Saturday, August 30, 2008

Web 2.0, Creating a Culture Change

Social software, the platform for Web 2.0 is growing at a rate of 43% per year. Forrester predicts that $4.5 billion will be spent by 2013, and the business executives are scrambling to understand what it is and its significance in the workplace and our culture.

The term Web 2.0 was coined by Tim O’Reilly. “Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as a platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform.”

That definition leaves a lot up for interpretation. At DC Web Designers we believe Web 2.0 to be a platform that allows users to benefit and participate in the sharing of ideas, building communities, and a faster method of retrieving information. Users do so through websites offering social networking, web-based communities and forums, wikis, blogs, etc. This “collective intelligence” is structuring what was unstructured and fragmented information spread throughout the web.

We aren’t witnessing a huge technology breakthrough with Web 2.0. Most of the functionality that drives Web 2.0 has been seen for a decade. It is how people are using the technology, and how they are interacting is what changed. The more web sites embrace empowering their users, the more successful they are. Web 2.0 offers freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly. The sites restricting these basic democratic rights are losing because offering the ability to group masses of likeminded people are creating smarter systems and process than anyone person could ever achieve.

Business owners who feared unmonitored masses communicating within their web space are seeing shocking results from community based sites who embraced it. You can see examples of this through the Wiki phenomenon. Wiki, is a page or collection of Web pages designed to enable anyone who accesses it to contribute or modify content (taken directly from Wikipedia). To most business owners, this philosophy seems like it would foster destructive and useless input, however we have seen that the community of users catch malicious content and correct it.
We are witnessing a culture change on a global level. The behaviors of Internet users are creeping into the workplace, promoting positive change.

Whether it is on the Internet or in a board meeting, organizations that are empowering employees are finding work forces that are optimistic, engage in debate and collaboration, and create high-trust transparent working relationships. The effect of Web 2.0 is a global change in behavior. People are fearless and are willing to engage with co-workers, customers, vendors, and executives to find solutions and create systems that are for the good of the whole.
Web 2.0 behaviors can be leveraged within the enterprise for more efficient knowledge collaboration. For instance, Web 2.0 communities can be used for new product feedback, which shortens product development time. Targeted blogging can influence public opinion about your organization’s brand and image. Semantic tagging can increase the navigation of informational searching.

According to the Forrester paper Social Computing Dresses Up For Business, enterprise Web 2.0 can improve five important business activities:

- Content creation and publishing
- Team co-ordination
- Proactive information delivery
- Information location
- Communities of interest

What will Web 3.0 bring? As the business owner of an Internet Solution Provide company, I can’t make guarantees. Still, I see a continuation of Web 2.0 technologies being leveraged with current practices such as polling, user profiling, data mining and Artificial Intelligence.

To learn more about Web 2.0 innovations such as blogging, discussion boards, RSS, and Wiki, please call DC Web Designers at 410-750-6499.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Preparing Your Company For A Website Project

Your website project will require you to do some upfront work in order to be armed with the necessary tools to execute a smooth project process.

Your responsibility starts with understanding the purpose of your website. Is your website used as a sales tool, an information resource, an online store…etc? Once you understand the purpose, we can begin working on the strategy and identify the elements to bring it to fruition.

Since each project is unique, and preparation will vary, we’ll stick to the basics.

  1. Understand the services – It is important that you and your organization get a clear understanding of our services. We will certainly do our best to educate you during our initial conversations, but you’ll need to make a conscious effort to understand the depth and scope of the services we offer. In addition, by understanding our services, you’ll feel more comfortable speaking with us regarding our recommendations, and how they apply to your organization.
  2. Tell us about your company - Please provide us with a document that describes your business, the purpose of the website, and your goals for the project. This information is usually in the Request for Proposal (RFP) document, but if one wasn’t created for your project, now would be a good time to do so.
  3. Prepare your content – Preparing new website content is a great opportunity for you to look at your business goals, focus on your users needs, and condense your content, making it readable and easier to navigate.

    In addition to the words on your pages, you must also be thinking about the architecture of your content. You want to do so with two approaches; the top-down, and the bottom-up. The top-down approach has you focus on the big picture and objectives of your content. You’ll be looking at the top level navigation and making it simple and intuitive. In addition you’ll want to think about the labels you use for navigation. Make certain they are clear for your users and not your employees. Once you have top-down clarity, you’ll need to look at your content from the bottom-up. This approach looks at the details of the content. It includes reviewing the page titles, making the content web friendly (using short paragraphs, bullet lists, text styles, and imagery). Here are a few resources on writing user friendly web content:

    Formatting Rules to Live By
    10 Tips for Good Web Writing

    The best way to organize your content is through a site map. This can be completed in outline form, or a diagram. Once you have organized your content, we can then begin to make our recommendations regarding your website architecture.
  4. Prepare your website hosting information – If you have an existing website, you are currently using a third party to host your website, or you have a dedicated server. Make certain you understand the hosting requirements of your new vendor. If you are using a Content Management System, they require the website to be hosted on their servers because of security and support reasons. You also should have all of your account information for your existing provider ready, as well as your registrar information (where you purchased the domain). By not having all of this information ready, you can slow the process of the project, because sometimes it takes a few days to get all of these issues worked out.
  5. Think about the purpose of the website from your clients’ perspective – It is important that your organization begins thinking about how you will present your website message to clients in the easiest, friendliest, and most pleasing manner. To do so, start thinking like your clients not your employees. This is referred to as the “user-in” approach. Businesses have a bad habit of throwing everything they can on their homepage, never thinking about how their users process this information (“organization-out”). This often yields an unorganized layout and too much content. The user-centric methodology is a challenging process that must pay close attention to the needs, wants, and limitations of your websites end users at each stage of the design/content process. A properly-executed process requires your educated assumptions of how users will interact with your website, and the testing to validate these assumptions. Start by answering these questions.

    Who are the users of our website?
    What are the users’ tasks and goals?
    What are the users’ experience levels with our website, and our competitor’s websites?
    What functions do the users need from the website?
    What information might the users need, and in what form do they need it? How do users think the website should work?