April 24, 2014

7 Ways You Can Suck the Soul Out of Your Web Visitors

7 Ways You Can Suck the Soul Out of Your Web Visitors

Being in the design business since more than 10 years, both from a technical and later from a management point of view, I can really say that user experience is something that is never valued too much. The ability of a user – be it a potential customer or a simple visitor – to experience something unique, valuable but mostly easy is what should be on top of any designer of any product, from the web to furniture to electronic devices to really anything at all.

Ease of use has been the fundament of the whole iPhone ecosystem, a way for users to feel at home even with a device that’s never been experienced before, something so easy and intuitive that even 3 years old kids can use it no problem, because it just feels right, natural.

Sometimes these user experience breakthrough can change a whole lot of subsequent inventions, sometimes they go unnoticed for various reasons.
The worst, though, is when the experience itself is so negative it can seriously punish you for just trying, especially in the case of actual customers.

Examples of this? Think about the whole copy protection industry. You buy a game for 50, 60 euros, and then you receive a key bound to your current system configuration, changing which you will have to ask for a new one. Or you end up with a compromised system. I could go on for a hour but I am sure you know what I mean.

And it’s not limited to software sadly. I recently decided to buy some video tutorial for some music synthesis software I use ’cause I was tired of reading freely available stuff which, for how good, felt kinda limited. So I go to this famous website to buy their video, and seconds before I click all the right buttons, my eye is caught in a little text:

“Internet connection for Downloadable tutorial and internet product authorization required – up to 3 computers. Authorization and De-Authorization permitted to allow moving tutorial to different computers.”

Ok, wait a second. Authorization for a video? How? Simple, the video isn’t a video at all, it’s a program (now the Mac and PC compatibility checklist makes sense) which contains the video. Practically I was going to pay not to own the video, but to own the license of a program running the video. So I can’t watch it on my TV, or iPad, or nothing like that, I need a computer. This is frankly unacceptable, I don’t care wether or not you’re afraid your video will get pirated (because it has been it will be anyway, trust me), these kind of choice punishes the legit users far more than the illegal downloaders.

Thankfully, on the web we haven’t got this kind of behavior right? Not exactly, but we have similar ones, which seem specifically designed to destroy the experience of our visitors. Examples? I’ll give you 7 of them:

1) Flash

Unless you have outstanding reasons to use Flash (which I can’t think of, mind you, but hey let’s admit you do), embrace 2011 already

2) Captchas!

Those are the spawn of the devil, I can understand the reason behind them, and even if some are truly genius, it’s generally a good way to piss people off and turn them away from your website/blog, forever

3) Endless registration forms

Yep I know, we use them too, but I swear we’re moving to a smarter system which require info just when strictly needed. If people are forced to fill in full-page forms, they are much less inclined to end up buying from you, that’s for sure

4) Speaking of registration forms

What about absurd requirements for passwords? I mean, I can live with 6-chars minimum. But why put the max at 8? or 10? Why force me to use a letter, a number and a japanese kanji inside the same password? Inform me my password sucks -> GOOD. Force me to use an insane one -> BAD. Why is it so important? One word: mobile. The quickest way to sign up to a website while on the go is to explicitly choose a lame password, just for quickness, to change it later. I really don’t have time to think something smart and note it down, because I will inevitably forget it

5) HTML resizing of huge images

What does this mean? You have a 4000×4000 pixels image, 50 MB heavy, but you need to put it in a small version on your website. You have two options:

a) You fire up Photoshop or similar programs and you actually resize it, save it, and upload it, voila’

b) You just upload it and force it small with the <img> HTML width and height tags. Hey, it works the same no?

If you selected b), congratulations, you won the Interweb.

6) Implementing smart tricks

Like blocking the right mouse button, yeah that’s totally going to stop me from copying your HTML source, but it will also stop me from visiting your website, just so you know

7) Auto-play music

The problem is so bloody real there’s even a Chrome extension to help you prevent it.

I didn’t put up just 7 reasons because they are the only ones I can find, just because hey, I want to leave you something to do. Any taker?

Karma, Serendipity And Some Useful PHP Email Source Code

I was browsing Twitter yesterday evening and I run into this Tweet from Triberr founder Dino Dogan:

I need a php code snipped to send HTML emails. Any good ones you'd recommend? #php
@dino_dogan
Dino Dogan

Since I had quite an experience with preparing HTML emails to be send through PHP, I replied him suggesting the good old PHPMailer framework, which my company uses since a while, emailing him some snippet of code we use internally to make life easier.

