by Linc, Designer
Peter and I had a blast at MIX09 in Las
Vegas, and I'm happy to report that I did not require medical care this
Day One kicked off with the first
keynote presentation, featuring Bill Buxton (Principal Researcher),
Scott Guthrie (.NET Product Manager, aka “The Gu”) and several
other speakers from the Expression Blend team, Stack Overflow,
Rolling Stones and other organizations. Bill Buxton talked about the
value of design and creativity in product development and UX design,
and the Gu talked about many Microsoft product features, which will
be available in their entirety by the end of the year if they are not
currently in beta. Some of these features were demonstrated by the
other speakers as well, and included some really cool stuff:
Platform Installer (“PI”) is a
new program that allows you to see what programs are available to
download and install, and automatically manages them, along with any
dependencies they might have. For any developers that have needed to
install betas in the past, you know the pain this single program
will alleviate. (http://www.microsoft.com/Web/)
GPU acceleration takes the burden
off of the CPU (around 55% of the cost) and makes Silverlight
applications run much faster.
Pixel Shaders allow for custom
graphical effects, and some built-in ones like blur and
2.5D allows for perspective
skewing of flat objects.
Bitmap API allows for the
manipulation of pixels in a bitmap image, and also allows the
developer to “snapshot” pieces of the UI into a bitmap. (Often
used for “ghosting” a draggable object, or taking screen shots
of a video.)
Deep-Linking enables the
developer to offer specific URLs for each screen or panel of their
application. This is great for simply sending someone a link to a
certain part of a Silverlight application, or just for allowing
search engines to pick up more of the “pages” of your site.
Text quality will be improved,
and a “clear text” will be an option the developer can control,
for animation purposes.
Multi-touch support, which
currently is only really useful for the HP TouchSmart.
You can run Silverlight as a
desktop application, independent of the web browser. This can be
directed by the developer, or left up to the user.
There was also so talk of client
validation, databinding and server-side CRUD management which
sounds completely insane. Basically they provide a framework which
manages the client data model and when you “push” any changes
to that data model, it handles merging all the changes with the
Expression Web 3
SuperPreview is a new feature
which renders your web page in each browser installed on your
system, and also previous version of IE. You can see them
side-by-side or even overlay one on top of the other, or the web
page over a JPEG preview. It includes tools to select elements, and
examine the pixel offset of elements if they are not lining up
Expression Blend 3
Sketchflow was the biggest deal;
people were going batty over it. It basically combines sketching,
UX prototyping, flowcharting and documentation in one. I can't even
do it justice here. Go to http://live.visitmix.com/
and view the “Day 1 Keynote” and click the playback bar under
the “e” in “Other Videos”. Everyone should watch this.
Integration with Adobe products
XAML and C# Intellisense.
.NET MVC shipping now
After that, I got the opportunity to go
to a session by Group Program Manager Joe Stegman on the new
Silverlight 3 features. It was great talk which offered several
demonstrations and showed some code in action.
That day I also went to talk by Dan
Harrelson of Adaptive Path on wire framing and prototyping, and when
to decide which to use (if either) on your projects. It also
contained tips to speed up the process and find design patterns that
will best fit your needs. http://videos.visitmix.com/MIX09/C10F
That night we went to the TAO nightclub
for a private party. Well, “private” for the 2,000 people that
attend MIX. It's a great club that contains many floors and rooms,
and we spent most of the night on the rooftop “beach” section of
the club, eating, drinking and chatting with various Microsofties while trying not to fall in the pool.
The Day Two Keynote included a lot of
Standards-compliant, with a
front-end option for the user to display in “IE7 mode,” and a
special tag for developers to turn this feature off on their site.
Web slices, which basically allow
you to bookmark a specific part of a webpage, and view that “slice”
as a pop-up panel in your browser without having to visit the whole
page again and again.
Accelerators give you fast
right-click access to various services we manually access all the
time via copy-and-paste. You might be able to highlight “352
Media Group” on a web site and right click to search for those
words on Yahoo, or simply rollover the “Google Map” option to
see a map to our office instantly.
Malware blocking up to 70%, which
is twice as high as the next most secure browser.
