Friday, April 27, 2007
But more often, once you try to port the idea to your real-life site, things fall apart. Maybe I should qualify that, they fall apart in one browser, not the other... And - if you're like me (which, if you're a systems librarian (as opposed to a developer in corporate), you probably are), you have no omniscient programmer gurus nearby from whom to get answers about your specific problem. So you find that research is the only way to find solutions. Put on your reference librarian hats, folks! Though the research (and the trial process that occurs post/during-research) can be pretty time-consuming, it becomes a learning experience. The investment you make in time this go 'round will save you future.
So here's some of the things I've been looking at this week as I try to refine a new web interface I'm working on & to network with the web librarian gurus already in the know:
actually, lots of articles at http://www.htmldog.com
from SitePoint, a sample chapter of Jason Beard's The Principles of Beautiful Web Design & other articles found there
http://alistapart.com/articles/dropdowns/; more articles at http://alistapart.com
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
- Zoho suggested (web2.0 tool they used in collaborative research & recommended that people try)
- "Failing to innovate: not an option" CIL 2006 presentation:
Recap: libraries need to innovate to remain relevant; to accommodate future generations' needs & expectations
- Used qualitative research for best practices – to get richer data
- Manager personality: could see bi picture, organization level goals; proud of their staff, system, accomplishments; willing to ask for permission sa well as asking for forgiveness
- Model behavior expected from staff
- Supportive bosses (interviewees in the study said that they were "lucky")
- Wonderful staff (interviewees in the study said that they were "lucky")
- Creating their own luck by hiring amazing people; want to work with people who want to try new things; want to work around uncooperative people
- Some had healthy budgets, lack of funding could itself promote innovation
- Used tools to increase efficiencies/free up staff to be nnovative
Formal vs. informal
- reported both formal and informal brainstorming, submission, etc.
- formal processes included innovation goal on all staff evaluations; written into the strategic plan; expectation to serve customers; recognition for innovative ideas; where possible, opp’s for innovation delegated down to as low a level as possible (e.g., low level staff task forces)
- informal processes: key to innovation, allow staff to have time to play/experiment; permission must be given, increases confident
- informal processes: innovative approaches: look for ideas everywhere; imp. To look outside of libraries, e.g., business, non-LIS conferences
- innovation encouraged for everything
- always looking for what we do & how it could be done better
- informal: living the innovative life: we live it – so things don’t seem innovative to us
- entrepreneurial role: library would try, learn about process, pilot project, push off to another dept. once launched
- the library is seen as source of innovation in some orgs: does environmental scanning
- there are no failures
- we asked managers about things they’d tried that had filed; overwhelmingly managers said there were no failures:
o some innovations were too early
o some had unexpected consequences
o some did not have customer/patron/staff buy-in
o came up with a better innovation later
- successful library leaders reframe failures as learning opportunities
- don’t worry about mistakes, know that things will break
- staff & structure that leads to innovation
o need to do more with fewer fte
o limited hierarchical structure
o aging staff needs to work smarter
o want staff to be self-motivated
o our participants hire creative, enthusiastic staff, and have them manage projects. They offer coaching and mentoring in project management; provide consultants to teach staff to be innovative and to move those ideas forward.
o Provide staff time to be innovative – one library gives every staff member time each week to innovate & teach others innovations
- Everyone needs something to feel passionate about in their job
o All libraries had moved from being non-innovative to innovative (sometimes a decade or so)
§ Funding (increased or decreased)
§ Staff size (increased or decreased)
§ Something had to change in org structure (a person left; new people came) or patron base
o Atmosphere: EVERYONE had to be seeking new ideas
o Low risk experimentation and play
o Committee of the whole to bounce ideas off of
o Training: ways to think about innovation; planning/project management
o Advice; Leadership
§ Be committed
§ Embrace technology or promote those who can
§ Be open to successes and failures
§ Have a plan / long-range plan
§ Have courage
§ Make a financial commitment
§ Hire a consultant
o Advice: Training:
§ Everyone attended workshops & conferences (leadership & staff)
§ Trained each other
§ Teach techniques that help with innovation
§ Read & share what you read
§ Reward staff for participating in training
o Advice: Focus
§ Focus on your users & their needs
§ Make yourself available to your users
· Implement their good ideas
Who inspired these librarians to be innovative?
