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Maintain Multiple Blogs at Different Hosts August 28, 2006

Posted by electrica in basic blogology, CEO blogs, emergency communications channel.
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After publishing my latest post at Vaspers the Grate web usability/videocasting blog, I attempted to navigate to it. For the first time in my life, I got a DoND (denial of navigational destination) from Google, who hosts the Blogspot server at which Vaspers resides:

[QUOTE]

Server Error

The server encountered a temporary error and could not complete your request.Please try again in 30 seconds.

[END QUOTE]

This is one of my reasons for maintaining blogs at different hosts. If Blogger goes down, is unaccessible, for scheduled maintainence or unexpected technical problems, I have an alternate location on the web.

I have told my Vaspers the Grate blog readers to come over here if there is any access problem at Blogger. Well, here I am again, using this blog as an emergency communication transmission platform.

Let this post be a lesson for you. Maintain multiple blogs, even if you use one as flagship and primary online community hub. Try to update the other, alternate host blog at least once per week so it doesn’t appear to be abandoned.

Be sure to encourage your flagship blog readers to jot down, make note of your alt blog address. If the flagship blog server goes down, obviously, your readers will not be able to click on the alt blog link in your flagship blog sidebar.

Brand Loyalty Online August 27, 2006

Posted by electrica in basic blogology, blog business tools, blog debate, blogocombat, brand loyalty online, CEO blogs, ecommerce blogs, online marketing.
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Brand loyalty can occur online when your web presence satisfies real user needs and interests. If your brand is represented online by a site that enables customers to interact, to ask questions, voice complaints, and offer suggestions, your customers will experience increased devotion to your brand.

As consumers flock to such web attractions as video sharing at YouTube or the blogging platform of MySpace, Blogger, and WordPress, they expect more functionalities at all sites. Plain text digital journals are giving way to multi hyper media blogs that feature photos, podcasts, RSS syndication, email alert subscriptions, customized search engines, surveys, video player embeds, and video VoIP chat.

To build brand loyalty online, keep providing frequently updated information, relevant news, how-to tips, simple explanations, interesting data, and advanced interactive functionalities.

The sooner you begin experimenting with multi hyper media blogging, the faster you’ll establish a strong position of communication technology leadership in the mind of your customers. Vision, zeal, and expertise are conveyed by harnessing the new tools with great boldness, tenacity, and exploratory passion.

Begin now to harness the power of these new tools. If you do it with relevance, benefit, finesse, and strong entertainment value, you’ll gain substantial competitive advantage by increasing your brand loyalty online.

new marketing practices and attention scarcity August 25, 2006

Posted by electrica in basic blogology, CEO blogs, Miserably Servile Customer Pampering, online marketing.
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In his Edge Perspectives post “Mastering the New Marketing Practices“, business book author John Hagel III (co-author of Net Gain), says there are 3 major business economic shifts changing the marketing environment.

New marketing practices need to firmly based on the following upheavals:

(1) From scarce shelf space…to scarce consumer attention.

(2) From economies of scale in production…to economies of scope in customer relationships.

(3) From passive indoctrination and compulsive consumption to active participation and informed negotiation.

Consumers are aggressively informing, and defiantly arguing with, each other about products, rather than obediently absorbing ad messages.

Consumers are providing massive input into the production and distribution of goods they used to have no say about. Choices are based on vendor comparisons and user reviews, more than official marketing and sales promotions.

User generated content and consumer-producer-distributor hybrids are ruling the waves of commerce, turning the tide away from mass unilateral marketing to customized need sastisfaction.

Attention is now the commodity that is an endangered species. Web surfers, blog readers, video posters…everybody is busy moving and creating and consuming as fast as they can. We have all engaged in simultaneous online chat, blog commenting, mp3 downloading, and music listening.

Now the challenge is to stand out in the midst of competitive enticements, user-environment distractions, and extreme multi-tasking.

We must meet Scarcity of Attention with Rarity of Relevant Content. Astonish. Over-gratify. Satiate. Shock your market and industry with extreme excellance, unimaginable creativity, and super profound professionalism.