In return, Dino was kind enough to offer me an invite to Triberr. Which made me think that most of the times, random acts of kindness are the birth of something more, leading to positive results in the short/mid and, heck, even long terms.

Karma always pays off eventually, I guess.

In honor of this I decided to post the suggestion I gave to Dino right here, maybe more people will find it useful hence enhancing my karma power (one can hope).

What is PHPMailer

PHPMailer is a PHP class that allows you to send emails through PHP in a very simple way. Sure, PHP has got an internal “mail” command, but it’s not that useful when you want to send more complicated stuff, like HTML emails (since we’re not in the ’90s anymore), or if you want to attach files to your email – all of which PHPMailer handles pretty elegantly.

Of course this little “howto” is aimed to more advanced PHP users, who will know what I mean straight on.

The Code

So yeah, once you uncompressed PHPMailer in the, say, phpmailer folder, this is the code I use to send an HTML email:

include_once(‘phpmailer/class.phpmailer.php’);
$mail = new PHPMailer();
$mail->SMTPAuth = true;
$mail->Username = ‘bla@bla.com’;
$mail->Password = ’123456′;
$mail->Host = ‘ssl://127.0.0.1:465′;
$mail->Hostname = ‘smtp.bla.com‘;
$mail->Mailer = “smtp”;
$mail->From = “from@bla.com”;
$mail->FromName = “Bla Mailer”;
$mail->Subject = “Subject of the mail”;
$mail->AltBody = “To view the message, please use an HTML compatible email viewer!”; // optional, comment out and test
$mail->MsgHTML(file_get_contents(‘http://www.bla.com/content_of_email.html‘));
$mail->AddAddress(“to@bla.com“);
$mail->Send();
$mail = “”;

What does it do? Well most of the commands are pretty self-explanatory if you know a bit about PHP and emails, but to sum up, PHPMailer handles SMTP authentication over SSL (not mandatory, but it’s good to use it) so the first lines contain the configuration of my SMTP server.

The From, FromName and Subject are kinda obvious. AltBody is the body of the message if the recipient’s client hasn’t got HTML capabilities, and then the most important command: MsgHTML contains the real HTML message, which (and here’s the creative twist) is read from an URL with the PHP file_get_contents command. This allows me to read ANY HTML page and use that as the body of my message. Of course the URL can be any PHP-generated page as well, which allows for dynamic content and all.

Last, AddAddress simply adds the recipient of the message and Send() fires off the email.

And that’s it!

So, about you, do you remember doing some random act of kindness which turned into a pretty good, serendipitous investment?

How to Get Google +1 on Each Post of Your Blog

How to Get Google +1 on Each Post of Your Blog

It took Google a couple of months to figure out this part but finally they decided to activate the next step in their new social media platform launch strategy. Since a couple of days Google has enabled people to include the “+1″ button on their websites (for more info on +1, feel free to check my old post on the matter). But since there’s no WordPress plugin yet available, I decided to hack it myself (ok I am exaggerating, it really wasn’t that hard).

To be fair, just yesterday I have seen Mashable posted a guide about this that’s kinda accurate, however they include the +1 button generically on the whole website, rather than allowing you to put it independently on all posts.

Here’s what I did.

Get the actual code

That’s kinda obvious, click here and browse to Google +1 button builder, where you can specify the style of your +1 button and copy the code necessary to make it work on your blog.

Include the necessary Javascript in your template

This can be done in many ways. Mashable’s way is to modify the template’s footer.php file and add the line before closing the </body> tag.
My way, since I use the Genesis theme, was to include it as a hook in the sub-template.

Explained more clearly: Genesis uses “sub templates” so that you can forge one that you like without the need to modify the Genesis files (so you won’t be in trouble when you update it).
In the functions.php file there are all the various custom functions you need for your template, I just opened it and I modified the hook the template uses to write the copyright notes.

add_filter(‘genesis_footer_creds_text’, ‘custom_footer_creds_text’);function custom_footer_creds_text($creds) {
//$creds = ‘© 2014 ‘ . get_bloginfo(‘name’) . ‘ &bull; Built on the Genesis Framework powered by WordPress‘;
$creds = ‘© 2014 ‘ . get_bloginfo(‘name’) . ‘ &bull; All contents of this blog are <a rel=”license” href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/”>Creative Commons licensed</a>. <a rel=”license” href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/”>Click here for rights info</a>’;
// Google +1 JS Implementation
$creds .= ‘\n<script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js”></script>’;
return  $creds;
}

See that I add the JS code to the $creds variable so that WordPress will print my javascript inclusion right after the copyright. Perhaps not the best way to do it but I am no WP wizard, and this was the easiest way for me. If course Mashable’s way is a lot more generic, so feel free to use it.

