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Post archive for October, 2009
October 28, 2009
Wordle may not be new, but it's new to me and I can't stop playing with it. Wordle is "... a toy for generating 'word clouds' from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text." For word-loving writerly types, Wordle is irresistible. Not only does it take your words and make them look pretty, it displays them in a way that reflects their importance.
Here's the word cloud Wordle generated when I input most of the content from our E-WRITE home page. I'm thrilled with it for a couple of reasons:
- The words writing and content are huge, and that's what E-WRITE is all about.
- The cloud gave me insights into underlying meanings or emphases in my text. I didn't realize that want, need, and needs figured prominently in my home page copy. I'll have to contemplate this discovery for a while to decide what to do. Should I edit these terms out or celebrate the fact that they show up so often?
Other cool uses of Wordle:
- Study a politician's speech. ReadWriteWeb offered Word Cloud Analysis of Obama's Inaugural Speech Compared to Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Lincoln's
- Present survey data. About a year ago, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press asked voters for one word that best described the candidates for president and vice president. Pew used Wordle to display the survey results. Here's the biggest Wordle word for each candidate: McCain - OLD, Obama and Palin - INEXPERIENCED, Biden - EXPERIENCED. Interesting word clouds, especially in light of the election results! Check out Pew's Wordle clouds at The Candidates: In a Word
-- Leslie O'Flahavan
P.S. Thanks to D. Kokinda for turning me on to Wordle!
October 27, 2009
This strident pop-up from my bank (note the huge exclamation point) has a simple message: Sandy Spring Bank is improving my ebiz reports. I'm happy. And they've provided me a nice little bulleted list of the four ways the new reports will be better than the old ones.
Now, most web users like to click buttons. When I'm offered a"Tell Me More" or a "Remind Me Later" button, I'm as likely to click as the next guy or gal. But don't invite me to do something when there's really nothing for me to do. [Click the screen shot to see it full-size.]
Instead of helping me dig deeper, these buttons raise all kinds of confusion in my mind:
- You offer to tell me more, but what more is there for you to tell me, Sandy Spring? I only want you to tell me more about the new reports if I have to take action in order to get them. Do I need to do something? If so, why aren't you telling me now?
- Remind me later? To do what? Again, if I need to do something, tell me now.
This pop-up begins by illuminating a new offering, but it ends by confusing me. And while I might forgive another site for an action button content glitch, I hold my bank to a higher standard. I'm banking online these days, and I want to be quite sure that my bank is solid, responsible, and credible. So I've got to say that these go-nowhere buttons—combined with the error-laden first sentence—are causing me to have a big question mark (not a green exclamation point) about my bank.
-- Leslie O'Flahavan
October 23, 2009
While updating our web writing courses, I've been scouring usability research to find new studies that apply to web writing. The findings from two separate research studies from the Software Usability Research Laboratory (SURL) at Wichita State University remind me that old web writing guidelines apply to new media—social networking sites. Both studies flagged common writing issues—confusing and unfamiliar terminology, and inadequate user feedback and error messages—as problems that harm usability.
- Usability Evaluation of Three Social Networking Sites. The study evaluated the usability of MySpace, Facebook, and Orkut. Users completed 10 tasks for each site, including adding new information to a profile, making a photo album, and changing notification options for messages. Users rated the difficulty of each task and their satisfaction with each site.
- Trick or Tweet: How Usable is Twitter for First-Time Users? Users performed eight tasks on Twitter, including creating an account, posting a tweet, and responding to a tweet. Users rated the ease of use and their satisfaction with the site.
Confusing and Unfamiliar Terminology
SURL researchers found that inconsistencies in link terminology resulted in users' failure to complete tasks. For example, My Space uses the Term “My Account” as a link. But clicking on the link brought up a page with the heading “Settings.”
Users were confused by unfamiliar terms. MySpace users clicked on “Photo Cube” expecting to make a photo album. They found that “Photo Cube” is a function that allows users to print photos. Twitter users were unclear about whether to use “Profile” or “Setting” to edit their information.
Not surprisingly, most new users “had difficulty learning the ‘language’ that was unique to Twitter.” What was the difference between followers and following? Users were confused about Twitter-unique terms such as “RT” (retweet) for reposting a message from another user, the use of @symbols to indicate usernames in tweets, and the use of hashtags (#) to indicate topic tags for messages.
Twitter language proved so confusing that users had very poor success rates in some tasks: Only 15.4% were successful in sending a message and only 38.5% were successful in replying to messages. Users concluded that Twitter was “complex and felt they would need to learn quite a bit before using it.” Participants reported that "they would not use the service often.”
