Thursday, December 30, 2004

Designer Hostility To Usability Analysis

*****

I have often wondered about two things on the web:

1. Why so many web sites are hard to use.

2. Why some web designers hate usability principles.


I dislike hyperbole (exaggeration) because it tends to cloud the issues with emotional "ranting" and anger.

But, although I know enough about web sites to discuss design and content writing enhancements, I still have trouble finding information and, to a lesser degree, performing tasks, at a great many web sites.

I refer to complex sites, and sites that give standard features "innovative" labels and non-standard locations.

Like labeling the standard "Contact Us" page, not "Contact Us" as most do, but something like "Communication Options", or putting the contact information in the "About Company XYZ" page. Or making it difficult to actually find the contact information by putting it deeply into the web site, making users click on "About XYZ Company", then "People", then "Feedback", then burying it in tiny print at the bottom of the "Feedback" page.

While this strategy may be appropriate for sites that get a lot of wacko or prank email, letters, and phone calls, it makes it annoyingly difficult for serious users and prospective customers to contact the company.

Lots of times I arrive at a home page that is so cluttered and busy, it's hard to get oriented. Where do I begin? Where, in all this visual and textual noise, is the one thing I happen to need right now?

Or there is no "search site" function for me to navigate on my own through the site, to try to forge a direct and swift path to the information I'm sure is somewhere on the site.

In spite of the frequency with which I encounter usability problems at web sites, I often also encounter extreme reactions on the part of some web designers against usability.

They seem to resent any serious focus on typical users of a site.

Perhaps they don't want to admit that they goofed up and made a site less usable than they know it could be.

They find it convenient to claim that users are stupid or inexperienced, so they don't have to admit any defects in their design or information architecture.

But the fact remains: too many web sites are still not as usable as they ought to be. Some even seem a bit user-hostile, or uncaring about typical user expectations and behavior patterns.

It would be like an automobile designer being indifferent or antagonistic to the needs and comfort of drivers, the end users of the automobiles. Like placing the horn and turn signals in the passenger side of the dashboard, or making a tiny rear view mirror. Cars must be highly and easily usable, or there will be many fatal accidents and the model will be recalled.

Too bad web sites can't be "recalled" and taken off the web for usability violations.


Recent Example on a Web Designer Discussion List

Just a couple of days ago, I posted two email commentaries on the topic of evaluating web sites in the context of how users interact with them, a topic that was begun by someone else.

Each post was attacked quite vigorously by a peculiar, hot-headed web designer. Since I said everything I wanted to say in the two posts, I refrained from continuing the debate.

Due to the designer's "flaming" (attempt to incite anger and self-defensive retaliations), the moderator of the discussion list emailed me and asked me to not respond to the designer's baiting, and said he considered the designer to be excessively hostile toward me personally.

This irate designer spoke negatively of my usability comments, the usability specialist Jakob Nielsen, usability research in general, and my skills as a communicator.

My point in the discussion list posts was that the true usability of any web site is unknown until you observe actual representative users attempt to interact with the contents and functionalities of the site. Anything less than this is speculation.

Thus, User Observation Testing is mandatory for genuine and comprehensive insight into the usability of a web site.

Judging by his responses, this poor designer was deeply disturbed by such thoughts. He wanted to dismiss the paramount importance of both user observation testing and usability principles.

He seemed to think that all usability concepts were aimed at him like a flurry of poisoned arrows. They seemed to threaten him, rather than enlighten him.

Any assertion of a usability enhancement principle, gleaned from years of user research by such specialists as Jared Spool, Jakob Nielsen, Steve Krug, Thomas Powell, and my own experience, were scoffed at and denied.

Non-usability Web Design Concerns

He, and other anti-usability web designers, tend to downplay usability and exalt non-usability web design concerns.

It's true that users are not the only group designers must consider. They have to please their boss, and/or the client, and they quite naturally seek the approval and praise of fellow designers.

Designers also state that they're limited by budget and technology limitations.

Users are seen by anti-usability designers as a nuisance, a bunch of dumbies who don't know what's best for them. A phrase bandied about is "users don't pay for web sites." We're told we must not let (ignorant) users "put demands upon us", or our web sites will become mediocre.

A phrase bandied about is "users don't pay for web sites." Ah, but they do, in the sense that if users find the site hard to use, they won't return to it and won't buy products at it.

All other factors being equal, a web site that accommodates users will tend to sell more product than a web site that's more difficult to use. And a profitable web site, then, is funded and supported by the profits it produces from its users.


Comparing Web Sites with Direct Mail


A direct mail promotion that fails to consider what customers want, and how recipients respond to direct mail offers, e.g. by not using a money-back guarantee, not including testimonials, etc., will not sell many products.

No direct marketer will ignore the needs of the customers being mailed to, and just mail out any random, whimsical creative package. To do so is marketing suicide.


Usability Principles are not "Dictates"

Web designers need not be paranoid of usability research. Usability principles do not "dictate" to the designer how to build a web site. They guide him and help him fashion a site that not only looks nice, but works on the level of users who will attempt to interact with the site.

Usability is slightly less important for a web site that is owned by a web designer or graphic artist, and has a target audience of other designers or artists.

In this case, more liberty is allowable, and even some low usability/high creativity challenges to the users may be acceptable. You may wish to shock, surprise, and amaze these special users, whereas on most other web sites this would not be a wise policy.



Anti-usability Designers are Suspect


Not to be mean-spirited, but I wonder why any designer would be against user testing and usability research. I wonder if the designer has something to hide, something that might shrivel if exposed to the harsh light of day.

I hope the reason for antagonism to usability is more benign. I hope a web designer is ruffled by usability concerns because he had a boss who tormented him with usability rants, and had no artistic appreciation of beauty or design brilliance.

This I can understand. If someone, a boss or client, tries to force some discipline upon you, you tend to react defensively, perhaps in an aggressive manner.

Yet, I don't have any grudge against beauty or innovation or creativity or technological progress.

All I mean to advance is high usability for all web sites, based on actual understanding of real, typical users. Not hypothetical notions of what users want, or designs that consider users to be stupid and not worth bothering about.

Usability analysts do not say that usability is the only concern to pay attention to when constructing a web site. Nor do we say that if the usability is great, this alone is enough to ensure the success of a web site.

But we do see many web sites where usability principles are violated and it's hard to find information, perform tasks, contact the owner, or otherwise interact with the site.

A seasoned web usability analyst can sit down and try to interact with a web site. This will give him his first indications of what needs to be fixed. But only when actual users are observed interacting with the site do you discover its true usability.

As Jakob Nielsen has said, and I paraphrase slightly here, commercial creativity is always under constraints. Commercial creativity is not "create any random thing you want", but is instead, "create something that satisfies the need, or solves the problem, of these users."


My famous, controversial motto:

"Web sites are made for users. Not for designers."



Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Dumbing Down vs. Simplicity

*****

There is quite a little discussion going on at one of the web developer email discussion lists that I subscribe to.

The topic?

"How to Talk Down to a Client"

I have very strong opinions about this topic. But before I proceed, let me first explain what an "email discussion list" is, so there is no confusion on the part of any of my readers (nobody knows everything!)...

An email discussion list is an online service whereby you receive in your email inbox messages on various topics, written by various members of the list.

You receive questions by individuals, questions that are addressed to the group as a whole. Then certain group members respond, or pose their own questions.

Each topic, question, announcement is called a "thread". When you reply to a "thread", you must stick to that thread, and not go off on a tangent of irrelevant material, which is called going OT (Off Topic).

If you have a question to ask the group, or a reply you feel could contribute to a specific topic, you can send an email to the discussion list address, and it gets forwarded to all the group members.


Now...what just happened here?


I assumed that not everyone would necessarily know what I meant by "email discussion list", so I defined it.

Is this "dumbing down" to the "lowest common denominator"...or is it simply the practice of simplifiying and clarifying?

Dumb means "stupid."

"Dumbing down" would be taking something smart or correct, and changing (distorting) it to make it stupid or wrong.

If I provided a poorly worded, factually inaccurate explanation of my term, that would be dumb.

Or if I tried to make a complex item sound like it was not actually as complex as it truly is, that would be deceptive and "dumb" for me to do.

But if my explanation is complete, accurate, and easy for almost anyone to understand, then it's not "dumbing down" but "simplifying" or "clarifying."

EXAMPLE

I'm reading, just to stretch my mind with difficult writing and complex thought, the book, The Analysis of the Self by Heinz Kohut, M.D.

It's Monograph No. 4 of The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, published by International Universities Press, Inc., copyright 1971.