Include the button in every post

In order to do this, I used the GetSocial plugin. It’s a nifty plugin that adds a floating socialmedia menu on the left of your blog, where you can include every service you want (Digg, StumbleUpon, Twitter etc.). Thing is, you can also include custom buttons, see where I am heading to.
In the plugin’s settings, under “Additional buttons” I simply put:

<div>
<g:plusone size=”tall”></g:plusone>
</div>

And that’s it

Now the +1 button appears in each of my post’s page, so people can +1 it indipendently. For example you could +1 this post right now, on the left, at the bottom of my SM buttons *wink wink*.

What will this mean for blogs and websites?

Well, to be honest I never really used much the little +1 button on Google search, mainly because you have to actually visit a link to know if it’s what you were looking for (well you don’t HAVE to, it’s just what I do), and when you find what you want and potentially would like to +1 it, you won’t get back to the search result page and do it. So having a button also on the link you visit will be very beneficial.

This said, will you use +1 on your blog? Do you have any other way you experimented in order to make it work and would like to share with us?

Why Should I Give You a DoFollow Link?

Why Should I Give You a DoFollow Link?

This is the odd case when I’ll write twice (!) in a row about the same topic. Last week I posted about the good old DoFollow vs NoFollow diatribe, and I gotta say the discussion that rose around it was kinda awesome. I waited a full week before taking a decision, missing my tuesday post to give more people the chance to comment. It paid off, I had some pretty outstanding feedback and I want to start off by thanking all of you.

I think I finally reached a decision, and it’s one that involves you, readers.

Point 1: I don’t think I am willing to vouch every link back to your blog or whatnot no matter what it’s about. I think it’s kind of unfair for me to greenlit ANYTHING that passes through the comments section just for the simple fact you leave a comment, mainly because:

  • it’s unfair for the readers
  • it’s potentially dangerous because I don’t know what you might link to your name at all
  • it gives people the wrong motivation to comment in first place

However… point 2, I think it’s fair to give legit commenters with legit content to show to the world a link back, not much as a thank you for the comment but more as a way to provide additional valuable content to my readers.

This Translates To…

First of all, I’m removing DoFollow from this blog right now.

But no worries, because the second part of my decision is: I will install another kind of DoFollow plugin, called SMu Manual DoFollow. What’s so special about it? Well it has some very cool functions like the ability to grant a DoFollow (based on the email of the commenter) after x comments – to reward frequent commenters – but most importantly the ability to personally pick commenters to grant DoFollow to.

Practically, if I find a good reason to DoFollow you, I will, so, here comes the juicy part of this post…

Give Me a Good Reason!

Yes, give me a reason to DoFollow you. Go on, I am waiting, post a comment here and tell me why I should DoFollow you if you feel like it. Don’t mention the fact I owe it to you, or you’re a good guy, or you’re not spamming.

What some people didn’t get from my last post is: I am not doing this to prevent spam! It’s hardly a problem for me at this time, it never was about it.

I think this is the most fair solution and it will reward people who has the right to be rewarded in first place, but if you don’t agree… well, give me a good reason to believe you!

DoFollow vs NoFollow Is Keeping Me Awake at Night

DoFollow vs NoFollow Is Keeping Me Awake at Night

UPDATE: Since I am really liking the conversation started around this topic, I decided not to publish a new post today and instead keep it going ’til next tuesday. Thanks for everyone who commented and keep on giving me your views on the matter, much appreciated.

I remember when I switched this blog to DoFollow, it was October of last year, and it seemed to me like an excellent choice in order to attract more visitors and give something back to the people who chose to invest some of their spare time in commenting one of my posts. I always thought it was a very good choice, until recently.

Well, nothing bad happened really. I read a lot from people claiming switching their blog to DoFollow attracted an unbearable amount of spam, and this overwhelmed them totally, even using anti-spam plugins. Honestly, everything’s pretty fine for me from that point of view. So what made me doubt my choice?

I recently stumbled upon a couple of very interesting posts by Suresh Khanal, about DoFollows vs NoFollow (here and here) and I was really hit by a couple of points he made.

The one which stuck the most in my mind is about ethics.

To sum it up, by making all my commenters’ link DoFollow I cast a sort of “vote of trust” on that link, stating that it’s relevant to my blog’s info and one should definitely check it out. Truth is, the amount of really relevant information from those links is close to zero. Most of the times the links send you to blogs/websites in a completely different niche than the one I am, and if someone ideally trusted my “DoFollow” vote, they’d be stuck with something they’re most likely not interested about.

