Nancy Lyons

Deleting Typos in Form Data (WOO!)

Mike Engelby, proud member of the Geek Girls Men’s Auxiliary, sent us this tip and we thought it was worth passing on.  It’s a handy little tidbit on how to remove typos from form data you’ve saved in your browser. He says it’s an old tip.  But it might be news to you!

This works on Firefox 2.0 and up, Internet Explorer 7, and probably others.

If you use the browser option, save form data, and have a bunch of mispellings or things you don’t want in there; use the arrow keys to highlight the unwanted item, and press SHIFT-DEL on the keyboard.

and after pressing the SHIFT and the DEL key at the same time:

The Web Is Not Cheap

I should say right away that this post is in danger of turning into a rant.  That is not my intention.  I am not here to whine.  I am here, though, to put out into the universe a concept that needs to be discussed.  So, here goes. 

The web is not cheap. 

There.  I said it.

Before diving too deep into that argument, let’s review what the web IS. 

–The web is fluid. Every document that exists on the web, in order to be really useful, must be a living document.  Because the web is, by its very nature, a living, ever-evolving, content repository. 

–The web is accessible.  Anyone with a small amount of knowledge can publish to the web.  I always say the web is the great equalizer, suddenly we all have a voice and the vehicle through which we can be heard.

–The web is immediate.  Case in point – I was reminded about how much this issue bugs me about five minutes ago, and here I am saying something and publishing it to a (potentially) global audience five minutes later.

Let’s face it, everyone knows someone who does ‘web stuff’.  That’s what makes having high standards in this business really hard, and really necessary – the fact that everyone has a cousin or son or nephew or babysitter or neighbor girl who can make a website on a Saturday afternoon while goofing around in their garage/office.  Because the spectrum of talent engaging in this kind of work is so broad, and the perception of value associated with the work is equally as broad, it is really hard to truly understand the value of the necessary skillset and expertise that play into a well-defined web strategy and execution.  Heck my mother recently said she’d mastered ‘copying and pasting’ and maybe she could ‘help me out’ since we’re so busy.  She was joking, of course, but the irony is in the fact that she’s a trained professional — a physician.  I suggested that we just swap jobs for a day.  I’ll deliver babies, and she can build web stuff.  No problem.

The fact of the matter is, the web is an investment.  A real strategic approach is necessary to doing business on the web.  You can’t just expect to slap up a site and have it work miracles.  And once you do launch a site, you are not done, you’ve only just begun.  I think most people’s perception of their website is informed by an old school traditional marketing approach to print work.  You jump into drawing pictures and coming up with catchy, brand appropriate copy, you execute in line with the creative, you launch, you’re done.  That is entirely the wrong way to think about your website.  Yes, good creative is essential.  But creative is not strategy.  You have to define the why before you consider the how.  Creative is a ‘how’ not a ‘why’. 

The web is transactional.  You are engaging in some kind of business interaction on the web.  Hopefully in the process you’ve managed to learn more about your audience that allows you to interact with them on a more on-to-one level.  A microsite has its place. But microsites aren’t appropriate as often as they happen, trust me.  So you’re not getting off cheap by building half a site.  You might end up paying more in the long run by not considering how micro-content fits into your overarching strategy. And any interaction with your target should have some kind of integrated component with your primary brand presence on the web.  Even if its just data.  Data is really the key.  But that’s another post entirely.

Most people walk into a web shop and expect the vendor to define their budget.  They send RFPs out to a number of vendors that fall in a variety of spots along the pricing spectrum, and generally they award business based on price.  The lowest price, then, becomes their budget.  By selecting a vendor that way they miss the opportunities to think comprehensively about how to address their business objectives on the web, and how to appropriately evolve on the web.  Meghan always tell clients they should come to us with a problem, not a solution.  This is great advice when thinking about how to extend your brand, and do business, on the web.  Don’t walk in saying I want these 44 things and I want them all for under 10 bucks.  Instead, prioritize your objectives and look for a real strategic development partner to help you think about how best to implement your priorities.  This might require iterative development, or incremental roll-outs of features.  But that’s ok.  By moving some or all of your business to the web, you’re making promises to your audience.  If you are smart about how you move, and you choose quality and ease of use over cheap and fast, you’ll keep those promises and your audience will stick with you.  They will wait for a good experience to get better.  And they will be key influencers in how you improve on your feature-set. 

Money is an issue.  Don’t get me wrong.  You have every reason to want to control costs.  And you should.  But control them in a way that makes sense and doesn’t compromise the deliverable.  Control costs by working closely with your vendor/partner to identify your priorities and the time it will take to address them.  Then have checkpoints or deliverables on the path to getting there.  Budgets are generally eaten up by the intangibles — vapor.  Don’t let that happen.  Insist on helpful documentation, in language that makes good business sense, to help guide the project.  Then follow those roadmaps closely.  Be collaborative and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  No one knows your business better than you.  Ask for what you want and be clear about what you’re asking for before anyone starts coding.

