It’s a Wonderful Life (for second adopters of technology)

 

Didn't know about this bonus feature on the DVD, right?

Didn’t know about this bonus feature on the DVD, right?

Behold the technophile, shiny new whatsit in hand, regaling you about the benefits of living on the cutting edge of techn–

“whoa, wait a second, gotta download another update to stay ahead of the crowd.”

Is it any wonder that technology intimidates so many people? No matter how hard you try to learn, there will always be thousands, if not millions of people who have just found something faster, leaner, better, prettier.

 Our Noisy Earth

The world is a noisy place these days, and no industry creates buzz (a.k.a. noise) than the tech industry.

I’ve had 70+ year olds asking about “The Cloud.” (That’s another topic, by the way, cloud computing is useful, but has been marketed as magical). Because of this ever-increasing glut of tech products and programs, many people simply don’t bother to keep up at all.

For fear they’ll have to do it all, they do nothing.

Here’s a message of hope for those of you feeling discouraged about not living on the cutting edge–life’s a lot better for second adopters of technology than the first.

Why It’s Better to Be Second

There are some exceptions to this rule, of course. If you work for an R & D department, Wired Magazine or your business model is based on technology that just became available last week, by all means, you should investigate all new relevant developments.

But for the majority of businesses and organizations who just want to use technology to connect with and serve their customers, being the first adopter of a brand new technology is often an commitment to slog through buggy-ness and low utilization. Let those passionate about that particular type of technology suffer through that period for you. It’s not your cross to bear and you have very little to gain by being first.

 Business may be a sport, but since the technology you use has no finish line, you’re far better off drafting just behind the masochists in first place.
Photo Credit Snappa 2006, Flickr

Photo Credit Snappa 2006, Flickr

The trick is to get in after the service/product/program has proven it’s value and worth. Most of them follow a shallower version of the Bell Curve.

technology bell curve

You want to get in early, but not first. And then only if it makes sense to your business model. This allows you do get the maximum return for time and resources invested in the technology and encourages higher utilization rates.

Say you are a realtor with a new whiz-bang program that allows users of mobile devices to find home listings near their current location. That’s a good concept, but are your customers going to use it? You could end up spending lots of money on a service that your customers may not be familiar with or use. Knowing your target audience is always good advice, and it applies just as much to technology deployment as it does to content creation.

After all you could create a social media network for retirement home residents (the day is fast approaching where that will make sense, I’m sure).

How to Know When to Jump In

 

Questions to ask yourself before investing time and money into a new technology:

  
  1. What are first adopters saying? What flaws are there, can I live with them?
  2. Do I have a plan on how this technology will be used or am I just doing it to “see what pens?”
  3. What is a reasonable utilization rate to shoot for? What’s the cost (in both dollars and time spent setting up and maintaining the technology) as compared to the rate?
  4. Does this technology duplicate something we already do? Will it replace an old system or add to it?
  5. At what point would continuing use of the technology make sense? (Inevitably that day will come, a decision to pull the plug may come faster if the technology is particularly expensive on a per-user basis).

Summary

 

Just like making the decision on what forms of Social Media to use, what content to create online, or deciding what products and services to offer, choosing new technology for you business cannot be a “do it all or do nothing” proposition. Using technology as a second adopter when you have a good business case will give you the greatest return on investment. Adding technology for technology’s sake is a very inefficient (and often ineffective).

It’s all about having a plan, and being On Purpose.

9 Reasons Your Website is so 90s

1. Your size is optimized for a 640 x 480 DESKTOP monitor

Old CRT Monitor

If you zoom in, you can see they’re using Corel WordPerfect! (from MorgueFile.com)

Back in the 90s, cell phones made phone calls, provided you were outdoors, not in a valley, and were able to pay 50 cents/minute. Today, mobile browsing accounts for 14.6% of all web traffic, and tablet traffic makes up another 5.6%.

There are two primary methods to right-size your content. Responsive Web Design takes page content modules and prioritizes them–helping the page layout re-arrange and (if necessary) degrade gracefully as it appears on smaller screen. Another method is to create a mobile-centric theme on your content management system and then employ a switcher to direct mobile and desktop users to their respective versions.

