The Website Owners Manual is finally out this friday! To celebrate its launch, I will be running free public Consultancy Clinics on the 20th November starting at 3PM (UK time). If you would like free advice about your website or would just like to hear the advice given to others, then join the conversation via the Boagworld blog.
A big part of most webs projects is wireframing. A wireframe is a communication tool, a design tool and a specification tool. Without it, there can be misunderstanding and miscommunication.
Balsamiq is a cross platform application that allows you to quickly put together wireframes that can later be easily edited.
Although Balsamiq is a great application it does suffer from one major flaw (beyond comic sans being its default font!). Balsamiq is great for creating wireframes but is not good for sharing them.
Balsamiq saves files in its own propitiatory format and although it will allow the export of images, this does not work well for interlinked pages.
There is a plugin called Napkee that allows you to export Balsamiq as HTML and CSS. However, this is clumsy at best and still needs to be hosted somewhere.
Enter Mockingbird. Mockingbird has obviously been closely modelled on Balsamiq and yet has the advantage of being an online application. It can do pretty much everything that Balsamiq can, but also allows you to share wireframes with others. You can even embed them on your own website, so others do not know you are using a third party tool.
So whether you are a web designer producing wireframes for your clients or a website owner building them for your own site, I would recommend giving mockingbird a try. Best of all its free, so there is no reason not to.
More on redesigning
Two weeks ago we featured a Web Designers Depot post entitled “Preparing and planning for a redesign.” It was a good post that focused on what clients need to do as part of a website revamp.
This week a post entitled “Redesign: When To Relaunch The Site and Best Practices” tackles a similar topic. However, what makes this one different is that it is focuses on web designers redesigning their own websites.
It is an interesting topic that certainly comes with its own unique challenges. As the author says:
How can we work on designing our clients’ websites successfully every day and then perpetually neglect our own?
The post goes on to answer this question as well as suggest ways we can avoid our own websites becoming neglected. Subjects she tackles includes:
- Why we struggle to redesign our sites
- Whether we should be redesigning at all
- Finding the time to redesign
- Planning a redesign
- Updating your brand
- Development and testing
The advice is great and although this post is aimed at web designers redesigning their own sites, it has lots of good advice that applies to any website owners. Certainly worth checking out.
Run IE6, IE7, and IE8 on the Same Machine Using Windows 7 XP Mode
It’s frustrating but testing your websites is an important part of our job. To make matters worse, it is much harder to test in multiple versions of Internet Explorer than it should be.
The problem as I am sure you know, is that it is impossible to install IE6, 7, and 8 side by side under the same operating system.
One solution to the problem is IETester. This truly remarkable piece of software allows you to easily switch between different versions of IE and even provides a load of development tools similar to Firebug.
Although there is no doubt that this is an impressive application, it is not perfect. No matter how good an emulator is, it is still not the same as using the real thing. As a result I am only willing to use this for ‘in development testing’. Before launch, I would still want to test in an actual build.
According to a post on Sitepoint this week it is now possible to ‘Run IE6, IE7, and IE8 on the Same Machine Using Windows 7 XP Mode.’ The post explains that this miracle is possible thanks to Microsoft Virtual PC.
Virtual PC is Microsoft’s alternative to VMware and VirtualBox. It’s available as a free download for most versions of Windows. As a standalone product, it’s functional but offers fewer facilities than the competition. However, XP Mode is Virtual PC’s killer feature. It provides:
- a fully licensed, stripped-down, virtual copy of Windows XP SP3.
- a clever facility which integrates the guest Windows XP OS with your Windows 7 host. In effect, you can run XP applications as if they were native Windows 7 programs. Although the XP application is isolated, it can still access the host’s files and systems.
The tutorial then goes on to explain how this technology will allow you to run the three versions of IE side by side.
Whatever our role, we should all be testing websites. As a result this is an absolute must read.
