166. Boldly Go | Boagworld - Web & Digital Advice

Web & Digital Advice

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Paul Boag Posted by: Paul Boag On Wednesday, 20th May, 2009

166. Boldly Go

On this week’s show: Paul shares 10 ways to put your content in front of more people, Emily reviews Bubble Timer and we discuss the role of gender in design.

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Housekeeping: Facebook

Good news everybody! Boagworld now has a Facebook page. I know, its exciting isn’t it. Contain your enthusiasm, you are making a scene.

Seriously though, I wanted to let you all know because I am aware I spend most of my life refusing friends requests on Facebook. I made a decision early on to keep Facebook for personal friends rather than a promotional tool for Boagworld. I always hate refusing people and should have setup a page or group ages ago. Somehow I never got around to it.

Anyway, the Boagworld Facebook page now exists so make sure you take a minute to join it.

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News

Google supports RDFa and Microformats

The big news of the week is Google’s announcement that they will now be supporting RDFa and Microformats.

Both RDFa and Microformats are methods of marking up information on a webpage in such a way that it can be understood by a machine. Google now understands four such types of embedded data. These are…

When Google discovers this type of data on your website it will enhance your search engine results to include the data.

An example Google search result including a review

Yahoo has offered support for embedded data for some time. However, Google’s market share gives a considerable boost to the Microformats community and is of massive interest to those interested in SEO.

However, before rushing to check if your embedded data appears in Google’s results, you should be warned that it almost certainly will not. According to Jeremy Keith Google has only implemented this feature on a small subset of sites. However, he goes on to say:

The list of approved sites will increase over time so if you’re already publishing structured contact and review information, let Google know about it.

Nevertheless this finally gives a solid business case to implement embedded data, which I have been advocating for some time.

Launching a new blog

I have often talked about the importance of running your own blog. I have explained how having a blog is an opportunity to share your expertise and is important in winning new business or advancing your career. However, in all that time I have not once given any advice about launching a blog. This is a definite omission on my part.

Of course one approach is to soft launch your blog. This gives you the opportunity to build a backlog of posts and find your voice. However, there are other occasions when you need to make a splash when you launch. If that is you I recommend reading 10 Ways to Launch a New Blog with a ‘Bang’.

This Web Designer Depot post provides some great advice that costs virtually nothing:

  • Prepare amazing content in advance
  • Run a viral twitter campaign
  • Guest post on other blogs
  • Interact with your user base

However, it also makes some suggestions for organisational blogs that have a budget for launch. These include:

  • Give away prizes
  • Host a launch party
  • Hold a contest

Of course many of these suggestions are just as applicable to those looking to breath new life into an existing blog. So if you have a blog, read this post.

The creative process

There is two posts that have emerged this week that offer two very different perspectives on the creative process. Both are worth reading if you are a designer.

The first is written by Keith Robinson over at Blue Flavor and is entitled Don’t Lose That Creative Thinking. At its most basic level this post is a rant. However, as rants go it is extremely thought provoking and inspiring.

In this post Keith rails against constraints and convention. He argues we are too often constrained by technology writing “Let’s let technolgoy work for us! Not the other way around” and that too often we choose to blindly accept conversational wisdom instead of thinking for ourselves. He writes:

What ever happened to creativity and opinionated thinking in design?  Has science and data removed the artistic? What about trusting your instinct as a designer and making the way for future innovation.  I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to sit back and watch people do the same thing over and over and then turn around and question someone who’s making a creative stand.

It is a definite call to arms and although somewhat extreme at time you cannot help but be inspired to create more and compromise less.

Talking of inspiration I also want to mention The Evolution of a Website Design by Mike Kus. The post tracks the evolution of the StackOverflow website that Mike has been designing over the last few days.

Stackoverflow website

The reason I mention this post is that it fascinating to see the process of another designer. What makes this even more interesting is the fact that Mike is relatively new to web design coming as he does from a print background. Seeing his process really brings home some of the points raised by Keith in his post. Mike seems unconstrained by technical considerations and web conventions. As a result the work he produces is both original and beautifully crafted.

Launch a business not a side project

We end today with another post from the guys at Carsonified. This one is from Ryan Carson and is titled “Launch A Business, Not a Side Project“. In the post Ryan shares his own experiences of launching web applications and provides a wake up call to those of us who have focused so heavily on getting an app out of the door that we have forgotten it requires business mechanisms to suppport it.

Notice that I refer to “us”. That is because most of what is written in this post mirrors our own experiences of launching Getsignoff. When we were building Getsignoff all we could think about was getting it launched. However, as Ryan points out in his post, this is only the beginning of the story. Even though I have warned clients against it many times before, I had the “build it and they will come” mentality.

Ryan focuses on 4 key areas that are often forgotten by web developers in the scramble to get an app live. These are:

  • Making time for marketing
  • Assigning recource to kick ass customer support
  • Spending money on advertising
  • Using A/B testing

As Ryan writes:

The majority of apps were built by small web design firms or freelancers who bought into the dream without really understanding how much time it takes to make an app succeed.

This is so true. It certainly was for us. Although we have great plans for Getsignoff, it has been a painful journey and you can bet that any future development will be backed by the business processes to make it a success.