In other words, we must work to produce, based on customer needs and opinion input, a product that goes off the scale with style, sensibility, and satisfaction. A valuable and desirable enhancement of the user’s life, safety, productivity, prestige, ease, and pleasure. A must have for the clued in. A mandatory accessory for the enlightened.
[QUOTE]

While there is a broad recognition among marketers that attention scarcity is becoming a big issue, the response has been increasing desperation to get some of that scarce attention. Intrusive ads are appearing in more and more places – projected in lights on the sides of buildings at night, plastered on the sides of farm animals in fields and running on video displays above urinals.

Rather than just focusing on how to get attention, vendors might also want to consider how they can help their customers receive attention that is important to them and not just from the vendor, but from others that matter to the customers.

Vendors also tend to commoditize attention, viewing attention as a fungible good that can be bought and sold.

Successfully attracting attention requires an understanding that attention is highly context sensitive – it is both deeply personal and social at the same time. Attention is deeply embedded in, and shaped by, relationships. These relationships are not static, but increasingly dynamic. The key challenge and opportunity for vendors is how to participate in, and enrich, these relationships in order to construct more value for their customers and to amplify the value of attention.

Vendors also narrow the focus very quickly from attention to intention, asking “how can we more effectively intercept people who have already formed an intent to buy?” The missed opportunity is how to engage the attention of customers at a more fundamental level in ways that create more value for the customers and for the vendor.

Finally, vendors tend to develop a narrow focus on new, network-enabled marketing tools like blogs, wikis, virtual communities and social networks, treating them like a checklist to be deployed like artillery in a military campaign – “yes, we’ve set up some blogs.”

Few of them systematically ask how these tools might be used to increase return on attention for customers. Even fewer ask who else already has deployed these tools and how they might help their customers find and connect to these resources and perhaps where they might participate in existing environments in ways that provide more return on attention.

[END QUOTE]

It takes more than setting up blogs, podcasts, and video to generate attention and build customer loyalty. You need to have an underlying reason for all this new technology. “Because XYZ Company is doing it” is the worst reason on earth. You better be doing it for the benefit of your customers.

Complaints. Suggestions. Advice. Requests. Questions. Insight. Anecdotes.

Your customers can provide all this great input for the advancement of your corporation. But you have to be willing to listen, learn, and implement.

User Observation Testing: Forms and Procedures August 24, 2006

Posted by electrica in blog evaluation, user observation tests, web analysis, web usability.
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User Observation Testing: Forms and Procedures for an Information-Driven Web Sites

by Steven Streight

The W.D. Boyce Council of the Boy Scouts of America was concerned about their staff Web site. Complaints from users indicated that the site might have some usability problems. The W.D. Boyce web development committee decided to revise the design of the site, but wanted to identify usability deficiencies prior to the re-design.

As a new volunteer member of the committee, my responsibility consisted of advising the committee on usability and textual content issues. Here was my opportunity to make a significant contribution of expertise.

I suggested that my usability team observe typical users interacting with the Web site. Watching actual users attempt to accomplish tasks at the Web site would enable us to pinpoint specific usability problems. After I explained how a user observation test could be conducted, and what would be required of test subjects and testing facilities, the committee gave me the go-ahead.

www.wdboyce.org is an information-driven, text-dominant Web site, with relatively complex information architecture. Vital information is often buried in non-obvious locations, requiring users to embark on “linking expeditions” (site navigation-enabled information hunts) that are frustrating and time-consuming. Users are confronted with redundant links (differently labeled links that lead to same content), pseudo-redundant links (similarly labeled links that lead to very different content), and faulty link nomenclature (link labels that are vague or inaccurate).

The organization wants its staff leaders and volunteers to use the site as their primary source of organization news, policy statements, activity updates, and forms to download to reduce paper and postage costs for the organization.

W.D. Boyce web committee members understood how web text must be formatted differently from print media. Readers of books, magazine articles, and personal letters, for example, tend to read in sequential order, from beginning to end. Some passages may be skipped over, but print reading is far more linear (straight line from point A to point B, etc., to point Z) than web viewing. It’s a mistake to think that web users will interact with Web site text the same way they consume print media text.

