S P O N S O R S
Find out more
Hall Of Fame8 Corners of ECommerce
industry is on
the verge of
into a thousand
fragments due to
the knowledge explosion
and the proliferation
of new technologies.
There are no
more grand theories
that hold sway
over the entire
It's better to
All material on this
Click OK to receive our occasional Newsletter
Keeping an Eye Out
If you are selling products or services on the Web - as opposed to simply using your site as a showcase - you are probably monitoring your competitions' sites in one way shape or form.
If you aren't, then perhaps you should be. After all, "knowledge is power" as a well-known Georgian noted. And, if you know what the guys in black hats are up to, you can modify your own Web efforts accordingly and regain the competitive advantage.
URL Minder seems to have been performing this function for years. Just trot on over to their site, specify the URLs you want to monitor, and every time their spider detects a change in the specified page(s), you get an eMail so informing you.
You can also download some HTML which installs a button on your site, which allows visitors to fill out their eMail address to receive mail telling them when one, or several of your pages have changed.
This can be a good source of establishing a database of people interested in your offerings, and can also act as a traffic-builder.
A somewhat different approach is taken by newcomer Javelink.
This is a Web-based service, which monitors nominated pages on your behalf. You can enter up to 20 URLs, and by returning to the Javelink site, you can access a password-protected site and get such fascinating information as when the page last changed, the "size" of the change and a "score", which seems to indicate (on an unspecified scale) the "amount of change".
The first twenty pages you monitor are free. More than twenty will cost you $15/month.
Quite frankly, we can't see a tremendous advantage over the old fellas. After all, if you were monitoring -say- a hundred sites, we suspect you'd spend so much time monitoring that you'd never get any work done.
Another example of "dollars for data". --John Blower
Get a Grip, Guys!
The issue of "usability" is no better demonstrated by one of our associate's attempt to buy Allaire's HomePage Editor.
He actually wanted to give them money - for a product he found to be the best of a bad bunch.
Allaire's interface made it extremely difficult to find out where you could actually download the product. One is, apparently, referred to a third-party vendor.
They're not a lot better.
They eMail you virtually incomprehensible instructions as to how to unlock the license.
Then they send you to a URL. At which point you download the product.
Unfortunately, it's only expandable by using a further application called "KeyView". You find this out from a little panel which asks you whether you want "more information" on how to download this product, which, apparently is in "octet-stream" format.
>From Netscape's homepage, our intrepid associate went top download KeyView, installed it, then attempted to expand the copy of Homesite he had previously downloaded.
Elapsed time? One-and-a-half hours.
And still no operating version of the application.
Why? A small window which informs our man on the spot that his copy of the demo version of Homesite has expired.
He knew that. That's why he wanted to buy one.
Our fella is not a novice at buying and downloading software.
We rather suspect he will want his money back.
Lesson: If you're selling something on the Web, make it as simple as possible. It has to be easier than the HomeSite experience. --John Blower
Wanna be a Web-Boss?
The news that 50webmasters.com is currently conducting a world-wide search for the TOP 50 webmasters on the Internet brings a smile to our collective face.
How sweet. The job title "Webmaster" is, we feel, both a misnomer and mildly insulting.
Web Review has a nifty little job title generator as an alternative. It's a hoot. 50webmasters.com is the brainchild of Jennifer Moss and Mallory Lubofsky, successful web designers and promoters of high-traffic sites, including BABYNAMES.COM and KNOWLEDGEWORKERS.COM, both of which are household names. The site will include a listing of the Top 50 webmasters, employment listings, an exclusive message board, industry news and "sage advice" for the Internet development community.
The TOP 50 WEBMASTER nomination form can be found on the 50WEBMASTERS.COM site. Nominations are being accepted through October 15th. The TOP 50 webmasters will be announced and listed on the site on December 1st, 1997.
We're nominating ourselves. You should too.
And we'd better be a winner... --John Blower
Bits 'n' Pieces
If you want a lot of good information about writing and distributing press releases on the web, drop by the Internet News Bureau. You'll find a well organized page of links to PR information of all kinds. Most are required reading before you start your first press release.
Wonder where you can find a huge list of search engines and directories? Go to the Internet Sleuth and look through the thousands of directories and search engines they have categorized to help you get around. You could easily spend the rest of the weekend at the Sleuth doing submissions.
Clickz is a site you should bookmark.
NetMechanic has two services, a link checker and an HTML validator. We haven't tried the HTML validator, but if it is as good as their link checker, we'll probably be impressed. BTW - It's all free.
With their link checker, you can check the links on one page, or on your whole site. The link checker can be run 'while you wait' or you can submit your job and go about your business and pretty soon you'll get an email telling you where to see your results on an HTML page. A nice side note: the link checker handles frames based pages, unlike a lot of the others.
Let's face it, most first Websites are pretty disastrous, but we've all got to start somewhere.
Once you've got used to having a home of your own on the Web, it's time to turn your attention to the usability - or functionality - of your site.
Web site usability and navigation are still young disciplines, and you can distinguish your site from most others by building one that visitors actually find easy to use.
So how do you go about assessing the usability of your site?
It's easier than you think. Here are five things you can do to find out if your site is actually usable by its audience.
Clarity of Purpose
Why do people come to your Web site? What might they try to do?
This first question is often an interesting exercise; "You mean people are supposed to do something at my Web site?"
Well, yes, even if it's just to play games, look at pictures of naked humans, or listen to music.
Many sites simply promote a company and its products or services, and since there is little to do, visitors are unlikely to return.
Find Ordinary Users
Next, find some people in your target audience who have not been to your site yet and invite them, one at a time, to your business. If you are targeting children, bring some kids in. If your site targets business users, bring in some colleagues. If your audience is the general population, then just about anyone will do.
Sit them down in front of a computer.
Sit back and watch the users as they try to perform the tasks the site asked them to.
Do not provide them with any background information or initial help.
Since you cannot be at the shoulder of every person who visits your site, you shouldn't help these testers either. Let them skip a task if they get frustrated.
The key here is to sit quietly and watch. Just about anyone can perform a task at a Web site if they have someone standing over their shoulder telling them what to do. You won't learn anything from this process if you guide the participants along.
Collect the Data
As you watch your users, one of two things will happen. They may have no problem accomplishing the tasks you have set out for them. If that happens, breathe a deep sigh of relief - You're either lucky or damned good.
More likely, you'll see your users stumble in certain areas and situations. They may become confused, get lost, or fail to complete a task.
Ask follow-up questions to see if you can find out what they did and didn't like and why.
Be sure to demonstrate how to accomplish the tasks they couldn't do. Participants may think they weren't bright enough to solve a task, when actually the problem is the site design
Back to the Drawing Board
Use what you've learned to improve your site. Some fixes may be easy: testers may offer you more descriptive labels or point out how to highlight something they missed. If several people end up getting lost because they were confused with the wording of a link, then change it!
Other fixes, however, may be more difficult to figure out. You may need to rethink the navigation of your site or reconsider which tasks are most important and how to make those tasks more accessible. --John Blower
Take a look at the Archives. We've indexed all the past issues with topic pointers.
All material on this site is © 1995, 1996 by IBN (The Internet Business Network), Mill Valley, CA 94941