Imagination is our power

Archive for October, 2011

The Role Of Design In The Kingdom Of Content

If content sits at the top of the food chain, why do we spend so much time talking about the finer points of design? Every day we debate, experiment with and discuss topics that easily fall into the category of aesthetics, enhanced functionality and layout; in fact, relatively rarely do we talk about content. Nevertheless, even though we should concede that content is king in this realm, this doesn’t mean that design should be devalued.

It may seem logical that the user experience lives and dies by how the user relates on an emotional level to the content on a website. But this is not necessarily the case. From a design perspective, our job is to maximize the value of every visitor, whether they love the content or hate it. The role of a UX designer is not always to make everyone feel all warm and fuzzy inside. A rich Web experience could include the emotion of happiness, humor, discontent, sadness, anger or enlightenment. A well-designed website enables us to attribute our emotion to its source and connect us to that environment through a range of senses. A UX designer should understand why and how to utilize the principles and techniques they have learned to support the website’s precious content.

Justifying User Experience Design

Investing in UX design as an amplifier of good content is not always an easy process. In many industries, a product that fills a demand and that works as it should is good enough. Most of us don’t care how an ink pen or a computer monitor makes us feel, as long as it works. A large portion of the Web still reflects this sentiment, as do clients and project managers who haven’t been educated in the value of UX.

A website is a much more involved product than an ink pen and calls for a different measurement of user satisfaction. A product that merely meets demand and works correctly does not suit a medium that is so highly interactive and saturated. As designers, our task sometimes is to convince other parties of the value of building a user’s personal engagement with the website’s content. Fortunately, we have examples of companies that have done UX right and that have the success to show for it.

As a geek who enjoys building computers, I look to Newegg as a good example of a company that has played to its strengths to deliver a superior user experience. In its early days, Newegg’s fair prices and lightning-fast delivery of computer components made it the place to shop for IT people. This was all great, but the real kicker was that users who loved to share product strengths and weaknesses with each other could do it all on Newegg’s website.

This turned out to be a fantastic benefit for new users, who were inclined to trust the experience and suggestions of people they regarded as peers. As a result, Newegg built a massive army of geeks who generated content and provided an extremely valuable experience to its users. If you had a device or component that was functioning oddly or not at all, chances are that someone had shared the cause and maybe even a solution in a Newegg review.

Newegg

Newegg acted on this opportunity the right way by using design to highlight its most valuable content. While its design may not be the slickest or most modern, Newegg provides a great experience and has high user satisfaction. Ratings and reviews by peers have become a driving force in Newegg’s design and populate nearly every page. As the design has evolved over the years, product reviews have floated to the surface of nearly every page, and the system for contributing reviews has grown in depth and functionality as well. Newegg even took this to the next level with a recent nationwide ad campaign and design. All of this came about because Newegg identified which of its content made for a strong user experience and built on it, which should be done in every Web project.

Identifying the content that makes you stand out is only the first piece of this puzzle. What we really want to explore is how to take everything we have learned about color theory, lines, shapes and visual movement and apply it to our content in a way that doesn’t just decorate it or even make it pop on the page, but rather that supports the conversion of a goal or delivery of a message. Much like how the primary function of petals on a flower is to attract insects to pollinate, good design ensures that your website will thrive. All of that great design talent needs to be applied not only to the content but to the layer before and after it as well.

The Delicious Design Sandwich

With virtually every website, good UX design can be sectioned into three parts or events: introduction, consumption and reaction. Content is at the core, the meat of what the user is looking for, and on both sides of the content are events that are driven by a well-executed design.

User Introduction

The Web is a world of first impressions, and quick ones at that. Users form an opinion of a website within the first few seconds of loading it. This means that the colors, the layout and the presentation of headings are all evaluated before any content is actually absorbed. Users are inclined to scan content until they zero in on something that piques their interest. Regardless of what your content actually says, the design around it controls what the users see first and how their eyes move across the sections of the page.

In addition to searching for interesting information, users will also be determining how credible this resource is. Despite being constantly taught that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, all of us are susceptible to trusting a resource based on our familiarity with it, what our peers think of it and the time and money that we estimate was put into its construction.

Living Social takes advantage of this in its design in multiple ways. A quick scan of the main page after the user has entered an email address and location reveals several techniques that have been implemented to elicit a reaction from the user.

Living Social

Perhaps most striking is the background image. In every city that Living Social serves, a background picture loads that the visitor can relate to. I immediately connected with this website because I did a double-take at the background image and realized that I pass by this area all the time: it’s just down the road from me!

Living Social has also done the little things right. A clear hierarchy is established on the page through the headings and content modules; the call to action is the most prominent element; and the interactions oriented around engagement are easily accessible. The counters that tell you how many people have bought the deal and how much time you have left generate sufficient peer pressure.

Living Social

When all is said and done, Living Social has invested in the introduction side of its design, which makes a lot of sense given its content. Living Social and the other daily deal websites thrive on a high volume of quick visits, which means they often live and die on first impressions. The heavy emphasis on the impression portion of this design begins with the content. Instead of fitting content into a design concept, Living Social has wrapped an appropriate design around the content that it wants to feature. But we aren’t done there.

Content Consumption

Even in the process of consuming content that we’ve proposed, design plays a huge role. The crucial rules of typography control the experience that users have when reading articles. The mood of images and video can vary drastically based on their aesthetic setting. If your primary content is user-generated, then the ability of users to interact with the website and each other will be driven by the interface you’ve designed.

More than anything else, content is an opportunity to set the tone of the website. We have all witnessed the untold damage that is done when content that should have a professional tone is set in Comic Sans. The font face, size and color can do an amazing job of controlling how your website says something that leaves an impression on users, which leads to the final piece of our sandwich. Along these lines, the way you frame entire portions of the website gives the audience clues as to what their emotional reaction should be.

We see this naturally develop with websites created by designers for their own peers. Portfolios, design-related apps, and websites for networks and conferences are all designed for tone. Of course, getting too extravagant in an attempt to impress is the opposite of what we are trying to achieve here. However, in the case of a conference about HTML and CSS, a website that experiments with the edges of what’s possible with HTML and CSS is an appropriate setting for the content.

The Combine

Like many websites for technology and design conferences, The Combine in Bloomington, Indiana, is highly design-driven. In addition to the slick HTML and CSS that will resonate with the professionals being targeted, the aesthetics intentionally reflect the small-town atmosphere of Bloomington. The same features that distinguish the location of this conference also encourage users to identify with the design.

User Reaction

This may be the most understated design-driven activity on a website, but it carries huge value. How the user responds to your content is pivotal to the website’s success. These days, merely delivering content is not enough. The Web has a wealth of information and options. In order for a website to enjoy any success, it must take advantage of referrals, links and maybe a bit of buzz on social networks. If we want to stand out on the Web, our users need to share our content with friends or contribute their own thoughts, reactions and content.

YouTube serves as a practical example of building an experience around the user’s reaction. YouTube kickstarted the concept of viral videos, but getting there required that the website be designed around the content itself. We all know that a massive amount of content is uploaded to YouTube every day, but the degree to which a video goes viral depends on how encouraged the user feels and how easily they are able to share or contribute to the experience.

YouTube

It doesn’t take a trained eye to see this in action all over any given YouTube page. Suggested and related videos are always available, along with the option to share a video on your favorite social network or embed it anywhere on the Web. Of course, the design was not made to look good on its own and then this functionality shoehorned in. Again, the emphasis is on the content, and the design elements that result in the user’s reaction are all rooted in sharing or exploring that content.

In a world driven by likes, tags, tweets, shares and votes, the follow-through that a website and its content facilitates becomes a massive factor in its success or failure. A user who visits a website, views the content and then leaves generates little value for the business. For this reason, we see blog articles sprinkled and even littered with related content, suggested videos that come up after you watch a clip, and quick and easy share and save buttons everywhere. The follow-through on each of these actions is highly design-driven. The color, shape, size and location of links and buttons determine whether a visitor sees them quickly or not. But, of course, we can’t expect everyone to play the role that we define for them…

Designing For An Experience

As important a role as design plays in the perception of and reaction to your content, people still argue that a user experience cannot truly be designed. Of course, the user ultimately decides how they engage with any design. If the goal of a design is to convert every single user into a customer, then failure is the only outcome. We can, however, design an experience that connects immediately with a target audience, delivers information with a clear tone and purpose, and encourages a response.

We want to design an experience for users who are willing to buy into it. Users come to your website most likely because they already have some interest in digging into the content, which means they are willing to play into the experience that you have designed. If a user stumbles on the website by mistake, then taking them all the way to the reaction stage of the experience becomes more of a bonus than a goal.

Different techniques for driving engagement with content can be found across the Web. If you’ve been to the blog xheight lately, you may have noticed its effort to prioritize the content in its posts. In addition to the minimalist design, the designer further isolates the content by fading elements out of view after your cursor has been idle for a few moments, leaving the article you are reading as the only element on the page.

X Height Blog Before

X Height Blog After

The jury is still out on whether this makes for a better or more distracting reading experience, but this design decision clearly centers on the content that the designer wants to deliver.

A different technique is apparent on the Livestrong website. When the user hits the browser’s address bar or tries to click away after reading an article, a modal window with related content pops up. It’s interesting that the modal window is enabled only in the blog section of Livestrong, and not by mistake. With a website this rich in content and from so recognizable a brand, the designers could assume that the majority of traffic to these articles would come from search engines. The goal here is to keep users from jumping back to Google for more content and to have them continue engaging with the content here.

Livestrong
Editor’s note: The Live Strong site no longer has this feature since it seems to have been modified right before we published this article.

Keep Designing

Now as much as ever, companies are recognizing the value that good design and a solid user experience can bring to them. UX design is about developing a road map for the user, encouraging certain actions, and developing a user base that wants to engage with your content.

The key to driving this engagement is to ensure that we value design in the right way, not simply as a template, theme or color scheme but as a support system for key content. We can use design to make a website unique and more memorable. We do this by laying the foundation of a good impression, enabling smooth and meaningful consumption, and encouraging engagement with the content. All three of these areas are opportunities to drive a user experience that is in harmony with our content.

When a CMS becomes Restrictive

I’ve been working with Content Management Systems, both bespoke and open source for over 7 years. In that time a lot has changed as to how flexible and adaptive CMSs can be, but there are still times when a CMS can be restrictive.

