Tag Archives: Usability

Nortel VoIP: It just feels wrong

I have a VoIP phone on my desk. It’s part of the Corporate VoIP solution, and in most cases it works pretty well. One of my favorite features is the ability to act as a meeting phone with the speaker on. It usually works great, but there is one thing with the speaker feature, which just feels wrong – to turn off the speaker, you press the hangup buttom. Please fix this issue in a future firmware update, and allow the speaker buttom to act as a toggle that can turn the speak both on and off.

Footers – not just the end of the page

On most websites – including this one – the footer is the boring place where you (usually) place all the pocket lint, which didn’t make it into the page anywhere else. It usually have a copyright notice, links to a site map and other stuff which may be important, but not interesting (speaking in very broad terms).

Today I came across an article on footers with great usability. Footer Usability? Yes, and from a blunt disregard and ignorance, I’ve discovered that the site footer is an excellent place to place a lot more effort.

The footer may have been important as an “end of page marker” in many designs, but using it as an active area to promote other parts of the site, seem to be a new trend from the late part of 2007.

I really like the footer usage on farfromfearless, where especially the flickr photostream adds a bit of life to the page, and ProBlogger.net, where the categories listing might act as a miniature site map.

While using the footer could be a very smart move, don’t over do it. Bad examples on footer misuse include popsugar, where footer eats up more than 30% of the total page length, and engadget, which  seem to claim a lot of screen space – without any interesting content (just headlines from their sister sites).

Tip a friend – not so simple

Many online sites such as news-sites and other content providers often have a “tip a friend” option. With this you can mail a friend and tell them about an interesting piece of content you’ve found. The Idea seems quite simple, and everyone should have the tip-option, wright? – no, wrong. While it may offer a convenience for some, it has several backsides.

First if you – or your email provider – has implemented anti-spam techniques such as SPF-records, the “tipping mail” will not be sent through the authorized list of mail-servers and thus have a larger likelihood of being labeled as spam. Your mail be sent, but you don’t know if it will arrive in your friends mailbox.

Second having two (assumable) valid email addresses submitted to a site could be a goldmine for evil spammers. Besides mailing the tip, the email addresses may be collected and abused some time in the future.

Third by having a site sending thousands and thousands of “tips” to friends does mimic a spammers’ behavior – the function may cause your servers to be labeled as a spamming server, and you may not be able to send mails – no tips nor important messages your servers may try to mail to you or other users.

If you want to have a “Tip a friend” function – make sure it’s a mailto-link.

The mailto-link may not be as sexy as the options available when you create the mails server side, but the links go out from the users’ own mail client and the likelihood of it being labeled as spam is far less. It also gives the user complete control of what is being sent – no unexpected ads or anything else unwanted material.

The case against tags

To every modern web 2.0 site offering tagging seems to be an absolute requirement. While I may agree, that tagging in some cases may offer some improvements in content navigation over many other points, I do think it’s been too abused in way to may cases.

Tags on sites such as Flickr and Del.icio.us are absolutely fantastic. They offer some cross navigation options, which would probably be near impossible, if not for the tags. I often find my self exploring links though del.icio.us, since the content stored there generally seem to be of a muh high quality than a simple Google search on a common term.

The newest WordPress Release (version 2.3 ) supports tags right out of the box, and I’m sure those not using tags already will go crazy with them, and most wordpress installations will feature tag-clouds within a few months. I’m also sure, that most of these tag clouds shouldn’t be tags, but categories.

Now the problem with tags in most cases, however, is that often there’s only one piece of content per tag (or at least very few). This to me suggests that it’s too easy to make tags or that the author/publisher doesn’t know how to use them. Tags are great for making collections or making ”cross-user navigation”, but if you’re the only user publishing in the tag collection or you doesn’t have content to have a number of posts per tag, then you’re probably better of using categories.

That’s my $0.02 for the time being anyway..

Top 3 developer vanities (or oversights)

Sometimes web developers forget, that they are not typical net users and develop websites and applications for themselves rather than the intended mainstream users. Too often we let ourselves slip into a “geek to geek world”, and forget, that many of the sites we create are not for geeks, but for common users. Here are the top three mistakes made across a large number of mainstream websites, as I’ve seen them.
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Validation: black or white list

When you’re validating data – either client- or serverside – there are basically two strategies you can choose between. You can either blacklist data or white list data. Blacklisting seems to be the most popular way to validate data, but white listing is so much better. Here’s a brief description of the two strategies and why the white listing is better.
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Don’t use Ajax blindly

GMail and other web applications have adopted a new technique coined Ajax (by Adaptive Path). It brings web applications a step away from the stateless web and closer to real applications. It’s harder to built applications with the applications, but it’s hot – and the most recent release of Rails (for Ruby) promises to make it much easier to do Ajax applications. Before you do too many Ajax applications, do think for a second.
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