Posts tagged "web publishing"

The Keys to Success with Cloud Based Website Hosting

Today's websites have become the social marketplace where your customers and potential customers can meet, find the information they need, provide their own insights and feedback and more.

This means your traditional web content management system is probably falling short in its duty. What you're probably looking for is a digital publishing + engagement platform that offers a rich set of features, include managing digital assets, integrating with social networks, and pushing your content out across multiple channels. On top of all that, you need to do it quickly.

Cloud-based services come readily to mind when the pressure is on. In fact, according to a recent study by Springboard Research, 83% of companies in the Asia-Pacific region are considering cloud services in some form — many as a way to deliver applications on-demand. However, in the same study, 46% indicated concerns over security and the integrity of their data in the cloud.

If you need to build a stronger web presence and are interested in doing it using cloud services, then attend the webinar Enough Fluff. 3 Key Ingredients for Maximising Your Content in the Cloud on Thursday, November 18th, 2010 at 10:00 am (UTC+10) Sydney, Australia.

During the live event you will discuss best practices related to cloud security and hear about deployment lessons from local experts, such as Melbourne IT and Hyro, as well as hear from experienced field hands who share their tricks and tips.

If you're ready to take your cloud strategy to the next level, then register here

W3C Solution For Robust Web Application Caching Progresses

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The Web's days of innocence, where it was just used to post the digital equivalent of static brochures, are long past. Today we expect to do everything over the web, no matter how forced and cludgy it has to work under the hood to accomplish our goals. Fortunately there are people willing to wade into the mind-numbing realm of protocols and data streams in order to improve it all.

Taking Care of Data in Offline Web Apps

As web applications grow in sophistication, they're escaping the boundaries of constraints such as the web browser and the need to be constantly connected. The problem is that web standards such as HTML weren't developed for many of the use cases that are common with today's web applications.

Right now, everyone working on such applications has to develop their own solution. As work continues on the update toward HTML 5, parallel work is also in play to create standard protocols and APIs to prevent this constant reinvention of the wheel and faster innovation and easier interoperability.

One of the areas where, for the moment, people are having to hack solutions together is that of how to queue or cache data for a web application that has gone offline. HTML 5 offers a way to create application caches, but due to their static nature this option can only be used with safe HTTP methods. The Programmable HTTP Caching and Serving API is under development by the Web Applications Working Group to address this problem.

A Solution That Extends HTML 5's App Cache

This API extends HTML 5's application cache by:

  • Allowing applications to add resources to the cache, which can then be served by the user agent when the resource is requested.
  • Enabling applications to generate responses to requests for resources that were added to the cache.

These extensions allow use of the HTML 5 cache with unsafe HTTP methods like PUT and POST. As an example, the working draft offers,

"Using this application cache extension, applications can obtain locally cached data or data produced locally by JavaScript servers and perform requests on resources that can be served whether or not the user agent is connected to a remote server. Applications can then save and replay locally satisfied requests to the server when it is reconnected, thus enabling responsive and robust Web applications in the presence of low connectivity conditions."

Essentially, this extension allows web applications to seamlessly switch between online and offline work, causing far less hair loss as users will be less likely to lose their work due to a connection outage.

Those who want the absolute bleeding edge can check out the W3C Editor's Draft version of the API here.

Internet Explorer 9: A Platform Preview, Not a Beta

With Microsoft (site) rebounding like Dennis Rodman in his prime, can the company pull another Windows 7 or Windows 7 Phone out of its hat with IE9?

Exploring New Frontiers

Internet Explorer has had a rough ride since, well, forever. Most versions have been considered an assault on Internet standards, or derided as under-featured or security nightmares. The recent versions have improved on those areas but added features that few actually use.

With existing IE now lagging behind Firefox which is the most popular browser, where can Microsoft go with IE9? The news from Microsoft's  MIX10 developer conference in Las Vegas is that Internet Explorer won't just be a browser, but a whole platform.

There's a test drive site, where you can download a preview mini-browser for Windows Vista or Windows 7 users (nothing like a proper beta or test version) that allows you to take a look at some of the features in action.

