Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

How a Web Glitch Screwed up Summer

The YMCA in our town does a really good summer camp. I mean really really good–so good, in fact, that my daughter talks about it all year long. Camp Teepeetonka is the highlight of summer and has been since we have lived in Sioux Falls. I highly recommend it to anyone who lives in Sioux Falls. It’s just two weeks, but it does fill up fast, so you need to register early to make sure you get in at the time your child wants to go.

My girl has a best friend we used to live near who is also really into Camp Teepeetonka. She doesn’t see her friend very often anymore. Last year they went to camp together and they thought they should go together every year. So we pre-coordinated with her to find out when she was going before we even thought about registering her for Camp.

We pretty much plan our summer around this camp. All of her other activities, trips, etc., get arranged around Camp. My mom and dad arranged their schedule around this camp because they always take her on a summer trip and this year they have a brand new camper they bought just for the occasion. (Ok, it’s for “trips with grandchildren”, but this was to be the inaugural trip!)

Today was the big day. Last night she didn’t fight at all when it was time to go to bed. She did her night-time routine lickety split and was in bed with the lights off before I even noticed. This is NOT normal behavior in the summer. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and find her wide awake reading in her bed.

But I was nervous. I’d just noticed I hadn’t received the pre-camp letter that you normally get in the mail a week or two before camp. I realized I had no idea what time to take her to meet the bus and started to wonder why? I tore through my e-mails–did they send it by e-mail this year? No sign of any notice from the YMCA, except for some e-mails announcing that Camp registration was open that came last February. (Yeah, I don’t clean out my inbox very often … thank goodness for gmail!) Then I logged into my credit card accounts to check whether there had been a charge from the Y for the deposit. Nothing. I began to panic. What if she wasn’t registered?

I dragged myself out of bed early this morning and called the Y right away. They took my name and number and promised to have Kathy call me as soon as she got in. I wondered whether to even bother waking my baby girl. I dragged my feet, but finally decided I’d better wake her up, just in case. Just a few minutes after she dragged herself out of bed, they called and confirmed my fears. She wasn’t registered. I saw all the hope and joy drain right out of her sweet little face.

I’d registered online on their web site. With our busy schedule, I had a hard time finding time to get these camp registrations done, but I finally found a few minutes to do it. I’d done it before several times. This year was the same–I plowed through their crazy system, carefully chose the correct camp dates for my daughter’s age, clicked the Register button, entered all my daughter’s information and my own billing information and my credit card number. I even included a note that she wanted to be in camp with her best friend. I got all the way through the process. I got the confirmation page that told me she was registered. I breathed a sigh of relief that it was done and my little girl was going to get to go to her favorite camp with her best friend. I returned to my busy life, never thinking to question the magic “You are registered” page. Ah how I wish I had.

We are in the process of rearranging our summer now. Kathy at the Y was very kind when I explained how important this camp is to her and she let me register for the next session (the LAST session of the summer) even though they are no longer accepting registrations. I am so grateful to her.

I just got done breaking the bad news to my dad. He and mom are now sitting down trying to figure out whether (and how) they can re-schedule their camping trip. There is no hope that Brynne’s friend can go along on the camping trip because she is in camp now and my girl will be in camp next session–and that is all the time we have. I need to call her friend’s mom and tell her why my baby wasn’t there today, and then I have to call her dance teacher about possibly missing one of her 4-hour dance camps they had scheduled for early August.

It’s not the end of the world, but it is a lot of trouble for a lot of people. A couple children are very sad.

All because of a little “glitch” in the web site. We will work it out, my daughter and her friend will get over it, my parents will probably figure out an alternate schedule and somehow she’ll learn her dance routine despite missing part of the dance camp.

I just wanted to share this story because I wanted to warn you, especially those of you with e-commerce web sites. It is important that you display a confirmation message ONLY after the transaction succeeds. A little bit of disinformation can cause a lot of trouble, heartache, and bad press.

I am so grateful to the people at the Y for putting on this amazing camp and wish them no harm. I wish they would fix their web site not because I’m worried that this situation may happen to us again–I will be more careful in the future and make sure I print out the confirmation and check whether I got that confirmation e-mail from them. I’m worried about other children’s hearts when this happens to other busy, well-meaning parents.

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.

