Using Research Networking Effectively in Academia: UCSF-CTSI Team Presents On National AMIA Panel

Three of us from the Virtual Home team at CTSI went to this year’s AMIA (American Medical Informatics Assoc) meeting in DC and presented on a panel with Griffin Weber of Harvard University. The panel was called “Four Steps to Using Research Networking Effectively at Your Institution”

Griffin spoke on cutting edge features of research networking tools, such as linked open data and social network analysis.

Eric Meeks of UCSF spoke on standard APIs, such as OpenSocial, to leverage a community of developers, I spoke about incentivize usage and understand your audience, and to round it out, Brian Turner spoke about using data, tools and strangers to improve user interfaces.

The panel presentation was a 90 minute break out session and we were happy to have a good turnout and an engaged audience. I think that the work that UCSF has put into the ‘social engineering’ of the tool has really paid off. Our usage and engagement numbers are on the rise and comparatively speaking, Griffin mentioned that our traffic is about 5-times that of what Harvard Profiles is currently getting.

In addition, Eric also had a poster session at the meeting!

The UCSF presentations will be up on Slideshare, available on the CTSI channel and via our individual UCSF profiles:

Putting print books online

I’m a fan of the Hesperian Foundation, which publishes community-based healthcare books like Where There Is No Doctor. In addition to giving their books away at no or low cost, they’ve historically distributed gratis copies of their books in PDF format, chapter by chapter (example).

They’ve now set up a new online reading interface (vaguely similar to Google Books), but it’s Flash-based, and can’t be indexed via search engines. Is this an improvement?

Which of these online reading interfaces for print books do you like best?

(Update: fixed link)

UK Government – Portal Model? is an experimental prototype of a single website for UK Government, designed to use “open, agile, multi-disciplinary product development techniques and technologies, shaped by an obsession with meeting user needs. ”

The home page consists of a gigantic search feature, a short list of most popular tools and topics with a “browse more” link, latest news, and  a well-below-the-fold menu of governmental categories.

Another potential model for a portal that doesn’t overwhelm users. If they can do it for the UK government, surely we can do it for research resources at UCSF!

Take a look at the minimal feedback tool (interior pages).


This site design (anti-design?) tool for libraries takes a bare-bones approach.  Food for thought as our research portal struggles to present an ever-growing array of resources.

What makes a website excellent? Focus, great writing and appealing visual design. One-Pager helps you get there by taking a radical and sensible approach to library websites: fewer elements presented in a simple, functional interface. So you get to spend your time making your content excellent.

via Influx :: One-Pager.

Web registration for kids

Three girls using the computer at the grand opening.Debra Gelman writes about designing web registration processes for 6-8 year olds in A List Apart. She shares fascinating stories and best practices. For example, many parents have trained children to never reveal anything about themselves online:

“As a result, kids are wary of providing any data, even information as basic as gender and age. In fact, many kids fib about their ages online. A savvy eight-year-old girl, when prompted by the Candystand site to enter her birthdate, said, ‘I’m going to put that I’m 12. I know it’s lying, but it’s ok because I’m not allowed to tell anyone on the internet anything real about me.’…Similarly, a seven-year-old boy refused to create a Club Penguin account because it asked for a parent’s e-mail address. ‘You can’t say anything about yourself on the web. If you do, people will figure out where you live and come to your house and steal your stuff.'”

Gelman goes on to share one example of how to collect innocuous non-identifying data (e.g. grade level) without triggering children’s anxieties about sharing personal information.

She also describes the importance of using images that are “simple, clear representations of common items that are part of a child’s current context,” while trying to avoid symbolic meanings:

“It’s important to note that while pictures are useful, symbols and icons can be problematic, because, at this age kids are just learning abstract thought. While adults realize that a video camera icon means they can watch videos, kids associate the icon with actually making videos. In a recent usability test evaluating popular kids’ sites, a six-year-old girl pointed out the video camera icon and said, ‘This is cool! It means I can make a movie here and share it with my friends.’ She wasn’t able to extrapolate the real meaning of the icon based on site context and content.”

The lesson is clear: know your users.

Read the article.

Top 5 Web Design Debates

At Virtual Home we’ve had our share of healthy differences of opinion on best practices for web design.   At web design blog Line25,  they break down both sides of the argument for the Top 5 Web Design Debates That Cause the Most Riots.

  • Should links open in a new window?
  • Should links use the words ‘Click here’?
  • Should Bold <b> and Italic <i> tags be used?
  • Should a logo be enclosed in a <h1> element?
  • Should a site should be viewable in IE6?

A Tool to See How Others View our Website

Last month we launched our new home page. We pondered about what content should be above the fold, and how the new design will play out using different browsers. At that time, I did not know about the new tool Browser Size launched by Googlelabs. Browser Size makes it possible to test how others view our page, taking in account different sizes of monitors, browsers that are not always full screen and toolbars. It looks like a helful tool to save time during testing across browsers.

Here is how it works according to the creators: “Special code collects data on the height and width of the browser for a sample of users. For a given point in the browser, the tool will tell you what percentage of users can see it. For example, if an important button is in the 80% region it means that 20% of users have to scroll in order to see it.”

Keep reading at Introducing Google Browser Size

OpenSocial & Best Practices for Social Networking Websites

XINGWhat is the best web design for a social networking platform? We’re certainly thinking about this as we plan on the release of UCSF Profiles, our research (as opposed to ‘social’) networking site.  Smashing Magazine has a useful article that summarizes key principles.  One of these is about standards – they encourage the usage of OpenSocial as a standard in building social networking sites.  And – we’re glad to say, we’re on it.  We’re in the process of extending our research networking product, ‘Profiles’, as an OpenSocial “container”. i.e. retrofitting the software so that it’s possible to use other OpenSocial applications, built, for example, for applications like Linked In, to plug and play with our product.  This will be a primary contribution of UCSF’s in the continued open source development of the Harvard-developed ‘Profiles’.

The Importance Of Wireframes In Web Design And 9 Tools To Create Them

Prototyping is an important step in the process of developing web applications, allowing you to test, refine, and clearly communicate ideas about how the application will work, before costly resources are spent on development. Here’s a useful little article from OneXtraPixel on the importance of utilizing wireframes in prototyping for the web, including an annotated list of tools for creating wireframes.

The Importance Of Wireframes In Web Design And 9 Tools To Create Wireframes..