I read advanced level psychoanalytic material just for fun sometimes, hoping I'll get something out of it. I'm very interested in narcissism, masochism, and aggression, for various professional reasons.

My reason for bringing this up is this: the text is so dense and technical, in some sections, I can barely understand more than a sentence per page. I love it.

Every once in a while, there is suddenly a Simple Explanation in Layman's Terms, and whole chapters of the book become illuminated by the little sentence, definition, analogy, or whatever.

"Swings from the therapeutic activation of the idealized parent imago (idealizing transference) to a transient hyper-cathexis of the grandiose self are among the most common occurences in the analysis of narcissistic personalities." (p.67)

I barely understand that sentence.

He seems to be saying that at one moment the self-obsessed person respects his doctor as a trusted father figure, then may suddenly turn around and act like a spoiled brat who respects no authority other than his own selfish wishes and imagined needs.


My Definition of "Dumbing Down"

Simple explanations are not "dumbing down".

Putting esoteric (that which is "hidden" or not well known to the average person) concepts into layman's language is not "dumbing down".

"Dumbing down" is speaking with an arrogantly mocking tone, in exaggeratedly childish terms, to a person in order to make that person feel inferior, ashamed, or angry.

"Dumbing down" could also refer to telling people what you know that they already know, and implying that they don't know it, which could be insulting to them.

"Dumbing down" could also refer to discussing something at a primitive, overly simple level, as though that is the only level at which it functions and can be discussed, and thus never proceeding beyond it.

Like explaining atomic structure at a third grade level to PhD. nuclear physicists. Staying too simple for too long to an advanced audience, causing impatience and disinterest.

Here now is my response to this topic "How to Talk Down to a Client" in that web developer email discussion list...


RE: How To Talk Down to a Client

Only stupid people talk "down" to anyone, even
children deserve better than "down" ("dumb downed")
talking.

I even object to all forms of "baby talk" goo
goo ga ga crap, it's discredited by child
psychologists.

If you really understand something, you can put it
into simple terms as well as advanced terms.

If you only know how to describe it in highly
technical language, then you're stupid, and don't
actually know it like you assume you do.

Einstein, Plato, Freud, Tim Berners-Lee, etc. knew how
to put concepts into very simple terms anyone could
understand.

No matter how smart you supposedly are, when you hear
a technical thing described in simple analogies and
down home illustrations ("a web server is like a
...."), you can be amazed at how you now understand it
a little better.

You can start elementary levelish and rapidly proceed
to more complex aspects, depending on your audience,
by defining terms and relating new ideas to already
known ideas, as you go along.

If tech people are impatient with simple explanations,
they're living in an ivory tower of ignorance. If you
really love something, you like hearing it described
in a multitude of ways, from childish to metaphysical.

When it doubt, flesh it out, ie, make it super easy to
understand.

The smart people, who don't "need" simple
explanations, will still learn something---how to
explain what they know in simple terms.

CONCLUSION:

Describe things in simple terms.

Proceed slowly and logically to more advanced details, depending on the comprehension level of your audience.

Don't assume how ignorant or intelligent your audience is. Find out somehow.

When you're not sure about the comprehension level of your audience, keep it clear and simple, but clever or unique.

Start with easy basics, in a creative style (unique analogies or historical insights not well known even to "experts"), then slowly build up to more difficult technical aspects.

The uneducated will appreciate the simplicity.

The advanced will delight in the creativity and originality.

You may be able to please both ends of the spectrum that way.


Important Reminder:
Really smart people don't mind simple, clear descriptions of complex realities...so long as it doesn't oversimplify, i.e., present something as being more simple than it really is.

Probably nothing is totally simple, with no complex aspect or element whatsoever.

And there is probably nothing that is all complexity, with no simplicity at all.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Troubling Aspects of the Online Realm

*****

There have been many controversies, problems, and evils to contend with in the online realm lately, I hardly know where to begin.

This blog typically delivers in-depth studies and researched articles on single issues of importance to web users and user advocates.

This time I'm going to try posting a more general overview of some topics that may be treated more comprehensively later.

What are some of the negative developments I've encountered lately, regarding the internet?

Well, here's just a small sample...


Troubling Aspects of the Online Realm


1. Blogosphere Portrayed As Stupid

Ana Marie Cox of www.wonkette.com is put forth on presidential election television news coverage as a "spokesperson for the blogosphere" and she does a devastatingly lousy job as our unchosen representative.

Seems to me that the Mainstream Media is holding her up as a joke, to reassure viewers that traditional journalism may have taken some hits from bloggers (RatherGate, etc.), but has nothing to really fear.

Ms. Cox's performance on the C-Span presentation was ghastly. I lost count of how many times she said "cocaine", "drugs", and "vicodin". Does she aspire to be a female version of Rush Limbaugh? She looks like she had about ten cups of coffee too many, bouncing around in a chemical rush, racing through her little speeches, appearing to be very uncomfortable with her sudden fame as a "j-blogger of note."

When some dude from CBS confronted her in the C-Span presentation about "exit polls" and their value as news and political reporting, she caved and proclaimed her total ignorance on the subject, deferred to the CBS schmuck, and hastily proceeded to ask her audience to proceed to the next question.

Nice to be honest, but if you don't know what you're talking about, why are you talking about it?


2. Automatic Reloading of Web Pages

Possibly just a minor annoyance, but have you ever experienced this?

You're viewing a web page you just arrived at, then after only finishing a sentence or two, while the entire page is still in the process of downloading, the page is redirected, and the article disappears, replaced by content you're not interested in.

Sound crazy? Frustrating? In open opposition to the fundamental philosophy of the web? Yeah, all of the above.

It's called "automatic refresh" or "automatic page reloading" or "forcing fresh content on users".

I was reading a page in the online version of the New York Post, on Dan Rather and Tom Brokow resigning, the collapse of the mainstream media, when suddenly my browser is redirected to a page on Shelley Long attempting suicide with prescription pain pills.

Though I searched for it, I was unable to locate the page I was reading. The New York Post either had not yet archived the article, or had permanently removed it, or I'm just not that good at finding online content that disappears as I view it.


3. Text Entry Box Scrolling


Have you ever typed in words in a "text entry box" (like an email address for an email newsletter subscription), then realized you made a mistake, and need to go back to the beginning of the text you entered?

Good luck.

Usually, the box is too short to contain, in a user viewable format, all the text you entered. You know, the beginning text disappears, slides to the far left end of the box, and vanishes, whilst the continued text progresses toward the right end of the box.

The only way I know of to "scroll" the text is to carefully position your cursor at the extreme right end of the box, but still touching the text entry space, and click repeatedly.

I will do some research on this issue and see if any solutions, or at least an acknowledgement of the problem, exists.


4. Search Engine Filters

I'm sure the various search engine providers are working on a wide variety of problems, but I'd like to see user parametered filters available for all search operations.

Advanced and Scoped Search options often provide varying degrees of filtering, but seem to be largely syntax or grammar oriented or based on date of content.

I'd like the universal ability to search for relevant online information, but to filter out unwanted sources.

Search engine filters could include:

* no blogs, comment postings, forums, or other user-generated content (which are good sources of opinions, but less reliable for facts)

* only dot edu (i.e., university sites), dot gov, or dot org sites (hopefully providing unbiased, non-commercial information)

* no sarcastically titled sites (i.e., moronsreadthis dot com, or rabidrightwingers dot com)

* no "subscription only" content sites

* no keyword spamming sites that are exploiting interest in a topic, but have no real content

* no parody sites containing fake editorial content, in the name of alleged "satire"

* no non-credible web sites--a filter that would determine the presence of valid contact information, about us, credentials, staff bios, and legitimate outbound links.



5. Web Designers Proclaiming the Demise of Usability Concerns


This is getting rather tiresome:

web design sites, blogs, and online magazines cheerfully announcing how the cruel tyranny of usability pundits has been trampled by an army of liberated designers.

Usability is "dead"?

Tell that to software designers. Software must be quick, easy, and nearly "intuitive" (guessable, easy to figure out based on previous software interface experiences, with no steep learning curve)...or the software product itself is dead.

Do designers really want the "freedom" to design web sites primarily for their own satisfaction and ego-enhancement?

When did users decide that ease of use is no longer important to them?

When did corporations and organizations decide they didn't care if users could actually accomplish things quickly and easily at their web sites?

Who really thinks users will cheer when web designers proudly bleat that usability principles are nothing more than shackles that result in boring web sites?

How many users are seeking novelty and supposed design marvels...over quick, uncomplicated information foraging and acquisition?

