Tag - design

Techmeme: because no-one actually searches anymore

Am I a newbie Techmeme user who just doesn’t grok it, or is it truly crazy that Techmeme does not have a search function?

I mean, I get the Archives thing, but I find it a little cumbersome to be switching out dates manually, typing in when I think the story I’m looking for might have been on the front page. It’s a little archaic, frankly.

When I know exactly what story I’m looking for, and I have two or three keywords that I can search on to find it … why should I have to manipulate Techmeme space and Techmeme time just to find what I want?

That’s what computers are for. That’s what search is for.

See also: Scoble’s recent Techmeme comparison, Steve Rubel on Techmeme and language, Read/Write Web on Techmeme vs. TailRank, Frank Gruber on how TailRank is competing with Techmeme, speculation about a Techmeme blacklist, and a review of Techmeme’s well-regarded new ad format.

[tags] techmeme, search, usability, john koetsier [/tags]

Trackbacks, comments added to sidebar

Little public service announcement here …

I just added Recent Comments and Recent Trackbacks to the sidebar. (You may have to scroll a little to see them.

I’ve set it up so that anyone who adds a trackback link in their post that links to bizhack, they’ll automagically get a link back in the sidebar.

Same thing with comments: the commenter’s name will link back to his or her blog; and the first few characters of the comment will link to the post in question.

What’s the big idea?
My goals with this are three-fold: encouraging more linking and commenting, thanking people who are linking and commenting, and rewarding linking and commenting. It is, after all, the social web.

(And yes – full disclosure – I get a kick out of every link and comment. Thank you!)

Please return to your regularly-scheduled programming …

[tags] bizhack, john koetsier, trackbacks, comments [/tags]

worst. clickpath. ever.

The site: Mini.ca. The task: schedule a test drive of a Mini Cooper. The clickpath: long, convoluted, and wrong.

Step one: Homepage

Step two: events

Step three: some event blah blah

Step four: more event blah blah (in a pop-up)

Step five: pick a time

Step six: enter life history

[tags] mini, cooper, mini.ca, design, ia, usability, clickpath, john koetsier [/tags]

Labeling the labels and other blog usability oddities

I know a woman who got a labeller and went a little crazy. When my wife and I visited her a couple of weeks later, everything was labeled.

TV? Labeled. Phone? Labeled. VCR? (It was a few years ago.) Also labelled.

I was wondering about that a little bit as I’ve been tweaking and adding to this new blog design. Phil Gerbyshak at Make it Great had given me a few suggestions, and I had wanted to do both of those things better:

  1. Meaningful categories
    Provide a better way for new visitors of this blog to get a very quick visual sense of what’s buried in a couple of years of blogging.

  2. Best of bizhack
    Showcase some of the best posts (IMHO) to give new (and long-term) visitors a bit of exposure to the best of what I have to offer.

The first – meaningful categories – was the main priority for me (more on the second in another post). I like the Category Cloud plugin (for WordPress) because it sizes your categories in relationship to the number of posts they contain. It also allows you to display an astonishing number of categories in a very compact but not visually busy space. (It’s not busy or cluttered-looking because to the quick glance, all the categories form a visual whole.)

But it wasn’t working out well:

Under the ads
First I had it under the Google AdWords/AdSense block. Too low – not visible enough. If the goal was to allow visitors to get a quick visual sense of what’s on this blog, they might never see it.

Not good.

Up top, labeled
Then I moved it up top. Great … but the title was bothering me. Why was I labeling my categories? Wasn’t it fairly obvious that they were categories? I mean, you might as well label the sky, the moon, or the sun.

So I took all the labels off – including the Search header. That proved to be too much – too bare, naked, and possibly confusing for those who aren’t full-time web addicts.

The perfect solution
So. Now I have it as you see it: “search” is still a label, but “category” or “tag cloud” is no-where to be seen. It just is … which is perfectly sufficient.

Enough, not too much, just in the right proportion: perfect. In my humble opinion, naturally.

As Strunk and White would say:

A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Just like design.

[tags] blogging, usability, design, tag, cloud, categories, labels, john koetsier [/tags]

Short & fat or long & skinny: 37 Signals’ Job Board

I’ll take long and skinny, please. To go. But hold the fries.

37 Signals recently created a job board. For $250, companies posted jobs for RoR programmers, usability experts, web designers, and technical marketers.

There was only one problem: the board was oversubscribed. 37 Signals’ founder Jason Fried had intentionally wanted to limit listings there to about a hundred:

We felt about 100 listings at a time would be the sweet spot. Enough to provide choice to those looking for a job. Not too many to dilute the listings like so many huge job boards do. When your post is 1 of 100 you feel pretty good about having it seen by the target. When your post is 1 of 500 or 1 of 1000 you start to feel like you’re wasting your money. We don’t want anyone to feel like that.

However, lately there’s been – horror of horrors – too many postings. In fact, the job board is now bumping up against 150 simultaneous jobs. So today Jason Fried announced that the price was going up, to $300, in an attempt to regulate the number of postings down to about 100 through natural economics.