- other libraries & library associations & library systems
final advice: you need excitement, passion, and to have fun – Jill Hurst-Wahl, Hurst Associates firstname.lastname@example.org
Christina K. Pikas: The Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics lab, Christina.email@example.com
Tao Gao, Web Administrator, South Carolina State Library
Catherine Buck Moran, Information Technology Director, South Carolina State Library
This had to be by far the most valuable session at the whole conference for me so far (this is due to my context and current needs, not meant to be a slight in any way to the many other excellent presentations I've gone to) & it was worth whatever the price of admission was - and then some!
The issues that the South Carolina State Library () faced were on par with those faced by my library in the arena of web development. Tao and Catherine reminded us that what the web, in the end, is all about the people… the people we librarians serve. They used their website redevelopment project, in fact, not just to better meet the needs of their website users but to help establish community. They did this through the use of a Content Management System called Joomla.
They chose Joomla -- http://www.joomla.org/ -- because:
- free, open-source
- easy to install, use, manage, and reliable:
- Joomla vs. Drupal (thought Drupal was too hard technically to implement compared with Joomla)
- Joomla vs. Blogs
- Separation of Content and Form
- Extendable (more extensions than Drupal/blogs; over 1000, from calendars to newsletter mgt to community builder)
- Strong support Communities (lots of users support each other - this from a posting on Tuesday, 10 April 2007 100k Reasons: It's official — Joomla! has the largest Open Source CMS focused forum on the planet.- joomla.org)
- everything's in CSS, standards-compliant, interactive calendar, drop-down menus, etc.
- You can use free templates out there or design from scratch. Joomla offers tag clouds, calendar, rss feeds, blogs, event registration managementt, groups, blogs, photo galleries, book reviews, member profiles, discussion forums, and more…
Who's using Joomla: Government agencies; commerical businesses; non-profits
SCSL developed the Joomla in libraries site – see http://www.joomlainlibrary.com/
The amount of information produced in the world is increasing by 66% per year? Webmasters need better ways to manage it all. Content Management Systems can help. Use CMSmatrix.org to compare content mgt systems
The Case Study: Migrating SCSL to a CMS
The South Carolina State Library provides services to libraries, state employees, citizens with disabilities, and the general public. Over the years, they had only made one change - to the banner. Their site had expanded to approximately 500-1000 static html pages. When there was any layout at all, it was table-based, not CSS-based. Though there were a few basic perl scripts for forms, mostly there wasn't interactivity on the site. There was a lot of outdated content. There was also a major lack of navigation - no cues, breadcrumbs or anything of that nature.The site was graphically unappealing. And there was no way to check/control the
growth of the site.
what SCSL wanted in a redesigned website:
- wanted standards-compliant, accessible design -- section 508
- intuitive navigation
- staff wanted to get involved
- separation of content and form
- wanted site-wide search
- online job submissions
- RSS feeds
Phase I: Initial Planning Process
In September 2004, they submitted a redesign proposal. They began the process by:
- creating a home page team (mostly made up of subject specialists from around the library)
- using SurveyMonkey to conduct website feedback surveys (March-April 2005, 227 responses)
- 10 people on the website committee, including a public relations person
- the committee reviewed current content
- the survey was excellent, and the most useful information from surveys came from responses to open-ended questions
- they decided to have people not familiar with the subject areas review key content areas. This worked well - fresh eyes.
- need a well-qualified and dedicated team to do the website development: project manager, graphic designer, web developer with css & php experience, content developer
Phase II: Design
- Agency Rebranding, Feb. 2005 - new logo
- Interface Design and Review
- Process stalled: a new library director came in; she did away with committees (I believe she let the web committee continue, though, since they were only partway through the redesign), part-time p.r. person didn't understand the library environment; graphic designer didn't understand the business case at all
- there was still the question of who was the project manager?