2. You are using the Homer Simpson approach to GIFs

Dancing Jesus from the Simpsons

Dancing Jesus. High-tech, eye-catching, probably sacrilegious.

Today’s websites are expected to have graphics, but these aren’t it! GIFs were a welcome, if overdone, change for 100% text-based browsing, but they had some nasty side-effects such as page clutter, extreme motion distraction, and low image quality.

Instead of using a GIF for a graphic, use quality clip art or stock graphics. (Bad clip art was another bane of 90s websites and desktop publishing). Better yet, have a professional photographer take some good pictures and make your own. Animations are best left to either HTML5 or JavaScript , video, or even Flash (though Flash is increasingly looking like a dead end for long-term development).

3.Page Elements Overlap Poorly

YouTube's Original Page

Even Youtube was guilty of this when they started

In the days before Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) were widely used, table-based designs were the norm. This contributed to very “boxy” layouts, which have long since gone out of vogue. To be “cutting-edge” many companies experimented with putting something other than straight lines in their design, which often led to elements having unsightly overlap or being misaligned within a page.

Sites built with WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) web builders such as Microsoft Frontpage were extremely difficult to get any consistent alignment of elements in without knowing HTML and editing the source code (defeating the purpose). We could forgive text overlapping pictures, mixing straight and curved lines and general page chaos in the 90s, now it’s an almost unpardonable sin that make your site look very old.

4.”Best viewed with Netscape” is still in your footer

Netscape Navigator Logo

The Browser Wars of the late 90s between Netscape and Internet Explorer were more than just jockeying for market share–there were terribly large differences in how both browsers rendered HTML (thus making your page’s appearance anything but consistent).

The only way to truly cover your bases was to make two completely separate sites for both Netscape and IE. Most people did not have the time or wherewithal to create and update two separate sites–so the compromise solution became putting a notice in the footer of your page that it was “best viewed with [insert browser] and [insert screen resolution].”

Thankfully, today’s major browsers do conform to a set of standards covering the majority of HTML and CSS rendering of your website. Internet Explorer is the largest outlier, often requiring patches for functions that work correctly in other major browsers. Thankfully, these patches only require a skilled coder who cross-browser tests and understands the limitations of certain browsers, not an entirely different web page.

Today’s customers require that you meet them with the technology they already have and it almost certainly can handle your website. Test this to be sure and then remove the notice from your footer. If there are cross browser issues, still remove the notice from your footer and get in touch with a good designer.

5.You blast your visitors with music immediately upon entering your page

(bonus points if it’s copyright infringement)

Muted Sound Icon

Turn off that infernal racket!

As 28.8K modems transitioned into 56K modems (and a few cutting edge geeks got DSL),  humans began to realize that sound could also be transmitted on the internet–and not just dial-up modem noise).

Dial Up Modem Noise

The unfortunate tendency become to automatically start the sound as soon as the user entered a page, preferably, in the background without controls (or at least well-hidden controls).

The conversation usually went something like this:

Boss (while logging on to website): “We have this background music on our site…”

(music blasts from speakers and boss hits “stop” on the player).

Boss: “I’ve had at least two  tons of people tell me ten years ago they really like it, it’s ‘cute’ and they listen to it every time.”

(Boss clicks on page again, music starts, boss mutes)

Boss: “But if Disney ever calls, we’ll tell them it was an accident and we didn’t know it was there.”

 

By all means, have music if it is applicable and relevant (you’d better be a band or something), but let the user choose to hear it. Remember, many people may be browsing your site on the QT at work…do you want to get them fired? How will they afford your product or service then? 😉

 

6.You Use a Wheat-Color Background

 

Wheat Color HTML

It isn’t white, and the soft contrast really does make you feel warm and fuzzy, no?

Back in the 90s, computer screens did not really render a clear picture. The pixelation and distortion that came standard issue on CRT monitors made white look more blue-ish than anything. Many people simply put up with this inconvenience, but others bravely ventured into alternative background colors. The two that emerged as victors were “wheat” and black. While most people quickly realized the terrible readability of black background and light text (especially on the poor-rendering monitors of the day), wheat color became an over-and-mis-used way to use a non-threatening light background color.

