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December 10 2013

Sandy Hook Victims' Families Launch Heartfelt Online Memorial
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It's a simple design, just as the families requested: Twenty-six first names in a scripted white typeface arranged in the shape of a heart against an emerald green background. Twenty-five of the names rest above "Grace," written at the heart's tip.

This is what you'll find at MySandyHookFamily.org, a new online memorial to the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. A local web design firm created the site, which launched late Sunday night, at the behest of several of the victims' families.

"They didn't want it to be a very complicated site because so many parents are doing their own individual initiatives and funds," Marcella Kovac, founder of the creative agency, told Mashable. "We all decided together that the heart was the perfect symbol." Read more...

More about Web Design, Us World, Us, Newtown, and Connecticut

November 08 2013

The New Website That Makes the Case for Iran's Nuclear Energy Program
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While Western and Iranian diplomats are meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, to reach a deal about the Iran's controversial nuclear program, an English language website launched on Friday supporting the program.

The site, NuclearEnergy.ir, has a sleek design, colorful infographics, FAQ section and pages upon pages of information about nuclear power, the history of Iran's nuclear efforts and its legal aspects. While no definitive information proves that the Iranian government created the site, signs seem to point in that direction.

Twitter and Facebook accounts promoting the website mention several Western media journalists. Read more...

More about Web Design, Iran, Us World, Us, and World
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today, we have to share very sad news. Soup.io will stop working in less than 10 days. :(
 
It's breaking our heart and we honestly tried whatever we could to keep the platform up and running. But the high costs and low revenue streams made it impossible to continue with it. We invested a lot of personal time and money to operate the platform, but when it's over, it's over.
 
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Ask a Dev: Do Leaner Designs Help Web Apps Load Faster?
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Web applications need to look great and perform well, but how do web developers strike a balance between form and function?

For the latest installment in our Ask a Dev series, web developer George Henderson explains why leaner designs increase web apps performance.

Simpler designs call for fewer elements, such as box shadows and gradients, which could leads to faster page rendering and scrolling, he says.

"Leaner designs can often require less requests and images to be downloaded from the server," he adds. "Any time you can reduce the amount of back-and-forth for the server, that's going to be more performant and increase page-load speeds." Read more...

More about Web Development, Web Apps, Web Design, Html5, and Tech

October 29 2013

18 Image Compressors to Speed Up Your Website
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With page speed a ranking SEO factor and consumers expecting exceedingly fast web experiences, it's crucial to get aggressive and take control of your image sizes to deliver a faster loading website to your users

Image compression is either lossy or lossless: Lossy works by discarding information from the original file, and lossless retains all the original data (though, the file size tends to be bigger). There's a variety of image compression algorithms that take different approaches to reducing file size, and the tools listed below utilize a number of those to minimize the size of your images. Read more...

More about Photography, Web Design, Features, Dev And Design, and Tech

October 07 2013

NYC Overhauls Website for First Time in 10 Years
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As a city of more than 8 billion people, New York can hardly be considered a startup. But when it came to reinventing its website for the first time since 2003, the city government's digital team assumed some startup tendencies, creating a design responsive to mobile devices and focuses on user experience

New York City residents are a diverse bunch with varying needs. Rachel Haot, New York City's chief digital officer, said her team used a data-driven approach to redesign NYC.gov so that it served each and every New Yorker

"We're telling the city's story in a new way," Haot told Mashable. "We're saying, 'Here's what's in it for you as a New York City resident. Here's a program you can take advantage of.'" Read more...

More about Mobile, Government, New York, New York City, and Web Design

September 10 2013

Transform Any Website Into Your Design Playground
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As the worlds of desktop and mobile content continue to overlap, a new kind of website has emerged: responsive web design, a dynamic that automatically transforms a site’s layout depending on your screen size or device

A new online service hopes to take this trend to the next level by allowing anyone to easily modify favorite online destinations into elaborately customized websites.

Israel-based web platform Tomodo lets you create a new layout for any existing site without affecting the target site. For instance, if you wanted to visualize Apple’s site if the company took the rumored gold iPhone aesthetic into overdrive, you could simply visit a unique URL hosted on Tomodo’s servers and enjoy a fully functional, blinged-out Apple website. Read more...

More about Software, Web Design, Mods, Tech, and Apps Software

August 08 2013

The Anatomy of a Successful Responsive Website
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Businesses must decide whether to build a native mobile apps or a responsive site for their digital presences. Should you invest in separate iOS and Android development or simply design a site that works across all devices? If you opt to build out a responsive site, here are some best practices to make your design seamless on every platform.

The infographic below from Webmaster tool WhoIsHostingThis? details how to successfully execute responsive design for your website. If done correctly, it optimizes your site across multiple devices, including desktop, tablet and smartphone

More about Web Design, Design, Mobile Web Design, Infographic, and Marketing

May 07 2012

Klout CEO Hints at Redesign, Local Feature, Brand Page Update


Klout has had a busy few weeks, unleashing an iPhone app, brand pages and a new API. But more changes are on deck.

Klout CEO Joe Fernandez hinted at those developments on stage and backstage at Mashable Connect in Orlando.

The San Francisco-based startup will announce this month four more partners for its version of brand pages — Brand Squads. The feature launched in April with Red Bull.

Fernandez also says users should anticipate a redesigned website this year, possibly rolling out this summer.

Klout’s February acquisition of BlockBoard, an app that gives people a way to communicate with neighbors, will eventually spawn a new local feature on Klout. Fernandez was sparse on details but says ideas are still in “white board” phase.

“We’re going to be an incredible tool to help people; right now we’re just a benchmark,” Fernandez said in an onstage interview with Mashable‘s Lance Ulanoff.

“There’s no way to get around the fact that we put a number next to your face and it’s tied to your ego.”

