Geopepper Ups the Ante: Social Networking Hits the Streets

If you’ve got a PC and a pulse, chances are pretty good that you’ve also befriended Facebook or MySpace, been Linked In, or been known to Flickr, perhaps even Twitter, from time to time.

Social networking may seem ubiquitous these days, but it hasn’t truly been everywhere. There’s always been a physical distance between you and your social networks. Until now.

Imagine if you took them wherever you went. Imagine if you knew when one of your “friends” was just around the corner. Imagine if you were given a heads up when one of your big clients was also at the airport waiting for a flight. Imagine if you were notified when you were passing one of your contacts favourite restaurants or coffee shops.

Sound futuristic? Well, it may be. But it’s also here now. Global communications leader and BSL client
Alcatel-Lucent has already developed a solution to make all of this — and much more — possible. Geopepper is their location-based service (LBS), and it’s closing the gap, bringing you and your social networks together with new opportunities to connect like never before.

Let me give you a few examples of what this technology can do:

1) Location-based social networking. You can allow your friends and contacts from your existing social networking sites to ping your mobile device with geographically based messages. These can be personal (Since you’re in the area, check out this fantastic used book store!) or business related (Just arriving? Don’t forget we’re meeting the clients at 3:00).

2) Proximity marketing. Say someone has opted-in to receive marketing messages on their cell phone that fit their interests. When they come within a kilometre of your business, they could be sent a Geographic Messaging Service (GMS) message (Widgets 50% off at 123 Elm Street). Since they’re already in the neighbourhood and have indicated an affinity for widgets, they are much more likely to stop by. The same applies whether we’re talking about coffee or cars. The term “street level advertising” will soon take on a whole new meaning.

3) Travel info and guides. Imagine touring around London and having tourist and/or historical information pushed out to you as you approach points of interest. (Big Ben! Parliament!) It’s like having a tour guide in your pocket, without all the awkwardness that would probably entail.

The possibilities are exciting — and virtually endless. You can learn more in this
Geopepper video.


Go Green: At the Office

From the caretaker to the CEO, every employee has a responsibility to work towards greener pastures. And there’s good news! Retrofitting your office helps more than just the environment. It can increase your bottom line and contribute to a healthy, low-impact workspace.

Here are a few tips for 'greening-up' the office:

Delete unnecessary text from emails before printing. A long email exchange can lead to several pages, which needlessly wastes paper when all you're trying to print the most recent message.

2) Instead of printing a web page,
bookmark it or save the page.

Use the size-reduction feature offered on many photocopiers. Two pages of a book can often be copied onto one standard sheet.

Photocopy and print double-sided

Do less on paper, more online. The greenest paper is no paper at all, so keep things digital and dematerialized whenever possible:
- Keep files on computers
- View documents on-screen rather than printing them out
- Send emails instead of paper letters

6) Printouts destined for the trash (or recycling bin!) may have more life in them. Don’t throw out those messed-up print jobs or obsolete reports – reduce them in half (or quarters) and
turn the blank reverse into notepaper.

Water is a precious resource. If you have extra drinking water after a meeting and before you go home, use it to water a plant.

Turn your computer off when you leave for the day. Otherwise, you're still burning energy even if you're not burning the midnight oil (Check with your IT department to make sure the computer doesn't need to be on to run backups or other maintenance).

Use 'screen sleep' or hard drive sleep modes that turn on automatically. Unless you have these energy-saving settings enabled, your computer is consuming higher-than-necessary quantities of electricity when it's not in use (and we're not referring to your screensaver, which protects your screen but does not reduce electricity usage).

Use paperclips instead of staples. Staples seem small and insignificant, but attached to discarded reports and printouts, they are ending up in landfills every year, refusing to biodegrade. Paperclips are eminently reusable, and using the dog-ear method may seem kind of juvenile, but it works in a pinch and creates zero waste.

Use recycled materials. When using paper is necessary, use recycled paper and envelopes that have been processed and colored using eco-friendly methods. Use pens and pencils made of recycled materials, and refillable pens and markers are preferable to disposable ones. Use biodegradable soaps and recycled paper or cloth towels in the bathroom and kitchen, and provide biodegradable cleaners for the custodial staff. Buy in bulk so that shipping and packaging waste are reduced, and reuse the shipping boxes. Recycling printer cartridges is often free, and recycled replacements are cheaper than new ones.

Use dry noodle sticks (like spaghetti cut in half) to stir your coffee instead of using plastic spoons or sticks.

Switch your lights. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are three to four-times more efficient than standard incandescent bulbs. Also, encourage employees to maximize natural lighting and to turn off lights when leaving a room.

Re-use supplies whenever possible. Don’t throw away that file folder if it is still usable!

Use an electronic agenda rather than a printed calendar.

These are many great ways for an office to 'Go Green', and we look forward to hearing about what energy-saving and earth-friendly practices your office uses!


