December 22, 2008

Your competition isn't what you think

If you've ever watched a teenager doing homework, you probably know this already. The scary part is that we're more like them than we might like to think. Multitasking has taken on a whole new meaning in the world of iPods and text messaging.

If your business needs to capture their attention on the Web, keep this study in mind. According to a recent study reported by eMarketer, you have competition beyond your competition. Nearly six out of 10 respondents to a GfK Roper survey fielded in September and October 2008 said they listened to music or talked on the phone while using the Internet. Half of those Internet users were eating while they surfed as well.

How easy is it to find something on your pages? Clutter is bad. Usability testing is critical. You just have to pay attention to it, especially since your customers are not. Here's a quick check list to cover before you think you might be ready. Have you...
  1. Identified your users with detailed personas?
  2. Identified the top 5-8 tasks for each persona?
  3. Used at least one of the navigation exercises (card sorting, questionnaires, paper prototyping, etc.)?
  4. Brought in folks (from the outside) to test out those tasks?
  5. Actually gone back and fixed some of the things brought to light in #4?
  6. Scheduled your next usability test?
One of the things I learned at a Larry Constantine workshop was to test under realistic situations. Our group had to design a ticket kiosk. Paying attention to the environment that the software will be used is important. There could be long lines waiting to use the kiosk (putting pressure on the user to be quick), lots of background noise, motion, etc. A complex interface simply won't work in that situation like it might when using a home PC browser.

But, even at home, there is TV, music, food, pets and other distractions. We need to move our usability testing out of the lab and into the real world. Not hard to do, but very important.

Let me know how your next test works out!

December 2, 2008

Do You Belong?

The Web is a wonderful, terrible, thing. I started working with the world wide web back in the 1990s, we used a text-only browser (anyone remember Mosiac, Gopher and Usenet?). Of course, it only worked on Unix systems, and Windows was just a bad way to do word processing.

Even then, e-mail wasn't used very often. I remember my boss writing memos (or rather dictating them to his secretary to type up), and distributing copies on everyone's desk. As e-mail moved more into the mainstream, communication improved. Today, with the proliferation of Web 2.0, which finally put the user in charge of the web, we are now in a world of connectedness via online social networks (<-- click that link for a definition - it's pretty goodimage).

What does this have to do with leadership? Lots.

Your "network" is the single most important aspect of your career. But it's so hard to keep in touch with everyone. That guy who you used to go to school with (yeah, the one who was such a geek), is now the CEO of a high-flying Internet company. Maybe he was looking for someone with your skills. Maybe he still is. It's not too late to connect back with him.

Keith Ferrazzi is the author of the best seller Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time. He describes his technique that for him at least, "quickly forges the kind of emotional connection through which trust, and lots of business, can soon follow." Keeping relationships going is difficult. Heck, it's hard even keeping track of where someone works that you don't see often.

LinkedIn is an online network of more than 30 million experienced professionals from around the world, representing 150 industries. LinkedIn’s simple philosophy is "Relationships Matter." And they do. For those relics like me, it's been a godsend because I have kept in contact with some folks I worked with thirty years ago. That would not have been possible even ten years ago, only because we have each moved on to several other companies, changed our addresses, phone numbers, hairstyles (and lack thereof), and e-mail addresses many times over. With a social networking tool like LinkedIn, that tracking is done for me. It will never replace real face time with folks in your network, but it can help track them down.

Of course there are hundreds of other social networking sites. Facebook, with 120 million active users, is still the most popular, followed by MySpace. Others such as Twitter,  Windows Live Spaces, Yahoo 360, Flickr, YouTube, Digg, etc. all have their places for socializing, sharing photos and ideas as well. And once you get your initial network established, the six degrees of separation theory kicks in pretty remarkably.

No, I don't work for LinkedIn or Facebook - but maybe you know someone who knows someone who does. And who knows, maybe they're hiring.