According to Microsoft, the intent of the platform preview is to provide developers an opportunity to start planning when and how they will start supporting HTML5; this is definitely not suited for your everyday browsing needs.

A Platform to Where?

The primary addition is the implementation of DirectX hardware acceleration, something that really should have been in place for many years. Now, the horsepower of the typical PC's video card can finally be used to hoof along your graphical output and improve quality, allowing accelerated video, faster and smoother text effects and other essentials of the Web 2.0 environment.

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One of the demos showing off IE9's features

HTML 5 support will be the next big arms race as browsers throw it to the top of their features lists and Microsoft has it as a big tick in IE9. With support including CSS3, Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) which has been around for ages, XHTML parsing and H.264/MPEG4 and MP3/AAC tags and  codec support, all video standards will be supported.

If you can't wait for IE9 to get a little HTML 5 love, take a look at Christian Adams video tag for IE.

Additional news includes a boost for JavaScript processing speeds. With all its rivals crowing about their Java performance, it is only fair that Microsoft gets in on the act and brings its browser up to speed.

In the Background

Behind the web page, Microsoft also announced that it will contribute to the development of new features and enhancements in the jQuery JavaScript Library. It has shared the release of new SDKs for the Open Data Protocol that will make it easier for developers to access cloud-based data from to create cross-platform Web applications.

Developers are encouraged to use the Platform Preview Version on their own code, HTML, CSS, scripts and feedback on how it works. There are more details on the ieblog.

Microsoft has stated that a new version of the IE9 Platform Preview should come out about every 8 weeks, and there are no dates set for the beta release.

Leadership Change: Jeffrey Jaffe Takes the Helm at W3C

There's a change of the guard at the W3C (site) this month. Jeffrey Jaffe has been named as the new Chief Executive Officer. His extensive business and technical experience make him the perfect match to support the W3C's role as the leading forum for the technical development of the Web.

 An Background in Enterprise Solutions

Jaffe has a pretty impressive background:

  • Executive Vice President, products, and Chief Technology Officer at Novell
  • President of Bell Labs Research and Advanced Technologies at Lucent Technologies
  • Vice President of Technology for IBM

And that list is only a subset of the interesting roles he has played. In everything that Jaffe has done, he has shown commitment to open standards and open source, which makes him a perfect match for the W3C. 

"Web technologies continue to be the vehicle for every industry to incorporate the rapid pace of change into their way of doing business," said Dr. Jaffe. "I'm excited to join W3C at this time of increased innovation, since W3C is the place where the industry comes together to set standards for the Web in an open and collaborative fashion."

Leading the Web to Its Fullest Potential

As part of Jaffe's role, he will work with W3C Director Tim Berners-Lee, along with the rest of the W3C — staff and membership, and the great community to communicate the organization's vision and evolve it.

In his first blog post as CEO, Jaffe says his immediate priority is to "preserve and enhance the W3C culture of having an open consensus-based process."

He also says that he will blog often on the issues and encourage comments and/or direct emails to discuss issues of importance to the organization.

A long road ahead of him, Jaffe does seem excited to play such an important role in the evolution of the Web. We look forward to hearing more from him on initiatives such as HTML 5, the Semantic Web and the Mobile Web.

The Difference Between Usability and User Experience

As long as there’s been an Internet, the discussion between user experience and usability has been explored. Although they are conceptually linked, taken separately, they highlight different elements of the human-computer interaction.

Yet in these days of advanced user interfaces, from mobile devices to e-readers to tablets, has the line between user experience and usability blurred? And if so, what does it mean for web standards and design? We examine their distinctions, roles and implications in an effort to answer these questions.

The Road

Throughout the early days of the Internet, the analogy of a road was widely used to describe usability and user experience. The story goes, a usable road is one that is wide and straight, and enables drivers to get from point A to point B as fast as possible, albeit in a very boring manner.

However, a road with a high level of user-experience is completely different. With great scenery and smells that stimulate driver emotion, the road may take twists and turns, but is not as direct as the usable road.

As the Internet has grown, so have the roads built by designers and developers. There many more interstates and back roads, not to mention an increase in vehicles, pedestrians and traffic signals.

The road analogy is no longer sufficient to define user experience and usability.

