The Product Guy’s Weekend Reading (June 27, 2008)

reading_w_TPG_thumb5_thumb2_thumb2_t Every week I read tens of thousands of blog posts. Here, for your weekend enjoyment, are some highlights from my recent reading, for you.

On Starting Up…
http://www.bloggingstocks.com/2008/06/22/entrepreneur-s-journal-bringing-google-magic-to-your-company/
Brief look at how to bring some ‘Google magic’ to your start-up.

On Design & Product Experience…
http://www.uxmatters.com/MT/archives/000300.php
The balance between User eXperience (UX) and everything else can be, at times, tricky. Take a look at one way to quantify and evaluate the cost-benefit of building a great UX.

On Modular Innovation…
http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/06/25/structural-change-is-always-a-good-theme-to-invest-in/
Venture capitalists are investing in the building blocks of the Modular Innovation trend while keeping an eye on Modular Innovation’s (investment) risks/challenges, which are simultaneously also the trend’s benefits.

Have a great weekend!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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Trust and Credibility – They Go Hand-in-Hand

access Would you use an online product that has neither made any announcements, nor made any improvements to their product in 6 months or longer? Of course you wouldn’t.

The Internet lowers the barrier to entry for many products and start-ups. However, with that lower barrier comes the greater need for establishing and maintaining Trust and Credibility.

Credibility cannot be assumed to simply exist. Credibility is a product feature that needs to be created and cultivated. The most elementary components of Credibility are Design, Contact, and Team, and also used by Quick-UX in determining product Usefulness and Credibility. Beyond Quick-UX, altogether, the principal factors of Credibility and Trust are:

Design
Contact
Team
Activity
Quality

Design

First impressions are important. When someone visits a new online product they start forming their opinion immediately. Therefore, it is important to instantly convey the look-and-feel appropriate to your target audience. If you are targeting a business audience, you will start out on the right foot building that critical initial Trust, with a clean and professional site design.

Many may be surprised by the level of simple mistakes, typos, that can be found in online products. No matter your audience, business or social, typos are a quick way to damage Trust in the product and the people behind the product. Evidence of typos demonstrates a carelessness and lack of attention to detail, which no consumer wants to be receiving.

Contact

The more prominently displayed is the contact information, the more comfortable any web product user will feel. Users want to know that if they have a problem, a question, or a simple desire to comment about a web product, there are one or more means by which this can be accomplished. The more options available, the more personal and real those options feel, and the more credible will be the web product. Even if the contact options are not used, having that safety net, that security blanket for “just in case,” helps keep the user engaged and utilizing the online product. The ability to contact by email (or form) should be seen as a basic requirement. Proving that the company has a physical location to which mail can be sent or that the company can be reached by phone where a real person will answer only serves to bolster the important case of web company / product legitimacy.

Team

Are there real people on the other end? Hello? Is somebody out there? When you are a company offering products on the web, prove it. There is nothing like actually seeing and learning about the people behind and supporting the product. A friendly face, a trustworthy visage, builds personal, emotional bonds.

It is important to show that there are real people, with their names and reputations standing behind the product, especially if you want your users to stand in front of, and use, it. And, here too, to increase the Trust further, a very welcoming act to the timid user is demonstrated by showing that (in addition to being able to contact the more amorphous support team) even your team, with real people, can be directly reached by email or phone.

Activity

At the start of this article I asked, “Would you use an online product that has neither made any announcements, nor made any improvements to their product in 6 months or longer?”

The lower barrier of entry to releasing a product on the Web also makes communicating to that product’s users easier and, in turn, builds on the expectations of recurring and forthright communications. There is no excuse in today’s world for a web product to not be in constant, open, and honest communication with its various audiences (press, user, prospective user, etc.).

There should never be a time when there is nothing to communicate. There is always a status update, a product update, a company update, a product tip, and more that can be communicated to a web product’s users via many channels, from product blog, to homepage and forums.

Users will come back and continually engage a web product if the people behind the product continually return the favor, engaging the users, honestly communicating, and respecting those who have placed their Trust in it.

Quality

Part of Trust means that I can count on ‘you’ to be there when I need you; and I will, in turn, be there for you. I will be your web product’s user. For a web-based product, Trust in reliability is all that much more important than that of a software or brick-and-mortar company. Web products perform such tasks as enabling communication, enhancing mobility, and/or storing information. The moment the value-add of the web product comes into conflict with the ability to access that product or interferes with that product’s ability to meet expectations, then loyalty will wane and alternative web and desktop products sought out.

