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23 August 2009

Navigation Architecture Matters

I was playing with my kids today - building things out of Lego blocks, when I realized something. Each child has a different level of tolerance for the way we store our blocks (all thrown into one large bin).

My oldest is able to look for blocks on her own. My middle child asks me to help her find what she's looking for. And the youngest asks me to find every block for him.

But the one thing they all had in common is the search - sometimes a 5-10 minute search for the piece they needed.

At one point I recalled how my brother and I used to sort every Lego block into categories, shapes and colors for just this reason.

Why Am I Telling You This?
Our websites are just like Lego blocks. People are looking through them to find something, or to complete tasks. And if we just "dump" all the blocks out there and make them hunt for things, the less tolerant will simply leave.

Why? Because Navigation Architecture Matters!

If you've never sat down and restructured your site for usability, now is the perfect time.

Strip away all the glut, put first things first and get people where they need to go in two clicks or less if at all possible.

Believe me, they'll thank you for it.

11 August 2009

Is Your Team On The Same Page?

This past weekend we spent a few days at the lake. When we returned home, we were greeted with something out of the ordinary - our neighbor's lawn looked like it had been scalped and there were piles of grass clippings all over the place.

This may mean nothing to you, but to us it meant something was terribly wrong with the world. You see our neighbor is militant about the status of his lawn. He edges regularly, keeps it trimmed nicely and always sweeps up the clippings when done.

Come to find out they were on vacation and a distant relative was helping them out by doing the lawn care. If you can call it that...

You see it is painfully obvious to us that our neighbor and his cousin are NOT on the same page. The cousin thinks it is okay to burn the lawn by cutting it too low and that clippings all over the place apparently spruce up the neighborhood.

Bring It Back To Your Team
Seems like something we should be aware of in our teams and departments. Are we operating on the same page? Do we all aspire to the same level of excellence and defend that standard?

Our team has evolved into this reality. In the past we dealt with issues related to the harmony of the team, but recently things have started to click along pretty well. Everyone is pulling hard in the same direction. We all understand the value of excellence and strive to maintain it.

Of course we don't always hit the mark but at least we're aiming for it and helping each other when we're a little off target.

I love the team I do life with at Granger!

10 August 2009

It's Permanent. Before You Hit Submit!

During a weekend message our Senior Pastor, Mark Beeson, explained that information on the web is Instant, Global and Permanent.

In this case, he is referring to the things you publish, post, submit, tweet, upload, etc.

But did you know that people could be watching you even before you make it public?

I found a good example of this today when working with a couple of our IT gurus - Jason Powell and Matt Metzger.

Jason sent us a link to - a new tool that allows you to capture visitors movements on your site.

Matt plugged it into his blog to test it out and sure enough a person lands on the site, userfly memorizes their every movement up until they exit the site. From the userfly console you can watch a screencast of the person's screen, mouse movements and clicks.


But This Scenario Got Me Thinking
A user goes to your blog, and decides to leave a comment. As they are typing and revising the comment so it's appropriate, userfly is capturing the entire thing. When the user hits "publish," the final, polished comment is there for the world. But in fact, I could go back and see exactly what the user was about to say... :)

Scared yet? Should be. Chances are most website owners and bloggers are not monitoring their websites with this level of detail. But it should scare you just to know that the technology is available. Who knows what is being recorded on the web. Just like the millions of video cameras in the world today capturing things we're unaware of, so too on the web, the cameras are rolling.

Listen up Kiddo's, we aren't in Kansas anymore...

The Sole of Innovation

I have a soft spot in my heart for a few things. Watches, Sports gear (of any kind), The North Face, and shoes.

Keen has won me over when it comes to the everyday. But Vibram just pushed the envelope wide open with their Five Fingers line of shoes.

I've always wondered what it would be like to wear a pair of shoes that made you check frequently to see if they were actually on your feet.

Back in high school I wanted wrestling shoes. Not because I was a wrestler - but because they had such thin soles.

Now I can't officially recommend these shoes because I haven't even held a pair.

But you better believe I'm going to look for them and give them a shot.

06 August 2009

Rough Around the Edges

I was sitting on the porcelain throne the other day (sorry for the disturbing image that creates in your mind) when I noticed something about the pants I was wearing.

Instead of the rough, unfinished edges inside the pants, there were wrapped and finished edges. Even though it is never seen by anyone but the person wearing them.

I made sure the brand name was showing because I wanted to give props to a company that is apparently interested in excellence. Good job Union Bay.

Illustrates Excellence
This is a no-brainer for me. I can't help but look at illustrations like this and retrofit them to make sense to web design and web strategy.

In this case my question should be obvious:

Are our websites rough around the edges? Or do we take the time to 'wrap' and 'finish' the edges of our sites for our visitors?
There are many parts of our websites that visitors won't see - unless we don't take the time to develop these site components with excellence. Here are just a few of those "unseen" areas:
  • Are images optimized correctly for fast download speeds?
  • Are forms created well so people aren't filling out information we don't need?
  • Can visitors get to (almost) every page on the our websites in two clicks or less?
  • Is the site search intuitive so that it won't bring back numerous inconsequential pages?
  • Is the content "web happy" so people aren't reading through chapters of information to find what they are looking for?
  • Does the site flow well? Is there a logical and practical navigation strategy so people always feel like they are in control and not the website?
  • Are the basics in the footer? People typically look for things like address, contact info and quick links in the footers of our websites.
  • Many more...
That was a short list, but always be on the lookout for ways to keep our websites from becoming rough around the edges...

04 August 2009

What Were They Thinking #4: Zune Marketplace

The Problem: The Zune Marketplace is quickly gaining popularity due to it's subscription based service for music. Download as much music as you like for $14.99/month and keep ten of these songs (DRM free) each month as well.

