Top 10 Blog Posts

Here on this very last day of 2008, I thought I’d take a look back at the Friendly Web Tools blog entries over the year and share with you those that generated the most responses and feedback. Read, enjoy and happy New Year!

  1. Really Deleting What’s on Your Computer
  2. Good advice on asking for a new website
  3. Careful When Throwing Away Computers
  4. Importance of Needs Assessment
  5. Killer Church Websites
  6. 3 Antidotes to Human Stupidity
  7. Best in Social Networks
  8. Excellent Tool for Identifying Fonts
  9. Gadget Monday: Big Zip-Topped Bag for Cables When Traveling
  10. Understanding the Size of Gen Y

Top Five Usability Tools

Usability is one of my favorite subjects, because it’s so often ignored yet it’s so utterly necessary to the success of any online project. If someone doesn’t understand how to use your website, what use is it? Your web projects have got to be easy, easy, easy for visitors to use.

You should be thinking about user-friendly design from day one, but you should also be continually refining what you’ve got. There are numerous online tools out there you can use to help you evaluate the usability success of your web projects, but here are five I recommend for learning more about how people use your site. You can also check out previous postings on usability.

  1. SUS – A quick and dirty usability scale (Word doc). One of the best ways of finding out how people feel about your web project is to simply ask them. This template from the Usability.gov website is a great place to start when thinking about questions. You can either distribute this document or turn to a tool like SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang to ask for feedback on your site.
  2. Color Contrast Analyzer Juicy Studio. Many more people than you probably think have trouble picking up all colors, maybe as many as one in 10. Make sure your design has high contrast colors – no black on blue or yellow on white. Try a tool like Color Contrast Analyzer Color Analysis to choose the right colors for your web site.
  3. AnyBrowser.com. We all become used to looking at websites on our own computer screens, but they’re not all set at the same resolution. It’s a good idea to test your site on various browser sizes so you can see how it shows up for others. This site helps you do it easily.
  4. BrowserCam. This tool lets you see what your site looks like if you’re viewing it from a Mac, PC, Blackberry or any number of other operating systems or browsers like IE or Firefox. Extremely useful to view your site through this before you launch.
  5. StomperNet Scrutinizer. Organizations with big bucks have the money to spend on eye tracking programs, where they actually record where people look on a webpage and are able to figure out what people are seeing or aren’t seeing. StomperScrutinizer is the poor man’s alternative, which is a browser that tracks the mouse and forces the eye to look at the location of the mouse.

Top Five Jargon Terms

Wood Scrabble Tiles

I like to think I'm fluent in English, being born and raised in America and all. But sometimes I feel like I'm learning a new language: technospeak. Every industry is rich with its own jargon, but because so many people use the Internet, the technology industry's jargon frustratingly works its way into common speak (remember when we all laughed about the word "blog"?). You don't need to know what all this terminology means (like undercooked spaghetti not all of it will stick), but here are what I consider the top five most important tech terms that are worth learning.

  1. SEO (search engine optimization): “… the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via … search results. Usually, the earlier a site is presented in the search results, or the higher it 'ranks,' the more searchers will visit that site." From Wikipedia. See blog postings on SEO.
  2. Open source: “… a development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process.” From the Open Source Initiative. Software code that is created under open source guidelines (such as Drupal – our CMS of choice) is open to anybody to use without licensing restrictions.
  3. RSS (Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication or RDF Site Summary, depending on who you ask): “… a format used to publish frequently updated works – such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video. An RSS document (which is called a 'feed', 'web feed', or 'channel') includes full or summarized text … [that] benefit publishers by letting them syndicate content automatically. They benefit readers who want to subscribe to timely updates from favored websites or to aggregate feeds from many sites into one place. RSS feeds can be read using software called an 'RSS reader', 'feed reader', or 'aggregator', which can be web-based or desktop-based.” From Wikipedia. Here's the Friendly Web Tools Blog RSS feed and instructions on how to use it.
  4. Microblogging: “… the practice of sending brief posts to a personal blog on a Web site, such as Twitter or Jaiku. Microposts can be made public on a Web site and/or distributed to a private group of subscribers. Subscribers can read posts online or request that updates be delivered in real time to their desktop as an instant message or sent to a mobile device as an SMS text message.” From SearchMobileComputing.com. Follow Talance on Twitter.
  5. Social network fatigue: “The ennui induced by persistent solicitations to join new social networks. It is especially acute in those who are already members of more MySpaces than they can remember." From Wired.