Fernandez, aware of some of the negative feedback people dish about Klout, asserts that the good and bad buzz is a “huge victory.”

“There’s no way to get around the fact that we put a number next to your face and it’s tied to your ego,” he says. “I think the controversy and conversation around what we’re doing is ultimately good. The world is changing and we’re doing something completely new.”

The still-in-beta Klout measures influence on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Foursquare to assign Klout users scores from 0 to 100, but it’s algorithm is hush-hush so people don’t game the system.

Prodded by Ulanoff to disclose more details about the algorithm, Fernandez discussed Klout’s evolution of tracking influence, saying calculations began on an Excel spreadsheet before becoming too “dynamic” for that as more social networks were integrated onto Klout.

“We generally look at Twitter, Facebook and Google+,” he says. But “there’s definitely a weighting system.”

He also reminded the audience that the algorithm measures each user’s top social network first — primarily Twitter or Facebook — and the others are additive, meaning adding more networks would never lower a person’s Klout score.

“I don’t think we’ve really built the real Klout product yet — what you see now on Klout is just a thin layer of what the data is,” Fernandez says. “It’s something we’re excited to move beyond.”


BONUS: What Else Does Klout Have in Store for 2012?


Looking ahead, Klout is still building scoring models for seven more services (YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, Blogger, WordPress.com, Last.fm and Flickr) that have already been integrated onto Klout users’ dashboards. Klout also plans to add Quora, Yelp, Posterous, Livefyre, Disqus, bit.ly and BranchOut.

SEE ALSO: The Remarkable Story of How Klout Got Started [VIDEO]

Klout likely will continue improving its Topics feature (see screenshots below) and Klout Perks platform. The Topics feature, which rolled out in September and lets you gain insights on top influencers and +K recipients for specific content areas, got a visual update in December with a “sashes” and an “Add a Topic” button.

Another feature on the horizon is an “oAuth2-based authentication system” that will soon let users give +Ks to people from outside of Klout.com. For example, a person might give someone else a +K while browsing Tumblr.


Clickable Topics on Your Dashboard




On your Klout dashboard, you can click on a topic to open its Topic Page.

In December 2011, Klout rolled out sashes and an "Add a Topic" button. A blue sash goes to users with the most +Ks for any topic, while a gold sash is given to influencers based on Klout's algorithm. People who fall into both categories receive a blue-and-gold sash.

Click here to view this gallery.



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The Adobe Digital Marketing Suite is an integrated set of applications which allow businesses to gather customer insight and optimize advertising, conversion and retention efforts as well as the creation and distribution of content. For example, using the Suite, marketers can identify the most effective marketing strategies and ad placements as well as create relevant, personalized and consistent customer experiences across digital marketing channels, such as onsite, display, e-mail, social, video and mobile. The Suite enables marketers to automatically adjust to customer interactions and better maximize marketing ROI, which leads to a positive impact the bottom line.

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More About: klout, mashable connect, online reputation, Social Media, web design

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January 15 2012

4 Tips to Keep Your Website Ahead of the Curve in 2012


This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

Sure, having a website for your business serves a practical need: to draw net-surfing users to your product or service. However, it’s also much more than slapping on a run of the mill two-column template and calling it a day. Nothing kills an online buzz like a poorly designed or drastically outdated website. Dry and boring default templates, broken assets, confusing pages and invasive widgets do nothing but harm a page’s style, which in turn reflects poorly on the company.

2012 is heralding a new wave of innovative web technologies and design, and a page that stays in step with these trends is bound to pique interest and lower your bounce rate. Even more, a well done and on-trend website remains effective well after the year is over, reeling users in with thoughtful design and building a design-conscious and taste-making reputation. Keep these tips in mind when you clean up your company’s website, and stay ahead of the curve for the new year.


1. Don’t Be Afraid to be Bold


Mail Chimp. Instagram. Pinterest. All of these websites are joined together by a commitment to bold designs and layout. Whether it’s an exaggerated footer, a turn to minimalism or a bold and new typeface, incorporating a key graphical element to a website speaks volumes about the overall composition of the layout — and a keen level of attention to detail. Opting for a bold design element is a great way to modernize a website and keep it on trend in the coming years.

A bold design can be obtained with very little money, especially for those who aren’t necessarily experienced in coding. For example, webpages operating on a WordPress can find a host of free templates that offer a wide range of customizable options to suit any business. New and exciting fonts can be found via Google‘s open API font styles and require a simple set of code to be dropped in for compatibility with a website. Inspiration and how-tos for more hands-on DIY upgrades can be found at coding/design blogs like A List Apart, One Extra Pixel and Mashable‘s Dev and Design channel.

For those with a little more cash to burn on a proper contractor, 99 Designs relies on crowdsourcing to gather great designers for companies looking for a reliable and cutting edge renovation. Companies on 99 Designs are allowed to name their own price, which means a promising design on a budget.

However you choose to go about it, a bold design dusts off the cobwebs on your old page and keeps it fresh for years to come.


2. Use HTML5 … With Care


For the last couple years, people have been buzzing about HTML5, and it’s not just chatter; HTML5 offers a lot of exciting flexibility that can make a website truly interactive. Seamlessly embedded videos, drag-and-drop interfaces and dynamic message posts are all achievable via HTML5, and with relatively little code work.

But it’s not enough to just call up your freelance web designer and throw up some HTML5 features. As with any programming language, there’s always an issue of browser compatibility. While your new and shiny UI outfitted with dynamic HTML5 might look stunning to a user running on the latest version of Chrome, your high-tech page may look like a series of broken features — or nothing at all — to a less tech-savvy user running Internet Explorer 7 (and there’s a lot of them).