Do web designers really hate being constrained by user concerns, and wish to have the "freedom to create any random thing" (to quote J. Nielsen) that pops into their heads, regardless of how efficient it is in fulfilling the site's purpose and the needs of users?

How many corporations, organizations, and individual site owners will applaud this development? How many users?


6. Automatic Email Message Opening

With a certain email program, when a user is reading the messages in the inbox, and click on Delete, to get rid of a message currently being viewed, the program deletes the viewed message, then automatically opens the next email on the list.

This is a dangerous practice.

If the next message on the list is a virus, bang: you're dead (or seriously wounded).

If the next message happens to be a spam email, bang: you've notified the spam sender that your email address is valid and active, thus putting you on an active list that will be sold to more spammers, resulting in avalanches of spam in your inbox.


7. Vanishing User Profiles

User Profiles are pages on web sites containing user-generated content relative to personal interests, career field, occupation, title, marital status, gender, hobbies, geographic location, favorite movies and books, etc.

How many times have you created a User Profile for some online service, discussion forum, email program, group, or whatever, then had trouble editing it, or even viewing it?

I've encountered this problem frequently.

You create a User Profile, but once created, it seems to vanish into mysterious regions of the site.

Often, you can find My Account, but that has no link to your profile. Just "Identification Information" which is mysteriously separate from User Profile.

Often, you can Edit Profile, or Create New Profile, but what happened to View Profile?

Users are in a hurry. A big hurry.

They don't have the patience or time to muck around with a web site, or go on linking expeditions in search of what should be obvious locations for important information or functions.

Give users too much frustration, too much mystery, too many wild goose chases, and guess what? They bail out and never return.


8. Task Completion Messages

Users like to view a "mission accomplished" type message upon completing a task on a web site.

But usually, when you fill out a form, add a comment to a posting page, edit a profile, or download an item, you receive no indication that the action was successful. Occasionally it's obvious, most of the time it's not.

To add insult to injury, you're often taken back to the same page you just completed, but blank, as though nothing happened, and you need to re-input the data.

Why can't all forms, registrations, downloads, and other user-input or user-activated tasks provide users with a message that assures them of the result produced?

A link to the changed page, the updated profile, the edited preferences, the filled in form, or the download manager, so users can actually view and verify their input, is mandatory.

After a user has inputed a lot of data, and clicked on "Save Changes" or "Finished" or "Apply Edits" or whatever, a confirmation message, plus a link to "View (Edits, Changes, Comment, etc.)" would be very nice.

To not provide the message and link is symptomatic of an attitude that can be expressed as: "make the function work for the site" rather than "make the function work for the site and for the user".

This is an example of a site that works, but is not (optimally) usable.

In other words, from the viewpoint of the designer, the web site works.

But in the experience of the user, the web site is not easily or quickly usable.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Content Hypertext Spam

*****

Well, I thought that "Comment Spam" was the worst thing that ever happened to blogs and interactive functions of web sites.

Boy, was I wrong. There's something worse.

I call it "Content Hypertext Spam." Others refer to it as IntelliTXT, from Vibrant Media, the provider company that offers this "product" to dumb webmasters.

You know I never attack a company or a product. But this time, I'm making an exception, though I'm going to concentrate on the concept, more than the supplier.

What is "Content Hypertext Spam"?

Let's say you're at some web site.

You skimmed, skipped, and scanned until you found an item of interest, an article on a topic of concern to you personally or professionally.

You start reading this article.

You enjoy it. You're learning some valuable facts.

You see a blue, underlined word or phrase in the text.

You're no dummy.

You know that text is clickable/selectable.

You click/select it, hoping to be taken to another online resource that will explain in more detail some aspect of the topic discussed in the article.

WRONG.

You just navigated to a web site that wants to sell you something.

Some product that is probably totally unrelated to the topic or issue discussed in the article.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I have the distinct pleasure of introducing you to:

CONTENT HYPERTEXT SPAM.

Every time an unsuspecting user clicks on/selects such a deceptive link, the web site owner/webmaster gets some money from the advertiser.

HOVER STATE WARNING: You will know it's Content Hypertext Spam, prior to clicking on/selecting the link, because a box will pop up, like a tool tip, when you hover your cursor over the text. The box will contain a headline like "SPONSORED LINK", a paragraph of descriptive text, and a URL (web address) to click on/select.

What you thought was a legitimate hypertext link, was actually a Hidden Advertisement.

This is Spam...hidden in Content...and disguised as a Hypertext Link.

Content Hypertext Spam goes far beyond simple Comment Spam.

To be bothered or led astray by Comment Spam, you have to read an article, then activate "Read Comments" (navigate to comment posting page of web site), then read the Comment Spam, then stupidly click on/select the spammy, possibly dangerous URL contained within the (usually irrelevant) comment.

With Content Hypertext Spam, all you have to do to be annoyed or misled by this spam is innocently read an article and click on/select a linkable bit of text.

Content Hypertext Spam by IntelliTXT is "Spam" because it is:

1. unsolicited advertising

2. commercial in nature

3. disruptive of content path

4. irrelevant to topic of article

5. irrelevant to purpose of online resource

6. deceptive (pretends to be relevant content, but is really an ad)

7. destination is AWAY from topic, rather than TOWARD relevant information

8. harmful to editorial integrity

9. damaging to credibility of online resources in general

10. violates user expectations of link destinations and how links work

11. blurs distinction between editorial content and advertising

12. voluntarily, knowingly incorporated into web site content by webmaster, but users are in the dark about what the links really are (clandestine marketing ploy)

13. the link spam could target more words than the webmaster anticipated, thus making webmaster an object of ridicule and distrust

14. can result in users never returning to site, and also going to the trouble of warning others: thus generating negative word of mouth advertising against you

How You Can Combat Content Hypertext Spam:

Add *.intellitxt.com to your restricted sites list.

Depart from, and never return to, any online resource, web site, or blog, that contains Content Hypertext Spam.

Contact the webmaster and complain about the deceptive Content Hypertext Spam.

MORE INFO


For more insight into this new form of internet trash, please see:

Marketing Works-Julia Hyde "Vibrant Media's IntelliTXT--the next generation of annoying online advertising"

Editors Weblog.org "News Sites: new risks of confusion between ads and contents"

Wired.com "This Headline is Not For Sale"

Friday, October 29, 2004

Comment Spammers: internet pigs and how they feed


internet pigs and how they feed Posted by Hello


ABSTRACT (SUMMARY): Comment spam is irrelevant, unethical, offensive, or unwanted, typically commercial, message propagation on comment posting pages of blogs and web sites.

Comment spam is invading every interactive and community building functionality on the internet.

Here's what you need to do to protect yourself, and to help stop this unprecedented attack by these "internet pigs."

PERSONAL AGENDA: Comment spammers killed one of the best blog directories, Blizg, which enabled bloggers to paste meta-tags into their templates.

Comment spammers are killing my favorite art magazine discussion forum. It's time to launch a savage techno/psychological assault on these depraved idiots.

*****

If you operate or regularly visit internet discussion forms hosted by online magazines or professional organizations, I'm sure you've seen this foul predator.

If you operate or regularly visit blogs, I'm sure you've encountered this disgusting fiend.

Comment spam!

You know--you're interested in a question, issue, or idea being discussed online. You click on (select) the "thread" (topic) and begin to read. You enjoy good user-generated content, which enriches the value of this web site.

Fascinating.

Informative.

Funny.

Smart.

Useful.

Challenging.

(Then....) What??????

STUPID. (or) MEANINGLESS.
(or) PERVERTED. (or) IRRELEVANT.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I have the distinct honor to introduce to you all the Next Big Thing in internet garbage, your new and relentlessly ruthless Enemy: COMMENT SPAM.

COMMENT SPAM:

(1.) automatic irrelevant drivel generated by spambots (program code strings), generally signed "buy levitra" or some other dubious commercial crap, and usually accompanied by URLS

(2.) human created drivel, or too brief, generic, stilted comments ("Hello. This is my first time here. I read almost the whole article. Nice work on an interesting topic. Will return to read more later. (etc.)"), usually accompanied by URLs

(3.) lengthy irrelevant lists of domain names for sale, pornographic sites, municipal law codes, literary reviews, news items, etc.

(4.) comments that are extremely offensive or irrelevant and Off Topic (OT).

I'm not refering to just plain dumb and dumber comments.

I'm talking about nonsense, confusion, insincerity, gibberish, or cut and paste editorial that is totally irrelevant, if not X-rated sexual crap, race hatred, or partisan political frenzy lunacy.

I call these spurious commentors Internet Pigs.