Now, a $50 price hike is no big deal … particularly when postings at Monster.com are $500 each – and a lot less targeted for the kind of employer/employee that would be at 37 Signals. But it’s an interesting response to increased demand.

And if that’s what 37 Signals wants to do, more power to them. But I think there’s better ways to increase usability for both job posters and job seekers.

As one commenter posted:

From my point of view, trying to limit the listings to approximately 100 simply makes the job board less useful. As a job seeker, a job in SF isn’t equal to a job in NY. While 100 may sounds like a lot of jobs, many cities have only one or two listings at most. Not a lot of choice for those seeking jobs. If too many listings is that much of an issue, wouldn’t it be better to provide some mechanism to limit by city, field, etc. and allow users to hone in on what’s relevant to their search?

Excellent point – and one that completely relates to the Long Tail theory of economics. In reply, I posted:

Very, very good point. As the tail gets long, we need filters to manage the data. I’d rather have a long skinny tail with good filters than a short fat tail with no filter at all.

Short and fat is great for a small number of people, but for the majority it just doesn’t have anything to offer.

Exclusivity is great. And simplicity is easier when options and numbers are limited. But actual usability as a job board suffers when 95% of the jobs are not in regions where any specific job seeker is located.

Usability – or, more precisely, usefullness – would be increased by a concurrent increase in the number of postings as long as you also have better sifting, sorting, and filtering mechanisms.

Long and skinny wins every time.

[tags] 37 signals, signal vs noise, long tail, job board, simplicity, usability, filters, john koetsier [/tags]

5 reasons blogrolls are so 2002

Remember blogrolls? Those annoying lists of me-too sites that used to be a staple of every blog?

They are so yesterday, and here’s why …

  1. Too many! too many!
    Anyone who does anything in the blogosphere reads way too many blogs to list them all in the blogroll on their sidebar. Even when you use Blogrolling.

  2. It’s all just politics, anyways
    Ummm … how many people have BoingBoing in their blogroll? Seth Godin? Guy Kawasaki? Enough already – be a little original. There’s millions of blogs, and at least tens of thousands of really good blogs. Find some!

  3. Put it in the posts
    Find something cool? Post about it. Find something else cool for tomorrow. And next week. And next month. If you really need to keep track of something (yeah I like Seth Godin too) use RSS. That’s what it’s for.

  4. You need less of more
    Your blog has 5 million doo-dads hanging of the left sidebar, right sidebar, topbar, bottom bar … you name it. I know – I just redid my blog theme and killed about three quarters of what I had. Clean house. Leave what’s important. Kill what’s peripheral.

  5. Purposelessness is bad
    What’s really the point of blogrolls, anyways? Are you actually going to go there to click on the links to sites you like – not likely. So what are you trying to do with it? Unless it advances your blogging goals, it’s crud. Crud inhibits your progression. Scrub it.

Are all blogrolls in all cases bad? Of course not. Are most of them? Definitely.

Decide which yours is, and act accordingly.

[tags] blogroll, blogging, blogrolling, john koetsier [/tags]

New look blog

At risk of stating the obvious, bizhack has a whole new look today.

I wanted something simpler, something darker, and something a little more cutting-edge. Voila.

The highlights:

  • Web 2.0-ish look
    There is/isn’t a web 2.0. Yeah, I know. Web 2.0 has nothing to do with style or image. Yup, MySpace is proof of that. Still.

  • More economical layout
    More words fit on a page, while still being very legible and reader-friendly. Content starts higher up, so more is “above the fold.” The two-column design lends itself to more space for images in posts. And so on.

  • Google AdSense
    It’s ba-ack. I took AdWords off my blog way back when Google made its Dr. Evil moves to get into China. I still think Google did the wrong thing, but at least there are ways to get around it now. And I wanted to start generating some revenue again.

  • Now with less … of everything
    Blogs clutter up over time with Flickr badges, delicious links, and all kinds of extra schtuff that justs makes your page bigger, dependent on more servers being up and fast, and slower. Enough. Every blog needs a spring cleaning from time to time. Even when it’s fall.

  • More coming
    I’m not quite finished with my tweaking yet … more will be coming soon. (Thanks Phil for the tips!)

I’m using the fairly excellent Unsleepable theme built for WordPress. It’s a little more complicated than most themes, but I think the final result is not too shabby.

[tags] blogs, theme, wordpress, blogging, john koetsier [/tags]

5 WordPress plugins I can’t live without

Plugins take a basic blog – even a wonderful WordPress blog – to the next level of interactivity and functionality.

Since I’m just in the process of updating my blog theme, I had to consider which plugins I was going to continue/stop/start using.

Here are the 5 WordPress plugins I can’t do without:

  1. Akismet
    Akismet is an extremely efficient comment spam killer … don’t even consider opening up comments to all comers without it.

  2. Related Posts
    Related posts gives you dynamic no-work linking to (usually) similar posts … very handy for showing visitos similar posts you’ve written in the past.

  3. Simpletags
    If Technorati integration is important to you, this is extremely no-brainer Technorati tags integration.

