Aug 252015
 

It is amazing to discover the number of companies that are still using the old waterfall method of software/Web development.  They follow the traditional software development life cycle starting with intense planning and analysis to develop the perfect set of requirements followed by an exacting estimation of all the tasks, costs and precision timelines.  This can take 2 – 3 months or even 6 months or more on large projects.

The team has dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s and now development can begin.  If you are lucky you have some amazing technical leads and developers available to translate all the requirements into a detailed design specification followed by months of programming.  If you are again lucky, the business folks will leave them alone, but it is quite common that they forgot something and will ask how much it would cost to add this or that new feature.  Each major new feature might add another month to the schedule.

If the developers don’t have to shift gears midstream then they might get done in the next 4 – 6 months. Next, enter the software testers, and they begin testing the basic functionality.  They notice that the software doesn’t match up with the requirements too well and there are lots of little bugs.  The developers are informed of the problems and they begin making their changes.

The business folks are starting to get nervous as this is really taking a long time and they haven’t seen the software yet.   The business manager and development manager discuss setting up a demo.  The development manager pulls his team together  to fire up the troops.  The technical lead and developers agree to pull off a small miracle and have a complete demo of the new software in two weeks.  The business team gets wind of the demo and wants to invite more people.  The developers are in luck as some key business people can’t make the demo meeting and the meeting is pushed out another week.

Now, time for the demo, and the whole gang is there… developers, testers, business users, plus the business and development managers.  A bright young developer has drawn the short straw and he proceeds to give the demonstration.  Can you guess what happens now?  The business team asks lots of questions and it becomes abundantly clear that this is not what they envisioned.  The feature they really wanted is not ready yet.  The interface is confusing and the meeting concludes with a plan to meet again in order to update the requirements.

There is a better way.  Software companies have discovered a way to short-circuit this long train wreck called the waterfall method.  It is called Agile development.  Agile is a much different way of doing business in which the development is broken up into small cycles called sprints.

Agile is made up of a self-directed team consisting of a product owner, team leader and multi-disciplinary team members  with skills in software development.  The product owner creates a prioritized wish list called a product backlog.  The team evaluates each item on the list in relative term and then commits to complete a set of those items from the top of the list during a sprint (usually 2 – 4 weeks).  The team commits to fully develop, test and deploy a working piece of software during that time-frame.

The sprint produces business value in the form of working software that incrementally moves the product forward.  Through a series of sprints the team will be able to evaluate how well the functionality suits the business needs.  During each sprint, the scope and time period remains constant but the design, development and testing can vary in order to complete the sprint backlog of features according to the wishes of the team. Design and development issues can be addressed at any time. The product backlog can also be adjusted between sprints and in turn adjust to the changing needs of the business and market.  This results in software of higher quality and more closely aligned with the end user’s needs.

The bottom line is that through Agile development you develop working usable software much more quickly than with Waterfall.  Agile methodology also delivers a product often much more close to the needs of the business or a rapidly changing market.  Agile can often times save development costs as well.  The natural iterative nature of this methodology tends to rank order the most important features first.  Business users are often quite satisfied to stop development once they have the most important features completed.  In this way Agile development can save money by only building applications that are “good enough” and in production now rather than a year from now.

The Agile Alliance

The Agile Alliance

Silicon Valley has already recognized the advantages of Agile development.  It is high time that businesses everywhere recognize this superior methodology.  Business leaders need to recognize the new paradigm that Agile development provides by adapting to a more flexible way of creating software systems.  To remain competitive, businesses should raise the bar by adopting an Agile methodology.  There are a number of Agile methodologies, each of which, can be tailored to each business and corporate culture.  But be prepared to change your way of doing business as well… the results will be well worth it.  For more information, visit the Agile Alliance at www.agilealliance.org .

May 142012
 

iStockphoto is one of my favorite sites for finding just the right image for a new Web page or Blog.  I have used iStockphoto for my clients as well as my own Web site.  iStockphoto has millions of images that can be purchased at a very reasonable price.  Their easy to use search feature makes the task of finding just the right photo simple and painless.

Now, iStockphoto (iStockphoto.com) is making it even easier to find and use the right photo.  They have just introduced the iStock Adobe Plug-in.  This plug-in works with Adobe Creative Suite 5 or higher.  Now you can browse, download and edit images directly from Adobe Photoshop®, InDesign® and Illustrator®.  To get the full functionality from this convenient plug-in you will need to setup a free account at iStockphoto.

You can find out more about the plug-in file and instructions on how to install it here.  This plug-in is sure to be a great time saver for those of us using Adobe Creative Suite.  And best of all, it’s free!

Apr 092012
 

Pinterest (http://pinterest.com/) is one of the fastest growing Social Media sites.  According to comScore (article here), Pinterest.com ranked in the Top 10 fastest growing Web properties and surpassed 10 million unique visitors in January. This growth is amazing considering it is still in beta release.  This means you’ll need a friend to invite you to join in the fun or request an invitation from Pinterest on their site.