Each CMS brings with it its own advantages and also its own disadvantages. Having primarily worked in large organisations such as universities, I’ve found that, at times a CMS can do exactly the opposite of its intentions and become restrictive rather than freeing.

There are several reasons why I’ve found this to be the case, and while generally my experience has been within larger companies, I think some of the following reasons still apply to any size company.

Everyone wants a piece of the pie

Ownership. Staking your claim. Everyone wants to claim ownership of their website and the content that is on the site. This can lead to endless scrolls of unnecessary blurb and level upon level of navigation that takes the user down a route, they can’t return from.

It can be a minefield trying to get around this and the temptation to start hacking into other people’s copy can be immense but doing this you can risk alienating and offending people that you need to keep on side to move the website forward.

What I’ve found best in these situations is to get the department on side and begin involving them in the process, explaining along the way what makes for effective web copy and why a simple and clear navigation will take the user to all the content you want them to see.

The website becomes the graveyard for PDFs

We’ve all come across those websites that have pages of information and an excessive amount of downloadable files: PDF, XLS, doc, you name it, I’ve seen it available for download.


Image via Jirsak on Shutterstock

I’d much prefer to look at the copy within a PDF and to see if it can be adapted to web copy. If not it’s looking at whether it is necessary, what does it add for the user, if anything? At the minute, in my day job, I’m working on a developing a website and I’m trying to steer away from including too many PDFs.

While I do agree that some downloadable, text-based files are essential, such as terms and conditions, lengthy guidance and research docs, the majority of PDF downloads can either be removed or turned into effective web copy.

Undertake a content audit and review the age of the downloads also how the value they add to a user and their experience. Add tracking to the file so that you can see in the web statistics how many users are downloading and on how regular a basis.

Be ruthless. If you’re still facing resistance then create a dedicated repository for those downloads that can be easily managed. Also make sure that your CMS includes a way to easily embed files so that they don’t need to be downloaded. Make it easy to stream audio and video and think about including a size limit on files that can be uploaded so that even if all your editors within the CMS don’t know what a reasonable file size is you can still be sure that larger files are kept in a separate place on your system and reducing potential server strain.

Stuck in the mud

There are few things worse than a design and layout that doesn’t stand the test of time. While all websites need to continually change to move with the times and it is difficult to predict the future, being slow to move forward and progress can be damaging to an organisation that’s first impression to people is an online presence.

If you’re in the web team or marketing and communication team in charge of the CMS you need to be able to make and approve decisions quickly, having to show a design or a new feature through several committees can lead to competitors moving ahead of you quickly with their website and brand identity.

WYSIWG

What I’ve also found is that each department wants to personalise their website and as a department’s web manager, editor, developer or designer this can lead to a battle of wills. It’s difficult for people within the department to understand what their website is and what the user sees their webpage as:

The department’s viewpoint. They tend to see the centre column as the only bit of ‘their’ website.

The user’s viewpoint. They will see the entire page as the organisation’s, and department’s, website.

The departments viewpoint can lead to a cluttered main content area that is hard to read and adds an extra level of navigation rather than simplifying things for the user. It can lead to:

Which depending on how its constructed e.g. with <div> it might not necessarily be that bad for accessibility, but this is an area where the dreaded tables can rear their ugly head. A variety of admin roles, editor roles, contributor roles with different levels of access and editing rights within a CMS can be key to unrestricting a CMS. Make sure that the right people have the right level of access to implement best practice with code, copy and everything else.

It also pays to make sure that each possible selection within the WYSIWG editor has a CSS style attached to it and preferably a variety of styles. For example, with <blockquote> is a simple indentation enough:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Sed ultrices orci iaculis odio auctor cursus. Praesent ullamcorper accumsan eros ac sodales. Fusce adipiscing magna non lorem molestie vehicula scelerisque nisl tincidunt. Sed a quam non justo interdum interdum et et urna. In eu nisi nulla, eget imperdiet risus. Nam justo ante, aliquam id dignissim id, commodo suscipit mauris.

Or would it benefit the look of the site, not to mention providing more tools for your editors to enhance their content to have an enhanced style:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Sed ultrices orci iaculis odio auctor cursus. Praesent ullamcorper accumsan eros ac sodales. Fusce adipiscing magna non lorem molestie vehicula scelerisque nisl tincidunt. Sed a quam non justo interdum interdum et et urna. In eu nisi nulla, eget imperdiet risus. Nam justo ante, aliquam id dignissim id, commodo suscipit mauris.

I do agree that a CMS should limit styles but choosing a selection of styles for an element can still allow content to be managed effectively, but, still giving freedom to those within a department to allow more personality and their own identity to come across.

Things to think about

If you’re the web designer/team:

  • • Think about design and CSS for as many elements as possible
  • • Think about training and best practice

If you’re the marketing and communications team:

  • • Don’t be too autocratic, be receptive and realise the potential unique selling point of each department
  • • Training in writing effective web copy

If you’re the department web manager:

  • • Make friends and influence people
  • • Talk to the heads of department and get them on board with any changes you are planning
  • • Do training sessions/content development sessions with your colleagues to keep them interested and on side with what you are doing on a daily basis
  • • Keep talking to the web and marketing teams to influence change and feedback from your department

No matter what your involvement is with a CMS, I think that getting to know your CMS fully and exploring its limitations while providing training on best practice and how to successfully use a CMS will mean everyone within an organisation can get the most out of their website.

The History of Social Media

Social interaction is imperative in culture and in trade. In this world of fragile relationships and difficult dealings, accessible and feasible techniques are needed so that we can communicate easily with one another and participate in interactive conversations. Social media is the use of digital (and often mobile) technologies and Internet-based applications for exchanging or creating conversation. In other words, it is is media for social interaction.

Presently, social media is an integral part of modern society, and social networking is a big industry. With virtually instantaneous response time, hogging space and time has never been so possible. Just a click opens the door of possibilities and makes one realize that there are answers for just about every question. Thus, social media is a blend of technology and social interaction for the co-creation of value.

 

 

History has seen a wide range of technologies that have facilitated conversation, and in just the last 40 years there have been a startling number of innovations in this sector. People have recently begun using digital media for networking, socializing and gathering information. There are niche websites for every individual and specialized interest. There are websites for sharing photos, sharing videos, telling friends about activities, meeting new people and connecting with old friends. Celebrities regularly update their statuses and interact with fans on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks.

Social media can be effective for building social authority; individuals or organizations can establish themselves as experts in their fields, and then they can begin to influence these fields. Thus, one of the foundational concepts in social media is that, with social media, one cannot control one’s message completely, but one can contribute to discources. Social media technologies are capable of reaching audiences all over the world.

 

The Evolution of Social Media

Social media has come a long way since the days of the telegraph and even the more recent days of Internet-relay chats (IRC), and it continues to evolve. In the last few years, social media has become a convention of the online landscape. Major social networks and social media websites make changes and improvements on a fairly regular basis, so it’s sure to keep evolving in coming years.

Social Everything!

Social media has become an essential part of the lives of millions of people around the world. Whether one wants to look up book or movie reviews that come from the general public (rather than professional reviewers) or search for advice about major life issues, social networks offer unlimited ways to approach these things. So next time a question troubles you, don’t scratch your brains out; just avail yourself of the Internet. Try asking on Twitter instead of using a search engine and poring over pages of search results. Generally, you’ll get better information from the Twitter crowd, and it will take less time.

 

Different Types of Social Media

Social media is a form of mass media, and it can be used for interactive, informational, educational or promotional purposes. It can take many forms, including Internet forums, blogs (including microblogging), wikis, podcasts, photograph or picture sharing, video rating and social bookmarking.

Blogging

Blogs are a common feature of the Internet. Users create their own blog domains and display self-made content. Bloggers write about their personal lives or specialize in topical areas like music, food, religion, health, travel, product news and reviews and so on. There is no need to be a professional or have any kind of expertise, but deep knowledge of the subject matter will lead to success. Blogs are enhanced by media uploads, widgets, streaming radio, podcasts and advertising.

Event Updates

Some websites cater to specific audiences (professionals, creative people, bands, social event planners etc.) and share pertinent event dates and current happenings. Users can buy tickets or participate in events online. There are online calendars for those who actively attend events locally, nationally and internationally.

Social Networking

Users with profiles on social-networking websites put up pictures and videos and interact with friends and family at times and places that are convenient to them. On social-networking websites like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, users connect to friends, join groups, learn about events to attend, buy tickets, play games, chat and more. It seems like every second person has a profile on one of these websites, and everyone else is fast catching up.

Emailing and Chatting

MSN, Yahoo, AOL, Gmail and so on enable users to send reasonably private messages to one another from almost anywhere at any time. It is an instantaneous way of keeping in touch with dear ones who are away, or it can be used for business interactions. Email accounts are easy to use and don’t require in-depth knowledge of Internet inner workings. Web conferencing and online chat rooms are a similar and popular part of social media as well.

News

News providers (television networks, newspapers, etc.) typically have official websites that run their latest stories. CNN and BBC, for example, not only showcase news and live footage but provide platforms on which users can voice opinions or start discussions.

Photo and Video Sharing

Photographs taken with digital cameras and cell phones can be uploaded by users to websites that can be accessed by friends and family. Videos, too, can be uploaded and viewed through search engines that recognize video “tags” and produce results based on what one has typed in the search field. Such websites often record statistics to show their users how many hits a photo or video has received.

Music and Radio

Popular songs can be listened to online on music websites. Users can access genre-categorized music collections and downloads available either for free or for purchase. Bands and artists have official websites as well to promote albums, sell their stuff and even provide concert tickets to fans. What makes it social, though, is that users can share with others and discuss their particular interests.

Gaming

Gamers can now access the latest as well as old-school video games online, and many online games are interactive; players can play with and against other players in virtual environments. Many websites also provide downloads and information.

Shopping

Social media also allows users to indulge in Internet shopping and buy anything from books to cars by ordering or bidding. See eBay or Amazon.com for examples.

Distance Education

Some colleges interact with students online and give courses and certification, even from across international borders.

These different types of social media are becoming more advanced as time passes, and people now turn to the Internet for anything and everything. It’s increasingly convenient for people to access the world from the comfort of their homes. We order take-out food, book tickets, and shop without having to go to a mall. This indicates that there are many more uses to come, when it comes to social media.

