Usability

April 20, 2009

FREE Website Clinic @ Internet World 2009

Hello Friends,

I will be holding a FREE Website Clinic from 28-30th April at Internet World (Earl's Court, London) at our booth.

I will be helping website owners improve their website one-step-at-a-time by giving them up to five actionable tips specific to their website after analyzing the same and understanding their online business goals.

Website Clinic is absolutely FREE of cost and there are no strings attached to it.

There will be a lot of rush as we have started getting request for booking time slots. So I suggest that you send an email to talash@indusnet.co.in and book your time slot in advance to avoid disappointment.

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March 12, 2009

Technology is as good as its implementation

There are so many people working to get a new technology out to masses – a new invention to make things better. However, in my experience I firmly believe that:

Technology is as good as its implementation.

Many a time, little imagination is put into implementation of the technology which is existing. If the existing technology is properly explored, understood and implemented in creative and innovative ways, I think it will do a lot of good to the mankind than decades of new inventions. For billions, the usage is falling behind the rate of discovery.

Let us implement the available tools and technologies properly, because poor implementation will not make any difference to the mankind and the guy next door (for the sake of simplicity).

Thoughts are welcome…

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February 21, 2009

Bestseller website template design trends

I was analyzing the sales history of TemplateKingdom.com. I could not resist myself from analyzing the common style elements that are common among the best-sellers on my website. Here is the list:

  • Three column templates are in demand.
  • White & gray color for background is working well.
  • Sufficient text-area and eye-space is common amongst the bestsellers.
  • In cases, where people have bought two column layouts, preference has gone to layouts with wider left panel.
  • Buyers prefer small, simple images that are smartly placed instead of portrait sized screen wide panoramic graphical layout.

So, when you make the next design, keep these in mind, so that you are closest to the taste of your customer. 10K registered users cannot be wrong 😉

 

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September 10, 2008

Google Chrome does not support Google Toolbar

I thought only Microsoft messes up their products / releases.

I could not understand, why will Google release such a major product i.e. a browser to compete against Microsoft and the Firefox without support for their own toolbar. Also, after five days of usage, I find Google Chrome still lacking in many areas:

  • Browser plug-ins won't work!
  • Text editor of my blogging software does not load (Must have some problem with Java Script)
  • I am missing the option where Firefox posts the POST-DATA when something goes wrong, so that you do not have to fill up the form from scratch.

So, I have again started using Fire Fox after the initial Google Chrome mania. Yes, I will still continue to use Chrome to see how it develops.

Will keep you all posted.

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September 6, 2008

Google Chrome – A quick review

I was reading about Google Chrome.

> Some blog says that it has snapped up 2.8% market share in 24 hours. Amazing. Isn't it?
> Some feels they have dumped and back-stabbed their partner, Mozilla / Firefox

So I decided to try it out. My observations (based on two days of usage) have been:

> Quick to download and install
> Faster than IE (for sure) and seems to be faster than Firefox
> Wide, open interface gives a feel of "freedom" and gives more space to see the website
> Interesting pop-up blocker. It minimizes the pop-up!
> Incognito window – for those who want to surf without leaving a trace
> A quick homepage with most visited websites listed to improve productivity
> Address bar doubles up as search box of Google.

So far it looks fantastic.

Few things I did not like (mainly interface and usability):

> Favorite button is not very intuitive
> Settings icon is definitely not a decent visual metaphor!
> It has a minimalist design. So some less-used features has not been accommodated.

However, one question is disturbing me – What is Google trying to achieve?

Is it "organizing the information of the world" or "becoming the central processing unit of the world" with a thin client (the chrome browser) and the client to access the web based operating system to access this massive central processing unit powered by clustered Linux servers!

Their attempt to monopolize is very evident. And with monopolization comes manipulation. So keep your eyes open.

Are anti-trust activist taking note of it?

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September 4, 2008

Quillpad – Type in Indian regional languages

Today I came across an online tool called Quillpad.

This online software let you type in most Indian regional languages (including Hindi, of course). The quality of application and usability has blown me away! I think such applications will make vernacular content a reality on Internet.