Iridium is Officially Everywhere

From a brand perspective,
Iridium is very well known all around the world, for two reasons. The first reason is a good one. They are the maker of superior satellite phones – ones featured in movies like James Bond, where our hero is magically connected from the middle of nowhere. The second reason is less complimentary. They have been previously recognized for their audacious vision of global connectivity sending them straight to the brink of financial disaster. But that was then. This is now. Their vision remains audacious. They own the only true global communications network, built from the top down. Their satellites and devices have succeeded brilliantly, serving solutions to maritime and land-based markets all over the world. This is where we come in. Iridium has initiated a strategy to revitalize its brand globally. From the launch of new products to corporate re-branding, Iridium wants the world to know that their highly successful company is poised to become the global leader in providing reliable, critical lifelines. Iridium is indeed everywhere.


Branding and the "R" word

An interesting story in the New York Times today about the 98th annual meeting of the Association of National Advertisers. Some marketers - actually the biggest names in the business - feel a responsibility to help get us through this financial mess.

“The consumer is sitting at the bottom of a bunker with his head in his hands, wondering if it’s safe to come out,” Jez Frampton, global chief executive at Interbrand, an Omnicom Group agency specializing in corporate and brand identity, said during a general session of the conference.

“It’s up to us to stimulate demand in the marketplace again,” he added.

What do you think? Read more
Resolved to Keep on Marketing, Even in Tight-Fisted Times


Cooking as Visual Art

“I have invited Ferran Adrià because he has managed to create his own language, something that has turned into a very influential issue on the international scene. This is what I am interested in, I don’t care if people consider it as an art or not. It is very important to mention that the artistic intelligence does not depend on the format; we should not relate art only with photography, sculpture, painting…, neither with cooking in its most strict sense. But under certain circumstances, cooking can also be considered as an art.”
- Roger Buergel, Artistic Director,
Documenta 12, Kassel, Germany

Ferran Adrià is the influential chef - some say most influential in the world - from El Bulli restaurant in Cala Montjoi, Catalonia. I urge you to look through the general catalogue of dishes the restaurant has prepared from 1983 to 2005. Interestingly, the introduction to the catalogue begins with a classic information architecture dilemma: how do you categorize things? For El Bulli, food falls into "families" - follies, morphs, tapas/dishes - names almost as poetical as when and how they are served.

Visit the catalogue


Social Media Site Increases Support for Canada's Wilderness

The Big Wild - an initiative founded by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and Mountain Equipment Co-op - has been leveraging the viral benefits of online social media in the hopes of growing support for its cause.

The Big Wild refers to the part of Canada that is still in its natural state. And the vision is to keep at least half of Canada's public land and water wild forever. The hope is to achieve this through education, fundraising, and support and encouragement for the public to lobby decision-makers.

The social movement launched this past Spring, with guerrilla marketing stunts in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax and St. John's that introduced Canadians to its social networking site, www.thebigwild.org/

The site allows Canadians not only to learn about Canadian wild spaces in need of protection, but encourages supporters to share stories, videos and photos about their own wilderness experiences. This keeps the site real, personable, and fresh. People can truly feel a part of the project and gain a sense of pride. The prizes available for various ways of getting involved only increase the incentive to participate.

To complement the online components of the campaign and keep the viral message going offline as well, Mountain Equipment Co-op is selling (by small donation only), green Big Wild shoelaces.


Adam's Wallpaper Design Makes the FWA

Adam Hughes - BSL Flash specialist, Artist, and Blogger - recently designed desktop wallpaper that was published on The FWA on Sept 4. For those of you who may not know, The FWA (favorite website awards) is probably the most prestigious award site for flash/graphic design and Flash developers will tell you that it’s definitely worth a daily dose.

Here is the design Adam won for, and you can check out the many other wallpaper designs too.

Click on the “winners” button toward the top left to check out the latest in flash web design aswell. Or just go to their homepage www.thefwa.com/.


F(T) = B+P(1/10T+1/2T2)

This is, according to top PR agent Mark Borkowski, the formula to determine the decline in fame from its peak.

The formula applies to stars-as-brand. This conception has been impressed upon a generation of publicists by the American corporate PR firm, Rogers & Cowan.

Mark Borkowski's came up with his formula (which you can see a fuller explanation of
here) by studying famous people, somewhat famous people, and consumer brands like Red Bull, Stella, and Adidas. According to Borkowski, fame is not measured in 15 minutes, as Warhol suggested, but 15 months.

What does this mean for brands? If your brand rises in the public consciousness, you can expect it to stay there for 15 months. If you want to keep it there, you have to remember that people like stories. In a world of PR, these stories are told through events (think of Madonna's enduring fame and the various phases she has gone through).

Read the
article and see what you think.


Web 3.0 - The Human Web

Someone with even a limited knowledge of human social behaviour, could postulate that approximately 15 minutes after the term "Web 2.0" was coined, someone attempted to introduce "Web 3.0" into the common lexicon. Given that anticipation seems to be a central notion of Web 3.0, that person would have been right to do so.