What Comes First?

Surely these concepts exist separately from one another: a site that is purely functional (i.e, Craigslist); or a site that is pretty but hard to navigate (Sputnik Observatory), but when using both, which comes first in the design process is not always clear.

The Nielsen Norman Group says that:

"User experience" encompasses all aspects of the end-user's interaction with the company, its services, and its products. The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother. Next comes simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use. True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want, or providing checklist features. In order to achieve high-quality user experience in a company's offerings there must be a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design, and interface design.

Jakob Nielsen defines usability as:

a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use.

He also outlines five quality components of usability, including:

  • Learnability
  • Efficiency
  • Memorability
  • Errors
  • Satisfaction

Using these definitions as a guide, it seems that in order to create a user experience, you must first understand what the user’s needs are, which can be measured using the five qualities outlined above. The user experience is only necessary once a website performs a function relevant to the user. If the user’s needs are met, the user experience can enhance the online process.

Yet, the user experience doesn’t always enhance a necessary or desired online interaction. Consider the mobile experience. In 2009, Jakob Nielsen called it “miserable,” citing that it is “neither easy nor pleasant to use the Web on mobile devices.” Research shows that when websites are designed specifically for mobile devices, they are easier to use. In this case, going from point A to point B requires that the user experience come before usability.

Designing Usability and User Experiences for Devices

What about when a device is not just a website, but a series of interactions and applications? When a reader wants to read books electronically, the manner in which they engage with a book can affect the product’s functionality.

We recently spoke about web standards for e-readers and how it will no longer be acceptable for e-books to be online iterations of scanned copies of print books. While it may be a way to get from point to point (reader to book), it doesn’t enhance the user experience if pages are poorly laid out and hard to read.

The iPad, on the other hand, seems to be intentionally focused on usability more than user experience. Users cannot multitask, it doesn’t include a built-in camera, Flash, or USB outlets. But it does address issues of effectiveness, efficiency and user satisfaction.

The blog UsabilityPost says that:

The iPad will succeed not because of what it has, but because of what it does. What it does is enough to cover all the basic needs of many people: look stuff up on the Web, keep a calendar, check email, show photos to your friends and watch videos.

The iPad is designed to be more than the iPhone and less than a Macbook and appeals to a segment of users that want a bigger screen than their phone from which to surf that web, but better portability than their laptop.

Yet, there are components of the iPad that will inherently increase the user experience of some interactions, like reading e-books, which will feature color and more dynamic layouts than the Kindle currently does.

The Future of Usability and User Experience

As the web continues to evolve, user experience and usability will continue to advance along with it. It may be impossible to keep up with definitions, but their implications will be evident.

Ultimately, all websites, devices and interfaces aim to be useful to those than interact with them. Being in tune to the needs of your users will ensure that your product is successful. However, we needn’t lose sight of the impact that enjoying the online experience brings to a product as well.

While it may not be appropriate or possible for them to coexist, designing sites that combine elements of each can only improve and evolve user behaviors.

The Newspaper Club Lets You Design and Print Your Own Newspaper

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Did you work on your high school newspaper or yearbook? If so, there’s a new club in town. No tryouts necessary. All you have to do is sign up and those days of dreaming about being your own publisher are over. Thanks to the Newspaper Club, a new London-based startup, anyone can print their own 12-page newspaper.

A Legend in Its Own Time

As print becomes a relic of the past, a new fascination with print-based media is surfacing. The Newspaper Club takes you back to the days of yore and lets you self-publish on newsprint.

The Newspaper Club charges different amounts depending on the size of the print runs. It is about £330 (or £1.10 a copy) for 300 black-and-white issues of a newspaper, for example. For color, it will cost you more.

Using a tool called ARTHR, wannabe publishers can design their own newspaper to a decent standard. As well, wannabe desktop publishers can employ graphic design skills and upload their own versions via PDF.

Right now, the Newspaper Club is more of a novelty, being used to create cute wedding favors and tokens for family members. However, there are hopes that bloggers could use it offer print versions of their blogs or as a personal manifest of one’s views on politics or the cinema.