How to create clear web navigation menus
Gerry presents four ways you can improve your navigation in his own tongue-in-cheek style:
Stick with conventions
Every year a phone directory is delivered to my home and every year it’s the same. Have they no imagination in those phone companies? I mean, come on, hasn’t A-Z been done to death at this stage? Why don’t they try Z-A for a change?
Avoid audience based navigation
We once dealt with a department of agriculture who had the following menus: Farmers, Producers, Exporters, Researchers. What if you were a farmer who was also a producer, who exported most of your produce, and who right now wanted to do some soil analysis research? Where should you click?
Have a consistent place for your navigation. If you use the left column, keep it there. Don’t start shifting the navigation into the center or right columns as you go deeper into the site.
Avoid quick links
“Come, little links, gather round,” said the designer to the links. And the little links gathered round, all happy and expectant.
“Well, the good news is that we think you’re very special links and because you’re so special we’re going to call you Quick Links,” said the designer.
“Quick Links!” they shouted in unison. Then a silence fell and a little voice was heard to say:
“Master designer, does that mean the other links are Slow Links?”
I am being to wonder if Gerry is loosing the plot ;-)
Interview: The next generation
This week we are doing something a little different for our interview segment of the show. We have two great interviews with two up and coming stars of the web design scene. There is some real talent emerging and we are keen to showcase their work and passion here on the show.
Paul: So, yet another interview from Future of Web Apps and this time we are talking to Jamie Rumbelow. Good to have you on the show Jamie.
Jamie: It’s great to be here, it’s unexpected and …..
Paul: … and cool
Jamie: … and very cool. It’s very cool to be here on Boagworld
Anna: Hello Anna
Paul: There we go, good. Anna likes this, so much I know. Um, yeah, so we thought we’d get you in. Um, I know nothing about you. We’ve talked a bit on Twitter
Jamie: We have
Paul: But that’s about it, so tell me a bit about yourself, your background, a bit of what you’re doing and that kinda thing
Jamie: Right well, um, well my name’s Jamie
Jamie: Jamie Rumbelow and I’m fourteen so I’m still…
Paul: Excuse me! You’re fourteen!
Paul: Ok, I just wanna establish that, that’s fine
Jamie: So, I’m, I’m, I’m kind of a developer, um but not quite cos I’ve still got stuff to do…
Jamie: Like school and…
Paul: (laughs) just GCSEs and stuff like that, yeah
Jamie: You know, um, yeah I’m trying to get my name out into the scene. I’ve been actually started to do talking, I’ve been kinda launching a â€˜speaking’ career
Jamie: So I’m hoping to follow in the footsteps of the great Paul Boag
Paul: Oh well, you know
Paul: Don’t laugh Anna. Show respect
Jamie: Well yeah, I spoke at Tomorrow’s Web which was a conference run by a guy called Grant Bell and it was all about young people in technology
Jamie: And Anna spoke at it too and um it was, it was really good a day, wasn’t it?
Anna: Hmmm, yeah it was really good
Jamie: So yeah, really enjoyed that, um…
Paul: Ok. So, I mean…..you’re fourteen and you’re trying to get your name known in the scene. Um, that’s quite ambitious to start that at fourteen. Why? Why, why are you so desperate to kinda get in there now?
Jamie: Well, I’ve always been quite enthusiastic and quite…..driven, um, and I really want to, you know, come out of school, come out with…….education (laughs)
Paul: Yeah that would be good
Jamie: Yeah but actually having made a name for myself and already have people knowing about me, interested in stuff I do, so that eventually, when I do actually launch as a full time career I’ll already have good grounding to work on. But it’s not just that, I want to meet cool people and I wanna do stuff like this, cos I…..you know, meeting loads of amazing, great people it’s a really really good benefit.
Paul: So, I mean, you know do you find with the…you know….as you wanna do loads of speaking stuff, you’ve set up and run your own event as well
Paul: So, tell us a little a bit about that actually before I go on to the next thing
Jamie: Oh well, it’s called Cambridge Geek Day, um, I had the idea …last year, in December and my mum said â€˜It’s the most expensive, time consuming thing you could possibly do, why are you doing it?’ And she actually forbidded me from doing it.
