As taken down on a piece of paper from my daughter’s bedazzled notepad...
Now that the temperatures in Chicago actually reached above the freezing mark for a “significant” period of time (2 days) and some of the snow has melted, I have noticed a by-product of the frigid temperatures – frost heaves. Very few sidewalks have not been affected by it, and there are many uneven paths around the city. This is on top of the potholed-ridden streets. My guess is these sidewalks will either not be properly fixed or will just be ground down to make then somewhat even.
My friends at the amazing design studio Visible Logic are conducting a Web Design Survey. It is open to anyone, and I am sure they would love to hear from people who are not in the Web design and development business, and that means you! You can take their survey here; it is short, to the point, and if you give them your email they will send you the results of the survey. While you are on their site check out the great work they have done for their clients.
Your idea, no matter how well thought-out and articulated, always sounds better when it is said by someone more senior than you, and is sold as their idea.
I heard about something called the 5 Love Languages where ideally each person in a relationship takes the survey and compares what they want and how they say it. It’s free and doesn’t take long to complete.
The idea of the media “spoiler”, though it is annoying when you hear of something you haven’t watched yet, is an increasing reality that we will have to deal with. Unfortunately I have seen details of the second season of House of Cards on Twitter and results of Olympics competitions on screens in building elevators before they were broadcast in the US. With more and more real-time information abound and distributed media channels, this will only increase, and we will have to come up with ways to manage it.
This week I had a flashback to the time I designed a QA lab for a company I worked for years ago. It was a very comprehensive lab consisting of computers and operating system versions to cover all of our customers realistic scenarios. I also remembered the pushback I received from some of my colleagues, which was later taken back as the lab helped troubleshoot and prevent many errors. It was only a flashback, and unfortunately not a déjà vu moment.
It’s been a while since I have been out at a tech networking event, and thanks to the people at Tech in Motion for hosting a great event in Chicago this past week. I met some great people including the entire team behind Dryv.
With all the ideas and events swirling through the Windy City during the recent Chicago Ideas Week, one of those thoughts was what I would like to share here, how I took an idea I had and made it a reality. Though this story took place a few years back, it is still very vivid in my mind.
My idea was to create a piece of marketing collateral for my Web consulting business. In this case, I could leave it would a prospect client, allow it to be downloaded from the Web and simply put it out there in printed format, the last 2 cases would be for anyone who wanted it. Depending on where the prospect was, it could server anywhere from a calling card, functional tool or a call to action to contact me.
Origin of the Idea
In my Web consulting business there were 2 categories for prospects – those who did not have a Web site and those who had one and were looking to possibly redesign and/or rebuild it. Where there were many common elements between the 2 for the sales process, when talking with someone who already had a Web site there was always a level of ambiguity to what exactly they needed or wanted to do and to what extent.
To try to streamline this process in a non-intimidating way, I thought of a form of checklist, where someone could read off the list to see if they had any or all of the items incorporated into their Web site, or at least to pose the questions in the event they didn’t know. In my mind’s eye I had a partial vision of the checklist. I saw it as paper-based, as likely someone would read a question from it then look on their Web site on their computer’s monitor for the answer. I wasn’t sure if there should be a score of some form or not. I was very sure I did not want it to be too technical and I did want it targeted to the business owner.
As for what would be in the checklist I had some ideas, but this was something I wanted to put time into over a period of time, then organize them into the checklist.
Like Rodney Dangerfield’s Joke Bag
The process of collecting the items for the checklist had me recalling a story I once heard about the late-great comedian Rodney Dangerfield. Before he got into comedy, he was a salesman and would write jokes on pieces of paper and put them into a duffle bag. When the bag was full, he had the material he would use on stage.
My approach was similar, yet different, as my duffle bag was digital – consisting of folders on my hard drive and in my email program. The ideas I captured varied from text files to links to other Web sites to email newsletters, where some of these items were direct ideas and others either categories or thoughts. I let this collection come together over a period time (exactly how long I do not remember). Then one day I decided to start the process to build the checklist.
