Category Archives: Usability

Quick Group RSS Feeds With Publi.sh

PublishI've talked before about how useful blogs/wikis are in managing a team or small business because they serve as a central information point to stop endless emails. Publi.sh offers a (faster/easier?) alternative to a blog for sharing information that's only relevant for short periods of time, without the hassle of culling old posts. 

Publi.sh helps you create 'disposible feeds for personal and group use' that can be read through any RSS reader (like netvibes, Bloglines etc) and added to by sending in an email, or using a bookmark link.

The major benefit in using Publi.sh over a blog for time-based information sharing is it's disposible nature (if no one accesses a feed for 14 days it's wiped, so you don't end up with mountains of useless information). It's super simple, feature poor (no comments, archives etc) and performs the function of sharing information quickly and easily, without the hassle of having to manage archives and delete out-of-date information (you can only access the last 15 posts, all older ones are deleted).

Publi.sh obviously has a very specific use, but if you have that specific need, it could be just what you're after.

Pamela – Your Virtual Personal Assistant for Skype

PamealEver wanted a PA? Now you can have one, without the costs of paying a real person. Pamela is a Skype addon who does nifty things like auto reply to anyone who messages you on Skype while you're away, offers a Skype answering machine service and advises people that you are on another call when you are ('she' even changes your skype status as soon as you connect to a call). The basic version is free, and professional version, with many added features and lifetime upgrades is a one time payment (I think) of $US21.50 – with a 30 day free trial.

The upcoming 2.0 versdion of Pamela includes:

  • Automatic Birthday Notifications, never forget your Skype friends' birthday
  • Built in language editor
  • Full Skype video recording (with option to video-blog)
  • VideoMail (can leave a video message)
  • Support for Skype VoiceMail system (record SkypeVMs too)
  • Local Skype Chat Recorder
  • After recording, send recorded call or custom recording directly via email
  • Enhanced email forwarding and personalisation functions
  • All the good stuff that's already in there

If you're like me; reeling in disgust at the sheer sterotypical nature of a PA system based on a female called Pamela, you can rest easy, because the site assures me Pamela and Skype go a long way back – it's a pure accident we happen to have a history of females in PA/secretary roles :)

 

Manage Your RSS Feeds to Just Get the Bits you Want

If you're like me and have heaps of RSS feeds to get through every day and not enough time to actually do it, FeedBlendr and Feed Rinse are here to help.

Feedblendr

 "We'll grab your feeds, blend them up into a thick, tasty 'river of news' smoothie, and give you a single URL where you can subscribe to them all at once."

Simply type in the URLs of up to three feeds (like your 3 top competitors, 3 best news sites…) and FeedBlendr will roll them all up into one at the click of a button. You now have less feeds in total, but there is still a lot of stuff in there that you're not really interested in. Enter Feed Rinse

Feed Rinse

 "If you've got unruly RSS feeds, we've got your backFeed Rinse is an easy to use tool that lets you automatically filter out syndicated content that you aren't interested in. It's like a spam filter for your RSS subscriptions."

So even though you may love Decisive Flow's posts about small business marketing, you may hate all our ramblings about small business tools. So you just filter out those keywords and entire posts disappear from your feed.

 

Feed Rinse Process

 

 Both these tools are super simple and beautiful as well, so if you can master RSS feeds, you will fly through the process of blending and rinsing them :)

Organisational Tools to Help you and Your Business

The name 37Signals is so widely recognised in the web community that it seems a waste to bother mentioning it at all, that is why I've held off. However, with great fame comes great 'attacks' and there are a lot of people out there who think 37Signals products should be directly copied and flogged off for free, just because it's possible. I'm not too sure what products they mean, because virtually everything they have produced, aside from their unrivaled project management system, has got competition, it's just that 37Signals do a lot of things better.

Doing things Differently 

BackpackStikipad

 

 

 

While I was looking around wikis a while back (we are yet to settle on one, or decide to stick with Writely for our 'intranet'), I came across Stikipad. I signed up for a free account and really enjoyed the to do lists, discussions and ease of use. Tim said 'this is kind of like Backpack', and sure enough, a lot of people shared this thought. What made me go from liking this product, to really loving it, was that Stikipad tackles the same organisation problems as Backpack does, but it does things differently. In an area where it seems to be more about jumping on the bandwagon and following a leader, it's nice to see two awsome tools for the same problem, but with different ways of attacking it.

I must admit that it's been a while since I looked at Backpack, so the features may have raced ahead, but from the looks of the Stikipad website, they're no snails either.  If you want to organise, collaborate,  plan, and stay on top of what you're doing, suss them both out and see which one is best for you.

 

Blogs and Wikis form A Management Duo

In ‘Using Blogs and Wikis to Ease Administration’, Linux Journal paints this flexible duo in a slightly new light. For small businesses, the two working in parallel are an effective, cheap (if not massively hyped) way of achieving your document management goals:

  • Make it easy for you and your coworkers to find relevant information.

  • Make it easy for new employees to come up to speed quickly.

  • Make it easy to create, edit and retire documentation.

  • Keep revisions of changes and who made them.

  • Limit who sees or edits the documentation with an authentication system.

Using Wikis and Blogs to Ease Administration

 

Wikis 

Can be used as a formal intranet, however, their biggest weakness is the very flexibility that makes them so powerful.

A good wiki needs a solid structure, this isn’t an inherent feature of a wiki but something that is created by each company. If a structure isn’t created or adhered to, wikis quickly become hard to navigate and bloated, leaving a messy, unusable intranet.