 

Characteristics of Social Media

Social media is relatively economical and accessible for individuals who wish to publish or access digital content. The main characteristic of social media is the ability to reach audiences of all sizes, but it also boasts other traits:

  • It’s approachable; social media technologies are capable of reaching a global audience. By their very nature they are decentralized, and they are distinguished by multiple features that facilitate productivity and utility.
  • It’s accessible; the means of production are publically owned; social media tools are generally available to the public at low or no cost.
  • It’s usable; most social media production does not require specialized skills or training. Anyone with access can operate these tools.
  • It’s timely; the lag between communications produced by social media is negligible. It is capable of virtually instantaneous response time (usually, only the participants are responsible for delays).
  • It’s eternal, yet changing; the social media landscape can be altered almost instantaneously by comments or editing.

 

Exciting Moments and Milestones

There have been exciting moments and major milestones since the humble beginnings of social media. Take a look at the timeline:

Ancient History

The earliest ways to send messages over long distances were probably both audio and visual. Smoke signals by day and beacon fires by night were used by the ancient peoples of China, Egypt, and Greece. Drums were used in many parts of the world to extend the range of the human voice for communication as well.

550 BC: The Postal Service

Reliable evidence indicates that the first regular postal system in the world was established in ancient Iran, where horse riders and horse-drawn wagons carried mail. Usually, mail consisted of governmental dispatches and was delivered from one place to another. Most of the world’s mail was transported this way until the late 18th century, when economic growth encouraged a demand for better mail services.

The Forefathers of Social Media

1792: Telegraph

The telegraph is a device for transmitting and receiving messages over long distances. The non-electric telegraph was invented by Claude Chappe in 1792. This system was visual; it used semaphore, a flag-based alphabet, and depended on a line of sight for communication. Although it is associated with sending messages via an electric current, the word “telegraph” was coined to describe the visual system of sending coded messages.

1865: Pneumatic Post

The increasing number of express messages between businesses, financial and legal offices and banks in growing cities, as well as busy street traffic, necessitated new methods of telegram and letter transportation. The pneumatic post was introduced to combat the shortcomings of the telegraphic network in Paris. Small metal cartridges holding telegrams and letters were transported by pneumatic pressure; messages could then be conveyed speedily and independently of outside circumstances.

1890: Telephone

Probably no means of communication has revolutionized the daily lives of ordinary people more than the telephone, a technology that simply allowed people to talk to one another over long distances. Credit for the invention of the electric telephone is frequently disputed, and new controversies over the issue have arisen from time to time. Charles Bourseul, Antonio Meucci, Johann Philipp Reis, Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray, among others, have been credited with the telephone’s invention. The Bell and Edison patents, however, were forensically victorious and commercially decisive.

1891: Radio

In 1891, Nikola Tesla began researching wireless technology. He developed the radio as a means of reliably producing radio frequencies, publicly demonstrated the principles of radio and transmitted long-distance signals. He obtained a U.S. patent for the invention of the radio (then defined as “wireless transmission of data”).

The 20th Century

1966: Email

Email (electronic mail) is a method of exchanging digital messages from computer to computer, between one or more recipients and usually through a network. Early email systems required the sender and the recipient both to be online at the same time for what we now think of as instant messaging. Modern email operates across the Internet or other computer networks, and email systems are built on a store-and-forward model; email servers accept, forward, deliver and store messages. Neither the users nor their computers are required to be online simultaneously.

1969: CompuServe

CompuServe was the first to offer online services, though they were available during nighttime hours only. It was very expensive; it cost six dollars per hour plus long-distance fees (it could run $30/hr or more). CompuServe was the first company to incorporate a chat program into their service.

1969: ARPANET

ARPANET is regarded as a grandfather to the Internet. It was created by the Advanced Research and Projects Agency (ARPA) so that defense contractors and scientists could share research more efficiently. The design began as a computerized version of the nuclear bomb shelter; ARPANET protected the flow of information between military installations by creating a network of geographically separated computers that could exchange information via a newly developed protocol (rule for how computers interact) called Network Control Protocol (NCP).

1978: MUD

A multi-user dungeon—later multi-user dimension, then multi-user domain—was an adventure game with multiple players invented by Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle at Essex University in England. This game was originally little more than a series of inter-connected locations where one could move and chat. Players could read or view descriptions of rooms, objects and other players. They typically interacted with one another and the world by typing commands that resembled natural language.

Traditional MUDs implement a computer role-playing game set in a fantasy world populated by fictional races and monsters, and players chose from a number of classes in order to gain specific skills or powers. The objectives in this sort of game are to slay monsters, explore a fantasy world, complete quests, go on adventures, create a story by roleplaying and advance characters.

1978: BBS

The bulletin board system (BBS) was a computerized system used to exchange public messages or files. It was the first type of website that allowed users to log on and interact with one another. They were primarily hosted on personal computers and accessed only over phone lines with dial-up modems, and only one person at a time could have access. Users could upload and download software and data, read news and bulletins and exchange messages with other users either through electronic mail or on the public message boards.

1979: Usenet

Usenet was a globally distributed Internet discussion system and was the brainchild of Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis. Usenet was an early online bulletin board where users could post articles or posts (as “news”) to newsgroups. The first copies of early Web browsers were distributed through Usenet, which had no centralized server or dedicated administrator.

1985: The WELL

The Whole Earth ’Lectronic Link (WELL) was a social-networking website that started in the form of generalized online communities. Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant, the founders, started with a dialog between the writers and readers of the Whole Earth Review, which set the tone for the playful and intellectual gathering that continues today.

1985: GEnie

GEnie was founded by General Electric’s Information Services division for the purpose of making use of idle time-sharing mainframes after normal U.S. business hours and also to provide consumers with forums, data exchange and email within their system. It was a text-based service and the charges were five to six dollars per hour for non-primetime use and $36 per hour for daytime use. GEnie offered games, shopping, mail and forums.

1986 : LISTSERV

LISTSERV is an automatic mailing-list server developed by Eric Thomas. When email is addressed to a LISTSERV mailing list, it is automatically sent to everyone on the list. The result is similar to a newsgroup or forum, except that the messages are transmitted as email and are therefore available only to individuals on the list. LISTSERV was originally developed on IBM mainframes but was later ported to run on UNIX, IBM, VMS, Microsoft Windows, Macintosh and MPE.

1988: IRC

Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is the father of instant messaging as we know it today. It was a form of real-time Internet text messaging or chatting and was created primarily for discussion in forums as mass communication, but it also allowed one-to-one communication via private messaging along with chat and data transfer. IRC was used for sharing files and links and otherwise keeping in touch but, being mostly UNIX-based, was inaccessible for many.

1994: The Palace

The Palace is a software program used to access graphical chat rooms (servers) called “palaces.” The Palace was created by Jim Bumgardner, an employee of Time Warner Interactive. Messages appear as chat bubbles above users’ avatars (like the speech bubbles of comic books). Each room in a palace is represented by a large image that serves as a backdrop for the users. By clicking in certain areas in a room, called doors, users can travel to different rooms.

1997: Six Degrees

Six Degrees was the first modern social network. Andrew Weinreich, a well known entrepreneur and Internet executive, was the founder. His concept was to create an online social network to organize the process of “meeting people you don’t know through the people you do know.” In a way, this website was the first to bring together certain defining features of social-networking services, such as user profiles, friends lists, and private messages. Users created static profiles and could become friends with other users. This website is no longer functional, but it had about one million members at its peak. Perhaps it was too advanced for its time?

1998: MoveOn

MoveOn is an American non-profit, progressive, public-policy advocacy group and political-action committee. The website was founded by Joan Blades and Wes Boyd to counter efforts to impeach President Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair. MoveOn encouraged voters to encourage Congress to censure Clinton and move on to more important issues. It continues to advocate for grassroots involvement in politics. It took an active stance against the Iraq war and supports causes like universal health care, green businesses, campaign finance reform and reduced dependence on oil.

1999: LiveJournal

LiveJournal took a new approach to social networking. It was a social network built around constantly updating personal blogs, and it encouraged its users to follow one another’s writing, to create groups and to otherwise interact. It was, in fact, the precursor to real-time updates that are current in online social networks.

1999: Asian Avenue

Asian Avenue was launched by co-founders Benjamin Sun, Peter Chen, Grace Chang, Michael Montero and Calvin Wong. It’s the largest online community for Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indians and others in the Asian and Asian-American family to network. Users meet and connect with other users by chatting or posting photos or videos. It’s a reliable destination for Asian news about music, fashion, sports, events, business and politics. Users can find romance, entertainment and even jobs.

1999: Black Planet

BlackPlanet is an online niche in social-networking that was founded by Omar Wasow. It targeted and is now the largest online community for African-Americans. It provides music, jobs, forums, photos, personal ads, chatting and groups, all tailored to the specific interests of the black community.

1999: Napster

Shawn Fanning invented Napster, a peer-to-peer music-sharing website that allowed subscribes to swap music files. Napster was a controversial application because users were sharing music over the Internet and thereby avoiding having to purchase CDs. After downloading Napster, a user got access to music in MP3 format; one had only to type in the name of an artist or song, receive a list of available files, and then download the music from another user’s hard drive. Users needed to continually check the Napster directory because the music that was available depended on who was online at the time.

1999: Third Voice

In May of 1999, Third Voice launched its annotation software, which allows Web surfers to post public commentary (which can be seen by all other Third Voice users) on any website:

The free [Third Voice] browser utility ‘snaps onto’ the side of a Web browser window, inviting users to post their views on news, products, and politics. If posted as public notes (private notes are also an option), comments can be seen—amid highlighted areas of text and footnotes—by any other user that has installed Third Voice. Readers can comment on each other’s postings, leading to what Third Voice calls ‘inline discussions.’

Third Voice is the Web assistant that travels with your browser and adds a whole new dimension to your Web experience. When Third Voice is activated, Web pages come alive as ordinary words are transformed into links to valuable and interesting information on sports, music, entertainment and more.

1999: Blogger

Blogger, one of the earliest blog-publishing tools, was first launched on August 23, 1999 by Pyra Labs. It has been credited for helping to popularize the format. Initially, Blogger was entirely free and there was no income model. When Pyra Labs’ money was diminished, the employees worked without pay for weeks, even months, and eventually many left the company. The co-founder of Blogger, Evan Williams, ran the company by himself after the losses. Soon afterward, advertising started to support Blogger, and Blogger Pro emerged.