Phase III: Development
- put Cathy in charge of the redesign project
- content audit & review (conducted summer 2005)
- explore CMS options
- find outside host server for development (Nov. 2005) because of local limitations
- Joomla learning curve
- translate graphical interface to joomla templates
- content migration (a lot went away completely
- during the development process, people sending updates like crazy, in the meantime, they had to get the redesign done - new director gave them a deadline of July 2006 (deadline was helpful)
- continued to update static site
Phase IV. Deployment and Evolution
- staff to review website, June 2006
- new website went live, July 2006
- site moved to new in-house server, August 2006
- growth and refinement
- lessons learned: despite mandate to do so, few staff reviewed the site ahead of time - only when on desk &amp;amp;amp; needed information after the go live; customers loved the site - phone rang off the hook, happy patrons; much easier to see depth of content through CMS – Joomla automatically builds a sitemap
- give the web administrator a vacation (sent him home to China) after the process is done
- remaining issue: how to integrate with Sirsi catalog
Before: they had a homepage committee, public relations (p.r.) committee, a web administrator
After: 2 web managers, 25 authors, 326 registered members; 130 not yet approved (all citizens of S.C. can be part of community, at session, Cathy invited us all to join their online community)
Joomla in a Nutshell - http://www.joomlainlibrary.com
server specs: php, mysql, joomla 1.02, apache server, xampp, win server 2003
hardware: dual xeon 2.8 GHz
- download joomla
- prepare MySQL database
- unzip & upload files to server
- browser install
- template design: index.php, tempate_css.css, images, templatedetails.xml
- Joomla template flexibilities: movable boxes, easy to customize UI
static content: assessing ownership- instruct staff in adding content (WYSIWYG)
active content: sections, categories, content items; user submission process; review & approval; authors on the Joomla-based site don't need to know html - easier than MS word; predefined content formatting
separation of content & form; reinforcing accessibility guidelines; file handling (document mgt system component in Joomla; image management; free templates out there or design from scratch - want it to have the structure you're seeking & that it's CSS-based; had to strip all old formatting out of old webpages to put into new website
Additional coverage of this session can be found at David Lee King’s blog (http://www.davidleeking.com/2007/04/17/computers-in-libraries-2007-day-2-rhumba-with-joomla-using-a-cms-to-build-community/)
Favorite sessions today were on:
- South Carolina State Library redesigning its web presence through the use of the Joomla open source content management system
- innovative libraries - research on what common characteristics seem to correlate with innovation in libraries (good stuff, will have to hand on to our management folks...)
I also enjoyed seeing the Podcasting session. Another set of technologies to play with and master!
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
My 2 big discoveries this conference (yes, I'm hopelessly behind the cool kids, but I love running to catch up!)
- (Twitter explained for librarians - http://www.davidleeking.com/2007/03/10/twtter-explained-for-librarians-or-10-ways-to-use-twitter/)
- (join ning.com networks - like the Library2.0 network set up by Bill Drew - I just did! Friend me if you go!)
[and somebody told me to check out the booth of Answers.com today, I believe... I haven't gotten there yet...]
Of course, what makes these tools truly cool is that they're free and/or open source! 3 presenters gave this entertaining talk at a ridiculously overcrowded session in a slightly too warm room (don't tell the fire martials down here about how things went - I'm sure we were in code violation... fortunately, no one was hurt and I didn't faint after all... ) All 3 presenters taught at the Webmasters' Academy preconference (which was also excellent): Jeff Wisniewski, Darlene Fichter, and Frank Cervone.
See a post on this topic at http://comartslibrarian.wordpress.com/2007/04/16/webmaster-cool-tools/:
From Jeff Wisniewski of the University of Pittsburgh:
- pipes.yahoo.com - RSS feed aggregator (use it to manipulate feeds, perhaps filter, e.g., and create a master feed)
- My Maps (new @ Google Maps)
- developer.yahoo.com/ypatterns - Yahoo's open-sourced the hard work their web developers have done in this Design Pattern library by sharing patterns and code with other developers (yes, that means you, library webmasters!)
