“Help” Is a Waste of Time

My wife recently took back a cordless phone because it didn’t work. She had left it in its charger over night like she was supposed to but the thing just wouldn’t produce a dial tone. I looked at it briefly, pushed a few of the buttons and agreed that the thing was dead out of the box.
Back she comes with a new phone, and as I’m opening it, what do I see on the back of the phone but a large sticker with large words to the effect “Before doing anything plug in the battery!” Oops. Somehow, my wife had managed to remove the sticker on the previous phone without reading it and thus realising that this simple but essential first step was required to make the thing work.
Which just goes to show that people don’t read instructions. Actually, I do, but only as a result of painful experience. By the way, I don’t know what the manufacturer could have done to make their instructions any more obvious–I guess they’re just screwed.

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Make Internal Links Scroll Smoothly with JavaScript

There’s an interesting article over at Sitepoint about using Javascript to enable jump links to scroll you smoothly down the page to another location. According to the author, the reasoning behind this is that:

When they’re navigating through a long document, users often are confused or disoriented when they click a link that jumps to another location in that same document.

Are they? Based on what evidence? In all the usability testing I have done, never once has a user complained to me that having a link take them to another location on a page is confusing.

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Vendors: Tell Me How Much It Costs

I recently visited the web site of a company that provides conversion to and hosting of streaming video. We’ve been looking into doing this at Children’s, and although we are running a pilot with one vendor, I was interested in seeing how this other company might compare.
We’re a non-profit organization and so are always looking to do things in a cost-efficient way. Consequently, price is an important factor for me in purchasing decisions. However, nowhere on the site could I find any mention of pricing. As Jacob Nielson has rightly said:

Price is the most specific piece of info customers use to understand the nature of an offering, and not providing it makes people feel lost and reduces their understanding of a product line.

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Text Field Spell Checker for Internet Explorer

One of the problems with blogging and entering information into text fields in general is that it’s a hassle to spell check what you’ve written. Of course, if you’re posting a comment on a bulletin board or a blog, or writing an entry, you can preview what you’ve written, but it’s easy to miss typos.
Fortunately, there are a couple of free IE plugins that solve this problem: Hot Lingo and IM Translator.
I’ve tried both but have settled on Hot Lingo as IM Translator (as the name implies) provides a lot of additional translation functionality which I have no need for. Although on the Hot Lingo site it calls the free version an ‘evaluation’ version there’s no time limit to how long it works and no limitations on its functionality. How handy is that?!

Knowledge Management Best Practices

There’s a good article at CIO about knowledge management best practices using some real world examples of companies that have been successful at it.
I particularly liked the tips for making knowledge management work for other organizations:

→ Start with the enthusiasts
→ Convince the influencers
→ Make it a no-brainer
→ Hire a knowledge coordinator
→ Tell stories
→ Recognize contributors
→ Create in-person knowledge forums

Incidentally, I quite liked the “Reader ROI” sidebar that accompanies the article, which gives you a quick bulleted overview of what’s in the article and why it might be useful. A nice touch.

Search Engine Optimization Tool

I’ve been using a great free search engine optimization tool from Softnik Technologies called Good Keywords. It enables you to see how popular certain keyword phrases are with particular search engines. This is invaluable for choosing page titles and headings and also for helping you to lace your content with appropriate keywords. If you’re a bit new to all this, you can learn more about writing good page titles.
If this isn’t enough, Good Keywords enables you to check out your link popularity (the number of links pointing to your site) on the major search engines as well as to see your overall site popularity (based on the service provided by Alexa.com). It’s an excellent way to see how your site is stacking up against the competition.
Incidentally, you can check for good keywords on the web too, using suggestiontool.com but it’s much more convenient to have it in a desktop app.

Tabbed Browsing for Internet Explorer

I’m one of those people who likes to surf the web by opening up multiple windows when I find something of potential interest. That way, I can keep the current page open if the content in the new window turns out to be a false lead and I can click on a whole bunch of links and get to them when I’ve finished reading the page I’m on.
I’ve always hated the fact that IE doesn’t support tabbed browsing and have grown extremely tired of ALT+TABbing through multiple browser windows. Of course, I love Mozilla and Firebird, but I think it helps to be using the same browser as 90%+ of web users.
Well now, thanks to the excellent Avant Browser, I can. Avant is based on IE and so it operates in exactly the same way. However, it has practically all the functionality of Mozilla, in particular, tabbed browsing. If you’ve never surfed the web in this way before, try it. You’ll thank yourself (and improve your productivity to boot).
I’d love to get Avant deployed as our default browser at work (we’re a Microsoft shop so Mozilla would never fly). I’ve been using it for a while at work and haven’t found an internal app yet that it fails on. I’m sure that with a little education employees could make more efficient use of their time on our intranet or on the web.