Presently, the Newspaper Club is exclusive to the UK as high shipping costs make shipping internationally not an option. However, the club is at SXSW this year trying to pitch an American version.

This Newsprint Smells Like Irony

As neat as the Newspaper Club is at offering users the opportunity of having their words in print, one can’t help but see the irony. As thousands of “real” newspapers face their demise and watch their subscriptions tank, some users are willingly paying more than their daily paper’s worth to produce their own.

On the other hand, perhaps newspapers will join the Newspaper Club and start using this model to produce and publish their own newspapers. It couldn’t hurt.

Posterous Gains Funding, Makes Blogging Free & Easy

Among the 7 Ways to Blog Using Your Mobile Phone, which we wrote back in 2009, a few of them included emailing your posts directly to your blog. But what if everything you wrote, posted and created came only from your email? Well, then you’d have Posterous.

 

Post Things Fast and Free

Founded in 2008, Posterous lets you post things online fast using email. By emailing post@posterous.com with your text, photos, videos and links, you’ll receive an instant reply with your new Posterous blog.

There’s no sign up required (but it is available to users who plan to send more than just once from multiple email accounts), and you can even make your posts private so you can share them exclusively. However, because email is free and so is Posterous’ services, keeping afloat can be tricky. It’s not like you’re emailing them money, after all.

Funding & Future Plans

Yet, Posterous has been able to raise US$ 4.4 million in its first round of funding. Investors included Redpoint Ventures, Trinity Ventures and angels including SV Angel, Founder Collective, Lowercase Capital, Brian Pokorny, Aydin Senkut and XG Ventures.

Currently the San Francisco-based Posterous offers their free web publishing platform to 12 million unique monthly visitors and boasts 25 million page views, which put the unique blogging platform poised at a tipping point.

And there are plans to monetize a professional version of the platform later this year.

Autoposting, Widgets & Analytics

Posterous also lets users autopost to all the other social media services you already use, like Twitter and Facebook. As well, there are buttons and widgets, care of Widgetbox, to share your blog, and analytics to add via Google and Feedburner. Users can even create custom domains.

Selecting a CMS: Managing Product Demos

If you followed the advice from the first two articles in this series (How to build a short listand Developing scenarios), you should have a good idea of what you are looking for and with what products you might find some content management system bliss. This next article provides guidance on how you can start evaluating actual products against your defined requirements.

 

This next phase of the selection process is where you evaluate the products against your requirements. Successful completion of this phase will mean that you have selected a product/vendor that is compatible with your content and your way of working. The product satisfies both your objective and subjective criteria.

Failure in this phase means that you will either be swayed by the most charismatic salesperson or that you will be stuck in a never ending sales cycle that doesn't drive you towards an informed decision. Neither case is very appealing — so lets avoid both.

Take Product Demos Seriously

The vendor presentation and product demonstration is one of the most critical components in a CMS selection process. You will learn more from seeing a product in action than reading an analyst report or a RFP response from a vendor.

But to be effective, a product demonstration needs considerable investment from both sides. You won't learn anything by occasionally peaking up from your email to glance at a canned demo about a fictional business that has nothing to do with your company.

Instead, you should partner with the vendor to develop a prototype that supports the scenarios you have given in the RFP. In this exercise, you get to experience what it feels like to be a customer working with the vendor to achieve success. If you run a demonstration properly you will be able to answer the following questions:

  • Does the vendor understand your business and the way you work?
  • Will you be treated like an important customer?
  • Does your company and the vendor have good chemistry?
  • How naturally does the product fit your vision?
  • What customizations or compromises would have to be made to use this product?

Construct a Thoughtful Invitation

The first thing you need to do is connect with the vendors on your short list to tell them that you are evaluating their product and could use their help. This is where most companies go wrong. By pulling out their standard RFP template and loading it up with demands one shoots oneself in the foot, and early.

The worst of such offenses have a glob of irrelevant boilerplate text and then a long feature checklist. One CMS vendor I know even received an RFP that asked if the product contained any radioactive materials — clearly this was language designed for another type of procurement and the customer was too lazy to even read what he sent out.

