Collecting the Internet So You Don't Have To

We work on the Internet. As such, we are constantly consuming information. Believe me, there is a lot of it out there. Sometimes we even forget things unless we write them down. Our blog covers everything from web standards to the muppets, php to comic books, music and everything else that we find interesting. Leave us a note when you drop by.

Mountain Lion, Coda, and SVN

Business
Wil Alambre
Wil Alambre Senior Programmer
Visual Lizard
work
1 (204) 957-5520 ext:152
fax
1 (204) 957-5519
toll-free
1 (888) 237-9559
url
http://www.visuallizard.com
Wil Alambre Whiteboard Ninja

If, like us, you have recently updated to OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, you may have noticed that your Coda application is no longer updating or accessing your SVN repositories. It seems Mountain Lion does not come with SVN, regardless if you've done a clean install or upgraded from a previous version of OS X.

You can test this by opening a new Terminal window and typing...

svn --version

...in the command line. If you get a "command not found" response, then this is your problem. :/

We found a fairly painless solution over at superuser.com. Download the latest version of Xcode from the Mac App Store and, when it is installed, just go to...

Xcode -> Preferences -> Downloads -> Command Line Tools -> Install.

This should fix you up. Good luck!

Dark Knight Rises

Event
Wil Alambre
Wil Alambre Senior Programmer
Visual Lizard
work
1 (204) 957-5520 ext:152
fax
1 (204) 957-5519
toll-free
1 (888) 237-9559
url
http://www.visuallizard.com
Wil Alambre Whiteboard Ninja

"The Dark Knight Rises" is the conclusion to director Christopher Nolan's incredible Batman trilogy. Christan Bale is back as the caped crusader, this time facing off against Anne Hathaway as Catwoman and Tom Hardy as Bane

As impressive as Nolan's "Batman Begins" was in 2005, no one was prepared for how amazing "The Dark Knight" was when it hit theatres in 2008. As such, many fans have high expectations of the third film, myself included!

The Smaller The Web Form, The More Likely It Will Be Used

Business
Wil Alambre
Wil Alambre Senior Programmer
Visual Lizard
work
1 (204) 957-5520 ext:152
fax
1 (204) 957-5519
toll-free
1 (888) 237-9559
url
http://www.visuallizard.com
Wil Alambre Whiteboard Ninja

As heavy internet users ourselves, we encounter forms all over the place. Registration forms, contact forms, payment forms, etc. Usually, getting to the form is a quick trip, a short easy-to-find link that appeals to our impulses. But as most web traffic analysis will show, only a fraction of the people who visit a form actually fill it out. What's happening?

Recently, Luke Wroblewski did a presentation at An Event Apart Austin. Though it focused on the growth of mobile applications, he covered a lot of good points on web forms and usability. His thoughts on the current troubles and recommended practices mirror the advice we regularly give to our clients...

The key is to reduce effort.

Studies have shown that smaller, simpler forms have resulted in an increase in submissions by site visitors. The shorter the form, the easier a form is to fill out, the more likely a visitor is to submit it. The more people fill out and submit forms, the better your form is at doing its job.

When constructing forms, we try to reduce them to their bare essentials. We take a look at the form and take out anything that doesn't have to be there.

Example of two contact forms, with a long one on the right and a shorter, concise one on the left
Which would you be more likely to fill out?

One good indicator is multiple fields marked as "optional". What these labels are saying is that this form is asking for more information than is actually required for submission. So if those fields do not need to be filled in what are they doing there?

Also, some information collected is broken up into multiple fields, such as names (commonly separated into first and last) and phone numbers (separated into area code, extension, etc). This is less convenient for a visitor, so why are they set up that way?

Sometimes it is done for validation in order to ensure good data is being collected. Sometimes it is done so the collected data can be easily filtered and sorted and listed in different ways. Sometimes it is to support some other system or process, either computerized or otherwise, that wants the collected data in a specific way. Sometimes it is to collect as much data as they can up front, because there is little guarantee it will be collected later on down the line. And sometimes, it is just to make the form look "right" or "standardized".

The trouble with all the above reasons is that they prioritize the needs of the owners and operators of the site over any benefits to the visitors actually filling in the form. We want to reverse this thinking. Prioritize for the visitors.

A person browsing to your site and filling out your contact form will not be interested if whether or not you can export all the form submissions as an excel file and sort them by last name alphabetically. Their priorities are not your priorities. They care that the contact form is asking for their first, middle, and last names as three separate fields, and that the contact form complains if any of those three fields are left blank. Do not make this an issue that prevents someone from contacting you. Prioritize for the visitors.