Paul: (laughs) So that went well didn’t it! (laughs again)
Jamie: Yeah, so anyway, I, I hid it from behind her back, um, for ages…..and you lying to your mum, it’s really…..
Paul: That’s not good. Kids don’t lie to your parents
Jamie: Yeah exactly. But I knew….I knew that I could pull it off. Anyway I got sponsorship
Paul: Really, you managed to get sponsorship?
Jamie: Yeah. I got sponsorship from loads of really really good sponsors. I got loads of great speakers lined up and……anyway it’s all steaming ahead right now. So I… my… I woke up to 300 T-shirts being delivered to my door and my mum had no idea about it. So I just told her that I got sponsorship and she was very fine with it
Paul: Your mum is very cool, I have to say. That is impressive after she banned you
Jamie: But yeah, I think she was just worried about me cos, you know, I’ve got more important things to do.
Jamie: So yeah (laughs) back to the point. Um, yeah so it’s a conference for developers, it’s about developery topics
Jamie: And that’s kind of…because that’s what I know about, that’s what I do, I’d rather run a developer conference than a design conference, purely because…….
Paul: Yeah. And it’s the same…..specifically young people or…
Jamie: No, no, there aren’t enough young people in Cambridge
Paul: In the Cambridge area
Jamie: So, I did an internship with a company called Broader Sheet. Have you heard about them?
Paul: No I haven’t actually
Jamie: Well they’re making an intelligent news aggregator, um but they’re a small start up and they work from the Red Gate offices, have you heard of them?
Jamie: Um, so I was in the Red Gate offices and Red Gate do a start up incubator where they have loads of start-ups working within the offices and getting the food and that sort of thing. Um, and I met loads of really really cool people, really passionate, intelligent people, in Cambridge, doing start-ups stuff and being…..you know, so I thought it would be a really great opportunity to kinda capitalise on that amount of people and it’s a bit of a faff to come to London and go to Brighton and you know all the places where the conferences are held. So I thought I’d run my own one
Paul: Yeah, good for you…totally. So when’s that happening?
Jamie: November the 21st
Paul: Ok, so not long then
Jamie: No, not long at all, we haven’t started selling tickets yet but depending when this is out, if it ever is (laughs)
Paul: It will be out don’t worry
Jamie: We’ll probably be selling tickets by then. Tickets are gonna be Â£60
Jamie: But with that you get coffee when you’re….and biscuits and tea and stuff when you arrive and during all the breaks and you also get a two course meal for lunch. Um, and we’ve got an after party and it’s gonna be well put together and I’m making sure it’s high quality
Paul: See, I mean, that…. you gotta say is really impressive because so often I’m like, encouraging you know people to start up local groups and to get meeting up and if there’s nothing in your area then just to do something. And people always come back with â€˜Oh I don’t know if I could do that’. And you think, no disrespect, but if a fourteen year old could that then you know then these guys who are web professionals should be able to do it. So, I think you’re a…..you’re actually incredibly inspiring from that point of view.
Jamie: Well, I’m honoured, thank you
Paul: (laughs) So, I mean what’s the plan? You’re gonna do your GCSEs. Are gonna go through the normal career path of GCSEs, A Levels, University? Or what, you know….have you got any thoughts on that?