Of course, the DoFollow is more for search engines, it’s a valid backlink search engines consider in their rankings, and that’s probably the reason most people comment here anyway.

So, I did start to wonder: what’s the point? I mean, sure, I got posts with many comments, but if most of the people do comment to get a DoFollow link back, is that really worth the trouble? Isn’t it better to actually CHOOSE which link to award a DoFollow rather than blindly giving it to anyone?

It’s about content curation as well. If I decide what content to recommend to others (search engines included) it matters a lot more when I do that, rather than recommending EVERYTHING, no matter what.

That’s why I am in a big, big dilemma right now, and that’s also why I am writing this post, to ask people’s opinion.

What Is Going To Happen?

Well, if I decide to witch back to NoFollow, it’s almost sure I’ll see a drastic drop in comments, but is it so bad? The blog will look less lively, but the few comments that will be there will be given from people who really care, despite the lack of google-friendly backlink.

Mind you, I am not going to remove CommentLuv, just the DoFollow plugin, if I decide to take this step, that is.

I realize that by asking people’s opinion in a blog post I will most likely get a reply from people interested in keeping DoFollow in place, but it’s a risk I am willing to take, I think I can learn something from all this anyway, and others’ opinion matter to me even if they are biased.

I am going to implement a poll as well just for the sake of it.

Please, read the two posts I linked before casting a vote or commenting here, so that you will know everything there is to know about a choice like this. I didn’t cite it on here so that you will be able to read the original, it’s only fair towards Suresh.

Let’s see where this will lead this blog.

DoFollow vs. NoFollow: what's your take?

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10 Years of Ideas: Happy Birthday Net Style

10 Years of Ideas: Happy Birthday Net Style

This is going to be an unusual post, but since it’s an unusual event, I would hope I am forgiven. And I hope you’ll also forgive the bazillion links you’ll find in it, but I promise they are all worth your attention.

On April 11th, 2001 the original company I worked for the first time, Net Style, was born.

It all started from the entrepreneurial push of two people, Francesco Marcantoni and Marcello Comanducci (now CEO and CCO, respectively, of Esimple) who decided to make a job out of something they’d been doing for a while, and that meant, back then, websites and marketing materials for businesses like business cards, ads, brochures and so on.

I got on board a couple of months later as a programmer, to start selling dynamic websites (PHP powered), and I remember we were among the first in Italy to offer a self-made CMS for clients to update their websites.

I got a lot of memories of that time, like the small (and I mean, reeally small) office we were initially stationed in, the chaos all around us, computers laying down everywhere on the floor, my initial disgust for Apple computers (I was an idiot back then I admit), the tons of promising prospects turning into charlatans, against whom we were kinda unprepared since we were very new to this world.

And then, 09/11 came, and the shock about the event itself was pumped up by the uncertainty of the economic crisis following it, making 2001 overall not the perfect year to start any business.

Moving to the new office, a relatively big open space taken from one of the meeting halls of the Hotel in which we were located (Marcello’s dad owns the Hotel, yes we were lucky like that). The countless happy times we had there, and the less happy ones (which were always ’cause of external people we met through the years and who showed up to be less than honest).

2008 came, the founding of Esimple with Francesco Gallorini coming onboard as CTO, the launch of our first Web 3D project, Virtuy, our participation as invited guests to 2008′s edition of the SMAU exhibition (the most important IT exhibition in Italy).

And finally, 2010, the new headquartersthe completely incredible opening party, new markets across Europe and Canada, and the acquisition of the poor lil Net Style as an internal business unit to keep the legacy going.

So many moments to be proud of, so much fun, more than a few tears, countless emotions. How to celebrate all this?

Well, with a kick-ass party of course, how else?

On April 15th, we are going to party hard and celebrate these 10 years of ideas, dreams, hopes, successes and why not, failures, because nothing comes up just the way you wanted, and it’s up to us to celebrate even the sad moments as a testament to our growth.

I do realize that you probably live very far away from where we are going to celebrate, but I felt like this post was kind of mandatory. I owe it to Net Style, and I owe it to all of us working hard to make our customers’, our employees’ and our own dreams come a lil more true.

Happy Birthday Net Style, and I hope to celebrate your 20th birthday with a holographic video-post in 2021 (I am thinking ahead, the world will end next year after all, but being positive doesn’t hurt).

Delirious Thoughts on How an Awesome Design Can Benefit Your Brand

Design Blog Sociale - 8 July 2008 - Bonechair designed by Joris Laarman

There are usually two kinds of people out there, the ones who value a good design, and the ones who couldn’t care less and just want the stuff to do their job.

