352 Part III: Designing Sites for Long-Term Sucess

352 Part III: Designing Sites for Long-Term Sucess have different budgets, technical concerns, human resource limitations, and so on. As with everything in web design, making good decisions means researching the options and weighing the various factors prior to jumping into any commitment. Many of the techniques used in this chapter have crossover with marketing and promotions, because they provide visitor tracking and other means of determining user behavior. In the following chapter, Improving Site Ranking and Managing Promotions, you ll learn more about how to take such information and use it in the best interest of your web site and your audiences.

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Chapter 13: Keeping Sites Fresh and

Chapter 13: Keeping Sites Fresh and Engaging 351 Figure 13-16: Sites display a flag of some sort if they offer syndication. Within a short time, about nine different RSS formats emerged from different vendors, making it difficult to figure out which is best to use. You may have also heard the term Resource Description Format (RDF), a more formal XML language being developed at the W3C. RDF, as all aggregation technologies, is very concerned with metadata and how to use that to connect people to information and vice-versa. Atom is an emerging next-generation format for content syndication and additional features, such as creating and editing posts. Its goal is to provide a more stable, standardized platform for aggregation and offer developers more choice and flexibility than in RSS. Fortunately, many weblogging tools generate more than one form of RSS, including Atom, and you can manually create RSS and Atom documents, too. note To learn more about RSS, see Mark Pilgrim s What is RSS? article at http://www.xml.com/pub/a/2002/12/18/dive-into-xml.html. The RDF specification is available at http://www.w3.org/RDF/. Information for Atom, including developer tutorials, is published at http://www.atomenabled.org/. Summary Keeping your sites fresh and engaging can be as simple as adding a bit of script and a fresh image at timely intervals, or as complex as adding advanced registration and personalization software. Certainly, each site with which you are involved will

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350 Part III: Designing Sites for Long-Term Sucess

350 Part III: Designing Sites for Long-Term Sucess Table 13-4: Strategies for Adding Search Strategy Description Homegrown scripting You can find search scripts in just about every application language known to the web: Perl, PHP, Python, and ASP.NET. You can then implement these into your web site on your own as is, or modify them to your needs. This is typically the least expensive way to go; it provides the opportunity to customize features, but it also requires program-savvy folks to implement and test the scripts. Professional Search Application Software A wide range of professional search engines and support is available from familiar companies such as Google. These solutions can be expensive but can be far easier to implement and support as a result of the increased support available via the company you contract or purchase your search product from. Professional Web Search Service Provision In this scenario, you contract with a search service (Atomz, at http://www.atomz.com/, is a good example), and that service provides you with the code necessary to manage your search. Then, instead of installing software on your own servers, your service provision company handles everything. So, you get a very rich featured search for a reasonable price. This is an excellent choice for mid-range sites. Downsides include limitations in modifying templates to work seamlessly within your site. This will depend upon the provider you choose. Custom search programming If you have very detailed needs and are working on specialty documents such as within a medical intranet or other institutional setting, having custom search in place may be more effective than commercial search solutions for such a site. In custom programming, the most important choice is the programmer or team that you put together or hire to accomplish the goal. The search requirements must be clearly organized and planned, giving the programmers as much to work with as possible going in. If you have the human resources, this could be a very good option for you. If you have to outsource, it could be an added expense and other alternatives might accomplish your needs more effectively. Many sites have little buttons or syndication comments (see an example in Figure 13-16) indicating the availability of syndication. note Syndication formats are almost always automatically generated by a weblogging tool or related scripting process, and are rarely authored by hand. All major weblogging tools contain some method to aggregate content. Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary (RSS for either) are terms used to describe a number of XML-related aggregation technology versions that grew out of a project at Netscape geared to manage news headlines for portal web sites.

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Chapter 13: Keeping Sites Fresh and