  4. Category cloud
    Category Cloug makes your category list tag cloudish … and the size of each category name is dynamically determined by the number of entries in that category. Very useful!

  5. WP-Notable
    WP-notable gives you auto-generated links to most common social bookmarking sites, so that visitors who use those services can very easily add them to their bookmarks, diggs, vine, etc.

There are others I may use, but those are the core.

What are your core plugins?

[tags] wordpress, plugins, blogging, john koetsier [/tags]

7 things to do when prepping a new blog theme

I don’t know if I’m like the cobbler’s kid, who never gets new shoes, or like the designer’s house which is never the same for two months in a row.

I’m tired of this current theme:

  • too few words fit on a page
  • content starts too low … half-way down a page on a typical screen
  • it’s not cool/edgy/sexy/web 2.0 enough
  • it’s been a whole 4 months … I need something new!

So …. I’ll be moving to a new design in just few days. If you want a sneak peek, I’m using my low-traffic fishcrackers blog as a testbed while I work all the kinks out.

Since it may be helpful for others as well, I’ve listed 7 things to do when switching blog themes.

When switching your theme:

  1. back up your current blog: database and files. This is important – updating is tricky business and you need a known good downgrade path!
  2. choose/build a new theme (err … duh!)
  3. remove all the elements you don’t want … get rid of the clutter!
  4. customize the theme to your identity (colors, logo, name)
  5. ensure you have all the plugins ready that you want
  6. check if you have to revamp some of your static pages to fit the new theme
  7. test all the components of the theme and blog pages to ensure everything works. This is important – different themes contain different code, and you can’t assume they’ll just work.

Hopefully, I’ll have the site updates up this week. But I’ll be taking it slow … ensuring that everything is working, so that may change.

Change is good!

[tags] blogging, theme, new, design, wordpress, plugins, akismet, simpletags, related posts, technorati tags, category cloud, wp-notable, john koetsier [/tags]

Who’s the idiot? Me!

I recently sent out a few emails – about a thousand – to tell clients a few details about a program to which they participate.

Imagine my surprise when I started getting calls and emails saying the program website (which I had just checked) was not working. A few minutes sufficed to find the problem:

People were confusing email addresses with web addresses. Ouch!

This hurt, and at first I was a little put out. After all, who doesn’t know that name@domain.com is not a web address?

Apparently, my clients.

If wisdom is what you get when you screw up, I’ve gained a little bit today. Test, test, test, test. And when you’ve done, test again. At least run your messages past a few complete technophobes. And adjust based on the result.


It’s not my customers that are stupid. Unless I think that buying from me is a bad decision!

[tags] usability, email, marketing, messages, test, testing, communication, john koetsier [/tags]

The browser hijackers: how aggregators don’t share the love

Whose browser window is it, anyways?

Link aggregators like Digg, Newsvine, Shoutwire, Fark, Delicious, Reddit, and Spurl are increasingly popular ways to find and track news … but there are some differences between them. Especially regarding how they treat your browser window.

Digg: mine, mine, mine
Digg likes your browser window – a lot. Just like the seagulls in Finding Nemo. So much so that clicking on links in digg opens up a brand new window. After all, why share when you can just have your own?

NowPublic: it’s … my … p-r-e-c-i-o-u-s!
Sharing does suck. But NowPublic would rather share the pie – even the bottom slice- rather than let everyone have their own pie. All is fair in love and war (and aggregating) and memories are short. Maybe you’d forget where that un-freaking-believably great link came from, if you weren’t constantly reminded.

Netscape: mommy, mommy, look at me!
Sharing doesn’t suck if you get the best piece. Why take the bottom of the totem pole? The side – especially the left side – is much more imposing, prominent, and lickable. Err … clickable.

Shoutwire: what do you mean, “your” window?
The bottom of the totem pole? The side of the totem pole? Are you joking? Shoutwire has nothing against sharing … as long as it gets top billing. Right across the top, baby, and yes, that’s our Flash ad making your CPU race. Click on it. Now.

Newsvine: other sites? What other sites?
Aggregator? What’s an aggregator? The news is here – we have the news. We are the news in fact, and there’s no reason to go anywhere else. Just vote already. OK? Or, if you really must, post a comment.

Some context for this post
I wrote this post because I’m tired of going to an aggregator, clicking on a link, and getting my browser window spammed, or new windows generated.

Aggregators, their value, their revenue
Aggregators are supposed to collect news or cool links. Social aggregators apply some mob logic to the equation, but it’s still news or cool links.

The value that aggregators bring is filtering.

There’s a lot out there on the long, long tail of the world wide web. Too much for any one of us to find everything. Too much for any one of us to find everything we’re interested in. And too much for any one of us to find the best of what’s interesting.

Filters let the cream rise to the top. (At least, that’s the theory.)

Since aggregators add value by filtering, they’re entitled to rewards. Money, not to put too fine a point on it. As our eyeballs dangle on strings, fixated on the flickering lights of our favorite filters, they paste ads on our brains. Occasionally, we click on one of them. The aggregator aggregates a few pennies.