- The Rasterbator (allows image to be enlarged into huge dimensions (E.g., for banners, posters, etc.; usually that's the kind of thing you'd have to pay a printer/copy shop to do - or to get $$$ software to do in-house)
- Firefox Web Developer Toolbar - a suite of indispensable webmaster tools that plug into your Firefox browser
From Darlene Fichter, University of Saskatchewan - see http://library2.usask.ca/~fichter/blog_on_the_side/2007/04/cool-tools-and-toolkits-for-webmaster.html:
- Zamzar.com - convert lots of files without download any converters
- Gliffy.com - create flowcharts and floorplans quick and easy
- Firefox link checking (other years we mentioned the Webmaster toolbar)
Firefox linkify - Xenomachina - highlight word/phrase, "linkify" it and find the URL, click and create the HTML encoded link
MyxterTones.com - create your own ringtones with you're libraries jingle
MyBlogLog.com - stats for your site PLUS community
CrazyEgg.com - different display of stats including a heatmap view. Free to 5,000 views and 4 pages
Pixer.us - online photo editor
Trailfire - create library tours e.g. Finding Library Weblogs
Swivel - load tables and data and create charts to share
Many Eyes - add data, create tag clouds of texts, bubble charts etc.
From Frank Cervone, Northwestern University:
- Google Webmaster Tools
- SiteMapBuilder.net — download a freeware application to make Google XML Site Maps
- oswd.org — Open Source Web Design: stylesheets, templates/CSS
- openclipart.org - Open Clipart Library (it's all free, aggregated with public domain creative commons licensing; they won't hassle you to buy in either, since it's designed to be like an open source software site)
- freedigitalphotos.net - 1,000s of royalty-free photos to use on your site/in presentations, etc.
- Gvisit.com — geomap the visitors to your website
- Last.fm - online "radio" that learns what music you like & offers appropriate selections
- dbWiz — open-source federated search tool for libraries
- Talis Keystone ILS
At this morning’s conference kickoff, I learned that this CIL (2007) attracted a record 2061 conf attendees; that 48 states were represented (only the Dakotas were missing); and 12 countries were represented.
Lee Rainie, Pew Internet & American Life Project - http://www.pewinternet.org/ - presented the keynote “Web2.0: And What it Means to Libraries”.
He began with the reminder to us bloggers to publicize how much he loves librarians! But we know he’s a great library supporter, so no fears, Lee, we love you, too. He brought us immediately into the Web2.0 world with a very cute YouTube video that I hadn’t seen before – askaninja.com. Look it up!
As for the most important things that I took away from Lee’s presentation, here they are:
- Being online is becoming more and more a part of daily life for everyone
- We are broadening what we do online and what our expectations are for online sites – we now use the Internet (the 'net is always on via broadband) for entertainment and social activity – it’s much more than a research/info tool nowadays
- Visual images are at least (if not more) important than text nowadays
- Users expect to participate in (and help to create) their web experiences
- All of these things are doubly true for today’s teens and young adults
- Libraries have to recognize how things are changing and meet the challenges brought on by those changes
Lee covered – with some fascinating statistics about the topic – the hallmarks of web2.0 and the challenges it presents. He noted that web2.0 is characterized by:
- web as platform
- harnessing collective intelligence
- Software above the level of single device
- rich user experiences
[He mentioned a few sites to check out online: Upcoming.org & EVDB]
- The number of people who use computers is almost identical to that of internet users (75%, 73% respectively) these days
- 72% of adults use the internet, 90% of teens use it (double check my numbers at Pew, I might be off a digit on either of these)
- More people are on broadband than ever & broadband users use the inet in dramatically diff. ways
- Wireless connex growing & more people access the inet from more places than ever before
- 50% have gone online from a library (200% growth in 4 years, I believe he said)
- 43% of inet users just hang out online, browse for no particular purpose, the web is now entertaining as well as informational
- 85% of young broadband users watch online videos, 62% have watched YouTube videos
- People share more info online now – inet more social now
Hallmarks of Web2.0:
- people more willing to participate in online culture
- more people creating content / sharing info online (55% of online teens created profiles on a social network site, 20% of online adults have such profiles; 51% of young adult inet users have uploaded photos to the inet)
- more internet users are accessing the content created by others (46% of young inet users read blogs; 44% of young people seek info thru wikipedia; tend to have highest levels of education or are young people or are college students; most do not believe that it’s the be-all, end all of info; in fact, young people will turn to social networks for verification of Wikipedia info;)
- more users are sharing what they know & feel online (enabling youth to do things with your site – let them co-create in order to have them interested in your site; 33% of them have rated a person, product, service online; 32% have tagged content
- tens of thousands of internet users are contributing their know-how and computing resources to Internet projects (e.g., open source, grid computing, etc.)