Top Five Social Networking Sites

I spend so much of my time on social networks that it’s hard for me to remember that not all nonprofits use them. But you should! Social networks, like those below, are an ideal way to create community, distribute information and learn from others. Plus, these are all free services, and free marketing is a nonprofit’s best friend.

So, as part of our end-of-the-year-top-five-blow-out, here are our five favorite social networking sites:

  1. Facebook: We love Facebook is the community-based Pages and Groups. But we especially encourage charitable organizations to set up a Facebook Cause. This lets you easily spread the word about important issues and lets you take donations online. (See Talance on Facebook.)
  2. MySpace: What we love about MySpace is its size. It’s the third most trafficked sites in the United States according to Alexa, so it’s a great way to make connections and send out buzz. Non-profits can use the blogs to distribute alerts and updates.
  3. Twitter: Twitter wins our hearts because it’s so fast. This microblogging site lets people follow updates without the bulk of a blog. Nonprofits are using it in great ways – such as sending out calls for blood donations. (See Talance on Twitter.)
  4. Flickr: Sharing photos seems innocuous enough, but there’s power in those images. We’ve seen church groups post compelling images of their missionary work and nonprofits post images of their events, which can create interest in future events.
  5. YouTube: If photos are powerful, videos are even more so. We love the way YouTube brings images and sounds to your network. Look the Living Darfur official music video, which has received more than 2 million views. Activist Naomi Klein has created a powerful network for her Shock Doctrine. Movies are powerful things.

Gadget Monday: Top Five Gadgets

In the giving spirit of the season, our Friendly Web Tools blog is going to close out the year with a wealth of tips for you. From now until 2009 (we’re taking a break on the 25th and 26th), we’re going to give you our top five every day, from design tips to gadgets.

Today, as it’s Gadget Monday, I’m giving you our top five gadgets. As with all gadgets featured on Gadget Monday, these meet our criteria of affordability, ease of use, practicality and ingenuity, all factors we think are vital for charitable organizations.

So, with the end of the year nigh, our top five gadgets:

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[Image: Flickr user curiouslee]

1. XO. We adore the cheap, durable, energy efficient and inspired green and white laptop computer from the One Laptop Per Child project. We love it because it’s wonderfully designed and it can help change the life of children all around the world. It’s cute, rugged and has built-in wireless. In fact, it’s so great, you might want to buy one for a kid somewhere else who needs one and then buy one for a kid closer to home.

2.E-book reader. It’s a weird experience going from a book to a digital square, but once you cotton on to an e-book reader, you’ll never look back. Even if you don’t want to pay for the expensive books, you’ll still love either the Sony E-Book Reader or Amazon’s Kindle for free and paperless newspapers, magazines and a large backlog of public domain books.

3.Solio Charger. We first saw this when we volunteered at our local public radio station – they were giving it away as a premium for pledging. I’ve loved it ever since. The Solio “stores power from the sun or socket; freeing you to recharge your mobile phone, iPod and other handheld devices anywhere, anytime. A fully charged Solio will recharge the average phone up to two times, or give you up to 15 hours of MP3 music.” Green and great.

4.Zi6. We’ve reviewed the Flip Video digital recorder, but we really like Kodak’s Zi6. It’s a cheap HD (I’ve seen it for barely over $100 online) camcorder for quickly capturing video and letting you upload it to YouTube easily. Fast and fun.

5.Optoma’s Pico Projector. Earlier this year, we featured the 3M pocket projector, a gadget that makes taking PowerPoint or video presentations on the road much easier. We also like Optoma’s Pico, which is bright, incredibly portable and just shy of $400.

MS Quick Parts: Tech Support Secret Revealed

Here’s a secret: I don’t always feel as friendly, knowledgeable and responsive as I sound when it comes to tech support e-mails. I just have a little tool that helps me out: Microsoft Office 2007 Quick Parts.

It’s a small tool that’s part of Outlook 2007 that saves phrases or images that you might frequently include in outgoing e-mail messages. You can select that snippet from your personal library to insert into messages whenever you want.

I use it for signoffs (“If you need to contact me, my info is below”) tech support hints (“If you need a reminder of your password, click the link that says Forgot Your Password”) or any other little things I frequently repeat.

Top 10 Mistakes of Online Fundraising

With some mighty big funders losing money because of the bad economy and the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, this is a good time for nonprofits embrace grassroots fundraising. This, after all, is how the president-to-be was able to raise such an enormous sum: lots of people making moderate donations.

If you’re not raising funds online, do it! Too many websites make it too hard – or impossible – to give online. Here are the top 10 transgressions I’ve seen many times. Learn from these mistakes.