Pinterest Logo

Fun?  Yes, you’ll have fun creating a visual pinboard with photos and videos of things that interest you. You can add the Pinterest “Pin it” button to your browser and use it to select images and videos from any Web site.  The site allows you to upload media directly as well.  Once uploaded you’ll need to place the images and videos into a pinboard organized by the subject of your choosing.  Of note, there is no nudity allowed on Pinterest so this should be a family friendly site.

As mentioned, to sign up and post your own pinboards you will need to get an invitation.  You can set it up to login using a Twitter or Facebook account.  Friends can follow all of your pinboards or just one of them.  They can also re-pin one of your images or videos to add it to their pinboards.  Users can also “like” your photos and provide comments as well.  By following you will be notified of new images.  By liking images the “pinner” will be notified that you like their image.

Pinterest provides tools to help promote your pinboards.  You can add a button to your Web site so that others can pin your images or simply follow you on Pinterest.  Pinterest works on all major Web browsers and there is a Pinterest iPhone app.  Other mobile devices can access Pinterest through their mobile URL: (http://m.pinterest.com/)

To learn more about Pinterest I would suggest starting here.  The jury is still out on how this site could be used for business. If your target market is starting to use Pinterest then it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a business presence there to display your products or samples of your work.  The creative ways in which this new site can be used to share your interests seems to be endless.

 

Sep 082010
 

SearchToday, Google announced the implementation of their new search enhancement called “Google Instant”. Google Instant shows results as you are typing and tries to predict the keywords as you type.  Type a single letter and you will get a drop-down box that changes as you enter more letters.  If you were online yesterday and noticed Google’s logo made up of moving balls you might have wondered what was up.  They would only say that it would be a good week.  Now we know why.

The predictive nature of this search feature works very quickly.  Type in one single letter and you get a list of keywords and phrases in a drop-down box below the cursor starting with that letter.  It is supposed to be tied to the user’s search habits but I haven’t noticed a difference whether I am logged in or not.  Perhaps the search preferences are tied to a cookie on my machine that does not matter whether you are logged in.  More research will be needed to see if that is true.

I did notice that the search results appear to be tied somewhat to your location.  Here are the single letter suggestions that I discovered for the alphabet.  A = “Amazon”,  B = “Best Buy” and so on… Craigslist; Duke Energy; Ebay; Facebook; Gmail; Hotmail; Ikea; Jungle Jims; Kings Island; Lowes; Mapquest; Netflix; Ohio BMV; Pandora; Quotes; Reds; Sears; Target; USPS; Verizon Wireless; Weather; Xavier University; Youtube;  Zoomtown.  You may be able to tell that I live near Cincinnati as some of the these suggestions are not national search terms.  Jungle Jim’s is a very unique local supermarket and Kings Island is our local amusement park (great coasters, by the way).

Google Instant isn’t available everywhere just yet.  Google is starting its roll-out to users on Google domains in the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Russia who use the following browsers: Chrome v5/6, Firefox v3, Safari v5 for Mac and Internet Explorer v8. Users on domains other than Google.com can only access Google Instant if they are signed in to a Google Account. Google will add new domains and languages over the next several months.

The benefit to Internet searchers will be that the people who hunt and peck as they type will be able to skip a lot of typing and click the phrase they want.  Google believes this will raise the bar by providing searches more quickly.  I believe the real benefit will come when Google Instant is available on a mobile platform where typing can be unbelievably slow and predictive search terms would be a tremendous benefit.

For Google AdWords customers, your ads will be displayed when a user stops typing for 3 seconds, the user clicks the search button or by simply moving the mouse onto the page outside the search form.  This may lead to an increase in the number of impressions you receive for your ads.  It is hard to predict what this new way of searching will do to the popularity of certain keywords.  I think Amazon and Best Buy should be pretty happy judging from my test run above.  It will be interesting to see the impact of this change as marketers begin to study the impact of this innovative new search feature.

Jan 262010
 

Headlines are Critical 

Headlines are critical to the effectiveness of your Web site, especially on your home page. 

The headline is like an ad for the words that will follow.   It is important to the reader (human) and to the search engines (computer).

It needs to stress benefits and help answer the key question, WIIFM? 
(What’s in it for me?)

The You-Focused Opener

An opening headline like “Welcome to XYZ” isn’t going to cut it.  The home page must focus on the visitor and why they might benefit from your Web site.  The home page should emphasize the top benefit and motivate them to read on and take an action.  You must never forget that a Web site is there to please your visitors.  Put yourself in their shoes.

Strong Motivation is Needed – Pain or Gain!

The headline should introduce a cure for the target audience’s pain or fear of loss.

Or, the headline can hit on your most important benefit and how your target audience can gain by reading further.

Targetted Headlines are Best

The headline should be very important to your target visitor.  The more targeted the better.  And it needs to be a short, sharp and benefit-laden punch line.