- Americans are customizing their online experiences more and more using Web2.0 tools (among teens, 40% customized website; 50% part of listserv/specialty topic group; 25-33% subscribed to RSS feeds)
Pam Berger http://www.infosearcher.com/ – 5 challenges for libraries to deal with in Web2.0
- Navigation: transition from linear to nonlinear format
- Content – learning to see connections
- Focus – practicing reflection & deep thinking; relaxation = new ideas, but how do we relax
- Skepticism – learning to evaluate information
- Ethical behavior – understanding the rules of cyberspace
My final notes from the Web Manager's Academy Preconference - Computers In Libraries 2007
Jeff Wisniewski, of the
Interestingly, it turns out that his institution uses the client-based Macromedia Contribute system as a CMS. It’s interesting that I’ve heard several speakers describe Contribute as a CMS. Yet, my own experience with Contribute is that its functionality is similar to that of FrontPage with FrontPage Server Extensions used for website Administration. And I wouldn’t consider that a CMS. But maybe I should. Or perhaps there’s more to Contribute nowadays.
Darlene Fichter highlighted wikis, which are collaborative web authoring tools (Wikipedia is probably the most famous wiki on the web at this point). She noted that wikis are intended to be simple to use, create, and edit. Usually many people create and edit wikis – sometimes they are open to editing by all visitors, in fact. Wikis are uniquely well-suited for group endeavors. She cited the need for openness and trust among collaborators who develop wikis. She also mentioned that wikis are designed to evolve, to be incremental in their development. Wiki pages can link to other wiki pages, even those that are not yet built – creating a kind of place-holder for these other pages (usually the links to pages not yet built are in red). Wikis progress in an observable manner – you can see the changes being made and review the revision history of wiki pages. Wikis are organic in their structure and will evolve and change over time. Darlene mentioned that if your library creates a wiki, you’ll want to assign “wiki gardeners” to ensure that your wiki links and pages are maintained.
Marshall Breeding spoke about using databases and web services to enhance/empower your website. The key concepts were that you shouldn’t repeat data, but rather put data into databases and leverage those databases by displaying their elements in web pages as needed. Though he showed a dazzling array of examples in which he had built database-backed sites/pages, he told us that creating such things is not technically complex. Though there may be an initial investment in time to learn how to program such things, it is worthwhile because it will allow your library to better meet users' needs via your web presence.
Breeding talked about Service Oriented Architecture (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Service-oriented_architecture), which is popular in IT and web programming these days. It provides the infrastructure for the behind-the-scenes communication among applications. SOA facilitates data exchange, conversions, lookups, etc. All of the components of SOA are expressed in XML. He then talked about the widespread adoption of web services in many industries, using SOAP – Simple Object Access Protocol -- (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SOAP), the “envelop for XML applications” (supported in all common web environments). He also talked about WDSL – Web Service Description Language (the definition of how the web service operated and the data structures involved, expressed through XML; view an example at http://api.google.com/GoogleSearch.wsdl).
He breezed through these and other complex programming topics more quickly than I could grasp and offered more acronyms than I can do justice to in this blog. If you’re interested in delving into this topic further, try the resources he cited: “Web Services and the Service-Oriented Architecture”, Library Technology Reports 42:3 by Marshall Breeding; “Best Practices for Designing Web Services in the Library Context, by NISO Web Services and Practices Working Group (http://www.niso.org/standards/resources/rp-2006-01.pdf)
Darlene covered "Usability Research Methods to Help Redesigns". She noted that ethnographic methods of testing website usability are being increasingly used, but that they are complex, so that she would not give much time to them in this presentation. She also reminded us that focus groups, while ok, are not ideal ways to increase our website’s usability, due to the fact that most people do not accurately represent how they use the website when asked. Instead, she talked about 3 methods for redesigns:
- Preference testing
- Affinity mapping
- Task based testing
She began by defining usability:
- ease of use
- ease of learning
- fitness for purpose
She then explained that user testing involves actual users interacting with the website. They are asked to perform tasks while usability evaluators observe and take note of their actions. User satisfaction is the more important measure of how usable a website is. Even if a user completed the task, if they are dissatisfied, the site has failed.
