Archive for the 'Tools' Category

A Wish list for Axure

wish-listI’m in the midst of prototyping a virtual credit card terminal in Axure and some of my most fervent wishes are resurfacing, so rather than sit here and stew about it, I am going to put my wishes out there so perhaps Axure will hear them and do something about it? Don’t get me wrong–I love Axure and am so thankful to have it. It makes life so much easier. But man, if it could only …

Some of this might already be done in a newer version (that I don’t have yet), but gosh I wish it would do the following:

  1. Allow me to select a word or two and make them a hyperlink like real web pages do. It’s such a pain to have to put a box over the text I want to hyperlink. (Take some lessons from WordPress!)
  2. Make mouseover effects easily–like change the color of a table cell or some text when moused over to indicate its clickability. Right now to change the color of a table cell, I’d have to overlay a dynamic panel and try to align it perfectly with the table cell and manage the states by going to separate windows. And then when the table cell changes size or shape, I’d have to realign everything and change all the states and … it’s just too much work. I have a lot of pages to do and I’m in a hurry to get this prototype done.
  3. Put controls such as radio buttons and images IN a table cell like you can on a real web page. So if the table cell moves (like it tends to do when you’re wireframing), the control or image moves with it and you don’t have to go realign everything.
  4. Change the look of the buttons–and allow for a few different types of buttons.
  5. Use real cascading style sheets (CSS) like real HTML pages do, so I could import my style sheet and use the styles from my own CSS–and have them in the resulting prototype as real CSS styles. Wow that would be nice.
  6. Make cleaner, more usable HTML, so we don’t have to have someone go back and recreate the HTML page from scratch and end up with a different look and feel than the wireframe. (Using real CSS would sure help.)
  7. Not make a new image if I copy and paste an image from one spot to another. It’s the same image, folks! Why have a billion different images that look exactly the same? In fact, why not use an image library in a common images folder shared across pages (like, um, WordPress allows you to do) so if you want to use the same images on several pages, you can.
  8. Allow me to set an action for several elements at once. Say I want the user to be able to select a row in a table, for example. Right now I have to go to every cell in the table and set the action for that individual cell. If the table has a lot of columns, it takes quite a while just to set the actions for one row.

If you use Axure and agree with my suggestions, let Axure know or leave a comment here so that they know that it’s more than just one user’s wishes.

Back to Usability — how about a checklist?

download checklistOkay, enough sidetracking to Facebook, time to get back to usability.

There’s a very good 25 point web site usability checklist on usereffect.

Checklists won’t make your site usable–it’s best to usability test your site with the target audience and really sit back and watch what they have trouble with–but a checklist will help you avoid the most obvious mistakes so when you sit down to a usability test you’re not completely embarrassed that they can’t even tell what your web site is for.

Trackthis integrates package tracking into social networking

If you twitter or facebook and you order things that you have shipped to you, you’re gonna love this: TrackThis figured out how to take those hard-to-crack shipping APIs and let you track your packages via facebook or twitter.

I was all excited to try it, until I went to Facebook and discovered:

This application cannot be added to your Pages. Facebook applications for Pages can be specialized for certain Page categories (e.g. Restaurants or Bands). Either you have no Pages that fit the category of this application, or you have already added this application to your eligible Pages.

What kind of Facebook page do I need to be able to add it? That’s really confusing and is not making for a very good user experience. (Um, well, it’s denying me from even having a user experience! Hate that!) 

Well, maybe I’ll try it on Twitter.

Hey, I wonder if TrackThis would like to share some of their shipping API expertise with our comment-ers who are having difficulty integrating the buggers? See the comments on my shipping API post.

ProQuo: An easier way to get rid of junk mail

Several months ago, I found a site that claimed it would help reduce the amount of junk mail I get. I wasn’t sure it would work, but I thought I’d give it a try and see how things went. What I’ve noticed since I started this is that I get a lot less junk mail–between that and signing up for e-billing for all the bills I can, on some days we don’t have ANYTHING in the mail box. My goal is to get rid of all the unnecessary paper and junk that we get every day.

The problem with junk mail is we all get on a lot of lists. It takes a lot of vigilance to get your name removed from all those mailing lists (let alone to know what mailing lists you’re on!)

ProQuo helps you discover which lists you’re on and allows you to get off of most of them with just a click of a button. There are some lists where you have to go on another web site to opt out of their list, but wow does this simplify things. It’s not a one-time shot–you have to go back a few times and get off new mailing lists your name slipped onto, but it is awesome.

The site is organized very well with big buttons that are clearly labelled. You can make sure you still get the catalogs and mail that you want, and get off all the rest of the lists that you don’t want.

Check it out: http://www.proquo.com/

Are you winning the race?

It’s great to track conversion rates and do analytics and usability tests on your site, but without knowing how you stack up to your competitors, you are driving with your windows painted black (to borrow a phrase from Avinash Kaushik, the Analytics Evangelist for Google). Without competitive analysis, you can’t see where you are in relation to the rest of your industry–and that’s a bad thing.