The web is not cheap.  But it does make good financial sense if you approach it prudently.  It is an investment.  You can start small and work up to your ideal solution.  But don’t compromise good sense looking for a deal.  You end up paying for the work twice in the long run.  Once trying to be cheap.  And you pay the second time when you decide to do it right.  Get it right the first time.

I’ve Been Had

Today I spammed everyone on my AIM contact list with an invitation to join Facebook.
I was searching for co-workers on the social network, trying to
understand the more useful apps and plugins available to the average
user, when I inadvertently clicked yes and authorized Facebook to
contact everyone on my buddy list. I was distracted. I was
multitasking. I was not as careful as I should have been. And, with one
click, I was totally humiliated. My heart stopped for what seemed like
an entire minute while I prayed for a confirmation screen that never
came. I had misread a question, given my permission, and there was no
going back. I just sat there and wondered how I’d explain to my
colleagues, friends, peers, and, of course, the random total strangers
I’d added to my list along the way, that I was a complete idiot who’d
let Facebook hijack my buddy list to solicit memberships. I was one
more unsuspecting pawn in the Facebook battle for world domination.

There is value in centralizing data. So many of us are out
devouring and contributing to content-rich websites and social
networks, connecting with long-lost friends, classmates, colleagues.
We’re finally in a position to leverage ‘who we know’. Because, what
have we always heard? It’s not what you know, but who. And the who has
never been more accessible. We’re separated by miles and years and
jobs, but we’re just a click away thanks to networks like Facebook and MySpace and LinkedIn.
There are new social and professional network sites trying to get in on
the action every day. Today alone I had two colleagues try to get me to
join Plaxo Pulse.
I couldn’t help but wonder if they even knew they’d asked me to join.
Recently a friend’s contact list had been hijacked by Spock (I refuse
to link to this evil entity) to invite 2500 of his closest friends to
join him there. I felt better about my 125 AIM
messages when I compared it to 2500. But the sting was still there.As
more and more of these networks fight for our information, who’s going
to prove the front runner? Clearly he (or she) who owns the most data
wins. And Facebook’s shift from social network to ‘platform’ seems to
suggest they believe they can connect all of this decentralized data
floating around on the web and make it accessible via their single,
simple, interface. So while the data might be scattered amongst iTunes, flickr, Amazon,
AIM and other lesser known entities, a series of simple web
applications can integrate all of it into the Facebook platform. What’s
more, Facebook turns it around and provides an aggregate snapshot of
your contacts’ data. It’s really a win-win. Or is it? Recently Facebook has taken some heat
for invasive marketing tactics via it’s Beacon system. Beacon takes
data from external websites and makes it available to your contact list
with the intention of promoting product through passive endorsements.
If you bought something on Amazon, and you’re my friend, the thinking
is I might be interested in that product as well. Because you, my
friend, are just so darn influential in my life. The problem with this
theory is you might be my friend, but I might not want you to know I
just bought zit cream from my favorite zit cream website. Its an
invasion of privacy and Facebook is still working that one out. Beyond
that though, Facebook is starting to look like the Borg. Resistance is
clearly futile. If you want to be in touch with anyone in this 21st
century the easiest and most practical way to do it is through the
web/Facebook, and peer pressure is unavoidable. Come on, everybody’s
doing it. There’s a suggestion of youthful trendiness that we all fall
victim to. Once you make the leap, though, you’ve sold your soul to the
internet’s equivalent of the devil. Because once you create that
profile, there’s (allegedly) no getting that data back. You can’t quit
Facebook. Not really, anyway.

What does it all mean? To those of us working in technology? And
those of us consuming it? These are tough questions to answer. But it
seems clear that one of the most valuable assets of our time is our
data. Our information. Yet, in spite of that reality, our data is
clouded by a mix of fear (identity theft) and ignorance (my dog’s name
is my password!). What’s our responsibility as creators of content, and
websites and systems and as participants of networks? What is our
contribution? How can we influence how all of this unfolds? I believe
that how we interact with, and collect data from users, needs to
reflect truth and authenticity. Sure, we publish privacy statements and
terms of use policies. We won’t store data or we won’t sell it or give
it away or use it without permission. But it’s more than that. We need
to help users understand what it is they’re providing and how easy it
is to exploit. We need to give them an opportunity to change their
minds, or confirm their understanding of an interaction. In my case for
instance, a simple ‘confirmation’ page would have saved me the
embarrassment of having to apologize to 125 friends and colleagues for
that unwanted IM spam. Facebook knew exactly what it was doing when it
required only a single click to access my list. I think it’s a cheap
tactic in the race for the most data. The downside is, I’m no longer as
enthusiastic about the value of Facebook as a networking tool. I see it
as suspect now. The upside is I’ll be more careful when I use little
web apps like that. But our standards for collecting this data aren’t
set in stone. We’ve only just begun, so what more can we do to extend
real value for the user, and tap into the thing that’s most valuable to
our clients? We can consider a user’s understanding of their valuable
points of data as part of our commitment to simple, usable web
experiences. We should see how we collect data as part of usability. We
should only collect what is absolutely critical to the experience and
we should make certain the user understands the cost of sharing their
data and the return on their investment of trust. Finally, we need to
keep our promises. Sharing data should have some reward for the user,
in terms of access to content, or connections or something of value. We
should treat our user’s data as sacred. If we expect to foster a
long-term customer relationship, we need to respect what we know about
a user and what we continue to discover. It’s common sense, really.