Why conduct user tests? Darlene noted that web development is an expensive process, and that supporting a poorly designed system is even more expensive. Even the best designers are not representative of the users of their systems, so they are poor judges of what users want and need. The “bitter truth” as she termed it, is that unhappy users will leave and tell their friends, who tell their friends, and so on.
Before conducting usability tests on your site, you should build on the extensive work and research of others. Darlene suggests http://www.usability.gov/ and http://www.useit.com/ to guide you before you begin testing your site.
When can you test? Darlene noted that you should test the existing site for goals and audience. When you have a paper prototype, you could test organization and labels on your site. She showed the “flip test” with screenprints of various prototypes, wherein the web developers behave like optometrists – showing first one screenprint, then another quickly thereafter and asking the user which one they prefer (this or this?). Finally, when you start creating, you’ll need to test working prototypes, demos, and beta of the redesigned site.
- Preference testing: zeroes in on troubling labels (what to call a given hyperlink/navigational cue, e.g.)
- Affinity mapping: offers insight into how to organize your content from the user’s perspective. In it, you list the main content and services on your site. Small teams then group items and label them. Then they vote for the ones that seem most important to them.
- Task-based testing: users are given specific tasks and as they perform those tasks, they are asked to verbalize their thoughts. The tester observes, records, and debriefs the user.
She also mentioned that testing should take place at different levels of user, to ensure that your website is redesigned as optimally as possible for the various users’ needs. Finally, she reminded us how iterative rounds of testing and web development really are. You have to keep testing at every level – to fix problems, then test again (and on and on… you get the picture). This is the best way to ensure the success of your website redesign among your users.
Of the additional resources covered in the Web Managers Academy and accompanying handouts, I have to make special note of a topic that seemed to resurface throughout the day, but that wasn’t necessarily focused on in any of the presentations – the importance of learning how to write for the web. Being succinct and allowing users to scan webpages, as opposed to requiring them to really read text on a page is the ideal. When blogging, I know that one should be brief. That doesn't mean I know how to do it... I guess I need to take a course on how to write for the web myself... ;)
Monday, April 16, 2007
I also saw some folks I knew from CT. Polly Aida Farrington, who teaches technology classes (for librarians) and consults in CT and NY, came to last night's Dine Around - at the excellent Urban Thai (yummy salmon mango salad - ahh!) (see the flickr photo she posted of the group) and hosted a ning.com Library20 social network dinner at the Chesapeake Grill in the Hyatt tonight (yummy but much more expensive salmon dinner). I met Kate Sheehan, of Danbury (who is one of several of us authors of the Ct Libraries' Technology column) Public Library & saw Tilly from Westport. (And I saw Jon Blyberg and discovered that he's starting at Darien Library shortly - yay, he's coming to CT! I hope that it's a great move for him - we're glad to have another great librarian join us...)
And of course, the icing on the cake - no, not the Cabernet Sauvignon freely offered at the reception tonight (though that was good, too), but my cousin - who's a librarian at the National Library of Medicine was there & spotted me. I get to have lunch & spend some time with her tomorrow afternoon (yes, my family is library-oriented - she and her husband both are librarians, my sis is a librarian, I'm a librarian)!
Above and beyond the excellent presentations, it's the social part of the conference that does so much for me. In fact, now that I think about it, this is why Web2.0 is so successful - we learn more from one another than we do from reading, heck, even from attending presentations. We learn so much more because there's a feedback loop when you're talking with someone - anything that you're not quite sure you're understanding you ask for clarification on. You can't do that with a printed text. Also, when you're speaking with others, e.g., in a one-on-one way, you can get a more honest answer about something. For example, I was talking with a woman from Delaware about print/time management programs and I learned a lot of information that I'd never hear from the vendors.
In the presentation, he reminded us why website redevelopment is so a hard nut to crack – namely, that it involves a complex series of inter-related activities and requires many different skill sets.
