Chapter 13: Keeping Sites Fresh and

Chapter 13: Keeping Sites Fresh and Engaging 345 Figure 13-11: Using PHPBB, a popular and inexpensive means to add forums. Figure 13-12: Using web-based chat. Another area where chat is coming into play is via Peer to Peer (P2P) and related technologies. You ll be most familiar with this via your Instant Messaging (IM) program such as AOL AIM, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo! Messenger. All of the popular IM clients have chat software that can be used for group chats. Multisystem messaging software such as Trillian (http://www.ceruleanstudios.com) offers clean interfaces for chat across peer networks. As with IRC, this form of chat is free or very low cost depending upon the software you are using.

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344 Part III: Designing Sites for Long-Term Sucess

344 Part III: Designing Sites for Long-Term Sucess Table 13-3: Site Types that Can Benefit from Discussion forums Site Type Forum Use Gaming site Users share game strategies and game cracks to help them solve specific issues in their playing, and find other gamers to challenge. Gaming forums are some of the most actively used on the web. Software development company site Support forums can be an excellent means of getting fast, helpful support for technical and other problems related to software. These forums can be public, allowing anyone to post their problems and responses in a communal fashion, or they can be restricted. Restricted forums would be for posting technical problems and awaiting a designated moderator s answer. Some companies use both options at the same time, largely because community support tends to be faster and sometimes even more reliable. Health support group site Community forums that allow people to share their health-related challenges can be an extremely helpful and humanitarian offering, allowing people who might otherwise be unable to attend live support groups to find information and get help. The American Cancer Society and Alcoholics Anonymous are two organization examples that offer support forums to extend their message and to provide a real service via the forum support. Job search site Forums on a job search site can be helpful for jobseekers to exchange strategies, successes, and experiences with various companies. Special interest web sites There are thousands of special interest groups. There are coin collectors, art collectors, and wine collectors. There are senior knitters, male knitters, and even gay knitting groups. If you can think of an interest, certainly there are interesting people pursuing that interest online. A wine site can offer forums for its visitors to discuss wines, and a site specializing in excellent quality and choice wool and supplies could benefit from a forum on their site, helping develop brand loyalty as well as community strength. forum: for feedback, customer service support, special interests, and support group meetings (see Figure 13-12). note A resurgence of interest in Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is occurring. IRC is an extremely useful, multiplatform Internet protocol that has been around longer than the web. Depending upon the software you use to access it, it can be extremely easy to use and is completely free. For more information on IRC including FAQs, beginner s guides, operator guides, and links to useful software, go to http://www.irchelp.org/.

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Chapter 13: Keeping Sites Fresh and

Chapter 13: Keeping Sites Fresh and Engaging 343 The style and frequency of your polls are important considerations. Here are some tips to help you write great polls: Be sure your question is written in a clear way. Avoid double negatives in your poll answer; this can confuse readers. Avoid using incomplete sentences. Avoid jargon and local sayings if you have a widespread, international, multilingual audience. Answer choices should be approximately the same length. Have at least 3 answers and at most 7. A happy medium is 5. note For an excellent tutorial on polls, see Creating Online Polls by Joseph Gannon, at http://www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/usability/ library/us-polls/. Secret #224: Add Discussion Groups Another great way to provide helpful services for your site visitors as well as keep your site actively generating new content is to have discussion groups, also referred to as forums. As with commenting, forums can attract the folks you don t want as much as the ones you do. So before even considering forums for your site, assess whether you have the human resources available to manage and moderate. Table 13-3 describes some situations where forums can be very useful. Adding a forum to your site can be technically quite easy, as many solutions for forums exist, spanning the range of technologies and pricing. Open source solutions, such as those built with PHP or Perl, are often free or very low cost. Numerous ASP.NET scripts and services are available for free or low cost, too (see Figure 13-11). Some service providers also offer forum software already installed and ready to go, there are pre-packaged software products for forums, and you can custom-build forums for your specific needs using a range of application languages including PHP, Perl, .NET, and Java. note An excellent, independent listing of forum software and services is available at http://www.thinkofit.com/webconf/forumsoft.htm. The site also contains related tutorials, articles, and product reviews. Secret #225: Use Web-based Chat As with discussion forums, chat can be used to extend a hand to your community and create a longer lasting relationship with them as a result. The scenarios where you might wish to use chat are very similar to those where you dhave a discussion

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342 Part III: Designing Sites for Long-Term Sucess

342 Part III: Designing Sites for Long-Term Sucess Figure 13-9: Polls seem to be a popular interactive addition to a site. This poll on blogging has 124 responses. Figure 13-10: Comments tend to be less anonymous and require more interaction. The corresponding post on blogging has 20 comments, almost 1/6 of the participation of the poll.