Eric Schmidt of Google has claimed that Web 2.0 is a
marketing term. Many aspects of Web 2.0 were quickly turned toward direct or indirect business-with-customer applications. Think of the brilliant "Dove" campaign as the former; think of Facebook (because of its ability to focus advertising to the likes and dislikes of the member) as the latter. The possibilities continue to be almost limitless.

So is marketing ready for Web 3.0? Probably more than we realize. Does Web 3.0 exist? I would argue that there are features of it that exist, and that these features help us to anticipate what it will become.

Definitions of Web 3.0 vary greatly. Some of Web 3.0's core concepts pertain to the "semantic web", in which the semantics of various services and content on the web are defined to satisfy the needs of humans and machines to better use web content. A simple way of describing this is: we currently use the web as a vast store of knowledge. If I want to find out the Icelandic term for iceberg, I can do so quickly on the Internet. Adding a notion of semantics to the vast store of knowledge on the web would likely take away the need for me to perform this search. One can envision, for example, typing the term "the Icelandic word for cat" in Blogger, and the word would miraculously appear. (It is "kottur")

Tim Berners Lee describes his vision for the
semantic web this way:

I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent agents’ people have touted for ages will finally materialize.

In a sense, Wikipedia anticipates some elements of the semantic Web through the simple hypertexting that automatically occurs within an entry. One can get a basic definition of a concept through an article, one gets a fuller definition by following various hyperlinks, that exist contextually.

Other aspects of Web 3.0 include ubiquitous connectivity (a website can be browsed online, on a mobile device, etc.); distributed databases; and intelligent applications, or the ability of the Web to reason in an almost human fashion. Some people suggest that intelligent applications will emerge in a more organic fashion, such as the way that categorization of photos on Flickr are the result of collaborative filtering that extract meaning and order from the existing Web and how people interact with it.

In short, Web 3.0 is more human in its abilities, scope, responsiveness and modes of operation than the Web we are currently accustomed to. And given that marketing is an intensely human activity combining anticipation, communication and emotion, we have reason to hope that Web 3.0 will be ready for marketing too.


Green-Coloured Glasses: Vol 3

With so many brands trumpeting empty green promises, a collective consumer cynicism has developed to keep companies in check. Websites like www.greenwashindex.com host forums for users to rate various green-toting ads on their level of BS. This site is one of many available for consumers to engage in a dialogue about the latest offenders. Some activists have taken a facetious approach to identifying key players. A company called ‘Corpwatch’ whose mandate is to hold corporations accountable for their operations has created the Greenwashing Academy Awards. These acknowledgments are awarded bimonthly to corporations that put more money, time and energy into slick PR campaigns promoting their eco-friendly image, than they do to actually protecting the environment.

With consumers and environmentalists ready to pounce at the first sight of contradictory claims, many brands are becoming apprehensive to even utter the words ‘environmentally friendly’. And as an agency that prides itself on injecting brands with integrity and intelligence, we would never want to position a company in the line of fire. So how do we know if a client’s request for a green image will help or hinder? Perhaps the
6 Sins of Greenwashing checklist could shed some light on the validity of their claims:

1. What type of claim is being made? Is it specific or broad? Does the value of the single claim outweigh the other aspects of their operation?

2. Is a copy of the environmental standard or testing protocol available? If a manufacturer can’t provide the evidence of their claim, it could be a warning sign.

3. Was the testing protocol developed through a comprehensible, transparent process? If their story checks out, then testing should be able to live up to certain public standards without confusion.

4. Who developed the testing protocol? The most trusted standards are those developed in a consensus-based process by broad stakeholder groups.

5. What process is used to verify that the products meet the standard? There are various procedures to verify, including:

  • Self certification;

  • Self certification with random audits;

  • Independent third party verification;

  • Independent third party certification with on-site audits
Even if a company passes this checklist with flying colours, it can still run the risk of a negative perception from the public. Spending too many dollars on a green image ends up looking disingenuous, when the majority of the efforts should be put towards a more grassroots strategy, proving to consumers that environmental change is top priority.

Here are some more efforts worthy of a Greenwash Oscar:
PG&E - Let's Green This City
Walmart - Save and Live Green
BP - Environment and Society


Green-Coloured Glasses: Vol 2

It’s no secret that ‘green is the new black’ – which is a good thing. Our society is beginning to make strides in our purchasing behaviour, all for the sake of environmental preservation. The masses are slowly starting to recognize the value of something other than comfort and convenience. But unfortunately there is an abundance of brands looking to get a piece of the eco-pie for all the wrong reasons. Whether it’s to squeeze out an extra buck from naïve consumers, or to mask the nasty truth of their operation, some companies have gone to sordid lengths to appear green.