Then he defined project management components for us. He defined a project as something with a definite beginning and end. He defined the project manager’s responsibilities as:
- having knowledge (about the organization & skills to complete the project)
- communicating (up, down, and across the organization); this is key, Frank noted, so the project manager must put mechanisms in place to ensure this communication
- quality control
- development (staff and working practices)
The “formal” project life cycle is:
- define (initiation)
- coordinate (Scheduling; leading, team building, motivating)
- control (accounting, record-keeping)
- close (very important – must have post-project evaluation)
Frank also mentioned “extreme project management” but did not go into it much. It sounded like it was project mgt light, so to speak, much like the rapid application development processes now used by software developers. This is a topic worthy of more research since I’d like to fast-track the planning & clearly it could be drawn out too long (to the point where the changes will no longer be meaningful as new technologies will be available).
He also talked about the allocation of resources (e.g., both cost & human resources). He said that the majority of the resource usage occurs at the end of the project, so don’t expend them all at the outset.
A project is divided into phases. Each phase has a specific function with specific deliverables and in which there is a phase exit/kill point.
Project planning should yield a project brief, describing what we envision by the time the project is done; a preliminary budget, schedule & recommendations. There must also be a project specifications document.
Scheduling and control includes: gathering and delivery plan for web content, and a plan for how to maintain the content. Decisions will need to be made about storyboards – who is involved in their creation. Project milestones will need to be set.
In constructing a website, we must also be certain to decide who gets to decide about web content change & to provide a mechanism that will facilitate communication of these changes to others. Then, the site must be tested. When the launch occurs, there must be a handover brief and documentation for those who will go on to maintain the site. Finally, in the close, training and development needs must be assessed, the project must be reviewed, and performance analysis must be done to the site.
There was so much information in this presentation packed into a very short period of time, that I’m necessarily cutting out details. I guess the key concepts that I took away were the need for an entire project management process for the website redesign. From the beginning of a website redesign, we librarians have to ask the right questions – to ourselves and to our end-users (who are key stakeholders) – to understand what we really want to do before we begin and thus how we will evaluate our success.
Jeff began by reminding us of Jakob Nielsen’s law “Users spend most of their time on sites other than your site.” Therefore, we librarians have to keep monitoring how the web is changing and changing user expectations. What’s going on out there? Jeff sees that today’s most beloved websites are very visual, highly personalized, highly interactive, and user-generated.
He noted that a key facet of successful website design is one that librarians have been ignoring – ensuring that a site is not only usable, accessible, and findable, but that it is also desirable, valuable, and truly useful from the patrons’ perspective.
Jeff also quoted Don Norman of the Nielsen/Norman Group, who said – of website design – “simplicity is a myth whose time has passed, if it ever existed.” This rings so true. Just think of the most used sites on the web – Amazon, craigslist, Yahoo – many of these might be described as being too busy or complex by librarians, but they are highly successful among the public. An experiment conducted by Amazon in which it randomly swapped its “busier” original homepage with a simpler model of its homepage (in usability testing, this is called the A-B method) showed that sales went down significantly on the simpler version of the page.
We also know that the Rich Internet Applications (RIA’s) have raised the bar for user expectations of our websites. They’re coming to except AJAX-like functionality, sliders to change data dynamically in the page without reloading it, for example. Google Suggest is another excellent example.
What resonated with me most deeply in this session was this quote from Jeff:
“Is the religion of simplicity something we should perhaps rethink?”
I believe that the “simplicity” model that led so many librarians to argue for an old school design – say, of static html pages with little in the way of graphics and no scripting/programming/interactivity - was probably just the one concept that really stuck in their minds and so they kept reiterating it. Certainly the simplicity mantra seemed to make practical sense. Plus it was easier to achieve. Keep it simple. But really, I think that what the librarians in question didn’t realize was that the back-end had to continue to upgrade, to grow more complex to meet user needs, and that the mantra of simplicity was only applicable insofar as a website should be simple for the end-user to master.
Jeff also talked about how important the visual design of the website is to users. A large body of research now clearly demonstrates that there is a large gap between how people say they judge websites and the criteria they actually use. They often say that they are interested in content, but in reality, we find that the true criteria that people use to determine the credibility of a website – the far and away most important factor is the design look – does the website impress them as being visually attractive and professional-looking? In fact, here’s the breakdown of factors people used to judge a website’s credibility:
- Design look 46.1%
- Info Architecture/Structure 28.5%
- Information focus 25.1%
- Motive 15.5%
- Usefulness of info 14.8%
- Accuracy of info 14.3%
- Identity of site sponsor 8.8%
So clearly, look of the site is of the great importance – it is a key factor in the success of your site (so clearly, a key reason to redesign if your site is underperforming). But here’s where the news gets a little worse for most librarian web designers – you have only 50 milliseconds to make a good impression. And then it gets even worse – if a user’s initial impression of the site was negative, even if a website is highly usable & provides highly useful information presented in a logical arrangement, the user will still hold that negative first impression of the site in their mind and this will outweigh the other factors.