Jamie: Well, I wanna do A Levels, purely because……it’s shows a certain level of intelligence, you know to have A Levels and they’re good qualifications. Um, but I’m not quite sure about Uni. Now a lot of people who are young and have already got a bit of a head start in the tech scene didn’t go to Uni, Anna included
Paul: Yeah, Anna for example, yeah
Jamie: So, I don’t know whether it would be so much benefit….educationally. As far as life skills go, maybe it would be good, so you know, be able to grow up a bit and live by yourself and that sort of thing. But I think I’d still be able to cope with that so…….my family want me to go to Uni but I don’t particularly want to
Paul: Well, you know you don’t have to make that decision yet which is helpful
Jamie: No, plenty of time
Paul: So I mean…….Ok let’s get your perspective on the web scene as it stands at the moment because you know there’s a lot of old crusty people like me that are, you know, saying what the next big thing is and what we think is important and all of the rest of it but I’m quite interested in your perspective you know…you’re gonna be…so…..let’s say you…….let’s say you went to University, so you’ve got two years of A Levels, well you’re fourteen at the moment so it’s two years until your GCSEs isn’t it
Jamie: I’m doing….I’m starting my GCSEs this year, I’m in Year 10
Paul: Right, so that is one or two years……one…two until those are taken? Let’s say two. Then another two years A Level, right? Let’s say you didn’t go to University, cos otherwise we’re getting too far ahead. So, let’s say four years time, what do you think you’re going to be doing when you come out and start work? What do you think is gonna be different?
Jamie: Well, I think the….I think the Web’s being opened up a lot more in terms of actually a platform rather than just a resource. So, I spoke about this at Tomorrow’s Web and it was talking about how the….that actually from the very beginnings of the Web it was always documents, it was always……you know just information linking to one another. No we’re starting to see things popping out from that like the Web 2.0 movement, and Google Wave, which is really cool
Paul: Don’t tell me you’ve got…….
Jamie: I’ve got a…..do you want an invite?
Paul: Yes, I flippin’ do
Jamie: Ok, I’ll send you an invite
Paul: Thank you. How come he gets a copy of Google Wave before me?! How did you manage to swing that?
Jamie: Oh, I was in the Developer Preview and…..
Paul: Ah, that’s just mean…..
Jamie: Oh and I know Bob from Huddle, he’s CTO at Huddle ….I think
Paul: God, he’s fourteen and he’s better connected than I am. That’s really irritating
Jamie: I’ll send you an invite
Paul: No more. No more of these young talented people. We’re not interviewing anymore young, talented people on the show. It’s just depressing. Anyway, sorry you were saying…..cool stuff
Jamie: So, yeah Google Wave is really cool and I don’t think it’s the end all solution to communication on the Web, definitely not. And it’s…..the Developer Preview especially was mediocre in terms of implementation, how it was written, it was buggy, the user interface was terrible, etc. Um but I can see the ideas behind it and the way it’s going forward and I really think that within a few years if we…..I think we really need to re-think how we talk and how we use the Web to communicate. Cos as I said it’s very kinda…..almost linear conversation, it’s been….you know we’ve always had bulletin boards or blogs with comments that you know…emails, all these communication platforms that we have on the Web aren’t particularly…….well they’re not particularly suited to the Web
Paul: Mmmm, and even if you ….email is like the kinda equivalent of the page-based stuff is just sending letters backwards and forwards isn’t it?
Jamie: Exactly. It’s like faxing
Paul: Instead of things like APIs and stuff like that you know you’re passing data backwards and forwards which in much more inline with Google Wave and passing….you know….chunks….packets of data of information backwards and forwards, so….
Jamie: But APIs really excite me
Paul: Oh do they?
Jamie: Yeah A) from a techie point of view cos I you know…um and also cos you can do so much with so little code, so little time and you can actually make some really cool stuff. This guy called Chris Harlman
Paul: Yeah I know Christian
Jamie: Yeah, he’s good fun
Paul: Yeah he is
Jamie: Um, he’s the …..he’s the Developer Evangelist for Yahoo I think
Paul: Yes, that correct, something like that
Jamie: And he’s been preaching YQL a lot and YQL is this um….SQL-like which is the query language that communicates databases. But YQL is like that but for the Web so you can query APIs effectively and then it all goes to Yahoo, Yahoo caches it, it will go to Yahoo servers, all that sort of thing but it’s all actually really really well thought out and well put together and his blog is all powered by YQL. So, it’s got all his presentations, all the books he’s written, all of the events he’s going to… from up coming, he’s photos from Flickr, he’s tweets from Twitter, all of his social presence is all combined into this one through a couple of YQL codes and I think it’s really cool that now we can do that. I think that we just need to start thinking about how we can use that data in different ways and just expanding that more and making that even…..