Color-coded tabbed browsing,
which groups and highlights the tabs of an identical domain all the
… and a talk by Deborah Adler, who
took an medicinal accident her grandmother had experienced, and
turned it into an opportunity to revolutionize the package design of
pharmaceuticals. When she started her project she was a lowly graphic
design student, but eventually Target picked up her ideas and her
concept can now be seen in their stores. This was a great talk, and I
highly recommend that everyone who cares about user experience design
watch it. http://live.visitmix.com/
Later, I went to session by Silverlight
Product Manager Seema Ramchandani on Silverlight 3 graphics, and the
specific usage of pixel shaders and 2.5D projections. This session
provided insight into how the graphics engine works, and offered
some great tips for improving performance on any Silverlight project.
Last was a session by Charles Duncan of
AKQA, a digital advertising firm behind the Fable II and Gears of War
II web campaigns. He showed off some projects and talked about the
benefits of “iterative work flow,” which functions in a cyclical
format of ideation and development, as opposed to a linear
“waterfall” approach, which most software companies (including
352) fall into. http://videos.visitmix.com/MIX09/T31F
Afterwards, Peter and I went to a
Silverlight partner get-together at Lavo (http://www.lavolv.com/),
but it was completely packed. We met up with a few people and
chatted, then went over to Show-Off, which Brian Keller and Dan
Fernandez were running. Around fifteen people had submitted their top
projects, which were voted on by the audience for a prize. Most
notable were a Commodore 64 emulator built in Silverlight, and a
photo gallery you could control with your mind.
On Day Three I went to absolutely
fantastic talk by author/consultant Dan Roam on “persuading with
pictures.” He talked about the way the mind works, and how simple
sketches can be the most effective form of communication. He
referenced how some of the most influential men and the decisions
they have made were impacted by sketches. I highly recommend that
everyone watch this talk. http://videos.visitmix.com/MIX09/C16F
Next I want to a talk by Ambrose Little
of Infragistics on UX design patterns. His whole talk revolved around
a community project he has worked on called Quince
I highly recommend that everyone in our development teams check this
out, and the session if you have time, or don't understand what
Quince is about. http://videos.visitmix.com/MIX09/T30F
I wrapped up Day Three with a session
by Peter Eckert and Jeff McLean of projekt202 on UX design for Rich
Internet Applications. They demoed some projects they have been
working on, and reiterated much of the points I'd heard about the
value of simplicity, creating UI as a reflection of the real world,
and the absolute necessity of understating the needs of the people
using your product. This was also a great talk.
Afterwards I met up with Brian Keller
for goodbyes, and he introduced me to a few people including Mike
who's been working on Silverlight since the days of yore, writing
some books and doing some interviews along the way. I felt pretty
cool until he introduced me as “hospital boy”... ah well, I'll
take what I can get.
A special thanks to everyone at 352 who
got me set up at MIX09, especially PVR.
by Leonard, Acct Mgr
The 352 Media Group (www.352media.com) recently unveiled a new web site for Miami based Gremed, Inc. The site puts on display 352 Media Group’s design and project management capabilities.
Gremed, Inc. manufactures a line of infection control products used in the healthcare industry and sell markets their products throughout the United States and Latin America. Gremed engaged the 352 Media Group to develop a new to develop an Internet presence to not only market its products, but to also provide better support to their existing client base.
Gremed, Inc. wanted a “clean” web site that allows visitors to learn more about their company, highlight their product offering and allow visitors to the site to find a local distributor. They also wanted to enhance the customer service experience. To that end, the 352 Media Group incorporated live chat software that will allow visitors to interact directly to Gremed’s Customer Service Department online and in a real-time environment.
In the midst of development, Gremed asked that their project be expedited because of an upcoming industry tradeshow. The 352 Media Group’s project team worked diligently to make this request a reality. When the Gremed team arrived at the tradeshow, their new web site was in production and “open for business”. In support of Gremed’s Latin America operations, future enhancements to the web site will include bi-lingual capabilities.
You can visit Gremed’s new web site at http://www.gremed.com/.
by Leonard, Acct Mgr
As the unemployment rate soars above 8%, there are more and more jobseekers looking for fewer and fewer available positions. Over the past few years more jobseekers have leveraged the Internet as a valuable component of their career search. This trend will not only increase but accelerate given today’s trying economic times. In response to the increase of Internet usage to facilitate career searches, many successful “job sites” have been created and have thrived. Terms like “Monster” no longer remind people of a 50’s B Movies, but remind them of an Internet site.
