Web Designers Rejoice: There is Still Room

I’m taking a brief detour and talking about something other than user tolerance and action on your site. I read a couple of articles, which you’ve probably seen yourself, and felt a deep need to say something. Smashing Magazine published Does The Future Of The Internet Have Room For Web Designers? and the rebuttal, I Want To Be A Web Designer When I Grow Up, but something was missing.

Both articles focused on content and how it gets passed around. The problem is, there is a lot more going than just content on the web. What both articles overlook is the work of the web developer or web engineer. No, this isn’t an attempt to shoehorn engineers into this discussion. It’s about the fact that they are needed to produce function.

Beyond the world of content is a whole slew of function on the web. Web apps have become increasingly important in the landscape of the web. As a matter of fact, you’re currently visiting a web app. Yes, you’re seeing content, but you are also interacting with an application which allows me to manage and publish that content for you to see. Continue reading “Web Designers Rejoice: There is Still Room” »

Anticipating User Action

Congrats, you’ve made it to the third part of my math-type exploration of anticipated user behavior on the web. Just a refresher, the last couple of posts were about user tolerance and anticipating falloff/satisficing These posts may have been a little dense and really math-heavy, but it’s been worth it, right?

I have one last function to look at. This function will let us sort out how long a certain percent of our users will hang out at a site, trying to accomplish their goals given a random population interacting with a page or site they have never visited before. By having the ability to calculate the output of the user falloff function, we can compare user test results to our falloff curve without plotting the entire curve to show anticipated versus actual results. Continue reading “Anticipating User Action” »

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Anticipating User Falloff

As we discussed last week, users have a predictable tolerance for wait times through waiting for page loading and information seeking behaviors. The value you get when you calculate expected user tolerance can be useful by itself, but it would be better if you could actually predict the rough numbers of users who will fall off early and late in the wait/seek process.

It is reasonable to say that no two people have the same patience for waiting and searching. Some people will wait and search for an extraordinary amount of time while others get frustrated quickly and give up almost immediately. To expect that all of your users will hold out until the very last moment of the predicted 13, or so, seconds hardly reflects reality.

Instead, we can say that we have some maximum tolerance, L, which we can compute which the very last holdouts will actually wait for. Unfortunately, we also know that a majority of users, if they have to wait very long, won’t even see your site since they will fall off before the page finishes loading. This means that the bulk of the users which see your site will be something less than the number of users who actually attempted to load your site. Continue reading “Anticipating User Falloff” »

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User Frustration Tolerance on the Web

I have been working for quite a while to devise a method for assessing web sites and the ability to provide two things. First, I want to assess the ability for a user to perform an action they want to perform. Second I want to assess the ability for the user to complete a business goal while completing their own goals.

Before we start down this particular rabbit hole, there’s a bit of a prerequisite for our discussion. It is important that you understand Fitts’ Law and its generalization, the Steering Law. These are critical to understanding how much time a user will be willing to dedicate to your site the first time they arrive, or after a major overhaul, before abandoning their goals and leaving the site. Continue reading “User Frustration Tolerance on the Web” »

Google Geocoding with CakePHP

Google has some pretty neat toys for developers and CakePHP is a pretty friendly framework to quickly build applications on which is well supported. That said, when I went looking for a Google geocoding component, I was a little surprised to discover that nobody had created one to do the hand-shakey business between a CakePHP application and Google.

That is, I didn’t find anyone, though they may well be out there.

I did find several references to a Google Maps helper, but, that didn’t help too much since I had an address and no geodata. The helpers I found looked, well… helpful once you had the correct data, mind you. Before you can do all of the maps-type stuff, you have collect the geodata and that’s where I came in. Continue reading “Google Geocoding with CakePHP” »

Small Inconveniences Matter

Last night I was working on integrating oAuth consumers into Noisophile. This is the first time I had done something like this so I was reading all of the material I could to get the best idea for what I was about to do. I came across a blog post about oAuth and one particular way of managing the information passed back from Twitter and the like.

This person will remain unidentified as I don’t want gobs of people spamming his site, nor do I want to give his poor judgement any extra exposure. That said, the basis of the post was, it is preferable to make users authenticate with Twitter every time they logged into the system as opposed to storing the keys and remembering who the users of the site are.

The take-away message was, paraphrased, “it’s a simple back and forth between your site and Twitter each time they log in. It won’t bother the user and it is preferable to storing all of those authentication keys.” Continue reading “Small Inconveniences Matter” »

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Know Thy Customer

I’ve been tasked with an interesting problem: encourage the Creative department to migrate away from their current project tracking tool and into Jira. For those of you unfamiliar with Jira, it is a bug tracking tool with a bunch of toys and goodies built in to help keep track of everything from hours to subversion check-in number. From a developer’s point of view, there are more neat things than you could shake a stick at. From an outsider’s perspective, it is a big, complicated and confusing system with more secrets and challenges than one could ever imagine.

Years ago, I built a project tracking system for the Creative department at my current company which they use for everything. More projects come and go through the Creative project queue than I had planned on, but it has held together reasonably well. That said, the Engineering director would like to get everyone in the company on the same set of software in order to streamline maintenance efforts.

In theory, this unification makes lots of good sense. Less money will be spent maintaining disparate software and more will be spent on keeping things tidy, making for a smooth experience for all involved. Continue reading “Know Thy Customer” »

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When SEO Goes Bad

My last post was about finding a healthy balance between client- and server-side technology. My friend sent me a link to an article about SEO and Google’s “reasonable surfer” patent. Though the information regarding Google’s methods for identifying and appropriately assessing useful links on a site was interesting, I am quite concerned about what the SEO crowd was encouraging because of this new revelation.

It is important to consider search engines during the site building process, however I feel the SEO guys often get carried away. In this article it is suggested that you de-emphasize navigation and forget footers along with lots of other questionable advice.

These two suggestions alone are enough for me to consider this article, at best, a crackpot spouting extremist ideas. SEO experts often seem to forget a very important element on the web: the user. Continue reading “When SEO Goes Bad” »

Balance is Everything

Earlier this year I discussed progressive enhancement, and proposed that a web site should perform the core functions without any frills. Last night I had a discussion with a friend, regarding this very same topic. It came to light that it wasn’t clear where the boundaries should be drawn. Interaction needs to be a blend of server- and client-side technologies.

Ultimately, it is rarely clear where boundaries are in a project. What is too much, what is too little? Somewhere between too much and too little is just right, much like what Goldilocks wanted in her porridge. We know that even the most limited of users should be able to access our sites within certain considerations. A photo gallery is, ultimately, little use to a blind person, but alt tags should still be in place. Sound clips of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra would be useless to a deaf person, though a caption or indication as to what each sound clip is would be quite handy.

Coming back to the point, finding a balance point is critical to providing rich, meaningful interaction between your user and your site. Perhaps the first question which should be answered is “can this be done without Technology X?” Continue reading “Balance is Everything” »

Coding Transparency: Development from Design Comps

Since I am an engineer first and a designer second in my job, more often than not the designs you see came from someone else’s comp. Being that I am a designer second, it means that I know just enough about design to be dangerous but not enough to be really effective over the long run.

When I say I am a designer second I mean I am, in fact, a design school dropout. I went, I learned just enough to “get it” and then I ended up dropping out. I did go back to school and I got a math degree, but that is a different story for a different day.

If there is anything I learned from design school, it was that everything in design is done for a reason. Mind you, this is when design is at its best. Every designer that is working to solve a problem and communicate with the viewer has incorporated elements and done things so a specific message comes through. Continue reading “Coding Transparency: Development from Design Comps” »

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