In July 2007, GM used its best-selling Chevrolet line to launch its multi-million dollar ‘Gas-Friendly to Gas-Free’ advertising campaign. The campaign boasts the steps they’ve taken to increase fuel efficiency; produce vehicles that can run on E85 ethanol; and develop hybrids and fuel cells. Since the launch,
Chevy’s website, commercials and print ads contain green-friendly images that suggest its’ support of the environment.

What is misleading about GM’s efforts is the extent to which the company is advertising its green technologies, while they’re still the leading producer in gas-guzzling vehicles. What is worse, the company claimed to be a fuel solutions leader, while working behind the scenes to derail attempts to increase fuel economy standards.

Another example of greenwashing comes from Fiji. This brand of bottled water has recently developed a website called
www.fijigreen.com, a slick-looking device positioning Fiji as an environmentally conscious brand that is taking action to become ‘carbon negative’. It’s clean design and hopeful copy outlines all the steps they’re taking to save the rainforests and reduce their carbon footprint.

In a seemingly transparent effort to involve themselves and consumers in the quest for sustainability, Fiji has invited outraged eco-activists to label the brand ‘the poster child for greenwashing’. This accusation was made because bottled water, by nature, is not an environmentally sustainable industry. Not only do the vast majority of North Americans throw water bottles in the garbage, but also every one of their bottles is shipped all the way from Fiji, making it difficult to see how they are helping reduce carbon emissions. However, with a big enough budget, Fiji has produced an alarmingly convincing website that is no doubt luring naive consumers as I write this.

The above examples were chosen for their obvious and audacious nature, but unfortunately there are thousands of companies that fall into the grey area of greenwashing. With so many different ways to be green, it’s almost impossible to claim you’re green for one effort without contradicting yourself in another. This creates a laundry list of brands that leave themselves vulnerable to the greenwash label, just by declaring themselves environmentally friendly. Check out the last installment that explores a new consumer crusade to catch brands green-handed.


Web Design Best Practices (part 5): Improving your site through iterations

More and more websites run on content management systems (CMS), enabling companies and organizations to update content and navigation internally, while they turn to their agencies to provide guidance and design for brand-sensitive or tech-heavy updates.

How can an organization best decide what content should be added, changed or removed? And how can an organization ensure that the changes they make are done with end users in mind so as not to fall in the trap of turning a website's content into org-speak? Learn from the big players like Dell, Ebay, and Amazon. They constantly make iterative changes to their sites to improve usability and to drive better returns.

Let's call the principle "change by iteration based on solid metrics". Combining small changes with measurable results can be a powerful tool to improve your website's performance and to help ensure that updates are done in the most user friendly manner possible.

To begin, your site should incorporate snippets of code to enable measurability using a tool such as Google Analytics. This will assist you in seeing what content, pages and text
work in your site.

Second, you should consider what constitutes success. For instance, you may hope that one half of all site visitors should go directly to your products section, and once there, they should spend at least two minutes reading and interacting with content.

Third, break down your goals into discrete elements: the pathway from the landing page to the products section is one element; the amout of time spent in the products section is another.

If you find that your visitation levels are falling short, look closely at the path users are following, and then look critically at content on their path. Then make changes by iteration. For instance, you might try changing the language on a call to action, and then seeing if your statistics improve. If so, good, if not, try including a compelling image or offer with your product call to action.

If you find users aren't spending enough time in your products section, put yourself in the shoes of an end user. We know that site visitors don't read much on the page, so you're unlikely to hook them with more text. What do you like to see when you're visiting another site? Do you spend time viewing videos? Do you like to interact with graphics? Are you interested in reading what other users think of the product? As a principle, it is safer to try iterations, that is, change one thing at a time. Add a video and check the stats. Present testimonials from customers, and test. Incorporate a call for end-user input into the product, and test. And so on.

You needn't stop at page level content. The principle of change by iteration can be applied more broadly than the examples I have shared so far. Main navigation items, the addition of micro-sites to delve deeply into certain site information, and the incorporation of widgets to increase the frequency of visits are some elements that bear iterations well.


Green-Coloured Glasses: Vol I

Today we live in a world of choice. We choose what brands we want to buy, what sites we wish to visit, and which causes to support. And as we enter into an age insistent on environmental responsibility, consumers are faced with choices that hold far more weight than which toothpaste gets your teeth whiter. More and more, people are feeling compelled to look twice at everything from household cleaners and cars to shampoos and packaging. With so many brands under scrutiny, brand trust is becoming the ever-elusive holy grail of marketing. Consumers are becoming more skeptical than ever and communicating a company’s good intentions can be a challenge, especially when surrounded by wolves in sheep’s clothing.

There is no shortage of companies trying to cast a positive light on their otherwise questionable operations, and with the looming future of our planet becoming an increasingly pressing matter, ‘greenwashing’ is now common practice for many brands.

Greenwashthe act of misleading purchasers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.

Greenwashing was first identified in the late 1980’s after members of the hotel industry placed cards in each room, encouraging guests to ‘save the environment’ and reuse their towels. It was later revealed that most of these hotels were putting little to no effort towards recycling, or any other environmental practices, and the suggestive cards were purely profit driven. Since this discovery, activists have established the Six Sins of Greenwashing to help illuminate the various ways companies deceive their consumers.