Paul: So that’s the kinda stuff you’d like to get into when you’re actually…in the…
Jamie: Yeah, maybe
Jamie: If I don’t…if my ambitions of being a rockstar don’t….you know…….turn out, yeah
Paul: Yeah, don’t pan out. I think you’re going down the wrong route for that, I have to say. You’re mixing with the wrong crowd if you wanna be a rockstar.
Ok well, it’s really good to talk to you Jamie and it’s good see the future of Web Design is safe, that there are people like you out there and that you’re getting stuck in now. I hope it’s a real encouragement to…..cos I know a lot of students listen to this and so it’s really good to hear that there are other young people out there getting stuck in. So, thank you very much
Jamie: Thank you
Thanks goes to Debbie-Jayne Reyes for transcribing this interview.
Also one quick note about the geek event Jamie was organising. Unfortunately this has had to be delayed. However, if you follow Jamie on his blog then you can find out when it is rescheduled.
Paul: Ok, so joining me is James Proud from GigLocator. Good to have you on the show James.
James: Thank you for having me.
Paul: Now basically I’m doing this interview because Anna told me that you’re really cool and you talk some great stuff and I needed to get you on the show, so Anna is here too. Come on say “Hello”.
Paul: And she’s now going to ask all the questions. Go Anna.
Paul: I’ll break you in. So first of all, tell us about GigLocator.
James: Sure, well GigLocator is a live music site, basically. Its completely worldwide, so whatever country, genre of music, artist and we will hopefully have all their past and upcoming gigs, and you’ll be able to easily find the tickets for the gigs so you don’t have to pay through-the-nose, for example, if you saw a gig on ticketmaster and it was £20, if you come to us you might see was the seetickets gig link and that’s £15. So you can get the cheapest tickets always up to date and you don’t have to miss out on gigs and its just making it a lot easier to go to music you love without have to trawl through all the ticket sites etc.
Paul: And you said you created this yourself and with one other guy?
James: I have got a co-founder. He’s mainly dealt with all negotiations with the ticket providers, I’ve done the design front-end and back-end stuff.
Paul: The immediate thing that springs to mind is: flipping heck that’s a big lo’ job to undertake! You’re looking at being worldwide here and you’ve had to arrange and negotiate with all the ticket providers.
James: Yeah, it’s been quite hard, he’s been dealing with people in the Czech Republic and GermansÉ Yeah it’s quite hard, but we’ve managed to get a lot of good data.
Paul: Ok, so you’ve got some good data, but all of these ticket people all round the world have all got their different systems, how the hell do you build something like that?
James: Three months of building a system that can normalise all of the different types of data. So whenever we get a new feed in, for example, you have a really decent feed that has all the artist names and the address of venue, then you find another feed that doesn’t have the artists name, it’ll just have ‘the artist name – Live Tour’. So all you’ve got to work with is ‘Madonna’s Live Tour’. So you’ve got to build a system that can decipher that its actually Madonna performing though you only have that title. They might only give you the name of the venue, so we’ve got to deal with finding all these things and putting them all together, but things are going quite well and we managed to sort it out.
Paul: That’s pretty impressive. So is this venture capital funded or is it being boot-strapped, how are you going about building it?
James: We are boot-strapping at the moment. We didn’t want to go down the route of getting seed funding early on because I could build it without the funding so we’ve just basically knuckled down and lived without money for a bit, but we’re going very well at the moment.
Paul: That’s quite a scary thing to do, did you work somewhere previously?
James: I was doing my A-Levels and doing some freelance work on the side, so I used to work with my co-founder for Coca-Cola music, Universal music doing freelance work there and that got us into the live music space. Then 6 or 7 months ago I said ‘I’m not doing freelance work anymore and I’m just going to focus on this’. So i’ve not earned any money for our consultancy and he’s just done small jobs on the side to pay for server costs, and it’s going fine.