This issue has been longstanding in the Internet world, but there are precautions to take in order to ensure that every user has a pleasurable experience on your website without you making a major investment. Modernizr is an open-source, JavaScript-based tool that offers feature detection for HTML5, and it’s just-as-snazzy brother CSS3. Instead of doing simple browser detection, Modernizr will figure out just what features the user’s browser can support and react accordingly. If a user is operating on an incompatible browser, then Modernizr will automatically decide whether to switch to a JavaScript-based fallback of the features or just create a downgraded version.

Make no mistake, this solution shouldn’t be implemented by a newbie to code, but it does provide a simple way to implement exciting and revolutionary features while still providing support for the little guys.


3. Cut the Fat


The traditional layouts for websites often call for separate pages that encapsulate the “About,” “Contact” and other informational areas of the website. 2011 saw minimalist designs from multiple websites, and that often translated to cutting these pages in favor of a sleeker overall design (think Tumblr). Some companies chose to forgo nearly everything to produce a strongly graphical one-page website — blogs like One Page Love and successful networking tools like Flavors.me show that people are drifting towards a bold singular statement that makes a big impact on fellow users.

As we move forward in 2012, further exploration into one-page websites is a given. But a single-page website has both its pros and cons. HTML5 can help create a one-page website that cleverly contains all necessary information via pop-up boxes or other media, but the amount of information that can be on a one-page website is still relatively limited. Do you want your website to make a bold statement about your company and focus less on a blog-style format? If so, a one-page website could be right in your wheelhouse. Are you more interested in showing off testimonials, case studies and blogs from your employees? If yes, then this trend would be worth passing on.

However, that doesn’t mean to forgo trimming entirely. Culling the best parts of your website and truncating the rest will result in a sleeker, more intuitive design — and sleek never goes out of style.


4. Tie in Social Media Intelligently


This tip could also be titled “Quit it With the Widgets.” Announcing your social media presence on your own website is an absolute necessity, but it needs to be done with care. Automatically updating widgets that stream in social media presence seems intrusive and outdated, not to mention that they can be a hassle for a DIY designer to install and maintain.

To put it simply, social media should absolutely be a presence on a business website, but it should not be a dominating presence. Integrating social media, whether in graphic links or a social ticker, should be done with the user’s eyes in mind. It’s simple on paper, but can be difficult to execute. When social media is done intelligently and with consideration, your website instantly will look socially connected and organized.

Are there any other ways you’re keeping your website ahead of the game? Let us know in the comments.

More About: design, features, HTML5, mashable, open forum, web design

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January 05 2012

How to Design an Ecommerce Site to Maximize Sales


Daniel Alves is the design director for the small business web design division at the digital marketing and web design company 352 Media Group.

If you read the business news that followed Black Friday and Cyber Monday, you would remember that this year’s online holiday shopping season was predicted to be the biggest in history. Many reported that online sales were up a whopping 16% compared to 2010.

However, despite these impressive trends, ecommerce websites only convert 1-4% of their leads, on average. On the other hand, some of the best ecommerce websites convert upward of 15% of their visitors. So how do they do it?

While there are many factors that go into creating conversions, one thing is certain: Great ecommerce websites successfully connect a user to a product with a system that is efficient, easy and fun.

When designing your ecommerce website, keep in mind there are three basic steps in an online shopping experience. First, a user must find the product she wants. Second, you must showcase the product well. Third, you need to seal the deal with a seamless checkout process. Read on for more details.


1. Finding the Product


Believe it or not, the biggest reason why a shopper won’t buy something on a given website is not due to its price, your customer service, or a lack of buyer’s intent. Surprisingly, the biggest reason ecommerce websites fail is because shoppers can’t find what they are looking for.

So, why is it so hard for websites to guide users to their desired products? The key to understanding this phenomenon is understanding your users.

Great web design has the ability to cater to different user needs in a unified user interface. For the users who know exactly what they are looking for, your job is to help them find their desired product in as few steps as possible. Some users might need more hand-holding, while others just want to casually browse. Each type of shopper presents unique challenges, as well as unique opportunities.

  • The Power Shopper: Power Shoppers know exactly what they want, have sophisticated shopping strategies, and don’t want to waste time casually perusing your website. For these shoppers, your first priority is to provide them with an awesome search bar so they can type exactly what they want. In terms of design, you want to make sure your search bar is large and presented with enough contrast so it’s easily visible. Per conventions, place it in the top-right of your website and make sure it is consistent across the entire website.

    As for functionality, it’s pretty much expected that your search bar should provide suggestions as you type. This allows your shoppers to type a few characters and be presented with potential choices, without having to type out the product’s entire name. This auto-complete feature can also be leveraged to cross-market products related to the product users are looking for. If you do include these suggestions, make sure to clearly label them as suggestions, not actual results of the search.

  • The Recreational Shopper: If you’re not a recreational shopper, you probably know one. This type of shopper would prefer to spend an entire afternoon at the mall casually exploring any store that piques his curiosity. They don’t see shopping as a means to an end; they’re shopping for the experience.

    While these shoppers are more likely to jump ship and not purchase from you, they provide an incredible opportunity, due to their tendency to be more adventurous and impulsive in their shopping habits. Because these shoppers respond to visual cues, you need to wow them with dynamite photography, featured item showcases, unbeatable deals and the occasional unique surprise.

    Don’t worry, you don’t have to blow your marketing budget with a tricked out homepage to lure in shoppers. In fact, some of the best ecommerce websites accomplish an eye-catching and entertaining storefront with simple and creative techniques. A popular women’s clothing website, Free People, shows off a traditional model spread, but presents a simple, unique twist when you move your mouse over one of the images.

  • The Reluctant Shopper: This type of shopper is generally uncomfortable and nervous about shopping online. She is typically less tech-savvy and needs more guidance throughout the entire shopping experience. One of her biggest concerns is privacy and security; therefore, she responds well to promising statements of trust and customer service. Because online shoppers cannot physically touch the item they are buying, promoting return and refund policies greatly increases the likelihood they will do business with you.