I must agree that something that’s supposed to complete a task should do it at the best of its capability, but I don’t really mind if, at the same time, it looks better than a tombstone.

It’s the kind of thought I have every time I see some of the laptops out there from famous brands, reminding me more of some piece of brick rathen than of a wondrous machine able to assist me with my work.

While I am a strict believer that substance shouldn’t be sacrificed in favor of form (as it happens many times – the quest for achieving a gracious or “cool” appearance sacrificing the capabilities of the item itself, like with weird looking mice for example), I recognize the value of design as an integral part of the user experience of anything, from electronic devices, to software, to gadgets, to kitchen equipment and so on.

I guess I have been in contact with too many artists and designers in the course of my life, I have been infected by their taste somehow, even if I still have a weird taste at times (or so I am told).

So what true advantages does a good design bring to your customers and consequentially to your brand?

It makes you more productive

That’s true, ladies and gentlemen. From my own experience, I see a definitive change in productivity when we interact with “beautiful things” to do our stuff. Now, this is a tricky concept. In some cases, good design equals to good user experience as well, and this naturally reflects into an increased productivity, so it’s not sure if it’s because of the design or the user experience. It’s actually a very good thing as people will start perceiving your awesomely designed item as necessary, almost mandatory in their work flow.

One thing is also true, happy people work better and harder, and that’s good because…

It makes you a happier person

A good design brings a smile on our face, it makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. You can like cars or not, but when you see a Ferrari on the street, I bet you turn towards it either smile or go “wow” for at least a second. Similarly, when you watch TV shows reporting directly from design exhibitions, don’t you feel strangely happy to look at all that stuff? I do, and I bet you do as well. At least until they also mention the price of those awesome things, which brings us to another trait of good design…

It often justifies an higher price

Sure, sometimes people complain about how much Apple computers are priced compared to their PC counterpart, but sooner than later there’s a voice yelling “but just look at how beautiful is that thing!”. Which is true, taken you have the money for that. A good design is usually associated with an increased price so tightly that we don’t even question that so much anymore. We accept it and decide wether we can afford that or not. Customers looking for something not just usable but also beautiful are more encouraged to give you more money if they have already done so in the past, contributing to something else…

It creates a brand

A brand whose design is easily recognizable is a successful one. Allstars shoes are easily recognizable and they are facing a rebirth in these latest years. Moleskine notebooks are easily recognizable and it’s acclaimed as a very successful brand. Italian fashion built an entire set of empires on awesome design, well high priced (see the previous point) and easily recognizable, something like a signature for the corresponding fashion firm.

With time this can create a fanbase – increasing your brand awareness globally – sometimes a real cult (like the dreaded Apple cult!) full of people willing to spend hours in line to get the latest product of their favorite brand. I doubt this would happen if the same brand made horribly looking things, what do you think? And even if sometimes the same item isn’t totally perfect from a functional point of view, it’s not much of an issue because…

It encourages people to overlook minor flaws

Despite all the effort of rival brands to emphasize the infamous iPhone4 antenna problem (real or not, I’ll leave it to you to decide), its design and functionality, mixed with Apple’s fanbase potential (see previous point) allowed it to come out of it unscarred. People effectively overlooked some minor flaw in favor of a good… well, everything else basically.

This kinda happens every time. It’s not just because of good design, mind you, but also because of several other factors that anyway see in good design at least part of their source.

Sometimes though good design is sadly everything an item has, which brings us to my last point which is also a warning…

A good design alone can’t save your brand!

If good design is everything you got, you’re doomed. Windows Vista was a definitive step forward in looks and interface design from Windows XP, however it was one of the worst operating systems Microsoft ever made for lots of other reasons. Apple’s Power Mac G4 Cube had an absolutely awesome design, but its flaws were so many (first of all, price) it was probably the biggest failure of the new Apple.

It’s not all about design, or better, it’s not JUST about design. A good design is supposed to emphasize your product, not fill in a flawed user experience or set of functionalities.

No matter how beautiful the product is and how much in awe people are by looking at it, your customers won’t forgive you.

So, to sum it up, work towards awesome designs in every product you make – be it physical or more “abstract” like a blog, website or software – but don’t forget that it’s not everything. Design helps build a brand, but if that’s all you can feature, you’ll get the exact opposite result.

Do you agree with this? Got anything to say? Want to smash me in the head for talking about Apple too much (I understand if you do, really). I’ll wait for you in the comments below.