The mega-job sites have in many ways become victims of their own success. There are so many jobseekers posting on the mega sites it is easy for someone to get lost in the shuffle. From an employer’s standpoint, searching proactively for qualified candidates on these sites is hard because of the sheer volume of jobseekers posting their information. A second issue that these mega job sites pose is that they are generalists. One size fits all regardless of career path. In certain industries, a different type of information is needed specific to that industry in order for a HR professional to make informed decisions.
Enter BRAGfolio (www.bragfolio.com/), a new web site recently launched by the 352 Media Group that targets the Pharmaceutical industry vertical. BRAGfolio is the culmination of the vision of its Founder and CEO, Jeff Stahl. The term BRAGfolio is derived from the term Brag Book which is a common term used in the pharmaceutical industry. A Brag Book is dossier of a pharmaceutical sales reps experience and accomplishments. Typical Brag Books contain a cover letter, resume, references, head shots, awards and certifications. BRAGfolio allows a pharmaceutical sales rep to bring the traditional hard copy Brag Book into the digital age. Jobseekers can create a free profile on BRAGfolio, upload their resume, create a cover letter, uploaded reference documents, upload a headshot and scanned images of awards and certifications. They can also input demographic and geographic information in order to make it easier for potential employers to find just the right candidate in the right market to fit their needs.
In addition to using the site to as a stand alone mechanism for their career search, a unique URL is generated for each jobseeker and their Brag Book. Jobseekers can post this URL on social and career networking sites (Myspace, facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo Pulse, etc.) or include it in an email to potential employers. BRAGfolio takes a pharmaceutical sales reps career search to a whole new level and will raise the bar on what is expected out of a career site. If you read today’s papers or follow the news, BRAGfolio is the right idea at just the right time.
by PeterV, VP, Marketing
I've written a few columns for a new local magazine here in Florida called "The Business Report of North Central Florida." I figured, why not share it here as well? So here you go:
So much attention goes into developing your business’ Web site, but all too often the focus shifts after it goes live. The result: Your Web site can quickly become dated. Seeing out-of-date content is a surefire way to turn off both potential customers and search engines.
If you want to generate sales for your site, obviously, you need to keep it fresh. But you also need to market it to make sure people see it. Otherwise, it’s like investing in a well-designed billboard and then putting the billboard in the garage. So what can you do to effectively, and cost effectively, market your Web site? Here are some suggestions:
1) Put your Web site’s address on all your materials. That means business cards, print advertisements, even a bumper sticker on your car! This may sound obvious, but I’ve seen business owners neglect web site promotion too many times to count. You need to remember that savvy Internet surfers are much more inclined to browse your site than to pick up the phone to learn about your business. Besides, a visitor to your site is one less phone call to answer!
2) Make your site attractive to search engines. This will increase the chances surfers will find your site when they conduct an online search. Your first focus should be on building links to and from your site. This is one of the most important factors that Google, far and away the most popular search engine, uses in determining your site’s “page rank.” And page rank directly translates to the order in which your business appears on Google when someone does an online search. While the quantity of incoming leads you get will help improve your page rank, you should focus on quality as well. A link from another site with content relevant to yours and a high page rank will carry more weight that a link from a poorly ranked, off-topic page. If you’re a member of any associations, make sure they provide a link to your site from theirs. Also, offer to share links with vendors or colleagues, and always post your link on things like blog comments and forums you participate in. Don’t expect improvements like these to generate results overnight. Not only do most search engines take several weeks to index your site, but they automatically rank sites higher that have been online longer.
3) Update your content. While providing new content obviously is important in encouraging people to return, it can actually play a significant role in your site’s rankings. If a search engine detects new content, it categorizes your site as an active source of up-to-date information in your industry, rewarding it with better rankings.
4) Pay special attention when creating titles and link text. When determining where to rank your Web site, search engines weigh section headers, or “title text” as it’s called, more heavily than paragraphs of information. So, you want to choose title text that contains descriptive words and phrases that surfers might plug into a search engine if they were looking for your type of business. The second most important type of content is “link text,” which re phrases that visitors can click on to jump to another part of your site. Again, you want to use descriptive copy rather than generic phrases like “click here for more information.”
5) Limit text within graphics. Search engines are not sophisticated enough to see words on a picture. So if your page’s content is embedded in an image, the search engines will see the picture and they’ll simply move on. The same goes for screen readers designed for the blind.
