this axis of Boettger’s distance, for different activities in knowledge processing.

  • Some like to share their thoughts in the early stages, or require interaction with a community, while others prefer to keep their messy thoughts for themselves until they are more refined.
  • Some like to finish their works in one run, while others incrementally improve and revise them.
  • Some tend to save a lot of information that is still at its low level on the data – information – knowledge ladder


  • while others prefer to filter value-added items only.
  • Another major difference is the preference for orality or literacy.

These preferences obviously must affect the organization of one’s personal knowledge management environment, such as desktop usage, or personal categorisation. Of course, many UIs are customizable, such that the user can (must) decide for each individual menu item or functionality if it suits them or not. And of course, the unique initial setup cannot favor one or the other of the above profiles. But the UI could (and should) offer solutions for these profiles, i. e., bundles of choices of individual checkbox settings, precustomized for a few frequently observed cognitive styles. These precustomized profiles would, in total, satisfy a large majority, whereas a single setup designed as a compromise for the conflicting parties, satisfies virtually nobody.

3. The first step of one’s thoughts on their way outwards is where “think tools” serve as kind of “auxiliary storage” for the memory. As technology has advanced, there are now tools possible that closely mimic and supplement the mental desktop


The major style difference seems to be how much context information should be collapsed and hidden from the current window. In any case, some basic conceptual data structures (CDS) can be well supported by desktop-like “think tools” for both visualizers and verbalizers.

4. The mental desktop affordance is perhaps even more useful for visualizers than for verbalizers, focussing around visualization techniques, like mindmaps and concept maps, whose characteristics, again, differ in styles such as tree vs. networks or more vs. less “literacy”.


Visualizers were recently discovered to fall into two categories: object-visualizers vs. spatial visualizers. For the latter type, combined with the incremental preference, there are especially useful tools possible: Just take some graphical application as the “mental desktop” above, and use the mouse to rearrange the items as their relationships are refined, leaving their connector lines intact.

5. At the end of the knowledge processing path, there is often some published artefact, like a website, or perhaps an encyclopedia. Here, the affordances of hyperlinking technology have been particularly fruitful and inspiring, but also, the style differences are particularly obstinate here. Most important, the loathing or the acceptance of hierarchical tree structures shapes this style preference. Many features of UIs radically favor the tree approach. A useful combination of hierarchical links and shortcuts aka “see also” links is often not yet possible.

(This was also a summarizing retrospect of my favorite last years postings.)

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