That’s OK. That’s cool. That’s good. They’re happy, we’re happy. But. (Isn’t there always a but?)


The map is not the territory
Aggregators are the map. They show us how to get from Bush bashing to techno-hippy news. And we appreciate it. But aggregators are NOT the territory. They’re not the Bush bashing or the techno-hippy news.

The pipe is not the water.
The lense is not the view.
The artery is not the blood.
The reporter is not the story.

When aggregators forget this, they try too hard. They want to be too much. Then they do things like Netscape and Shoutwire and NowPublic: trying to control your browser window.

More than they deserve
When they do this, they are trying to extract more value than they ought.

These aggregators are behaving like old media. They are acting like About, where links always circle the wagon and lead visitors on a merry-go-round inside the walled garden. They are framing other sites’ content … something that I thought we had shunned into nonexistence almost a decade ago.

They are trying to package and profit from others’ work. This is taking more than they deserve. This is hijacking. This is an ownership mentality, not a partnership mentality.

Bottom line: it’s not right.

. . .
. . .

The good guys
Reddit, Spurl, Simpy, and Delicious all open links in the existing open browser window. This is what they should be doing, and they are to be commended for it.

A final note:

I can’t get too worked up about aggregators that open links in a new window. It’s annoying, but those of us who are not newbies know how to open links in new tabs, or already have our browsers set up to do that. It’s the aggregators who try to control our browsing experiences that annoy me.

It’s worth noticing that popurls, the aggregator of the aggregators, also opens links in the same existing window in which the link was clicked. Way to go.

I welcome feedback, on your blog or in the comments below.

Google finance doesn’t suck

I am not a finance wonk and never want to be.

Quarterly reports are excellent insomnia cures, budgets are boring, financial spreadsheets make my eyes spin. It’s just not my thing; my brain doesn’t work that way, and I have no interest in it.

But even finance dorks occasionally need stock quotes, and today I almost accidentally ran into Google Finance (beta, of course). I checked out my company, School Specialty, and really like the interface.

I never know the stock symbols, so being able to just type in the live search box and have matching companies appear is great. And the information when you get to a company home page perfect for my purposes: general overview of the company, and plenty more to dig deeper if you need to.

[tags] google, google finance, john koetsier [/tags]

Gmail, Gmail, I love Gmail

It’s free – that’s good. Lots of space – also good. And its spam-filtering is second to none. Very good.

But, really, please, couldn’t they hire one cheap just-out-of-college usability professional?

Imagine only using Gmail once a week or so, and then mostly for checking, not sending. Where is the Reply button?

Not as big as it should be, that’s for sure.

[tags] gmail, send mail, google, usability, HCI, john koetsier [/tags]

The pen is not mightier than the sword

… if your product is a sword, of course.

I subscribe to Bencivenga Bullets – Gary Bencivenga’s occasionally-updated marketing and copyrighting secrets. Just to continue the theme that marketing is not the solution to selling all the crappy products in the world, Gary says:

A gifted product is mightier than a gifted pen.

Reminds me of something at Bokardo:

Our initial reaction, usually a superficial one based solely on looks, is vaporized upon use. If it doesn’t work well, then no matter how impressive your graphics are, it doesn’t matter. (think about all of the graphic design done for American-made cars)

So, as a graphic designer, make sure that you work on stuff that has the potential to work well!

So, as a social media marketing, don’t hitch your horse to the wrong cart. There’s nothing worse than failing for all the wrong reasons.

[tags] bokardo, bencivenga, marketing, social media, PR, copywriting, john koetsier [/tags]

Site design: what do you optimize for?

I followed a link to Vox today. I vaguely remembered the service from seeing it months and months ago, but I had no clue what it was actually about.

“Vox,” of course, is sort of a clue … but “voice” could be a lot of things. So I scanned.

  • Welcome … to what?
  • Explore … what?
  • Sign in … to what?
  • Get an invitation … to what?

Finally, down on the right side, in smaller print: “What is vox? It’s a new blogging tool that’s about sharing and creating.”

OK. Thanks.

Note: this is not necessarily bad site design, or information architecture. It’s just not optimized for newbies.

When you design a site, you can optimize for new members (and potentially tick off old ones) or optimize for old members (and possibly never get any more new ones). Or you can go somewhere in between.

It’s your choice. But you had better make that choice intentionally.

[tags] vox, design, information architecture, usability, john koetsier [/tags]

From email to RSS: eBay and Paypal scam spam

I never, never, never open an email that claims to be from either eBay or Paypal.


Simple – I get about 3 scam spams supposedly from eBay or Paypal every single day. Every single day.

So I’ll never open another. The scams are just too good. They look like the site they claim to be from. They use the same language as the site they claim to be from. Only if you check very, very careful, by examining the actual URL they propose to take you to will you be able to see if they are scam spams.

You can usually only do that by examing the source of the email – or by clicking to copy the URL of the site they are linking to, and then pasting it somewhere. Both of these are beyond average users, and they’re too much of a PITA for me to do so regularly.

So: if you’re eBay or Paypal, what do you do?

Good question – sucks to be them.