With a little effort you can make a big impact on your Web site’s results. And, if you focus on these tips you’ll not only save money on marketing, but you could see significant returns from your site.
by ccook, .NET Prog
Achieving a high score on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is a base requirement for entering a graduate program in any major university, including the University of Florida. As an engineer, I found that getting a high score on the verbal portion of the test was more difficult than the analytical or math-based sections. Verbal exams, on both the GRE and SAT, tend to be a major hurdle for students because of the amount of vocabulary that needs to be memorized. Traditionally, the only technique to learn vocabulary words was by using Flash Cards repeatedly for several weeks prior to the test.
In my mind, creating and using Flash Cards was tedious and probably a less-than-optimal way to memorize vocabulary words because of the technology that’s available. I felt there had to be a faster, more efficient strategy. With that thought in mind, I set out to develop my own GRE vocabulary study application.
The result of using the application speaks for itself: I raised my GRE verbal score by over 10% with less than 15 hours of accumulated study time. That amounted to roughly 514 vocabulary words memorized in only 30 days.
Based on my successful use of the tool, I chose to make it publically available at GreatVocab.com and the site now has over 200 active users.
When it came to developing the application I had many options as an experienced computer programmer. I wanted something that was fast and could be easily expanded upon, including the seamless addition of future upgrades and feature-sets.
I chose Microsoft’s Model View Controller (MVC) Framework for these and other reasons.
Great Vocab explored the development process leveraging LINQ and MVC, along with the progressive releases of MVC, from Preview 2 all the way to the current Release Candidate 2. Early in the development cycle the MVC Framework was seen as a high risk foundation, but with time and attention I was able to produce a reliable application using the languages.
Great Vocab was designed to help students like myself to quickly learn SAT and GRE vocabulary words. This was accomplished using a training algorithm which was developed to guide the word selections of users.. To utilize the algorithm the application needs to rapidly pull from an unabridged dictionary with nearly 200,000 definitions while utilizing verbal, tensile, structural and synonym/antonym relationships in the query.
Adding to the technical challenges, I created an automated, in-context feature that gives a text citation relevant to each word as it’s being studied. This feature introduced a new requirement: rapid and frequent database queries to a full gigabyte of referential data.
The first challenge of the application’s development was gathering GRE and SAT vocabulary words and definitions for the database. Here, LINQ proved invaluable in saving development hours as well as some Regular Expression matching patterns.
The dynamic nature of LINQ with the use of a referential DataContext DBML made creating one off console applications extremely quick. That enabled rapid and custom data shaping from various sources into the database.
Using MVC for application development introduced a learning curve at the outset, but returned the investment with interest. Starting challenges included in-form state management, with its characteristic drop of the ViewState and ControlState. The challenges were lessened as the MVC Framework evolved and offered DataContracts which providd quick binding of the data to and from the forms.
In the later stages I found URL routing to be well advanced. With the MVC Futures it was easy to extend the relative URL routing to absolute routing. This enabled portions of the site to be declared secure, while all of the links would automatically resolve to a fully qualified URL when needing to move the user off or onto an SSL connection.
The meat of the application, layered out from MVC concerns, benefited from the dynamic nature provided by LINQ and its expression trees. Expressing the training algorithm within LINQ rather than Stored Procedures sped development greatly as the algorithm could be shaped at run time while delaying execution against the SQL server.
Another new Microsoft component was utilized to provide for visual interpretation of a user’s progress through the training program: .NET Charting. The charting controls were easily implemented on top of existing data with minimal shaping and rendered beautifully with little adjustment. Another benefit was that the controls allowed cached output, giving additional performance boosts.
The GreatVocab application tuning was performed using the SQL Server Tuning Advisor while running compiled LINQ Queries. This stressed the application with a load test via Microsoft’s Visual Studio Test Edition. The tuning yielded a quick 60% performance gain. Manual tuning and indexing of the queries provided further performance gains where needed.
Red Gate’s .NET Profiler was also used in detailing the performance of the application and refining the application. Remarkable performance was observed on the part of MVC, validating some claims to dramatic speed increases with MVC’s lighter request life cycle.