Sin of Fibbing – most despicably, some manufacturers claim to meet environmental standards when in fact they do not.

Sin of No Proof – any claim that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or by a third-party certification.

Sin of Irrelevance – some manufacturers make claims that may be truthful but are unimportant and unhelpful for consumers.

Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off – certain companies boldly focus on one single environmental attribute, sweeping other negative attributes under the rug.

Sin of Vagueness – many consumers are fooled by companies making broad, poorly defined claims like ‘100% natural’, when some natural substances are actually harmful for the environment.

Sin of Relativism – a product may be able to claim it’s environmentally preferable for its class, but shouldn’t necessarily be considered in the first place as an eco-friendly solution.

Check out our next installment when we look at some examples of greenwashing at its worst.


Web Design Best Practices (part 4): Web 2.0

In some quarters, there is a backlash against the incorporation of widgets, Web 2.0 elements, and related content (or cross-promotions) in websites. Some recent studies have shown that users are not all that interested in exploring related content. Users, it has been shown, get to the site, they find what they're looking for, and they leave. Additionally, they are frustrated by the load times that come with complex web pages.

"People want sites to get to the point, they have very little patience," stated Jakob Nielsen in a recent interview with the
BBC. He claims users are "hot potato" driven, and want to get specific tasks completed.

What does this mean for site design? Do we throw out everything we've been learning and preaching over the past couple of years? My sense is, no. There is a time and a place for widgets, but they must be incorporated intelligently. Web developers should be careful about how much cross promotion is placed on each page. As is the case with French cuisine, less is sometimes much more.

Sadly, this is not always the case.

I would place some of the blame for overburdened web pages on marketing studies that claim boosts to sales through "widgetry". I see a lot of "studies" like these: "Video in websites boosts online sales by 50%"; the next day another study claiming: "Bigger "buy now" buttons deliver better returns"; and the next day: "Flash movies of cute furry pets deliver a volume increase of 25%".

You can imagine a small business owner who has built their business around online sales trying all three tactics at once. Heck, you don't need to imagine it, sites like that are everywhere.

There are excellent implementations of Web 2.0 tools that add enormously to a user's experience on a website and ultimately deliver better returns, for sales, for the brand or the community. Implementations can be done that are also very respectful of the user's time and bandwidth issues.

I am thinking here of a site BSL is developing for an organization that supports health care and capacity building in a number of less-developed partner countries. The site includes videos that really help people here to see the challenges and successes in countries that are very far away and different. The videos are hosted in the site in such a way that low-bandwidth users can see a synopsis and video stills. The videos are only launched on demand. The site achieves what it set out to, through judicious and respectful use of Web 2.0 content.

I remind readers of intentions, which I talked about in my first post in this series. When designing sites, you need to think very carefully about what you really want users to achieve at your site, and to test what you put on the site against real-world experience (e.g. common sense). If, for example, you really believe users will click a link to buy a product after reading product information, do you need to put "buy now" on non-product pages? After reading the Neilsen interview, and after struggling through sites that promise everything everywhere, I would conclude: no.


A Giving Business Model

Asking for money ain't easy....

And anyone who has ever tried raising funds for charity will say the same. Whether it's $5 or $500 - it takes great time and energy to raise money for the most worthwhile of causes.

Giveness, a company that was first established in October 2006, overcomes this barrier by enabling users to make purchases online at Giveness.com for everyday items, while concurrently donating to the charity of their choice - without any added cost to them. Buyers can shop, buy, and give creating a win-win (and win!) situation for the merchant, the nonprofit and the supporter.

Waldvogel and Werling, the Founders of
Giveness, formed a sub-affiliate network partnership with both eBay and Amazon.com to enable this model to work. They have also developed relationships with over 30 major retailers (including Gap, Apple Store and Macy's), and when online shoppers make their purchase from any one of them through the Giveness site, a percentage - anywhere from 4 to 30 % - goes to one of the nonprofits registered with the site - as pre-selected by the purchaser before they made the purchase.

There's no membership fee or registration required for purchasers, and
Giveness also provides an online community where users can engage with message boards, and post photos and other information about themselves. Nonprofits and individuals can register for this community, which currently hosts over 500 members.

Nonprofits interested in registering are carefully screened, and so far 164 charities and nonprofits have signed up.

Spreading the Word with Widgets
Nonprofits and individual members of the online Giveness community can take advantage of Flash-based "widgets" on the site. The Fundraising Widget Application allows nonprofits to create their own widget to post on their own web page (or Facebook profile, blog, etc). The widget makes it easy for site visitors to shop and benefit their organization directly. The widget can even feature content (ie/ product recommendations) that suit the nonprofit organization's mission and interests.