Chapter 13: Keeping Sites Fresh and Engaging 349 (always helpful for aging eyes). This is also an important feature for accessibility, and is in use on many web sites. Switching styles with CSS is a fairly easy process once you ve got all the pieces in order. Style switching requires the following: A contemporary web browser with CSS, JavaScript, and cookies turned on A basic style sheet for the page s design Additional, alternate style sheets A style switching script Of course, because this technique requires JavaScript, your site visitors will have to have JavaScript enabled on their browsers to tap into the switch. If they do not, it will not interfere with your site s performance; visitors simply won t be able to use the feature. note To learn how to implement style switching, see Chapter 8, Style Tips for Type and Design. There are also server-side alternatives to JavaScript style switching, including PHP alternatives. You may wish to consider alternatives if you have a high frequency of people visiting your site without JavaScript. Secret #228: Add Search Technology As sites begin to grow, search becomes imperative. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to add search to a site. Table 13-4 describes some of the most common ways to add search. note To learn more about search, what you should look for, and some ideas to implement it, see Avi Rappoport s Implementing Effective Site Search from a presentation at the WEB2001 conference, at http://www.searchtools. com/slides/web2001sf/. Search and usability are two concepts that go great together. Many usability leaders scrutinize search because it is an extremely important feature for most web site visitors. Nielsen Norman Group offers a report, E-Commerce User Experience: Design Guidelines for Search for $45.00 USD, available for download from http://www.nngroup.com/reports/ecommerce/ search.html. 37signals offers an Ecommerce Search Report as well, at http://37signals.com/report-search-0103.php. Secret #229: Aggregate Content Content aggregation is a means of using XML-based technology to easily send your updated content across the wire and into the newsfeeds and newsreader software of those individuals who have signed up to receive your content.

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Chapter 13: Keeping Sites Fresh and

Chapter 13: Keeping Sites Fresh and Engaging 347 Figure 13-13: Clever Google logos refresh the page style according to the time of year. Regularly refreshing some aspect of your web site keeps the look fresh, can be amusing and enjoyable for your site visitors, and is simple to implement, because you re only changing one or two visual pieces of the site at a time. Secret #227: Style Sheet Switching for Customization Style switching using CSS and JavaScript is not only a fun way to add interactivity to your site, but very practical. If you ve ever wanted to give your site visitors a little more control over the way they view a site without spending big money on personalization software, as well as offer techniques that make the site more usable and accessible, this technique might just do the trick. Switching styles is a common practice used by many web designers who offer site visitors a preselected default style. Then, the site visitor can choose a style once there, giving the site a different presentation, and a cookie can be implemented to keep the user preference until he or she changes it (refer to Figures 13-14 and 13-15). This technique is as practical as it is fun. Not only does it provide an enjoyable, enhanced experience for the site visitor, but it can allow you to provide versions of the site that suit different audience needs, such as a high-contrast version for those with vision impairments, or, if your site s layout is all CSS-based, you can provide an alternate design for browsers that do not support CSS, allowing site visitors to get a better visual experience on their terms. In a similar vein, the style-switching technique can be used to create text-size switching effects. For example, if your site uses small or normal text sizing, you might want to allow your visitor a one-click option to make their text size larger

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346 Part III: Designing Sites for Long-Term Sucess

346 Part III: Designing Sites for Long-Term Sucess And as with discussion forum software, chat software is available in a wide variety. However, because chat is as close to real time as it gets, chat services generally demand more technical resources than discussion forums. So, while you can find free or low-cost options all around the web, high-volume situations will typically require specialized servers and more complex software integration with your site to provide the best service possible. That can get expensive. If you do determine that chat is a feature you feel would be appropriate for your site, the next thing to determine is the features you want both for your users and from an administrative standpoint. Some considerations for features your site visitors might benefit from include the following: Public chat rooms Ability to make private chat rooms Ability to send personal messages (as with IM) Ability to send files Ability to embed links Ability to block other members From the administrator s point of view, the more control you can provide any community manager via your chat software, the better. Administrators and community managers need to be able to restrict a member, ban a member, create rooms, and delete rooms. So, you ll want to look for rich features, balancing that with the realities of budget and appropriateness of chat for your site. note Learn more about web-based chat software and enjoy helpful articles that can assist you in determining whether chat is for your site, and if so, which application might be best at http://webdesign.about.com/cs/ chatsoftware/. Secret #226: Refresh Your Page Style Regularly Every few months or so I become completely unhappy with my web site. So, I redesign it. For a personal site where it s natural to experiment with technology and layout, it s fine to completely redesign your web site with some regularity. However, while complete redesigns are essential from time to time, in this case I monly talking about adding aspects to your page that are visually fresh. note For more information on when to implement redesigns, see Chapter 15, Dealing with Growth and Redesigns. An excellent example of refreshing visual style occurs with certain portal sites such as Google and Yahoo! who change their main logos based on seasonal events. For example, on Valentine s Day a special Google Valentine logo is created and used for the duration of the day. Similar restyling occurs at Halloween, Christmas, New Years, Easter, and the Fourth of July in the U.S. (see Figure 13-13).

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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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