Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Usability no-nos: 5 mistakes every Web site should avoid

Ask usability experts and they will tell you the keys to keeping a Web site accessible: Avoid large, bandwidth-hogging graphics; stay away from excessive use of animation programs such as Flash, and above all, shun complexity.

In other words: Tone down the graphics. Don't be too flashy. Keep it simple.

"A lot of Web sites seem to forsake simplicity and ease of use for elaborate color schemes and exotic fonts," says Max Fose, executive director and Internet strategist at Riester, a Phoenix-based advertising agency. "It makes them unreadable."

Simply put, a site that's difficult to read and use is a big turnoff. In a 2007 survey, the Customer Respect Group found Internet users don't tolerate "unusable" sites—which it defined as sites with inconsistent navigation, slow page loads, hard-to-read pages, and critical information that is hard to find. Of those polled, 45% said they didn't have the patience for a poorly designed site and would click away.

But let's go beyond bad font choices, graphics, and animation. What are the biggest usability mistakes that aren't as obvious? Here are five, with tips on how to avoid them.

Having a confusing or counterintuitive site structure. You know what I'm talking about. Nothing drives users away faster than a site that forces them to click around aimlessly until they stumble upon the right page. (I've designed a few of these sites myself.) Dorota Huizinga, professor of computer science at California State University, Fullerton, says an expert user "should be able to get where she wants to be in no more than three clicks." And if not? Then maybe it's time for a redesign.

What's in a good site structure? Simplicity is the key. In reviewing your site, you might find that many pages are unnecessary. Take a good look at your site traffic. (Microsoft Office Live offers a feature called Site Reports to determine how many unique visitors and page views your site gets on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.) Your traffic should tell you what should stay and what should go. Don't forget to post a site map when you're done paring things down.

Making the menu too complicated. Ever gone to a restaurant that has a wine list with as many pages as the Bible? Or menus written in another language? The same thing happens when someone shows up on your site and sees fancy fly-out menus that may or may not work. Sure, these nifty features may look great in Internet Explorer, but what if your clients prefer Firefox? And what if Firefox renders that fancy menu as digital mush? Then you could lose a sale.

Menus are the rough equivalent of a Web site's spine. You want to keep them clear, straight, and strong. "Just because many design tools offer you the ability to create a complex hierarchy of animated menus doesn't mean you should use them," says Kyle Bowen, manager of informatics at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.

What's in a good menu? Navigation is normally found running horizontally across the top of a page in a tab-like orientation or stacked vertically along the left side of the page. No funny coding. No funny scripts.

Lapsing into industry jargon. It's easy to publish content emulating the jargon-y ways of your business, using terms such as "sustainability" and "zerotasking." But do these words mean anything to site visitors? Sure, they look impressive, but they may be repelling more customers than they're attracting. Are they making things a little fuzzy to the average viewer? "An overabundance of marketing-speak and technical or industry jargon is a very common mistake," says Will McIntosh, chief executive of Intellistrand, a developer of Internet portals based in Myrtle Beach, S.C. "Your goal should be striking that balance between efficient search engine optimization and easy-to-read copy."

How do you avoid jargon? Choose your words carefully. If you think it's impossible to avoid big words, consider hiring a professional copywriter to do the choosing. The clearer the language, the more usable your site will be.

Overpromising, or even under-promising, what you can deliver. A Web site becomes unusable, and thus irrelevant, when it tells users that it will do something and then does not do it. That will drive those visitors away. Permanently. "You lose visitors because your site doesn't make a clear promise of what lies within," says Douglas van Duyne, author of "The Design of Sites: Patterns for Creating Winning Web Sites" (Prentice Hall, 2006). "If first-time visitors to your Web site don't see a clear, persuasive promise about what your company or site has to offer, they must figure it out on their own."

Sometimes they leave the site right then and there, because they can't be bothered or don't have time. Less often, they surf around your site to find the answer. Either way, they won't really understand your company or what it can do for them.

How do you stay on message? Consider developing a clear value proposition and meet users with it when they enter your site. It should be a concise message that explains what people should and should not expect. Don't assume that it will be obvious. Don't exaggerate. And lose the false modesty. Just give it to them straight.

Not closing the sale. Why do you have a Web site? In running a small business, your site might serve many functions. In the end, however, the fundamental function is to grow your business. That simple truth often slips through the cracks when a Web site is created. Site designers can sometimes lose sight of your goals and instead try to create a work of art that does not serve your business well. "They forget to ask for the sale," says Drew Barton, founder of the Atlanta-based Southern Web Group. "If the site doesn't call the user to some sort of action, whether it be phoning, faxing, e-mailing, or forming an order or at least a question, the user won't be drawn to jump through the hoop."