Giveness.com won 2nd place in the Philanthropy category of the seomoz.org 2008 Web 2.0 awards, and I can see why. The website makes great use of web 2.0 concepts, and are the depiction of a well-designed, friendly, usable site. When I made a selection to shop at a store through the site, the first thing I was asked for was the charity I'd like to donate to. I selected one randomly and immediately received a 'Thank You' message on the screen, before it moved me through to the store.

The quasi-personalization the site is enabled to perform continues to build a relationship with the user. After my first 'purchase', every time I visit pages on
Giveness.com it recognizes me and it the top right, there it is again "Thank you for supporting...".

I'm always keen on learning of sites like this that are out there - of nonprofits who are using the power and efficiencies of the web to do things better. Because as we all know, fundraising ain't easy.


Ambiguous animation painted on public walls

Amazing stop-motion animation done in Buenos Aires and in Baden by Blu.


Web Design Best Practices (part 3): Navigation

I'm not a graphic designer, but that doesn't mean I don't know where to find nacho chips at the supermarket.

Before you start thinking I've lost my marbles by putting these two seemingly incongruous elements together in a sentence, let me explain myself. Navigating through a website is a lot like making your way through a supermarket. Supermarkets and websites share many characteristics which we can consider through the concept of "affordances", or "action possibilities which are readily perceivable by an actor" (definition from

At a supermarket, these expectations are broadly related to 1)store layout, 2)product placement, and 3) cross-promotion. On a website, these expectations are related to 1) homepage layout, 2) product placement, and 3) cross-promotions. Similar, no?

At the supermarket, you arrive at the entrance, get your shopping cart, and make your way through the sliding doors. You know with your eyes closed that the first food you're likely to see are fruits and vegetables, then bread, then meat. (Supermarkets, at least the big ones, also tend to promote "green" products at the entrance now too - for public relations purposes).

On a website, you have come to expect that the website homepage will give you a thorough, if high-level, overview of everything that's in the site, starting with the "reason" for the company's presence, the products or services the company offers, and the company's actions (through news, events, and public relations).

Second of all, without knowing why, you have a pretty good sense of where you'll find, let's say, nacho chips. Even if you've never been to the specific supermarket before, you are pretty confident that nacho chips will be found a few rows to the left of the vegetables, probably in the aisle adjacent to dairy products. Your knowledge of the placement of a product supermarket is pretty astonishing, isn't it? It's because of intuition based on past experience, habits, and the practicality of gathering this product as part of experience of fulfilling tasks in a more or less linear way associated with your household economy. In other words, nacho chips are a treat, but while you are picking up required items such as butter or milk, they sure are nice to have.

Similarly on a website, you have a pretty good sense where you might find the "search" box: on the top right of the screen. Websites often use this space on the screen for search because it is habitual, and practical, to place a site-wide tool in a highly visible location without limiting space for core business.

The third element of navigation has to do with cross-promotion. You know that you are likely to find salsa at eye-level beside the nacho chips. While logically salsa shares more qualities with tomato sauce or barbecue sauce, its application is directly related to nacho chips (and subsequently related to watching a football match on TV). What if supermarkets also placed avocados, garlic and lemons beside the chips? Would people eat more guacamole?

Similarly on websites, when you're on, say, a product page, you are likely to find information about product support, a sign-up for a product newsletter, and options to contact a sales-person.

How do you take this information on intuition, placement and affordances and turn it into a better user experience? Some of the answer comes down to following best practices, seeing what your competition is doing, studying websites you admire or dislike, and working with a user experience specialist to put best practice into practice. And some of the answer comes from learning about affordances. Frankly there is no better way than to sit beside a real-world user of your website and watch closely to see what they find, how they move through the site, and whether they do what you want them to do.

You may also benefit from a fact-finding trip to the supermarket, and then put your metaphorical avocados at metaphorical eye-level, beside the metaphorical nacho chips.



I Love it! - Available at Amazon.


Web Design Best Practices (part 2): Accessibility

In addition to acknowledging that users have developed habits of interaction over the years, every well designed site should be accessible to the largest (target) audience possible. But accessibility goes farther than that.

Websites are a tool as well as communication channel, we must consider not only the demographic and psychographic profiles of our market, we must also think of very nuts and bolts things such as disabilities (visual impairment, dyslexia, deafness, colour blindness) and constraints (high-speed versus dial-up access, screen size, operating systems, and so on).

Accessibility features refer to various standards and commonalities that assist users by giving them what they expect, and what they need, to make their interaction successful and efficient. For more information on technical aspects of accessibility, please visit the World Wide Web Consortium
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0.

One way of looking at the issue of accessibility is to think that websites should be easily
read. The concept of readability captures the speed and efficiency with which information is consumed and processed. It can refer to navigability, various types of visual information (graphics, imagery, rich media, and to alternatives to rich media) in addition to written words.

Of course, some traditional graphical design issues are at work when designing a page. But online, there are far more rigorous constraints than there are on the printed page. One recent
study by Jakob Nielsen suggests that there on a web page there should be no more than 28% of the content one would view on the printed page. According to this study, users spend an average of 4.4 seconds per 100 words.