Poor Feedback and Unhelpful Error Messages
Poor feedback and unhelpful error messages also contributed to the failure of social network users to complete tasks. MySpace provided a poor error message to users who forgot to give their photo albums a name. Twitter users often weren’t sure whether they had successfully completed a task such as sending a message. They were looking for feedback, a completion message or visual confirmation—an icon or a change in font color—to confirm their success.
Tips for Applying the Research to Your Writing
The studies’ usability findings are specific to social networking sites. But applying the recommendations to your writing will improve the usability and user satisfaction for both traditional and new media websites.
- Use terms consistently. Don’t change language mid-stream. For example, is “editing” a profile the same as “updating” a profile? If so, choose one term and use it throughout the site. Consistency is especially important for links because the repetition of link language assures users that they’ve landed on the correct page. If users click “My Account,” the landing page should be labeled “My Account” not ‘Setting.”
- Use plain and intuitive language. The link “print photos” is more intuitive than “photo cube.”
- Explain new terms. You may think a term is self-explanatory, but first-time users may not know your language: tweets, followers, following, photo cube, wall. Provide a brief explanation of terms when users encounter them or link to a glossary.
- Provide helpful feedback and useful error messages. Provide confirmation messages to users: “You have successfully added photos to your album.” Write error messages that explain why the user failed. “Your user name and password do not match” is more helpful than “login failed.”
-- Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)
October 21, 2009
The folks at Webcontent.gov really know how to celebrate World Usability Day, which falls this year on November 12, 2009. It won't be just another stale-donuts-in-the-conference-room party, no sirree. For this year's World Usability Day, Webcontent.gov has a great free offer for all you web managers and usability analysts:
Build your Plain Language skills and celebrate the sustaining power of Usability + Plain Language on Thursday, November 12, 2009 at this year’s World Usability Day!
- Sign up for a FREE “mini-consultation” by phone with a usability or plain language expert to improve your government webpage or document
- Register to attend a FREE in-person plain language training on Nov. 12 in Washington, DC near Union Station
- Use our Plain Language + Usability Resource Kit to conduct a World Usability Day activity at your agency
Register and find more information at World Usability Day 2009 on Webcontent.gov
With questions, contact Nicole Burton, Usability Specialist at email@example.com
October 13, 2009
Does the traditional press release format work in the world of 24-hour news, blogs, Facebook and Twitter? Many media professionals think the 100-year-old press release format is ineffective and obsolete. They're calling for a new approach. Read my companion post: The Social Media Press Release: A New Approach to the Old Problem of Getting Noticed.
Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Social Media Press Release (SMPR)
1. Think modular.
Whether you are using the template approach or a traditionally written press release enhanced with multimedia and social media elements, make sure each component or section of the release can stand alone.
2. Link, link, link.
Optimize links for search engine visibility. If your SMPR is being distributed by a news service, make sure to link back to a landing page or newsroom at your website. Include links to related information at other pages on your website. Link out to social bookmarking and social media sites, such as delicious, Digg, and Technorati.
3. Post content in multiple channels.
In addition to including multimedia elements in your SMPR, post components of your release to appropriate sites for increased search engine visibility. For example, post your videos on YouTube and your photos on Flickr.
4. Write your SMPR content for online readers. They scan rather than read word for word. Write short, use bulleted lists, and write message headings.
5. Use keywords to maximize search engine ranking.
Repeat the keywords in headlines, subheads, and in the text of the social media release.
6. Use visuals.
Include your logo, a headshot of your organization's CEO, maps and charts, and photos of products or services. Also include video. Videos don’t have to be professionally produced. YouTube-quality videos help reporters understand your product, and that helps them explain it to their readers.
7. Incorporate interactivity. Engage in a conversation with the media and customers by providing a way for them to comment or ask questions.
Social Media Press Release: Resources and Examples
- “Anatomy of the Social Media Press Release,”
a presentation delivered at the 2008 Public Relations Society of America conference, explains the concepts behind the SMPR and includes a good annotated sample.
- The National Restaurant Association lists its social media release going back to December 2008,including “Winners of 2009 Restaurant Neighbor Award for Outstanding Community Service“ and “Healthy Kids’ Meals, Local Produce, Mini Desserts Among Hottest Menu Trends for 2009.”
- The 2008 GovGab SMPR announced the first birthday of GovGab, the U.S. government blog. The multimedia elements in this SMPR include audio, commenting, photos of the GovGab bloggers, and links to their bios.
- “Second Life Reforestation Project Qualifies as a Finalist in American Express Members Project,” distributed by RealWire, is a good example of an SMPR that uses the full gamut of social media elements, including video, tags, and commenting.
- Dupont’s release on Nomex® On Demand™ , fiber technology that protects firefighters, is a good example of a wire service traditional release enhanced with multimedia elements, including a YouTube video that shows how Nomex® On Demand™ actually works.
-- Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)
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