An eye-tracking study on four familiar, existing registration forms found that most visitors were "blind" to almost all "required" or "optional" indicators. People went into a form expecting to fill in everything. Oddly enough, some developers try to alleviate this issue by adding more text and more instructions and more design. They end up solving the wrong problem.

An example of this came to light in 2010, on one of Expedia's "buy now" forms. It seemed the optional "company" field was not only unnecessary, but was actually confusing their customers. The solution wasn't to make its purpose more obvious, but to recognize that it could be removed entirely. This minor change lead to more successful form submissions and a $12 million increase in annual profit.

When building web forms, we need to strike a balance between client requirements and general usability. We try to skew it towards the visitors needs since they are the target audience. The easier it is for them to fill out forms, the more likely they will fill out forms. Remeber this and your site will generate more submissions.

Eight Bit Biographies

Design
Wil Alambre
Wil Alambre Senior Programmer
Visual Lizard
work
1 (204) 957-5520 ext:152
fax
1 (204) 957-5519
toll-free
1 (888) 237-9559
url
http://www.visuallizard.com
Wil Alambre Whiteboard Ninja

When we originally added the "Who We Are" tab to our Facebook page, we pulled over the content from our site's About page. By laying it out with a slightly different stylesheet, we could update both our website and our Facebook page from the same admin editors.

For a couple weeks, we were lucky enough to have Meaghan Gorchynski in the office for a work placement. We presented her with a challenge: update the "Who We Are" tab, keeping the same basic information, but giving it a fun make-over. Something that reflected our pop-culture roots and something that encouraged a bit more exploration.

Inspired by old-school video games and the Eightbit.Me avatar creator, our new "Who We Are" page has both purpose and personality. The "flip-card" portraits on our site have been replaced with a Nintendo-esque environment with our digital characters standing at our actual desk locations; if you come visit us in the Exchange, you'll recognize us immediately! Also, hovering over any of our characters will pop up our smiling faces, job titles, and links to the social media we participate in.

We're super-happy with how this turned out… and we have one or two other small designs by Meaghan that we're bolting together. If you enjoy our "Who We Are" page, be sure to let her know :)

Duplicate Content and Canonical URLs

Technology
Dwayne Kristjanson
Dwayne Kristjanson Senior Programmer
Visual Lizard
work
1 (204) 957-5520 ext:154
fax
1 (204) 957-5519
toll-free
1 (888) 237-9559
url
http://www.visuallizard.com
Dwayne Kristjanson Indifference Engine

There's usually no need to include the same content in multiple places on your website. After all, the whole point of HTML is to link from one place to another so it's always possible to have only one instance of the content in question. The only times when it's necessary to have two distinct URLs for the same content is when the surrounding navigation, headers, etc. need to change depending on the path the user took to get to it.

For example, when users are browsing through an online store by category it's a better experience when links to the category they were just browsing appear on the page showing information for a product. That allows them to quickly get back to look at other products. In cases like this, having only one URL for the product and keeping track of what the user was viewing in their session quickly gets out of hand. The user can, and often will, have more than one tab open viewing the same site and tracking which links were clicked from where can be complicated. From a programming perspective, it's far easier to have multiple URLs that show the same product, with the different URLs triggering the different navigation display.

But what effect will taking the easy route have on SEO? In the past, not much. For Google, however, this has changed somewhat since the Panda update in February of 2011. That update targeted "low quality" sites, specifically content farms that often have copy-pasted content matching a wide variety of search results and link farms set up to boost another site's SEO by linking back to it with specific keywords. Both of these types of farm site would frequently have largely identical content available at multiple URLs and multiple domains.

Prior to the Panda update, the main "negative" effect of having more than one URL for a given piece of content was that Google would list only one of them in their search results. After Panda, duplicate content pages lost a small amount of Page Rank. Google hasn't specified specifically how much or from what areas, but from what I've read the effect is largest when the duplicate content occurs across domains. It's also likely that keywords in the alternate URLs will not be used for ranking. The actual effect on non-malicious duplicate content, however, should be small. Sites with multiple domains should be redirecting the aliases to their main domain. They should also be using basically the same keywords in all of the URLs that reach a specific page.

However, if your site will have a significant amount of content that can be accessed from more than one URL, consider using rel=canonical. This is a method of indicating which URL you want search engines to use for the duplicated content. The main requirement is that one of the alternative URLs needs to be selected as the canonical one. All of the other URLs will then include a link tag in the page head pointing to the canonical url.

	<link rel="canonical" href="http://example.com/path/to/item" />

There is no need to include a rel=canonical link on the canonical page itself. This is a common occurrence, and likely won't have any negative effects since the search engines know to account for it. Specifically, Google has indicated that their crawler handles this case without issue, whereas Bing has indicated they prefer to not see rel=canonical on the canonical page although it doesn't really hurt your ranking if it happens.