Building A Website

Most people would think that building a good website is straightforward and it was. A few years ago, when the web was still relatively new, it was easy enough to put together a designer and a developer and you could get a reasonable website as the end product.

However, in the modern age of websites, this kind of a websites simply does not cut the mustard. It is of course adequate, but simply feels a little lacking.

There are several websites that I have recently come across that excel in design – they have fantastic design but when it falls down when it comes to usability or functionality. The websites of some graphic design agencies are prime examples of this.

On the other hands, we have highly functional websites with a wide range of features and functionality. The website might even be attractive but fails terribly in terms of usability. sourceforge is a very good example of this. I used to use it a lot a few years ago but its usability has gotten worse in the last few years, not to mention the fact that it seems to have slowed to a crawl. I still use sourceforge now and again to look up pieces of software but I don’t look forward to it.

Then you have the rare gems, that are exceptionally usable and functional. Google is an excellent example of this. Note however, that the design of google in minimal.

Having worked in the web for numerous years and having used more websites than I could possibly count, I strongly feel that the medium that is the web is heavily under-utilised.

Facebook is a good example of some of the good things you can do with web. Things just feel a lot more natural. If you take the news feed, you can hover over an item to see the menu at the top right that lets you set your preferences for that particular item.

Same with your wall, hover over an item on your wall, and you see a menu option, click on it and you get relevant options.

This is a simple and minor thing. However, this brings in the concept of context and I think that context is largely ignored in all applications. However, it should be easier and much more useful to have context sensitive commands / functionality within websites.

Now, If facebook was to take it one step further and allow you to right click anywhere on a news item and then choose one of the options, that would be even better – save me from moving the mouse to the menu.

Another excellent thing Facebook has done is provide the ability to comment on most things that someone does. Social interaction can take a website from zero to hero in an instant. How can you allow your customers / visitors to interact with each other. Even better – Can your website integrate with Facebook and allow your visitors / customers to use the interaction capabilities of Facebook to drive your site further?

A Ubuquitous Avatar

With around 6.5 billion people in the world, there is a good likelihood that if you think up something “original”, somebody else in the world has already thought of it.

Now, take the internet with just under 1.5 billion people linked in. Now, if you think up something that would be cool or useful (especially if it pertains to technology in some way), there is a good chance that somebody else has thought about it. And if you, like me just want to use it instead of creating it, somebody else has probably gone to the effort of making it work.

For a trivial example, it would be cool if I could have just one bookmarks folder for my Firefox and have this synchronised across all my computers (one in the office, the laptop, and the one at home). Do a quick google search and Bam – there it is… Foxmarks and guess what – it does even more…

Now, this has an interesting side effect. What about all cool things we could do if only I knew what to search for in the first place… I am subscribed to enough newsletters, websites and blogs (of course) to stay apprised of a lot of things that are happening, changing and being used in the world but that still does not tell you about all the cool things that could be done.
So, when I stumbled across this tiny (pun intended) little gem of a service called Gravatar, I was intrigued and impressed. It is such a tiny, simple, straightforward little thing. It also does just one thing, but it does it well. Now what it does it do?

It allows you to set a picture as your avatar against your email address and everyone who subscribes to the service is able to associate you with this avatar.

Why is this cool? Well, we just installed WordPress for our blog and it comes integrated with Gravatar and my user account was automagically liked in to the display the picture that I had set as my avatar. Cool!

If that is not cool enough – I set my mail account to link in to Gravatar (thats actually how I stumbled across the service) and anyone else who uses the service will show up with their pre-defined avatar on my browser.

All that needs to happen now is for Facebook to integrate with Gravatar so that when I change my profile picture, it will update my Gravatar…