I’m not sure I have the answer. But I wonder if it has to do with feeds.

Not too many years ago, aside from email, the only way a site could inform its visitors of a change or news item was to post it on the site. That might work for continuous, repeat users – if they happen to see it. But it’s not a good solution for people who visit once a month or even less.

Now, however, we have RSS. Now eBay and Paypal – or any website – could notify me of a personalized feed, just for me, whenever I sign up or log in.

I could put that feed in my reader, bloglines, or a desktop equivalent, and be notified whenever there are service issues, or important site news. And I’d get that notification even though I only visit eBay, Paypal, or XYZ site once a month, more or less.

There are issues with this: would people sign up for the feed? And, if they did, would companies ruin it by stuffing it with marketing nonsense? If so, people would soon delete the feed.

But I think it’s worth an option. Because the only other way for eBay or Paypal to get in touch with me today is a personal phone call.

And I don’t think they want to do that.

. . .
. . .

Other blogs referencing Paypal/eBay scams
Trabaca, countably infinite, Digg (and the site referenced: Paypalscam), Tribe, PowerSellerKing.

[tags] ebay, paypal, scam, spam, rss, feed, john koetsier [/tags]

Gmail user interface problems

Question: do you design an application for power users or novices?

Ideally, your design is so mindblowingly uber-good that it works perfectly for both. In the real world, however, you make compromises.

Take Gmail, for instance.

I have a Gmail account – mostly so I can publish an email address baldly on this blog and not worry too much about spam. First of all, Gmail’s spam protection is very, very good. And secondly, it’s not my primary account, so I don’t really care too much.

So I’m a Gmail novice … I go there about once a week. (Mail sent to my Gmail account is forwarded to one I check daily.) When there, mostly I just look at what comes in … any email I write, I send from my primary, sparkplug9.com account.

But occasionally I want to send an email from Gmail. And it never fails: I always have to hunt, sometimes for 20 seconds, for the Send Mail button. Of course, there isn’t one:

It’s called “Compose Mail.” And it’s hidden, almost – certainly way less prominent than the Archive, Delete, or Report Spam buttons. (To say nothing of the Search button.)

Is this good design?

There’s no question Gmail is great technology. But I doubt anyone would call it great design … even if it may work for power users.

. . .
. . .

Other thoughts on Gmail’s design
Joel on Software forum, Paul Kedrosky (a great speaker, btw, heard him once at VEF), Walt Mossberg, Richard MacManus, Dan Brown (very comprehensive piece!), Topix blog.

[tags] UI, user interface, GUI, gmail, google, email, design, john koetsier [/tags]

Men & women, usability & blame

A recent MySpace sign-up problem reminded me: men and women react differently to software and usability problems.

I first learned this when doing a usability study with theUEgroup in San Jose. Tony Fernandes, the principal and founder, told me that when men encounter problems, they tend to think it’s the fault of the site or software that they are using. On the other hand, women tend to think the the fault lies with them.

We saw this over and over again in our two days of testing. It was a site that was intended for women, and it had been designed by me – male – and built by a few developers who, yes, were also male. We brought in women to test the site, and sitting in a nearby room looking at the video monitors, saw the same thing again and again and again:

  • “I think I’m doing something wrong.”
  • “I’m sorry, I’m not very good with computers.”
  • “Did I do something that I wasn’t supposed to?”

The site was in a fairly early state of production, and it had gaping holes in it that these women were finding – and then blaming themselves for. “I’m sorry” was a fairly constant refrain.

In fact, as I recall, we eventually made over 40 significant changes to the site based on the findings of the usabilty study. They weren’t all technical and programming: some of them were simple wording or order switches. But all were significant. Somehow, though, the women were blaming themselves for our problems.

Lucky us, in a sense. But if the people using our site could not create the products that we wanted them to create and then purchase them, were were sunk. Unlucky us.

Situational versus dispositional
This reminds me of university psychology: situational versus dispositional attribution.

Situational attribution assigns blame or praise based on the environment. Example: she succeeded because she was with a great company. He failed because the economy was really tough.

Dispositional attribution, on the other hand, assigns blame or praise based on personal characteristics. Example: He succeeded because he’s smart. She failed because she made too many mistakes.

Men are more likely, on average, to make dispositional attributions. Women are more likely, on average, to make situational attributions. This is a big generalization, and I don’t fit the mold myself, every time. But I think on balance, it holds true.

Which has interesting consequences for the software and sites we build, and the people we build them for.

[tags] usability, theUEgroup, tony fernandes, women, men, situational, dispositional, websites, software, design, psychology, john koetsier [/tags]

Inspiration for the month: TED

Some of the greatest speakers in the world keynote at TED, an uber-expensive invite-only conference in Monterey, California.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, but the conference is about any and all important ideas and trends. Attendance is limited to 1000 people and costs $4000, but now us plebes can benefit from the great speakers.

Check out the speakers here. Apparently more will be released soon. Note: I found that the best bet was to download the videos, then watch them. Otherwise I was getting a lot of re-buffering nonsense that really interrupted the videos.