In sum, MVC and LINQ provided a strong framework upon which GreatVocab.com was developed. I look forward to its final release and potential adaptation into standards here on coming projects.
by PeterV, VP, Marketing
This is a question I’ve struggled with recently as I stumble through the world of social marketing. Everyone has an opinion, but they all seem to be different. I certainly don’t have the answers either, so instead I would like to talk about my questions and concerns to see if this is something others have struggled with.
Let’s start with my goals: I’m using twitter to connect with employees, meet other marketing execs, network with people attending events that I’m attending, and of course, prospecting new clients. Obviously there’s no point in only following 50 people and having them follow me. That just wouldn’t do any good. I want to increase my number of followers as well as the people I follow. But when does it become too many people?
When I get a new follow I always check them out to see if I want to follow them back. If it’s a company or person with a 10:1 following to follower ratio, I move on right there. The next thing I look at, after reading a few of their latest posts to see if I’m interested in the topics, is the frequency with which they tweet. I don’t care how influential you are (yes, I’m talking to you, Guy Kawasaki). I just don’t want to wade through 50 plus tweets from you per day. It’s not that you’re not interesting, but how do you possibly stay involved in the conversation if you’re following 200 other people like that? That’s…math….carry the two…10,000 tweets per day to read, or at least filter through.
So what does that mean? Do I strive to follow 500 people who tweet once or twice a day? Or do I go for 50 people that tweet 10 times per day? Is it better to have a smaller community but to actively participate with those people, or to follow more people, but more as a passive observer?
The bigger questions is how do the big guys do it. There are people with 1,000, 5,000, or even 100,000 followers who seem to be following them all back. I’m sorry, Britney Spears…there’s no way you have time to read the 39,378 people you follow (only 10% of the people that follow her). Or you could take the approach of Jimmy Fallon, who has 246,206 followers but only follows 60 people himself. Sure, he has time to read those people’s tweets, but he’s not really engaged in the conversation then, is he?
Sorry I didn’t really provide any information here. I’m more looking for feedback so I can figure out where to go from here. I don’t think it’s about following everyone I can so they’ll all follow me back. Then I’m never reading anything but my @replies and posting stuff out there just to get business. No fun.
So what do you think? Leave a comment here or @reply me @pvr352.
by PeterV, VP, Marketing
Sales people get a bad rap, and web development sales people are no different. In this first video of a multi-part series examining myths about Web design employees, we look at the myths and truths about sales staff.
Thanks to Marie, one of our fantastic marketing interns, for putting these videos together!
by Linc, Designer
I recently started noticing small glyphs next to user names in various places online. In a list of blog comments, or a discussion board, there might be a series of multi-colored shapes, and it was all a mystery to me. So, I did some investigation.
Many of the Web sites displaying these glyphs utilize a service called Gravatar (http://en.gravatar.com/). This service hosts small images for people's online profiles, which can be accessed by any number of Web sites. The idea behind Gravatar -- or "Globally Recognized Avatar" -- is that you only need to create one profile image, and it will follow you where ever you go online. (There may be other similar services I'm not aware of.)
Some Web sites utilize this services, and then require all of their members to create Gravatar profiles in order to contribute content to their site. Many users, not having a photo ready to upload, simply create a profile and use the default image. For the Gravatar service, the default image appears to be what is called an Identicon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Identicon). This is symmetrical, geometric shape -- looking similar to a kaleidoscope design.
Why use these patterns? It turns out that the shapes and colors in any Identicon are generated by a number (think of the number as the image's DNA). Since every user's computer has a unique IP address, a man by the name of Don Park forged the idea of using IP addresses as the DNA of Identicons, thereby generating a unique pattern for each user online.
So, instead of using a uniform image such as a smiley face or a silhouette for each user who did not upload a profile photo, Gravatar generates a geometric icon as a placeholder. While the image doesn't have much personality or tell you anything informative about the user, it does have a unique design which can help you quickly spot comments and posts by the same user.
Identicons have been proposed for other uses, such as to communicate a visual representation of a rating system (green triangles=good , red squares=bad, etc.). Personally I think this requires the user to learn how the icon system works in order to gain any information from it. I'd like to see the same concept applied to familiar icons, perhaps with a layering system. For example, a gold star on an red background means the product is approved by experts but has a poor feedback rating, while a dollar sign on an green background might mean that a product has a high rating, but that it's more expensive than it's competitors.
Perhaps I'll suggest something like this on my next project.