How do you close the sale? Create an environment that will funnel the visitor into a buying decision. For example, if you run a pet store, posting information about Chihuahuas on your site could easily link to a page with information about how to adopt a puppy. (If you're selling a service, users could be prodded into signing up for a free newsletter or to join a discussion group, which could subsequently convert them into customers.)

5 Tips for Connecting With Customers Online

Making a connection with your customers is crucial to the success of your business, no matter what you're selling. Its one thing to do that in person—in a store, for example—and quite another to do online.

Having a winning product and excellent customer service will take you a long way, even on a so-so Web site. But today's Internet experts will tell you that's not enough. Connecting with customers online requires a different set of strategies that might not seem intuitive to the average small business.

Being aware of these connection-facilitating ideas can be as important to your company as the Internet itself. A 2007 survey by AMI-Partners found that more than 40 percent of U.S. small and midsize businesses are using Web 2.0 applications to connect with their customers through blogging, social networking, and other kinds of online interactivity. In other words, they're reaching out to their customers in new, innovative ways more than ever.

With that in mind, here are five strategies for establishing a long-lasting relationship with Internet users.

  1. By all means, tailor your content to the Internet. Many small-business Web sites are little more than digitized brochures featuring rudimentary print-and-fax order forms. That's a mistake, says Lena Dmitrieva, a usability consultant at Bentley College near Boston. In order to connect with customers online, he says, you need to "provide users with the information that they need, rather than what you're trying to push in a way that makes sense to you."

    What works? Write text that is easy to scan on the Web. "People don't usually read long paragraphs of text online. Instead, they tend to scan the text to see if it has anything of interest," Dmitrieva says. That means simple language, lots of bullet points, and order forms that actually take orders.

  2. Challenge customers with information that provokes a response. Newt Barrett, founder of Bonita Springs, Fla.-based marketing consultant Succeeding Today and the co-author of an upcoming book about marketing through Web content, says actionable site content is critical to connecting with customers. "Compelling content generates highly qualified leads," he says. "Compelling online content begins an ongoing dialogue with your best buyers from the very first moment they land on your Web site."

    What works? Contextually relevant content: anything from a chart depicting the growth in demand for a certain product to a short paragraph summarizing the benefits of a service. Barrett recalls one example of a custom publisher that launched a quarterly white-paper series. Most of the promotion was simple —just a short Web site blurb and a few ads. The papers were only about eight pages each, but the information was relevant and valuable to the user. And it sold well.

  3. Converse with your users on their terms. In earlier days of the Internet, most communication with customers went one way. There were ads, direct mailings, and e-mail newsletters that pushed content to a mass audience, mostly without an invitation for direct feedback. Now, with Web 2.0 applications such as blogs, wikis, and online forums, it is truly more of a dialogue. That's an opportunity to connect with customers, and it's one that your business shouldn't pass up, experts say. "A two-way conversation isn't one-dimensional," says Robb Hecht, a marketing consultant and adjunct marketing professor at City University of New York. "Online users today are feeling more engaged with brands, connected to and informed about new products and services based on the community-generating effect of these social networking tools."

    What works? Creativity and passion for the customer, and a genuine interest in his or her point of view. These conversations are now happening in forum posts, wiki entries, and blog comments. Don't limit yourself. But remember: Each medium has its own rules of etiquette that must be understood.

  4. Customize the experience. One size doesn't fit all on the Web. People want to be able to interact with their sites in a way that they're comfortable with. "Customization is definitely underutilized by small businesses," says Marc Ohmann, president of Digital Solutions, an IT company based in Bloomington, Minn. Why? Because they don't think it's possible. But Ohmann begs to differ. His company has worked with small home builders that have used simple applications that allow visitors to create designs for customized homes when they're online.

    What works? Start small. Formatting an e-mail newsletter to greet a subscriber by name is pretty easy these days. But plan to expand your site beyond that. Large sites such as have taken customization to new levels, creating lists of book titles or CDs that they predict you might enjoy.

  5. Refresh your content periodically, test new approaches, and stay fresh and creative. Web users aren't easily impressed, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. "More and more Web sites need to engage people and provide information in unique ways," says Brent Leary, a partner with CRM Essentials, a marketing consulting firm in Stockbridge, GA.

