My new site looks like it’s funded.

I recently decided to bite the bullet and commission a redesign of Grouvia.  The current design, although it’s nice, is too complicated and is causing problems with implementation.

I hired this awesome offshore contractor to do the design and I got a preliminary screenshot today.  I sent it to a colleague and we were talking about it, and to one of her comments I said, “yeah, it looks so much better, cleaner… like we’re funded.”

She laughed.

I can’t put my finger on what that really means, but I feel like it’s true.  The new design makes Grouvia look like the other Web 2.0 sites that have been professionally designed… and those designs probably costs tens of thousands of dollars.  This is costing me about $350.  Of course I have to implement it myself, but that’s ok.  If I wanted to I could probably get that done for a few hundred bucks also.

[Speaking of cheap labor, I said to my Dad the other day, “these people are my staff.”  By this I was referring to the subcontractors I’ve hired from the Phillipines, India, and now Belarus (where they heck is that anyway?).  I’m addicted to offshore staffing.  Need something done quickly for practically no money?  Hire a Filipino!]

Anyway, I’m totally thrilled with this new design – I can’t wait to get it up on the site.  It just feels right.  It feels… funded.

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Usability is Still King

As I mentioned in my last post, I have come up for air and started picking up the marketing tasks I abandoned last month.  I decided to take a look at Grouvia’s Google Analytics numbers, and I noticed we are getting a high bounce rate on some of the marketing pages.

The marketing copy was originally developed based on what we were trying to deliver with Grouvia.  The initial surveys we did back in the beginning gave us insight into what people are looking for, and our initial feature set was based on that.  So the development of the marketing copy was based on feature-needs, not necessarily real-life needs.

There’s a lot more behind this of course, but I don’t have the time or desire to write a novel-length blog post, nor would you have time to read it, so you’ll have to trust me that a lot of thought and planning went into all this.  But there’s only so much you can do without a huge pile of money to do market research.

In an effort to root out what was causing the high bounce-rate, I asked a colleague unfamiliar with Grouvia to spend an hour with me so I could virtually observe her as she went through the web site.  We started on the home page while she pretended she was a user looking for a place to manage her neighborhood homeowners association (HOA), of which she is President.

We talked through each of the pages she thought she might visit during her evaluation, and she told me everything that came to mind, both good and bad, without reservation or bias.  She was great at this, I could not have chosen a better person to do this with me at this point.

The exercise both opened my eyes and confirmed what I thought — it’s time to re-write the copy.

Now for an interesting twist:  last week I posted a job opening on oDesk for candidates with SEO/SEM expertise to help me improve the search engine rankings of Grouvia.  (I mentioned I was going to do in last week’s post.)

One candidate wrote to me saying she would not be able to apply for the position because she was booked until February, but she was nice enough to spend some time looking at the Grouvia site, and giving me her opinion of the content, as well as some tips on how to find a good SEO person to hire.

I was very impressed by, and grateful for, this gift.  What she said resonated with me, especially one thing in particular:  “Your sites [sic] content is currently on a very advanced reader understanding level and unless you are only trying to appeal to the college graduate, you may want to tone that down some.”

Well knock me over with a feather.  So.  Like.  Duh.

Fast forward to the pseudo-usability test with my colleague (who just so happens to be a Ph.D and probably in a  stratospheric reading comprehension level.)  I mentioned the candidate’s comments and she said she’d heard that you should always write your copy for an eighth-grader.

Oh sure.  Like I know how to talk to an eighth grader, much less write marketing copy for one.

I think I’ll need to delay my SEO tasks until I rewrite the web site copy.  Or maybe I need an SEO expert who can also write at an eighth grade level and then we will accomplish two things at once.

Either way, I’m rediscovering that marketing is still way more fun than programming.

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Request for Help Falls (Mostly) on Deaf Ears

Earlier this week I posted a message on a couple of my LinkedIn discussion groups, asking for people’s advice on how to write an RFP. The question itself was fairly simple – I was asking if there is a good way to write an RFP without divulging the full set of requirements. I believe I have good reason for wanting to keep these details private at this early stage of the project.

Here is the measly set of responses I got:
1 – the person responded on topic, but did not address my question
2 – the person asked to be on the list of companies to bid on the RFP
3 – the person said it is not possible to bid on an RFP without the full set of requirements.

Hm.

Granted, I did get an acceptable answer from person #1 after I responded back saying thank you for your advice, but what about my question.

So here’s this supposedly great resource that LinkedIn offers in the way of support for people helping people, and out of maybe a couple thousand members in the groups I posted this to, I get three responses, none of which are helpful. So I feel like standing up and saying, HEY! where is everybody??? Is everyone just so absorbed by their own problems that they can’t spend a minute to reach out to help someone in need?