Here’s the ones that I’ve watched and really enjoyed:

I’m sure a lot of the others are good too (besides Tony Robbins, who I thought was horrible). I just haven’t seen them yet.

[tags] TED, videos, motivation, inspiration, john koetsier [/tags]

Innovative, elegant, anthropomorphic

What do you look for in a design?

A design of anything: website, hair dryer, car … you name it.

Yesterday I had to think of Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos attending an early unveiling of the Segway as I read that Jeff Bezos was investing in 37signals.

I posted a comment about it, and today, oddly enough, they posted an excerpt from the notes of that meeting.

But back to the design principles: what do they mean?

Innovative is unlike anything else. Different. New. The function of an innovative design is to make you sit up and take notice in an overcrowded world of unremarkable designs.

Many things could be innovative but not, unfortunately, elegant. You could design a pen in the shape of a cup and it would be innovative, but hardly elegant. Elegance has to do with grace, “fittingness,” and usability. It’s form and function.

Anthropomorphic designs are human designs. They’re extremely intentionally made for people, with people in mind, for people to use. They don’t make you do something that feels wrong; they encourage you to act and operate in ways that make sense, are simple, are natural … that are the holy grail of software applications: intuitive.

Put the three together, and it’s likely you’ll have a winner. It’s new, it’s beautiful, and it is easy to use.

I wonder what, if any, other design principles Steve Jobs follows. I’m guessing simplicity is one of them, although that might be embodied in elegance.

Any others?

[tags] design, segway, innovative, elegant, anthropomorphic, jeff bezos, steve jobs, 37signals, john koetsier [/tags]

Tags are not categories

Tag clouds are great. Tag clouds are useful. Tag clouds are even web 2.0 sexy.

Why? They let you put a lot of information in a small space, while making it fairly obvious even to a newbie what’s going on, what’s important, and how to use it.

But they have a place and a time … and a size.

I skipped over to Business Blog Consulting this morning, as I digging deeper into the use of blogs in corporations right now. And their tag cloud occupies portions of 3 screens.

That’s their tag cloud, shrunk down to about 30%, to the right.

You can’t view that gargantuan tag cloud on just one page. Which absolutely murders the primary advantage of tag clouds right off the bat: instantaneous understanding of What Something is About™.

If you have to scroll, it’s already broken.

Secondly, using tags as your major navigation method on a blog is dangerous. Why? Because tags are not categories.

Let me repeat: tags are not categories.

Categories don’t change. Well, they do, but slowly, like glaciers moving. (OK, glaciers moving before global warming kicked in.)

Tags, on the other hand, are new every day. New with every new thought. New with every new idea you read on XYZ blog (someone should own that, by the way). New with every funky new web 2.0 company name that you want to link to, talk about, and diss.

So if you use them for site navigation as if they were categories, this is what you get (straight from Business Blog Consulting’s blog):

  • rss
  • rss+buttons
  • RSS+Industry+Roundtable
  • RSS+Investment
  • rss+marketing
  • RSS advertising
  • rss aggregators
  • RSS feeds
  • rss marketing
  • rss readers
  • rss research
  • rss spending
  • rss sucks
  • RSS
  • Survey
  • rss to email
  • rss usage

Ummm … yeah.

Not cool, not scalable, and not easy on the eyes. Since most of those tags have been applied to only 2-3 posts, they’re tiny and unreadable. Wouldn’t a simple “RSS” have sufficed for almost all of those tags?

(I won’t get into that they betray the whole concept of tags, which is that you don’t use two words for tags unless you totally, totally have to. You use the two words when you’re searching, and the searching will get you wanted. But that’s an aside.)

So: tags are not categories. Don’t use them like categories.

(Use them like tags.)

[tags] rss, tags, categories, information, architecture, blogs, business blog consulting, john koetsier [/tags]

Safari versus Flock: showdown at the OK corral

Almost exactly a month ago I started using Flock on all my computers. Now it’s time to evaluate: was it worth the switch?

  • User interface
    I came from Safari, so I expected a clean, simple, understatedly elegant application, and I got that in Flock. Without this, I’m not interested in using an app – which I why I never took up Firefox for long. But Flock made me forget Firefox. 

    Still, it’s hard to beat Safari for pure elegance – I still find myself hankerin’ for some brushed metal.

    Slight edge: Safari

  • Speed
    Safari is a fast browser, and one of my primary concerns with Flock has been speed. Loading pages and performing actions in Flock seems almost but not quite as fast. 

    But opening up a new window seems to take a looong time – almost 4 seconds – on my 1Ghz PowerBook G4. Not great.

    Also, Flock tends to run down with use. I’m a power web user, and it’s not unusual for me to have 10 or 15 tabs open. After a day of that – or several days, I reboot my Mac only every month or so – Flock slows way down, and the dreading spinning beachball of death becomes a constant companion.

    The solution is to quit Flock and restart it, and presto, it’s as fast as usual. Perhaps Flock’s memory management is not the best – I’m not sure. It took me a while to figure this one out, but now that I have, this is no major trouble.