Molding the Ideas into the Finished Product
As the collection process had elapsed some time and I didn’t remember everything I had put together, I decided I would go through them, one-by-one and begin curating a list. This was facilitated with the help of my whiteboard. As I read an item, I checked if it I already had it on the board, and if not I added it in some semblance of order. When all was done, this is what my whiteboard looked like:
At first glance, it is a mess. But it was the first pass at the organization of the items and ideas. Needless to say it was worthy of a picture!
From here, I started typing up the ideas, and in some cases I would combine like or similar ones. As I typed them up, I erased them from the whiteboard. At the end of this process hundreds of files and emails were in a clean list, just as clean as the whiteboard now was.
The next step was to boil the list down to a manageable, 1-page list, with the top, most important items on it. This was done over several days, as I would look at the list for a while, then revisit it later with a fresh brain. In the end, I finalized a list of 34 items and broke them down into 3 categories – business, content and design. I also came up with some copy to describe the checklist to put on the reverse side of it. At this point I felt really good about the checklist. Well, except for the name of it.
(Queen’s) Landing on the Right Name
The original name I had for the check was, and get ready for it:
The Web Site Redesign Self-Assessment Checklist
Yes, it sucked. Here I spent all of this time and produced what I felt was a quality product, yet the name would surely be a turn-off, and in some cases scare off people. I decided to put the completed checklist aside as I needed some more quality time to get the name right.
On a Friday evening after work, I went for a walk along Lake Michigan. Armed with a good cigar, I just needed to clear my head after a busy week and stretch my legs. As I was strolling by Belmont Harbor, the topic of the checklist name came front in center in my head. I recall shaking said head and saying to myself, “why don’t I have a better title for this” and the gears in my head started to crank.
As I headed south along the lakefront path, I started decomposing the goal of the checklist. The thought process went something like, “it’s where your Web site is now… it’s a point in time… it’s the current state your Web site is in… wait, that’s it – it’s the State of your Web Site!”
I stopped where I was, at a place along the lake called Queen’s Landing and called my office line and left myself a voicemail message on the name so I wouldn’t forget my inspiration. When I got back from my walk I edited the Word document with the name and then registered the domain name for it.
The State of the State Then and Now
Upon completing the checklist I setup a download page for it and promoted it here on The Hot Iron and elsewhere. I printed copies of it to give people in person and to bring to events as a leave-behind. Although the list never was mentioned on the cover of the Wall Street Journal, it would get a handful of downloads each week and I got good feedback on it from prospect clients and current clients as well.
Now almost 3 years after I created the checklist, it needs to be updated a bit, which would come probably after a new brainstorming session on it. That being said, there are many core concepts on the checklist that are still very relevant today as-is.
Ideas are just that, intangible thoughts. Without any action, they will remain in that state, floating out there. I know, as The Hot Iron is full of ideas I have had over the years. Where I have acted on many of ideas over the years, I am very proud of the creative process I have just shared here.
Your thoughts – and ideas – on the checklist and the process which led to it are welcome in the comments.
This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. But can something that is barely a quarter of an inch square make the difference in whether people read the words of your blog?
Among the recent changes to the user interfaces and experience of Google applications over the past few weeks, favicons are now showing up next to the titles of blogs in their feed reader, Google Reader. Favicons, as I have talked about here on The Hot Iron before, are a 16 pixel square icon that is displayed in the address bar and bookmarks of most all PC/Mac and mobile Web browsers. Their real value is when scanning bookmarks or scrolling thru the history in the address bar as they provide visual cues to which site is which, providing enhanced differentiation from plain text Web URLs. For years I have always added favicons to sites I build in my Web consulting business and I continue to evangelized about them.