So anyway… the answer I gleaned from person-#1-round-2 and the here’s-why-it’s-impossible response was this — writing an RFP at an extracted level is probably fine, as long as I understand that the proposals I get will be estimates only and will need 10-20% of padding added to the final price. I’m fine with this.

Having never written an RFP before (although I’ve responded to many in my past), I went and found some examples of software development RFPs online. Unfortunately they’re from huge bureaucratic organizations (one is from the State of California) and filled with TONS of legal mumbo jumbo. But, you get what you pay for, so now I have to spend some time wading through the best one I can find and tearing it apart and revising it to work for Grouvia.

On the upside, the Grouvia design is done and the functional requirements are mostly done – yay! At least they’re done to the point where I feel confident about having enough information from which to create an RFP. Too bad knowing this doesn’t help me sleep better at night.

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Jakob Nielsen Approves Grouvia’s Breadcrumbs (But There’s More To It Than That)

Ok so it’s not the most exciting headline you’re likely to come across today, but it’s pretty exciting for me. For two reasons.

The underlying story is that I had a disagreement with my designer, Brenda, about how to deal with a disconnect we were creating when we allowed the user to click on a link on their home page and get “transported” to a page several levels down. I had a concern that the user would feel disoriented by that and be unsure how to get back. (Remember from many posts ago I swore I would never let this happen and I keep my promises.) After some debate about what breadcrumbs actually represent (I lost that argument), we could not come to agreement about whether to display them. In addition, if we put them here, we now have to put them everywhere, which means it changes every single page. So, we tabled the discussion as it was getting too heated.

Later, I started poking around Jakob Nielsen’s web site looking for inspiration to brainstorm other solutions. On a whim, I emailed him about my issue (his email link is right on the site) and a day later he responded, telling me to use the breadcrumbs and providing a solid reason why.

So exciting thing number one is that he basically solved my problem. Given that he is THE expert in web usability, and it was clear that he “got” my issue, it was easy for me to go with his advice. It didn’t hurt that he vetted my side of the argument ;-).

Exciting thing number two is the more far-reaching, forehead-slapping conclusion that these people are accessible. We are not alone. The experts are out there and they’re willing to help us! David Meerman Scott commented on my blog about buyer personas several weeks ago and gave me a very useful tip. Guy Kawasaki responded to an email from my marketing parter about another topic, the same day. Jakob Nielsen responded to my email and helped me solve a critical problem. It’s amazing, and it’s comforting, and it makes my confidence in these people soar.

I want to be one of them. I am learning other things from them besides how to come up with a buyer persona and whether to include breadcrumbs on my site. I’m learning how to brand yourself, how to help people, and how to use your knowledge and experience and fan base to improve the web experience for all.

It is enlightening. It is humbling. And I am grateful.

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Train Wreck-norati

My experience with Technorati has been anything but pleasant. As a matter of fact every experience I’ve had on that site has been a disaster.

It’s totally UN user-friendly, the pages are busy and confusing, and the blog claiming process is a complete mess. I finally managed to get the original juntopia blog claimed (I don’t even know how) and now I’ve been struggling for a month with getting the Grouvia blog claimed with no luck and absolutely no help from their support.

Let me show you the sequence of this excruciating process, I promise I’ll make this concise and completely factual without any commentary or diatribe. [Update: I kinda lied here.]

Shortly after I moved my blog from blog.juntopia.com to blog.grouvia.com I attempted to do the technorati claim process. I received an error about my URL being invalid, and managed to enter a support ticket of “other” because none of their choices matched their error message. I received an auto-responder message stating they received my ticket and assigned a number to it. I got nothing after that.

A week or so later I remembered I still needed to do this and decided to try again. I entered the blog url and this time I got a different message. Now the site told me that the claim was “in progress”. You can see this screen here:


This seemed relatively normal and so I waited an hour and the same message was still there. I saw the button that says “Complete the Claim” so I thought “Oh, I have to click that button.” So I did and got this message:

To really appreciate this, you have to see it within the context of the rest of the screen. Look at this screenshot:

Holy cow! (Oops, sorry, that was commentary.) Just pause for a second and look at this screen and ask yourself… what would YOU do next? I tried pretty much everything. I finally decided to contact support because I was getting angry and frustrated. So I clicked on the link in the middle of the error message, the green link that you can barely see, yeah that one. (Oops sorry, I did it again.) And I got this screen:

After selecting “Claiming”, I got this screen:

Technorati5
Uhhh…. Hm. None of those seem to fit do they? So I just blindly picked one and sent a description about my problem, and crossed my fingers that the right person would get it. You don’t even want to see the email I got back from them – oy vay! (If you do, just email me and I’ll be happy to forward it to you.)

By the way this was on June 21st. It is now July 16th (actually I wrote this post on July 11th) and finally got back to this again and the same thing happened, and I sent another support ticket in.

*sigh*

One question I have is this: how does this ultra-popular web application survive with this complete train wreck of a web site??? Am I the only one baffled by this? Is it because all the other ones are even worse??? I shudder to think.