The sheer abundance of online material, and the free and easy access to it, contributes to users racing through Web sites, even relevant ones, until they spot the exact material they want. Unfortunately, most of the text on the site was in a “print read” format.

To convert the print read text to “web scan” text, I proposed using the following techniques:

  • Shorter paragraphs
  • Copy chunking, with intrasite hypertext links
  • Bulleted and numbered lists replacing dense text blocks
  • More descriptive heads and subheads
  • Underlining of hypertext links
  • Selected and non-selected hypertext link color differentiation (blue for unselected, not yet visited links; purple for selected, already visited links)
  • Elimination of unnecessary articles and superfluous words

The committee also agreed that a Site Index and some Multiple User-Segmented Site Maps (suggested paths through the site, based on user type) might be a good addition. It’s suspected that users experience confusion upon arriving at the site. It’s not clear where a specific type of user (leader, volunteer, donor, parent, or sponsor) should go in the site, nor where certain items are found, e.g., application forms for an upcoming event.

However, even with these enhancements, the site was still considered to be in need of a complete overhaul. To get our bearings for the construction of the new site, a User Observation Test was conducted on the current site. What follows are the forms and procedures we used.

Those who are new to web usability analysis, or those who are familiar only with certain aspects, may see something clarified that was previously mysterious.

The first thing we needed to do was recruit volunteers to be test subjects.

Computer Skills Level Telesurvey

We wanted two low level, two intermediate, and two high level computer skills users in the test. Test subjects were phoned and qualified by a Computer Skills Level Telesurvey. There is no strict “If, then” methodology for this. It’s more like “If, probably,” as in: “If [such and such is true], probably [the user is at this skills level].”

The questions we used were:

  • What they generally used a computer for, with ten suggested uses, from email only (LOW) to professional IT occupational work (HIGH).
  • How they found Web sites to visit, from magazines with lists of hot sites (LOW) to multiple specialized search engines (HIGH).
  • How they primarily navigated a Web site, from navbars and main menu link listings (LOW) to site maps and advanced search boxes (HIGH).
  • How much time they spent on the computer, from less than one hour a day (LOW) to more than three hours a day (HIGH).
  • What is their main usage of a computer, from pleasure or entertainment (LOW) to professional online forums and discussion lists (HIGH).
  • What skills level they perceive themselves to be at, from novice to computer expert.
  • What are their favorite Web sites, open ended, with AOL, Yahoo, eBay, amazon.com being ranked LOW to Slashdot, Wired News, and wikipedia being ranked HIGH. (Note: this is no reflection on the quality or professionalism of the Web sites so tagged. Low skills users tend to visit more popular, high traffic sites, while high skills users tend to visit more technical, specialized sites.)

Introductory Remarks to Test Subjects

Test subjects were thanked for coming. They were emphatically reassured that this evaluation was not to determine their intelligence or computer savvy, but to determine the efficiency and usability of the Web site. Gourmet deli cold cut sandwiches were available: easy to feast upon, not messy. Cans of cold soda were also provided.

Subjects were tested one at a time. Although the surveys were intended for post-test purposes, subjects filled out two of them while waiting to be tested, to decrease the amount of time they had to spend in this process. While the System Usability Scale Questionnaire had to be filled out after the usability test, whether the other surveys were filled out before or after the test was not a vital concern.

User Observation Test Procedures

Subjects were asked to sit in front of a computer monitor displaying the Home Page of the Web site being tested.

They were given a list of ten site task assignments. The test administrator read each assignment to the subject, prior to the subject performing the task; to be sure he understood what to do. When the administrator said, “Go,” a stopwatch was activated and the task performance was timed to one hundredth of a second.

Video recording of the testing is recommended, but was not available in this case. The administrator took notes on how the subject attempted to accomplish each task, what links were followed, what navigation tools were utilized, and what comments were made.

When it was apparent that a subject was exasperated and would not be able to complete a task, the administrator said, “Give up? That’s okay. This one’s a tough one. Here’s how you can find this.” Test subjects were shown a site path leading to the information.