1999: Epinions

Epinions is a general consumer-review website where visitors can read reviews about a variety of items to help them decide whether or not to purchase, or they can join for free and begin writing reviews that may earn them money and recognition (according to the website’s FAQ). Epinions was acquired by Shopping.com (known as DealTime.com at the time of the acquisition) in 2003.

In the New Millenium

2000: LunarStorm

LunarStorm is an advertisement-financed, Swedish social-networking website for teenagers. It is operated by a company called LunarWorks. According to the company’s official statistics, the website had 1.2 million members in 2007, of whom some 70% are 12–17 years old.The website has since drastically dropped in popularity, and in June 2010 Wyatt Media Groups (the current owner of LunarStorm) announced that it would be shut down on August 18th due to lack of activity.

2001: Wikipedia

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia of multilingual, web-based, free content. This project is based on an openly editable model. Wikipedia works as an information bank and provides links to guide users to related pages that offer supplementary information. Its content is written by mostly anonymous volunteers who write without pay. Anyone with Internet access can make changes to Wikipedia articles (except in certain cases). Users can contribute anonymously or by using their real identities. Since its creation Wikipedia has grown rapidly into one of the largest reference websites.

2001: Ryze

Ryze.com, founded by Adrian Scott in San Francisco, is a free social-networking website designed to link business professionals, particularly new entrepreneurs. Ryze helps people make connections and grow their networks. It can be used to increase business, build careers, find jobs, make sales or just keep in touch with friends. It had a heavy influence on Friendster, which was founded by early Ryze member Jonathan Abrams in 2002.

2001: Cyworld

Cyworld is South Korea’s most popular social networking website. It was developed as an online dating service that would provide an open and public meeting place for users. In 2001, CyWorld launched the minihompy feature, which allowed each user to create a home page. It was highly successful because celebrities and politicians took to this platform to reach out to their fans and audiences. CyWorld’s members comprised more than one third of Korea’s entire population, and it had a strong penetration (ninety percent) in the young-adult market; in 2005, practically every South Korean in their twenties—25% of the population—was a user. By 2006 this user base numbered 19 million, but it dropped to 18 million by 2008. Cyworld’s reception in some overseas markets did not prove enthusiastic.

2002: Skyblog

Skyblog.com was founded by Skyrock CEO Pierre Bellanger, and Skyrock.com is a social-networking website that offers free Web space where users can create blogs, add profiles and exchange messages with other registered members. The website also showcases the original musical compositions of its members. In May 2007, after abandoning the Skyblog.com brand, Skyrock.com was launched as a full-scale social network.

2002: Friendster

Friendster was the first modern, general social-networking website; it was a new kind of dating website whose objective was to provide a place for meeting new people that was safer than places used in daily life, as well as faster. Friendster operated by allowing people to discover their friends, and then friends of friends, and so on to expand their networks. Users contact other members, sustain those contacts and share online content and media with those contacts. The website is also used for dating and discovering new events, bands and hobbies. Users may share videos, photos, messages and comments with other members via their profiles and networks.

2002: Fotolog

Fotolog is the world’s leading photo-blogging website, one of the world’s largest social-networking websites and a global cultural phenomenon. More than 22 million members in over 200 countries use Fotolog to express themselves through online photo diaries and blogs. It was launched by Scott Heiferman and Adam Seifer as a small community project with 200 friends.

2003: del.icio.us

Del.icio.us is a social-bookmarking website for storing, sharing and discovering Web bookmarks; one can bookmark any content one finds online, then tag that content and share it with other users. Users can search for bookmarks or browse them with tags,view the most popular content and up-and-coming content (not unlike most social news websites).

2003: Second Life

Second Life (SL) is a virtual world developed by Linden Lab that is accessible on the Internet. A free client program called the Viewer enables its users, called Residents, to interact with each other as avatars. Residents can explore, meet other residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, create and trade virtual property and services with one another or travel the world. Second Life is intended for people aged 16 and over, and as of 2011 it has more than 20 million registered user accounts.

2003: Photobucket

Photobucket was the first major photo-sharing website that also allowed image hosting, video hosting and slideshow creation. It was founded by Alex Welch and Darren Crystal as a place to store, create and share photos and videos for life. One can upload one’s best pictures, images, graphics, icons and videos and share them by email or link them to websites like Facebook and Twitter. Photobucket allows users to share photos in public or in password-protected albums, and users get 500 MB of storage (lowered from 1 GB in August of 2009).

2003: Hi5

Hi5 is another major social network, established in 2003 and currently boasting more than 60 million active members. In Hi5, profile privacy is treated little differently than in other networks; a user’s network consists of their own contacts as well as secondary contacts (friends of friends) and tertiary contacts (friends of friends of friends). Users can set their profiles to be seen only by their network members or by Hi5 users in general. Hi5 is not particularly popular in the U.S. but it has a large user base in parts of Asia, Latin America and Central Africa.

2003: LinkedIn

LinkedIn was a business-oriented social-networking website, and it was one of the first. Users fill in a profile that is basically a resumé and interact through private messaging. Members can discover inside connections, recommended job candidates, industry experts and business partners. Other features have been added gradually, including groups, question-and-answer forums and advanced profile features such as real-time updates. LinkedIn strengthens and extends one’s existing network of trusted contacts. This website is available in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.

2003: Plaxo

Plaxo is an online address book and social-networking service. Users can quickly import contacts from multiple websites, services and devices into an organized, single source. Plaxo automatically keeps contacts up to date and in sync across the Web, Outlook, Mac and iPhone. It was founded by Napster co-founder Sean Parker and two Stanford engineering students, Todd Masonis and Cameron Ring.

2003: tribe.net

Tribe.net hosts an online community of friends and is similar to other social networking websites. The “tribe” was founded by Paul Martino, Mark Pincus and Valerie Syme. As of March 2004, the user population was heavily skewed toward people living in the San Francisco Bay area, though the geographic distribution is gradually normalizing as people from other places join. As of September 2006 it had over 500,000 members.

2003: LastFM

LastFM was founded in the UK by Felix Miller, Martin Stiksel, Michael Breidenbruecker and Thomas Willomitzer (all from Germany) as an Internet radio station and music community website. It uses similar music profiles to generate dynamic playlists and builds a detailed profile of each user along with his or her musical taste by recording details of the songs the user listens to, either from Internet radio stations, the user’s computer or portable music devices. This information is transferred to LastFM’s database either via the music player itself or a plug-in installed on the user’s music player. The profile data is then displayed on the user’s profile page. The website offers numerous social networking features and can recommend and play artists similar to the user’s favorites.

2003: MySpace

MySpace is a social-networking website that originally allowed communication via private messages, public comments posted to a user profiles and bulletins mailed out to friends. Blogs were also a big part of MySpace profiles (each member automatically got one). MySpace differentiated itself from competitors by allowing users to completely customize the looks of their profiles. Users could also post music and embed videos from other websites. In 2006 MySpace introduced MySpace IM, an instant-messaging client that lets users chat with their friends. Other recent additions to MySpace’s functionality include the addition of real-time status updates and news feeds that show friend activity.

2003: Couchsurfing

CouchSurfing is an international non-profit network that connects travelers with locals in over 230 countries and territories around the world. The CouchSurfing project was conceived by Casey Fenton in 1999 and launched on Jan 1, 2003. It’s a hospitality-exchange network wherein members come together for cultural exchange, friendship and learning experiences. Today, over a million people who might otherwise never meet are able to visit one another.

2004: aSmallWorld

aSmallWorld is the world’s leading private online community. It captures an existing international network of people who are connected by three degrees of separation. Members have similar backgrounds, interests and perspectives. aSmallWorld’s unique platform offers powerful tools and user-generated content to help members manage their private, social and business lives.

2004: Hyves

Hyves is a Dutch social-networking service founded by Raymond Spanjar, Koen Kam and Floris Rost van Tonningen. Hyves is, after Facebook, the most popular social-networking website in the Netherlands. Its more than seven million unique visitors (more than half the country’s population) are mainly Dutch, and it is a major competitor for websites such as Facebook and MySpace.

2004: BiggerPockets

BiggerPockets is a premier real-estate community and resource portal. It was designed for people interested in real estate: investors, professionals, homeowners and many others. Not only would the novice investor feel at home here, so would everyone—from the most experienced developer to the real-estate agent or private financier. BiggerPockets continues to be popular with ordinary men and women, and it is increasingly the must-visit resource for many of this nation’s most important national, regional and local news organizations.

2004: Digg

Digg is a social news website founded by Kevin Rose, Ron Gorodetzky, Jay Adelson and Owen Byrne so that people could discover and share content from anywhere on the Internet. Digg users share links to anything online and other users vote that content up (“dig” it) or down (“bury” it). Users can also comment on content posted by others and keep a friends list, but voting stories up and down is the website’s cornerstone function. Many stories are submitted every day, but only the most “dugg” stories appear on the front page.

2004: Catster

Catster is a cat-themed social networking and forums-based website. Users of the website create a pet page that is customizable with which they can give treats or purchase virtual items using what are called “zealies.” This virtual currency is allotted to users after they engage in some of the website’s activities or by using PayPal or purchasing a Plus subscription.

2004: Ning

“Ning” is Chinese for “peace”, and the website called Ning is an online platform for creating niche social networks. Ning started development in October 2004 and publicly launched its platform a year later. It was co-founded by Marc Andreessen and Gina Bianchini. New users can either create social networks for any niche or special interest they choose or join any of more than 1.5 million existing networks (just use the search feature to find social networks that are compatible with your interests). Networks are hosted by Ning but can take on their own personalities and can even pay to have their own branding (domain name) instead of the Ning brand.

2004: Care2

Care2 is the largest online community whose goal is to empower people to lead healthy, green lifestyles while taking action on important causes such as human rights, animal welfare and global warming. Those involved in Care2 want to restore the world’s balance and are committed to using the power of business to make a positive social and earth-friendly impact on the world.

2004: Piczo

Piczo is an online photo website builder and community; it helps users build free, advertising-supported websites. Users add images, text, guest books, message boxes, videos, music and other content to their websites with plain text and HTML.