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Chapter 13: Keeping Sites Fresh and

Chapter 13: Keeping Sites Fresh and Engaging 341 Cookies can be used for a number of beneficial purposes along with tracking, including the following: Keep login information recorded on the user s local machine for future automatic login. Record any preferences the site user might have set, such as choosing a text size or color for the site if they are being offered. Restrict access on one-time events such as polls or contests. Add a personal message. Track purchases within a shopping cart. Cookies are controversial because they track personal information, but while there s a dark side to them, they can be extraordinarily useful. What s more, you can set it up so the user is aware that a cookie is being offered, and they can choose to not use it, giving them more control over their level of participation on your site. note Cookies are built using a number of technologies, including JavaScript. For a comprehensive look at cookies, the controversy and concerns about them, a commonly used JavaScript cookie resource, and additional links can be found at Cookie Central, http://www.cookiecentral.com/. Secret #223: The Power of Polls Some months ago I added a poll to my web site, and I was blown away by the increase in activity to the site as well as the number of people who were taking the poll in comparison to doing other activities on the site. I suppose I shouldn t have been so surprised because polls are hugely popular all around the web. Entire sites are dedicated to building and displaying polls, and numerous freeware, shareware, and low-cost technologies are available to implement them on your site. note Quizilla is a web site that allows registered members to create quizzes and polls of their own as well as take them. Visit Quizilla at http:// quizilla.com/. Typically, you ll want your polls to be relevant to the nature of the site. If you re building a financial site, for example, you might create polls that focus on the way users might be saving (or not saving) money, investment habits, and concerns about financial news. Polls can also help you create a better relationship with your users by asking them direct questions about what they dlike to see on the web site or which features they like or dislike. Why people are so fascinated with polls is a bit of a mystery, but it may have something to do with the ability to interact anonymously with a site and still see where you fit into the greater picture. What s more, voting in a poll only takes a few clicks at most, whereas comments must be composed. I compared comments on my site to a poll on the same subject, and the poll had been answered a total of 124 times (see Figure 13-9), whereas only 20 comments were entered (see Figure 13-10).

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340 Part III: Designing Sites for Long-Term Sucess

340 Part III: Designing Sites for Long-Term Sucess Table 13-2: Different Site Types and Potential Benefits of Offering Registration Site Scenario Benefits of Registration Political party registration The ability to register online with your political party can allow you to access to news, features, private planning and discussion forums, and, eventually, you might even be able to vote via the safety and comfort of your own home. Intranets for government and industry An intranet might require access from workers in the field. This allows private, protected communication for intranet users, especially if the intranet is framed within a public web site. Through registration, authorized users can have access to the site features that others cannot. Dating web site Typically, these sites offer some level of privacy and anonymity to their users, but with known registrants a company can provide additional, more accurately targeted resources and services. Product support forum Forums tend to be potential problem areas due to angry customers and poor online etiquette. Registration can help you filter out those individuals looking for a quicker fix, and provide better response to those users who have legitimate product support needs. Online software registration By registering purchased software via vendor web sites, better service can be provided for the customer. You can track purchases, ship dates, downloads and offer opt-in newsletters or updates at the registrant s discretion. Another concern is poorly designed registration and login interfaces. Janice Fraser at AdaptivePath has designed an excellent for-pay report, including templates and samples to address this issue successfully. Find this report at http://www.adaptivepath.com/publications/reports/ registration/. Secret #222: Consider Cookies to Track Usage A simpler way to track user behavior on your site is to use a cookie. Cookies are generated in a number of ways but are stored on the user s machine. They are saved by the browser and sent back to the server when the site visitor returns. Tracking your visitors means you can keep your site fresh and engaging by focusing on the specific documents they are requesting, what they are doing on your site, and how they are doing it. You can then target your newest content and information very specifically.