With the addition of the favicon to Google Reader, not only a reader can leverage this visual cue convenience, but brands of all form – personal and business – can gain by adding a visual where previously there has been just text in the list of blogs available to be read. Pictured here is a screen shot of my own Google Reader, where you can see a selection of blogs I read, along with their favicons. For most of these, the favicon extends their branding very well, such as with this blog and Active Travels, which is a client. One example here that does not leverage any branding is ChicagoBusiness.com from Crain’s. Where the Web site itself has a favicon, the RSS feed, which is aggregated with others in Google Reader, does not. I cannot say why specifically, but it must be related to how its Web server and RSS feed is configured. I did nothing unique or specific to add the favicon to The Hot Iron's RSS feed.
Another observation I made is that some blog feeds had the “default” favicon for the Web server or Web hosting provider. Many blogs – and I will spare them embarrassment buy not mentioning them by name – have a 3 by 3 grid of squares, which is the favicon for Web host BlueHost. If you don’t change the default favicon that is in a root folder on the Web server, then whatever is there will be “discovered” and used.
Favicons are a small but mighty file that can go miles to extend your brand. Does your Web site have a favicon? Let myself and other readers know by commenting on this post, as well as any questions you may have on favicons.
The 12 Most has only been live for a few weeks, but it has garnered a lot of attention and traffic. At 12most.com, it is a Web site featuring posts by guest contributors with 12 tips or items on a particular topic. Thus far topics have included business, technology, social media, and a tribute to Father’s Day.
In the past I have said QR codes are a way of tying the offline and online worlds. After seeing the use of a QR code I am writing about today, I am changing that statement to this: QR codes are a nexus between mediums.
Name.com is a great domain name registrar I use personally and for my business (note the link is an affiliate link). They have a clean and intuitive user interface that does not bombard you with upselling options at every click! They also provide outstanding and efficient human support whenever I need it. As part of that service, Name.com have recently launched an app for Android mobile devices, allowing you not only to register new domain names, but backorder domains as well as manage your entire account. They announced this with an email message as pictured below.
In it, there is a QR code. It links to a page on their Web site for the app. The email message is consistent in design with the Web page. The options they include on this Web page, including the ability to download it by SMS (texting to us in the US) and email, as well as a QR code taking you directly to the Android Market.
In this case, the QR code was a bridge between digital mediums – email and the Web. Of course if I read this email on my mobile device I wouldn’t be able to scan it, but as I opened it from within my Thunderbird email client, it worked. An argument can be made whether to link directly to the Android Market from the email rather to a landing page which then links to the Market. This is a great scenario for performing A/B or split testing on the email message, which they may have done anyway. Overall I believe this email from Name.com does a decent job of communicating the value behind the QR code.
What do you think of this QR code use? Would you link directly to the Android Market? Have you or would you use a QR code in an email message? You are welcome to share your thoughts and opinions in the comments of this post.
Microsoft recently launched a program for “moving the world off Internet Explorer 6” called the Internet Explorer 6 Countdown, aptly at IE6Countdown.com. For some of you reading this, hearing about this may be somewhat amusing, for others, you may not know why Microsoft would want this to happen. I will try to address the reasons for upgrading your browser here, and why many – including myself – want IE6 to go away!
A Lot Has Happened In A Decade
IE6 was launched on August 27, 2001. A lot has happened in the area Web technology since then. Web programming standards have changed, with an emphasis towards heavy use of cascading style sheets (CSS) to position content on a Web page, when previously HTML tables were used. This has made Web code “lighter” in it’s physical file size, as well as ease of maintenance. As IE6 itself has not changed, many newer Web pages may display differently, or not display at all. This forces Web designers and developers to add functionality and code to display specific code on IE6 that is different than on other browsers, which only adds to future maintenance.
As well, other browsers have entered the marketplace, including Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Opera. These browsers have been designed to render newer Web standards properly, though each has its own nuances. Not to mention newer features to the browsers, such as tabbed browsing and subscribing to RSS feeds. One feature of these other browsers is in their ability to “self-update” and apply incremental changes to the browser software, and prompt the user to download completely new versions of the browser. IE6 does not do this. Windows Update will prompt a PC user to install a new browser version or incremental browser update, but the user can opt not to install them. In some cases, a user may not even have the option – these tend to be corporate users, who centrally control what updates are made on a corporate computer.