A company like Google understands the Trust that has been placed in them, and understands the damage to its Credibility, and the tremendous amount of mending that must be done to restore it, when Quality falls short (see Worldwide Vacation Day – Courtesy of Google). Even with the tremendously positive reputation of Google, there exist many individuals who fear storing their personal or other important data within Google’s products.

A web product is making the argument to its current and potential users that it will in some way improve or enhance each user’s life. The user may initially take a leap of faith with the product, but that faith needs to be surrounded by a cushion of Trust. That Trust is established through the consistent delivery of reliable services (e.g. uptime, release dates, information updates, etc.) and meeting (or exceeding) the user’s expectations.

Trust me

Often Credibility is not well understood by both well established companies and startups. Many times it exists for a brief moment, and is squandered due to mismanagement or negligence. Credibility is critical to the retained growth and prolonged success of a web product. The basics of establishing and maintaining Credibility and Trust can be best summarized by…

Be professional. Look professional.
Be reachable. Provide prominent contact information.
Be visible. Show your face.
Be active. Frequently communicate.
Be reliable. Act professional.

Credibility starts and ends with presenting a professional online presence, be it for a fun, social website, or a b2b product.

Trust you

With so many online product options available, there is simply no reason to use an untrustworthy product — just move on to something else.

Whether you are a start-up or a long established company, you should never rest on your laurels. You need to establish Trust and Credibility early and constantly maintain and build upon it. People have too much choice to be bothered with any company that causes them even the slightest bit of doubt.

Everyone knows of online products with Trust issues. What is happening (or starting to happen) to their userbase? How well do you feel those companies are addressing their challenges of Credibility?

Feature Request: Trust
To the creators and guardians of both new and old online products:

Your users, your fans, your critics, whether they enjoy or disparage your web product, there should be one pillar no one should be able to fault, and that is your company’s and your product’s Credibility. They may like or not like what you are offering, but they should, at the very least, Trust you.

Thank you & Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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The Product Guy’s Weekend Reading (June 20, 2008)

reading_w_TPG_thumb5_thumb2_thumb2_t Every week I read tens of thousands of blog posts. Here, for your weekend enjoyment, are some highlights from my recent reading, for you.

On Starting Up…
http://www.undertheradarblog.com/wp_blog.html?fb_2042860_anch=4200947
Discussion of the characters that make up a successful team.

On Design & Product Experience…
http://www.webdesignerwall.com/trends/2008-design-trends/
A look at the current state of design trends for 2008.

On Modular Innovation…
http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/06/18/liveblogging-supernova-liquid-conversations-panel/
Discussion of how Modular Innovation is shaping the expansion of capabilities at FriendFeed and other ‘liquid conversation’ enterprises.

Have a great weekend!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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Best Free Online Wiki Announced!

my_documents_thumb1(Part 7 of 7) For several weeks I have explored and shared both the Enjoyable and Disappointing of free, online wikis from the most popular to a couple of up-and-comers.

These highlights have consisted of the positives as well as negatives, the latter of which will hopefully be addressed by each respective wiki. Before I announce the best wiki, I want to first touch on those areas, the “to do” items, that represent some of the most important and helpful changes for current and potential users of these wikis.

A few of the points below were previously mentioned when discussing a particular wiki’s Disappointing elements. I only mention them again, to emphasize the significance of these items, as more than things that should be seen as To Do, but are more accurately represented as Must Do’s.

Wikia’s To Do

  • 00 wikia_home Reducing the sense of information overload and page clutter, will go a long way toward improving the overall Wikia User eXperience (UX). With so many choices, so much content, numerous ads, and an incoherent visual flow, one is forced to spend an inordinate amount of time scanning pages to find desired actions and navigation choices.
  • Expand the type of authority and control a user can have over their created wiki. If someone can be a wiki administrator, then, as administrator, they should be able to decide which edits are allowed to remain, and by whom those edits can be made. Furthermore, authority should allow for a variety of access permissions for its members, as well as the ability for the wiki owner to CHOOSE whether or not to have it be part of the larger wiki community or exist as a private, secure wiki.
  • WYSIWYG. I know that a user interface that allows for WYSIWYG editing of pages is in the works and becoming partially available on Wikia, but its full implementation is an absolute requirement in today’s wiki landscape.