This is how they describe their service:

Quillpad is a free online Hindi typing tool. Now it is very easy to type in Hindi. For example, type 'aap kaise hain' in the text field below. Quillpad will convert it directly into Devanagari script. If you write a word like 'vishesh', first sh should become 'श' and the second sh should become 'ष'. Quillpad will intelligently do that for you. No need to use shift keys or to memorize any key mappings. So 'राष्ट्रपति' can be written by typing 'rashtrapati' or 'raashtrapathi'. Quillpad can also predict if multiple words are possible for your input. You can click on the word to select from those options. In addition Quillpad allows you to type English words freely in between Hindi words. It intelligently transliterates them into Hindi.
(taken from their website)

It took me a minute (yes – just one minute) to get used to this tool and I was off to a flying start. In minutes, I managed to write this line in Hindi, which is near perfect.

मैने आज क्विलपॅड मे हिन्दी में टाइप किया. यह बहुत ही आसान है. इस तरह की आसान टाइपिंग सुविधा होने से कई लोग कंप्यूटर्स पे हिन्दी का उपयोग कर पाएँगे. क्विलपॅड के डेवेलपर्स तो मेरीशुभकामनाएँ.

I highly recommend this wonderful software.
Go use it and start typing in Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati or Tamil. Feel free to post your experience with this software.

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Started using Twitter

I have finally started using Twitter.

My twitter page is http://www.twitter.com/abhishekrungta

To be honest, I do not think Twitter is a great thing. Micro blogging does not catches my fancy, since it does not help me to add any value to myself or anyone else. It is the last thing that could have happened to me after the distractions from phone calls, emails and blogging.

But then why did I joined? Good question!

Millions of people may not be wrong. So, I joined in to validate my assumption. I do not want to get left behind if Twitter turns out to be something a world-changing application. Again, I wanted to have a first hand experience before confirming my theory about micro-blogging.

So I thought – Lets give it a try and see what people love about it.
Keep following me on Twitter!

Regards
Abhishek

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August 4, 2008

You got to pay me to pay me! – The TalkMobile story.

For my stay in the UK, I bought a TalkMobile Pay-As-You-Go mobile connection. (Quick tip: It is the cheapest option to call abroad while you are in the UK. All incoming calls are free for you. And yes, It just takes few minutes to get activated) 

Honestly speaking, it worked quite nicely. But I was shocked, when I ran out of balance and wanted to recharge. I guess I had only 5p balance left when I called their helpline 5888 so that I can get a top-up by credit card. And then I heard the funniest thing – "We need to put you through our account executive to register your credit card. This call costs 25p. Since you do not have enough credit in your account, please top-up your account and call back"

Give me a break. I called up to top-up! So are you saying that – "I will charge you a fees to pay me!"

Sounds stupid. I hope they get back to their senses and stop losing business.

And, I still did not get, why they will not have an on-line top-up facility. It is surely cheaper than working with 72,000 stores (including Tesco, Sainsbury, Post Office, etc.) across the UK (a joyful announcement that they sent proudly to me through SMS). It is high time that hi-tech telecom companies adapt technology in the right way.

P.S.: Even after this stupid flaw, I will still recommend them for the quality / price combo – It is a good value for money.

 

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June 11, 2008

Saturation of the social networking fad

There is a mad rush towards online social networking space. Every second person wants to get on the bandwagon with his own social networking website with a silly-sounding name. In my opinion, most of these sites are just a fad and are not built on strong fundamentals in terms of a) revenue sources and b) the problem they solve.

What is online networking, btw?

The purpose of a social networking website is to help you keep in touch with your existing contacts and to generate more contacts! In case of social networking, the contacts are friends or prospective friends, whereas In case of business networking, the contacts are business associates or prospective business associates.

Now, answer this question – How much time and money are you willing you spend to keep in touch with your: a) friends and b) business associates. It is important to know this fact. Online market may be different, but it is closely related to offline consumer behaviour. Online business model can help in extending the product composition with new innovation and format of delivery. It is important to know if people are willing to pay for a given convinience. And if they are not willing to pay for the convinience, what alternate source of revenue do we have?

So how do you keep in touch with your friends?

In real life, you spend nothing to keep in touch with your friends. You call them up when you want to hang out with them, you give them a shout on their mobile phones or drop in to kill some time! If you are tech-savvy and love to announce a great news, you send them emails. Why will you like to send a scrap to someone (when you can simply send a short email or catch up on various instant messengers)? And why will you like to create such huge volume of personal content and share with millions of people on the Internet who are not even known to me.

Though you may have build friendship /relationship on social networking websites, they are generally not for long. And the long ones actually use the social networking as only the contact point and then evolves and flourishes offline.

What about business associates?