Its partners were YouTube, VideoEgg, Photobucket, Flock, Yahoo and PollDaddy. Initially, it wasn’t a blog company; it was just a website where one could create one’s own website. In fact, blogs weren’t included as one of the original features.

2004: Dodgeball

Dodgeball was a location-based social-networking software provider for mobile devices. Users text-messaged their location to the service, which then notified them of crushes, friends, friends’ friends and interesting venues nearby. Google acquired Dodgeball in 2005 and discontinued it in 2009, replacing it with Google Latitude.

2004: Mixi

Mixi is one of several social-networking websites in Japan. It was founded by Kenji Kasahara under E-Mercury Inc. (actually Mixi Inc). It’s a typical social-networking website; users can send and receive messages, write a diary, read and comment on others’ diaries, organize and join communities and invite their friends. It has enjoyed a steady growth in its user base. In 2005 the website had more than one million users and five times that many less than a year later.

2004: Multiply

Multiply is a “family-friendly” social network and media-sharing website that emphasizes security and privacy more than many other networks. It is privately held with backing by VantagePoint, Venture Partners, Point Judith Capital Transcosmos and private investors. Its users have the option to set security levels on each item they post, making things public, network-only or invite-only.

2004: Facebook

Facebook is a social-networking service and website that is operated and privately owned by Facebook Inc. Users create personal profiles, add other users as friends, exchange messages and post photos and videos. Additionally, users may join common-interest user groups or networks organized by workplace, school, or college or other characteristics. Facebook now allows anyone to become a registered user of the website, so long as they are at least 13 years old.

2004: Dogster

Dogster is a dog-themed social network and forums-based website. Users of the website create a pet page, which is a customizable Web page through which they can give treats or purchase virtual items using “zealies.” This virtual currency is allotted to users after they engage in the website’s activities or by using PayPal or purchasing a Plus subscription. Its sister website is Catster, a cat-oriented website with a similar format.

2004: Orkut

Orkut is a social-networking website that is owned and operated by Google Inc. The website is named after its creator, Google employee Orkut Büyükkökten. It is Google’s social network, and it has more than 65 million users. Users share media and status updates and communicate through instant messaging (IM). The service is designed to help users meet new friends and maintain existing relationships. Although Orkut is less popular in the United States than its competitors (Facebook and MySpace), it is one of the most visited websites in India and Brazil.

2004: Flickr

Flickr is an image- and video-hosting website, Web-services suite and online community created by Ludicorp (a Vancouver-based company) and later acquired by Yahoo!. In addition to being a popular website where photographically inclined users share photographs, the service is widely used by bloggers to host images that they embed in blogs and social media.

Flickr has become a social network in its own right in recent years; it now has groups and photo pools, and it allows users to create profiles, add friends and organize images and videos into photo sets and albums. For mobile users, Flickr has an official app that can be used on iPhone, BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7—but no other mobile devices. Several third-party apps offer alternatives, however.

2005: Black Planet (relaunch)

2005: Asian Avenue (relaunch)

2005: Reddit

Reddit is another socially generated news website that operates in ways similar to Digg; users vote content up or down, which causes it to become more or less prominent on the Reddit home page. Reddit, like Digg, also allows users to comment on posted items.

2005: Bebo

Bebo is a social-networking website whose name stands for “blog early, blog often.” It was founded by Michael Birch and his wife, Xochi Birch, at their home in San Francisco and is currently owned by Criterion Capital Partners. Users receive a personal profile page where they can post blogs, photographs, music, videos and questionnaires to which other users may answer. Additionally, users may add others as friends and send them messages and update their personal profiles to notify friends about their lives and activities.

2005: Xano

Xano profiles and updates users about the latest music (albums, songs, music videos and more).

2005: Facebook (redesign)

The famous Facebook was originally for Harvard students only, then all college students, but in September of 2005 it opened its doors to high school students (new users could register a “high school” account).

2005: YouTube

YouTube was the first major video-hosting and sharing website. Users can upload videos (each up to 10 minutes long) and share them through YouTube or by embedding them on other websites (social networks, blogs, forums etc).YouTube now allows users to upload high-definition (HD) videos and recently launched a service to provide TV shows and movies under license from their copyright holders. YouTube’s major social features include ratings, comments, and the option to subscribe to the channels of other users.

2005: Yahoo! 360°

Yahoo! 360° was a social-networking and personal communication portal operated by Yahoo! that enabled users to create personalwebsites, share photos from Yahoo! Photos, maintain blogs and lists, create and share public profiles and view currently online friends. It also featured a “friends’ updates” section, under which each friend’s latest update was summarized (for example: recent blog posts, updated lists or newly shared photos).

2005: Facebook (redesign)

Facebook had been successful on school campuses nationwide, so it expanded its membership to a different kind of campus: the corporate kind. It allowed only employees of a select 10 companies—and one non-profit organization—to join Facebook by using their respective .com and .org email addresses. (Until then, only people with a .edu address could create a Facebook profile.)

2006: Fabulously40

Fabulously40.com is a social network for women over forty that taps into the desire of middle-aged women to seek self identity. It is an engine that connects and supports women on the quest for re-invention:

After forty, change either happens to us or we make the change happen. Increasingly, this website is where women turn to create their changes for solutions, strategies and tips on everything from money to love and, more than that, for emotional support from a community of diverse women. With a million page views a month, Fabulously40 is the place to go for help and inspiration. Today’s women have more options than their mothers and especially their grandmothers never had and cosmetic surgery and injections are the least of it.

2006: Stylehive

Stylehive is a community of style leaders, bloggers and shoppers who are into fashion, beauty, design, home, technology and travel. The Stylehive website has various categories: fashion, beauty, home design, travel, blogs and reviews. It has 1,480,000 indexed pages in the Google search engine and 1,729,590 in Yahoo!.

2006: Twitter

Twitter is a micro-blogging service owned and operated by Twitter Inc. Users send and read messages called “tweets,” which are text-based posts displayed on a user’s profile page. Tweets are publicly visible by default, but senders can restrict message delivery to just their followers. Twitter has a number of well-known users, such as celebrities and politicians, and it has generated a number of third-party websites and apps (it’s now more of a platform than a single service). There are Twitter clients for updating and managing followers, services that track Twitter trends, and services that allow users to post photos and videos directly to their home-page feed.

2006: My Church

MyChurch is a Christian social network that offers its services to Christian churches that follow the Nicene Creed. In addition to standard services offered by social-networking websites, MyChurch allows churches to post sermon podcasts and event calendars and collect tithes from members (for a service fee of $12 per month). Its revenue comes from advertising and a premium subscription business model, and it has a presence in over 6900 churches. MyChurch encourages non-Christians to join while actively excluding Christian Churches that do not subscribe to the Nicene Creed.

2006: QQ (relaunch)

Tencent QQ, or just QQ, is the most popular free instant-messaging computer program in mainland China. Tencent was founded in Shenzhen, China, in November of 1998, by Ma Huateng, and its instant-messaging service platform (“QQ”) was formally launched in February 1999. QQ is possibly the world’s largest online community. Since its relaunch, it has entered Chinese households and emerged as a modern cultural phenomenon. Aside from the chat program, QQ has also developed many sub-features such as games, virtual pets and ringtone downloads.

2006: Facebook (redesign)

Facebook realized, again, that it was wanted by everyone—not just Harvard students, college students, students and former students. It kept growing in order to accommodate this reality and is now open to those who graduated pre-Facebook (yes, there was such a time) and those who don’t have email addresses from their schools or workplaces. Everyone can connect.

2006: Ustream.tv

Ustream has become the streaming-video host of choice for celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Soleil Moon Frye. While most Ustream users only go live occasionally, some channels are live around the clock (these include mostly security cameras, animal cameras, traffic cameras and other stationary feeds). Viewers can post comments and ask questions directly to the feed host during live broadcasts, and this interactivity often engages users to a greater extent than other video websites where videos are posted after they’ve been filmed and edited rather than streamed live.

2006: Justin.tv

Justin.tv is a streaming-video host founded in October 2006 that lets lifecasters and live show creators to broadcast to hundreds or thousands of Internet users. There are more than 400,000 channels on Justin.tv, and they get more than 41 million unique visitors each month.

2007: Tumblr

Tumblr is a feature-rich, free blog-hosting platform that offers professional and fully customizable templates, bookmarklets, photos, mobile apps and a social network. It’s sort of a cross between a life-streaming application and a micro-blogging platform. When it launched, about 75,000 Tumble bloggers switched to the service immediately. Users post photos, video, text, audio, links, conversations and other content on blog-like websites. Mobile applications are also available for posting to Tumblr, making it ideal for life-streaming.

2007: Osmosus

Osmosus is a social network for the sustainable community, and it has a clear purpose: “encouraging people to come together around issues of sustainability for the improvement of our communities, our world and ultimately ourselves.” It was founded by Doran Aisenstat.

2007: Global Grind

Global Grind is a community-based website on which people can discover and share content from anywhere on the Web by linking to, voting for and commenting on each other’s content in a social and democratic way.

Globalgrind.com is a digital media company that promotes the broadest and deepest array of content of interest to the hip-hop community from the most authoritative sources across the web. The platform features exclusive blogs, video, music, news, gossip and politics, which users can submit, vote and comment on, and syndicate using Facebook, Twitter and other social-media tools.

2007: FriendFeed

FriendFeed was created to consolidate updates from social media (networking websites, bookmarking websites, blogs and micro-blogs). It was launched in 2007 and recently purchased by Facebook. Users can integrate most of their online activities into one area (Twitter, RSS feeds, and Flickr photos among others). The goal of FriendFeed, according to its website, is to make content on the Web more relevant and useful by using existing social networks as tools for discovering interesting information. Furthermore, “FriendFeed addresses the shortcomings of social media services which exclusively facilitate tracking of their own members’ social media activities on that particular social media service.”

2008: Kontain

Kontain is a next-generation social community, and its workings are slightly different than many other social networks because it was founded on the belief that visual updates are most powerful. The focus was on usability and allowing users to follow one another through photos, videos and music (rather than just simple status updates). Kontain also actively recruits businesses so that they can promote their services as a way to connect with customers.

2008: Ping.fm

Ping.fm is a free social-networking and micro-blogging Web service that enables users to post to multiple social networks simultaneously. Sharing an update on Ping.fm pushes the update to a number of different websites at once, so that individuals who use multiple social networks have only to update their status once rather than on all media. The concept came about while Ping.fm creators were updating status messages with micro-blogging websites Twitter and Tumblr; they wanted to make posting exactly the same information in two places possible.