  1. No Donate or Give button. Don’t be shy. People want to donate. How will they know to if you don’t ask?
  2. Donate/Give button not big enough. Make it easy for them to see a donate button. Big red or orange buttons are good.
  3. No way to pay online. Sometimes those big buttons lead to an e-mail or snail mail address. People sit at their computers with a credit card in hand, ready to pay. Our clients use our shopping cart technology to collect donations, sell T-shirts and mugs or accept reservations for events – all classified as fundraising. That’s the best return on your investment, and there are plenty of free services out there too.
  4. Clashing systems. Make sure your fundraising efforts dance together, not bump into each other. Coordinate direct mail campaigns with online campaigns, with a goal of moving more online. It’s vastly cheaper.
  5. Neglecting other technology. You can ask for support though e-mail, blog, Facebook, and other places in addition to your website.
  6. Paranoia. I’m always a little surprised to hear how many people think it’s unsafe to ask for money online. True, nothing is completely safe from fraud, and you shouldn’t be taking credit card numbers through e-mail, but donating through a secure website is much safer than a check in the mail.
  7. Asking for support once. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
  8. Not rallying the troops. Tell others to tell their friends about how they donated. Give them a button for their website that links back to yours. Have your supporters help by spreading the word.
  9. Not tracking. There are great tools out there that you can use that track the number of people who’ve visited your site and what they did when they got there. Make sure you keep records of traffic and compare it month by month to see how your online fundraising campaign is doing.
  10. Bad publicity. Asking for money isn’t enough. You need to market your campaign. Aim for media coverage, write about new campaigns in all of your literature and partner with other organizations for added punch.

Nonprofit Tech Tips from a Wired Rabbi

You’ve heard me harp on about how religious and secular nonprofits need to get with the program and start using technology to build community. A post I came across on the Jewish Common Sense blog by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg proves I’m not the only one talking about it.

Konisburg’s call-to-action pleads, “if we Rabbis can’t change, if the community can’t change, then we will fade into history.” Even if that change is a challenge, it’s necessary. To help soothe the transition from an old-fashioned world to a brave new one, he gives loads of insight for churches and synagogues.

His posting outlines all sorts of friendly upgrades synagogues can make (which can be applied to any church and many nonprofit environments), with special emphasis on technology. A few helpful takeaways, in no particular order, which you can use as a checklist for getting your own technology policy in gear:

  • Forget websites that open up to a picture of a building. Home pages should have pictures of people having fun.
  • Do congregants share information online through a listserv?
  • Is there a social network group so they can see which friends will be attending a program this week?
  • How many congregations have free wifi in the lobby or in a meeting room so waiting parents can use their laptops while they wait for children in lessons?
  • Websites must be updated weekly and have up to the minute information.
  • It should be possible to sign up for a program and even pay for it online.
  • You can mail notices to seniors, but young people want their messages by email.
  • Adult Education classes should be recorded and placed as podcasts on the website, for those who missed, in a timely fashion. Even better, video the class and post it as a webcast.
  • Rabbis, Cantors, and Educators need to use blogs and the web to stay in touch and teach modern Jews.
  • Event pictures and video should be posted on the web within days if not hours.
  • And why not have a section of the synagogue website for members only?

Gadget Monday: Digital Voice Recorders

Last week I gave a presentation on how to do fast and easy podcasts, and several people were curious about different methods of capturing voice. If you have a computer with a microphone, recording is easy, but it’s a little hard to walk around with even a laptop making recordings.

A digital recorder is the answer. I recommend one that does double duty recording audio and also functions as an MP3 player. That way, you can load up your favorite podcasts, and also create them while you’re out walking.

A few good options:

Barack Obama’s Flickr Account

[This week, the blog is looking at the way technology is used by President-elect Barack Obama. It’s a good learning experience, no matter who you voted for. Check out these other presidential posts.]

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[Image: Flickr user Barack Obama]

One of the things I’m frequently telling our clients to do online is to create a community, and one way to bring people together is through images. I love Flickr for this. It’s a great way to share pictures with people who were at an event, and also help others who didn’t attend experience what it was like. I’ve recommended Flickr groups for public rallies and congregations that are trying to drum up interest in future events.

President-elect Barack Obama’s Flickr account is interesting for showing a behind-the-scenes look at a campaign. I especially like to look at the Election Night slideshow. His campaign photographer David Katz snapped pictures backstage all night of the Obama family waiting for the election results to come in.

It’s remarkable not only because of how amazingly cool and calm everyone looks, but also because it feels so intimate. You feel like you’re there with them, waiting backstage for the big Yes or No moment to arrive.

The next time you have a charity run, fundraiser or other event that you’re hoping to draw interest to, put it up on Flickr.