Paul: That’s a really brave decision to make. So how old are you?
James: I was 18 a month ago.
Paul: Ok, so you’ve come out of A-Levels straight into this. That in itself is a big thing to do. You have the thing: ‘Do I go off to university? What about my career path?’ Why have you gone down this route?
James: I’ve taken a gap year out, so at the end if this goes tits-up I could go to univ, but the rate that things are going now I hopefully won’t. I’ve never really wanted to work for anyone else at all and I saw this as a chance at an idea and I was getting some great feedback so I thought let’s just do this and focus my time on it.
Paul: Its really interesting, this is what ScrunchUp is all about, which is now online and up and running. Little cheer from Ryan in the background there. This is something you struggled with as well Anna, what you’re doing: you did freelance for a bit, now maybe you’re looking for a permanent position. Do you ever regret not going to university?
Anna: Of course I do, all my friends are at uni, they’re all having fun, they’ve got it quite easy. Sometimes I feel like I’m not ready for this. I don’t regret not going because I just think working is better for me, but I do sometimes wonder: ‘What would it have been like?’ So either way I would’ve regretted my decision.
Paul: You’re just someone that’s ‘glass half empty’ kind of person. The green isÉ ‘The green is always grasser on the other side’? The grass is always greenerÉ
Anna: One things I wanted to ask you James, has your age got in the way of what you do or has it helped you?
James: When I was first developing, it got in the way because I couldn’t spend my whole waking life doing it so I’d have to go to college. So now that it’s finished its no longer a factor. It’s helped in a way, I always tried when doing work before launching before I had to show my face I never really promoted my age I just didn’t think it was important. But it’s helped me the fact that people are amazed that you’ve done this at this age, but I’ve done coding since I was 9 and I was paid at 12.
Paul: You got paid? Hang on, you got paid to code when you were 12 years old?
Paul: I fell really old! When I was 12 they didn’t have blooming computers! So what’s next then? Is this actually launched and up and running?
James: Yes it’s been up and running for about 7 weeks, the reception, the things that have happened are amazing, it’s phenomenal.
Paul: Give me some examples.
James: Im now getting paid to speak at places. I was on the TV.
Paul: You were on the TV? Tell us about that, being on the TV’s cool.
James: A couple of days ago Channel 4 were looking for someone that runs a website but also has experience with Google Wave and I did a small piece on the news about Google Wave and how it affects me as a web developer and a site owner.
Paul: Ok, let’s go off on a complete tangent because I haven’t played with Google Wave. What’s it like? Is it as good as everybody says it is?
James: It’s quite good, but at the moment it’s lacking features. But Google’s made it so open that people can make features. So today they released it to 100,000 people. So hopefully with all of the developers that are now on it some amazing things will happen, give it a month or so and it should be quite a good platform.
Paul: That’s the big hurdle, you can build a great app, but if no one has heard of it then you fall down. Especially when you’ve spent so much time negotiating all these deals and developing it. So how are you – you’re boot-strapping it still, you haven’t got a lot of money behind you – how are you building a bit of momentum behind this?
James: We were at FOWA today, I was invited to come down. I got a free ticket. So I’m doing a bit of work with Sun, promoting it that way. But we’ve not actually gone full steam ahead with our PR or press because we are waiting to develop a few exciting new features that we think a lot of people will be interested in. So we’ve built a solid platform that does what it does: gigs, tickets etc making sure that’s perfect. But now we’re building on some extra things onto that so later in the month we’ll release those and alongside that we’ll start doing press.
Paul: So how are you intending to do it, or is it mainly your colleague that’s doing that?
James: The press stuff? Well because I’ve been doing all the speaking and I’ve been around London and all the events, I’ve built up a good relationship with quite a lot of people. So we are going to be targeting some music related stuff, just try and get it out there. Whatever that it takes. I’ll do anything. Take one for the team.