2009: Posterous

Posterous is the newest major micro-blogging application by Y Combinator. Users post content via email. Emails can include attached photos or MP3s, and those are also posted. No initial sign-up is needed, which sets Posterous apart from most other social media services. It also supports integrated and automatic posting to other social media such as Flickr, Twitter and Facebook. Posting can be done by logging in to the website’s rich-text editor, but it is particularly designed for mobile blogging (via email).

2009: Netlog

Netlog (formerly known as Facebox and Bingbox) is a Belgian social network and website. Members can keep in touch with others, create their own Web pages, extend their social network, publish their music playlists, share videos, post blogs and join groups. It is an online social portal specifically targeted to European youth. It is developed by Netlog NV, based in Ghent, Belgium.

2010: SportPost

Sportpost.com is the world’s first independent sports-news distribution platform:

Sportpost is the revolutionary new sports website that puts you—the fan—in charge. No more scouring the Web for your daily fix of sports content—Sportpost puts all the information that interests you right at your fingertips.

The website combines premium and user-generated sports videos with fan debates and a sports-star blog network. Fans have many options and much access to the world of sport, and they can share their love of sport with the world.

2010: Google Buzz

Google Buzz is a social-networking and messaging tool that is integrated into Google’s Web–based email program, Gmail. Google Buzz was announced on February 9, 2010. Users share links, photos, videos, status messages and comments that are organized into conversations. Users can share publicly with the world or privately to a group of friends. The creation of Buzz was Google’s attempt to compete with social-networking websites like Facebook and micro-blogging services like Twitter.

2011: Google Plus

Google+, a social network operated by Google, Inc., launched on June 28th, 2011 with integrations across a number of Google products, including Buzz and Profiles.

One key element of Google+ is a focus on targeted sharing within subsets of your social group, which are what Google calls Circles. Circles are simply small groups of people that you can share to, each with names like friends, family, classmates and co-workers.

2011: Facebook (redesign)

Once again, Facebook introduces new features that include redesigned news feed, scrollable Ticker box at the sidebar and poke button which is hidden away under a drop-down menu at the profile page.

Facebook already announced a revamped profile called the Timeline at its annual F8 conference. The new Timeline takes the place of your profile and provides a realtime stream of everything you’ve done, all the way back to your ‘birth’.

 

Looking to the Future

No one can know what the next big thing in social media will be, though there are many ways to influence and establish authority. The Internet has already become a necessary part of most people’s daily lives, and social-networking websites and blogs (including micro-blogs) are gaining in popularity all over the world.

I predict that there will soon be more social interaction happening on phones and iPads than on computers—especially by mobile-device users, but also by companies and the Web. Thus, information technology and service providers will begin to create solutions that are defined by our mobile consumption and usage behaviors. From online shopping to effortless, paperless transactions and check-ins to watching and creating videos with friends abroad to in-class learning and collaboration to managing health in real time…. An all-encompassing timeline of the seminal milestones in the history of social media—including those that have yet to happen—will be needed for posterity.

Over the rest of 2011, we’ll see a growing number of companies finally going beyond using social channels merely for building awareness and providing support. As social thinkers, these companies will use the social-media engine to make strategic decisions and execute their objectives, marketing plans, product roadmaps and more. We’ll also see a surge of service providers collecting social networks, video, mobile capabilities, cloud services and analytics, with their own unique services and proprietary capabilities.

Social media has dared to face new challenges. It requires effective marketing efforts and authority-building techniques; a purposeful social-media strategy can become an integral part of any complete and directed marketing plan. Service companies are also realizing that they must be on the cutting edge to attract clients, and that means being savvy when it comes to social media. In order to keep up with the flow of technology, one might say that if you aren’t already using a form of social-media marketing, you’re already behind.

Social media is not just a phase. Even if it is, it’s not likely to fade away any time soon—at least not until something better comes along!

7 Photoshop tips for designing clean and modern websites

Clean, elegant, and beautiful web design is often a matter of personal perspective. I look at hundreds of websites every week, and several of them stand out to me, but not all of them are necessarily effective.

Too often designers boil a concept down too far, producing a final design that is nothing more than text and a grid. While these minimal designs have their aesthetic appeal, particularly when paired with excellent typography, they risk falling short of notice.

Personal opinions aside, there are certain features of a design that allow it to be proudly labeled as clean or modern and enhance its usability and likability on a universal level. Simplicity is not a design trend, but rather an attribute of good design.

Photoshop grants us a versatile set of tools for creating depth and interest, and invites us to integrate subtle detail where we would leave a blank space. You need only a handful of these tools to infuse the qualities of modern design into a layout. By mastering them, you can create clean designs that express functionality clearly and effectively.

1. Space

White space allows for the visual separation of design elements without the use of boxes, lines, or additional graphics and is possibly the most important aspect of modern design. It is essential to content presentation and readability. When used correctly, white space gives your layout its clean and elegant feel.

Guides and Grids are available in Photoshop to help you position elements precisely. The grid overlays your entire document whereas the guides can be set manually. Use guidelines early to set invisible borders, margins, and padding used to define your white space.

Create a guide by hitting Ctrl+R (Win) or Cmd+R (Mac) to enable the ruler and then click the top or left ruler to drag a guideline to your desired position. Here are some additional shortcuts to help you manage guides while you work:

  • To move a guideline: Ctrl(Win) or Cmd(Mac) and click the guide
  • Show/Hide guides: Hit Ctrl+; (Win) or Cmd+; (Mac)
  • Show/Hide the grid: Hit Ctrl+’ (Win) or Cmd+’ (Mac)

Enable your Smart Guides under View > Show > Smart Guides. Smart Guides appear automatically when you draw a shape, align text, or create a selection or slide and will save you the work of setting up guidelines for these elements in advance.

Aligning objects using guides and grids makes your design easier to digest and will give the overall result a more polished look.

 

2. Depth

Depth created with light and shadow makes your elements appear crisp and real. Shadow effects can be applied to any object, selection, or text layer, but the trick is to choose a color that matches the background and forgo the default black.

Not all shadows must be dark. Combine the Inner Shadow effect with a white or light-colored Drop Shadow to create a sunken or “letterpress” feel with text or form fields.

 

3. Detail

Both the gradient tool and the gradient layer effects play a large role in clean and modern design. Gradients are present in every aspect of modern styling, from shadows and highlights to backgrounds and buttons.

To access the gradient tool, hit Shift+G. To create a gradient, click the canvas, drag, and release. This tool is best used for large areas such as backgrounds, lights, or radial shadows. When working with individual elements such as sections, buttons, or icons, the Gradient Overlay layer effect is a more efficient means of establishing surface styles or textures. This tool is accessed by double-clicking the element layer and selecting the “Gradient Overlay” checkbox.

Use this effect to give subtle dimension to your buttons and navigation bars, or to mimic the style and texture of paper or metals.

 

4. Definition

By over-defining edges and borders, you ensure your elements have proper contrast.

The Stroke layer effect will outline elements such as text or buttons where you need an equally weighted outline on all sides. Using this effect will free up the Inner and Drop shadows to extend your options.

It is tempting to head for the pen tool to draw straight lines and horizontal rules, but if you want to apply gradients or shadows to the line, it is easier to use the Single Row Marquee Tool, which is tucked discreetly behind the Rectangular Marquee Tool. Use the Single Row tool on a new layer and a white or light-colored drop shadow to create highlight lines along section borders or separators where you are not able to apply an effect to the element itself.

 

5. Interest

Clean and modern does not need to equal boring, white, or minimal. Clever use of texture and pattern will make your design stand out, while communicating style and brand. Use subtle techniques such as adding noise (Filter > Add Noise) or the Texture Overlay layer effect on background areas or interface elements to help set them apart. The more real and clear an element appears, the more enticing it is to the viewer.

 

 

6. Perspective

Perspective is the most underused technique in modern web design simply because ongoing trends focus consistently on symmetry and grids. By applying perspective to images and elements in your design, you can introduce depth, dimension, modernism, and interest to your design in one easy step.

Perspective can be given to any shape or image by choosing the “Free Transform Path” option in the right-click menu and clicking the “Warp” button located in the tool options bar.

The illusion of perspective can also be produced by creating asymmetrical shapes or frames and using gradients and shadows appropriately to place the objects apart.

 

7. Readability

Strong type is well loved in the design community, and an even stronger component of clean design. It can replace imagery and graphics that may otherwise overcomplicate a design and convey the total essence of the above techniques in a simple and straightforward way.

To add textures to text, convert your text layer to a Smart Object first by right clicking the layer and choosing “Convert to Smart Object.” You are limited to layer effects by default unless your text is rasterized, a practice you want to avoid, even when designing for the screen. Converting to Smart Objects allows you to apply filters and other techniques to the text while preserving your editing capabilities in the event you need to change what the text says later.

Remember that you have tracking and kerning options available to you when setting up text elements. Even if your text is destined to be reproduced in CSS, you should experiment with line and letter spacing early on to better visualize how your content will appear within the space you have given it. Also, remember to use “Crisp” or “Sharp” text to retain definition and clarity.

How you present your content in clean design is more important than any other style simply because there is less going on visually to distract the viewer. By using the tips above to space text and objects appropriately, add definition and interest, and set the content apart from the interface, your design will achieve optimal effectiveness.

 

Understanding Visual Hierarchy in Web Design

Once or twice a month, we revisit some of our readers’ favorite posts from throughout the history of Webdesigntuts+. This guide was first published in October, 2010.

Visual hierarchy is one of the most important principles behind effective web design. This article will examine why developing a visual hierarchy is crucial on the web, the theory behind it, and how you can use some very basic exercises in your own designs to put these principles into practice.

 


Design = Communication

At it’s core, design is all about visual communication: To be an effective designer, you have to be able to clearly communicate your ideas to viewers or else lose their attention. People are fickle though; if you give them a massive block of information, chances are that 99 out of 100 people won’t bother to read it. Why? Because most people are inherently visual thinkers, not data processors.