The administrator engaged in silent, non-invasive observation. No assistance was given, but, to keep the test from being emotionally cold and inhuman, friendly comments were made, such as: “It probably should have its own link on the Home Page” or “That’s good thinking, but the site regretfully wasn’t designed that way.”

One test subject pulled the monitor closer to him due to his poor vision. Another was a bit awkward with the mouse; he kept clicking the right click mechanism or pushing down on the mouse wheel, thereby activating unexpected functions. In this case, the administrator intervened, informing the subject of his operational errors.

Link Strategy Survey

This questionnaire was designed to take the place of “card sorting,” in which the user arranges cards with link labels or page section titles printed on them, to convey the desired information architecture for a Web site.

Labels of top navbars, left column main menu links, and bottom of page text links are presented. Users are told, for example, “A top navbar is a horizontal navigation tool that runs across an upper region of the Home Page. Here are the links in that navbar. What information would you expect to be provided by these links?” Space is provided for them to describe what they think should be in those links.

We also listed links we are considering adding to the left column main menu. Test subjects were asked to check mark those they agreed should be included. They were also asked if they paid much attention to bottom of page text links. We asked them if they thought they’d use a “Search This Site” search engine text entry box. Finally, we asked them, “For what purpose do you primarily use this Web site?”

Site Satisfaction Survey

This questionnaire, which determines if the Web site is meeting the organization’s goals, was prefaced with, “Tell us what you really think, not what you assume we may be hoping to hear.” Test subjects were asked:

  • Do you consider this Web site to be your #1 source of organization news, information, and forms?
  • Would you prefer another source for these things, and what would that be? (Email was mentioned by a test subject.)
  • Do you consider quick and easy access to organization news and information to be important?
  • Do you use your computer much, or visit other Web sites? Multiple choices ranging from “No…or I rarely visit _______ sites” to “Yes, online shopping” and “Yes, at my job I do computer work or visit Web sites.”
  • Average time you spend on the computer: ______ hours per day.
  • What does this Web site do best? Not do a very good job at?
  • What could be done to improve this Web site?
  • Was anything missing from this Web site? Please specify.
  • Any comments you’d care to make about this Web site testing program?

System Usability Scale Questionnaire

The final form we asked test subjects to fill out is our modified version of the Digital Equipment Company Ltd. System Usability Scale (SUS) Scale, which is in the public domain. We modified this scale to accommodate Web sites. In its original version, it’s designed for assessing any software or hardware system. It can be seen at www.usabilitynet.org under Home > Tools & Methods (bottom text link) > Established Questionnaires > SUS.

Our modified version of this questionnaire, which is strongly recommended for usability tests of Web sites, is available via email to anyone who contacts me to request it.

Conclusion

Now the hard part begins: compiling the results into a concise report for the organization. Provide the organization with a brief explanation of test methodology, a summary of the test results, and a prioritized list of recommended actions to take, based on the test results.

Let the organization know that no Web site is perfect. New web norms are being established at high-popularity sites. Current users are improving their skills and expecting advanced functionalities. New web users are continually logging onto the net landscape.

All these facts point to the reality that both the World Wide Web and the collective pool of users are constantly changing. Thus, usability evaluation should be a periodic, ongoing process, not a one time event.

How To Compose Hypertext Links August 23, 2006

Posted by electrica in basic blogology, CEO blogs, hypertext, link strategy, web usability.
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Hypertext links!

They take you to further elaborations and substantiating sources. They transport you to new, connected ideas. They fling you into strange, hopefully beneficial, environments.

And all you have to do is click on (select) them.

Click.

Bang!

You’re gone.

Hello!

You’re somewhere else.

To return to where you were before, usually all you have to do is click on the Back button of your browser.

Hypertext: text that lifts you off one spot, and carries you to another.

The new internet location is called the link destination. Links are subject to change and cannot be considered permanent, even though permalink is the term used to refer to the URL (web address) of a specific blog post or article.
Link rot is a term that refers to broken links, links that no longer lead to the same destination, due to a page or file being moved or deleted.