What should this mean for a well-designed website? First, put your content creation machine on a strict diet. Say more with fewer words, use small graphics, bullet-points and bolded text to enhance the readability of the page. House your content in a navigation schema that makes it easy for text readers to explore.

Web Design Best Practices (part 1)

Clients often ask - heck, I often ask myself - what best practices should be followed when designing a website. I'm sorry to inform you that there is no formula for the perfect website. In fact, it could be argued that every website is as unique as the organization behind it.

That doesn't mean there aren't principles that should be adhered to (or at least acknowledged). I'll share some insights that should help as you consider what should be on your site, and how it should be designed: page layout; navigation; user-centred design; accessibility; how to improve your site through iterations; and features that should be included. I'm going to start with the complicated question of

When designing a website, people consider
what they want to include in the site before they consider why elements are included. This is a mistake. The first, and most important feature of a well-designed website, is the user-friendly way in which the consistency of the organization’s business and communication objectives meet with the designed end-result. Put another way for the sake of clarity, this means that every element – from content, design, navigation and interactive features – must be considered in light of the organization’s intentions. Only those items that advance your goals should be included.

With the advent of social media, users have come to expect a broader range of tools available to them on websites. Many sites incorporate sound and video into their sites, and provide sophisticated feedback mechanisms, planning tools, easy-to-fill contact forms, enabling saving and forwarding page-level information, and access to tools such as live chatting. It is important to remember that interactive tools should always be used in response to an organization’s objectives. For example, where video and sound files may help one company sell more products, another organization may find a calendar tool is very valuable to respond to end users’ needs to form communities around common events.

This does not mean that every website is radically different from every other website. End users have developed expectations for how they interact with sites over the past decade of website usage. In terms employed by the user experience community, these are often referred to as “affordances”. For example, users expect there to be a “contact us” page on every website and that usually "contact us" is included in the site's header.

If there is one formula for a well-designed site, it would be: your communication and business intentions + your users' intentions = success. In other words, provide what you need to further your goals in a way that is easily grasped by your valuable and time-pressed end users.


The Weight of the Widget, Volume III: Pitfalls

There are a few hurdles to face in the fresh world of widgets. Complaints can be heard coming from users, advertisers, and website owners alike.

Loading Time
The biggest concern voiced by widget users and site owners is
widget loading time. The time it takes to load a web page where a widget resides, is dependant on the third party code that exists on an entirely different server. Although some companies like Flickr are able to deliver fast and reliable service, smaller startup companies are often unable to handle the increase in demand, and end up failing to load the widget at all. And some critics predict that sites will become so cluttered with widgets that they won’t be effective whatsoever.

Another question companies ask when contemplating widget development is "how can widgets help our business make money?". Experts acknowledge that the economy of this type of online marketing tool is still being shaped. Without a pricing strategy, advertisers are apprehensive about paying top dollar for a widget that’s influence is unknown. So as marketers wait with baited breath for an idea of how to make a profit, widgets will continue to serve as tools to achieve brand awareness and lead generation.

The third obstacle lies in the measurement of usage. Given that users connect to widget content without opening any additional browser windows, counting page views and unique visitors will become obsolete. But people are getting closer to uncovering the answer with solutions to
measuring widget usage. As well, companies may need to identify specifically what qualifies as a widget before Internet traffic analysts are able to measure penetration.

So is widget marketing here to stay? I know a lot of younger demographics would argue them as a new age necessity. Generations that have been raised on the Internet have no time for a static banner. Their attitude isn’t just “what’s your brand going to do for me?” It’s “what’s your ad going to do for me?” But will there ever be a comprehensive method of measurement? And will the demand for widgets continue?


What I took away from FITC Toronto

I’ve just returned from the premiere Canadian new media trade show known as Flash in the Can. My head is now full of hope and inspiration for the future of rich media, and dynamic desktop applications.

There were so many wonderful things worth mentioning, and I fear I’ll only be able to only scratch the surface in a single article, so consider this a brief overview.

AirLet me start by discussing the potential for Adobe’s new product Air, which is a platform allowing flash developers to create dedicated desktop applications using all the same scripting and abilities of Flash CS3.

Before attending FITC I didn’t really appreciate the usefulness of a new platform to host Flash based applications. But now that I’m aware of its easy-to-use built-in SQL database, and the potential to access dynamic data both locally, online, and the possibility of syncing the offline with the online I’m eager to dive far deeper into this new dev platform. I’m thinking this would make an excellent platform for an Intranet, among other incredibly useful apps.

A few major websites such as PayPal, EBay, Google Analytics, FaceBook, and others have already built or are developing desktop versions of their huge and complicated sites to allow users a faster and more feature-rich experience then was ever possible before. In many cases it will allow their sites to operate offline which is a pretty major ability both for the company and their users.