The comment spammer Internet Pigs seethe with rage and loathing for people like me, who expose them and teach others how to identify, throttle, thwart, and harm them.

THE GOAL OF COMMENT SPAMMING

Usually this comment spam will have URLs (web addresses, starting with http://www.) attached at the bottom or embedded in the text.

This is done to get readers to click on (select) them and thus boost the comment spammers Search Engine Ranking to drive user traffic to their site, or the site of some company they are promoting.

Just posting these URLs will boost Search Engine ranking for the spammers.

Sometimes the destinations of the URLs, the web or blog entry addresses, are legitimate.

But the comment spam is not legitimate, not ethical, and will soon become totally ILLEGAL.

Some people whine and moan and wave their "freedom of expression" flags in the air like we have to salute them, no matter how ridiculous or offensive that expression may be.

No.

Discussion forums and blogs are not dedicated to editorial anarachy or "freedom of expression" at the cost of integrity, decency, intelligence, and relevance to the topic thread.

Comment spammers use "copy and paste" (copy text from anywhere on the web, then paste it in a comment posting area) and "random text generators" (meaningless, garbled word salad, strings of words that may almost make sense, but go nowhere fast) to do their dirty work.

If you've ever accidentally opened a spam email, you've probably seen some random text: (EXAMPLE) "She shopped near the tree crumb bloat factory bread as many unseen fingernails succumbed to ill noticed color dimension airplane meanderings in the smoke flush dawn bleak report."

This nonsense wording is used to sound somewhat literate, thus fooling the spam and virus filters on your email program. The same thing occurs on comment posting pages of web sites.

Spambots and human comment spammers will use philosophy quotes, quotes from Hollywood stars, song lyrics, anything innocent sounding, to trick filters into thinking the comment is real, relevant user-generated content.

Or you'll see weird little hash marks, umlauts, or accent marks hovering over letters. Another method for tricking rhetoric/syntax/vocabulary based filters.

If a comment is repulsive, misleading, hate-mongering, trolling, baiting, stupid, or just plain off topic (OT)...it will, or should, be deleted forever.

Some comment spammers cry about "strange" comments being possibly innocent "art". Or simply innocent blog/web site promotion tactics.

Who are they trying to fool? You shouldn't promote anything, without at least contributing an intelligent, informative comment that adds to the overall thread conversation.

Comments are content. Not an opportunity to blabber stupidly or unethically.

My reply to this, from an actual comment I made on a art discussion forum:

"Comment spam has been defined and so has freedom of speech.

If you don't know the difference between spam and legitimate comments, between search engine ranking techniques and bonafide conversation--how charming and quaint your hicktown aesthetics are, so unspoilt by technical considerations.

A forum is not a chat room, nor a page rank booster, nor a free advertising arena."


I got lots of hostile, obscene, foul-mouthed, spam-comment replies to that announcement in the art discussion forum. Which proves how sick these spam perpetrators are.

Sometimes a blog commenter will post a comment with a alleged link to an article he wrote on a web site, but when you foolishly follow the link, you're taken to some page of the site that has nothing to do with the alleged article.

This too is comment spam.

Blog commentors: get your act together, please quit commenting sloppily--or you'll likely be considered an Internet Pig comment spammer.

According to Adam Kalsey, CTO of Pheedo, comment spam began at Usenet, migrated to Email, and now is viciously attacking Blogs and Discussion Forums.

Spammers are hitting Trackbacks, Blogrolls, Email This Article To A Friend, RSS Feeds, Guestbooks, any interactive functionality they can exploit to their greedy advantage.

Elise Bauer at the MT tutorial site www.elise.com has a good explanation of these different spamming methods and site vulnerabilities. She also has a great policy statement on deleting any comments she considers OT (Off Topic), ignorant, or simply insubstantial in regard to the topic being discussed. Hooray for lovely Elise!

The Internet Pig Comment Spammers must really dread having to flip burgers at McDonalds, selling appliances at Sears, or going to college to learn a skill.

I rank the skanky Internet Pigs almost as low as crack whores/pimps or pharmaceutical companies anxious to dope teenage Johnny for just being a normal, active, authority-questioning male.

Joi Ito asks in his blog: are blogs "parties" anyone can attend...or publications that may be strictly edited? Depends on the blog, but most are both to some degree.

But his blog article discussing comment spam has spam in comments #27 to #32, which I complained about in a comment posted to the discussion. I must await his approval before seeing my comment posted. Good for him! That's one good way to combat the Internet Pigs.

Photo Matt blog states in "Weeds in the Garden":

"...is a good read. Now scroll down to the comments. Dozens and dozens of spam comments. I see this over and over again on MT and s9y sites. What’s terrible is these pages are just as dangerous as dedicated spam blogs. Think about it: I shouldn’t even be linking to it now."

Blogging expert and pioneer Dave Winer thinks that comment posting in blogs is not vital. As far as I understand, blogs were originally just lists of URLs of interest, not random drivel about boring personal feelings and activities.

Mark Pilgrim of Dive Into Mark blog compares the two possible comment spam riddance solutions to The Club or Lojack approaches to prevent or punish car theft. It's a very good, heavily-linked (full of linked external resources) read for all you intellectuals out there.

Amy Gahran, sort of a protege of Jakob Nielsen, discusses comment spam in her Contentious blog.

Jay Allen, Jeremy Zawodny, WIRED magazine, Steven Berlin Johnson, Jeffrey Zeldman, Google bloggers, Sun Microsystems bloggers, and many of the major web design and developer experts have recently been posting warnings and manifestos of war against comment spammers.

There are ways to hurt the comment spammers and deprive them of their sources of income, but you have to be fairly geeky to do it.

It includes reporting them to their hosting providers, telling ISPs what their connections are being used for, and complaining to the product manufacturers the spammers supposedly represent.


HOW BLOGS AND FORUMS CAN
COMBAT COMMENT SPAM:


Mark Glaser at Online Journalism Review, provides these tips (my paraphrase, plus I add one or two to his list):

1. Turn off comments. Users and spammers both are unable to post remarks.

2. Turn off comment posting on older posts (spammers love them).

3. Don't allow URL links in comments.

4. Use a blacklisting (forbidden domains, email addresses, etc.) service.

5. Use a whitelisting (allowable domains, email addresses, etc.) service.

6. Redirect all links from your blog comments (no boost in Search Engine rank).

7. Require user registration prior to comment posting.

8. Require users to preview comments prior to posting.

9. Use a "captcha" device (numbers or letters contained in a graphic image that users must enter in a box, or an easy math problem users must enter the answer to).

10. Email verification of comment (users must reply to an email asking if they actually authored the comment).

11. Moderate the comments, imposing an indefinite delay on posting.

12. Issue legal warnings about criminality of comment spam.


WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW
(MARCHING ORDERS):


Comment Spam is a hot topic right now. You should educate yourself on this.

USERS: Write emails to editors, administrators, and operators of blogs and online forums and demand that they either moderate the comments, add bot blockers like captchas, or install some type of anti-spam software.

BLOGS & FORUMS: Quit whining. Manual deleting of comments is not impossibly hard. Generally, it's just clicking. Even if it's 200 per day, so what? Hire a retired person do it for you, or a give a high school kid free pizza and soda for doing it. Find a solution.

USERS: Don't have a hissy fit if a blog or forum asks you to register, preview, or email verify before your precious comment will appear on a site. You can't wait for your comment to be posted? Comment posting is a privilege, not an inherent right granted by God to you.

EVERYBODY: Thanks for getting off your butt and helping to fight the comment spamming Internet Pigs.

Declare all out war on Comment Spam, before this blight forces us all to no longer allow comments anywhere, thus reducing the interactive quality of the entire web.

Remember: irrelevant spambot content decreases the value, usability, and credibility of your online information service, blog, forum, whatever.

And a rampant disabling of all interactive/community building functionalities is doomsday for the internet.

I urge you: pay attention to comments posted on your blogs and forums. Delete all comment spam immediately, then take appropriate measures to ensure they will not return to pollute.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Blogs That Are More Than Random Chatter


Posted by Hello
*****

Blogs began as simple web sites that owners used to post URLS of benefit to others in a given field of interest.

They were "web logs": [we]b logs, collections of continuously updated links, with brief commentary.

Then, with improved "personal publishing software" from WordPress, Blogger, and others, blogs began to be used by teenagers as a way to express themselves.

They were "plogs": p [ersonal b] logs, web journals, digital diaries, internet notebooks, cyber-confessionals.

Next came the "J-blogs": j [ournalist] blogs, in which reporters with laptop computers could post breaking news or personal opinions, with lightning speed.