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Chapter 13: Keeping Sites Fresh and

Chapter 13: Keeping Sites Fresh and Engaging 339 Figure 13-8: Comment spam is an unfortunate problem. Here, you see a portion of known comment spammers from my Movable Type blacklist, which currently contains 853 entries. However, site registration isn t just for e-commerce and may be of benefit in your situation. Benefits include the following: You can more readily track the behavior of registered site users where they go, what they buy, which newsletters they opt for, and so on. This is invaluable demographic information that can be put to market research use to improve your site s bottom line. You can make it easier to customize features for your visitors, offering them personalized services once they are registered, such as credit card and personal information management, purchase or service tracking, and a range of personalized services. Some companies increase profit by reselling their registered user lists to e-mail and direct mail marketers. While this is a practice that is often frowned upon, the ethical question can be avoided by clearly offering registrants the ability to choose whether they go on the list or not. Along with e-commerce sites, there are other scenarios where registration can be effective or even necessary. Table 13-2 provides some insight. note Many people do not want their privacy invaded in any way, which is completely understandable and should be respected. This is why offering the option to register on most sites is considered the ethical thing to do. Consider if registration can benefit your site, and if you see that it cannot, or the risk of turning off your particular audience is high, don t offer site registration.

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338 Part III: Designing Sites for Long-Term Sucess

338 Part III: Designing Sites for Long-Term Sucess Figure 13-7: Comments in response to designer Doug Bowman s post about women in web design created great discourse as well as long-lasting, important content. There are some significant downsides to comment systems. Be sure to consider the following: Comment systems can be abused by angry customers or people who just want a soapbox, so in professional situations they must be monitored. This means human resources, which translates to financial cost. Comment systems can generate more content and use more bandwidth and space than you might wish to manage. Even though your publishing software will handle archiving of your comments, if you have a lot of feedback, you may want to restrict or eliminate comments altogether to avoid overhead. Comment systems are highly vulnerable to spam (refer to Figure 13-8). This recent, disturbing trend involves companies sending URLs to your comments. As you can imagine, this can be not only a maintenance concern but embarrassing to boot. Fortunately, there are a growing number of ways in which to reduce or eliminate comment spam from your comment system. Still, the problem is a serious one and requires careful consideration. Secret #221: Offer Site Registration Offer site visitors the opportunity to register at the site under a unique name and password. This is used a great deal for e-commerce sites where registrants can access private and secure information and receive updates and promotions directly.

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Chapter 13: Keeping Sites Fresh and

Chapter 13: Keeping Sites Fresh and Engaging 337 Automatic aggregation (discussed later in this chapter) in pro weblogging software allows you to distribute your content to newsreaders using contemporary aggregation technology. This brings your message to those people who want it which not only keeps people up-to-date with your site, but also allows you to reach new visitors via weblog portals and related networks. note If you re never going to have the resources to keep it updated, don t include a weblog. If you aren t sure, don t make it a primary feature. Keeping up-to-date news and related content on a weblog takes time and resources. There s nothing like getting to a site that looks great only to find that the last weblog entry was six months ago. Professional quality weblogging software can be used to achieve many of these features. It simportant to realize that some of the hobby-related software available, such as Blogger, may be suitable for simple needs but does not typically provide the advanced features in the professional software now available. note Movable Type (http://www.movabletype.org/) is my personal favorite professional-level blogging software. I ve used it on personal as well as professional weblogs. Another very good choice is Greymatter, a completely free, open-source blogging system by Noah Grey. Find it at http://www.noahgrey.com/ greysoft/. An upcoming contender is WordPress (http://www.wordpress.org/), which offers a lot of features and easy installation, as well as more robust support for social software. Take a look at additional weblogging software on Yahoo!, at http://dir .yahoo.com/Computers-and-Internet/Internet/World-Wide- Web/Weblogs/Software/. Secret #220: Consider Weblog Commenting Systems No matter which blogging system you choose to use, a commenting system is something you can consider adding. In all professional systems, comment systems allow site visitors to respond directly to your weblog entries. There are, of course, some significant pros and cons to weigh prior to making the choice whether to comment or not. On the upside, comment systems can assist you to keep site content fresh in the following ways: Allowing others to post comments. This boosts the amount of site content available to your visitors. Comment posting can spawn discussions, increasing the content even more and potentially making it very engaging and interactive (see Figure 13-7). Comments offer a unique means of personal feedback for site visitors, far warmer than a contact form or e-mail link.

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336 Part III: Designing Sites for Long-Term Sucess

336 Part III: Designing Sites for Long-Term Sucess Figure 13-5: Personal weblogs keep sites engaging. Figure 13-6: John Kerry s weblog offers news, a comment system, and other features. Automatic and multiple-option archiving within most pro weblogging software effectively expands the content on your site by keeping your entries, articles, and comments according to your preferences, and in more ways than one. For example, you can archive by day, week, month, category, custom archive type, or any combination thereof.

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