Importance of Needs Assessment

Someone wrote me yesterday looking for details on how I work with clients. I was saying on an N-TEN blog that it’s important to perform an internal needs assessment before you really begin to work with a website developer.

People generally know when they need a new site, but many tend not to start by asking what purpose the site should serve, what kinds of issues it should resolve and how it should look. Of course, this step is important in all companies, but I find it an absolute necessity with nonprofits that are governed by a board or committee.

So the first step we take with a new client is to encourage them to have these conversations together internally before talking to the website developer. That’s the idea behind a questionnaire we developed and hand out to our new clients before beginning on a project. I encourage our clients to send out copies to everyone on the team (from receptionist to CEO), have them fill it out independently and decide together what the final version should look like. Then they come to me with a filled out copy, and we talk through it together.

Everyone’s always really glad of this exercise, because people at organizations often don’t realize how different their thoughts are about their website. And it saves a lot of time and money when it comes to making a solid decision and putting together a reliable schedule.

Make sure to read through this blog posting on how to go about asking for a new website. It’s about what to expect from the company you hire. This is very important, because I find increasingly more often that a designer or a web developer will offer to build a website, but a designer lacks understanding of the underlying architecture, and web developers lack an understanding of how to bring it all together aesthetically.

We work with a project manager, a web developer who is an expert in human factors (meaning the way people naturally interact with technology) and a designer. All of us are able to address many questions before they’re asked and we consider our chief role as that of advisor. Inevitably, with expectations set early on, everyone is always happy with the final outcome.

You can find more info on our site on the kinds of sites we build. Oh, and we also have a deal with N-TEN members, so we can offer a discounts there, depending on what you need.

Good advice on asking for a new website

Entrepreneur’s Tech Forward blog has some solid advice on what kind of questions you should ask a company before you give them the green light to create a website for you. I agree completely with the advice, and this article is like an outline of the way we approach relationships with new organizations.

A reputable web services company should:

  • Say their first step is to understand your needs
  • Step up when it comes to explaining complicated technology
  • Know what goes into the front end (design) and back end (architecture) of a website.

I’d be happy to share more information about how we interact with clients. Contact me at talance.com for more info.

Help for picking tricky color combos

At first glance, you may think kuler from Adobe Labs is little more than online paint chips. But imagine paint chips in dazzling combinations that have been rated for effectiveness and beauty by a network of people. It’s an excellent tool for choosing colors for web and print projects, and an interesting community to become involved in.

I haven’t tested it, but WebAssist has a plug-in that lets you use kuler with Dreamweaver for on-the-fly color combos.

Teachers Spread Thin as Half a Million Children Learn Online

According to an article in today’s New York Times, 500,000 kids in America take classes online, with many of those receiving all all their schooling from virtual public schools.

That’s right, public schools. These programs receive funding from the state, and they’re not considered home-schooling.

This calls for more people who know and understand how to use online learning. The same article says a state audit in Colorado “found that one school, run by a rural district, was using four licensed teachers to teach 1,500 students across the state.”They’re spread enormously thin, and there’s got to be a better push for education of online educators.

Meet me at Drupalcon 2008

Let me know if you’ll be in Boston for Drupalcon 2008 – I’d love to meet you. I’m on the planning committee for the event and am helping to organize. If you’ll be in town, let me know, and I’ll be happy to see you there! http://groups.drupal.org/boston2008

Best in Social Networks in 2007: Us!

I’m very pleased to report that NTEN cited my article “How Nonprofits Can Be LinkedIn” as one of the best articles they ran in 2007. Santa came early!

Read the whole article on this blog or on NTEN.

(Also, if you happen to be an NTEN member, Talance has a partnership that lets you save on online training.)

Useful Usability Sites

[The following article originally appeared in the FreePint Newsletter at http://www.freepint.com.]

My Favourite Tipples
By Peter Maureemootoo

As an expert in how people interact with computers, I always try to think of the simplest way to present information to learners when building and publishing online courses. I turn to these sites time and again for creating a better user experience.

Peter Maureemootoo is president and co-founder of Talance, Inc., <http://www.talance.com/>, a company that publishes and builds online courses and robust, large-scale websites. He has special expertise in creating intuitive and compelling systems for all users.

What is Big Outside the US

We tend to use only the tools our immediate contacts and news sources tell us about, so it’s always interesting to see what’s big in other countries. This entry from Blognation Germany shows what they’re using over there.

Top 10 Ways for E-learning Projects to Succeed

Despite my earlier report citing the Sloan Foundation that e-learning is catching on, not everyone is seeing the same trends. A Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CPID) survey from the UK found just the opposite online learning is on the decline.

This report from Martin Belton at Learning Technologies gives his findings on why e-learning initiatives fail, namely significant costs and high attrition rate. Still, it’s hard for organizations to deny 24/7 access, flexibility and elimination of travel costs. He also gives his top 10 ways for projects to succeed, very much worth reading. Here they are in short form:

1. Link training to performance reviews
2. Make managers accountable
3. Provide accreditation
4. Set time limits
5. Track performance
6. Ensure content is relevant
7. Provide formal rewards
8. Create a social dimension to e-learning
9. Launch a communications campaign
10. Tell them it’s important!

Gmail offers AIM Integration

In the midst of AIM, Skype, Gmail Chat and heaven knows how many more competing instant messaging tools there are, Google’s making moves to create one less program to keep track of. The company just released a feature that lets you chat with people using AIM from within Gmail. It’s fully integrated with the Gmail Chat feature, so there’s nothing to install. Click the triangle next to Set Status Here link, and choose Sign into AIM. You’ll see your AIM contacts listed along with all your other Gmail contacts.

The problem, of course, is that you don’t want to stay logged in to your Google account. If you do, the company can keep a pretty detailed log of every site you look at and attach it with your account profile. Best to relegate the feature to quick chats while you’re checking your Gmail account.