Content and services

Design and community portals

Community portals should be clean, simple, and easy to use. Jakob Nielsen, one of the top Web usability experts in the country, has a new column out on the importance of good, usable Web sites.

I see too many community portals that make the same mistakes Nielsen outlines.

  • Flash animations and splash pages that provide little or no information about what is on the site. Who wants to sit and wait while a pretty picture downloads over a dial-up line, only to have to click to a second page just to do anything? You may love that picture with the panoramic view of the mountains, but it's the wrong thing to put on your home page.
  • Overly complex menus and toolbars that offer too many choices to visitors. If you try to list every single thing in your town and every single organization on your home page, it overwhelms people and they often just move to another site.
  • Using Web designers who just want to use your money to design a "portfolio" site to help them get their next job. These sites are easy to spot because they are visually busy with lots of widgets, gimmicks, too many drop down and pop up menus, and other eye candy that makes it difficult to navigate.
  • Nielsen does not mention this, but I see this all the time--hiring novices to build the community portal. You would never have a junior in high school or a part time hobbyist design a fifty page, color book about your town, but when it comes to Web sites, it happens all the time, with predictable results. We saw the same thing in the early days of Pagemaker--suddenly everyone with a copy of Pagemaker was doing the company newsletter, with predictably ugly results. It's even worse with the Web, since you don't even need a copy of Pagemaker to claim you are an expert. When it comes to qualifications, "I did the site for Cub Scout Pack 238" is not adequate.

Your community portal is how the rest of the world learns about your community. You want to put your best foot forward, so that you attract Knowledge Economy businesses and entrepreneurs who will want your broadband and your great quality of life. If your community Web sites are the very best they can be, you are missing a lot of economic development prospects. Disclaimer: Design Nine helps communities design and develop high quality community and local government portals.

Cong. Boucher talks about the Induce Act

Congressman Rick Boucher (D, Virginia) represents southwest Virginia, including Blacksburg. Boucher is guest-hosting law professor Lawrence Lessig's blog this week, and there is a cogent and fascinating discussion of the Induce Act. The Induce Act would build on the already questionable DCMA law to make it more difficult (in theory) to pirate digital media.

Most spam sites are in China

The Register reports that China continues to be the world's primary source of spam Web sites--hosting the Web sites that show up in all that email spam. The U.S. continues to be the source of most email spam.

Is Google going to pop?

The San Francisco Chronicle is one of many papers covering the impending Google IPO. I've written extensively on Google, and I still expect the stock to be grossly overpriced, because Google is overrated. Not as a search service, but as a company. Google's two recent forays into other services, the controversial Gmail and the quickly aborted Friendster-style social software indicates that the company has much work to do. It is almost beyond belief that the company thought Gmail's instrusive scanning of private email would not cause protest, but apparently they did. Google's Friendster imitation lasted all of two weeks and disappeared quickly because of massive security holes, which indicates Google is not immune to a common disease in the IT industry--the "we don't need to test our software because we got it right the first time" syndrome.

Finally, Google does not have a monopoly on good results from a search engine. Try Gigablast. The Google IPO could encourage investors to free up cash to fuel innovation in the IT industry, which has been starved for cash since the dot-com bubble burst. That would be a good thing. But it could also set off a new round of fanciful businesses based on the same arrogance and hubris that created the last bubble.

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Gigablast: Better than Google?

Just as Google is finally going to sell stock to the public, yet another search engine, called Gigablast, has appeared, with a name that is at least partly a sly pun (google is a '1' with a hundred zeroes after it; 'giga' is a billion).

Gigablast appears to have a different set of algorithms than Google, and a few queries I tried seemed to offer slightly better results, with fewer extraneous hits. As always, competition is a good thing, especially with Google's strategy of late of trying to tie their own content to search results--not a good thing fr

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