Webstock 09 : Joshua Porter

Live blogging Designing Sign Up Screens and Flows presentation at Webstock 09 by Author of “Designing for the Social Web” Joshua Porter.

Josh got started in this biz because every client he ever had came to him with problems relating to web site sign ups.

Joshua wrote a book called The Usage Lifecycle. First up: Sign up is hard. If you have 8% of first time visitors signing up for a *free* account, you’re doing well.

When we think about the hurdle of sign up, we generally think about the friction of interface. So how do you remove friction? The Tumblr sign up is a great example of this. The URL box shows you what your URL will be. No need to understand sub-domains or anything else. The action button says “sign up and start posting” - it’s clear what will happen when you sign up.

We’re starting to see cool ways to make forms easier to use. Things like:

- Password strength

- Check username availability

- Inline help

- refilling fields upon error

- sending username in confirmation email

- Show/hide password

Joshua is currently working on a Facebook app. Facebook applications are great to work on because of all the different metrics. He’s been trying to improve the ease of use of typical Facebook forms:

Original Flow looks like:

1) Confirm personal info

2) Add your friends

3) Invite others

4) Getting started

Original Conversion Funnel:

Of the 100% of people who started the sign up process using the original flow, only 14% made it to the getting started screen. So at every level of the app sign up, we lost users.

What would happen if we took down some of the steps? He started by removing steps 1 and 3. The new flow was:

2) Add your friends

4) Getting started

The new conversion funnel resulted in 86% of users making it to the *getting started* screen.  Always ask clients why they want their user sign up forms changed. Focus tends to be on the form. But the form is not the problem of sign up. There’s a lot of good info on the web about form design. That’s not the issue. The issue is motivation.

“If ease of use were the only requirement, we would all be riding tricycles” - Douglas Engelbart

You need to change people’s minds about your software. Sign up is in the mind, not the web. People will find a way to sign up if they are motivated enough.

What are we asking?

1) A change in behaviour - old habits die hard

2) Give up accepted shared practices

3) Jump into the unknown

4) Shift from potential to kinectic energy - psychology behind wanting to change

The Psychology of Sign up = 9 x Effect by John T. Gourville. People tend to overvalue the software they currently use by about a factor of 3. Software makers tend to overvalue the software they offer by about a factor of 3. This creates the 9 x Effect. That’s why entrepreneurs tend to think they’re going to set the world on fire.

What we imagine people are thinking: confident, decisive, passionate

What they’re actually thinking: unsure, scared, non-commital

The Preconditions of Sign up:

- product research

- considering an alternative

- learning about the product

- comparison with other options

- reconnaissance

The form goes where the moment of readiness to sign up comes along. Therefore, pre-conditions are very important.

Design for 3 distinct visitor types:

1) I know I want to sign up

2) I want to make sure this is for me

3) I’m skeptical

Ways to tackle sign up:

1) Immediate Engagement

Geni’s family tree image where user can picture their *place* in the tree. NetVibes sign up reminds people it’s free, provides unobtrusive help comment window. Most importantly, you are allowed to create a personalized page via various fields etc BUT you have to sign up in order to be able to save that page. Slide widget that is on many social media sites uses similar thing. If you click on other people’s slide-shows, you can add and customize a photo BEFORE you sign up. Tripit use a helpful signup graphic and allows you to send travel data such as flight confirmations etc and then Tripit creates the account for you based on your return address. You’ve never even filled out a form, just sent an email. Posterous also has an email generated sign-up process and has “sign up” crossed through to remind people how easy it is

2) Write to Reduce Commitment

Copywriting is the easiest, fastest way to improve your sign-up process.

Highrise did A/B testing using Google Web Site Optimizer. They tested copy at top of sign-up form. Most conversions resulted from:

“30 day Free Trial on All Accounts. Sign-up takes less thann 60 seconds. Pick a plan to get started”.

Another example was PearBudget which started as an Excel spreadsheet and was converted to a web app. It allows you to create an online budget. The sign up is simply a pop up field “Save Your Budget” with an email and password field.

3) Levels of Description

First level is your elevator pitch - one line description of service, logo, screenshot

Second level includes more detail - features, benefits, how to join

Third is In-depth level - more complicated, details, links to deeper levels of information

The NetFlix sign up is a great example of the 3 levels in action. They also add their phone number for persons still needing help during the sign up process.

