Good, Clean Website Fun

I visited two websites: Virtual Jamestown (http://www.virtualjamestown.org/page2.html), and Reddit (http://www.reddit.com).  Although both sites were relatively simply and easy to navigate, Reddit was, bar none, the superior website, for the following reasons:

Krug’s Laws: One, Don’t make users think. “According to Krug’s first law of usability, the web-page should be obvious and self-explanatory. When you’re creating a site, your job is to get rid of the question marks — the decisions users need to make consciously, considering pros, cons and alternatives.”

Reddit obeys law one without fail. The headlines are there in bold, for the user to see; underneath, you can see how many comments have been made, how many “up” or “down” votes it has received, and so forth. The Jamestown Site is slightly more complicated, and the links are misleading—for instance, “Jamestown Interactive” is simply a series of links to pages of text about Jamestown, with a map that you can’t click on.  After many, many clicks, you eventually end up at an admittedly cool “virtual” tour of Jamestown, but it is like digging for gold.  It is not interactive, and hardly intuitive.

Two, don’t squander users’ patience. “The less action is required from users to test a service, the more likely a random visitor is to actually try it out. First-time visitors are willing to play with the service, not filling long web forms for an account they might never use in the future.”

The comments form in the Jamestown site is fairly straightforward.  The Reddit registration is a snap: username and password are all that is required.

Reddit's simple registration form

Reddit’s simple registration form

Three: draw user’s attention to certain parts of the web site.  “The less thinking needs to happen behind the scenes, the better is the user experience which is the aim of usability in the first place.”

There are no clear focal points in the Jamestown site.  The headlines are the focal point in Reddit—you can read through them quickly, or you can go to a subReddit, and organize the headlines according to “new,” “hot,” “rising,” etc.

Four: Make use of features, such as “visually appealing 1-2-3-done-steps, large buttons with visual effects etc.”  While some may lambast the use of these features, “from the design perspective these elements actually aren’t a bad thing. On the contrary, such guidelines are extremely effective as they lead the visitors through the site content in a very simple and user-friendly way.”

Reddit has several large buttons, such as “submit a new link” or “submit a new text post.”  There are very few such features on the Jamestown site.  The link buttons at the top are bland, at best.

Five: Get right to the point, without using cute, fluffy language, or technical jargon, or company lingo. Instead, talk business. For instance, if you describe a service and want users to create an account, “sign up” is better than “start now!” which is again better than “explore our services”.

Neither site using much in the way of jargon or company lingo.

Six: Keep it Simple

Jamestown site is a bit cluttered looking, while almost Reddit never is.

Seven: White space is your friend. “Complex structures are harder to read, scan, analyze and work with. If you have the choice between separating two design segments by a visible line or by some whitespace, it’s usually better to use the whitespace solution.”

The Jamestown site occasionally makes marvelous use of whitespace, but more often than not, it is cluttered with text and links.  Reddit knows how to use whitespace to maximum effect.

Eight: Use a visible language to communicate with users.

Organize: clear and consistent conceptual structure. Consistency, screen layout, relationships and navigability are important concepts of organization.

Economize: do the most with the least amount of cues and visual elements. Four major points to be considered: simplicity, clarity, distinctiveness, and emphasis. Communicate: match the presentation to the capabilities of the user.

Reddit uses a very conventional typeface, which it uses throughout the website.  The size does not vary.  Bold text is used to draw your eye to headlines, while regular text is used for articles.  Jamestown site uses different fonts, which can be somewhat distracting.

Nine: Conventional designs are the best. “In fact, conventions are very useful as they reduce the learning curve, the need to figure out how things work.”  Go with what users already know and expect.

Reddit uses a highly conventional design, with a simple white background and black text.  It is one of the most simple designs out there.  The Jamestown site is highly variable—sometimes, it uses a familiar background, other times it goes with an unusual-looking, bearskin background.

Ten: Test Early, Test Often.  “This so-called TETO-principle should be applied to every web design project as usability tests often provide crucial insights into significant problems and issues related to a given layout.”

Sounds like a good idea!

Jamestown Interactive: Sadly, is not as advertised.

Jamestown Interactive: Sadly, is not as advertised.

St Valentine’s Day Massacre: Where the Citations at?