    Advantage: Safari

  • Flickr integration
    OK, this is a no-brainer. Flock’s integrated Uploadr has become my preferred application for uploading photos to Flickr, even though I have an iPhoto plugin for that very purpose. 

    Uploadr is just better, seems quicker, and lets me properly tag and categorize (add to sets, in Flickrese) all my photos before they even get to Flickr.

    In a walk: Flock

  • Blogging
    Flock has strong blogging capability, includes a full WYSIWYG editor that can be configured for multiple blogs. Very cool. Also, it will save a local copy of your blog entries, which makes a lot of sense for people who are paranoid about data loss. 

    But I’ve actually decided that I like writing my posts in WordPress‘ admin interface better. It lets me write, then Save and Continue Editing, view what I’ve written in the context of my actual blog look and feel, and repeat the process until I’m ready to publish.

    Still, major kudos to the Flock team for incorporating this functionality. I’m certain that some, and maybe many, will really appreciate this feature.

    Decision: have to give the nod to Flock

  • Compatibility
    One of the things you know you might have some issues with when you’re using a browser like Safari with about 2% usage across the internet (if that) is that there will be sites that you can’t see, or that cause problems 

    (Aside: oh how I detest Windows Media Player for the Mac.)

    So I figured that Flock – being based on the mighty 15-20% market share Firefox – would be superior. Actually – not always.

    Not only does Safari render just about as many sites as Flock, it lets you lie. After enabling the Debug menu in Safari, you can tell websites that your browser is Internet Explorer, even MSIE 7.

    Which comes in very handy when you want to get a free domain name from Microsoft, but need IE on a PC to access the site. No you don’t – just set Safari’s user-agent to MSIE 6 or 7, and away you go. Some things won’t work, but most will … and that free domain name will be nicely wrapped up in your hot lying little hand.

    On the other hand, there are sites that say: only works in MSIE and Firefox (and Flock). Google, of course, has released many tools that are initially MSIE and Firefox only, such as Google Calendar. Usually Safari support comes along, but usually a little later.

    Verdict: hung jury

  • Extensibility
    One of Flock’s weaknesses in comparison to the multifaceted Swiss army knife that is Firefox is extensions: little bits of code to do cool things like see what the pagerank of the current page is, or expose all the tables on the page, or extract and download videos from YouTube so that you can cackle with glee at all the stupid things people do while you are safely offline. 

    But no longer: the unreadably understated Flocker to the rescue. And, if that does not suffice, no worries, Flock’d is there to help.

    Since you can now convert just about every Firefox extension to a Flock extension (note to Flock: it’d be a good idea to do this proactively, and offer the converted extensions on your site), and since Safari has a small (though growing) list of extensions, this one is farily easy to call:

    Advantage: Flock

  • Bookmarking/saving/tagging
    One of the things you want to do on the web is save important or interesting things. Why, I don’t know, because you never go back to them – new important or interesting things come every day. 

    But you still want to.

    Browser bookmarks are passe and have been for years now. Locked in one application on one computer (or on two or three, if you happen to be paying for .Mac), they not accessible, they’re not contextualized (other than one single attribute: category), can’t be mashed up and re-published as a clickstream elsewhere, and they’re simply not cool/social/hip and so on.

    Social bookmarking and tagging are in, bigtime.

    Safari integration (and Firefox and MSIE, for that matter) is limited to a toolbar link. It contains Javascript; it redirects you to your del.icio.us homepage, you wait for that to load, you tag your page and enter anything else you want, hit save and get redirected back to the page you just bookmarked.

    Flock, on the other hand, lets you click a little star just in front of the browser address bar, and, if you set it right in your search/bookmarking preferences, automatically tag the page right on the page, save it to del.icio.us, and stay right where you are the whole time. Easy, fast, clean, integrated, sweet.

    Distinct advantage: Flock

  • Searching
    I do a ton of searching. It’s probably one of the things I do most online, with the possible exception of reading blogs. So a browser has to have excellent search integration. 

    Safari was the first browser to recognize this and to incorporate search right into the browser itself. (I wonder how much money Apple makes from this; Firefox makes a significant sum via a relationship with Google on proceeds from the ads clicked by people searching with Firefox.) Who actually goes to www.google.com to search anymore? The only times I’m there is when I have to do a complex, advanced search.

    Flock also lets you search right from the browser interface, but it defaults to Yahoo! (Yup, revenue-sharing deal.) Well, sorry, Flock – I don’t want to deny you the revenue, but I think Google results are better and the result pages load faster.

    No fear, you can change the default, which I did. But here Flock shines, because you can change the default to a variety of search engines – and key sites, like Amazon.com, and Technorati.

    But a feature that Flock adds for the Yahoo! results is live search – similar to the Ajaxy live search you see on cutting-edge blogs or on Google suggest. And while I don’t use Yahoo! as the default, you can bet I am check that list as it appears, and if something stands out as a potential good choice, I click it. Fast, friendly, not in my face, but occasionally useful.

    Advantage: Flock

  • Rendering pages
    Well, last but not least, the primary function of a web browser is to retrieve and display web pages. And the question of any given browser is: does it properly render the pages that it’s fetching? 

