iAlja's blog

Click. Learn. Share.

Giving Good Directions

Lately I seem to be stumbling a common problem a lot while surfing the web, visiting different places in Second Life or just going to different analogue places by analogue roads. That problem is lack of good directions related to different content and places.

A common example: I often find an interesting blog post, and when I try to find more about the person that wrote it or the purpose of the blog, there is nothing. Nada. On blogs, I often get my hopes up when I see the “About” page, but too often I find the default message to the owner of the blog that no visitor should ever see (something like: “Write something about yourself/your blog on this page”). I really don’t expect everyone to provide their full CV and contact information, but even if you decide to be anonymous, you can at least tell us what field you work in and what is the purpose of the blog.

Then another common example from Second Life. I won’t even mention those places that are supposed to have a grand opening and can’t be found anywhere on the map or under search. What I find even more disturbing is getting to a new place and receiving no clue of what the place is about and no help for getting easily from one part of the sim to the other (i.e. teleporters). Flying is fun in Second Life, but I don’t always have the time or will to fly from one corner of the sim to the other to see there is nothing really interesting on the other side.

The immediate reaction to the lack of (good) directions is for me confusion, self-consciousness (thoughts like: are there really no directions here or is it my fault that I can’t find them?), and the final result is usually leaving the confusing place without plans to return in the near future. This confusing place should of course never be your online course site, your virtual world presence, or even your personal or professional website.

So, what can we do to avoid users leaving our places, and how can we prepare good directions for our users (students, clients or friends)? Having really good directions is not an easy job I grant you, but I think there are some things we can do to get closer to that goal:
  • The first step is of course recognizing that some directions are needed. In our enthusiasm of building something new we often forget that.
  • Think like a newbie and like an average user of your content when preparing directions, and (if possible) test them on a random person that was not involved in the design process and is not a super geek. If your grandparents can understand your directions you’re certainly on the right track!
  • Make directions easy to read, help yourself with simple visual clues (a map, icons etc.). Keep it simple and try to include the basic information. First time users/visitors don’t need to know all the details, but they should be able to get to those later when they need them.
  • Make directions visible for first time visitor, but not disturbing to frequent visitors. Avoid using intrusive tools such as pop-up messages. The first time user might appreciate them, but only the first time. On the second visit he/she will start looking for the mute button, on the forth he/she will start looking for excuses for not visiting.
  • Not all directions should look like they’re there just because they have to be there. Add value: entertain your visitor, provide additional functions (i.e. teleporting in Second Life, a list of the most interesting posts etc.), make them feel welcome and appreciated.
  • Be polite to all users, not just those that you want to have today or those that pay you. You never know when you’ll need somebody, so try to make a good first impression on everyone.
  • Provide personal support options. Even if you don’t manage to give good directions, you can be saved by giving your users/visitors/students and easy way to contact you and get personal directions from you or your staff. It’s the age of a user-centric web, on which we like the feeling we can all go talk to the boss if we want to.
  • Listen to user feedback. And don’t listen just to the users that talk to you. Sometimes you have to make the first step and ask the users for feedback.
These are just some of my guideliness for designing good directions (that don’t apply just to giving directions on the internet, but should also be considered in offline spaces!), but I would of course love to hear how you approach the task of providing good directions for your users. How do you, for example, provide directions for the students of your course or visitors of your website, online profile or blog?

On my blog, I try to provide good directions by having a “Who am I?” block right on the top of the blog sidebar, which has some basic info about me and a few links to my extended profiles if the visitors want to know more about me. Also, I decided to visualize my blog purpose with a simple moto (Click. Learn. Share.) and icons right below. I might also add some links to my most interesting posts in the future, but overall I hope I did a decent job in providing directions and different ways for navigation. If you think I’m missing something, please let me know :)

I certainly think that once in a while we should all stop to think about how new users feel when they first enter one of our places. And I think we can often find some little and sweet details to add that will make the visiting experience for first-timers and regulars alike that more pleasurable and memorable.

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2007/08/giving-good-directions.html

Catching Up: 8 Random Things About Me

St. Nicholas Port on ZakynthosHuh, what a busy August! After a lovely Greek vacation (I highly recommed Greece for vacation - great food, great people, crystal clear sea!) I had one of the busiest week (and weekend) ever: all the catching up with RSS feeds, mails + intensive work on two different projects… and the result of that is that I still haven’t managed to reply to all mails (bad Alja, bad!), and I’m also late for my blogger homework, which was assigned to me by The Four Eyed Technologist 12 days ago (so says Technorati :) ). So, it’s now time to stop making excuses and join the “8 Random Things” game that has been spreading around the blogosphere for quite some time now. I admit that I’ve been reading many random things about many of you in the past weeks with quite some interest, so it’s only fair to do my share now :)

First, The rules:
  1. Post these rules before you give your facts.
  2. List 8 random facts about yourself.
  3. At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them.
  4. Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they’ve been tagged.