Another reason why corporate users may not use the latest browsers is due to some corporate Web applications requiring IE6 to run. Many of these apps may not have a business need to change, thus corporate IT staff have made no efforts to upgrade the browsers. Only newer versions of Windows have come with newer versions of the browser, and hopefully by then these apps have changed for the newer versions.
So Why A Campaign?
Microsoft relied on people to upgrade the browsers themselves, and in many cases the browser never updated or upgraded. Also, IE6 was viewed as slow and unfriendly, which attributed to a migration away from them. People may use IE6 on occasion – for certain Web apps that required it – but would use Firefox or another browser as their primary browser. Thus not only did IE6 lose market share, IE browsers overall lost market share. So why not a marketing campaign to bring attention to the browser already installed on your PC?
Where the idea of a campaign around a countdown to IE6 going away is interesting, it’s just that – clever marketing. If you look at the chart on the IE6 countdown Web site, the country with the largest use if IE6 is China, which raises all sorts of questions around piracy as well as their ability to even get access to the newer browsers.
As someone who build Web sites, I have IE6 installed on a computer I use, and this is namely for testing my Web sites. My primary browser is Firefox 3, and I also use Google Chrome on occasion, both for Web browsing and testing Web sites. I agree the world would be a better place without IE6. Unfortunately I don’t think this campaign will make it go away completely.
I once had an idea about how to rid the world of IE6 – rather than have a marketing campaign, hold a contest for someone to write a virus or malware which would replace a version of IE6 with a newer version of IE. Though ethics heavily come into play, it would certainly be more effective!
What do you think of this campaign? Do you still use IE6? I welcome your thoughts and reasons in the comments of this post.
Last week I received an email from Yahoo indicating it will be shutting down the service MyBlogLog on May 24, 2011. For some of you reading this, you may be saying, what the heck is MyBlogLog anyway? Allow me to explain.
MyBlogLog was a social community for blogs. Bloggers joined MyBlogLog and would put code into their theme or template pages to display a widget. If you were a member of MyBlogLog and visited the Web page of another blog who was also a member, your avatar would appear within the widget. This would show that you - and others - visited the blog site. The widget could be adjusted to show a small or large list of avatars, as well as the names of the person and blog behind the avatar. By clicking within the widget you could go to the MyBlogLog page for the blog itself or for the visitors.
For myself, MyBlogLog was more of a merit badge for how many different people would visit my blog more than a way to learn about my visitors. I rarely went to the MyBlogLog Web site itself. Overtime, the widget was slowly demoted on the sidebar of The Hot Iron and other blogs which I had signed up for it. Where it was something I would recommend for client blogs, eventually it was not. The accompanying image shows the latest status of the MyBlogLog widget for The Hot Iron as of this writing.
My guess is its popularity waned for others as well. Here’s the text of Yahoo’s email:
Dear MyBlogLog Customer,
You have been identified as a customer of Yahoo! MyBlogLog. We will officially discontinue Yahoo! MyBlogLog effective May 24, 2011. Your agreement with Yahoo!, to the extent that it applies to the Yahoo! MyBlogLog, will terminate on May 24, 2011.
After May 24, 2011 your credit card will no longer be charged for premium services on MyBlogLog. We will refund you the unused portion of your subscription, if any. The refund will appear as a credit via the billing method we have on file for you. To make sure that your billing information is correct and up to date, visit https://billing.yahoo.com.
If you have questions about these changes, please visit the Yahoo! MyBlogLog help pages.
We thank you for being a customer on Yahoo! MyBlogLog.
The Yahoo! My BlogLog Team
When I read this, my first reaction was, “people paid for this?” It was always free when I signed up for it, which pre-dated Yahoo’s acquisition of it. The link to the help pages originally linked to a MyBlogLog page which basically stated what was in the email. As I write this it links to a help page on Featured Listings, which looks like another soon-to-be discontinued service.