However, business networking sites will keep evolving, since it adds value to businesses. It help people refer / recommend a vendor or buyer to other people in a networked environment as a recommendation network. It has been very successful, when it comes to executive search and generating new business.

Again, the formal nature of relationship and privicy factor makes business networking websites a great place to get connected and exchange notes.

So, the conclusion is:

So, as on today, given the trend, I can say that social networking is a fad, which is getting saturated and is not supported by a proper revenue model. Online advertising cannot be considered a decent revenue model for a site where people come to kill time! However business networking is here to stay. Corporate intranets having social communities may stay. 

I have already written the orbituary of Facebook, My Space, Bebo and social networking platforms. These are evolving as a fad and will vapourize in the same way in years to come. I wish these trillion dollar valuations to be true, but my mind says otherwise. And I am not the only person saying this. Steve Rubel of Micro Persuation feels the same way to a great extent (may be for different reasons).

What do you think? 

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March 31, 2008

Use META DESCRIPTION as your advertisement copy!

<META DESCRIPTION> tag lost its shine after the emergence of off-page factors (like link popularity) for rankings in SERPS. In fact it lost its purpose to a great extent when Google started using contextual content from within the page as the description of the URL in its SERPS.

However in an interesting turn of events, <META DESCRIPTION> is back in business!

Most search engines, including Google are now using the <META DESCRIPTION> content as the description of the URL in their SERPS. The page <TITLE> is now being shown as the listing title with <META DESCRIPTION> as the description of the URL. If you compare it with Google AdWords, you can consider the <TITLE> as the Headline and <META DESCRIPTION> as the Description. Therefore, you must use it to outline your strength, your unique selling proposition and if possible your offer.

Loren Baker of Search Engine Journal mentioned cited this interesting Meta Description used by NextStudent.com in his article,

Looking for federal or private student loans for School? Get up to 40k Fast: Call 877-680-9879. Student loan consolidation? Call 800-299-4639. NextStudent- College Funding Made Simple.

You can also include your phone number (as cited in the above advertisement – description) for the prospect who is in a hurry! May be you will end up prospecting without having the visitor hit your website! In fact, with the latest version of IE and the FireFox plugins, the phone numbers listed in this description become hot-links, which a visitor can simply click and get connected on a voice call through Skype. And you can close a sale! 🙂

And yes, many SEO specialists believe that higher CTR on your SERPS listing (due to improved <TITLE> and <META DESCRIPTION>) can help you further improve your rankings.

BTW, I forgot to mention that some expert copywriters may like to even put in their headlines and teasers to pre-sell the product / services!

Lisa Ditlefsen says:

Basically if you think about it the meta description tag is your FREE ad! If you have experience in running a pay per click campaign I’m sure you have put a lot of thought into what the PPC ad says. The ad is what distinguish you from all the other PPC ads right? So why should it be any different in the organic SERPs? The title tag is your free headline and the meta description tag is your FREE ad, this is where you have a chance to ad hook someone in. How many times have you searched for something, got to the results and been put off by the description, it can’t possibly be what you were looking for!!?

May be people do not give so much importance to this FREE ad, because it is FREE! It is never late. Give proper attention to your website <META DESCRIPTION> tags and turn your organic traffic to a highly targeted FREE traffic.

 

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March 3, 2008

Search engines opening up!

Yahoo announced that they are opening up their search results for third party data integration. This will allow third party to contribute to Yahoo search experience and make it more useful for their users. It will be interesting to see how other webmasters use this open search platform to gain popularity by sharing data with Yahoo, while still retaining their competitive edge, by virtue of their database, in their respective area. We can expect to experience a long-tail of innovation in days to come. This will help webmasters, visitors and Yahoo! A perfect win-win-win situation.

On the other hand, Google already have a open platform called Google Co-op, where anyone can create custom search engine. As per Google Co-op,

"Google Co-op is a platform that enables you to customize the web search experience for users of both Google and your own website."

Google also offer Google Subscribed Links which in their own language they define as:

"Subscribed Links let you create custom search results that users can add to their Google search pages. You can display links to your services for your customers, provide news and status information updated in near-real-time, answer questions, calculate useful quantities, and more"

The challenge

However, both the services that Google offers, has a great deal of focus on promoting Google, Google Search & Google Subscribed Links. Again, they are not directly making any change in the Google Search (at least it has not be publicly explained how it will effect user experience of a normal search).