My 8 Random Things:
  1. I trained track and field athletics for about 10 years in different disciplines; I started in first grade in long distances, and ended up doing long jump and 60m/100m hurdles. I wasn’t too bad at it (even got into the national team once), but I quit because I lost my interest in competitions.
  2. At the end of elementary school I wanted to study chemistry, but then lost all interest for it in high school and turned towards computer and social sciences.
  3. I love animation movies and cartoons in general. On my top list are Pixar movies (this short one is imho enough to explain the brilliance of Pixar) and Japanese sci-fi animes, but I like to watch just any animated thing that pops on screen.
  4. I don’t like travelling much, especially by car. I keep hoping teleport systems will be invented in my lifetime :)
  5. My interested for education highly derives from the fact that I was bored at school 90 % of the time, and I spent most of that time drawing various sketches in my notebooks.
  6. I am shortsighted - couldn’t get far through the day without glasses or contact lenses! Part of it is inherited, and part of it is the price of being a computer geek and living behind computer screens.
  7. I love the sea; now that I don’t live by the sea anymore, I really miss the sea air, and the wind you only get on the coast… And thinking of that always reminds me of the song ”Gente di mare”.
  8. I had compulsory Italian classes for 12 years in school as I lived in a bilingual zone (near the Slovenian-Italian border). And now I haven’t really spoken it for 5 years! I still understand it very well, but I don’t dare to speak or write it anymore - and that’s something I’d like to change.
So, I hope you found my 8 random things interesting :) Now, I should tag 8 more people, but I feel like so many of you already played this game or been tagged, and I also don’t want to make anyone play this game, sooo I will follow Angela’s example (and KJ’s ;) ) and invite you readers of this blog, who want to be tagged and share with us 8 random things (I assure you: it is quite fun and painless! :) ) to leave a comment on this post and I’ll add you to the list, ok? :)

List of great bloggers that will be happy to share 8 random things:
  1. Daniel (not a blogger (yet! ;) ), but he shared some interesting things in his comment)
  2. Christopher
  3. position open
  4. position open
  5. position open
  6. position open
  7. position open
  8. position open

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2007/08/catching-up-8-random-things-about-me.html

Taking Another Week Off

As some of you already know, I’m taking another week off next week. This time I’m going to sunny Greece, and I won’t be taking my laptop or have internet access, so it’ll be a real offline holiday. I’ll be back on Monday, the 13th, and until then I won’t be answering my mails or other messages (Facebook, Second Life etc). But I’m planning on having a little experiment with Twitter on my cell phone. I’ll post some updates from my phone during the next week (I’m just telling my mom how she can receive notifications :) ), and I’ve also turned on mobile notifications for some of my favorite contacts. I’m really curious about how this will work out :)

So, I’ll be posting again after I return, and hopefully I’ll have some nice photos to upload to Flickr :) (I’m such a Web 2.0 addict!)

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2007/08/taking-another-week-off.html

What Makes Twitters Tweet?

Ok, yes, I admit: I finally joined the Twitter fever, and I am in fact enjoying it. All for higher research purposes only, of course. Ahem. Anyway, in this post I’d like to share with you some of my first findings/impressions about being a (still newbie! :) ) Twit.

So, as you probably know by now, Twitter is a simple web sites that keeps asking you and everyone else one simple question: What are you doing? And yes, people from all over the world answer this same question (in 140 characters or less) several times a day, and read answers their friends, acquaintances, or strangers (it’s the Internet after all!) provide. Many are wondering at what makes people Tweet, but as with most Web 2.0 phenomena you can’t really know/understand what it is all about until you give it a try (and I mean really give it a try by actively participating!).

Here are some of my ideas of why Twitter works. Actually, answering the question “What are you doing?” on the web is not a new idea. It’s been around for years in different communities; I think that most (if not all) of the forums I used to participate in had an always popular topic “What are we doing right now”, in which members would post short (one sentence) answers. These topics were always a great way to kill time, but also to build a special connection between forum members and strengthen the forum community. In these topics you were could read small little details about members’ lives - their passions, dreams, joys, frustrations and what not - and you got the feeling that you knew them a little better.

But of course, these “Tweet topics” were constrained to a certain web place - the forum - and people get restless if they are limited to one, same old, same old place. Especially because you can’t ever find all of your friends and other interesting people in just one place! And I think that’s where the folks at Twitter got a brilliant idea and offered the users the power to connect socially across different places. Sure, you still have to get a Twitter account, but once you get that, you can Tweet from anywhere you like - the Twitter web site, other websites, your IM client, your browser, your dashboard, your Second Life, your mobile phone,… and you can also read Tweets from your friends from any place you like! You are no longer limited to one application, one website - and I think we’ll be seeing more of that in the future of the Internet. For this reason Twitter is the ultimate social network - anywhere, anytime. Saying “I have to go out” is usually the end of an IM conversation, but can be a start to a Twitter one! Once you set it Twitter up and find your friends, you just enjoy the ride and get connected with your social network - and along the way you can of course discover interesting Tweets from your friends’ friends and expand your social network.