Paul: That’s a good entrepreneurial spirit. I like that very much. Have you got any more questions?
Anna: Yeah, so where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
James: I’d like to say a year or so after I’ve had my exit. Either this is doing tremendously well still, or its had the exit. But hopefully I’ll still be working for myself working on fun things whatever it may be.
Paul: So that’s the plan, to go for an exit point where you sell the app and move onto the next thing?
James: Yeah, I think everyone is looking for their big exit. It’s either an exit or an IPO. If you’re money orientated. Work for the love of it. No I love it, its a great thing, it’s my life.
Paul: You could build a lifestyle business, for example, the business I run is a lifestyle business. We run the company so that it gives us a good standard of living and we’ll run it forever like that. Im not criticising, but looking for an exit is a different way of doing things. Well that was really interesting, i think its great to talk to people that are actually out there building these web apps but not with massive budgets and not ‘in the Valley’ and all the stereotypical stuff, you’re boot-strapping it, there’s just a couple of you guys doing it and it’s still possible.
James: It’s not about having a mass of money, it’s about losing control of your company. Why would you want to be a minority shareholder in a company, it’s your baby. I personally wouldn’t be motivated to work if it wasn’t mine still.
Paul: Of course. Thank you for your time and we’ll get you back on in the future.
Thanks goes to Simon Hamp for transcribing this interview.
Elevator Pitch: A/B tests.com
We are introducing a new segment to the show this week. It is called Elevator Pitch and is produced by our very own Paul Stanton. The idea is that Paul interviews companies who have a product that might be of interest to you guys. They give a quick elevator pitch and Paul asks them some questions.
We start the series with ABtests.com.
Stanton: OK so today I am here with Joshua Porter, Hello Joshua
Joshua: Hi Paul;
Stanton: How are you doing?
Joshua:I am doing good, what time is it there?
Stanton: It is about 10:30 in the morning.
Joshua: Ok it is still dark here so
Stanton:(laughs) So where abuts are you based
Joshua: I am north of Boston in a small sea coast town called Newburyport, Massachusetts
Stanton: Ok so is it night time there? I can never figure out the timezone differences.
Joshua: yes it is still dark, nobody is up so this is usually when I get most of my work done actually
Stanton: Nice and quiet I guess
Joshua: Yes absolutely
Stanton: So we have got you on today to talk about a website you are involved with called abtests.com, so give us the elevator pitch, what it is and why you made it.
Joshua: Sure, so yes its abtest.com and it is a really simple site the idea is that we upload and allow other people to upload the results of A,B tests. For those not familiar with A,B testing it is really pretty simple if or while you are designing a web page or screen in a web application you might design two separate instances of that page and then test to see which one works better. So you split up your traffic your audience coming to the page into two and 50% of the people see design A and 50% of the people will see design B and then you measure to see which audience converted better against some goal you have set up. For example say you have a sign up in a web application and you have a sign up page and you want to test two different variations to see which one works better, that is essentially the gist of A,B tests. The reason why we created the site was for people to share their tests with others so the way it started was I had been doing a bunch of testing and I had seen some people online writing up some of their tests and what I found was that I always found the results really fascinating. So for example we have some write ups on the site now where people have provided two screenshots of design A and design B and the only thing different is simply the placement of the call to action button, the primary sign up button and after doing testing it turns out that sometimes the placement actually matters, if you place the button in a place on the page then you actually get more people clicking on it. So these sort of things fascinated me and I had seen a few of them written up in blog posts and things online but I wanted a lot more of them and the designers that I have talked to really liked that concept as well so we created the site. I created it with a couple of guys from a start up called performable that I am involved in as well. You know we are kind of seeing where it goes at this point. We have had a lot of interest in it and we have found some interesting issues around it such as for example some people will never upload the results of their test because they want to keep them secret but others see it as a great way to promote their startup or something like that.
Stanton: Right so you are not actually providing the mechanism for people to do A,B tests this is simply for people that have had results and want to publish them and share them with other people, that right?