Therefore, Google Search or Yahoo Search cannot be termed as true "user contributed" or "Web2.0" as described by Tom O'Reilly. People won't contribute unless they see that their contribution is making a positive impact in the search pattern and it is visible. In the current state both Subscribed Link and Yahoo Open Search will only help if a user wants to use the enhanced engine. Most Internet users will never switch these engines. Even if they are told the benefit of the plug-ins, how are they supposed to select the ones which will help them from a collection of thousands of user contributed plug-in channels? And what happens when new plug-ins come out?

Suggested solution

If search engines want to go the Web2.0 way with user contribution enhancing the overall experience and defining the way search engines display results, they need to bring user contributions to the mainstream. I feel that themed searches are the way to go. Google / Yahoo shall classify a particular user contributed plug-in into a theme. When a visitor wants to search for a business, he may choose a "Finding a business" theme. On a contrary when a visitor wants to learn about the subject he may chose the "Tutorial" theme.

Let us see an example.

We search for a very competitive keyword – "web design". This is the result we get.

If you see, there are three different intents that the search result satisfies. A person might be searching "web design" because he:

  • Want to find a web design company (blue marker)
  • Want to learn web design (red marker)
  • Get web design resources (green marker)

All three intents are very different. Most people do not type-in their intent in the search box to make it a specific search, because they are not specialists in using search engines. Therefore, a search engine should suggest a possible intent and display results only related to the given theme. The theme model can best work when they are formed based on a collection of user generated plug-ins. Thus user generated content can find its way to the end user in an organized way.

It goes without saying that pulling in the user generated content directly into the main search result has its challenge of weeding out spam. But this seems to be the most logical way as of now. 

 

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January 25, 2008

Project management softwares reviewed

Proper project management is key to a successful project. To manage multiple projects and teams which are geographically spread across the globe, you need a quality project management tool.

As a medium sized web development company, we looked around for some quality software which suits our requirement and does not burn a hole in the pocket. Here is our pick!

Basecamp HQ:- A nice, minimalist simple to use software true to the philosophy of 37signals, the company which built it. This software is only available in a SaS (software as service) model. IMO this software best suits small projects which are communication centric. It lacks version control, task management, project tracking along with cost-benefit analysis.

Overall, very easy to easy and adapt, but reporting is not up to the mark. If you are a small business and you do most of your project management yourself, this can be a good choice for you.

Intervals:- It seems to have picked up the baton where Basecamp HQ has left. It also works on a SaS (software as service) model. It has more features (specially in terms of reporting and role management) than Basecamp HQ, thus making it suitable to manage complex projects across a large organization.

Overall, it is a good attempt to overcome the shortcomings of Basecamp HQ. However it needs to improve on its usability. It also needs to provide staged progression in terms of features and complexity so that small businesses can adapt the system. I am sure that this software will become popular as they keep improving and become old. For a SaS model company, time-tested reliability is more important than anything else.

Ace Project:- A comprehensive project management software with user friendly interface and short learning curve. It has different licensing policies and therefore you can rent or buy off (with our without source code) the software to suit your organizational needs. This software is around for quite some time and therefore seems to be reliable.

It has decent reporting capabilities, but not as good as what Intervals claim to have!

Dot Project:- The best free open source project management software that I have come across. This software looks flexible and extendable. You can plug in various modules, including Mantis (for bug tracking). The usability and reporting leaves much to be desired. So if you are looking at free project management software with access to source code, Dot Project is a good choice.

Conclusion:

There is nothing called a perfect project management software. The usage, the users and the desired result determines the one which suits best for a given organization. So take your pick from the above mentioned toolset.

 

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January 23, 2008

Open-source products are great. But know the limitations before you use it.

Apart from doing software / web development on Open-source platform, Indus Net Technologies also customize and implement open-source products for clients on demand. Some popular (and free) open-source products are SugarCRM, Drupal, osCommerce for CRM, content management and e-commerce respectively.

IMHO, these are some limitations that I have observed. It is important to know them before initiating a project. These are not very serious in nature and using free open-source products remains a good option for many small and medium sized enterprises around the world.

1. Like any product, it is very important to align the product with your workflow and/or requirements. You must fit the product into the organization by making necessary changes. Therefore a gap analysis should be done and the effort must be estimated for aligning the product as per the current work-flow and/or requirements.

