Weebly’s not so wobbly

I had lunch with Janie Hermann today and she told me about Weebly. Weebly claims to be the easiest way to create an publish a website – and I have to say it’s one of the easiest out there – if you don’t know any better ;) What do I mean? Well, I know my HTML and my CSS, so I like to have control, but for those who have no (or minimal) web skills – this tool is for them!!

Weebly lets you drag and drop widgets/page pieces onto the screen, change the layout, change the template and publish you page – bing-bang-boom – you’re done!

On possible use for Weebly (that Janie mentioned – gotta give her the credit) is if you just need a website for a little while – for something small like a family reunion or a presentation – why not create a quick Weebly page (and it is quick) and use that?

The best part is that Weebly will host your site ad-free for free! Also, if you already have a domain name – or have your own domain name – Weebly will host it for free (you just buy the domain).

Sounds like a pretty handy tool and something to keep and eye on.

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Choosing a CMS

Last week, I gave an introductory presentation to content management systems. Today I’m sitting with RayAna trying to decide whether to use Drupal or Joomla for the Greater Philadelphia Law Library Association website. We installed them both and keep going back and forth. For those who attended the talk – or are just curious, I just found an interesting comparison between the two. Right now we’re using Joomla – but who knows if I get annoyed enough I might switch back to Drupal.

[update] We switched back to Drupal [/update]

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XQuery

So I just spent the last three days learning about XQuery for work. Five years ago I took a 4 day course in PHP programming and I was the both the youngest in the session and the only female – the same is true five years later for the XQuery training! Where are all the girls?? What are you all up to?

Anyway, my brain is so full of school and home stuff that I’m not sure I got the hang of things – but XQuery seems awesome and I can’t wait until I have time to sit down and read through the books I have and start creating awesome apps for accessing our digital collections. Keep an eye out as I learn XQuery – I’ll be sure to share tidbits with you all.

The new information design

I’ve said it a hundred times and I’ve talked about others who have said it – but this topic bears repeating – over and over until it’s stuck in everyone’s head!! The way we design web pages needs to change – it’s changing all around us and it’s time to learn from others and use those new rules on our library sites. Today I got to see a test version of a new site for a public library (sometimes public libraries get to do the coolest things!) and it was amazing! I made notes and shared them with work (who are considering a redesign this year). Last week I wrote about user-centered design (an awesome topic). Today, I’m writing about Ellyssa Kroski’s talk on the new information design.

The fact is (if you hadn’t figured it out) the user experience with the web is changing. Users are changing the way they consumer information, the technology is different and most importantly the user’s expectations have changed. Today’s web design should be simple, social and provide alternative navigation structures.

Simple

Ellyssa included a quote from The Paradox of Choice: “The fact that some choice is good doesn’t necessarily mean that more choice is better … there is a cost to having an overload of choice.” And then showed us a picture of MS Word with all of the toolbars turned on!! That is bad choice!

New web apps are just showing the user what’s necessary, there’s a lower learning curve this way. This is also known as the “less is more” philosophy – we’ve all heard it – now we just have to apply it to our web redesigns. Lastly, and we all know this (but most don’t do anything about it) users are expecting a DIY (do it yourself) service model!!

Today’s websites (mostly web 2.0 sites) have clean simple designs. Sites need to be designed with a purpose, just for design’s sake (no need for flash on that library homepage just cause you took a flash class last year). Some formatting choices we’re seeing often are:

  • centered pages
  • round edges (provides a casual feel)
  • san serif fonts
  • lowercase fonts
  • large fonts for important concepts
  • simple persistent navigation
  • strong colors
  • bold logos
  • subtle 3D (like the site I saw a demo of) using reflections and shadows
  • original simple icons (like our intranet)
  • zen like feeling by using white space effectively (provides a fresh look)

Social

Just like every other talk at this Library 2.0 themed conference, Ellyssa reminds us that what used to be personal and singular is now shared (pictures, videos, etc). Users are expecting to interact socially with information on the web. This means commenting, ratings, send to a friend, subscribe via RSS, save for later and the ability to see all of that for the other users of the site.

Alternative navigation

Ellyssa showed us some need options for navigation (things librarians would never go for because they’re too chaotic). Some sites are trying to use a visual representation of what’s important on the site. Steve Krug writes in Don’t Make Me Think (great book by the way) that we don’t read pages, we skim them for important items – things that catch our eye. An example of an alternative method of navigation is a tag cloud. Others I’ve seen have included web like graphics linking pages together. Neither should be used as the main navigation – but the option can be there for users who like that sort of thing – it’s an easy addition.

Conclusions

Pretty simple! You have to evolve, be nimble and be willing to abandon bad ideas!! Doesn’t sound to hard – does it?

[update] More from Ellyssa [/update]

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It’s about more than converting print to e-formats

After his talk for the PALINET & Library Connect event yesterday, Jonathan Clark of Elsevier came over to me and said, “You were nodding a lot, does that mean you liked the talk?” It was (for me) the best talk of the day!!