    For finding products, these shoppers benefit greatly from gift guides or “Shopping Wizards:” The customer answers a few pre-qualifying questions, and the site provides suggestions that suit her particular needs.


2. Showcasing the Product


Once a shopper zeroes-in on a product, the conversion clock starts ticking. Your number-one goal at this point is to get the user to add the item to his shopping cart. While there are several different ways to arrange a product detail page, several important components will help retain shopper interest and make him more likely to commit to a purchase.

  • Photos: Humans are visual creatures and high-quality photography is the key to showcasing your product. If you can only give them one photo, make sure the product has a distraction-free, neutral-colored background. If you do show your product in a lifestyle-oriented setting, make sure the product is overtly emphasized, so as not to confuse the shopper and take attention away from the product.

    If your design doesn’t allow you to display the photo at such a large size, make sure you give shoppers the option to view the photo in a modal window. Don’t offer them a zoom tool that limits them to a small quadrant of the photo. There’s no reason to not display a large photo in its entirety.

  • Price: Price is perhaps the biggest reason why a shopper will abandon your website and look elsewhere. While determining prices is outside the scope of this article, you can do a few things to help sweeten the deal. First, display the price boldly and clearly. Don’t make users register or add the item to their carts before showing them the price. This will certainly annoy users and cause them to leave in droves. If your price is discounted from the suggested retail price, show them the discount because everybody likes to know you are giving them a deal.
  • Reviews: Social influences have a profound effect on our shopping behaviors. You can tout the virtues of your product with fancy and elaborate prose, but shoppers won’t believe one word of it until it’s been confirmed by an independent customer. While positive reviews will motivate users to take the plunge and purchase an item, negative reviews give you a unique opportunity to either make product changes or respond to customer concerns publicly. This open and proactive approach to giving and receiving feedback ultimately gives your website more credibility, which translates into loyal customers and repeat sales.
  • Add to Cart: Because your call-to-action entices the user to click on the “Add to Cart” button, you must give plenty of attention to optimizing it for conversions. Try the following tips to increase your conversion rate.

    Use the words “Add to Cart.” This may seem like a no-brainer, but shoppers can either be apprehensive about the commitment of “Buy Now” or confused when they see “Add to Bag.” The convention of the words “Add to Cart” is non-committal, and leaves them comfortable to keep on shopping. It’s your most important button, so don’t hide it. Use bold colors that contrast well with your design and attract attention. Try choosing a color that is not used anywhere else in the design to really set it apart. By making the button plainly visible, shoppers won’t have to wonder how to add items to their shopping carts. Any time spent searching for the “Add to Cart” button is time in which the shopper will reconsider her motivation to purchase.

    When your shopper clicks on the “Add to Cart” button, make sure to show her some indication that the item has been added to the cart. Don’t take her to the shopping cart. If you take her away from the product page and force her to the shopping cart, you lose the opportunity to cross-sell, and the user will be less likely to keep shopping.

  • Related Products:Offering shoppers suggestions gives you the opportunity to feature items they wouldn’t have stumbled upon otherwise. Some shoppers might not be savvy in searching, but are more likely to wander through your website based on the suggestions they receive. Because the biggest reason for a lack of conversion on ecommerce websites is not being able to find the desired product, this feature gives you the unique opportunity to customize the products your customers see based on their browsing history.
  • Deals: Without a doubt, shoppers are responsive to deals and promotions, and the king of all deals is free shipping. Marketing guru Seth Godin dedicated a whole chapter of his book Free Prize Inside! to Amazon’s success with its free shipping model. In order to offer this and still make a profit, make a minimum purchase amount, but don’t make it too high. A minimum purchase amount will encourage shoppers to spend a little bit more just to get free shipping.

3. Sealing the Deal


So, you’ve gotten your shopper to add a cornucopia of products to his shopping cart, but it’s not time to break out the bubbly yet. One of the biggest hurdles a shopper must overcome is the often plagued and cumbersome checkout process, beautifully portrayed in this video.

While shopping is fun, spending money isn’t. Your job is to get customers through the payment as quickly and painlessly as possible. I’ll offer some helpful tips.

  • One-page checkouts increase conversions. Long forms with many steps require the browser to load a new page, proving detrimental to a shopper’s patience. One A/B Split Test study determined an improvement of more than 20% when users were able to checkout with one click of the submit button.
  • Provide instant chat. A study by BoldChat found that 76% of shoppers want to have instant access to a customer service rep during the checkout process. Instant chat not only lets you help your users with technical problems, but it also allows you to encourage them to complete their order.
  • Follow up. If you’ve been keen enough to capture a customer’s email address in the first steps of the checkout process, you have a unique ability to recover a lost sale if she decides to jump ship.
  • Don’t require registration. A Forrester Research study found that requiring users to register before checking out decreases ecommerce conversions by a staggering 23%. While registering users is a great tool for identifying repeat shoppers and making the checkout process more streamlined, make this an optional step. Also, consider using Facebook Connect or other social media sign-in widgets. These tools allow shoppers to register with your site without having to create a unique account.
  • Use cookies. A cookie is a small amount of information a website puts in a user’s web browser so that it can remember something about him/her at a later time. You can leverage this simple tool to remember a user’s shopping cart or shopping history, so when they do visit your website again, they can pick up where they left off.

Selling online is as much an art as it is a science. You need the creative prowess of both a marketing and design genius to attract customers, and the keen eye of a usability guru to make conversions happen. However, implementing the suggestions provided above should help increase your conversion rate, and lead to happy and satisfied customers.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, MarsBars

More About: Business, contributor, ecommerce, features, online shopping, web design

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September 12 2011

7 Best Practices for Improving Your Website’s Usability


The Web Design Usability Series is supported by join.me, an easy way to instantly share your screen with anyone. join.me lets you collaborate on-the-fly, put your heads together super-fast and even just show off.