Wetpaint’s To Do

  • wetpaint Wetpaint presents a very well refined and enjoyable User eXperience (UX) with the need to smooth out some rough edges…
    • Any good wiki eventually develops a high level of traffic and, more notably, content changes. The ‘What’s New’ dashboard provides for a high level of access to everything going on within the wiki over the last 30 days. Wiki users should be able to both (a) receive wiki change information by email, with full change details (what was added, what was removed), and (b) subscribe to site-wide changes or to specific sub-sections of the wiki hierarchy.
    • The entire wiki can be easily exported for local editing and storage. Wetpaint should also allow for the re-importing of all, or part, of the previously exported content, thereby allowing offline editing of the wiki.
    • Wetpaint has a social-consumer orientation. With the inclusion of productivity widgets (e.g. table of contents), Wetpaint can easily expand its attractiveness to a broader market.

PBwiki’s To Do

  • 00-pbwiki-homepage PBwiki provides robust functionality for both editing wiki pages as well viewing those changes. However, it still maintains parts that can be identified as needing improvement…
    • Improve the visual representation of content changes. For example, when showing changes that have occurred within a table, provide cues as to which rows and columns were altered.
    • PBwiki comes with a variety of useful wiki page templates; displayed in list form, the templates are useless to anyone who does not already know the appearance and function of each. Allowing for inline previewing of these templates when creating new pages would enhance the User eXperience (UX)
    • When renaming a page, a user should not be penalized if that page is linked to by many other wiki pages. Renaming of a page should automatically result in the seamless updating of all relevant links.
    • Beyond the occasional formatting problems encountered within the WYSIWYG editor, there are further issues surrounding the area of usability that warrant attention, most notably with respect to the editing of tables. When selecting multiple cells of a table and then proceeding to change the text color, highlighting, or other formatting is applied, all of the selected cells should be affected, not just the first of the selected cells.
  • Wiki comments, just as occurs with created and modified pages, should generate, and be included in, email alerts to users. Furthermore, the users should be able to receive the comments independent of content changes and be able to submit replies that will appear within the appropriate wiki page comment thread. (update: as of today, comments can now be received via email)

Google Sites’ To Do

  • 00-google-sites-homepage Google Sites allow for viewing the change history of most content pages, except their special, and very useful, List Pages. List Pages should be treated like all other pages of content and have a browsable change history of adds, deletes, and other modifications.
  • Creating and using tables is a way to implement a historically trackable version of List Pages. However, various table options, such as ‘clear format’ can result in broken formatting throughout the wiki page. Also, the table form factor should be compatible with the page layouts (i.e. not break) that it is permitted to be used within, e.g., multi-column layouts.
  • While allowing for the changing of a Title of a page, but not the URL/filename can have its benefits, these benefits do not outweigh the ability to rename the page. There are many strong exemplary cases, such as where the content of the page no longer fits with its name or where there exists a typo within the page name.
  • TOS! Terms of Service (TOS), previously mentioned as an Undesirable, must change before people can believe a Google Site private wiki is actually private. This is a top To Do item and an absolute requirement before anyone can create a private Google Site and have the requisite trust and confidence in this product.

Versionate’s To Do

  • 00-homepage Having a more customizable homepage, allowing for a standard editable wiki page, file-folder interface, or some combination of the two, would go a long way in reducing the learning curve associated with their unique experience.
  • Versionate should go beyond their basic RSS feed for change notifications. Allow for email updates, showing the before and after differences, of all wiki changes.
  • Accessibility, Redundancy, and Interoperability are critical in the wiki world. Along all these lines, Versionate will have to take large strides; from the allowing of a site backup (that can actually occur in less than 2 weeks time!) to allowing for 3rd-party interaction with its components.
  • Credibility. For any online company, credibility is key to success. In the past year, the only updates that have occurred are within comments posted to 3rd-party sites (for example, The Product Guy and Digg) in response to articles. There have been zero formal posts to the Versionate blog, nor notifications that (a) the founders have moved on to another company, (b) they plan to continue support of the Versionate product, and (c) they may give it new features. Before focusing on the concrete challenges of new or improved features, the solution to the softer challenge of restoring trust and credibility in this promising product must be nurtured and reestablished over a long period of time.

Of course

Of course, those that use a wiki certainly will have a preference of one over another. Everyone has different needs, and those needs align with different features and strengths of each wiki discussed, and possibly even among others not discussed within this series.

This adventure into the world of wikis has been a broad based attempt at teasing out the basic and general features and functionality that the average wiki user finds most appealing and beneficial. Some people place extra value in wikis with strong social communities, others, like Dean Collins, want to be able to manage multiple wikis from a centralized dashboard.