What works? Anything that can be used to set your site apart from the crowd will help you connect with customers—and win their business. For example, one service, SitePal, creates virtual characters that interact with your visitors, answering questions, and driving sales. The larger point, though, is that there are many applications that can give your site an edge, and many more that will be developed in the future. Be adventurous.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Susan Polgar Chess Blog: Special Attacking Tactic

I'm having some trouble solving this without using a computer. Can anyone solve this?

Susan Polgar Chess Blog: Special Attacking Tactic

Famous Anglo-Indians

Here's a list of famous anglo-indians that I got off an anglo Indian website. Really cool stuff even I didn't know:

  1. Frank Anthony, lawyer, Anglo-Indian activist, prominent politician, educationist, Indian representative at the United Nations, author of Britain’s Betrayal in India: The Story of the Anglo-Indian Community.
  2. Pete Best, former drummer of the Beatles.
  3. Roger Binny, test cricketer, Indian cricket team.
  4. Ruskin Bond, author and journalist.
  5. Leslie Claudius, field hockey player, won 4 Olympic Medals from 1948-1960 (3 gold, 1 silver).
  6. Patience Cooper, Indian film actress.
  7. Admiral O.S. Dawson, Chief of the Indian Navy (1982-1984).
  8. Henry Derozio, 1809-1831, much noted Calcutta poet, author of Harp of India.
  9. Francis Fanthome, head of the CISCE board, Member of Parliament.
  10. Sir Henry Gidney, prominent educationist (1873-1942).
  11. Diana Hayden, former Miss World.
  12. Engelbert Humperdinck (singer).
  13. Noel Jones, British ambassador.
  14. Anna Leonowens, English traveller to Thailand (in those days, Siam).
  15. Vivien Leigh, British actress. Won Best Actress for “Gone With the Wind” and “A Streetcar Named Desire”.
  16. Anthony de Mello, founder of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.
  17. Betty Nuthall, tennis player. First Non-American to win the 1930 U.S. Nationals (now U.S. Open). Elected to the Tennis Hall of Fame 1977.
  18. Merle Oberon, actress, born in India and famous in Hollywood.
  19. George Orwell, writer, born in India, famous for his books 1984 and Animal Farm.
  20. Russell Peters, Canadian stand-up comic.
  21. S.H.Prater, member of the Indian Constituent Assembly.
  22. Stephen Hector Taylor-Smith, pioneer of “Rocket Mail” in India, and immortalised by a postage stamp.
  23. Kendel Turner, International cyclist (Cycling career 1987-1993).
  24. Melanie Sykes, Model & TV presenter.

p.s. I'm an anglo-indian too.

What a lovely weekend

It's been a while since I've posted here and I feel bad when I think about why. It's just that there's this other blog I recently created that I've been contributing too very seriously and that too with my real identity. Yeah, it's this blog accessible only to my family (who stay half way across the globe) and it's sort of a journal to keep them aware and up to speed with my excitement that lays ahead in my life…my marriage.

I have been playing some chess now and then, but no memorable games as such. Don't think putting up another chess analysis will do any justice to the other games so I think I'll just write some nonsense or post a chess puzzle, what the hell… you'll see.

This past week was awesome. For one reason and one reason only, I shopped my ass off. I know guys normally don't get all excited about shopping, but what can I say my girl told me that I needed to rebuild my formal wardrobe and I had to do it desperately and fast. Now don't get me wrong, it's not like I don't have decent clothes. But that's about all they are…decent. I think she was right there, after all it's been a year since I shopped and bought myself some nice clothes (note: I said nice not great). Damn, I spent shit loads of cash and so did my girlfriend…on me J

All-in-all this weekend's been wonderful. What a beautiful Saturday. Nice laid back Sunday. Aaaaahhhh!!!!!


Sunday, July 29, 2007

One of my favorite tactical games

I played this game on FICS as part of a Team League tournament. My opponent for this round was a player who was more than 300 rating points ahead of me. I was rated 1601 and he was rated 1916 at the time. Being a scheduled game and part of an organized tournament, both of us had to message each other in advance to set up a suitable playing time for the match. I can't remember what time zone my opponent was in, but it turned out that the only suitable time for us to play was when I was at work. So on the day of the big game, I was hoping that my work schedule would permit me to take one of those really long coffee breaks, to play an online schedule chess tournament game. The time controls for the game were 45 minutes to both players with an increament of 45 seconds per move. I had the white pieces and this is how the game went.

1. e4 c6 2. d4 a6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Bd3 Nf6 5. h3 dxe4 6. Nxe4 Nbd7 7. c3 h6 8. Nf3 Nxe4 9. Bxe4

I've managed to cramp Black's position, he's underdeveloped and can't move his pieces too well.