Trust me, when you do work like this, you are sending a signal to the vendors that you don't care. Some vendors will not engage at all. Others will play along but invest as little as possible in the opportunity — they know that the sales cycle will be long and unpredictable.

You get what you give: an RFP with a lot of boilerplate text will get responses with a lot of boilerplate text. Plus, you will get stuck in "qualification" queue until you show some signs of intelligent life.

The good news is that, if you have done the work of developing scenarios, you have a lot of information that shows (a) you are serious about this initiative and, (b) you know what you want.

Vendors love scenarios because they efficiently tell the story of content in your organization and help them understand what you need. In addition to your 10 most important scenarios, your RFP should contain the following information:

  • Background about your company and division
  • Sample content types and perhaps some screen captures of how they appear on your site
  • A roadmap of your selection process with a timetable
  • A point of contact
  • The response format you you expect.

Be Concise in Your Communications

Attributed to an impressive number of famous folk including Mark Twain, Pascal and a host of others, there's a quote that I find to be a useful and humorous reminder. It goes something like this: "

If i'd had more time, i'd have writen a much shorter letter."

The most important part to keep in mind is that assembling your RFP is not a contest for who can write the longest, most elaborate proposal. The RFP response will not help you manage your content and the quality of an RFP response says nothing about the product. In fact, the prettiest proposals are usually written by a dedicated proposal writer and re-used across lots of sales opportunities — they have very little to do with your RFP.

Some RFPs demand that participants spend weeks of time filling out a response. You don't want the vendors to spend all of their effort on the RFP and then coast through the rest of the sales process. Vendor resources are much better spent building a prototype that shows you how the product would work in your organization. This will give the vendors a chance to show how they approach problems and how their products work. Keep things as informal as you can.  The more leeway you give, the easier it will be easier to identify differences between the vendors and products. When differences are more visible, decisions are easier.

If you really want a vendor to put in the effort to get to know you and translate their features in terms of your requirements, you should let it be known that you are only evaluating 2-3 products. This indicates that you are in the home-stretch of your decision and it is time to pull out the stops. This will help the vendors justify putting their best people on the opportunity rather than pacing themselves for a long slog. Time-boxing a decision helps people work more efficiently on both sides.

Preparation

A successful demo is all about preparation. You need to prepare the vendor — or systems integrator or in house staff if you are evaluating non-commercial software — with the information they need so they can do their best. You also need to prepare the audience on what they should be looking for.

  • Verify that the vendor understands your requirements
    Have the vendor prepare a written response describing how their product can support your scenarios. Review it and give them feedback with ample time to adjust their demo in case they misunderstood what you need. I typically encourage vendors to do a pre-demo walk-through of the scenario in front of their customer contact person. If you are a vendor, always take advantage of this offer. In my own selection consulting work, when one of the three candidates does a pre-demo walk-through, the demos are so much better that they win 100% of the time.
  • Prepare the audience 
    Prepare your audience for the demo by telling them what they should be looking for. A scorecard that lists the scenarios is useful for keeping people's attention on their needs, not gimicky features. Vendors tend to up their game when the realize they are dealing with a sophisticated audience.

    If the audience does not understand basic content management theory (separation of content and layout, re-usability, content life-cycle, etc.) address that before the first demo. Vendors are actually pretty good at explaining that stuff but there are more effective uses of their time.

  • Call the vendor's references
    Don't wait to the end of the process to call references. If you talk to references before the demonstration, you will be more educated for the demo. Maybe a complaint from a reference was addressed in a newer version of the software. Maybe a feature that demos really nicely isn't practical for everyday use.

Demonstration

The demo should use everyone's time as effectively as possible and should be organized to ensure that vital information is communicated to the right people. I usually allocate 4 hours but the agenda is broken up so that not all stakeholders have to sit through the whole thing.