Writing content for web users has its challenges. Chief among them is the ease with which your content is read and understood by your visitors (i.e. its readability).

When your content is highly readable, your audience is able to quickly digest the information you share with them — a worthy goal to have for your website, whether you run a blog, an e-store or your company’s domain.

Below are a handful of dead-simple tips and techniques for enhancing the usability and readability of your website’s content.

These tips are based on research findings and suggestions by well-regarded usability experts such as Jakob Nielsen.

This list is not exhaustive, and is meant merely to arm you with a few ideas that you can implement right away. If you have additional tips to add, please share them in the comments.


General Goals of User-Friendly Web Content


Usable, readable web content is a marriage of efforts between web designers and web content writers.

Web pages must be designed to facilitate the ease of reading content through the effective use of colors, typography, spacing, etc.

In turn, the content writer must be aware of writing strategies that enable readers to quickly identify, read and internalize information.

As we go through the seven tips below, keep these three general guidelines in mind:

  • Text and typography have to be easy and pleasant to read (i.e. they must legible).
  • Content should be easy to understand.
  • Content should be skimmable because web users don’t read a lot. Studies show that in a best-case scenario, we only read 28% of the text on a web page.

What simple things can we do to achieve these goals? Read on to see.


1. Keep Content as Concise as Possible


It’s pretty well known that web users have very short attention spans and that we don’t read articles thoroughly and in their entirety. A study investigating the changes in our reading habits behaviors in the digital age concluded that we tend to skim webpages to find the information we want.

We search for keywords, read in a non-linear fashion (i.e. we skip around a webpage instead of reading it from top to bottom) and have lowered attention spans.

This idea that we’re frugal when it comes to reading stuff on the web is reinforced by a usability study conducted by Jakob Nielsen. The study claims a that a 58% increase in usability can be achieved simply by cutting roughly half the words on the webpages being studied.

Shorter articles enhance readability, so much so that many popular readability measurement formulas use the length of sentences and words as factors that influence ease of reading and comprehension.

What you can do:

  • Get to the point as quickly as possible.
  • Cut out unnecessary information.
  • Use easy-to-understand, shorter, common words and phrases.
  • Avoid long paragraphs and sentences.
  • Use time-saving and attention-grabbing writing techniques, such using numbers instead of spelling them out. Use “1,000″ as opposed to “one thousand,” which facilitates scanning and skimming.
  • Test your writing style using readability formulas that gauge how easy it is to get through your prose. The Readability Test Tool allows you to plug in a URL, then gives you scores based on popular readability formulas such as the Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease.


2. Use Headings to Break Up Long Articles


A usability study described in an article by web content management expert Gerry McGovern led him to the conclusion that Internet readers inspect webpages in blocks and sections, or what he calls “block reading.”

That is, when we look at a webpage, we tend to see it not as a whole, but rather as compartmentalized chunks of information. We tend to read in blocks, going directly to items that seem to match what we’re actively looking for.

An eye-tracking study conducted by Nielsen revealed an eye-movement pattern that could further support this idea that web users do indeed read in chunks: We swipe our eyes from left to right, then continue on down the page in an F-shaped pattern, skipping a lot of text in between.

We can do several things to accommodate these reading patterns. One strategy is to break up long articles into sections so that users can easily skim down the page. This applies to block reading (because blocks of text are denoted by headings) as well as the F-shaped pattern, because we’re attracted to the headings as we move down the page.

Below, you’ll see the same set of text formatted without headings (version 1) and with headings (version 2). See which one helps readers quickly skip to the sections that interest them the most.

What you can do:

  • Before writing a post, consider organizing your thoughts in logical chunks by first outlining what you’ll write.
  • Use simple and concise headings.
  • Use keyword-rich headings to aid skimming, as well as those that use their browser’s search feature (Ctrl + F on Windows, Command + F on Mac).

3. Help Readers Scan Your Webpages Quickly


As indicated in the usability study by Nielsen referenced earlier, as well as the other supporting evidence that web users tend to skim content, designing and structuring your webpages with skimming in mind can improve usability (as much as 47% according to the research mentioned above).

What you can do:

  • Make the first two words count, because users tend to read the first few words of headings, titles and links when they’re scanning a webpage.
  • Front-load keywords in webpage titles, headings and links by using the passive voice as an effective writing device.
  • Use the inverted pyramid writing style to place important information at the top of your articles.


4. Use Bulleted Lists and Text Formatting


According to an eye-tracking study by ClickTale, users fixate longer on bulleted lists and text formatting (such as bolding and italics).

These text-styling tools can garner attention because of their distinctive appearance as well as help speed up reading by way of breaking down information into discrete parts and highlighting important keywords and phrases.

What you can do:

  • Consider breaking up a paragraph into bulleted points.
  • Highlight important information in bold and italics.

5. Give Text Blocks Sufficient Spacing


The spacing between characters, words, lines and paragraphs is important. How type is set on your webpages can drastically affect the legibility (and thus, reading speeds) of readers.

In a study called “Reading Online Text: A Comparison of Four White Space Layouts,” the researchers discovered that manipulating the amount of margins of a passage affected reading comprehension and speed.

What you can do:

  • Evaluate your webpages’ typography for spacing issues and then modify your site’s CSS as needed.
  • Get to know CSS properties that affect spacing in your text. The ones that will give you the most bang for your buck are margin, padding, line-height, word-spacing, letter-spacing and text-indent.

6. Make Hyperlinked Text User-Friendly


One big advantage of web-based content is our ability to use hyperlinks. The proper use of hyperlinks can aid readability.

What you can do:


7. Use Visuals Strategically


Photos, charts and graphs are worth a thousand words. Using visuals effectively can enhance readability when they replace or reinforce long blocks of textual content.