9. ....Nf6 10. Bc2 Be6 11. Ne5 Nd7

Black wants to relieve some ofthe pressure, so he offers to trade off Knights. My Knight however looks quite strong there, and I don't want to get into a meaningless trade, so I found better.

12. Ng6!?

I calculated this blow out very carefully, and was shocked that I saw a tactic like this. Furthermore, I was convinced that this was too good to be true, I saw a tactic that my 1900 rated opponent missed. This is the comment Fritz's analysis makes in reference to this move, "Registering a claim to victory." What is the idea? Well it's a mate threat

12. ......fxg6 13. Bxg6+ Bf7 (only move) 14. Qh5 Nf6 15. Bxf7+ Kd7 16. Qf5+ Kc7 17. Bf4+ Kb6

18. Qc5#

An amazing win against a much stronger opponent. I'm sure the mate was not forced, since after 17. Bf4+ he could have played e5 to avoid the mate in one, but Fritz still gives white a score of +-5.75 in this position, which means that I would have won eventually unless I played really bad.

This is a great game, with a killer tactic (with my 12. Ng6). Hope you enjoyed it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A strange game I recently won

Here's a game I played on FICS last night. This was a tournament game and my opponent was a lot stronger than me. Although I was winning this comfortably in the middle game, my advantage and attack suddenly disappeared and I couldn't figure out what went wrong. Here is Fritz's analysis of the game. I played white and the image is after 32. ..... Re7 (white to move)

[Event "rated standard match"][Site "Free Internet Chess Server"][Date "2007.07.24"][Round "?"][White "Gambit"][Black "PankracyRozumek"][Result "1-0"][ECO "B56"][WhiteElo "1541"][BlackElo "1738"][Annotator "Fritz 10 (15s)"][PlyCount "166"][EventDate "2007.??.??"]
{B56: Classical Sicilian: Unusual Lines} 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bb5 Bd7 7. O-O {last book move} g6 8. Bg5 {White has a very active position} Bg7 9. h3 {Controls g4} (9. Nf3 $11) 9...Nxe4 (9... O-O $142 $5 $11 {should be investigated more closely}) 10. Nxe4 $16Nxd4 11. Bxd7+ (11. Nxd6+ $142 $5 Kf8 12. Nxb7 $16) 11... Qxd7 $11 12. Re1 (12.Nf6+ $1 {is an interesting idea} exf6 13. Qxd4 fxg5 14. Qxg7 $11) 12... O-O (12... Ne6 13. Bc1 $17) 13. c3 (13. Bf6 Ne6 14. Bxg7 Kxg7 $15) 13... Nc6 14. Qb3b6 15. Rad1 Rac8 16. a3 Na5 17. Qa2 b5 (17... Rfe8 18. Be3 $17) 18. Ng3 (18.Bxe7 Qxe7 19. Nxd6 Qc7 20. Nxc8 Rxc8 $15) 18... e6 (18... Rfe8 19. a4 Nc4 20.axb5 $17) 19. Ne4 $15 d5 20. Nf6+ Bxf6 21. Bxf6 Qc6 (21... Qd6 $5 $17) 22. Qb1$11 Nb3 23. Qd3 Nc5 24. Qd4 Nd7 (24... Qb7 $11) 25. Bg5 (25. Bg7 $142 $5 {would allow White to play on} Rfe8 26. Bh8 $14 Kf8) 25... f6 $17 {Black threatens to win material: f6xg5} 26. Bh6 {White threatens to win material: Bh6xf8} Rf7 27. Qg4 Ne5 {Black threatens to win material: Ne5xg4} 28. Qg3 (28. Qe2 Re8 $17) 28... Rd8 (28... Nc4 29. b3 Nxa3 30. Qg4 $17) 29. h4 $15 Rc8 (29... Nc4 $5 30. b3 Nxa3 $11) 30. h5 $11 Qe8 (30... a5 $142 $5 $11 {might be a viable alternative}) 31. f4{White threatens to win material: f4xe5} Nc6 (31... Nc4 $142 $5 32. hxg6 Rfc733. gxh7+ Kh8 $16) 32. hxg6 $18 Re7 $4 {terrible, but what else could Black do to save the game?}