Linking strategies are based on how the mind operates by associating one thing with another. Actually, any thought could theoretically be linked to any other thought.

Good linking means connecting ideas in a way that’s beneficial for users and relevant to the topic of discussion.

So, how do you compose them?

What text should be “linked verbiage”?

How do you decide what words and phrases should be make “clickable”?

(Actually the better term is “selectable,” since some users don’t use a mouse, but enter keyboard commands, voice activation, etc., to select an item.)

Guidelines for Composing Hypertext Links:

1. Write your regular text. DO NOT add keywords just to boost search engine rankings. Forget about SEO as you create your post.

2. Look at key words and phrases in your text.

3. Determine which key words and phrases should be clarified for your readers. Or what ideas your readers might want to pursue further.

Or which words and phrases carry vital information that users can skim and understand in a hurry.

4. Turn those key words and phrases, or those ideas, into hypertext links.

5. Try to keep phrases short, two or three words, if possible.

6. If you want people to find your blog or web site by typing key words and phrases into a search engine, your hypertext links must be made according to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) principles.

SEO can help your site appear at the top of the heap of search engine results when users seek web sites in your field of endeavor.

7. Search Engine spiders hunger for fresh, dense, relevant content, with quality inbound and outbound links.

Make sure the wording contained in the links is relevant to the content of your site, and the language and interests of users.

Don’t overdo it, because the Search Engine spiders don’t like fraudulent attempts to trick them. If fact, they are repulsed by “keyword spamming,”  or “spamdexing”: using a word or phrase repeatedly in a ridiculous, too frequent manner, on a web page.

In this site, I could turn words like “usability,” “hypertext,” “blogs,” and other industry terms, into hypertext links.

8. NEVER use “click here” as a link. These words contain no relevant content for users or SEO spiders. Your links must be scannable, so people in a hurry can glance at your text and surmise what it’s about.

“Click Here” contains no information about what the link is or where it goes.

Instead of “click here”, ask yourself: “click here for what?” The “what” is the link text. If the “for what” is, for example, comparisons of web cams under $300.00, what I put in bold is the link text.

Check out the chart of comparisons of web cams under $300.00.

Learn how to improve web text scannability.

There are many more examples of linked verbiage that can guide your content writing.

CEO can create personalized contact with customers via video blogging, or vlogging.We must learn to prevent comment spam.

A related story on business podcasting success is at Podomatic blog.
Check Usability of Your Hypertext Links

Once you’ve converted key words and phrases of regular text into hypertext links, click on (select) each one of them, to make sure they work.

Never assume you typed in the URLs correctly.

Never assume the URLs will never be altered (by webmasters changing the archiving system, for example, though URLs as a rule should never be changed for any reason). Click on those links and see if they take you to the desired destination.

CEOs and blogocombat: an introduction August 8, 2006

Posted by electrica in basic blogology, blog debate, blogocombat, CEO blogs, CEO Videos, deep blogology, Video Blogging.
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As a hardcore blogger and web consultant, I have to engage in a variety of online debate. I call it “blogocombat”, even when I enter discussions in phone conversations or email. This contending for a point of view or set of facts is mandatory behavior. You cannot forge into the future with a paranoid or passive attitude. You must be aggressive.

But how aggressive? In what styles?

A CEO cannot do his or her company any favor by appearing to be a wimp, chump, or weakling online. The opposite extreme would be a bellicose bully, an arrogant jerk who pummels anyone who comes close.

The best, and perhaps only, way to master diplomatic but strong online debate is to spend some time observing the seasoned pros who already have the battle scars and missing limbs to prove they are veterans of the digital realm wars.

There are controversies galore in the blogosphere and vlogosphere. Google a few search terms like Net Neutrality, Comment Moderation, Fictional Character Blogs, or any aspect of blogging you are interested in right now. See what kinds of argumentation are going on, for you will surely see web pages with confrontational titles.

Watch how Mark Cuban, Seth Godin, Richard Edelman, Shel Israel, Tom Peters, or Robert Scoble respond to harsh critique, unfair assumption, and wild accusation. Study their tone and word choice. Watch how often they jump into heated discussions within their blogs or at the blogs of others.