Needless to say, if wheat is anywhere in your color scheme–even if you are a wheat farmer–get rid of it. Or show me a compelling design with wheat and make me eat my words (I still won’t eat the wheat, however, I’m allergic to gluten).

7.You have a hit counter on your site

Hit Counters

Ooh…shiny.

Hit counters of the 90s and early 2000s served a dual purpose.

1)Track how many people were on my site

2)Tell everyone how many people were on my site.

Hit counters were a great way of validating the usefulness of the Web. They publicly answered the question “is anybody out there?” With the advent of Google Analytics and other web analytics software, the mere number of “hits” becomes much less relevant when you can know unique users, geographic locations, pages viewed, time on site and get it all in real time.

As to the second point–do you really want people to know how many visits you’ve had to your site? If you have a new site and only a 1000 hits, but are an expert in your field, should  your opinions be discounted? If you’re a crackpot who has had a rant site up for 15 years and has 100,000 cumulative hits, should you be given credence? Many local businesses will have excellent sites that serve their customers and market their business, but never get more than 1000 unique visits a month–it’s just the limited nature of a local market.

Bottom line–track your stats on the back end–brag about those you want to, at the right time, in the right context. Or leave your counter where it is, and if it doesn’t go up very fast I’ll happily source a tumble-weed GIF for you to put above it.

 

8.You use Comic Sans…and lots of it

Comic Sans Coffee Mug

Available for sale at Zazzle

This 90s holdover is prevalent both on websites and on desktop-published marketing material of that era. Both Comic Sans and Papyrus are often used by non-designers in an attempt to be “fun,” “cute,” or, in the case of Papyrus, “historical.” Had they been used sparingly, for those purposes alone, graphic designers today would be less apt to vomit at the very mention of those fonts.

The key is not simply the avoidance of Comic Sans, the key is thoughtful, appropriate and (at times) consistent use of fonts in on and offline marketing. Graphic design, by nature, will tend to use typography to convey the feel of a piece. While the fonts in your logo should almost always remain the same, the remaining fonts in each design will change to fit the message.

You should, however, have consistent fonts and type-sizes that you use website-wide (and, ideally, in emails and print correspondence). Always go for readability over style. Cursive fonts are cursed with difficult readability and do not add “aura” in most cases. Going for something unique is OK, but remember, the purpose of text is to be read, above all else.

9.You Have Useless Tiny Thumbnails Pictures that No One Can See!

Tiny Picture Gallery

Another product of slow modem speeds in the early days of the Web was slow load times for pictures. Because of this, web sites that cared about their load time would painstakingly produce a thumbnail and full-size version of each photo and link them together. Eventually, someone got the bright idea to create a program that created a photo gallery for you with a separate HTML page for each picture. Needless to say, this caused more clutter and navigation problems than you can imagine.

Thankfully, photo-rich websites do just fine for most users today, and the advent of high-quality gallery plugins for WordPress (and even scripts to pull Flickr photos to a static HTML site) make photo management very easy.

Note–There is some merit to create a thumbnail and full-size version of each picture for use in a responsive mobile design. There are scripts available to automatically re-size your photo so the mobile browser doesn’t waste time downloading a picture 4 times bigger than it’s total screen size.

Bonus: Lack of Header/Navigation Consistency

When every page was generated in raw HTML, any change to the header, footer, sidebar or navigation meant that any changes to those elements had to be done for every single page on the site. Even with copy/pasting the code into 5, 50, or 500 pages, mistakes were likely to happen.

Sometimes a site owner would create a new site and keep the old site on the server as a backup. If they forgot to update even one of the navigation links, it would be possible to end up on the old site, from which, due to lack of links (obviously) to the new site, there would be no escape. [Insert maniacal laughter here].

There is Hope

Most of these famous websites began in the 2000s, and they still look pretty horrible compared to today. Design is important, so long as it complements and grows with a solid business model. (Check out Amazon’s first site in the link above to get an idea of where they’ve come from).

If your business model involves online sales or marketing, commit to creating a plan to grow and change with technology. This does not mean investing in every bell and whistle or even being an early adopter of technology, but it does mean a consistent plan to create fresh, usable content. Or you can you can let your site serve as a crumbling museum of a bygone era. It’s up to you. Why not start today?