To figure out why this is true, it’s important to understand a little bit about the way that we see things. People aren’t what you would call “equal opportunity see-ers”. Rather than taking in visual information and processing it evenly, people organize what they see in terms of “visual relationships”. Let us consider the following image of two ordinary circles:

visual hierarchy in web design

Chances are, you don’t see “two circles”; Instead, you saw “one black circle and one smaller red circle”.

The reason is pretty simple: When presented with something as simple as two circles, a person won’t just see two ordinary circles, they will find a way to differentiate between the two. One circle might be bigger, or smaller, or colored, or any other variety of differences. These differences allow us to distinguish between objects and give them unique meanings.

Let’s now look at a more complex image:

visual hierarchy in web design

The added complexity actually re-enforces our desire to “classify” the objects in terms of relationships. Similarities and differences become the frame that we view the shapes through. Differences in scale suggest that one object is closer to us than another or that one is more dominant than the other; Variations in color might suggest that one object holds a unique personality that sets it apart from the other object. A lot of information can be delivered in just a single image by using some very rudimentary tools.

…Understanding that people will see our designs in terms of relationships is crucial to becoming a more effective designer.

Let’s take this example back to web design; Because web design is all about communicating visual information, understanding that people will see our designs in terms of relationships is crucial to becoming a more effective designer. While it might seem like it’s enough to just dish out information, as web designers, our task is to break down that raw information into delicious little chunks of visually relevant information that are easy on the eyes, and more importantly, effective at communicating the message behind a webpage.


The Dawn of Hierarchy

There are a hundred explanations for why people see in terms of relationships; If you were to trace it back anthropologically, you might conclude that a hunter-gatherer mentality forced humans at one point to recognize that seeing relationships is a survival skill.

visual hierarchy in web design
See, even prehistoric man had a healthy respect for visual contrast.

Perhaps a more practical explanation is that it’s simply the way that our brains categorize information: grouping similar visual elements and organizing it into meaningful patterns is as inherent to our human nature as eating or drinking. Either way, the fact is that even in it’s most basic form, information that is organized with a hierarchy in mind will always be more effective at communicating than unorganized information.

Consider the following image of two text blocks:

visual hierarchy in web design

In the example above, we see the most rudimentary form of a visual hierarchy system applied to text. The information in each of the two examples isn’t any different, but how it’s been broken up dramatically changes the way that reader’s will see it and take it in. When we talk about visual hierarchy in terms of typography, this is what we mean. The proximity, scale, and similarity of the text formatting allows a reader to organize the lower example into titles and paragrahs. The hierarchy gives the titles more meaning than the other information, and makes it easier to scan.

Alright, so this is all pretty basic stuff, right? Let’s take a dive into some deeper examples of how you can apply this very basic principle to some very sophisticated designs:


The Hierarchists Toolbox

Understanding that visual hierarchy is important is all fine and well, but how does a designer actually create it? The “tools” that we’ll look at are as simple as a carpenter’s toolset – hammer, nail, saw, etc – It’s what you do with them is what counts!

Size

Objects that are bigger demand more attention. Using size as a hierarchal tool is an effective way of guiding a viewer’s eye to a particular portion of the page. Because size is one of the most powerful forms of organization, it’s important to correlate size with importance in a design. The biggest elements should be the most important in most cases; the smallest elements should be the least important.

visual hierarchy in web design
The use of BIG, bold type adds a level of order to this otherwise chaotic design. The eye should naturally move from big elements down to the smaller elements.

Color

Color is an interesting tool because it can function as both an organizational tool as well as a personality tool. Bold, contrasting colors on a particular element of a website will demand attention (such as with buttons or error messages or hyperlinks). When used as a personality tool, color can extend beyond into more sophisticated types of hierarchy; Using lush, comforting colors can bring an emotional appeal to a page. Color can affect everything from a websites brand (ie: CocaCola Red) to symbolism (ie: cool, subdued colors). Advanced applications of color can even be used to “classify” information within a hierarchy, as in the following example:

visual hierarchy in web design
The Spectra Viewer site uses colors to represent different news categories, so it’s easy to find a particular type of information based on the color key.

Contrast

Contrast shows relative important. Dramatic shifts in text-size or color will impart a message that something is different and requires attention. Changing from a light background color to a dark background color can quickly separate the core content of a page from the footer.

visual hierarchy in web design
The contrast between the light, airy header section and dark, earthy footer creates a distinct hierarchy of information.

Alignment

Alignment creates order between elements. It can be as simple as the difference between a “content column” and a “sidebar column”, but alignment can also take on more complex hierarchical roles. Consider, for instance, the power of information placed in the top-right of a web page. Because users general expect information in that part of the screen to be associated with profiles, accounts, shopping carts, etc., it gives everything places in that area a sense of the “official”. Alignment can also provoke interest if used in unique ways, such as in the following examples:

visual hierarchy in web design
The Stuff Template uses a unique horizontal alignment system to separate brand and navigation from blog post content.

The Flex Template uses a grid inspired layout to develop visually interest as well as a taxonomy driven visual hierarchy.

Repetition

Repetition assigns relative meaning to elements; If all “paragraph” text is grey, when a user sees a new block of grey text, he can assume it’s another basic paragraph; when that same user encounters a blue link or a black title, he can safely assume it is different and unique from the grey text.

visual hierarchy in web design
The Virgin site creates repetitive elements like paragraph text, then breaks the repetition when it wants to draw attention (like the red quote text).

Proximity

Proximity separates elements from each other and creates sub-hierarchies. Within a page there might be widgets that are separated from each other by space; within those widgets there is a new hierarchy of title, subtitle, and content. Proximity is also the quickest way to associate similar content. In the following example, it’s easy to find certain types of content simply based on their proximity with each other.


Density and Whitespace

Densely packing elements into a space makes it feel “heavy” and cluttered; When elements are spaced out too much, they may lose the relationships to one another. When a page is designed “just right”, the eye will easily recognize when elements are related and when they aren’t.

visual hierarchy in web design
By spacing elements out and keeping plenty of whitespace on the page, this design makes it easier for people to roam around and find the small, densely packed boxes of content.

Style and Texture

Perhaps the most open-ended tool in the Hierarchists Toolbox, style can be used to impart a form of hierarchy that both embraces and transcends the other tools. For instance: a flat gray background will “feel” different than an asphalt textured background.This style or personality given by the designer will naturally play a role in how different visual relationships are made.

It’s worth mentioning that style is also one of the most dangerous tools that a designer can use. Just like a carpenter cutting his finger off on a band-saw, a designer can easily mislead people by overemphasizing certain elements through style. Imagine a heavily textured, heavily designed site element that demands so much attention that it distracts instead of informing. This same idea extends to typefaces, buttons, tabs, and other elements. Be considerate of the impact on an overall design when you choose to add extra style and polish to an element.

visual hierarchy in web design
Jeff Finley’s site does a great job of combining a lot of the tools that we discussed here, but his use of originally styled elements over the standard UI fodder are what gives the entire design sense of intentional hierarchy. Jeff manages to add just enough style to make his site feel personal without it going overboard.

Failed Hierarchy

Good visual hierarchy isn’t about wild and crazy graphics or the newest photoshop filters, it’s about organizing information in a way that’s usable, accessible, and logical to the everyday site visitor.

As I just suggested in the last section, it’s important to note that hierarchy can be used for both good and evil. Think of all the annoying Flash advertisements, popup windows, glitter banners, etc. that the web has been plagued with over the years! While these ads succeed in grabbing attention, they ultimately fail the site owner and the viewer by breaking the visual hierarchy within a site. Similarly, if a designer builds a visual hierarchy such that certain key pieces of information are nearly impossible to find, the designer will have failed at his task. Good visual hierarchy isn’t about wild and crazy graphics or the newest photoshop filters, it’s about organizing information in a way that’s usable, accessible, and logical to the everyday site visitor.


Why Hierarchy is Especially Relevant to Web Designers

“Designers can create normalcy out of chaos; they can clearly communicate ideas through the organizing and manipulating of words and pictures.”—Jeffery Veen, The Art and Science of Web Design

Jeffrey Veen wrote those words in 2001, but they still hold a heckuva lot of power today where “information overload” seems to be commonplace. As people, we’ve always had a keen sense for visual organization. However, as a society we’ve been being barraged with a vertiable tsunami of visual information over the last couple decades; as a result, people nowadays are hyper-sensitive to visual hierarchy. This is especially the case on the web where studies have proven that regular web surfers have learned to “scan” content innately; automatically seeking information that is relevant to their interests and discarding/disregarding information that doesn’t.

Because of this, becoming a master of visual hierarchy isn’t optional, it’s mandatory. As the typical web-surfing platforms expand from the traditional monitor to phones, tablets, even televisions, it’s becoming ever more important that we use strong, clear visual systems to communicate with web surfers.


An Exercise to Test Visual Hierarchy

To conclude, I’d like to end with a very simple exercise. As the example, we’ll use a website that you frequent, or a project that you’ve worked on recently; The exercise goes like this:

  1. List the key information points that visitors are likely seeking.
  2. Assign values (1-10) according to their importance to the average visitor.
  3. Now, look at the actual design again.
  4. Assign values (1-10) according to the actual visual importance as you see it in the live design.
  5. Consider: Does the expected importance match up with the actual designed importance?

In most cases, the answer will include shades of “no”. There are lots of reasons for this – client demands, inexperienced designers, design-by-committee – or a hundred other reasons that you’ve probably read. Heck, in some cases, the designer may want to mislead the viewer (consider a “free” site that’s trying to guide users to paid content). Whatever the reason, understanding visual hierarchy and trying to interpret it is a way to improve the way that you see web design in a whole new light. Hopefully it’ll help inform your own work as well!

How to find better clients

Defining better clients

Before you can find better clients you have to define “better.” To do that, you have to get real about who you are and who you want to be. For some, helping that local Italian restaurant create an awesome website that brings hungry customers in for all-you-can-eat pasta is heaven. Others want that huge name brand, or to work in a certain industry. Picking the type of project you want is certainly one way to go, but I’d walk lightly on this path.

Instead, figure out the type of people you want to work with. Are they fun and playful or no-nonsense? Are they always running around in a panic or are they calm and collected? Take a moment to think back on the best working relationship of your life. Not necessarily the best project, but a client whose characteristics made you excited to get to work every time. What made that experience so positive? What was their personality? Their work style? How did they deal with the inevitable issues that come up? Build a profile using that good client’s characteristics based on your working relationship, not the end product of that relationship.