In fact, an eye-tracking study conducted by Nielsen suggests that users pay “close attention to photos and other images that contain relevant information.”

Users, however, also ignore certain images, particularly stock photos merely included as decorative artwork. Another eye-tracking study reported a 34% increase in memory retention when unnecessary images were removed in conjunction with other content revisions.

What you can do:

  • Make sure images you use aid or support textual content.
  • Avoid stock photos and meaningless visuals.

Series Supported by join.me

The Web Design Usability Series is supported by join.me, an easy way to instantly share your screen with anyone. join.me lets you collaborate on-the-fly, put your heads together super-fast and even just show off. The possibilities are endless. How will you use join.me? Try it today.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Kontrec

More About: web design, Web Design Usability Series


September 07 2011

New York Times & WNYC Launch SchoolBook to Foster Education Community


On Wednesday, The New York Times and public radio station WNYC launched SchoolBook, a website to provide news, data and discussion about New York City schools.

The site aims to increase communication and understanding among parents, teachers, administrators and students. As many school websites are rudimentary and infrequently updated, SchoolBook’s creators hope to fill a gaping hole. It creates a page for each of NYC’s 2,500 public, charter and private schools with student population information, community discussion threads and more.

“In conversations with parents, principals and teachers, we kept hearing how fragmented the conversation was,” said Tyson Evans, an assistant editor on The Times‘s interactive news desk who helped develop the project. “We’re hoping they’ll see this as kind of a place to explore.”

If it’s numbers SchoolBook users are looking to explore, they’ll have plenty to discover. The site’s extensive database is comprised of information from thousands of public records from numerous sources, including city and state departments and non-profit organizations, Evans said. Much of the information was already housed in internal search and reporting tools for Times journalists built by Robert Gebeloff, a computer assisted reporter who specializes in education.

The challenge for SchoolBook, like many numbers-driven reports, was how to present the information in a useful and easy-to-understand way. Evans said he and his team wanted the site to provide more overall context than a tool that produces charts and visualizations. They chose to standardize the data and group scores into three categories: performance, satisfaction and diversity.

SchoolBook’s developers created custom software for the site with Ruby on Rails and were ambitious about writing data validators and imports. This will help ease the process of updating the database when schools come out with new information.

Some may argue SchoolBook is ranking schools based on scores. Gebeloff wrote an extensive guide to the site’s methodology, in which he says, “What we have not done, quite purposely, is grade or rate schools.”

The numbers are only part of the story. It’s the site’s ambitions for building community around education as an entity that sets it apart. Users are asked to log in with Facebook, an experiment The Times wanted to try to out with a standalone site. “We’re curious about the next phase of web identity,” Evans said.

It will be interesting to see how this affects conversation, especially as education can be a sensitive topic. With the controversy about how students and teachers should interact on Facebook, the single sign-in method will likely see challenges and complaints.

Participants can contribute on individual school pages in three ways: ask a question, post content (photos, student newspaper articles, etc.) or suggest an idea. This could be particularly useful for parents considering a new school for their student. If the school has an active community page where the user feels comfortable contributing, it may shed light on whether it’s a good fit.

The Times and WNYC worked with a handful of schools when brainstorming for the site. Evans expects those communities will lead the charge on SchoolBook and it will grow from there.

“We have ideas for how conversations will work but we’ll ultimately be learning from how the community uses it,” Evans said. “The more activity we can see at individual schools, the more we’ll be convinced it was the right project.”

Times and WNYC education reporters will be regularly updating the site with original articles, discussion threads and aggregated news posts from local sources GothamSchools and Inside Schools. Mary Ann Giordano, the site’s editor, will manage content from contributing writers, which may include teacher diaries, Evans said. The news and community aspects of the site were built on WordPress.

Overall, SchoolBook is leading the way in building community around the topic of education. Though projects like The Opportunity Gap from ProPublica and The Washington Post‘s D.C. Schools Scorecard were pioneers in data collection and presentation, they do little to bring readers together to share content and engage in debate. As Evans said, the purpose SchoolBook provides is up to its users — but it’s the site’s empowerment of its community members that will give people a reason to visit.

More About: education, new york city, the new york times

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September 04 2011

Amazon.com Is Testing a Redesign [REPORT]


Amazon has begun testing a redesign of its retail site — and it could foreshadow the launch of Amazon’s own tablet, according to reports.

The testing began last week and will continue to be rolled out to additional customers, but a full launch date is unknown, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The new design is cleaner and less cluttered, with more white space and a larger search box. Mashable staff with access to the new version noticed that the wish list and shopping cart were easier to get to and more intuitive. Amazon says the redesign will feature apps, digital games, ebooks and MP3s — all products suited for tablet visitors, according to TechCrunch.

A tablet-optimized site fits nicely with rumors of Amazon’s own Android-powered tablet. In July, we heard speculation that it might be released by October, and before we’ve even seen specs for the product, others have predicted both the price ($250) and success of Amazon’s tablet.

Such a low price tag could make it the iPad’s top competitor, because the company would profit from sales of goods and services on the device.

More About: amazon, redesign, Tablet

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September 03 2011

39 New Digital Media Resources You May Have Missed


Summer may be lazing into fall, but we’re just ramping it up! Brought to Mashable readers exclusively, we bring you the weekly roundup.

This week seems to have a peculiar culinary theme, so we’re going with the flow. Two of our editorial picks involve browser cookies and Facebook tips for restaurants. Now that you’ve got the munchies, fix yourself a plate and kick back this weekend with our favorite features.


Editors’ Picks



Social Media


September 02 2011

7 Factors to Consider When Redesigning Your Website


The Web Design Usability Series is supported by join.me, an easy way to instantly share your screen with anyone. join.me lets you collaborate on-the-fly, put your heads together super-fast and even just show off.

