Friday Feast #35: Semantic Web, Voice Technology, Fonts, Mind Mapping

There have been lots of interesting posts around the Web this week, as usual, including Jakob Nielsen’s latest and the power of mind mapping.

Collapsible Text Menus

Using Lists for DHTML Menus is a fabulous script, which is a freebie by Dave at See it in action at Zeldman’s site with the “Toggle externals” in the side navigation.

Tim Berners-Lee and the Semantic Web

Tim Berners-Lee is writing another book, this time on the Semantic Web. As he told the Washington Post,

“Recalling how hard it was for people to understand what the Web was when he crafted it in 1989, Berners-Lee said he’s having difficulty again explaining the Semantic Web, for the same reason: 'There’s this mental leap involved.' ”

I’m fascinated by people like Berners-Lee who have innovative ideas like this. Throughout history far-reaching ideas are often met with skepticism. In my own little world, years ago now I remember watching Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak carry computer parts out to the van, while Wozniak’s sister told me about their dream of having computers in everyone’s homes some day. (We’d gone to high school together.) At the time she laughed, and while I was curious, I also couldn’t imagine why people would use a computer in their homes. It appears they were onto something after all. I’m enjoying watching how all this technology and innovation evolves.

What is the Semantic Web all about? HLT-Powered Web Technology, by Andrew Derrington, provides a helpful explanation and examples of its helpfulness. The W3C’s article, How the Semantic Web Works, is another explanation with a different approach from the article above.

Voice Technology

Jakob Nielsen’s new article, Voice Interfaces: Assessing the Potential, states that visual interfaces are inherently superior to auditory interfaces for many tasks. Visual interfaces may work better with the mouse and keyboard than adapting voice recognition software to work with it—after all, they were designed for visual use, typically interacting with the mouse and keyboard. In the same light, I’ve tediously typed short e-mails via my cell phone, having to adapt the cell phone keys to alphabet letters. It’s far easier to send a voice message than to type that e-mail on a cell phone.

I’ve been using Dragon NaturallySpeaking Professional several hours a day for a few months now to dictate this column, my e-mail, to do some of my web design work, and to handle many other computer tasks. I’ve joked with friends and colleagues that it truly feels like Star Trek when I can say “Go to” and my browser immediately opens and goes to Voice commands like this can produce faster results than using a keyboard and mouse.

On the other hand, some tasks are definitely cumbersome with voice recognition software, and I suspect that’s what Jakob tried or observed, such as trying to speak your way through drop-down menus and so many websites that are not at all accessibility-oriented. These visual interfaces weren’t created with voice recognition software in mind, although many programs make sure they’re accessible to alternative devices... but that’s different from creating a program or device specifically for voice technology.

I’m concerned that Nielsen’s statements are potentially misleading and possibly short-sighted in his “When To Use Voice” section. Nielsen states that

“voice interfaces have their greatest potential (for) users with various disabilities..., users who are in an eyes-busy, hands-busy situation..., and users who don’t have access to a keyboard and/or a monitor.”

Voice technology has much more potential than this, having far-reaching potential for businesses, individuals, and anyone, not just the limited use he mentions above. It’s true that voice technology is used for the above, but it need not be limited to these purposes, either. In my own situation, it took car accident injuries to demand that I explore alternatives to mouse and keyboard use, but now that I’m using voice recognition software it’s clear that I’d want to use it anyway. Throughout the day I bounce back and forth between using voice commands and using the keyboard and mouse, using them all for how they work the best.

Spending a little time at sites that cover the latest news and developments in speech-related technology, such as Speech Technology Magazine and HLT News, is quite telling that the speech and language technology world is growing rapidly with advances, improvements, and new products being implemented every day for big business, small companies, and individuals.

System Integration: Keys to Finding the Right Design Perspective is an insightful article by Melissa Dougherty and Wally Brill that provides a realistic picture of design for voice user interfaces, reviewing where we’ve been, where we are today, and the importance of implementing speech technology that’s affordable, accurate, and easy to learn and use.


Which fonts work well for the Web? The best choices for Web fonts is an article by Jack Yan and Associates that explains fonts and readability and lists some fonts that are well suited for the Web.

For more on fonts for the Web, check out the following:

Mind Maps

How to Mind Map: Make the Most of Your Mind and Learn to Create, Organize and Plan, by Tony Buzan

We each have our own effective ways of organizing, brainstorming, conceptualizing, and taking notes. For the past month or so I’ve been exploring mind mapping, and I’ve been so impressed with this approach.

If you don’t know much about mind mapping or if you only briefly looked at it for note taking in school, you might take another look, especially with how helpful mind mapping software can be with the creative process. Mind mapping can be an amazingly helpful approach to organizing thoughts, ideas, brainstorming, and more, whether yourself or collaborating with a group or team.

Dan Butler wrote an informative article on mind mapping, including an example for brainstorming and organizing his weekly newsletter topics. And Joyce Wycoff provides a terrific introductory tutorial to unleash your creativity and get you started with mind mapping.

Mind mapping can also be helpful in brainstorming ideas for a new website, a site redesign, or possibilities for your design business:

  • Perhaps a client has all kinds of information and you need to help organize it with the website user in mind. You can input all the topics and wishes of the client, and the mind mapping tool can help you organize it all quickly and easily, moving things around at will, changing your mind, whatever.
  • For business, perhaps you’ve thought about all the things you’d love to do but haven’t moved forward with yet. Mind mapping can help you nail down your thoughts to formulate some goals. SimTech’s MindMapper software, based on Tony Buzan’s mind mapping, even includes linking your goals or projects to a time line, schedule, or both.
  • The MindMapper site has quite a variety of a mind maps submitted by users, so that will give you a glimpse into some of the possibilities.

So, can you tell that I like the possibilities with mind maps? As I’ve been exploring this approach to creativity and brainstorming, I’m finding it to be a fun, exhilarating, and freeing way to explore and get ideas down on paper or within a mind mapping software program. Getting the ideas out there is a big step, of course, in conceptualizing ideas, plans, organizing information, or whatever you choose.

In addition to Tony Buzan’s worldwide fame for creating the mind map concept, there are plenty of reports on mind mapping and concept mapping. Improving Note Taking with Mind Maps explains the basics of mind mapping, provides examples, and the benefits of this approach, especially for people who think spatially. “Mind Maps engage much more of the brain in the process of assimilating and connecting facts than conventional notes.”

Concept Maps as Hypermedia Components is an informative hypermedia article that explains the helpfulness of concept maps and their role in hypermedia, Semantics, Web browsing, formal concepts, and more.

For more mind mapping software, see’s Brainstorming and Creativity Tools section and the Mind Tools site’s Creativity Tools section.


Friday Feast archives

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Categories: Accessibility, Books, Browsers, CSS, Design, Friday Feast, Internet, Personal, Software, Standards, Technology, Usability


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  1. Semantic Weblogs is a bookmarkworthy list of weblogs about the semantic web, among other things, compiled by Dave Beckett. Some weblogs you may already be familiar with, such as Danny Ayers' RawBlog, Timothy Appnel's tima thinking outloud, and Edd Dumb...

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  2. First, some recent articles about semantics, markup, and standards:Jason Kottke wrote last week Standards don't necessarily have anything to do with being semantically correct. On Semantics and Markup by Tim BrayMarkup, Namespaces, and Meaning, also by...

    01 Sep, 2003Trackback from Brainstorms and Raves

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