There is more to life than Wiki

There are many, many wikis that were not included within this survey of the wiki space. (Confluence, Wikispaces, etc.) To perform this assessment it was critical to adhere to strict rules that would result in a manageable set of wikis. Of course, I could have reviewed the top 5, the top 10, top 100, or more popular wikis — I could have spent the remainder of my life doing so. The top 3 wikis along with the up-and-comers provide a very comprehensive set of the types of wikis that are free and hosted. If you have experiences with other wikis, please feel free to share with the other readers of this blog ; share the good, as well as the bad experiences you have had with various wikis. Time and resources and the desire to not spend the rest of the year (or lifetime) looking at only wiki products were all factors in determining the scope of this wiki product series.

And, most importantly…

The Best Free Online Wiki Experience is PBwiki for the reasons stated throughout this series, as well as having: (1) a firm grasp on the usability needs of a wiki user, (2) the most comprehensive feature set, and (3) providing outstanding support to its user base, not just in the form of addressing problems, but also in actively communicating status, product updates, and other helpful news via their product blog.

Think & Share…

What other wikis have you enjoyed using? Why?
What features do you feel a wiki must have?

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss other upcoming, insightful posts from The Product Guy.

More Information

Enjoy & Discuss & Share!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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The Product Guy’s Weekend Reading (June 13, 2008)

reading_w_TPG_thumb5_thumb2_thumb2 Every week I read tens of thousands of blog posts. Here, for your weekend enjoyment, are some highlights from my recent reading, for you.

On Starting Up…
http://learntoduck.com/three-rules/three.rules.startup.success
Three simple rules for start-up success.

On Design & Product Experience…
http://blogoscoped.com/archive/2008-06-02-n56.html
Learn about User Experience design from Kevin Fox of FriendFeed and GMail.

On Modular Innovation…
http://blog.programmableweb.com/2008/06/10/the-new-york-times-api-all-the-news-thats-fit-to-mix/
The New York Times in adapting to the trends of Modular Innovation.

Have a great weekend!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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Versionate is Dead.

versionate-logo (part 6 of 7) Wikia, Wetpaint, PBwiki, Google Sites, and Versionate. There are literally hundreds of different wikis available, each offering unique online experiences and presenting different interpretations of what it means to be a wiki. Within this series we have been exploring and discussing the top 3 most popular, free, online wikis as we seek out the best online wiki experience.

Versionate presents a hybrid experience of sorts, one of a wiki coupled with the feel of a friendly web-based document editor.

00-homepage

 

Versionate, an up-and-comer, may already be at the end of its road. While there was great fanfare and numerous product updates back around the time of their launch in July of 2007, there have been ZERO updates or announcements since then. It has almost been a year without anything new from this start-up and no signs of life from within the company. So, while the product holds promise and is something to keep an eye out for in the future, it is also highly questionable (unfortunately) as to whether or not there is a future to behold for Versionate.

Good

  • A common habit among many people who use desktop-based word processing software is to frequently save their files, lest the computer or application crash, resulting in the loss of all their work. Versionate allows for the re-saving of an open document, inline and without the need to close and re-open the current wiki page.
01-apply-changes

 

  • Often, when editing content within a wiki, there is a need to edit a sequence of pages at the same time, adding a link and description, adding a new page and content, adding another related page, etc. The tabbed UI makes editing multiple pages, cross linking , updating, easy and fluid.
02-tabs

 

  • Any wiki page can be downloaded as PDF, DOC, HTML, RTF, and ODT, edited offline and then re-submitted to the wiki.
03-download-as

 

Undesirable

  • A wiki, at its most basic level, is all about knowledge storage and management and how all of that knowledge relates to each other. To understand the relationships and simply navigate a wiki, links are (of course) used. Links within Versionate are primarily visible upon mouse-over of the link. Other than mouse-over, links are barely distinguishable from all other text within the wiki.
04-links

 

  • The homepage requires a bit of interaction and learning. It displays a fixed layout with 2 nearly equal, and completely independent, navigation choices. At the top of the page is the option to navigate by file and folder. At the bottom of the page is a smaller region dedicated to, the more typical, link-based wiki navigation.
05-home

 

  • Some formats, like PDF and Excel, are not editable within the wiki, but are instead converted into graphics so that they can still be internally viewed and linked. However, the conversion process can often result in generating results that are very difficult to read.
06-ppt

 

Versionate is an up-and-coming wiki that has seen little to no development nor news since its launch last year. It is a dead online product. Versionate possesses the potential for becoming a strong wiki marketplace player, but until signs of life re-emerge, may it rest in peace.