There are very few, if any, websites on the Internet that don’t undergo at least a minor facelift at some point in their lifecycle. If you own a business with a web presence, at some point, that site will need to be redesigned, whether it’s due to the changing nature of your business, or purely for aesthetic reasons.

Redesigning your company site can be a major undertaking, so we’ve put together a helpful list of things to keep in mind when considering a redesign.


1. Why Are You Redesigning?


This is perhaps the most deceptively complex, yet obvious question of all. Before undergoing any redesign, however, it’s important to understand what it is you wish to accomplish. Are you unhappy with the way your site functions? Do you simply want a better-looking site? Do you need to improve search engine rankings and sales conversions? Maybe the focus of your business has shifted and it’s time for new content.

SEE ALSO: 17 Web Resources for Improving Your Design Skills

These are all important factors to consider, so before you start, make a detailed list of what it is you wish to accomplish during the redesign. This will help guide you through the rest of the process and make sure you stay focused on the end goal.


2. What Type of Redesign Do You Need?


Now that you’ve decided exactly why you want to redesign your site, it’s time to decide just how far down the rabbit hole you need to go. Perhaps a small change in visuals and content is all that’s necessary. On the other hand, you may need to add new features or completely redo your underlying code base. Depending on your needs and budget, a large overhaul may be out of the question, or it may be the most cost-effective long-term solution, so take a moment to think about your needs going forward and work with your developer to strike a balance that best meets them.


3. What Does and Doesn’t Work Currently?


No matter how large or small the redesign, chances are there will be some elements of your existing site that work very well and some that don’t work at all. Now is the time to go through your site and identify these elements. Maybe your content is too verbose or your sales page isn’t very user-friendly. On the other hand, that photo gallery and the blog may be big-ticket items that do really well for your image and bring in lots of traffic. Some elements will need to remain (though possibly given a makeover), some will need to be cleaned up and some will have to go. Break your site down into its key components and then compare those with the goals you decided on in step one and the overall vision for your web site. If something doesn’t fit, it’s out.


4. How Is Your Site Being Used?


Along these same lines, don’t forget to take a look at how users are currently interacting with your site. This will help you identify great content and problem areas. Study your traffic statistics and site analytics for information on things such as entry and exit pages, sales conversions, and search engine keywords. This will help you to understand how visitors find your site and what they do once they get there. While you’re studying those statistics, also have a look at details like screen resolution and browser usage. This will help your developer determine what technical specifications your site should meet and whether a separate mobile version of your site is recommended, among other things.


5. Has Your Brand or Company Image Changed?


If you’ve undergone changes to your brand and company image, those changes need to be reflected in your site, even if the only updates are visual. Keep your logos updated and consider a color-overhaul if the corporate image or philosophy has shifted. Your website is often the first impression people get of your business, so it should grow and mature right along with the rest of your brand identity.


6. When and How Should You Launch Your Redesign?


When and how you launch your redesign can have a big impact on your traffic and in generating buzz about your new site and your product. Maybe you’re simply making improvements and want to slowly roll out changes over time and unannounced. This unobtrusive rollout won’t give you a lot of buzz, but it will still accomplish your goals of improving the site’s performance and the user’s experience. On the other hand, a big relaunch around the holidays or at the start of a big promotion, or when announcing a major change in the way your business operates can both draw traffic and generate more interest.


7. How Do I Make the Transition Smoother?


Most people are a little intimidated by change. If you have a site that gets a lot of repeat traffic, a sudden, drastic change in form and function can be a bit off-putting to some users. Further, you don’t want this drastic shift to damage search engine rankings and suddenly destroy any and all backlinks you may have gathered over the years.

Try and keep vital elements of your site similar to their existing counterparts, such as the main navigation and header. Usually, your redesign should strive to be an evolution of your existing site, not a dramatic replacement. If the change is dramatic, make sure it’s clear and give your users a blog post or news announcement discussing the changes.

Similarly, you want to make things easy for the search engine spiders, as well. Moved content should be redirected via 301 redirects, for instance, and error pages should be helpful and transmit the correct header information and meta data. For human visitors, make sure those error pages contain helpful information that is, where possible, relevant to the content the user was trying to access.


Series Supported by join.me

The Web Design Usability Series is supported by join.me, an easy way to instantly share your screen with anyone. join.me lets you collaborate on-the-fly, put your heads together super-fast and even just show off. The possibilities are endless. How will you use join.me? Try it today.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Kontrec

More About: web design, Web Design Usability Series

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July 19 2011

“Music as a Service” Platform Makes Licensing Easy


Boutique music licensing agency Audiosocket is launching a new service that will make it easier for content creators to get access to music legally.

Audiosocket has just unveiled Music as a Service, a platform that can be plugged into third-party photo- and video-sharing services, gaming platforms, digital and ad agencies, and social networks. Users of those services can access the agency’s catalog of more than 33,000 songs for use in their projects.

Audiosocket tells us that it has signed “several major partnerships” with companies planning to use Music as a Service, but declined to reveal any specifics. However, we do know that Audiosocket’s API is open and available to developers (via its website), so any platform that wants to integrate Music as a Service can do so (after being approved by Audiosocket). Partners stand to gain 10% to 50% of revenues generated via music licenses, depending on scale.

We can see this platform being a boon to content creators on bigger platforms — much like YouTube integrating Creative Commons video into its video editor. We can also see it gaining more revenue and recognition for artists across platforms, as their music will be easily available to a wider variety of customers.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, shulz

More About: api, audiosocket, licensing, music, music licensing

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July 18 2011

MuteMath Releases New Track Via Interactive Audio/Visual Remix Board


Each Monday, Mashable highlights an exclusive new video or song. Check out all our Music Monday picks.