I love my subscription. I can download as much or as little as I want every month. I don't have to wonder if I'll like the music, I simply download the entire album and if I don't like certain songs I just delete them.

But it's the podcast section that I just can't figure out. I mean they have podcasts, you can subscribe to them. And you can even search for them fairly easily. They have categories and the sync process is as seamless as any iTunes functionality.

But when it comes to submitting one, you better be prepared to get frustrated. Here's why:

  • When you enter the rss feed link it simply tells you it was submitted
  • You get no confirmation email or message in your "social" Inbox
  • You get no updates as to when the podcast might be accepted and included in the Marketplace
  • You get no notification when it has been added to the Marketplace
Lack of Excellence: If you're going to keep up with your competition, you need to do it at least as well as they are doing it - and preferably better!

There is no reason why the "system" can't send out email notifications along the way. Implement an eCommerce solution if you have to, that tracks the submission as if it were a product sold for free. But at least make an attempt. We shouldn't have to do all the leg work to find out if our podcast has been accepted or not.

People like to be in the know. If you keep them in the dark throughout the entire process they'll get tired, irritated and begin asking, "What were they thinking?"

03 August 2009

Right Choices Don't Always Yield Right Results

I was thinking the other day that life is often less fair than we hope or think it should be.

Similar to the incongruency that leads people to ask the following questions:

"Why do bad things happen to good people?"
"Why do good things happen to bad people?"

Here are the two opposing circumstances I was pondering the other day:

Right Choices Often Yield Wrong Results
Some of you probably know that I have back problems. I've been through the physical therapy, the drugs, the MRI etc. And for a while now I've been making right choices like drinking a lot of water, staying away from coffee, exercising 2-3 times per week, strengthening my core and trying to sit and stand more straight.

Needless to say I don't feel that much better. I feel 10 years younger due to the exercise but my back feels like it belongs to an 80 year old man.

Wrong Choices Often Yield Right Results
The unfortunate opposite is that when people do things that are wrong, or for the wrong reasons they often succeed in life. Here are two examples (keep in mind I worked in the mental health field for years):

  • I saw a report on TV the other night that a small town close to us is doing very well economically. They have jobs, the local establishments (gas stations, restaurants, etc.) are doing well and everything seems to be on the up and up. Why you ask? Because there is a large casino there. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not condemning gambling. But I find it fascinating that something that causes so much pain and heartache in so many peoples lives (those addicted and those who lose everything when lured by the desire to better themselves) is actually making their community a better place economically...
  • Bars and liquor stores often wind up in the poorest neighborhoods and are frequented a lot when times are hard. I find it sad that something like alcohol (which can't make your life better in any way, can't fix relationships and can't help you find a job) should do so well in the community.
Again, not condemning these two practices which many responsible people do in moderation. But I just found it odd as I was whining about my back and how even with the good choices I'm making, I'm not seeing results.

I guess I just have to remember that things on earth are rarely as they should be. I'll have to wait for heaven to experience that...

DON'T Simply Mind Your Own Business

Follow up post to It Must be People AND Process.

To summarize: Tammy's computer had been slow for months. I could set her laptop right next to mine, enter a web address neither computer had been to before and hit enter. My laptop would bring it up immediately and hers would lag or even fail to load the page (even on a completely new install of Windows 7!).

Dell walked me through numerous phone calls, troubleshooting diagnostics and eventually sent a guy to replace my mother board and memory. Nothing worked. In fact the courtesy call from Dell after the replacement suggested that if I was still having problems I should call Comcast, because it was most definitely NOT an issue with the computer...

Because of this I began a process of testing in different locations. I took both laptops to the church - no noticeable difference in speed. I then connected to a neighbors wireless with no noticeable difference in speed. And yet in our house her computer dragged like crazy.

Eventually I unplugged the brand new D-Link Wireless N router and hooked up my old D-Link Wireless G router. Amazingly both computers seem to be running smoothly.

My Dilemma
There is part of me that feels like I need to call the people at Dell back and apologize for some heated conversations I had with the tech department. But then there is the other side of me that is just as upset with Dell.

After all, looking back at my explanation of the problem, why did no one ask about my wireless setup?

I can only assume it was because they were "minding their own business." After all, It isn't Dell's job to make sure people have their wireless routers set up correctly - right?

I never thought to check settings on the router, because every other computer in the house was running well. How could one computer not like the router? (This is still something I'm having to look into...will probably require a support call with D-Link...)

In Conclusion
In this situation I'm thinking Dell lost out big time. A few simple questions about my network and the wireless settings I was using could have saved them a house call, a mother board and new memory.

If you're in the service delivery field, try thinking bigger picture next time. It may not be your product to support, but if it saves you time and money in the long run, maybe it's worth the time and effort. DON'T simply mind your own business...

Innovate09 Getting Closer

Our annual conference at Granger Community Church is fast approaching.

Each year we look forward to meeting with hundreds of churches and over a thousand leaders in the church world to share innovative new ways to reach people for Christ.

This has been a hard year for everyone. Because of this, "Exposed" is the backdrop in front of which we'll discuss the failing economy and how it has impacted us at Granger.

Enjoy great teaching and incredible arts along with targeted Breakout Sessions and Casual Q&A sessions where you can sit down with Granger staffers and ask your questions.

If you're as excited as I am you'll want to keep up with the buzz by subscribing to the Countdown2Innovate Video Podcast. Tim Stevens and Kem Meyer will keep you in the loop and will keep you rolling at the same time with their short video interviews about the conference.

Other fun stuff: Visit the Who's In? page to see churches that have already signed up. Grab badges to put on your site or blog. And find the links to our Twitter and Facebook accounts.

See you all there!