Political party convention blogging by J-bloggers really boosted the public's awareness that blogs were important communication tools.

(Rathergate, the scandal involving CBS, Dan Rather, sloppy mainstream media investigative reporting, and forged documents purported to be President Bush's National Guard records, also caused a blog-inspired commotion.)


Now here are four more types of blogs I find interesting:


1. CEO Blogs: in which corporate CEOS loosen their ties and speak frankly to customers and the public. They see blogs as inexpensive, intimate vehicles to express their professional concerns, personal qualities, and even private details, to present themselves as real, warm personalities.

Examples:

Jonathan's Blog by the President/CEO of Sun Microsystems

ELand by Elliott Noss, CEO of Tucows, domain seller

Sifryby David Sifry, CEO of Technorati (good articles on business blog stats).



2. Corporate Employee Blogs: in which company personnel are allowed, within certain guidelines or restrictions, to speak about what it's like working at a particular company. These blogs enable the company to display a non-authoritarian culture in which employees are encouraged to be productive in individualistic ways. Job applicants gain insight into a specific corporate culture by reading these blogs.

Example:

Ongoing by Tim Bray, an employee of Sun Microsystems

Also see:

CEO Bloggers' Club from PR Planet (articles about rules corporate bloggers must follow).


3. Job Applicant Blogs: Not necessarily geared to job seeking (especially if currently employed), but exhibiting an individual's talent, expertise, insight, interests, activities, opinions. Employers can learn more about a prospective employee by reading the person's blog, than by traditional resumes and interviews. Personal blogs are usually more in-depth, spontaneous, and honest.

Examples:
Vaspers The Grate (this blog)

Mentally Correct Marketing, Steven Streight's other business blog.

These blogs are being used by me to display my expertise, strategic thinking, and writing skills.

Potential clients can view it to learn more about my services, philosophy, and methodology.

Current clients, and others interested in web usability issues, can visit this blog to stay up to date on this field.


4. Artist Blogs: Sadly, many of these are dominated by the typical blabberings, but some are being used as online galleries, which I vastly prefer.

Examples:

Incurable Art by Elenyte Paulauskas-Poelker

Conception and development of this Blog painting by Juan Miguel Giralt

My Life as an Artist by Ivan Pope

Milo Photoblog by Milo Vermeulen


NEXT BIG THING AFTER BLOGS:

Just to unsettle the smug, blogs are the Now Big Thing, but what is the Next Big Thing beyond conventional, static web sites?

Wikis.

Wikis are collaborative web sites that allow users to actually generate content, to add, alter, and delete material. This goes beyond simple comment posting. Administrative viewing and sorting tools enable site owners to restore the original content, publish multiple versions of content, and prevent abusive chaos.

Wikis enable users, such as teams working on a project, to pool their ideas and work, and watch the content evolve.

A recent article in The Economist, entitled "Blogging goes to work" is actually more about wikis than blogs, and even confuses the two terms to a certain extent.

Oh well.

Gotta go.

Need to work on what will be the New Next Big Thing beyond wikis!



Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Derrida on reading


Posted by Hello

***

"...German philosophers do not read
my texts directly, but refer instead
to secondary, often American
interpretations.

...I demand that one be careful with
the mediations, more critical regarding
the translations and the detours through
contexts that very often are quite
far from mine."

All quotes from FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE:
Two Sources of "religion" within
the limit of Pure Reason


by Jacques Derrida

in a German interview

cited at Derrida Online

What does all this have to do
with Web Usability Analysis?

We must remember that users
often misunderstand, they
misinterpret what we say,
they are rapidly racing
through web sites, seeking
relevant content.

What they read on our sites,
they may mis-quote, and
they often will form
opinions about your company
or your products, based on
second hand information,
"hearsay", what others say.

They will combine the mediations,
the voices that come in between
them and your own marketing, with
what you attempt to communicate.

This weird hybrid becomes their
monolithic, settled opinion.

Thus: make sure your web text
is clear, simple, free from
too many buzzwords, easy to
quickly skim and scan.

Because no matter how good
your web text is, they will
combine what you say with
the mediations, what others
tell, or have told, them.

Jacques Derrida 1930-2004


Posted by Hello

One of the saddest months of my life.

I deleted two blogs I had created,
one for a client and one of my own.

An organization for which I created
created a blog proved itself to be
unworthy of the effort and technology.

The organization ended up rejecting
the internet, computers & email.
I guess they want to return to
a more primitive condition.
That's entirely their choice,
and I respect it.

The other blog was deleted forever
because I wanted to re-orient
my positions on a certain issue.

(The re-orientation resulted in the new blog:
Art Test Explosion).

Then I heard the news that my hero,
Jacques Derrida, the gifted genius,
my favorite contemporary philosopher,
author, and literary analyst,
had died in a Paris hospital.

I didn't agree with everything he wrote.

But I was challenged and amazed by all
his thoughts and his analytic methodology.

I have read and recommend the following
books by Jacques Derrida:

Writing & Difference

Margins of Philosophy

The Truth in Painting

The Postcard

Disseminations

Acts of Literature

Of Grammatology

The Archaeology of the Frivolous--
Reading Condillac

Speech & Phenomenon and Other Essays
on Husserl's Theory of Signs

Of Spirit: Heidegger & the Question

Farewell, dear friend and companion,
whom I enjoyed through his books, who
comforted me with his intelligence,
and delighted me with his questioning.

No one is anywhere near his quality.
He opened up a whole new world of wonder.

Web usability analysis, and all other
analysis, is deeply indebted to J.D.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Beheading Videos: Poor Usability


Terrorist "marketing" strategy is off target. Posted by Hello
***

I think it's time someone stood up
and proclaimed the Triumphant Truth:

Beheading is not
what it's cracked up to be.

"Gruesome" is not the word for it.

"Pathetic"/"Misguided"/"Cowardly"/
"Ridiculously Underwhelming"
are much more appropriate words for
this desperate attempt by terrorists
to gain attention.

All beheading accomplishes is loathing,
and longing for more "shock and awe"
bombing of all nations that harbor
such timid and ineffectual villains.

DISCLAIMER #1: I have not
viewed any terrorist beheading videos, nor
will I ever do so.

However, I will, from a usability
perspective, engage in a critique
of this concept: beheading a person,
videotaping the process, releasing
the video to the public via web sites
and media coverage, and making
unreasonable demands based on
such vain nonsense.

DISCLAIMER #2: I mean no offense
to the families and friends of the victims of
terrorist beheadings.

I sympathize with their suffering and grief.

This analysis is my way of supporting them.

This analysis rightfully mocks the
ineffectiveness and futility of such
terrorist activity, which merely angers
us, and does not "shock" or "terrify"
us at all, in spite of what mainline
establishment journalists announce.


Why Beheading Videos have poor usability:


Usability has a dual nature.
For a promotional or public
relations effort to be useful,
in a comprehensive sense,
it must accomplish two goals:

1. Influence the audience (the supposedly
"terrorized") to be sympathetic toward
(or frightened into groveling acceptance
of) the sponsoring organization's
(the "terrorists") goals, and decide
to support these goals, or
exert pressure on those who can.

2. Enable the sponsoring organization (the
"terrorists") to communicate an accurate,
motivational message to the audience about
the sponsoring organization (the "terrorists"),
to the end that this message is clearly
understood and endorsed by the audience.


How Terrorist Beheading Videos fail
to fulfill usability goals:



1. Negative Message About the Terrorists:

The terrorists display themselves as cowards
with their faces covered up.

Like bullies on a school playground,
they represent themselves
as picking on weak, easy prey,
unarmed and unguarded civilians.

These civilians are then executed by way of
beheading, which is a relatively quick and
painless death (compared to many cancers
and other diseases and fatal injuries).

Civilians expiring in such manner should be
awarded Congressional Medals of Honor and be
celebrated as noble, involuntary martyrs for
freedom of thought and freedom of religion.

2. Undesired Response from Audience:

The results of terrorist beheading videos are:

(a) governments become more stubborn about their
refusal to negotiate with terrorists,

(b) the families of the victims hate the
terrorists and their cause,

(c) the general public is disgusted
with the terrorist tactics and
condemns their cause.

3. Wrong Tactic by Terrorists:

While it may be shameful to admit this point,
it must nevertheless be stated:
Americans in particular have
no strong aversion to gratuitous
violence, suffering, or gore.

Sorry, terrorists.

A beheading simply is not "gruesome" or
"repulsive" when considered in the context
of the standard entertainment fare of average
American teenagers or college age males.