So now we know who we’re looking for. But who are they looking for?

 

 

Being true to yourself

Thoreau wrote, “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothing.” With those words in mind, ask yourself, “Would I hire me if I were my dream client?” If you’re honest with yourself the answer is probably no or, at best, maybe. Now here comes the tough part: Write down all the things that would make your dream client nervous about hiring you. Take time to make this list real and thorough. Ask previous clients or, better yet, decision makers involved in the opportunities you didn’t get. Now take a long look at the list of things you’ll need to change to get a better client to hire you. Go down the list one by one and ask yourself, “Do I want to make this change?” Or, more importantly, “Can I make this change and continue to enjoy what it is I love to do?” If you can then do it! If not, you need to redefine what you consider to be a better client. Otherwise, you’ll always be struggling to get comfortable in “new clothing” thatʼs just not a good fit.

Telling your story

Now that you know who you are and the types of client you want, you have to make sure every point of contact a prospect has with you gives them the right impression. Include questions in your client survey about how they’d like to work together. For example, do they prefer email or phone conversations? How involved do they want to be in the process? What role do they want their internal team to play? Also be sure to include your approach to and process of great projects in your portfolio. Don’t just show pretty pictures — tell the story of what it was like to work with that client. In all of your communications, help the prospect envision what it will be like to work with you, not just what the end product may be like. This includes phone conversations and emails. Tell stories of previous projects that went great as well as ones that didn’t. The honesty will resonate with the right clients. It will also deter the ones you shouldn’t work be working with, which is a big key to your future success.

 

 

Creating awareness

With everything in tune to welcome your new and improved clients, it’s time to find them. The tactics you choose to find the right clients are as important as identifying who you want to work with. How you find them has to be enjoyable for you and be in sync with your beliefs. For example, if you hate it when a company cold calls you about getting your business then don’t do it to those you want to work with. But if you like asking friends on Twitter for recommendations on hiring someone, make sure your friends know to recommend you, too.

 

 

Qualifying prospects

During the years Iʼve been responsible for finding clients for nGen Works, Iʼve tried a lot of different strategies and tactics to get the attention of prospects we wanted. Itʼs been said that success is a numbers game and I agree. The most successful strategies involve different ways of sharing our philosophy with as many people as possible. The ones we connect with become a network that help the right clients find us.

The one question we always ask when first talking with a prospect is how they heard about us. When we see the connection between the prospect and an article we wrote or the link to a previous client we loved, we know weʼve got a winner. If they found us on a CSS gallery or love a project we worked on we know we have some work to do to qualify the lead.

Loving life

When youʼre creating cool things with cool people you like, life is good. To me thatʼs the biggest need in client service today. Popular sites like Clients From Hell show how many of us are working with people we donʼt like. But why — when we hold the magic of creating the digital world in our hands — would we act like we have no control over whom we work with? We have complete control and itʼs time we start matching ourselves with people we want to work with instead of work that would look good in our portfolio.

But wait, there’s more

Finding who you are supposed to working with is critical, but it is just part of the evolution of client service. The way we work together, the way in which teams are compensated and understanding who is actually in charge of a project’s success are also key components that I’ll be addressing in upcoming articles.

Effective Ways to Promote Your Online Business

Freelancing is on a high, and more and more professionals are taking this route. Executive-level full-time professionals are not the only ones contemplating it; personnel at all levels and from various industries want a taste of freelancing. The lure of “becoming one’s own boss” and deciding one’s own schedule is too hard to resist by anyone who considers themselves even partially good at their trade. Success stories of freelancers from all corners of the world and from different lines of businesses are inspiring budding entrepreneurs and instilling in them a belief that they are capable enough to share in this success.

 

 

Various blogs and articles have flooded the Web with the pros and cons of being a freelancer. Every profession has its major challenges, and freelancing is no exception. Being the boss puts you in the decision-making seat and makes you responsible for any failures or losses. Just being good at your work will not ensure success, more so in freelancing thanks to the ever-increasing competition.

 

Key to Success: Promoting Your Work

With competition being sharp as a knife and the number of freelancers increasing by the day, a freelancer has to be on their toes at all times. But a masterful design not promoted well is a wasted opportunity.

instantShift - How to Promote Your Online Business

 

You might be a master of your trade and even won awards in your last job, but whether you’re a designer, creative writer or online consultant, the first two weeks of freelancing will bring you face to face with the harsh reality that being a master of your trade does not guarantee success. You must come to excel at a host of facets that you may not be strong in:

  • Promoting your work,
  • Winning more clients,
  • Consistently getting more clients,
  • Avoiding fatal mistakes,
  • Managing your time.

The list of tasks that a freelancer must be aware of, regardless of their trade expertise, is endless. But of all the points mentioned above, the gist of it lies in the first point, how to promote you work.

Think of it this way: being able to design a masterpiece or writing creatively is the body of your freelancing business, whereas promoting your skills is the soul. Neither can be neglected.

 

Benefits of Self-Promotion

As a freelancer, you will probably be dealing with clients from all corners of the world, and if you are not marketing your business as much as is needed, especially online, rest assured, you will lag the competition big time.

The stronger your presence, the greater the benefit to your freelancing business. Here are key benefits of extensive online promotion:

  • One of the most inexpensive ways to promote your business;
  • Ensures a 24/7/365 global presence;
  • Saves administration and transportation costs;
  • Extends the freedom of being able to multi-task from anywhere;
  • Environmentally friendly;
  • One of the most powerful and quickest modes of communication;
  • A good investment without being time-consuming;
  • Lends your business a professional and corporate image;
  • Your more accessible to your clientele;
  • A significant boost to your revenue.

 

Effective Ways to Promote your Business Online

Now that we know the benefits of promoting your business, let’s look at how to go about it. We live in a time of intense competition, and it will only grow in the future. The economy seems to have flattened out and, as a freelancer, you are already living on a constrained budget, making cheap and effective marketing options even more important.

Social Media

instantShift - How to Promote Your Online Business

 

Social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are a must. From big businesses to small, all have realized the importance of maintaining an active presence on them. The numbers of users on these websites is increasing by the thousands every day. People love to interact and exchange views on the products and services that interest them. Make a fan page on as many networks as possible, and remain active, and you’ll see your business get global exposure. I know quite a few freelancers who make their living only through social networks, so ignore them at your peril.

Web Directories

Many professionals across the world refer to the Web directories for various reasons, such as to hire a professional, locate a service provider, shortlist professionals, etc. Submit your website and register with every directory you come across. Internet use constantly rises, both in businesses and homes, and quite often people search the Web to find a local business; chances are, you can get business from your own locality.

It’s not just about existing, but about making people aware that you exist.

You’ll find plenty of directories, both industry-specific and cross-field. You’ll also find linking websites; just make sure that you use actual directories, not just linking websites. These will help your website rank higher on search engines.

Are You Blogging?

Blogging is a must for freelancers. If you do not yet have a blog, start one, and start writing about whatever you are good at. Consistency and quality is the key to getting traffic. If readers like what you say, they will more likely want to know more about the services you provide. The more readers you attract, the more prospective clients you’ll encounter.

If possible, create the blog on your own domain; it will add to your brand identity. But you could also use a third-party platform and link back to your domain.

Online Discussion Boards and Forums

Be actively involved in forums and discussions, especially the ones in your industry. Exchange views with users, and occasionally promote your service. These will help spread the word about your business, and also help you identify the strengths and weaknesses of other players in your industry. People are usually keen to critically evaluate other services, so you may be able to identify loopholes in your own operations.

Discussion forums are not meant for spamming and marketing. Rather, add to the debate and dialogue in a productive way. Promote yourself in the long run by building an image of a trustworthy professional.

Newsletters

instantShift - How to Promote Your Online Business

 

Newsletters keep you top of mind among prospective customers. They can be made available online indefinitely, humbly promoting your service, so that even if prospective clients have not subscribed, they might still come across it. Also, because the newsletter is an email, one of your readers might refer you to their friends, making for a quick and easy method of recommendation. Newsletters can also boost website traffic, even if just temporarily.

Content Factories

Writing articles in your area of expertise and then submitting them to various content factories is a great way to promote your business. You’ll find plenty of them online; EzineArticles is one of the most famous. The purpose here, too, is to promote your business through creative ideas and to become known as a professional.

Pay-Per-Click Advertisements (PPC)

One of the best values for the money is PPC advertising. Most search engines offer some sort of PPC advertising platform. Bids go as low as $0.01, making it a pocket-friendly way to spread awareness of your business. The best part is that you only pay for what you get; that is, you pay only when a user lands on your page after clicking your ad.

Link and Traffic Exchange

Exchanging links with other websites is gaining popularity as a viable promotional tool. This method promotes your business on other websites and helps you rank higher on search engines. The more links to your website, the higher your ranking on search engines. Just make sure to change your anchor text periodically, so that the links appear natural to search engines. For more on link-exchange advertising, see LinkAlizer and LinkMarket.

Traffic exchange is another tool that could increase traffic to your website. It is based on the ratio of the number of times your website gets viewed to the number of times you view other website. TrafficSwarm, NoMoreHits, and Studiotraffic are some of the websites that offer such services.

Paid-to-Read (PTR) Advertising

PTR campaigns are especially good if you are new to the world of freelancing. This service is offered by many websites and involves paying readers to read your ads. It’s a low-cost promotional tool to increase traffic to your website. Websites like DonkeyMails and MaxProfit charge only a few dollars to send out your ad to all of its members. Find established websites with a huge database of clients to ensure maximum benefit, which in your case is to promote your services.

Guest Speaking and Writing

instantShift - How to Promote Your Online Business

 

Another free but effective method is to become a guest speaker or writer. This gives you a presence on various website, which is sure to boost your freelancing business. It can work either way: propose to other website owners to write guest posts in your area of expertise, or invite prominent writers, designers and personalities to write on your website. Just find websites that cater to a similar target audience, and then propose a mutually beneficial relationship.

Online Contests

Organizing a contest on your website can be another effective tool. Do a bit of research to ensure that the game generates curiosity among your target audience. Offer cash or gift vouchers as prizes. Contests are especially effective for new businesses that are trying to find their feet among intense competition. Just make sure to follow your country or state’s laws for contests. For example, in Canada, the government requires that a skill-based question determine the winners of contests.