Jonathan talked about user-centered design and how it has been used at Elsevier. It’s important to note that most of us can’t afford to do some of the things that Elsevier did – but that doesn’t mean we should be limited in following the principles outlined.

The presentation started with a story. Jonathan used to be a scientist, so he thinks he knows how scientists think – he’s got the inside track and he can design the perfect tools for them. His colleague is married to a scientist – and so she also thinks that she has the inside track. The two of them always get into arguments on what design is best for the user – but when the user is asked – it’s always different from what they thought. The fact of the matter is, that even if you’ve worked with the user, been in the user’s shoes, or are married to the user – you are not the user – and you don’t know what they want or how they think without asking them.

First and foremost, we have to be user-focused in our design of web applications. By starting with the user you can avoid what Jonathan calls opinion wars. Opinion wars are what was defined in the scenario above – everyone thinking they know what’s best for the user. Stop thinking for your user and ask your user – observe your user.

The second principle is that product development should deliver just what’s needed. I know this sounds somewhat slacker-ish – but the fact is, there is no reason wasting time and money on something fancy when the user just wants the simplest tool. This will hopefully help you avoid requirement wars – discussions where everyone thinks they know what features are going to be required to make the new system the best.

User-centered design has three steps:

  1. Understand the user
  2. Design for the user (possibly using personas)
  3. Evaluate the user interface (not the user) – the users aren’t stupid it’s your interface

A tool of user-centered design is stories. Stories are short 1-2 sentence descriptions of the users’ wants. These stories usually look like this:

“As a ____________, I want to ____________, so that I can ______________”

This gives you a clear picture of your user and the goals he/she has.

The other method that Jonathan discussed was Agile development. We went over this a bit in my systems analysis class last term, but Jonathan’s definition was much simpler.

The Agile development methodology is iterative and time-boxed – meaning that there are specific iterations and each iteration has a goal assigned to it. You complete the goal in a set amount of time and at the end you have a working product for that goal (not a wire-frame or a screenshot). With Agile programming you need a dedicated team and you need to be customer-focused. Lastly, you have to intensively test the product – with the user!!

This means you have to show your software to the users – and frequently, don’t worry so much about it not being perfect or looking just right, the goal is to see if the product does what the user wants/needs. This testing with and showing to the user will lead to constant refinement and a better product!

In short, when the product revolves around the user, you get a better product. You also (theoretically) get teams that have a common focus – which leads to better collaboration by all.

Jonathan made me want to go out and pick up a few books on the topic!! A similar presentation can be found here if you’re interested in seeing the slides.

Where do you keep your website?

I just read this funny dialog between a board officer and a web developer.

US/Canada Border Officer: "Are you coming for business or pleasure sir?"
Me: "Business"
Officer: "What is the nature of your stay?"
Me: "I'm a web developer and I'm meeting with a client in Oregon to discuss a project."
Border Officer: "What's the name of the client?"
Me: "pMachine."
Officer: "Are you bringing any websites with you?"
Me: Blank stare
Officer: "Do you have any websites in the car, sir?"

It’s funny and a little sad. You can read the entire dialog at the Digital Web Magazine site.

Most Successful Web Redesign?

This year we’re going to be redesigning our library website. I’ve read tons of articles and attended sessions on different methods, but I’d love to hear from you. What was your most successful redesign project? What do you recommend doing? Not doing? How big was your team?

I thought I’d try and develop a survey using SurveyMonkey because I’ll actually be showing this tool to area librarians next month – and I’ve never used it before. So, if you could fill out my survey and send it on to your librarian friends that would be helpful.

I will share the results here on my blog when I’ve closed the survey.

Thanks in advance!!

[update] Keep those responses coming – I’d love to see more special librarians give me some ideas & answers :) hint hint[/update]

[update2] Survey Closed – keep an eye out for results[/update2]

It’s about darn time

Microsoft FrontPage hangs up it’s hat!

What happened to FrontPage?

After nine years of being an award-winning Web authoring tool, FrontPage will be discontinued in late 2006. We will continue to serve the diverse needs of our existing FrontPage customers with the introduction of two brand-new application building and Web authoring tools using the latest technologies: Office SharePoint Designer 2007 for the enterprise information workers and Expression Web for the professional Web designer.

More on Feed2JS

I am considering using Feed2JS on our intranet (after listening to Meredith & Paul at Internet Librarian) – I’m still going to give it a whirl, but I’ll be more cautious before I use it on any of our sites outside of the firewall after reading this warning from RSS4Lib.

If you run your own copy of Feed2JS on your own server (rather than using Feed2JS’s public version), unscrupulous folks can borrow your script — and your bandwidth — to repurpose other RSS feeds from other sites without your knowledge or permission.

There is hope though.

Feed2JS.org offers directions for restricting Feed2JS to the feeds you want to be reused.