    This one is too tight to call. Safari is probably just a little more standards-compliant, but Flock, being Firefox under the hood, is more often used in testing by web developers.

    Overall, I can say I haven’t had a significant problem with either.

    Upshot: dead heat

Well, those are some of the vectors that came to my mind when comparing browsers and trying to decide whether or not to stick with Flock or go back to Safari.

By my count, Flock wins 7 to 4.

And therefore, Flock remains my default browser.

The real Apple media center

Jason O’Grady has posted an article at ZDnet on MediaCentral, a very nice mac media center application.

Looks very capable, and – critical for a Mac app – has a very nice, understated user interface.

However, I have to say … when I think of a Mac media center, this is the first thing that comes to mind:

Yup – Apple’s iPod. For now, iPod is the media center.

I would dearly, dearly dearly love for Apple to get in the home theater game, because I can’t stand the tangle of wires and complexity that now accompanies home theater … but it’s not there yet.

Zazzle: custom schwag, CafePress competitor

Looks like Zazzle is going to be giving CafePress a run for its money.

Make your own T-shirts, mugs, cards, postage, and prints, and sell it right from Zazzle’s site:

It’s fast, simple, and Zazzle will pay you up to 17% of the the sales you generate.

Very cool … look for more on Zazzle here in the next week or so.

[tags] zazzle, custom t-shirts, custom manufacturing, cafepress, john koetsier [/tags]

Joe’s Goals: the secret of the slight edge

What’s the “slight edge?”

I recently came across a book – The Secret of the Slight Edge, by Dan Zadra – that said “The real key to great achievement is to give yourself the slight edge – that extra 5% – time after time after time.”

That came to mind when I was using Joe’s Goals this morning.

Joe’s Goals is about the simplest tool you could imagine for managing your goals. When building the service, he must have asked himself Ward Cunningham’s question: “what’s the simplest thing that could possibly work.”

You stick a goal in, click Save, and you’re done. You can choose if it’s a positive goal (get more exercise) or a negative goal (eat less), but the default is positive.

But here’s the real magic of the system:

Most goal-setting applications are set up for episodic goals:

  • you enter a goal
  • you enter steps to take on the way to reaching that goal
  • you choose when each step will be done
  • you track yourself on all the steps, checking them off when complete
  • when the steps are finished, so is your goal

Joe’s Goals is different. And actually, Joe’s Goals is much better aligned for the goals that most people set and try to reach.

Instead of episodic goals, Joe’s Goals is for setting and tracking ongoing goals. Goals like daily exercise. Like one of my goals: not to eat after 8:00 (because if I do, my middle mysteriously widens).

Goals like these are not set and accomplished and forgotten: they go on and on and on, like the mythical Energizer bunny. And so your accomplishment of them goes on and on, also like the mythical Energizer bunny.

The beauty is that there is exactly one page to Joe’s Goals. Come to Joe’s Goals while logged in, and there are your goals. Right on the home page.

And tracking them could not possibly be easier: for those goals you’ve accomplished for the day, click in the box for today. Done. Goal status tracked, on to the next thing.

It’s such a perfect user interface that there almost isn’t one.

[tags] joes goals, goals, time management, web 2.0, ajax, dan zadra, slight edge, john koetsier [/tags]

Marketing genius: 50 site (re)designs

Web Designs from Scratch, a small British web design/consultancy firm, has hit on an amazingly bright idea to promote their firm, build their brand, bring in business, and just simply do something really cool: 50 Redesigns from Scratch.

It reminds me of One Thousand Paintings: the painter who is painting a thousand paintings (naturally), of the numbers 1 to 1000.

50 Redesigns from Scratch is genius. They’ll take 50 sites, redesign them, blog about them, write about them in a PDF book which will be available for download, and also write about them in an actual book which can be purchased. They’ve already got a mention on Digg with more than 1100 Diggs (including one from me), and other links are sure to follow.

The real genius is that this project, which is from a “company” which is so non-corporate as to have a Paypal donate button on their home page, is also going to be a money-maker. That’s right: this is not just a publicity stunt or a goodwill gesture:

We can only include a limited number of sites in the book. If you would like your site to be included, we’d love to hear from you.

– A one-off fee of just £725 (US$1,250) gets you:

– A professional redesign of your site’s home page by Ben Hunt

– Your site included in the book, and featured on this site, where it will be seen by like half a million people – guaranteeing great exposure

– All graphics files of the new design you need to help you implement your new design

At one and the same time, they’ve:

  • made this an artificially limited opportunity – hence making it more attractive in some intangibly human way
  • made this an event – which makes it much more interesting for companies or bloggers to buy in
  • promised clients something Joe’s Graphics down the corner (or even a top-flight $150/hour downtown agency) can’t offer: publicity
  • plus, as you can see by their first design, a simply great re-design for their website

What a concept – great marketing/branding/business development coup, all in one. Not to mention how much fun this should be!

[tags] marketing, buzz, viral, web2.0, webdesign, scratchmedia, web design from scratch, john koetsier [/tags]