According to Wikipedia, The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre involved the murder of seven associates of Bugs Moran’s Northern Side Irish Gang by members of Al Capone’s South Side Italian Gang.  On Valentine’s Day, 1929, five members, along with two “collaborators,” of the Irish Gane gang were lined up in a garage in Chicago’s North Side, and executed.  Two men dressed as police officers, and two others dressed in civilian clothes, opened fire on the men with Tommy sub-machine guns and shotguns. The victims included Peter and Frank Gusenberg, Albert Kachellek, Adam Heyer, Reinhardt Schwimmer, Albert Weinshank, and John May.  Moran was supposed to be among the victims, but he was late, and when he noticed the police car parked near the garage, he hightailed it.  In any case, the assassins mistook one of his associates for him. After the executions, the two “policemen” led the other men to the “police car,” and drove away.  One of the victims, Frank Gusenberg, survived for several hours after the attack, but refused to say a word to the police (perhaps there was some level of honor among thieves, after all?). The gunmen were eventually arrested, or, as in the case of John Scalise or Albert Anselmi, murdered by Al Capone before going to trial.

The Northwestern database provides a lot of details that match up with, or in some cases even elaborate on, the information provided in the Wikipedia article.  As in the Wikipedia article, it describes how the killers left with their hands up (specifically, “When the killers left two of them had their (sic) hands in the air adn (sic) the other two followed pointing the machine guns at their backs. They all got into an auto disguised as a police squad car and escaped.”  This detail lines up with the information furnished in Wikipedia. 

The Wikipedia entry seemed to suffer from a paucity of sources: they cite a book, Some Historical Stories of Chicago, an article in the Chicago Tribune, and findagrave.com.  In fact, while there is an enormous amount of detail, there are almost no citations—eight in all, and many seem to be homemade websites: http://home.earthlink.net/~oldmaltese/index.html is “the right place for map-based and trivia-based competitions of challenge and guile.”  Another citation is entitled, “Catherine Judd Speech In Praise Of Individuals,” and has almost nothing to do with the topic at hand. 

In spite of providing a wealth of information, the sources on the Wikipedia page are virtually nonexistent.

Carte topographique de l’Egypte

I created a map using the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, which allows you to overlay maps from previous eras to the current map.  Because my final project will be to explore some element of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I wanted to see what the Palestinian territories looked like historically.

The map the was overlaid was entitled “Egypt Palestine 1818.”  It was an ensemble of seven “maps of Palestine from the famous 47 sheet Carte topographique de l’Egypte.”  They show pre-Mandate period Palestine in great detail. All the names on the maps are in both French and Arabic (fortunately, I speak French, so this was not a problem for me).  According the description, “These maps remained the most accurate of the area until the British surveys of 1907.”  I was able to use a slider, which changed the level of transparency, and which made the differences in the political landscape appear even starker. I was not sure how to save the map, although I was able to create a link to the page: http://rumsey.geogarage.com/maps/mosaicegypt38_53.html?lat=32.166570833333296&lon=34.31591527777775&zoom=9.

Because I have no memory left on computer—something which is likely due to the presence of a virus or some other infection (after having removed several gigabytes of data, it continues to inform me that I am out of memory)—and I cannot take it in to a Mac store for repair, because my car was totaled this weekend—I am unable to download Google Earth, which likely would have provided more the most interesting map overlay. Next week, perhaps.

…Though not for Trying

I chose to create a map of Bethlehem, Palestinian Territories, because I used to live in Israel and I had a lot of friends in Bethlehem.  I used Google’s Maps Engine, which was easy enough to begin with, but soon derailed into a complicated mess.  When I tried to add a layer to the map, I received no less that five error messages on the map, stating, in a little yellow box, “an error has occurred, because your page has been reverted.”  It suggested I refresh the page, which I did—and then I received a 503 Error message: “That’s an error. There was an error. Please try again later. That’s all we know.” 

Now, before I go on, I should add that my hard drive has almost completely run out of space—I continue to delete images, movies, hundreds of megabytes worth of data, but to no avail.  So this may have something to do with the trouble I am currently experience with Google’s Maps Engine, although every other web page seems to be working fine.

In any case, I went back, and tried to create a new map. This I did this repeatedly, and each time, I received the same 503 error message.  I closed my browser, restarted my computer, and tried again—nothing.  So I went to my iPad, and tried to create a map through Google’s Maps engine there—only to see the very same 503 Error message.  

So, as per the instructions on one of the pages Professor Bush linked to (“Make or open a custom map), I signed in to Google Maps, clicked on “My Places” at the left, then clicked on “Create Map”—at which point, the Google Maps engine homes screen appeared. I clicked on “create new map,” and the “503 error” appeared again.  I suspect this is an error with the server, and not on my end. I will try again tomorrow before class.