Web marketing guru Seth Godin has a great article about companies that gratuitously hide their e-mail addresses from customers, forcing us to battle with CAPTCHAs or decode silly "rob [at] webdesigndream [dot] com" strings to get in touch. If you're selling a product or service (especially web design), shouldn't your web site be convenient and easy to use? And what's worse: a little extra spam, or innumerable lost customers?
My policy on Drupal? If you don't have anything nice to say, politely recommend ExpressionEngine. That said, we'll always have to address Drupal for any client considering their CMS options, and Slate gives us a great list of the system's core problems, through the lens of the Obama administration choosing it for whitehouse.gov. Drupal, says the article, is the anti-Obama: righteous, rigid, disorganized, and the opposite of the open, easy-to-use web.
Sometimes, you're stuck with Drupal. When you have the opportunity to influence your client's decision, this article provides some great Drupal dissent from a trusted source.
- Running the White House web site on Drupal is a political disaster -- Chris Wilson at Slate
In my never-ending quest to streamline my everyday tasks, I've got a brand new item on my Mac OS dashboard -- the Give Me a Password random password generator. I generate random passwords for any new accounts I set up on my development server, and in the past I used sites like this one to generate a random string. That worked, but the dashboard widget saves me the steps of pulling up the site and submitting a form -- and it even copies the new PW directly to my clipboard. A click saved is a penny earned -- so I'm adding this one to my productivity toolkit.
- Give Me a Password -- Mac OS dashboard widget
The ever-prolific 37Signals just launched their new service, Haystack, a web-designer listing to help connect clients to designers and developers like us. It's a great site, as we'd expect from the creators of Basecamp, the authors of Getting Real, and the purveyors of pretty much everything innovative in the Web 2.0 world.
Adding my listing was quick and easy, and my portfolio photo was approved (presumably by a human who's sitting there on a Sunday afternoon) in seconds. I'd expect this to be great for SEO and perhaps send a few clients my way eventually -- but it'll certainly be a challenge to get it popular among clients and keep it from being flooded with chop shops like the freelancing marketplaces.
With the 37Signals name behind it, Haystack is poised to do great things. I am sure there are lots of ideas cooking up already to add more to the service -- for now, I'd be excited to hear about any results or new clients that it brings your way.
I'm a huge fan of simplicity, freedom and getting things done -- my productivity plummets when I feel disorganized or have too much on my plate to decide what to do next. So I've embraced the empty inbox, turning Gmail into my ultimate to-do list and making my days more focused and productive.
The concept: everything in my inbox is an item that requires my immediate action. A question from a client, a bill that needs to get paid, and so on. As soon as I respond to it, it goes into my Gmail archive. As I take care of each item, my inbox dwindles, and before I know it Gmail is a thing of beauty: "No new mail!" It's simple, refreshing, and encourages me to address everything on my list -- if something's cluttering my inbox on a Friday, I might as well get rid of it so I can be a free man for the weekend.
Want to give it a try? Here's how to dive in:
- Archive everything. I know this seems like jumping off a cliff to some of us -- I had hundreds of e-mails in my inbox when I took the leap. Just close your eyes, select all and click "Archive." It's all still there for you, just a search term away.
- Attack your spam. When I got started, I was on more meaningless opt-in lists than I'd care to remember. Every time mail from an opt-in list hits your inbox, turn that into an action item too: unsubscribe! And if you find a couple lists that actually add value to your life, they'll be all the more unique when they come in.
- Hit the labs. Switch on the Send & Archive button in Gmail Labs. It adds a new button that sends your response and immediately archives the conversation -- essentially a "mark as complete" button for your inbox to-do list.
For more on empty inboxing, check out these posts:
One of my favorite tools for content management is drag-and-drop sorting with AJAX -- it's a seamless and intuitive way to allow clients to reorder items on their site, whether they're photos in a gallery, pages within a category or items in a list. When I used to roll my own CMS's, I used Script.aculo.us and jQuery to get the job done. When I dove into ExpressionEngine, it was a feature I immediately missed.
Lucky for me, like everything on my EE wishlist, there's an extension (or, in this case, a module) that makes it happen. The REEOrder module attaches itself to a custom field in your weblog (for example, "entry_rank") and populates it with an integer, which you can then use to order your entries when you display them in a template. On the control panel side, it allows your client to click and drag all the entries in a weblog up and down, ordering them however they'd like from a single screen. Perfect.
There's no shortage of poetic waxing out there about iPhones, e-readers and the future of the book industry. I've downloaded an e-book or two in my day, and I'm known to occasionally curl up with a paper book. But today, I'm a convert. The iPhone Classics app has turned me into a reader.
Just as the iPhone dramatically changed my music and camera habits, Classics has changed the way I read. Before the iPhone, I never carried my iPod or a camera, but wrapping it all into one piece of hardware that's always in my pocket means I'm taking more pictures and buying a lot more music on iTunes. Likewise, I rarely set aside time in my day to read -- but now that the iPhone puts it at my fingertips, I can conveniently fill my downtime with a book.
There are lots of iPhone books out there, and the library is rapidly expanding. Classics, though, takes a unique and brilliant approach -- the app packages 20+ classic, public-domain books in a single app that costs
just 99 cents $2.99 (they've raised the price since I bought it). For less than a buck, I've read Dickens, Verne, Kipling, H.G. Wells, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and Hound of the Baskervilles, and I've got lots more in my future.
Here's the key: the value of Classics isn't that it's digital; it's that it's always a tap away. The dedicated e-reader (or paper book) is like my dedicated camera and iPod -- if I'm going on a long trip, I'll bring them along, but they're not part of my everyday life. Books on the iPhone allow me to read as effortlessly as I check the the time (the cell phone replaced my watch long ago). My high school English teachers would be proud.
I'll admit it -- I'm not much of a Flash developer. I've never gotten into it, and always had great partners and friends to fall back on when I needed heavy Flash lifting for a project. But that doesn't stop me from rolling out Flash slideshows in no time -- and with no Flash knowledge -- thanks to SlideShowPro.
Price: $39.95 for a single-user license (that you can use on unlimited sites)
Verdict: Easy, attractive Flash slideshows without learning any Flash
SlideShowPro allows you to make all your changes to colors, design, functionality and source images via two XML files, which you can edit as static files on your server or hook in to your content management system to allow your client to make updates via the control panel. (More on that in a later post.) It also allows you to navigate between multiple galleries, play Flash video, and do just about everything else under the sun. You can boot up Flash and make your own changes, too, but I love the simplicity of an XML-based configuration that allows me to deliver an awesome product in a matter of minutes.
Check out some diverse examples, all using the same SWF file with different XML parameters: my portfolio slideshow at Howard DC, a photo gallery for The Porches Inn, another slider for Maynard Consulting, and, of course, the SlideShowPro gallery on their official site. An awesome, sleek and easy-to-use tool.