Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Simple words for search engines

Jakob Nielsen has written an article 'Use old words when writing for finability'. As per usual it brings everything down to the basics of focusing on what users actually do and how they think.

All good sensible stuff.
There are many elements to search engine optimization, but SEO guideline #1
is our old friend, "speak the user's language." Or, more precisely, when you
write, use keywords that match users' search queries.

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Friday, August 25, 2006

When an intranet case study is actually a portal sell job

The process of conferences is an interesting one. The financial pressures of involving sponsors and exhibitors is important so that events actually proceed and let's face it without conferences or events many of us will not have the chance to meet other intranet or portal professionals.

What I find somewhat annoying is when a highlighted case study is actually turned into a chance for a company to focus on selling software to what is essentially a captive audience (difficult to get up and walk out in the middle of 60 people in a conference).

So let's look at the actual 'case study'. I won't mention the company (yeah pretty gutless of me) or conference involved as that will be pretty easy (for the few readers I have) to identify themselves.

Things to look out for:

  • The presenter is not an intranet/knowledge/web etc manager but a 'Sales Leader' (Sure it's really obvious to me now...)
  • There are lots of screenshots of said 'portal' but the focus is on cost savings and 'enterprise solutions' rather than processes and users
  • Content and the actual intranet /portal team are not mentioned
  • On question of 'So what problems do you have with the site ?'- answer is 'none' (is there really an intranet or portal in the world that really has no problems?? Come on do I really look that stupid?)
  • The presentation is really really slick and the presenter is defensive and cannot handle questions during the presentation
  • There is a big sign of the said company up the front of the room
  • Functionality presented is pretty much out of the reality realm of most organisations
  • The presenter dismisses comments from previous presenter who is a vendor-neutral free thinking and idea sharing sort of bloke
  • Presenter talks about white paper marketing material from his company as 'free IP'.

To be fair the site looked really good and said company really has put their software to great use internally and they have some great figures to back them up. But they are a slick multinational IT company with lots of innovators and early adopters. This doesn't apply to the majority of companies or people in the audience.

When I see a case study from one of the world's leading organisations I really want to hear about the site not the software that drives it. If you want to do a sales job leave it for the next room.

Next time get your intranet manager to front up and talk about the realities of managing intranets and portals. They'll be far more appreciated by those of us that are in the operational trenches and simply won't buy your perfect world view. We'll probably also be more likely to actually go and investigate your software rather than feeling they've already watched an hour long commercial.

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Intranet and Portal conference write-up

Michael Sampson has kindly written up the entire Strategic Intranet and Enterprise Portal Management conference held over the last few days in Auckland including my own presentation on Intranet Content: Accessible, Usable and Useful.

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Intranet access

James Robertson has written an article on intranet log-in.

The focus is 'future proofing' your intranet to deliver personalised services in the future as well as security.

The point about the intranet log-in being based on the network or PC login is very apt.

Forcing users to log into the intranet when they have already logged into their PC is redundant and a usability block.

This usually means that a users log-in is based on a browser session, so once the browser is closed the session is lost and they will have to login again when reopening the browser. This makes it difficult to get users to set their browser homepage to the intranet (if they have a choice) and using the intranet as a central staff communications channel becomes difficult if people have to log-in everytime.

These issues get more complex depending on the organisation and environment the intranet is located in.

I am currently working on a system where single sign-on has yet to be implemented and we are moving from a free access staff directory to one behind a log-in. This change in user access (despite the new directory being superior) is likely to be a huge issue on launch and it will not be resolved until the single sign-on capability has been implemented in the future.

Basic line here is to make it as simple as possible for users to access the intranet, can identify users specifically, and to make sure that security is also being looked after.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Web 2.0 - just meaningless marketing hyperbole?

Joshua Greenbaum has written a funny but apt article at Intelliegent Enterprise titled Application Insight: Why I Hate Web 2.0 .

"the fact that Web 2.0 is hard to pin down is one of the reasons I hate it--my need for precise terminology is aggrieved by the ease with which Web 2.0 is used to describe everything from next-generation social computing to dynamic, interactive Web sites to whatever Wired thinks is cool this week.

But the real reason I hate Web 2.0 is because hidden beneath all the new stuff that is collecting under the Web 2.0 umbrella is a simple fact: All that coolness exists to do an even better and more invasive job of marketing goods and services to Web users. "




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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Flash - 10 years of wow-wee

Wired has an interview with Adobe discussing the 10 years of Flash.