Watching a music video is usually a passive experience. But this is not the case with a new vid/art project from New Orleans-based MuteMath. The band has created an interactive video mixer to introduce “Odd Soul,” the first song on its upcoming third album, also titled Odd Soul.

The mixer, dubbed “Visual Stems,” features six different videos that comprise parts of the song: drums, guitars, bass, vocals, synth and BG vocals. Users can mute various sections of the song (a cool tool for aspiring musicians, as you can listen to a certain part of the song all by your lonesome), check out solos and change the volume levels of each of the six videos. There are two versions of the project: one for up-to-date browsers featuring six separate vids, and one for slower browsers boasting four videos (with two parts crammed into one video).

The project was created in collaboration with Teleprompt Records, and was brought to fruition by graphic designer Andrew Le.

MuteMath is no stranger to inventive music videos. Back in 2007, it created a video for the song “Typical” during which the jam was played backwards.

We asked the band members if they felt any pressure to come up with increasingly elaborate videos over the years — given their first viral foray into video-making, and the recent influx of interactive, unconventional music videos (see: “The Wilderness Downtown,” “3 Dreams in Black,” “Back From Kathmandu,” etc).

“It’s not really pressure as much as just getting bored with releasing music the same way every time,” lead vocalist and keyboardist Paul Meany told us. “We find ourselves on ‘what if’ rabbit trails a lot. Someone will start an idea ‘What if we…’ And then one of us will answer, ‘but then what if it…’ Until we keep pushing the idea into something that is obscenely impossible, and then we go back a few ‘what if’s’ and there’s the idea we usually go with.”

The “Visual Stems” project is certainly a fun way to engage with the band’s new single — if you want to listen to the unencumbered version, we’ve embedded it above — but it’s more of a toy than a real remix board. However, the band is also launching a remix contest in which fans can download the song stems and give them a real makeover, so we can see the project being a good starting point for aspiring remix artists.

More About: music, music monday, mutemath, remix, video

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July 16 2011

46 New Digital Media Resources You May Have Missed


Get ready for Mashable‘s weekly roundup! This week, we’ve performed original Google+ analysis, prepared you for the Mac OS X Lion release, and pointed you toward the best fictional Twitter accounts. We’ve celebrated startups and mourned space shuttle finales.

So review the list of important resources you may have missed over the past week. Tune in for more great stories and tools coming at you sooner than you can say “Spotify.”


Editors’ Picks



Social Media


For more social media news and resources, you can follow Mashable’s social media channel on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.


Tech & Mobile


For more tech news and resources, follow Mashable’s tech channel on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.


Business & Marketing


For more business news and resources, you can follow Mashable’s business channel on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.


 

Image courtesy of Flickr, webtreats.

More About: business, List, Lists, MARKETING, Mobile 2.0, social media, tech, technology

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Discovered a New Band? Find Out Which Songs To Check Out First With GoRankem


The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark. If you would like to have your startup considered for inclusion, please see the details here.

Name: GoRankem

Quick Pitch: GoRankem is a crowdsourced ratings site that helps users discover new music, complete with suggestions for which songs to listen to first.

Genius Idea: A cheat sheet for music discovery.


When checking out a new band, the first album that you listen to can have a huge effect on your opinions from there on out. You might stumble upon a musician’s best song first, allowing you to forgive any artistic oversights said musician may later fall prey to. Or, you know, you might be the victim of that Western movie-themed solo album that the bassist decided to bust out in the off-season.

GoRankem aims to help music lovers wade through the morass of tunes out there, so as to get right to the good stuff (according to fans, at least) at the get-go.

“The inspiration dates back to my high school days when I was trying to embrace a band like Widespread Panic — loved what I was hearing, but their monster catalog was just too damn overwhelming,” says founder Adam Wexler. “All I wanted was a cheat sheet so I could figure out which songs to check out in the ideal order.”

To cure this ill, Wexler launched GoRankem at Digital Music Forum East in New York City. Wexler has basically bootstrapped the project, raising a chunk of cash via Kickstarter. He has yet to try to monetize the site.

Still, we can see Wexler capitalizing on some kind of affiliate program, garnering money for albums and songs sold through the site, because GoRankem is actually pretty useful. Create an account, and start clicking around. Search for a specific artist (via its 500,000-artist catalogue courtesy of MusicBrainz) and you’ll be presented with a list of their songs (which you can order by song, album or year) that you can drag and drop in order of quality. You can rank between five and 20 songs per artist.

After rating, you give yourself a “fanstanding” — or a ranking of how big a fan you are — between one and 10. The average fanstanding of raters of a band is supposed to indicate the accuracy of the rating (although we don’t know why a “one” would bother ordering songs). You can then share your rankings via Facebook and Twitter.

Of course, there’s all kinds of game-playing aspects involved: People can “rec” your profile if they think you have good taste, and you get badges for sharing, etc. However, all those aspects seem kind of arbitrary. The simple, cool root here is that one can get crowdsourced recommendations based on specific songs. Yes, you may not agree with the verdict, but if you’re, say, a new Pulp fan and you’re looking at a giant discography, it’s good to get some guidance on where to start.

One aspect that this site notably lacks is some kind of music player, a failing that it shares with fellow music-ranking site, MusicGrid.me. Adding even 30-second clips to the site would make it a much more useful tool, and users wouldn’t have to navigate away to check out new tunes.

How do you find new music? Would you take the word of the crowdsourced masses?

Image courtesy of Flickr, Julia Folsom


Series Supported by Microsoft BizSpark


Microsoft BizSpark

The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark, a startup program that gives you three-year access to the latest Microsoft development tools, as well as connecting you to a nationwide network of investors and incubators. There are no upfront costs, so if your business is privately owned, less than three years old, and generates less than U.S.$1 million in annual revenue, you can sign up today.

More About: gorankem, music, startup

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