Some say a blog is a party that anyone can join and do whatever they want. Others caution us that a blog is a livingroom of a home, and you better be polite, civil, and calm. I think CEO blogs must be prepared for intelligent, sophisticated criticism as well as more emotional, less dignified attack.

Don’t shy away from the blogosphere, due to fear of flamers.

Show courage and visionary leadership, a credibility based on brave experimentation, by juming into the blogosphere, come what may. The simple act of just starting a blog will be seen by many in your industry as being forward thinking and technologically savvy.

Better yet, start a vlog or video blog.

I’ll try posting a couple of my better videos here, as an example. Most of my video experiments are failures, but I have a fine comedy video and a neat professional instruction film on CEO video blogging.

CEO blogs, risk, failure August 6, 2006

Posted by electrica in basic blogology, CEO blogs, deep blogology, Uncategorized.
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A CEO must be cautious and visionary, modest and inspiring, transparent and trustworthy.

As a CEO looks at the blogging phenomenon and the blogosphere, what should be the verdict? To many CEOs, blogging seems “too risky”, “time-consuming”, “vulnerability hole”, “pipeline to lunacy”, “imprudent exposure”, i.e., blogging is a bad idea.

But most CEOs stand to realize tremendous benefits from candid, courageous, controversial blogging.

“Life is always a series of ups and downs, triumphs and failures. You may be successful if your triumphs simply outnumber your failures. But, in order to be successful, you must experience those failures and you must learn from them.”

— Erroll B. Davis, Jr., Chairman, President & CEO, Alliant Energy. (Wisdom for a Young CEO, Douglas Barry, Running Press 2004, p. 40)

CEOs need not fear blogging, any more than the telephone when it was first invented.

Why fear your voice will not sound strong and authoritative, in a blog or on a phone? Why fear a blog will make you look bad, when you are comfortable on television and video conferencing? Why fear to write a blog, when it’s much the same as composing email?

Why fear you will interact with bizarre trouble-makers? Your sales and service staff deal with such annoyances every day. Your cashiers and IT guys confront unexpected kooks as a standard routine, and have much they could tell you.

Now, blogs and videocasting are your opportunity to take a calculated risk, and enjoy the lessons of failure or the glory of success.

Either way, you win.

Cascading Project Proliferation. transparent CEO blogging. August 5, 2006

Posted by electrica in blog evaluation, CEO blogs, deep blogology, Discrete Strategic Transparency, Miserably Servile Customer Pampering, Personal Blogging, Uncategorized.
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A CEO blogger speaks recently of self-assigned chores that seem to somehow expand as they are pursued. Like the “fix it” mode goes berserk. Perfectionism kicks in. Work ethic obsession outbursts persist in the new dimension of infinite sequence chains massively self-propagating eternally.

The industrial managerial psychologists have a word for this, “cascading project proliferation” or “autonomous task sprawl” or “retroflexive recursive feedback entropy  syndrome” or “dynamic loop psychosis”.

Neologisms, tools with which to handle these nearly ineffable realities of life.

This type of sleeves rolled up, jacket off, deck shoes commentary on personal life, mixed with business insight or better, philosophical questions, is my favorite type of candid blogging.

There is a power in discrete transparency, and it’s euphoric.

The way it works is:

(1) You are bothered by, or pensively contemplative toward, an item.

(2) You briefly mention in your blog how it annoyed or impeded you. This is a quick connect with common folk via customized anecdote.

(3) You then build an abrupt bridge, connecting the complaint or observation with a broader business reality or practice.

(4) You demonstrate that the business and personal realms can mesh, to the productive gain of both your organization and your audience, as they benefit from a humanized real life example of a difficult to grasp or esoteric principle of business.

It’s what I call Discrete Strategic Transparency. As opposed to reckless, indiscriminate gushing of private, trivial, and inappropriate details. A “need to know” basis. A controlled revelation of personal details, with a larger objective in view.

Discrete Strategic Transparency enhances the credibility and persuasive power of a blog, by helping readers to relate to you as a regular individual with good insights and astonishing brevity of narrative.