Bill My Clients recently changed their sign up which was not successful. Freshbooks has a great user interface (yay team!).

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Webstock 09: Derek Featherstone

Live blogging a presentation at Webstock 09 by accessibility and web development expert Derek Featherstone:

Derek starts with an example of a blind user trying to call a website help line.

Blind User: “Hello? I need some help please”

Help desk staff: “What is your login password please?”

Blind User: “Just a moment”. (He starts JAWS screen reader that reads out his password login info that’s stored in notepad)

Help desk staff: “Is there someone in the room with you sir?”.

Blind User: “No, it’s my screenreader”.

Help desk staff: “Sorry sir, but my superviser says I have to hang up on you now”.


This actually happened. User experience encompasses EVERYTHING. Even the help desk phone manner. People need to think about this! User support etc. Accessibility is SO important

Derek then showed the example of an accessible door sign with white lettering on a black background, plus raised lettering underneath, plus braille on a raised angle. This equals excellent accessibility and it should be inspiration for what we do on the web. Can we do things on the web to help people with a disability? We can and we should.

Derek’s vision: “People with disabilities will have their preferences and needs always available so the web / environment could adapt to them for a change.” Imagine if we could walk into a bookstore and signs would adapt to your personal disabilities, flaws or needs?

Accessibility is not always inspiring or cool. Most people think of the W3C guidelines when they think of accessibility.  But we should think of progressive enhancement when we design accessible websites:

1) Content

2) Presentation

3) Behaviour

That is the baseline for an accessible web site. Let’s go beyond this.

Small barriers can become big ones for people with disabilities surfing the web. Derek gave an example of an Advanced Search form which is completely unusable. Showed another example where the word “news” was used for popular items on the site. This created false expectations in the user because the items were nothing to do with breaking news items. The web designers should have used “highlights” instead.

Just because something is technically compliant DOES NOT mean it’s going to be easy to use. He showed an example of a hugely complex and challenging wheelchair ramp. It may have been technically compliant, but it would have scared the crap out of wheelchair-bound users. Accessibility doesn’t have to be hard.

Derek then played a sound-bite example of tags on Amazon URL being interpreted by a screen reader - it took foreeeeevvveeeerrr. Accessibility FAIL. He then played example of Chapters URL interpreted by a screen reader - All layout is done with CSS, using JavaScript correctly, implemented web standards properly. BUT something gets lost. The pop-up comment box interrupted the navigation. ALL tags get read out. Result = confusion and the Amazon site was actually easier to use for a visually impaired visitor. Goes to prove that even the sites who try the hardest can get accessibility wrong.

Derek was born with a club foot. He wore a cast for the first year of life. He had a major operation to correct it at age 3. But sports were still impossible as a kid. NOW, he does triathalons. Between his first in 2006 and his latest in 2008 he got better and fitter. Like Nat said yesterday, he had successful failures and learnt from them. He pushed his limits and got better.

We should do this on the web in terms of accessibility. Let’s get better at this stuff and keep improving accessibility. Derek showed an example of Google Maps - zoom not accessible via tabbing for visually impaired visitors, so they must use grids. Ugh. For a voice recognition user, this is awful. Luckily, Google Maps API allows us to create our own accessible version of Maps.

Someone challenged Derek to make an online crossword puzzle accessible. They said it couldn’t be done! He did it by using labels on clues, using JavaScript to jump from one clue to the next. He created a field set in correct numerical order and then applied JavaScript to make the crosspoint easier to use.

This is the type of thing you can do if you think a bit harder about accessibility. Previous version was image-based. You can also do Inline Editing and hover navigation. In BaseCamp, there’s no way to navigate without a mouse. So he created a GreaseMonkey script that allows disabled users to use BaseCamp right now. 37Signals should address the accessibility issues but who knows when?

The Social Accessibility Project is a FireFox plugin that uses crowdsourcing to improve usability experience for disabled surfers. It provides and takes instant feedback from user community in real time.

On August 1 2001, a Mozilla Bug Report was filed about a major accessibility issue in FireFox when trying to view Flash movies. Nothing has been done about it! So Derek and others took the same approach they used with Google Maps and hacked a solutionto use tabs to control play/pause, mute/unmute, again using a GreaseMonkey script to add keyboard controls. Awesome.

Some people created Outfox, a GreaseMonkey script using Firefox that brings voice to Firefox using JavaScript. It reads out maps etc. and effectively creates a talking map. Is this helpful? He’s not sure but let’s push the limits and see. These are all just experiments.