Here is Adobe’s current Air app showcase site.

One other thing I took away from FITC was the incredible work being done by a few people in the realm of code generated artwork.

Flash has long been a favorite tool among groundbreaking designers to avoid the limitations of old-fashioned HTML/CSS styles, allowing the sites to be presented in ways that are near-impossible in most other traditional ways.

I strongly recommend viewing the work being done by Joshua Davis, Erik Natzke, and my personal favorite Grant Skinner. Skinner has managed to create some beautiful, natural looking trees and grass, entirely with code. It would take many pages to get into the details of how this is possible, but it essentially amounts to porn for Flash coders.

Anywho, it was a fantastic conference that will forever influence the way I approach my work.


The Weight of the Widget, Volume II: The Secret to Success

As a continuation of Volume I, this post explores the appropriate questions to ask when creating a widget and the key principles to a truly brand building application.

In an industry that is always enduring the trial and error of new trends, it’s fair to debate whether this new gadget will actually contribute to a brand’s success. Despite its popularity amongst hundreds of millions, widgets still need to serve a purpose in order to make a
successful connection between brand and audience.

Here’s an example:

Purina created a mini-applet that alerts pet owners of good dog-walking weather. By extending its brand experience beyond dog food, the brand makes an even larger impact on the consumer’s life. This widget is a way of saying “We’re about more than just feeding your dog. We understand the life of a pet-owner and we are here for you.”

Widgets also tend to last longer than traditional advertising. If it’s something consistently entertaining or informative to the user, they are likely to keep it part of their routine, grow accustom to it, and potentially shudder at the thought of living without it.

So what key considerations must one make?

1. Consider Your Brand

Don’t just tack on your brand message to some flashy, unrelated function. Allow the widget to be a practical extension of your brand. Offer content that while useful or entertaining, also subtly enforces your brand’s identity. Acura is known for having the best navigation system on the market, so they developed the Acura RDX Traffic widget that delivers real-time traffic flow to a user’s computer. Not only is it an extremely useful application, but also a functioning extension of Acura’s brand attributes.

"It is important to raise the widget to the level of the brand, not reduce the brand to the level of the widget.” -
Snipperoo Widget Blog

2. Consider Your Audience

While much of your effort will be spent designing and constructing a widget that is perfect for the user, you can’t forget about where you’ll be placing it. The placement is as important as the widget itself. There are millions of sites on the web that cover everything five times over, so it’s crucial to know the sites that not only achieve reach, but also have their own credible identity. And don’t forget, your widget should also enhance the site it’s on, making it a
mutually beneficial partnership. But you may be considering a desktop widget that engages users in a deeper connection, in which case you better hope that your content can hold the interest of the user.

“There’s no free parking on the desktop: Keep it meaningful and fresh.” – Kate Donaho, Group Creative Director, T3

So what kind of content can hold the user’s attention every day? Are RSS feeds the key to keeping it fresh? Are there interactive games that can stand the test of time and wear out?


The Weight of the Widget, Volume I: The Next Level of Brand Engagement

As a facebook user, I can admit that as I stroll about the network, most advertising doesn’t penetrate anything more than my peripheral. Despite its close proximity to the content on my screen, it still isn’t content. And this quick assessment of what deserves my attention is second nature, much like someone watching television and switching channels the instant a commercial sneaks onscreen. We all know how the story goes: you can lead ‘em to a banner, but you can’t make ‘em click.

Enter Facebook Applications: Little gadgets that allow users to interact in unique, entertaining ways. Advertisers are fighting tooth and nail to develop these gadgets and further involve users in their brand. However, many of these applications are producing overwhelming clutter on the site and require users to solicit these apps to their peers, causing resentment among millions. But at the core of the clutter lies the key to
new age brand engagementWidget marketing.

Widgets can be defined simply as small pieces of desktop or web content that offer functions from simple weather updates to more sophisticated and interactive applications. They have recently become a popular way for marketers to not only reach their audience but also to incorporate their brand into a user’s everyday routine. Apple and Microsoft have desktop tools that feature stock tickers, news feeds and airline schedules. Google’s fastest growing products are ‘gadgets’ for its personalized start pages, or websites that allow users to customize the displayed information.

In today’s marketing world, the widget is proving its place as an effective media strategy. Such tools have been successfully weaved into marketing plans for brands like
Adidas, Cingular, Sony Pictures, V05, and AT&T Wireless, along with many others. Many sectors like financial services, automotive, and personal care are testing the widget waters, which makes one wonder just how varied the demographic for this tool is. eMarketer estimates that U.S. companies will spend $40 million this year to create, promote and distribute widgets, up from $15 million in 2007 (which was prematurely dubbed ‘The Year of the Widget’).

Not appearing to be a passing fad, widgets are used by 230 million people a day. But are widgets appropriate for every marketing strategy? Behind every brand, is there a widget waiting to happen?

Look for our next installment of The Weight of the Widget: Volume II: The Secret to a Successful Widget