Joshua: Right now yeah, we do have quite a few things in the works but we will not be providing like a piece of software that allows you to do A,B testing. We might provide some other software that does things in and around testing, ermm but there are plenty of tools out there one of the tools the most popular one is google website optimiser which is a free tool which allows you too do A,B Testing and one of the folks who is promoting abtest.com with us is kissmetrics they have some tools in that space too. So we are not going to compete with them in any way.
Stanton: OK so how long has the site been running for now?
Joshua: The site has been running for about a month now I think
Stanton: OK and roughly how many tests are up there now
Joshua: We have er gee I don’t know what the number is 12 or 15. I haven’t actually been spending as much time as I wanted to on the site because I am actually working on a startup and building some other software. But we are .. the big challenge again is kind of getting people comfortable with the notion of sharing their tests. That is kind of the big challenge now so we are working on that.
Stanton: Sure, it is quite amazing to look through the stuff that people have put on there and you see the screenshots side by side and you have to look closely on them to see what has changed because it shows how just the tiniest change in either the text or the placement or the colouring in some cases can lead to quite big percentage improvements on calls to action so I think it will be really useful for people to come and have a look through and hopefully share their own tests as well.
Joshua: Yeah, one of the big findings that we are seeing is that testing like this or viewing the results of these tests really changes peoples perceptions of design, I mean it is kind of a pretty big insight to some people to see that OK you know the colour of a button does change things, the call to action copy can have a dramatic effect so what I hope kind of for the site and the test results is that teams can take them back and start talking about real design issues and hopefully push to the background things like politics and emotional debates and “this is what I think” and so this is what we are going to try type of arguments and say you know what testing really does work. lets really start testing things. I think at some point teams will start focusing more on really important things, like their users, the words that matter to their users, the things that motivate their users and really kind of return to the basics of design.
Stanton: Great so you have kind of given us a couple of hints to where the site may go in the future, have you any other plans
Joshua: SO two things I am working on right now. One is to really fill out the site with information how to test. as I mentioned we are not planning on providing a tool to test, but people want to know what A,B testing is. They want to know how to do it and they want to see examples of what other people have tested so they can get a idea of what they should test. That has been one of the biggest surprises that people do not know what to test so people you know have the question shall we test another colour?, should we test different copy or different button styles? whatever. So that has been a big thing so we are going to round out the site with a bunch of information, content basically around where to test and some of the interesting topics. So for example actually I am working on some copy now that is what A,A testing is, a version of A.B testing but is a version of testing where you test the same thing twice so 50% of people, you basically segment your audience into two parts and the two parts seem the same thing and that might sound like a ridiculous idea because you are testing the same thing twice but it is actually valuable thing to do early on when you are getting into testing because it tells you how much noise is in your system. So if you run design A versus design A itself and you have some difference there, so one has slightly higher conversion than the other and of course all of the numbers you get from testing are fuzzy to a certain extent the question is how much, so if you have some variance there and you know there is noise in your testing setup and you know that is your margin of error. So after you do A,A testing then when you move on to A,B testing you can say the margin of error is about 1% so then in that case if B outperforms A by 1% you know it is not really, it may not be a significant result because there is that much noise in your system to begin with. Anyway tat is just one example of some of the content stuff we are going to fill the site out with going forward.
Stanton: So sounds really good. A,A testing is something I have never heard of before so that is quite interesting and I will guess you will become quite a good resource for all this testing, for people to go to.
Joshua: yes I hope so.
Stanton: So where can people find out more information.
Joshua: So they can go to www.abtests.com check it out we are actually going to push some changes up soon that allow you to view tests and view related tests so hopefully it will be easier even than it is now.
Stanton: Good stuff, well thank you for that
Joshua: Thank you Paul
Stanton: We will hopefully check back with you in the future to see how things are going.
Joshua: Great sounds good.
Thanks goes to Shaun Hare for transcribing this segment.