So surveying the competitive landscape is good, but it’s always been very hard. How do you get the inside scoop on how the others are doing? Bryan Eisenberg from FutureNow has pointed out 14 tools out there now for “spying” on your competition.

Here’s the list:

  1. Statbrain
  2. AideRSS
  3. FeedCompare
  4. Xinu Returns
  5. Google Trends For Websites
  6. Google Insights for Search
  7. Microsoft’s Keyword Forecast tool 
  8. Microsoft’s Search Funnels
  9. WayBackMachine
  10. Web Page Speed Analyzer , WebSlug , WebWait
  11. Web Page Readability
  12. Attention Meter
  13. Websitegrader and Twittergrader
  14. Google Alerts

See Brian’s Post for more info on how you can use these for competitive analysis. I’ve gotta go try these out–once I get a minute to breathe. Lately, it’s hard just to stay afloat with all we’re doing at work. I have used Google Alerts before and they’re awesome for keeping your finger on the pulse of things, but, like everything, it takes time to sift through all the stuff you get from it.

Does anyone have experience with any of these tools? Care to Share?

Tableau adds Maps and Web Application Integration

Last week I was wishing we could integrate Tableau interactive reports into our own web applications, and today I got an e-mail that appeared to be granting my wish. Tableau 4.0 was just released, and it includes the ability to integrate interactive reports into web applications.

They’ve also added maps to their feature-list–and the ability to auto-detect geographic data in a dataset and produce a geo-analytic report. What’s interesting about their maps is they don’t just use standard map backgrounds like Google Maps. They specifically created map backgrounds that won’t interfere with the view of the data–because these maps are for analysis, not navigation. I like how they keep their purpose first and foremost and tend to the needs of the user.

The other thing I was pleased with was they included four tabs of info about their new release–and one of them is labeled “usability”. It’s clear from looking at their solutions that the company pays a lot of attention to usability, but it’s always nice to see “Usability” called out as a key component of a software release.

What about licensing? The same pricing model applies, so each user of the application you integrate Tableau with has to be a licensed user of Tableau. Sigh. The salesperson says in the next version they’re planning more fully integrated applications … unfortunately, I don’t think we can wait that long … darn it! Why did they have to tease me like that?

 

Other posts on Tableau and Data Visualization / Metrics / Reporting:

Something to make Analysts Wet Their Pants

Visual analytics softwareI’m trying not to be too excited about this, but I am an analyst at heart and so it’s really hard for me to contain myself over this data visualization product I stumbled upon this morning. If I only knew how to link to our data sources, I would be exercising their 30-day trial to the max.

My task for the moment is to figure out how to build and deploy an operations metrics portal. Our biggest client wants real-time access to sales pipeline, product sales, and transaction numbers at the top level, but with the ability to drill-down into the data so he can see just how each customer is doing if he wants. We are using SugarCRM for our customer relationship management, so we were hoping to utilize that, but it just doesn’t meet our needs. Besides that we’ve discovered it’s pretty glitchy in some areas–it’s driving our QA guy (who happens to be my hubby) batty. I was thinking we may have to develop our own solution, which isn’t really even an option because our developers are completely swamped.

So I spent hours yesterday just searching for solutions that could help us. I looked at charting software like Visual Mining, Corda, Dundas, and Easy Charts. I looked at portal software, including Traction Teampage, DynaPortal, Intranet Dashboard, JBoss, Liferay, Metadot, DotNetNuke, and Apache Jetspeed. And it’s not that all these don’t offer good solutions–it’s just that they don’t make it really simple to analyze, visualize, and publish dashboards–in my case, operations metrics, but it’s extensible and useful for analyzing ANY data.

Ok, Ok, what is it already?

It’s Tableau. They offer a couple different products that I’m really itching to try: Tableau Desktop, which is what you use to build the visualizations, and Tableau Server, which allows you to publish your visualization to the web, with full Web-2.0-style interaction, filtering, and drilldown–in real time. What got me excited was:

·         It looks extremely powerful, easy, quick, flexible and does not require any programming time.

·         You can create many different kinds of data visualizations with their desktop product, then publish to the web.

·         There’s full application-level, view-level, and data-level security. You can publish to 1, 100’s or 1000’s of users.  You have full access control for every user at all levels. You can control who has access to the data, how they interact with the data, and how much/which data they have access to.

·         It can link to any data source: oracle, all sorts of other database formats, and even excel spreadsheets.

·         It has dynamic drilldown and filtering.

·         You can easily view the underlying data and copy/paste right into Excel–or copy a graph or chart for use in a powerpoint presentation.

I watched the Tableau Server demo and am just amazed at all the things this software can do by dragging and dropping and a few clicks of the mouse.

I immediately e-mailed some of my geeky analytical friends and am hoping they’ll try it out and tell me what they think of it. Anyone out there tried it yet? Please comment and let me know what you think.

Of course, I’ll post my thoughts (after I convince my boss to let me try it).