Ubiquity for FireFox enables Derek to invoke granular data such as specific addresses, links etc. The web is so much more complicated now - people say “I wish I had a command line”. So Derek thought, what could we do with this? What if we could create a play command line using Ubiquity so that a user doesn’t have to tab 30 times to get to the control they want? There are lots of applications here.

This stuff is cool to Derek. It may not be as cool as online gaming, but if it improves the User Experience, it is cool to him. What type of functionality can we all build into the web to improve it? Let’s see.

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Webstock 09: A Mashup Case Study

Live blogging a Mashup Case Study presentation at Webstock 09 by EveryBlock.com founder Adrian Holovaty:

A mini Google Maps app was actually developed before Google did it by a NZ developer using the Google API. Got Adrian thinking and he developed ChicagoCrime.org which then morphed into EveryBlock.com.

ChicagoCrime.org was a mashup of crime data put together from the Chicago Police Dept’s web site and published together with Google Maps. Searchable via route, area, block or neighbourhood locations (e.g. barber shops, restaurants), even via mobster activity. Google’s rollout of Street View added even more data.

They then added Flickr data, user material etc. This eventually became EveryBlock.com, a news feed for your block. You can go to the site, select a city and choose your neighbourhood to see all news relating to your neighbourhood that has been written about in local media. The goal is to find the news that is very specific to you that may be buried on the major news sites by national or international media stories.

The data includes restaurant reviews, product launches, feel-good stories, lost and found stories etc. You can search via trends e.g. all restaurants with particular food safety violations e.g. vermin. You can search via RSS feeds in your neighbourhood, real estate listings, press releases etc.

How Does it Work?

Complex technology is used to pull all the data together. The site uses natural language processing including datafeeds from portals, search engines, media agencies, APIs like Flickr’s, geocoding API, Craiglist, Yelp, Valpak, Trulia. Government resources.

How to Best Make a Successful Mashup:

Lesson 1: Take advantage of existing data

Lesson 2: Sort by date - this adds value

Lesson 3: The more effort it takes, the higher the reward. Unlike Google. Google likes convenient, centralized, USA building-permits databases. Anything else is too much work. Be the anything else.

Lesson 4: Governments are opening up. Be nice and appeal to civil servants (and librarians!). Plot cities/agencies against each other. Governments shouldn’t build interfaces into their data, they should offer an API so others can pull out RAW data.

Lesson 5: Avoid using maps as a crutch. Google Maps is not the app. Use it as a tool to create an awesome app - push data, don’t pull.

Lesson 6: Permalink everything. Anything that can be a link should be a link. Used IMDB.com as example. There’s a special place in hell for session cookies.  EveryBlock gets a LOT of link love and rankings for long tail search queries from Google because of permalinks. Granular Permalinks future proofs a site.

Lesson 7: The simplest way to granulize URLs: Use attributed URLs E.g. Date / crime/dates Type: /crime/types/ Address: /crime/addresses/  Location: /crime/locations/  Then drill down further e.g. /crime/locations/hotels/  Flickr and Delicious use that. Use the Django databrowse to look at database schema and create a directory structure to suit!

Lesson 8: Move Beyond Points - web apps that use geo-spatial info should respect usability. Points aren’t everything. Bubbles aren’t everything. Use lines to make the maps more usable. Use polygons, use transparencies. Don’t overlay data on data. Use GeoRSS to geographically encode objects for RSS feeds.

Lesson 9: Roll your own maps - Google maps is great, BUT use it intelligently. Use colors, fonts, text size, behaviour at zoom levels, road widths, languages etc.

Lesson 10: Make a mashup!

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60 Funny and Creative 404 Error Pages

Does your site have a custom 404 error page? Or are you still showing a boring server-generated 404?

There’s no excuse for un-inventive 404s anymore. Show your web designer these hilariously creative custom 404 error pages and give your site some personality.

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Search friendly drop down menus: Myth or Possibility?

One of my Search Engine College students has written an excellent post titled Can Drop Down Menus be Search Friendly as well as User Friendly?

In it, Lameesh talks about the benefits of nested navigation menus, but the drawbacks of using JavaScript for these, because of their search engine incompatibility. Instead, Lameesh suggests creating a horizontal drop down menu using HTML and CSS with all the nav items created as text links . Nice workaround!

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