  • Limit company background information 
    The vendor should be able to introduce their company and make the case that it is a stable company, it gets content management, and knows your business. However, you need to contain the amount of time that they take to do it. They should be able to build a level of credibility and comfort with the audience but not infringe on the time they have to talk about their product within your context. Your short-listing exercise should have already pre-qualified the vendors along these lines.
  • Mind your manners 
    Even if your corporate culture thinks it is OK for staff to attend meetings in-body only, keep distractions to a minimum. Ask your audience to put aside their email, blackberries, and cell phones and pay attention. Give the vendors every opportunity to engage with the audience. If the vendor is missing the mark, don't tune out. Instead, help steer them back on course. If you can't do that, politely end the meeting as quickly as possible and be happy that you were able to eliminate an option in a very hard decision.
  • Mark your scorecards
    Without making it feel like a Bingo hall, have the audience take notes in their scorecards so that they remember what they saw and their impressions. By the time they have gotten back to their desks and answered their first of fifty waiting emails, they will have forgotten half of what they saw. The most important thing for your audience to capture is their doubts. These are aspects of the product or service that raise questions and concerns. The follow up phase will focus on these doubts.

Follow up

Don't let wait long to get feedback from the audience. It doesn't take long for people to forget. Follow up and plan the next steps as soon as possible.

  • The post mortem
    As soon as possible, get everyone in a room and have them express their observations and impressions and, most importantly, doubts. For each doubt, you need to first validate (was this a misunderstanding or an oversight?), mitigate (what compromises or customizations could compensate for this issue?), and rate (what risk remains after mitigation? Is the customization expensive or does it risk future upgrades? Is the compromise sustainable?).
  • Schedule follow ups
    Review the doubts that came up and have the vendor invalidate or suggest mitigation strategies. For the vendors that didn't make the cut, explain why. If the demo was a disaster but you think the product still has potential, you could give them another chance or you could take it as a sign that they are not prepared to support you. Remember, after the contract is signed, things are only going to get worse.
  • Prototype
    Some doubts will be best addressed with a prototype that the vendor can leave behind for you to use. Different vendors will have different policies around this. Some create hosted sand boxes and allow business users to experiment. Others provide trial versions of the software so that a customer can attend training and try to build the prototype themselves.
Google Dresses Up RSS Feeds in Google Reader Play

In what looks like an attempt to make RSS more fun, Google has released a little tool called Google Reader Play. The Google Reader alternative allows users to browse headlines one at a time in an image-heavy environment, rather than wade through streams of text. 

Google Reader Play

The new tool is an experimental Google Labs project, meaning anyone can start using it right this second. Using Recommended Items technology, Google presents stories one by one with enlarged photos and auto-playing videos in lieu of text. Like the OG Google Reader, users can define categories and star, like or share stories:

 google_reader_play.JPGGoogle Reader Play screen shot

However, Google Reader Play does not display your existing feeds. Instead, it filters in content from the aggregate recommendations of other Google Reader users. Translation? It reveals a lot of geeky stuff you might not've come across otherwise.

Open to All

You don't need a login to use the tool, but you do need Google credentials if you want it to learn your browsing behavior. Also, logging in allows users the option to share their favorite posts within their Buzzupdates. 

Overall, Google Reader Play is entertaining, and it seems like it would be a great way to pass the time on a tablet computer. In fact, that it was launched shortly after Apple's iPad is probably no coincidence. It’s also not bad to look at, but whether or not that's enough to attract some serious attention remains to be seen. (Obviously the tool isn't built for speedy searching or anything like that.) 

Check it out here and decide for yourself.

Mediaspectrum Automates Campaign Management for Web Publishers

It’s no secret that Mediaspectrum (site) helps web publishers manage editorial content and streamline workflows. But now they’re helping publishers make better, more well informed decisions about advertising sales.

With the development of Campaign Management, Mediaspectrum’s Ad Sales portal integrates multiple tasks, designed to help publishers manage the way their content interacts with advertisers, while also gaining valuable insight into how much revenue and success is associated with each sales and marketing campaign.

As well, a built-in business rules management system (BRMS) lets business managers create and assign new sales based upon how advertisers interact with the system.

This self-service advertising platform brings critical data points to life. Now, it’s not hard to know where advertisers come from, how they interact and react to messaging, allowing publishers the opportunity to adjust pricing and messaging for more personalized, follow-up campaigns.

As we all know, web publishing is more than just about content. A great deal of it relies on advertising and revenue. Mediaspectrum’s new approach to advertising gives companies the platform from which to manage it all.