The act itself is morally reprehensible,
and the terrorists are to be condemned for
such an act, but its effect is greatly
diminished in Western culture.

We avidly flock to R-rated, ultra-violent films.

We abundantly produce and purchase sadistic,
ultra-violent video games.

We gleefully watch the gross
"Fear Factor" reality TV program.

4. Wrong User Interface:

The people who are most affected by a terrorist
beheading video are the friends and families of
the unfortunate victims. But the video provides
no means for this segment of the public to
interact with the demands of the terrorists.

Individuals have very little influence on
governments or national policy makers.
Even the companies the individuals work for
are in no strong position to assist the
terrorists or influence their governments.

CONCLUSION
Message to Mainstream News Media
and Journalists:


Get with it. Terrorist beheading videos, and
news reports glamorizing or sensationalizing
such acts, are not influencing us at all.

The beheadings are not "gruesome" or
"alarming." For jaded American audiences,
they're not even "disturbing."

Quit trying to impress us with video
productions made by our enemies.

Quit subtly promoting such things
for their supposed "news value."

Genocide in the Sudan, North Korean nuclear
weapons development, partisan bias in
mainstream journalism--now these are
truly upsetting and horrific.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Buzzwords vs. Benefits


beware of bogus BS web sites Posted by Hello

***

Explain what you do, and what you offer, in customer-benefit oriented language, not cloaked in loosely or dimly understood "buzzwords."

Too many web sites are caught in the Wheel of Webological Unreality: they spew forth froth, not substance. It's corporate speak in its most diseased form.

They suffer from "bipolar buzzwordomania": moving from clear descriptions to obscure fuzziness, back and forth, one moment logical, the next moment undecipherable.

Buzzwords are newly coined (invented) words that can be used to make it sound like you're doing something very complex, leading edge, or technical.

But if you're questioned closely, it can suddenly be discovered that you don't know what you're talking about, or you're using a fancy word to glamorize something that is really very ordinary, old, or simple.

Ever used the phrase "we had trust issues in our relationship" when the full truth was that one of you was unfaithful, no longer interested, even disrespectful and insensitive to the other?

"Trust issues" is a good example of a buzzword phrase. Most people will assume they know what that means, in spite of it being rather ambiguous.

Even just "issues" can be a euphemism (nice way to say something bad) for "anger." Little Johhny is violent and the counselor says Johnny has "issues" with which he must learn to "cope" (control or re-direct in a socially acceptable manner).

Perhaps just saying, "Johnny's a spoiled brat who likes to bully smaller children" is a lot more direct and truthful than glossing over the reality by saying Johnny "has issues."

Buzzwords often enter our vocabulary prematurely, with no clear definition or acceptable range of application.

A nebulous buzzword, since it's not very specific, can be misinterpreted. It can be understood in a negative way that is too cynical.

Maybe the "trust issues" was not refering to infidelity, but to how one person was simply paranoid. Or to how one person wasn't very punctual, would say "10 pm," then arrive at 10:30 pm.

Certain buzzwords were invented to describe a new process, concept, or other "emergent" (new) phenomenon.

These "neologisms" (new words) eventually become the commonly accepted terminology. To not use them might indicate you were not as up to date as you should be in a certain field.

But to overuse them is another story. There is buzzword abuse.

Sometimes ambiguous, fuzzy phrases are used to imply substantiality when there really is nothing there.

Here are some current buzzwords pulled from actual web sites. Please do not conclude that I am indicting or condemning specific organizations for using these terms.

These buzzwords may contain specific meanings in the minds of those who write them, but could seem empty, overused ("played out"), or even maliciously deceptive to some readers:


"business processes" (what in business is not a process? a paper clip?)

"mission critical" (stuff that is "on the same page" as the rest of your stuff? stuff that is compliant with and conducive to your goals?)

"think outside the box" (think independently of television's influence?)

"end-to-end solutions" (are these total, all-encompassing, complete answers to expansive, sprawling problems? or merely solutions that can be lined up next to each other, "interoperatively"?)

"Web-enabled business model" (stuff you could not do, or could not do quite as easily and quickly, without the Internet existing? is the business going to be totally dependent on the web? will there be manual or paper document back-up?)

"customer relationship management" (why not call it client appeasement? or end user coddling? can you have a customer, but not have a relationship with him? are the customer relationships being managed for the benefit of the customer or to save money?)

"data warehousing" (is this the same as stats storage, facts refrigeration, information farming, insight silos, idea iglooing, probe preservation, details domiciling, or concept communes?)

"leverage" (a synonym of use, utilize, realize, potentiate, maximize, or take advantage of?)

"optimization" (how is this different from leveraging, enhancing, bettering, or improving?)

"outsourcing" (how is this different from off-premisesing, freelancing, agent contracting, farming out, or downsizing?)

"procurement" (why not just say purchasing, borrowing, obtaining, or leasing?)

"flexibility" (a euphemism for uncertainty, flip-flopability, mutability, and a modicum of instability?)

"initiatives" (ideas, work assignments, commitments, or plans?)

"actionable" (an idea you can actually do something with or about? Amazing!)

"resource-centric paradigm" (supply and installation dependent orientation?)

"develop, deploy, and integrate" (make, use, and use with?)

"legacy" (past systems and procedures? or the stuff you've heavily invested in and don't want to get rid of until it's completely worn out?)

"enterprise" (company? organization? group that is doing something as a team?)

"configuration" (set-up?)

"robust functionality" (it works? does what it's supposed to do?)

"collaborative environment" (vendors cooperate pleasantly with clients?)

"project portfolio" (all your stuff is in a labeled folder or e-file?)

"consulting" (telling you what you should know, but don't, and don't have time to research and figure out on your own?)

Corporate buzzwords are often not benefits or actions that are easy to understand.

Obfuscations have no place in modern business ruminations.

Describe your core competencies in language that is on a 5th grade reading level, and customers will admire your plain speaking.

They'll understand your products and services. And they'll be able to explain to their bosses what's going on, and why they chose you to be their vendor.

IBM, for example, uses a minimum of buzzwords on its consultancy web site.

The text is simple, direct, hard-hitting. Maybe we could all learn something from their example.



[Thanks to "the head lemur" at

http://theheadlemur.typepad.com

for the inspiration for this post.]



UPDATE EDIT: This just in...


EXAMPLE of a company apologizing with buzzwords!

[Buzzwords are identified for you in bold type--my editorial comments in brackets]



"...We at [company] are doing our best to model our deep conviction that the core of privacy is allowing users full control over their data in discovering and leveraging their personal and business networks....

...Unlike other networking sites and services, we don't require you to bombard your friends with multiple invitations (which has led to blogosphere commentary on "social networking spam: or "snam" to have the system work for you.

We didn't want there to be any ambiguity, however, about the fact that proper use of the system would result in some email, including referral requests from people you know, and training mails and service update information from [company name].

We also didn't want the fear of spam to lead people to turn this off before they learned a bit about what is a sophisticated system and thereby have a bad [company name] user experience, which was the prime reason that the box allowed for changes only after the initial registration.

After reflection prompted by your commentary, we see there is another reasonable interpretation of what we have done, and because of that, we are removing entirely the requirement that you leave the box checked to register [the old sleazy "pre-selection" ploy, to trick people into getting something they don't want].

Please note that we separated out and did not pre-permission [once again with the "pre-selection" funny business, depriving users of control] marketing material from [company name] (the second checkbox).

Our goal is to enforce a meaningful distinction between basic service operation and education messages on the one hand and marketing messages on the other.

This line won't ever be perfect, as different individuals will see messages in different ways, but we're dedicated to drawing it the best that we can, and to leadership in personal privacy protection."



Saturday, October 02, 2004

A Basic Guide to Power Blogging


Computer art copyright 2004 Steven Streight. Posted by Hello



Whoever You Are, You Need a Blog!

Everything from teen diaries to U.S. Presidential campaigns are now using the hip, new, effective format of blogs. There are, at last count, about 4 million blogs in existence. Media forecasters quoted by CyberJournalist.Net (API) predict that "by 2012, citizens will produce 50% of the news peer-to-peer."

A revolution is noisily occuring in journalism and in many other spheres. Blogs and bloggers are invading, waving manifestos of fast response, accumulated expertise, no profit motive, and free thinking in the liberated air.

Blogs are the next new thing, beyond conventional web sites. You can't afford to keep thinking, “Blogs? I don't get it. What's the big deal? What's a blog? What good are they?” Look at how marketing expert, Laura Ries, uses a blog (http://ries.typepad.com).