Speaking of differences between Twitter and IM: people often ask why is Twitter different/better than IM? I think Twitter has some advantages over using IM. Firstly, it is not as time demanding, because you usually aren’t expected to reply immediately (although you easily can if you want to), and it takes away less time than having 10 separate IM conversations. But still - you are up-to-date with what your friends are doing, and can provide feedback if needed. And although Twitter can also be disruptive, I think it is very easy to turn off notifications when you need to concentrate on doing something - and nobody actually knows you aren’t receiving notifications (unlike with IM when your contacts know when you’re offline). One of my Twitter friends anyaixchel found a perfect word to describe the communication process on Twitter: ambi-synchronous. I find Twitter communication really fascinating. It is very simple, but yet it connects people in an almost magic way. And again - I think its main advantage is that it is not limited to one single place, but is in a way universally accessible no matter where you are.

And because of that characteristic I believe that Twitter can be used in many different ways: as a travel journal (the expenses of sending an SMS on the road are often much lower than trying to find a computer with internet access in some places), as a flash news feed (see example), as an event reminder, as a tool for class notifications (I wish we had Twitter when I was in school!), and many more. The Twitter mania is just starting, so I’m sure we’ll all be able to find many other innovative usages of this new tool.
My Twitter starting (but not the only!) point
Until then you are of course all invited to follow me (or anybody else ;) ) on Twitter, and maybe we can come up with some new ideas together while Tweeting about less or more important events and thoughts of our lives :)

By the way: Twitter is not the only bird on the block. One interesting (and great looking!) variation of Twitter is for instance Jaiku, which is also great for aggregating different feeds you might have (blog, Flickr, del.icio.us etc). Have a look at my Jaikus for an example. Unfortunately Jaiku doesn’t (yet) support IM notifications, and so it is not as place independent as Twitter.

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2007/08/what-makes-twitters-tweet.html

Presentation: Second Life and Beyond

In the past few weeks I’ve been curiously exploring Jaiku, Twitter, and even Facebook (more about those in future posts); and that is mostly why I haven’t been posting to my blog as much as I would like to. Another thing I’ve been doing is trying out different virtual worlds (There, Kaneva, Multiverse, …). I was curious to see if Second Life is really the best in social virtual worlds we currently got. And I must say I now appreciate my Second Life more :)

The reason behind my “virtual worlds exploration” is that I will probably have to do some introductory presentations about virtual worlds (and in particular Second Life) in the next few months, and that is also why I spent the past week making a “master presentation” on the subject. My goal was to create a presentation with a brief explanation of what virtual worlds are, of what is Second Life, and of different things we can do with Second Life. And here is the result:
I think this presentation can be used for different audiences by taking out some slides, so I hope you will also find it useful for some of your presentations. As it is meant as an introductory presentation, I didn’t focus on details, but rather on presenting the key facts and some of the most attractive aspects of virtual worlds and Second Life. I posted the presentation on SlideShare along with comments for each slides with links to sources I used, so I suggest you take a look at those comments as well. And of course: your comments/suggestions regarding this presentation are welcome either on SlideShare or on this post :)

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2007/07/presentation-second-life-and-beyond.html

Taking the Week Off

Just a short notice: I’m taking this week off for a short vacation at the sea. I’ll have internet access, but I’ll try to avoid it if possible (my wrists really need some rest), thought I’ll probably post little updates on Jaiku. I already have some great books packed, and I really can’t wait to relax on the beach and enjoy the sea air. I’ll be back in the digital world next week, so stay tuned! :)
Sunset in Koper

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2007/07/taking-week-off.html

Join Us at Bloggers Cafe!

In case you haven’t heard yet: edubloggers now have a new place to get together in Second Life at the brand new Bloggers Cafe.The Bloggers Cafe is an attempt to keep the conversation that started at this year’s NECC going (and it is of course a great opportunity for all of us that missed NECC to join in the conversation). You can visit the Bloggers Cafe on Eduisland II, on land that was kindly offered by Ryan Bretag (aka Existential Pain). Also, don’t forget to join both the SL and the RL group (set up by Jennifer Wagner) and have your blog added to the virtual blogroll at the Cafe.
Bloggers Cafe - virtual blogroll
The virtual blogroll wall at the Cafe
For more info about how the Bloggers Cafe started and where it is going see Ryan’s blog. See you all the Bloggers Cafe! :)

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2007/07/join-us-at-bloggers-cafe.html