The presenters were: Darlene Fichter, Head, Indigenous Studies Portal,
- Surface/visual design
- Skeleton – interface, interaction, and info design
- Structure – information architecture, interaction design
- Scope – functional requirements, content
- Strategy – user needs, objectives.
These “layers” are listed in order of most superficial to most profound. The level of redesign that you are doing will, of course, dictate both how difficult and long the process will be. Theoretically, a surface change can be quick and fairly painless, in contrast with a change in strategy or scope.
Additionally, Darlene reminded us that the website is seen by the end-user in its totality. So even if only the interface is “visible” to the user, the more labor-intensive “invisible” aspects of the site (such as its architecture) provide the framework that ensures the site’s success.
She also raised the issue that many library websites were developed as just a “thin veneer over” traditional library services and organizational structures. This is not the best model for website development.
Darlene noted that successful library websites are:
- externally focused
- have sophisticated design
- employ multiple approaches
- offer users discovery tools (are designed to enable social discovery as well)
She finished up this presentation with the notion offered by Kathy Sierra in her “Creating Passionate Users”: if you’re just tweaking the site, there’s only so far you’ll ever get in making your site successful. To get where you NEED to be, you need to provide “revolutionary” improvements.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
A little over 1/2 way thru the Web Manager's Academy at CIL2007. Excellent presentations by Jeff Wisniewski, Darlene Fichter, Frank Cervone & Marshall Breeding have thusfar touched on:
- User Experience & Design Matters
- Project Mgt for Redesign
- Content Management Systems
- Social Software: Blogs & Wikis
- The need to continually survey what your users are experiencing elsewhere on the web, because that's what sets their expectations (they really don't spend that much time on your library site, let's be honest, compared to the other web resources they're using)
- The importance of making your website visually appealing and "desirable". Usability, accessibility, heck, even quality content, are not enough to compel users to come to your site.
- The notion that simplicity in a website is not all that it's cracked up to be
- The crucial importance of a systematic project management approach to website redesign
- The importance of user-centered design, usability testing (more the practical vs. the focus group approach, since people will say one thing and do another) -- an evidence-based approach to website design removes the squabbling over fonts, colors, etc., which can be matters of personal opinion & can be very different among staff than among members of the public
- The importance, of course, of separating content from presentation
Friday, April 13, 2007
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Down in the D.C. area, meanwhile, the annual Computers in Libraries Conference will focus on the use of Web2.0 in libraries for collaboration, communication & community online. (Hence, I'm going... I have to admit that CIL has always been one of my favorite (& most immediately work-applicable) conferences, so I'm very pleased.) I'll be blogging from CIL, whenever I get a chance, so return next week & hopefully (the laptop & wi-fi gods willing) I'll have some of the lowdown on the conference for you.
So that's the run-down on events. Now back to webmastering.
Don't forget - "bookmarks" (anchor tags) hate spaces. A couple of librarians discovered the hard way that some of their hyperlinks to specific parts of other pages (to bookmarks on those pages) did not work in IE. They worked ok in Netscape/Firefox, but not in Internet Explorer. I don't know whether or not this once again demonstrates that the Mozilla complex actually adheres to standards more strictly than IE or vice versa, but don't take risks, eliminate the spaces!
Other things to watch out for in the naming of bookmarks: cases must match; too many characters will not be recognized (keep it under 16 folks (remember the old days & use just 8 if you want to be 100% sure that all app's will handle your bookmarks gracefully)); some special characters may not be recognized (usually the underline is just fine, though I'd keep it for a midword character and wouldn't use it to start the anchor... but maybe I'm paranoid). Feel free to comment to straighten me out on the standards business or on the exact numbers of characters/placement of underlines. Even so, if you follow these rules, you're sure to be safe!