New Technologies are Slowly Appreciated: Alexander Graham Bell had to be persuaded that the telephone would be used for interpersonal communication. He thought the phone would ring, you'd pick it up, and hear news updates and symphonic music concerts! (MTP Music TelePhone?)

WHY blog? It's now almost mandatory for every consultant, corporation, club, candidate, every individual and organization, to have a blog. You can start now, or look foolish playing catch-up later on. Hello...????

Blogs are fresh communication tools. While a few are one-way broadcasting blogs, the vast majority are two-way, interactive, inter-personal blogs that enable users to congregate, learn, debate issues.

You post a sentence, paragraph, URL, or article.

Users respond by posting a comment, or emailing you. Users can also respond to other users, via comment debates.

Blogs act as an outlet for your ideas, and a way to form an online community of shared interests.


8 Easy Steps to Power Blogging:


1. Pick a topic: a product line, club, career field, philosophy, politics, social concern, technical field, hobby, news/current events, recreation, spirituality, whatever you already like to talk about, whatever interests you, professionally or personally.

EXAMPLE: Amid Rushes and Reeds (www.eleran.blogspot.com)

Here we have a nice poetry blog. The background is evocative. Eleran's poetry is profound and porously opaque. His poems are referenced by first lines. He uses very imaginative labels: “Antecedent” = Previous Posts, “Dictum” = Comments, “Portfolio” = Archives, “Skald” = Profile, “Missives” = Email activation, “Ingress” = Back to Homepage.

2. Create a title and URL: what you want to call your blog, and what will be easy to remember and to type in as a URL (web address).

EXAMPLE: Photo Matt unlucky in cards
(http://photomatt.net)

Matt Mullenweg publishes an extremely popular blog, with an easy to remember title and URL. He's the founding developer of WordPress, the widely used blogging software.

3. Find a host (like www.blogger.com). Blogger, from Google, is FREE, simple to create, easy to maintain, available for posting and reading 24/7, and full of great features.

EXAMPLE: Blogger (www.blogger.com)

4. Choose a template. This is the basic framework, or design, that provides the structure for your blog. You can go into the template and change colors, type sizes, blogroll listings (“Check out these sites”), add copyright post footers, and extra "sidebar" paragraphs.

I currently use templates by Jeffrey Zeldman (A List Apart) and Douglas Bowman (StopDesign). I have modified my blog templates a great deal and have added lots of extra sidebar paragraphs, plus recently, an EServer Technical Communications Library search engine to expedite information foraging for my users.

5. Configure your settings. These include comments enabling, formatting, time/date stamp, archiving, site feed, publishing, email notification of comments posted, and revision of blog name or URL if desired.

Be sure to enable each post to have its own distinct URL, so you can provide people with direct links to specific articles.

EXAMPLE: http://www.streightsite.blogspot.com/2004/09/customer-service-is-profit-center.html

Notice, in the above example, how Blogger.com, who configures my post URLs, left out the word "a" between "is" and "profit center." When giving a specific post URL to someone, be sure to type it correctly, which means possibly slightly different from the exact post title. Long post titles are truncated, i.e., the last few or several words are deleted for the URL.

6. Start posting. Write and publish your articles, opinions, news updates, announcements, member communications, poems, stories, photos, paintings, rantings and ravings, corporate promotions, marketing reports, publicity statements, whatever.

TIP: Your blogging responsibilities can stimulate, challenge, and discipline you to learn something, even one little new detail or factoid, about your topic, industry, specialty, hobby, or cause. Then you put it in your own words, or quote someone, citing your source, and put it up on your blog site.

Your blogging, if you take it seriously and ethically, can actually prod you into expanding and enriching your expertise.

7. Start promoting. Put your blog URL(s) on all outgoing emails via the signature file, on all ads, direct mail, brochures, letterhead, flyers, business cards, web sites, and occasionally (not constantly!!!) with intelligent comments at other blogs (push a specific posted article URL, not just the blog itself).

WARNING: DO NOT spam other blog sites. Blog comment spam or "flyblogging" is suddently rampant. Spam a blog, and you'll be hated and banned from accessing them.

Bloggers are contemplating new, more effective ways to block comment spam.

Comment spam issues forth in such comments as: "Nice post. I read almost the entire thing. Will return to finish it later. I have written an interesting post on the same topic, go check out my article at [URL]."

For some reason this exact wording, or similar, has become a classic blog comment spam. I'm not sure why the "almost read the entire thing" phrase is in there. Probably to ward off any expectation that the comment spam will be relevant to the actual topic.

8. Keep posting. Stay committed to your blog(s). Add fresh content every few days, at least once a week. If you're interested in your field, this shouldn't be a challenge. Make time to get it done.

Maybe just a nice photo and a clever caption for it. Seth Godin often publishes just a few sentences, along with the URL for an article on some other site that he likes. Old last posted posts suggest that a blog may have been abandoned.

FINAL ADVICE: if you can post digital photos, especially your own original work, or art you have created on a paint program, post them. Text-only blogs tend to become a bit dry, while art and photography really enhances them.

If you are really on fire about an issue, a field of knowledge, a hobby, a philosophy, a belief system, a marketing angle, a product line, whatever...you can quickly and easily be the proud operator of a Power Blog!

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Blogs as Deconstructionist Monsters


deconstructing futuristic monsters with Jaques Derrida Posted by Hello

Jacques Derrida, the founder of the deconstructionist school of philosophical inquiry, speaks of "monstrosity" as that which is new and unexpectedly imposes itself on the sluggishishness of that which is conventional, familiar, old.


JACQUES DERRIDA:


"...the future is necessarily monstrous: the figure of the future, that is, that which can only be surprising, that for which we are not prepared, you see, is heralded by species of monsters.

A future that would not be monstrous would not be a future; it would already be a predictable, calculable, and programmable tomorrow.

All experience open to the future is prepared or prepares itself to welcome the monstrous arrivant, to welcome it, that is, to accord hospitality to that which is absolutely foreign or strange, but also, one must add, to try to domesticate it, that is, to make it part of the household and have it assume the habits, to make us assume new habits.

This is the movement of culture.

Texts and discourses that provoke at the outset reactions of rejection, that are denounced precisely as anomalies or monstrosities are often texts that, before being in turn appropriated, assimilated, acculturated, transform the nature of the field of reception, transform the nature of social and cultural experience, historical experience.

All of history has shown that each time an event has been produced, for example in philosophy or in poetry, it took the form of the unacceptable, or even of the intolerable, of the incomprehensible, that is, of a certain monstrosity."


(Passages - from Traumatism to Promise, in E. Weber, ed.: POINTS-INTERVIEWS 1974-1994, Stanford University Press 1995, p. 385-387)



VASPERS THE GRATE:


Even the names of monsters are horrible:

* Godzilla

* Sasquatch/Yeti

* Golem

* Frankenstein

* er...Blogs...!!!


Yes. "Blogs." Most normal people say that word
with undisguised distaste and irritation.

Mainstream media types look down from their insular ivory
towers and spit on mere common bloggers.

Imagine: an unkempt, unshaven, unsavory fellow
sitting at a computer, pounding deliriously on
the keyboard, staring maniacally into the screen...

with a half-drunk cup of cold coffee (latte?),
and the chewed crusts of cold pizza on a plate...

a fellow in scraggly pajamas...

a journalist-blogger!

Horrifying indeed. Especially to mainstream
news media figures
who engage in biased,
sloppy journalism, then try to cover-up.

Blogmonsters have stalked:

Trent Lott's praise of racism

North Korea's nuclear explosions

John Kerry's Vietnam war record

Dan Rather's sloppy journalism.

Jonathan Klein called bloggers
guys sitting around in their pajamas,
implying they are not elite journalists
tied to monolithic media conglomerates.

The Status Quo, the Powers That Be
are scared of little laptop bloggers!

I'll say it again:

Blogs are the Next Big Thing
after conventional web sites.

I hear the New Next Big Thing
after blogs is the wiki.

But let's stick with blogs
for a while, and really get
to understand them, and why
Everyone Must Blog Now.

Blogs are the new media watchdogs.

Blogs are the new teen diaries.

Blogs are the new "up-close-and-personal"
corporate public relations channel.

Blogging is a new way businesses can operate.

A blog can be the digital all-in-one
business card, resume, portfolio,
product spec sheet, brochure...

and a blog can be more intimate,
more interactive, more immediate
than conventional web sites,
which are, unnecessarily and wrongfully,
rather static, passive, and cold.

Get With It. Get Monsterish. Get a Blog.