In the meantime, my now-defunct juntopia blog is like number 3,245,761 on the popularity list, or the authority list or whatever the heck that ranking thing is they do. Since Grouvia has little hope of ever getting listed, I might as well just leave the old juntopia one up there and hope a few people stumble upon it. No reference to that OTHER web site intended. Let’s just not go there.

[Another technorati claim code: mpvbjge7hd]

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Preliminary Survey Results

It has been so much fun watching these survey results come in. It’s been a little distracting too so I haven’t gotten as much done as I would have liked to!

If you haven’t taken the survey yet, please go here: http://www.grouvia.com/demos/demo1/start.html

But I’m dying to share this with you because it’s SO interesting. It’s only been 2-1/2 days and we still have 4-1/2 days to go, but as long as you understand these are preliminary, I feel good about recording them here. Next week I’ll have final numbers, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, check out these rather surprising stats:

– 0% of the people in the 18-29 year old age group felt that personal blogs are a high priority. Like Wow Man.
– 54% of the respondents are in the 45-59 age bracket, 23% in 30-44.
– majority of respondents (46%) are employed full time, & 23% self-employed
– the vast majority (76%) felt the member home page design was “fairly well laid out” or better. Does that say someting about my design skills? 🙂 HOWEVER, one person felt that it was very confusing. Hm. The survey is anonymous so I can’t ask follow up questions but the comment implied it is too “wordy”, e.g. there is too much text. I’ll have to consider if there’s anything I can do to reduce that. This respondent is in the majority age group so no assumptions can be made there.
– so far the priority of high importance features looks like this:
1. Send messages to other group members
2. Email notifications
3. Event RSVPs and attendance tracking
4. Photo and Video upload for events
5. Mobile /SmartPhone access
6. Stringent User Data security (tie with #5)
7. Search groups by interest and location
8. Group Home Page – Public and Private (tie with #7) (gee I thought this would have been more important)

I won’t do the entire list, but I will share what some the LOWEST priority items were:
Lowest: Non-group/external calendar entries
Next-lowest: Support for carpooling
Next: Spontaneous Group Formation
Also-ran: Group blog, personal blog

I have some initial reactions to this…
… I’m pretty bummed about the lack of interest in spontaneous group formation, I thought it was going to be a big differentiator for grouvia. I might have to put it in anyway (just not in the initial launch) because I think people might appreciate it once they realize how neat it is.
… I was quite shocked at the lack of interest in blogs. The only conclusion I can come up with is that there are so many other blogging platforms out there already that people just want to stick with the status-quo and have a link to their existing blog. Or maybe most people don’t have blogs and don’t want them either. I started a blog last year and abandoned it for months before trashing it and starting a new one (this one). Some people haven’t found their muse yet. That’s ok, blogging is not for everyone.

I hope you have enjoyed this. Next week, final results! In the meantime, I’ll be polishing the preliminary deliverables list for the core players on the grouvia team.

What’s in a Name?

I never had a child so I can’t imagine what it’s like to give a new child a name.  Naming a web site on the other hand, is something I’ve done many times.  So why is this one so difficult?

Let me tell you, good domain names are hard to find.  This is not just naming a company or naming a regular consumable product.  The web site’s domain name is the name of the product, because the web site IS the product!  I must have been through 1,000 names before coming up with Juntopia, and I thought it was pretty clever at the time and was shocked nobody had thought of it.  Thankfully domain names are cheap so it’s no big deal to grab it up and then end up not using it.  You know where I’m going with this, right?

Right.  I’m changing the name.  This was a big deal for me, because I hate wasting time and I feel like the whole process of picking a meaningful (e.g. explainable) name had to be done all over again.  But once I realized that the name doesn’t really need to be all that meaningful, as long as it’s intuitive, memorable, and easy to spell, the process was a lot easier the second time around.  I won’t even go into the explanation of where Juntopia came from and why it’s meaningful, it’s a moot point now.

Think of the popular web sites that have similar features to Juntopia’s planned features.  Many of them have pretty meaningless, but memorable names.  Most are easy to spell and pronounce.  Digg, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Plurg, XY7, Zanox, you get the picture.  So it boils down to…

– short (10 letters or less and no more than 2 syllables)
– easy to say (relatively)
– memorable in a catchy sort of way

This last one is probably not as important, but I went through a lot of names that just seemed, well, weird.  Gorpia, TurnLeftAhead, Grouption, GrateGroops, Froupster, Weevia, Cluboom, Urgroupz, Commongrounders, and lots more.  Most of the weird ones were also already taken.  What do these people do with all these bizarre domain names?  Many of these URLs just get a “server not found” error.  But… I digress.

I’m going to hold you in suspense for another week because even though I’ve decided on, and purchased, the new name, I want to savor it as my secret domain name for just a little while.