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The advertising
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There are no
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John Sumser


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January 09, 1998

Communities

Regular readers of our columns and attendees at our seminars for recruiters will be aware that we are leery of the use of the word "community" when applied to the Web.

After all, "community" in the accepted sense of the word is a "body of people living in same locality; body of people having religion, profession etc in common" (Concise Oxford English Dictionary).

Obviously, the first part of this definition cannot apply to a virtual environment. Which is not to say that an "online community" cannot exist, simply that the term is, in our opinion, over- and often mis-used.

So how can you create the notion of a commonality of interest around your Website?

An obvious channel is the institution of a "chat area" - which has unfortunate connotations, not entirely unjustified. "Chat" takes place in real time, which makes it subject to the vagaries of time zones. It is also ephemeral, the start of any given thread being perhaps several screens away. It is also subject to the 80/20 rule: 20% of users contribute 80% of the input. And, in general, the quality of discourse is not high.

We prefer the model used by Anchor Desk. In this model, users are invited to comment on a posted article, which in turn is posted. Further participants comment on the response as well as the original article, and thus begins an ongoing "conversation".

One advantage is that site content becomes self-generating and semi-permanent. Another is that you are facilitating a genuine commonality of interest, centred upon a specific topic or series of topics.

As a recruiter, for example, you may wish to post an article about employment trends in your particular occupational area. It helps if the article is somewhat contentious.

Now distribute the article via eMail along with a link to the site and an invitation to comment (you may wish to brief a "shill" to get the ball rolling...). Of course, the 80/20 rule applies.

In this way, you will begin to build a core constituency who will return to your site in order to see what you and other respondents are up to today.

Repeat weekly or as prescribed... --John Blower

January 08, 1998

Is It Worth It?

Now that the Gorilla is behind WebTV, we suppose that we'll be seeing more of the great unwashed accessing our sites through their 36" Sonys.

Indeed, WebTV estimates that an astonishing 95 million Americans will access the Web through the boob tube in 1998.

Of course, we all know that the Web isn't "just another channel", although we suspect that URLs accompanying TV ads subconsciously convey that impression.

We suppose that, eventually, we shall have to come to terms with reality. So what are the design constraints imposed by WebTV?

Here they are:

 

  • Don't use full red or full white; both cause screen distortion.
  • Use client side image maps instead of server side image maps; it works better with a remote control.
  • Use the "<no Br>" and "</no Br">tags to prevent line breaks in text, a series of images, or any other horizontal flow.
  • Avoid small text sizes in HTML and graphics.
  • Avoid narrow columns; images are scaled and text will wrap frequently.
  • If you haven't yet purchased a WebTV Internet terminal, you can determine whether you have included hardcoded dependencies in your layout by increasing the default point size of the browser fonts to 18 points, narrowing the window a little, and observing your page.
  • Put the most important information on the first visible screen.
  • Try to reduce the number of items on your page because television audiences are used to looking at one focal point.
  • Pages should contain as few form elements as possible because these elements can quickly become overwhelming to non-computer users.
  • Use the additional attributes of the text input tag to change the background and text colors so that form elements are consistent with the rest of the page.
  • Use light-colored text against dark-colored backgrounds; television audiences find it easier to read.
  • When using an input image in a form to simulate a button, use the "<input nocursor>" tag to prevent having to click on the button twice to submit the form.
  • Don't use horizontal single pixel lines because they flicker on television sets.
  • Page titles are used in the Recent Panel and the Favorites bookmarks; avoid temptation- keep your titles short.
  • Use background music or theme music to provide an experience more like television.
  • Remember, the television audience differs from a PC audience.
  • Keep in mind the following points when designing your pages:
    • Keep the text clear and concise.
    • Design your pages to fit a television screen
    • Eliminate scrolling as much as possible
    • Avoid placing links that offer downloadable software on your home page.

IOHO, putting that lot together would give you nothing less than a dog's dinner of a site...

Is it worth it? Nah!

(BTW - you can find the Full Monty at http://www.webtv.net/primetime/preview/design/sguide-3HTML) --John Blower

January 07, 1998

"Spam" - or Luncheon Meat?

"Spammers" are universally excoriated, at least in the circles in which we move.

But "universally"? Perhaps not.

A recent survey undertaken by California-based Internet research firm, Esearch appears to indicate that one man's (Ooops! "person's"...) "Spam" may be another's source of sustenance.

A respondent group numbering 2,041 was characterized by being young, educated, and relatively affluent with males (49%) and females (51%) evenly represented. Their marital status was also evenly represented (married 49%; not married 50%). Half of the respondents live in households with two members contributing to their annual income. Over half (58%) of the respondents did not have children under the age of 18 living in the household. The households were relatively small with a majority containing one to three members (68%).

Here's the interesting stuff:

  • Most of the respondents (92%) reported that they received unsolicited eMail often or occasionally. When asked if unsolicited mail offended them, most reported that, "yes", it did offend them (77%). As age, education and income increased so did the number of offended respondents. Males and females were equally offended. The group receiving the most unsolicited eMail (at least one message a day) was far more offended by this type of eMail "Offense" drops off quickly when unsolicited eMail is received occasionally (one message a week).
  • A large group (70%) reported that the topic of the eMail message determined whether they would read an unsolicited message and that they were not overly offended by this type of eMail This crossed age, education, and gender boundaries. However, as income increased, this did not apply and they were more apt to "never" read unsolicited eMail and viewed it as "offensive".
  • When unsolicited eMail was received, a very small group (2%) thought they could always determine where the sender got their address. A much larger group thought that in some instances they could (Yes, 42%) or that they never (No, 44%) determine the sender. When they could not determine this, they became increasingly offended by uninvited eMail The respondents who reported that they deleted uninvited eMail without reading it also thought it offensive. Many (38%) reported that the action they took depended on the content of the eMail, so uninvited eMail is not arbitrarily deleted from in boxes.