Adobe's line on accessibility issues with Flash is 'don't blame the tools'.

Fair enough and I'm pretty much over and tired of the whole 'value of Flash' debate.

If you want to waste time with Flash animations go ahead. Same with navigation menus.
Even develop forms in Flash if you wish (one of the more crappy things that Flash is being used for. I have even seen this done on public sector websites !).

But let's be honest unless you are using Flash purely for interactive visual content (supported by non Flash content) and are using it to actually create sites/applications for a wide marketplace then you are doing your company a disservice and are ignoring your users.

There's a place for gratuitous use of Flash on design sites and targeted sites for marketing purposes but informational sites for a wide audience need to be simple and focused on the content that users come to your site for.

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Elements of Style

Chritina Wodtke has written an article at Boxes and Arrows on using the writing reminders from seminal E.B White book 'The elements of style' (1959) in relation to user experience design.

It's a good article along similar 'checklist' lines as Web Dogma.

It's great to see something so simple (but important) such as the reminders from that book still highly relevant today and the practical ability to apply them to other areas.

Style should not just be considered an individual opinion/perception. It is vital that designers, writers and developers understand the needs of end users and their key objectives.
This obviously should be taken within the context of application in a business environment rather than an artistic or open creative forum where they should apply their skills whatever way they wish.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Iterative design vs large scale projects

Jared Spool at uie.com has written an article on the 'Quiet death of the major re-launch' (thanks to James Robertson for the pointer).

It's a great article and highlights that iterative improvements and changes are generally far more effective than large one off redesign/re-launches.

On many occasions the redesign/relaunch is just a makeover and fails to tackle any of the real issues affecting a site and I have found that these tend to be better handled and fixed with a step by step approach.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Jakob Nielsen interview and the usability culture clash

Sitepoiint has published an interview with Jakob Nielsen.

It's an interesting interview as Sitepoint tends to be read mostly by freelance web designers and developers including many that run their own sites dependent on adwords and by reviewing the forums a lot of crappy little links sites with little regard for quality content. (Sitepoint itself however gives great coverage of the web development and design sector)

The comments on the article reflect this with many people dismissing Nielsen out of hand and rubbishing his opinions. For the guy who brought usability out to the masses, has written several successful books on the subject and most likely has made a good deal of cash from it all I find this somewhat strange if not plainly ridiculous.

I agree that sometimes his opinions are a little reactionary and negative (and on occasion worng) but the man is a researcher. His opinions are based on evidence he has collected. So he is mostly evidence driven apart from the occasional guru marketing that he gets caught up in.

The comments to the article raise a kind of 'culture clash' around usability. In my experience usability seems only to be discussed positively in medium to larger sized organisations while at a local developer/ designer level it seems to be considered something that gets in the way of 'creative control' and the designers/developer's usually well developed but brittle ego.

For those of us that have tried to promote and advocate usability and accessibility to designers and developers we know how hard it can be and without the research of people like Jakob Nielsen I think this task would be even harder.

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Portal spin, fact and fiction

Just a pointer to a James Robertson 'critque' on a recent 'article' about portals.

I fully agree with James in what he has to say and it is good to see a good old rant coming from him.

Most portal material I read always seems to be advertorial or just plain marketing hyperbole rather than any objective discussion around what portal software can do and if the benefits are actually there.

It's not that the functioinalty of portal software is bad, in fact I have seen some pretty nifty stuff, it's more around the idea that portals are being presented as the final word in document/information/content/communication/intranet/website management solutions and I believe this to be disingenious.

There is so little critical comment on portal software that it is very difficult to get good free advice. There is a whole swag of information however on portal software promoting it without any objective commentary.

So if you're looking at purchasing any portal software ensure that the marketing blurbs are considered just that and that you do extensive critical evaluations between different products and support models. There are a number of reports and consultants around to help in this area.

Even before that consider whether your issues are really about software or are actually about processes, people or business support. Software only runs as good as the processes in place to manage it and there are many stories out there about massive failures in the 'one software solution to rule them all' approach.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

ALGIM Web Symposium 2006 - Christchurch

I will be speaking on Intranet Management (September 4) at this year's ALGIM Web Symposium to be held in Christchurch on September 4 and 5.

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