(More on Rathergate & deconstruction at Streight Site blog)

Monday, September 27, 2004

User Observation Testing is Mandatory


Without UOT, you know next to nothing. Posted by Hello

User Observation Testing =

skillfully watching
representative users
interact with your web site
to obtain information
or to perform a task.

Of Very Limited Value:

* user surveys--they tell you what they
think you want to hear. They don't want
to hurt your feelings.

* feedback forms/emails--usually these
contain angry complaints or superficial,
emotionally based compliments.

* opinions of upper management--they
tend to see the web site according to
how it achieves corporate goals and
conveys the corporate mission and "look."

* opinions of co-workers--they pat you
on the back or enviously attack.

* opinions of friends & family--you know
they often praise or criticize depending
on mood, or how you last treated them.

* judgment by the web designers--they
want to say the web site is usable so
they look good, but designers are not
typical users of a web site.

Input from all the above sources is not
totally worthless, but still--you need more.

You need to test typical, average users,
who will actually be using the web site.

FOR EXAMPLE:

A web site selling cell phones must test
actual cell phone users, or those who are
planning to buy a cell phone.

USER OBSERVATION TESTING

Observe--do not assist them.

Take notes--write down their behavior
and comments. Link paths they use.

Interpret results--from perspective of
professional web usability analyst.

Report results and prioritized
recommendations to management--the hardest part.

Help implementation of enhancements--
this also requires web usability and design expertise.

User Observation Testing--
don't assume your web site is
easy for users to rapidly
accomplish what they need to do.

Martha Stewart Gets Vasperized






Even public relations web sites must be user-focused in design and content.

Narcissistic, self-congratulatory, "we-oriented" sites are counter-productive. They assume they are the center of the user's universe. This attitude is entirely out of step with the digital age of transparency, interactivity, and connectivity via shared information and mutual interests.

Martha Talks (NO LONGER ONLINE) is a failure from both an ethical and a web usability point of view.

I call this an "Image-centric Diva Disaster."

Martha Stewart, who will be residing in what is nicknamed "Camp Cupcake", a federal women's prison camp.

She was found guilty of conspiracy, making false statements, and obstruction of agency proceedings connected with an investigation of her mysterious selling of Imclone bio-tech stock.

Peter Davidson, at his Thinking by Peter Davidson blog, has a good post entitled "Cluephone Rings for Martha," which inspired me to write this.

While I don't think it would serve any purpose for Martha Stewart to have her own blog...she'd probably get a lot of snide remarks, hostile comments and bizarre blog "comment spam"...still, this image-centric web site is fraught with problems.

I see many positive qualities in Martha Stewart. I like what she has done for housewives and househusbands, giving them projects to work on, that beautify the home while saving money.

I like women who rise to the top and command lucrative empires. I admire her innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, and ambition to be great.

But my appreciation of her many good qualities wilts and evaporates when I arrive at her little personal self-adoring web site.

Nothing is said about her distressed fans or the uncertain customers of her products, except thanking them for their (automatically assumed) love, sympathy, and support. What about their disappointment in you as a role model, Martha?

No apologies. No repentance. No admission of any kind of guilt. No regrets. No promises to look into financial dealings more closely.

An appalling lack of any sense of possibly being in error.

She'd make a good politician. They never admit to making mistakes or to seeing any way they could have done anything better.

I'm very troubled by her image-centric marketing approach.

"Image-centric" means preserving the original image, at any cost. Putting the product or corporate entity first and foremost. Users and customers are relegated to oblivion, at best. They are seen as nothing more than suckers from whom to derive maximum sales.

No concessions, no compromise, no acknowledgment of reality, the reality that she was found guilty of certain charges.

Image-centric marketing is blind and deaf toward the lowly public. Image-centric marketing is based on arrogance, denial of imperfections, and contempt for questioning and critique.

The semiotics of her photo—arms crossed in defiance and self-protection, smiling with a “I'm so rich and popular” smirk, against a dark background reminiscient of death, the grave, the prison—are ghastly.

That's nice, the K Mart spring green for the text and the minimalism of the site. A weird contrast to the macabre photo setting. I guess the dark background helps us peons to focus on her grandeur, the way her hair and skin seem to radiate, by contrast.

She sadly seems to have lost touch with the world outside her little mortal empire, an empire of embroidered throw pillows and pine cone knick knacks, lovely, useless artifacts and dust collectors.

The top navigation bar consists of:

email * notes to martha * other voices * trial update

The same links are repeated at the bottom of the page.

Notice how image-centric this web site is?

Email Martha. Write a web love note to Martha. Other media voices supportive of Martha. Trial update of Martha. Martha. Martha. Martha.

She built a brand on her previous marketing-imposed image. Now that the image is tarnished, she continues to cling to it with all her might.

Going along with the image-centric strategy, one would think that an “About Us” page would be appropriate, some biography of Martha, stressing positive achievements. Plus a history of her company, and whatever else the woman has been involved in.

Guilty celebrities are often engaged in pushing the original, seemingly benevolent, polished image at us.

As though it might be able to tackle and erase the new, tarnished image running rampant in the world.

I don't mean to rub salt in the wounds, or kick a person when they're down, but Martha Talks is an object lesson in how NOT to design and contentize a PR web site.

Martha Stewart--you've just been Vasperized.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Horrible Web Monstrosities


Posted by Hello

Afraid So: Welcome to the Dark, Grim, Hideously Unusable Web

Some web sites are so creepy, they should be shot in the head. They have "nightmare unusability" and are a real pain to deal with, especially when it's late, you're tired, and you need information fast, or you need to perform some task quickly.

A web site seems ugly, grotesque, alien, and even sinister, when you really need it to be nice and user-friendly, but it's not.

It mocks your attempts to find the relevant content you're sure is in there somewhere.

It scares you with it's slimey, freakish pit of hellish difficulties and gross uncertainties.

It angers you with its smug, callous indifference to user experience, as evidenced by its macabre mis-labeling of links and its hard to decipher, dimly-lit categories.

The nightmarishly unusable web site grows darker and more frighteningly pathetic the deeper you plunge into its awful quagmire of uselessness.

If you think I'm being wildly critical, just wait until you've been working for hours on your computer, then, right before retiring for sorely craved sleep, you suddenly realize you need a bit of information that's on the internet.

You go to a web site you're confident will provide this needed data. And it's next to impossible to track it down and obtain it. Or any similar situation where you need a web site to deliver the goods easily, quickly, and without your jumping through all kinds of hoops to get it.


What makes a web site creepy?


*Excessive hype about the company.

*Irrelevant features forced upon you.

*Site registration required, prior to performing any tasks or searching for the information you need.

*Information categories defined or organized poorly.

*No "search this site" function.

*No easy to understand site index or site map.

*Poorly written summaries of article contents.

*Confusing arrangement of information.

*Failure to cite references for information, and providing no links to the sources, making the information suspect and virtually worthless.

*Site-induced disabling of user's Back button.

*Dense, lengthy blocks of web text that's misery to try to read.

*Failure to use short paragraphs, bold sub-heads, copy chunking, inverted pyramid style writing format, blue/underlined hypertext links.

*No indication of visited links, so that, in your rush to locate information, you repeatedly, mistakenly visit links you've already seen.

*Poor indications of link destinations.

*Failure to specify that a document is a PDF (Pretty Damn Frustrating) file that, when you decide you don't want to download it, and you click on (select) "Decline", the monstrous PDF program keeps running anyway, causing your computer to freeze up, and making it difficult to turn your computer off and start over.

*Flashing, blinking things.

*Intrusive pop-up ads.

*Other forms of "visual noise" and cognitive dissonance.


Anything that gets in the way of your attempt
to accomplish your purposes.

Anything that slows you down.

Anything that doesn't work right.

Anything that conveys the arrogant message:

"Do what WE want you to do NOW,
and maybe you'll get to do
what you want to do LATER, if at all."


What YOU Can Do to Stop the Preservation and
Proliferation of Horrible Web Monstrosities:


1. Immediately send an email to the site owner,
telling them that you will not tolerate such
shabby workmanship and will tell others to
avoid their ridiculously unusable web site.

2. Go to the This Is Broken web site (http://broken.typepad.com) and
submit a screenshot of the culprit site,
with an explanation of what you were trying
to do, and what prevented you from doing it.

3. Abstain from returning to, or imitating
the errors and faults of, the offending site.

4. Help others to spot and avoid such sites.

5. Explain to other users that web usability
principles are well known and easy to implement,
thus there is no excuse for these sites.

6. Compliment user-friendly web sites loaded with
relevant content via emailing their operators.

7. Encourage other users to visit the sites you
have found to be highly credible, informative,
and usable.