What Professional Copywriters Say… 

Do:

  1. Write several headlines before choosing your perfect one.
  2. Address the needs of your target audience and dramatize the benefits.
  3. Stir emotion by getting the reader excited, fearful or protective.
  4. Use the present tense or better yet, the imperative tense. The use of “you” often works well.
  5. Use strong and essential action verbs.
  6. Use short words that create an image in the mind of the reader.
  7. Eliminate most adverbs and adjectives.
  8. Write headlines that stand on their own.
  9.  Write headlines that foreshadow the message that follows it.

 Don’t:

  1. Don’t write about you… write about them.
  2. Don’t write headlines that create curiosity without stressing benefits.
  3. Don’t be “catchy” or “cute” unless your target audience appreciates that type of headline.
  4. Don’t worry about losing visitors that aren’t in your target audience.  That is to be expected.
  5. Don’t use jargon unless you are certain that everyone in target audience will understand it.

 Other Suggestions:

  1. Use words and phrases that evoke emotion…
              You, Now, At Last, Free, Finally, Profit, New, Secret,Ultimate, Fantastic,
              Guarantee, Today, First, Amazing, Discover, Yes, Best, Instant, Powerful
  2. Ask a question.
  3. Make your promises credible.
  4. Put your headline in quotes for extra credibility.
  5. Challenge the reader. (ex. “Only for Businesses Who Want to Increase Profits”)
  6. Test your headlines to see which one works best with your target audience.
  7. Test some more. 
    (Check back soon for an article on Web analytics).
Dec 302009
 

This is the time of year that everyone’s calendar is full.  Between work, family and all the organizations that everyone belongs to it is hard to keep things organized.  If you aren’t familiar with Google Calendar then you should check out this great tool.  It helps you to keep and share your calendar with work, family and friends.

About Google Calendar

Google Calendar can also be integrated with your Web site.  One of my clients, Lee McCready with Kart19.com, uses Google Calendar to share his Kart Racing team schedule with his family and friends.  People can sign up to get calendar event reminders in their email.  This is a great way to promote any event that your company, club or organization is planning to have.  And this calendar is free!

Dec 222009
 

Losing control of your domain name can happen to anyone.  As was seen last night, Twitter.com, lost control of their domain name for a short while.  Someone calling themselves the “Iranian Cyber Army” managed to redirect the Twitter.com home page to a different page.   “How can I prevent this from happening to me?”, you ask.

You need to take care in not sharing your DNS (domain name server) user name and password with anyone.   The DNS setting tells the servers that make up the Internet how to translate your domain name to the IP (Internet Protocol) address of the host server for your Web site.  If someone changes these settings then your domain will display the home page of a different server and you will no longer have control of the content.

According to the Twitter.com Blog, this is exactly what happened last night.  The problem was noticed quickly and resolved within about 90 minutes.

You also need to choose a user name and password that isn’t easily guessed or discovered through trial and error.  You may not have a choice in the user name, but you can usually choose a strong password that makes guessing or using brute force methods more difficult.

Some tips for developing a strong password include using upper-case, lower-case, numbers and special characters, making long passwords and avoiding the use of easily discovered personal information or words straight out of the dictionary.  And finally, don’t store these passwords, memorize them if possible. For a more thorough list of tips please check out the US-CERTS  Web site.

Dec 022009
 

After years of recommending to others that they should start a business blog, I finally found the time and inclination to create one of my own.  I have gone so far as creating a number of test blogs on Blogger.com and GoDaddy’s Quick Blogcast, and developing a soccer team Web site using Geeklog.  I decided to go with WordPress which I think they should rename “ImPress” because of the impressive feature set, theme choices and myriad of developers contributing to this Open Source success story.  I have helped others tweak their WordPress sites in the past but the latest version is incredibly powerful and has gotten a lot easier to use.

Dare I say it, “Static Web sites are going the way of the dinosaur”.  I have seen the writing on the wall and traditional Web design is on its way out.  Starting in 2010 I will be shifting focus completely away from static site development.  Dynamic sites are far more powerful and more interesting for me as a designer.  People will always need help setting things up, creating unique designs and developing solutions that fit a particular business.  People are far less likely to need me to type in the content of their pages and posts.  I can’t say I’ll miss that aspect of Web design since it reminds me of the old typing pools of 60′s and 70′s.  For you youngins, rent an old movie like “9 to 5″ starring Dolly Parton and you’ll get an inkling of what a typing pool is.

Getting back to why I started a blog… it just makes too much sense.  Blogs are cheap; you can host it for free or get a low cost hosting account and garner complete control.  Blogs let you express yourself and demonstrate your knowledge to your peers, clients and hopefully, future clients.  Search engines love blogs due to all the fresh content and keyword rich posts and comments.  Blogs fit together nicely with all your other online activities such as social networking, email, business Web sites, SEO, Paid Search advertising, analytics, etc.  Blogs are easy to use.

Just because it makes a lot of sense doesn’t mean I’ll be the next Matt Drudge.  That’s not my goal.  My goal is to reach out to my Web design clients, social network contacts and others in order to share what I know and in turn learn from the responses I receive.  If it helps business, great.  If not, perhaps I can learn something and improve my writing skills :-)