Thursday, March 26, 2009

RealAge: Ethical Information Collection?

I came across this article tonight and it seemed especially interesting after our discussion about information collection, privacy, and information design in class earlier today.

Online Age Quiz Is a Window for Drug Makers

The article explores the issues raised by the RealAge online test. This is a case in which information is being collected in a way that is currently legal, but may not be wholly ethical.

There are no criminals stealing credit card information, but instead large corporate interests using marketing data to sell products. The ethical design question lies in how the data collection process is represented to users.

The user experience emphasizes the potential benefit to end users of being more aware of the effect of life choices on their health and longevity. It minimizes the fact that the information users enter is being aggregated in a large marketing database. According to the article, there are also many opportunities to opt in for membership (which includes consent to be contacted concerning health-related products) that may not be apparent to typical users.

How would you assess a case like this in light of our earlier discussion? Are there opportunities to change the design of the user experience to be more transparent without losing the target audience? Comments are welcome.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

CUNY Online Security Course

Thanks to Wen's sharp eye, we have access to a course in online security. As I mentioned, the "Security Awareness Training" is described as "approximately 30 minutes in length, covering the basics of why information security is important and best practices."

I'll be very curious to hear how this connects to our discussion of security on the Internet and the Web. To take the course, just go to the URL below and "enter [your] full name, City Tech email address and CUNY School."

Good luck to any takers.

Sources for Articles

I heard some feedback after class last week about people wondering where to find good articles. I have a few suggestions that I'm offering in this post.

I also want to remind everyone that you should be writing about why the article you've selected is relevant to class. What's interesting about it? What connects it to information design, or some part of the future direction of the Web or Internet that makes you choose it?

You don't really need to include an article summary, per se. You can just refer to the piece as you discuss its relevance.

With no further ado, here are some sources that you may find interesting, or may already use:

Financial Times Digital Business Section

InfoDesign: Understanding by Design


New York Times Technology Section





If you have a special interest in issues about privacy, intellectual property, and ethical uses of technology, then the following sites might lead you good places:

Creative Commons

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Electronic Privacy Information Center

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Editing Blog Posts

I've received a few questions about problems formatting text using Blogger's WYSIWYG editor. I want to offer a couple of tips.

First, you may want to cut and paste and text that you intend to use on your blog into a text-only editor before pasting it into Blogger's editor. This will strip out any residual formatting that may be carried from programs like Microsoft Word. You can then apply formatting in Blogger.

If you're a Windows user, then using Notepad should do the trick. On the Mac side, you may want to consider a free program like Textwrangler ( Although TextEdit can also be used the same way, it defaults to retain some formatting from other contexts.

Second, if your WYSIWYG options seem to disappear (e.g., you can't find the dropdown menu for changing the font), make sure you are in the right editing mode. There are three separate modes in Blogger's editor and you can switch between them using the buttons at the top right. See the illustration below.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Midterm (Terms Due March 10; Exam on March 11)


As we discussed last Wednesday, your midterm will have two parts.

Part 1
The first part will require you to define eight terms without using the computer for reference (no Google!). You choose the terms from those you've been collecting for your blog.

Please send the eight terms you select with their definitions in the body of an email by 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 10 (the day before class). I do not want this list sent as an attachment (if you've already sent it by the time you receive these instructions, I'll make an exception).

After giving this some thought, I've decided to distribute the terms to you as an exam on paper. On Wednesday, you'll each receive a final exam specifically created for you. I'll ask you to write the definitions out by hand, so please bring a pen and a sheet or two of paper to class.

Part 2
For the second part of your exam, I'd like you to write about the blog that you've created. I'd like you to begin with a general statement about the mission of the blog and the audiences (users) that you expect it to serve. I then want you to discuss every decision that you made, from selecting a title to choosing font sizes.

Tell me how and why each decision you've made fits with your understanding of how your target users will interact with the content on your blog. You should pay particular attention to the way you've labeled information on your site and think about how this enables users to find what they're looking for.

Remember that there is more than one way to be right -- you don't have to make the site fit one particular idea of what it should be. You do have to explain how your choices are consistent with what you expect the site to accomplish.

You may begin writing this part of your midterm now. If you'd like to complete Part 2 before entering class, you are welcome to do that. You will be given time in class, however, to complete this part of the midterm.

You are also free to make changes to your blog between now and Wednesday, but after Wednesday, you'll be expected to leave the formatting intact until your midterms have been returned. Good luck!