Because creating content is so easy, it’s not treated seriously. Unreadable typing and long waffly statements need to be edited out, but unless this practise is strictly inforced, the wiki winds up being the hardest place to get quick, simple information. Good documents are short documents.

Cleaning up your document and information system.

 It is a good idea to run an informal documentation system alongside your main intranet. This keeps the intranet confined to serious, well written documentation that is easy to navigate and extract information out of.

Blogs

To keep your wiki clean, it’s a good idea to keep short term relevent information out. Traditionally, it’s just emailed instead, but using a blog is just so much better.

Most businesses send an email around about the latest joke, news, updates, whos on leave or company get-togethers. This clutters inboxes like nothing else, disrupts workflows and offers no central place for discussion. A blog answers all these problems and so many more.

These two tools seem to lie well away from all the glitz and glamour of the ‘web 2.0 office suite’, but offer some serious goods. As always, contact us if you think it sounds like you, but just aren’t quite convinced ;)

 

 

Wet Paint – Small Business Intranet?

Some tech savvy companies have been using wikis as an intranet solution for years. Wikis are a form of very fast and simple collaborative website that enable (among other things) businesses to communially build, manage and link together their internal information. In the past, widespread use of wikis as intranets has been restricted by a few minor usability issues, mainly the small but vital amount of technological knowedge still required to update content.

Wet Paint 

Wet Paint Wet Paint removes the technological barrier by being at least as easy to use as Microsoft Word. Wet Paint is so user friendly, their detailed (but short) demo should fully equip you to get started. Wet Paint claims to be the ‘new Generation of Wiki’ and it certainly contains the all important web 2.0 features such as tagging, simplicity and speed that make creating and sharing information just that much easier.

The Downfall 

Wet Paint is still in ‘testing’ stage, so you’re in for a wait. Because it’s still so early, the information on their website is hardly complete, it’s therefore difficult to figure out their plans for hosting, charging and running their wiki service. Here’s hoping they aren’t restricting the service to wide open community sites and will have a secure option.

UPDATE 

JotspotAlso look at JotSpot, which didn’t immediately blow me away with its beauty, but on second glance looks really good. It has the added benefits of being up and running  and tailored to intranets :)

 

The Difference Between a Good Website and a Bad Website

Sometimes it’s hard to convince small businesses to upgrade their website, all they see is $$ signs – more money going out on something they can’t touch, see or really understand.

That is our legacy after years of creating online brochures for businesses that achieved very little, other than (hopefully) looking better than the competition’s online brochures. We now need to reverse the thinking of the first generation web and turn the $$ signs associated with a website from money going out to money coming in.

We aim for our customer’s websites to pay themselves off as quickly as possible. We do this by thinking about a website as the backbone of a small businesses marketing strategy, it’s not there to look good or cover the need ‘to have a website’, it’s there to generate new business. Our customers know how many new visitors they are getting, where they are getting them from and how many end up becoming a customer. If a customer notices a decline in action or newsletter signups, we get onto it, because the website we created is only good as long as it’s generating new business.

A lot of people talk about websites being your ’24/7 sales person’. Unfortunately, a lot of old websites aren’t selling a thing and this kinda makes web designers look like used car salesmen ‘I know that one didn’t work, but spend a bit more…’. Small business owners are savvy, they know when someones trying to take money for nothing and they see when someones offering them value and until they see the latter, their ‘current website’s just fine thanks.’.

 

Small Business Collaboration with Joyent

Joynet Collaboration "Joyent offers simple, powerful, web-based software that provides small teams with email, calendars, contacts, and shared applications." Combine it with online storage service they bought and you’ve got a really nice group collaboration suite.

 

Whats Really Cool About Joyent

Tagging and Smart Groups

You can tag every email, file, calendar event and contact with keywords that are shared accross all applications. This not only makers for easy searching,  things with the same tags also form ‘smart groups’ – "A smart group is a dynamically-updated collection of items". Smart groups can be viewed from within each application (all emails related to ‘Our new website’), or even better, from the front page, you can create a smart view of everything with a particular keyword.

Joyent Moulds to fit you without adding optional extras. 

Software should really be the bare bones of capability that enables you use it in whatever way you like. Joyent doesn’t have a ‘meeting creator’, or a ‘resource booking system’, but combine the basic tools and tagging system and you have the flexibility to cover these aspects of running a business if you need them. "If a customer can’t use and extend the software to fit exactly her organization’s goals, we aren’t doing our job."

Joyent is based on Open Source Software

"Open-source software allows companies like Joyent to move quickly to provide our customers great solutions at amazing price points."

Writing your Informal Blog Doesn’t Mean Slacking off on Writing Formalities

I want to say now that although I talk a bit about writing well on the web, I am no expert and do not always practise what I preach. Last night I listened in on a teachers course in english grammer and most of the terms sounded like they were from an alien language. It appears that the learning of good language skills left schools at the same time as corporal punishment, grammer is now a university level subject and even then we fail dismally.

One Simple Rule For Improving Your Writing is actually a critique on another article about improving your writing, but I think it is far more realistic about how we should use commas, full stops and other nifty little grammer devices – The advice: don’t try to be perfect, just try to be a little better. This may all sound too simple, but even in my uneducated state, I still am overwhelmed by how many basic, basic english language skills a lot of business people are lacking.

The reason all this is so important

In the real-time world that is the internet, we forget that fast content still has to be good content. Improve your writing skills a little and you may notice a massive increase in the amount of people who return to your site.