2. Most free open-source products lacks in usability. Therefore if you are doing a major implementation which will be used by thousands of people and you are going to pay for their time, you must consider a major overhaul of interface by involving a usability consultant from your vendor. Otherwise you will end up spending a lot of money.

3. Most free open-source products have very poor reporting system. These reports are not good enough to run a business and shall be re-done as per your company requirement aligned with your key measurement matrix for the given business function.

4. The programmers who can change the software as per your needs are the code-hackers types, who love to dive into existing system architecture and make small changes to achieve the desired results. Therefore you must identify and hook up with the right programmer / programming company (like Indus Net Technologies – a bit of shameless self promotion) to get it right.

5. It is a myth, that implementing open-source software is free. Software code is free, not the hard work of programmers and analysts which goes behind implementing it. And you need the later to successfully implement it in your scenario and reap the benefits of the solution. Yes, it considerably reduces the cost, improves reliability and gives you a head start from where you can take informed decision about your IT needs.

Do not get me wrong. I am only listing the limitations. The benefits are well-known and they out-live the limitations any day. However it is very important that these limitations are known before proceeding.

Feel free to discuss / debate!

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January 11, 2008

Virtual Tables – A problem solving technique for small networking groups

Among all the social-business networking sites, I find Ecademy and LinkedIn to be the best ones. Ecademy is my favorite since it has very nicely integrated offline networking in its system which results in creating trusted networks.

I experienced a very nice group-problem-solving technique called Virtual Tables during an offline networking event organized by Ecademy. I found it to be very effective. It can be extremely beneficial if practiced in a trusted network.

What you need:

  • People who are interested in helping each other
  • Ninety minutes (1 1/2 hour) 
  • Paper / Pen to take notes

This is how it works:

Group together

It works best in a group of six-seven participants. If there are many more members, they should arrange themselves in group of six participants. I feel that it works best when the group is of people from diversified field (different businesses, departments, etc.). I think (not yet tested) that it will work best if people with same kind of responsibilities participate together (all business owners, all managers, all programmers, etc.).

All participants sit around a table. Every participant has 12-15 minutes by turn.

Now its your turn

When your turn comes, you can table your problem. Generally people table their biggest concern, dilemma, situation, issue they are facing in few minutes. The other participants of your group come up with their own solutions, point-of-views and ideas to help you. Since different people come from different backgrounds and have different ways to solve a problem, it is amazing to see how many fantastic ideas pops up. These sessions are generally filled with why-i-did-not-think-of-this-before sighs. This collective brainstorming delivers a list of suggestions that are diverse in nature and gives a new approach to solve the same problem.

It is like having five consultants serving you for fifteen minutes with their subject matter knowledge and common sense with an honest intention coming from an absolutely independent chair to help you out!

Take notes & rotate

You should take notes of the ideas. I suggest you note down all the ideas and spend some time back home thinking over them and considering the solutions offered by different people on the table. For the time being, you shall rotate the strike and the next guy should now table his/her problem and you should become a part of the elite panel of consultants who will help bail him/her out!

An important note:

It is utmost importance to maintain the privacy and confidentiality of the discussion. The purpose of the virtual tables is to help and get help. It may take time for members to trust each other, but once a trust network is formed, the effectiveness just multiplies and it keeps growing with the speed of trust.

So, go out and try this to discover a stress-free way of solving your problems (and others' too)!

 

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September 23, 2007

Usability flaw in Sphinn.com signup page

I have recently signed up with this wonderful social media website Sphinn.com which aggregates news and articles on search engine marketing and social media landscape. The site has got excellent content and an active community.

However, while signing up, I got confused (for a while though) on the signup page.

The point of confusion is the disabled "Create user" button at the bottom.

The concept is that the user need to verify the availability of username (compulsory) and validity of email before the "Create user" buttom becomes active. The problem with this approach is that:

  • By doing this, the webmaster has put the onus of verifying the username and validity of email on the user and is stopping him from moving ahead in the signup process.
  • Above all, it is not in line with the general user experience in most signup forms, thereby resulting in a learning curve for its users.
  • People may not like to learn a "new way of doing thing" for something as simple and one-time activity as signup with a service.

The user initiated verification can be an additional benefit and can be provided as a feature to improve user experience, but not at the cost of disabling the "Create user" button and verifying it at the site of form submission.

It seems sphinn.com is based on a popular script called pligg.com. If the signup form comes from that popular open-source social media script, this usability flaw needs to be fixed in more than one website 🙂

Abhishek

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