11 things I learned from myFarm on Facebook

myfarm1I admit it, I’m hopelessly addicted to the myFarm game on Facebook. I myself call it a silly game, and yet I cannot keep away from it. I find myself stopping by myFarm several times a day. So to give myself (and the rest of you myFarm addicts) a little credit, I think there is some redeeming social value to be gleaned from myFarm-ing. (Other than by playing you are supporting a good cause.)

Here are a few things I learned (or re-learned) by playing this “silly” game that has become my virtual zen garden:

  1. Tending virtual plants and seeing them grow, flower, and produce fruit can feed your need for color through a dismal, cold, and very gray winter.
  2. The more you give, the more you receive and the richer you will become.
  3. Being rich with friendship is better than being rich with money.
  4. Know who the true farmers are in your circle of friends, and only send farm gifts to them. They are the ones who will appreciate them most—the others will see your gift as a nuisance.
  5. Sending gifts to someone who does not give back is like loving someone who only takes and never gives. It can drain you of energy. Give to all your farm friends, but give more to those who give back. As in friendship and love, a circle of positive energy feeds both souls.
  6. Sometimes the changes you make don’t take the first time. It’s okay. Just keep trying until it does.
  7. Savor the moment, and save the best for last. My favorite color is purple, so I save the plum trees to harvest last so I can savor the color of them for a few more moments. It’s a small thing, but life is so much sweeter when fed with small moments of joy.
  8. Tend to ALL the important things in your life. Escaping to the farm is good, but there is more to life than myFarm.
  9. Have patience. Do not be too hasty to act. Wait for the button before you click it.
  10. Beware of advertisers who wish to steal your attention away from your purpose.
  11. Watch your bank account, but don’t be fanatical about it.

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/

Gratitude on the iPhone

iPhone Gratitude AppHere’s a usable app for your iPhone or iPod touch–one that can bring positive energy and change to your life.  Happy Tapper makes gratitude journals even easier.

I was introduced to gratitude journaling a few months ago. The idea is to write down the positive things that happened to you that day–ending your day each day on a positive note. My daughter and I started doing this, using traditional paper journals, but sometimes we are running late and we don’t have enough time to write at night. If we had Happy Tapper, perhaps we could actually do our gratitude journals every day!

In this virtual gratitude journal, you enter five things you are grateful for each day, then rate the day. You can even add a picture if you want. Then the application gives you a little inspirational quote as a reward for doing your journaling. And you can change the look of it to suit your own tastes. That’s better than our static paper journals–and a whole lot faster!

I’m really impressed with the usability of this little gem. My 9-year-old daughter picked it up and figured it out right away.

Check it out at happytapper.com.

Using “Reverse Camouflage” in your Copy

Have you ever found yourself in the position of writing copy for an ad or web site and just not quite sure what to say? Have you ever started writing, then go back and read what you wrote and thought, “oh YUCK!”

I don’t know about you, but it happens to me a lot. I get enthusiastic about something I’m writing about and I end up sounding overly sales-y, like a pushy car salesman who has commission-breath. I go back and read it and think, “did I really write THAT?!?” So I edit and re-edit and I’m never quite happy with the way it sounds.

Well, perhaps the reason I was so disgusted was I wasn’t using inverted camouflage–I wasn’t defining what we’re NOT.

I ran across a real thought-provoking blog this morning from Jeff Sexton at FutureNow. He pointed out how effective campaigns that clearly define what you’re NOT (e.g., the boundaries of your capabilities) can be. Jeff calls it “reverse camouflage.”  To quote Jeff:

In the picture above, notice how the legs present a solid silhouette and are easily identified, while the man’s upper body camouflage breaks up his silhouette and blurs his edges into the background of trees and snow.  As a result, it’s much harder to make out his his torso and arms.

Like our eyes, our minds also depend on edges and silhouettes.  We define by giving parameters, mentally grasping a concept by its boundaries.  Without the “edges” of contrasting reference points, a concept or term remains ambiguous at best.

That’s why grabbing after an “infinite” market and seeking to be all things to all people ends up camouflaging one’s brand and messaging; without contrast it all just blurs into the background.

Reading this for me what like a new awakening. No wonder I’m having such a hard time writing–I’m trying to be all things to all people! When you do that, you end up sounding artificial and unbelievable.

Go read his post–he has some really good things to say.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of copy I have to go rewrite …