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Feature: 10 ways to put your content in front of more people

What is more important – driving traffic to your site or encouraging as many people as possible to see your content? Believe it or not, they are not one in the same thing. In this week’s feature Paul looks at 10 ways you can make sure your content is seen by as many people as possible.

Read ’10 ways to put content in front of more people’

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Audible recommendation

Download a free audiobook today

This week I would like to recommend The Long Tail by Chris Anderson on Audible.com. The Long Tail is a superb book that I would recommend to anybody running a website especially if it is an ecommerce site. The book examines how the web has changed the value of information and commodities. It looks at the huge opportunities available to reach ever more niche markets and make money from the long tail.

Best of all if you sign up with Audible you can get this book totally free. Simply go to www.audiblepodcast.com/boagworld and claim your free credit.

If you want to listen to it, Audible has it! With over 60,000 titles and virtually every genre, you’ll find what you’re looking for. Get a free audiobook and 14-day trial today by signing up at www.audiblepodcast.com/boagworld.

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Listeners feedback:

Bubble Timer Review

Hi Paul, hi Marcus and hello to the Boagworld listeners, my name is Emily and I am here to submit a review of a time-tracking application called Bubbletimer.

First of all I have to make a little apology for the sound in the background. I work from home and it turns out I live on quite a noisy street which I have to say I don’t really notice until I try and make a recording and then all sorts of weird sounds in the background, so please excuse the background noise.

So I’m submitting a review of Bubbletimer in response to show number 158 where Paul talks about the reality of home working which is also a blog post on the Boagworld website and it was actually the blog post which really inspired me to want to make a response, in particular a comment by XX who asked about how Paul tracks his time. I immediately wanted to make a response, which I did in the comments but I thought I’d share it here to share this fantastic time-tracking web application that I use. It’s called Bubbletimer and basically what it does is it tracks time in 15 minute increments by activity and then by day and it produces reports for your chosen time period, say a week.

There is a 15 minute time chime reminder which reminds you to track your time and forces you to consider what you’re doing and whether that is what you’re meant to be doing or whether that’s the most productive thing you could be doing.

There is also a mobile web interface which can be quite nice if you’ve got an iPhone, you can be online all the time. There are also multi-user capabilities in that you can share reports with others so if you’re working in a team you can see how much progress everyone else is making.

What it doesn’t do is; it doesn’t convert time to time slips, it doesn’t integrate with an invoicing application and it doesn’t recognise when you’re inactive or when you’ve changed tasks, as I know some time tracking applications can do.

So really it’s for self-employed people, freelancers or those working on fixed-price projects who want to track their progress on that project, or anyone who needs help motivating themselves in getting things done. It’s not for employees because of it not having time-sheets or integrating into a invoicing scheme, I’d say it’s not good if you’re self-employed or a freelancer working on an hourly basis.

What’s great about this application is that you can track your non-billable time and for me that’s been a real lifesaver. I am one half of a small web design partnership and I do lots of accounting, quoting, emailing and lots of tasks that are not specifically billable, or billable tasks that I’ve already quoted a set fee for, so with this I can measure the actual time spent against what I’ve quoted.

Of course you can also use it to track how much time you actually spend on ‘Social Networking’ every day, you know, see how long you actually spend on Twitter or commenting on blog posts. Another example of one of the tasks I’ve been tracking with it is my bookkeeping and it’s really been useful for me to see how much time I’ve spent on that and whether I ought to think about hiring a bookkeeper part-time because I can look at my reports from a week or over a month and see how much time I’ve actually spent doing that.

It’s a really simple, easy-to-use interface, there’s some really nice details in there like the ‘scribbles’ when you complete a 15 minute bubble of time are different, so there’s kind of a texture to it there. It’s also growing to accommodate popular feature requests as requested on the Get Satisfaction forum, which is really responsive if you have any problems, or if you have feature requests, I’ve seen new feature be introduced since I’ve been using it.

Now I shouldn’t end without telling you that it isn’t free, there is a cost, but it’s just $20 a year and I think it is well worth it for someone who wants to get things done. As I said my name is Emily and my Twitter name is @gradualist you can find out more about me there, thanks for listening!

Do you have a tool that you swear by? Maybe a web design tool, or just a tool that keeps you organized? If so send us an audio review we can put on the show.

The role of gender in web design

We have received an interesting audio question from Dennis. He asks whether any of our clients have expressed a concern over the gender of our designers. He cites his own experience where a female client said his designs were too ‘practical’ and not ‘fun enough’ because he was a man.

First off, I have to say that your client sounds rather sexist to me! The implication that men cannot design a ‘fun’ site is absurd.

That said, gender does play a part in a designers style. For example, women are much better able to perceive colour than men and so tend to make better use of colour. However, gender is just one of many factors that shapes a designers style. Other factors include:

  • Cultural background
  • Design schooling
  • Personality
  • Design leaning (e.g. illustration, typography, photography)

The list could go on. The point is that what we perceive as masculine or feminine design, is not solely produced by the associated gender. There is overlap and a blurring of  lines.

Where I think things get more tricky is when a male designer is asked to design for a female audience (or vice versa). This is more challenging because good design involves empathy with the user. Unsurprisingly it is harder for a man to put himself in the position of a woman. However, it is probably no more difficult than for a young person to visualize the needs of an older user. It is the ability to do this that separates a good designer from an exceptional one. The key is thorough research into the target audience and an ability to steer clear of preconceptions and stereotypes.

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