 

Be sure to check back very soon for the final installment in this wiki series and the big announcement of the Wiki Winner, the wiki that will be recognized as having the Best, Free, Online Wiki Experience!

Think & Share…

What do you think is the best free wiki online?

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring best online wiki User eXperiences as well as other upcoming, insightful posts from The Product Guy.

More Information

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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The Product Guy’s Weekend Reading (June 6, 2008)

reading_w_TPG_thumb5_thumb2 Every week I read tens of thousands of blog posts. Here, for your weekend enjoyment, are some highlights from my recent reading, for you.

On Starting Up…
http://davidwalsh.name/ways-subliminally-tell-users-dont-come-back
6 great tips about what features your start-up’s new product should NOT have.

On Design & Product Experience…
http://alistapart.com/articles/zebrastripingdoesithelp
Interesting study of usability of tables that use row striping.

On Modular Innovation…
http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/web_technology_trends_for_2008_1.php
Presentation by ReadWriteWeb and the trends of 2008 demonstrating the growing emergence of Modular Innovation.

Have a great weekend!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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Google Sites. All open. Now what?

googlesites-logo (part 5 of 7) Wikia, Wetpaint, PBwiki, Google Sites, and Versionate. There are literally hundreds of different wikis available, each offering unique online experiences and presenting different interpretations of what it means to be a wiki. Within this series we have been exploring and discussing the top 3 most popular, free, online wikis as we seek out the best online wiki experience.

Today, we will look into one of the up-and-comers within the wiki space, Google Sites.

00-google-sites-homepage

 

Previously known as the highly successful JotSpot, now Google Sites is back and available to everyone as a very different product. Google Sites appears to have undergone a bit of re-writing and re-imagining.

Earlier this year, Google Sites was exclusively released to Google Apps users. On May 21, 2008, Google Sites‘ expanded the release to include everyone. Clearly, through the expanded release, Google Sites seeks to accelerate the growth of this “new” wiki product. However, it remains too early to accurately gauge the eventual rate and level of adoption of Google Sites.

Enjoyable

  • Google Sites delivers a quick and streamlined User eXperience (UX). Navigation and interaction both benefit from quick page loading and good use of Ajax for such activities as page editing.
01-speedy

 

  • Wikis can greatly improve an organization’s knowledge management capabilities. Very common to knowledge management is the management of lists for anything from action items to features and employees. Google Sites has a unique implementation of lists, by way of special list pages, allowing for the customization of all list fields as well as a simple interface for adding, removing and editing list elements.
02-list-page

 

  • Google Sites has various levels of enforced hierarchy, from the display of a page’s subpages to direct navigation to a page’s parent via breadcrumbs.
03-navigation

 

Disappointing or Unsatisfying

  • A good feature of Google Sites is that it allows for both public and private wikis. However, even if the wiki is private, Google reserves the right of ownership of ALL the wiki’s content as well as the right to publicly PUBLISH your content.
04-TOS

 

  • Tight integration with the other Google properties would be both a large positive feature of Google Sites and a major plus to wiki user productivity. However, Google Sites falls far short on delivering on what the UI implies. Content from other wiki properties must be made public and the full URL must be copy-and-pasted into place. The very loose integration does not even provide a list of available content stored within other Google services, and the requirement to make Google service content public is independent of the public/private nature of the current wiki.
05-integration

 

  • A user can either be an owner, collaborator, or viewer for the entire site. Each user type is very broadly defined, putting the administrator in the position of often having to make a decision whether or not to allow a user too much or too little access and sharing permissions. Too much permission can result in undesired deletions; too little can result in loss of productivity.
06-sharing

 

Google Sites is still young, when measured from the point of its re-introduction to the world. It provides for a very simple (and spartan) introduction to the world of wikis, especially to potential, non-technical audiences. There remains a good deal of work ahead for the Google Sites development team, but with the strength of Google behind them they remain an obvious wiki to keep an eye on.

In the next post of the series I will share with you another, fairly unique, up-and-coming wiki, Versionate.

Think & Share…

What are some reasons that stop you from using a (or any) wiki? Security? Controlling access? Ownership (and/or portability) of wiki content? Other?

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring best online wiki User eXperiences as well as other upcoming, insightful posts from The Product Guy.

More Information

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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