of us, even presumed ‘experts’ can fall victim to guerilla data
collection tactics. It’s embarrassing. It’s painful. It’s avoidable.
The difference, though, is we have the ability to influence change. We
have the option of applying some code of conduct to how websites
interact with users. We’re not done. We’ve only just begun. Facebook
doesn’t get to decide. We do.

[cross-posted at the MIMA blog]

Web = Magic?

As consumers of digital media, do we have a responsibility to understand the technology, even a little bit?  I guess I’m not really talking about myself here.  But I am talking about those average consumers.  People like my mom or my in-laws.  People who still don’t understand what a web browser is, or that AOL is not the internet.  My intention is not to put them down, or diminish their importance as we continue to evolve user experiences.  Instead, I’d like to encourage them to, quite simply, figure it out.  I want my mother-in-law to stop calling me whenever she can’t get on the internet because she forgot to plug the phone cord into her dial up modem.  Not because I’m not happy to help, but because the more you get about how it all works, the more you can take advantage of the advantages and efficiencies technology, or more specifically, the internet, can add to your life. We should be afraid of crossing the street against the light, or riding a motorcycle without a helmet, or eating puffer fish.  But we should not be afraid of technology.  If we use common sense, and we’re careful about the information we share, we can dive right in without fear.  You cannot break a website.  Those are words to live by.  As a user, you cannot break a site.  Fearless exploration is encouraged. 

Remember too, its called interactive technology because, in order for it to work the way it was intended, it requires your participation.  That doesn’t mean its ok to just mindlessly click random buttons.  Part of the interactive experience comes from contextual queues.  Paying attention to button text, instructional copy, visual imagery meant to guide your eye, all of this is your responsibility in the interaction.  One of the hardest messages to communicate to the fearful is really so simple.  Read.  Read what the buttons say.  Look for those helpful messages that will guide you and make your experience easier to navigate or more intuitive.  They should be there.  If they are not, well, that’s a whole other blog post.  But generally speaking, a web experience is structured around a fairly standard framework.  You should be able to get to the information you need within a click or two.  And those clicks should be clearly marked in some way or another.  Take responsibility for your experience and pay attention.  Read the page. 

Once you’ve committed to your part in the experience, its important to remember that technology is fallible.  I know. I know.  Everyone is always talking about the internet like its the cheeze whiz of the new millennium.  But please remember, it is not without it’s flaws, and it’s dependencies.  Your experience depends on a variety of things, the speed of your connection to the internet, the speed at which your pc processes information, the kind of information you are attempting to access.  Clicking into a page of text is very different than clicking into a streaming video.  Sometimes, and I know this is a terrifying consideration, you might just have to *gasp* WAIT.  Nothing boggles my mind more than watching someone click into a page and then witnessing an immediate melt-down while waiting for the page to load.  The incessant clicking that ensues is enough to make my head spin. What you might be interested in knowing is that in addition to your connection speed, your computer speed and the type of data you’re accessing, your browser may be processing many many lines of code with each of those clicks.  It could take a little while. Patience is a virtue.

I know.  I know.  I said the big bad word ‘CODE’.  Sometimes the word  ‘code’ causes people’s eyes to bleed, or roll into the back of their heads.  I am always amused by this.  You don’t have to write code to be ok with the fact that code exists.  What is code?  Simple.  It’s the thousands of lines of a foreign language, that live behind the pretty pictures, that make the pictures work.  It’s that simple.  If you’re uncomfortable with the concept of ‘programming languages’ or ‘code’ you need to get over it.  You don’t need to care any more than you do.  But don’t be intimidated by the fact that it exists.  Get this – there is a computer in your car (more than likely) and elements of how your car functions are managed by coded commands.  You never know they are there and you probably never think about them.  But they exist.  Your cell phone.  Holy smokes!  There’s code involved in how you make phone calls.  I’ve actually had clients say to me ‘. . .don’t mention code please.  Whats-her-name gets upset.’  Are you kidding me?  Don’t get upset.  Just nod knowingly in meetings where code is discussed and you’re already ahead of the competition.

I guess my point in all of this is, there is no magic here.  And whatever actually *happens* on the web is due in large part to your interaction with it.  Here’s your take-away:

Be patient.

Be fearless.

Be informed.

Be smart.

Wait.  Read. Try.