My guess is after May 24 the widget will not appear on Web pages, and soon I will remove it from The Hot Iron’s templates. This appears to be yet another change Yahoo is making to slim down its operations, including the shutdown of Geocities and using Microsoft Bing’s search marketing services instead of its own. With MyBlogLog, and the same can be said for Geocities, why didn’t they just spin it off and give this away to someone to let them continue with it? Perhaps they didn’t want to incur the cost of doing so, or perhaps it was easier to just shut it down. I don’t know, as the help topics don’t pertain to it.
So long MyBlogLog – it was fun while it lasted! What do you think about this latest decision by Yahoo? Should they have kept it going? Did it provide any value to you, even if only as eye candy? Please share your thoughts in the comments on this post. And perhaps you will see your avatar in the widget when you do so?
One of the great things about the proliferation of content management systems and blogging is the ability to publish whatever you want, including text and photos and images. One of the not so great things about this is that things can be published in a far from optimal format, leaving quality on the floor in the name of convenience. Specifically, I am writing with concern over how images and photos are often published and look fuzzy or are slow to load. This can be easily remedied with simply realizing the physical dimensions of an image to match the desired display dimensions.
Here’s an example to illustrate my point, literally, of what we at Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC advise to our clients all the time. As it’s a nice and cold day in Chicago as I write this, why not use a photo of Panama City Beach, Florida taken earlier this year, as shown below.
The dimensions of the photo below are 480 pixels wide by 318 pixels high. The original dimensions of the photo were 2,048 x 1,356 pixels, which is not only much too large to display within the layout of The Hot Iron but too large for most blog feed readers. Using the most basic features of PhotoShop, I reduced it to the size above. As a result, the physical dimensions of the photo match the display dimensions, not to mention the size of the file being much smaller as well.
The alternative to this would have been to add the photo to the blog post and resize its dimensions “logically” by adjusting the HTML display dimensions. This would have had 2 negative impacts on the beautiful picture. It would have appeared grainy or pixilated as I am simply squishing the image without altering its physical size. Also, it would have taken longer for it to appear, as the filesize would be 10 times larger than the physically resized image.
Larger images logically resized appear more than you would think, or now would like. I see it on blog posts, Web sites for businesses as well as email newsletters. The user experience is often where the entire page loads and the photo or image slowly appears, line-by-line, from top to bottom. Many times I have been tempted to contact the owner of the Web site or newsletter, however from past experience such submitted issues go unresponded to.
So how do you resize your images? Many of you may already have software to do this installed on your PC or Mac – some may come from the OS itself, or in the case of Windows it may be pre-installed software from the hardware vendor. Some digital camera software comes with basic editing tools. Some online photo sites may offer editing and resizing capabilities as well. You can also acquire a full copy of Adobe Creative Suite, or its lower-priced cousin PhotoShop Elements.
With a little bit of work, you can provide a greater experience to your readers with good looking photos and images displayed in an optimal way.
The photo shows an ad for The Real Southwest, which is being sponsored by the Tucson, Arizona Convention and Visitors Bureau. All of the ad spaces in this train car are for the same campaign, which is becoming more and more common place. What is interesting about the photo above is that it is of the ad affixed to the ceiling of the train car! The photo below shows a similar ad, but at eye level, and with a one word difference – can you find it?
The actual train car I was riding on was full so I was not able to get other pictures without annoying other passengers any more than I was when I took these. Not every ad had a QR code on it, but there was always within a standard field of vision.
What’s unique about this ad series is that the instructions are prominent within the ad copy. Many times if there are instructions along with a QR code on what to do with it, they are in small type and located in the corner of the ad. It tells you to get the Scanlife, not to download a QR code reader, which is also unique. And by placing the URL to scanlife.com alongside the code is, again, unique. Of course if you know what a QR code is you will just scan it.
All of the codes I scanned took me to the same web page on the Tucson Web site. What would have been interesting was if they had different QR codes, thereby being able to track which one people scanned to get to the Web site, or having a unique QR code on the ceiling to track how many people look (and scan) up.
What are your thoughts on this ad – is it as unique as I have said it is, or just a good campaign? Please share your thoughts in the comments of this post.