What this appears to indicate is that, as Web access expands and the number of naive users increases, so the definition - or at least the perception of what is and what is not "spam" may change.

Indeed, today's processed product may be tomorrow's nutritious, USDA-approved food supplement...--John Blower


Jan 06, 1998

Web Rings

Like most great ideas, it seems so obvious. Instead of forcing a user to plow through thousands of search engine results to find, say, dinosaur sites, organize dinosaur-related sites into interlinked "rings," enabling the surfer to move between sites known to be on the topic.

A simple enough concept, and the advantage is that you know that visitors who come to your site via the "ring" are, by definition, interested in your subject matter.

The first, largest and most ambitious is Webring, which plays host to 18,000 rings linking nearly a quarter of a million sites, and is currently adding an astonishing 1,800 sites a day!

The site provides a subject-oriented search engine. Simply plug in a keyword, and a list of available rings is provided. A search using the word "recruitment" provided a grand total of three rings, one of which ("Mentoring") was redundant, and the other two were directed at job seekers. (Why job sekers would want a ring escapes us...)

If the subject of your choice isn't available, then you can create your own ring, although it's fair to point out that setting one up can be quite time-consuming and requires a fairly comprehensive knowledge of HTML.

It strikes us that, with the mind-boggling proliferation of sites and the imminent breakdown of the search engine model, a canny recruiter (for example) may find it worthwhile to plug into a ring which concerns itself with the professional or technical field into which they are trying to recruit.....

Or even, in the co-operative spirit of the New Medium, team up with a number of other recruiters in complementary fields to offer a focussed service to those seeking a career move....

Just a thought. --John Blower


Jan 05, 1998

Marketing With Titles

In this column, we have discussed various ways of getting your site listed with various Search Engines.

Let's take a step back at this point and take a fairly broad overview of the function of Search Engines and one way in which you can improve your placement in them.

The Web currently has literally thousands of Search Engines and Directories where you can list your site.

In point of fact, most traffic travels through seven engines and one directory. It's therefore sensible to concentrate your efforts (at least initially) on trying for good placement on those sites.

The major directory is Yahoo!. It differs from the engines inasmuch as sites are selected for inclusion by people, and are arranged by both subject area and geography. Regard it, if you will, as a Table of Contents of a book, with the search engines functioning as indices (with greater or lesser levels of inclusion).

The major Search Engines are:

  • Excite
  • Infoseek
  • Alta Vista
  • Lycos
  • WebCrawler
  • HotBot and
  • Northern Light

This last, Northern Light, is a relative newcomer. It reputedly has the most comprehensive index of the Web. It also "pre-sorts" the results of a search information is, allegedly, a mere "four clicks away" from hitting the search button. Northern Light also provides access to information not on the Web through its "Special Collection", which is available on a "dollars for data" basis.

Each engine categorizes and ranks sites slightly differently. Many engines use "meta tags" as a means of categorization and assessment, while other, most notably Excite! ignore them.

The concept of "keywords" is central to any meaningful ranking in the engines. "Keywords" are words - and combinations - which define the content of your page(s).

The important thing is to remember that they need to be chosen from the potential user's point of view.

For example, as a recruiter based in Kansas and looking to fill retail positions in the North East, you may perceive your "keywords" as "Kansas, recruitment, retail, North East, career, careers, job etc etc".

However, if you shift perspective to the user's point of view and try to imagine what search terms would give rise to your listing, you would probably come up with a very different list - for example "executive, career, opportunity, retail, Boston".

Keywords first come into play in the " tag of your page. Your title should be descriptive and emotive. Don't shy away from emotive words like FREE ("free listings for applicants!"). Eschew the use of the word "homepage" - it says nothing and is over-used. Unless you have great brand-recognition, avoid the use of your company name - it takes up space (usually only the first 64 characters of the title are used) and adds little.

And avoid repetition. This is known as "search engine spamming" and is penalized by most engines.

We'll be taking a look at other specific techniques for improving search engine listings in future columns. --John Blower

LinkExchange
LinkExchange Member


Take a look at the Archives. We've indexed all the past issues with topic pointers.



Check out the Archives....160 Weeks of Back issues including:


Jan 05, 1998
  • Holiday Greetings
  • Website Garage
  • AArgh!
  • Year End Forecasts
Dec 21, 1997
  • Surveys
  • Communications Arts
  • Daily Brief
  • Click Trade
Dec 14, 1997
  • Whose Eyeballs?
  • NPR
  • Cool Tools
  • Hamsters?
Dec 07, 1997
  • Color Of Money
  • Resources
  • Search Engine Tuneup
  • Nice Makeover
  • European Design
Nov 30, 1997
  • Site Design
  • Statistics
  • Semi Free
  • Thanksgiving
  • Visitors
Nov 23, 1997
  • Easy Shopping
  • Great Content Wins
  • "Skinny" Graphics
  • Site Design
  • Net Mailer
Complete Indexed Archives(36 months of marketing and design) Complete Indexed Archives(36 months of marketing and design)

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