(32... Rfc7 $142 33.Qh4 hxg6 34. Qxf6 Qf7 35. Qxe6 Rd7 $18) 33. gxh7+ Kxh7 34. Kf2 (34. Qh4 $142 {and White can celebrate victory} Qg6 35. Bf8+ Kg8 36. Bxe7 Nxe7 37. Rxe6 $18)34... Qg6 $11 {Black threatens to win material: Qg6xh6} 35. Rh1 (35. Qxg6+ $5 {should not be overlooked} Kxg6 36. Rd3 $11) 35... Qxg3+ $17 36. Kxg3 Kg6 37.f5+ Kxf5 38. Rdf1+ Kg6 39. Bd2 f5 (39... Rg8 $142 $19) 40. Rh6+ $11 Kf7 41. Bg5{White threatens to win material: Bg5xe7} Ree8 42. Rfh1 (42. Kf4 $5 Na5 43.Rh7+ Kg6 44. Rh6+ Kf7 45. Rh7+ Kg6 46. Rh6+ Kf7 $11) 42... Rg8 $15 {Black pins: Rg8xg5} 43. Rh7+ $2 (43. Kf4 $142 $5 {would keep White in the game}Na5 44. Rf6+ Ke7 45. Rxf5+ Ke8 46. Re5 Rc4+ 47. Kf3 $15) 43... Rg7 $19 44.Rxg7+ Kxg7 45. Rh6 Re8 46. Kf4 Nd8 47. Rh3 Nf7 48. Bh4 (48. Rg3 Nxg5 49. Rxg5+Kf6 $19) 48... Nd6 49. Rg3+ Kf7 50. b3 (50. Re3 $19) 50... e5+ 51. Kf3 Ne4 52.Rh3 Nxc3 (52... Rc8 $142 {makes it even easier for Black} 53. Ke2 Nxc3+ 54. Kf1$19) 53. Be1 Ne4 54. Rh7+ Ke6 55. Rxa7 Rd8 56. Rb7 d4 57. Rb6+ (57. Rxb5 d3 58.Rb6+ Kf7 $19) 57... Rd6 58. Rxb5 Ng5+ (58... d3 $5 {and Black can already relax} 59. Ke3 d2 60. Bxd2 Nxd2 61. g3 $19) 59. Ke2 e4 (59... d3+ $142 $5 60. Kd1Ne4 $19) 60. Bg3 (60. g4 Nf3 61. gxf5+ Kf6 $17) 60... Rc6 (60... Rd5 61. Rb6+Kf7 $19) 61. Re5+ $2 (61. Bf4 $142 $5 Rc2+ 62. Kf1 $17) 61... Kf6 $19 62. b4 $4{a blunder in a bad position} (62. Rd5 $142 d3+ 63. Ke1 Rc1+ 64. Kf2 Rc2+ 65.Kf1 $19) 62... Rc2+ 63. Kf1 d3 (63... Rc1+ $142 {seems even better} 64. Ke2 d3+65. Ke3 $19) 64. Rc5 $2 (64. Rd5 Ne6 65. Be5+ Kg5 66. g3 $19) 64... Ne6 65.Be5+ Ke7 66. Rxc2 dxc2 67. Bb2 e3 (67... Nf4 $142 {nails it down} 68. a4 Nd3$19) 68. Ke2 $17 Nd4+ (68... f4 $142 $5 $17) 69. Kxe3 $11 Ne6 $4 (69... Nb3$142 $11 {and Black has air to breath}) 70. Kd2 Nf4 (70... Kd6 71. Kxc2 Kd5 72.Kb3 $18) 71. g3 Nh5 (71... c1=B+ 72. Bxc1 Nh5 73. a4 Nxg3 74. a5 $18) 72. Be5Ke6 73. Bf4 Nf6 (73... Kd5 74. b5 c1=Q+ 75. Kxc1 Kc5 $18) 74. Kxc2 Kd7 75. Kd3Kc6 76. Kd4 Nd7 (76... Kb5 {hardly improves anything} 77. Ke5 Ne4 78. Kxf5Nxg3+ 79. Bxg3 $18) 77. a4 Nb6 (77... Kb6 $18 {is the last straw}) 78. b5+ Kb779. a5 Nc8 (79... Nd7 $18 {desperation}) 80. Kc5 Ka7 81. Kc6 (81. a6 Ka8 82.Be3 Kb8 $18) 81... Ne7+ (81... Ka8 82. a6 Na7+ 83. Kb6 Nc8+ 84. Kc7 Nb6 $18)82. Kd6 Nc8+ 83. Kc7 Nb6 (83... Ne7 {does not help much} 84. Be3+ Ka8 85. Bc5Nd5+ 86. Kc8 Ne7+ 87. Bxe7 f4 88. b6 fxg3 89. Bc5 g2 90. b7#) 1-0