Posts Tagged ‘Online Collaboration’

Key User Experience Considerations for Your Online Community

June 13th, 2011

In this post, I’ll be highlighting those aspects of a community, which if ignored, can have major ramifications on the overall user experience.

Building your community on top of a third-party platform solves a number of user experience concerns, but also presents challenges. Out of the box, you’ll have content and widget types, and a general look and feel to the font, headings, icons, and navigation. These styles may or may not work for your organization as-is. Be sure to evaluate the following prior to deploying your community. Read more…

Social Media, User Experience, User Interface Design, Web Strategy Consulting , , ,

Put a Little Jing in Your Pocket: Better Communication Through Screencasts

January 8th, 2010

You may have used a screencast tool in the past, but if you haven’t tried Jing from TechSmith, you’re missing out on one of the easiest ways to share your screen activity quickly, easily, and for free.

Screencasting is essentially the process of recording and broadcasting the activity on your computer screen and in most cases, accompanying the video with a vocal narration.

Jing’s user experience is top notch, and the system allows you to immediately send your screencasts up to, save the file on your computer, or FTP it to your own server.

Read more…

Web Project Management, Web Strategy Consulting , , ,

What Basecamp Should Borrow from activeCollab

May 29th, 2009

We love Basecamp.  Just wanted to get that out of the way.  For over five years, we’ve watched Basecamp evolve from a very basic project management tool with messages, basic to-do lists and file uploads, to a wonderful collaboration system with Writeboards, comments at a to-do level, advanced notification and permission controls and more.  Our projects and clients continue to benefit from its superior features and usability.

Because we like Basecamp so much, we thought we’d point out a few features that less-expensive competitor, activeCollab offers which would make Basecamp even better.

Progress tracking and due dates for tasks
Basecamp of course has integrated milestones, however tasks can easily go unfinished and unnoticed.  Sure, to-dos can be associated with a milestone, but unless the parent milestone expires, team members may be unaware of individual task dates until it’s too late. activeCollab supports due dates for checklists and tickets and as such, alarm bells can ring if important sub tasks aren’t met.  Many companies have tried to get around this in Basecamp by creating more milestones than to-dos, however this gets unwieldy and results in a very long list of milestones that cannot be categorized or grouped the way to-dos can.  People have been pleading on Basecamp forums for to-do due dates for a long time.  Hopefully someday soon they’ll get their wish.

On top of this, activeCollab has a nice progress bar which shows the number of tasks completed out of all existing tasks and a percentage calculation.  Another good way to sound the alarm if tasks aren’t being checked off as they should be.

Starred objects
This relatively simple feature can be powerfully useful.  It gives each user the power to select, on an ongoing basis, any item(s) that they want to keep an eye on. For instance, tasks may be grouped into various lists, but on a given day say, five of them are being focused on.  Rather than breaking up carefully constructed lists, an individual user can star those items that need to be taken care of or monitored without affecting what the rest of the users see.  This puts more power in the hands of the individual to use the system as they see fit.

Updated items since last visit
Here’s another simple feature that is more powerful than it may seem at first glance.  Project managers love quick summaries of project activity since they’ve been gone.  The Basecamp Dashboard does indeed show all latest activity, but seeing what’s new since you last looked can immediately bring you back up to speed.  Did something happen related to one of your starred items?  You can quickly be aware.

Status updates
Similar to Facebook status updates or tweets, these can help teams that are under tight deadlines, but aren’t using a chat tool like Campfire to quickly see who’s working on what.  This helps a project manager know if reminders should be sent out or if a person should be interrupted.  Sometimes it takes a while to get into the “zone” and any feature that helps team members remain there is valuable. 37 Signal’s internal collaboration tool, Backpack actually has this feature so it should not be difficult for Basecamp to implement.

Another example of a feature that both activeCollab and Backpack offer is the creation of individual pages.  The ability to highlight certain information in a permanent spot that doesn’t get pushed down as more content is added (such as is the case with Messages), is of high value to a team.  A particular collection of files, a summary of key business goals, a list of URLs to competitive sites, are just some examples of content that deserves a permanent home.  Backpack’s pages are excellent in that they allow drag and drop modules of text, images, files, and to-do lists.  Even if pages for Basecamp only included text and file attachments, it would be a great start.

Calendar month-view
Sometimes viewing a calendar in month format just helps communicate the bigger picture better.  A simple addition which again, is already in Backpack.

Ability to resize Message/comment edit windows
In activeCollab you can grab the corners of a text box you’re working in and drag it to whatever height you want.  When you’re typing a message and it becomes larger than you anticipated, it’s great to have the extra breathing room.  Basecamp’s messages auto-expand only once when a certain content amount is reached, but the customizability of dragging to fit is truly a step up.

To reiterate, Basecamp is a fantastic tool, and it’s only out of love that we post these suggestions which we feel would take it to yet another level.  There are plenty of other great ideas circulating in the forums and we encourage you to add your own two cents.

Social Media, Web Development, Web Project Management , , , ,

Case Study: Discovery World

February 21st, 2009

The Challenge
Guide and lead the definition, launch, and expansion of an extraordinary organization’s new web presence.

The Solutions
Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin provides immersive, experiential learning opportunites and entertainment for many thousands of visitors each year. Offering such attractions as a fresh and saltwater aquarium, the S/V Denis Sullivan, and elaborate exhibits dedicated to science, technology, water stewardship, and overall education, Discovery World is a truly unique destination with something for everyone.

Molstad Consulting worked closely with Discovery World senior management, art directors, developers, and content experts to define a new information architecture and overall website framework that would serve to increase public understanding and drive visitor action in a measurable and scalable way. The massive effort was broken into multiple phases with a focus on quick wins and revenue-driving features. Prototypes of interfaces and key templates were created to serve as context for decisions and blueprints for developers.

The site features detailed content supported by targeted imagery, Flash animations and video specifically tailored for each of the primary audiences. In addition, the development of a state-of-the-art ecommerce/order management system was managed utilizing agile methodology resulting in the ability for users to purchase tickets and buy/renew memberships online. The vast and diverse selection of Discovery World programs and published and managed via a customized, integrated blogging system. In addition to streamlined content management for the staff, site visitors can also take advantage of social media feature, search, tagging and bookmarking of content.

A web analytics methodology has been established which has measurably improved business intelligence and increased conversions. Business goals have been mapped to key audiences, and in turn, to specific metrics. Molstad Consulting regularly monitors site performance, summarizes insights gained from optimized analytics tools, and assists senior staff in prioritizing web initiatives. Email marketing campaigns are also regularly reviewed ensuring their alignment with the website and organizational marketing goals.

Discovery World now enjoys greater visibility than ever before into their site usage and marketing performance due to targeted web analytics and modernized site structure/coding standards.

All communication, tasks, and schedules were (and continue to be) orchestrated via Basecamp and Molstad Consulting’s proprietary methods for online/remote collaboration.

The Results
Discovery World now has a web presence that provides them the page real estate, scalable information architecture, design cohesion, and marketing intelligence befitting a highly visible and ever-evolving organization. The site serves as the foundation of all internet marketing efforts. Insights gained from web analytics has removed the guesswork from web initiative prioritization and keeps web team members focused on key audiences and visitor tasks.

Ecommerce, Flash, Information Architecture, Molstad Consulting Case Studies, User Interface Design, Web Analytics, Web Project Management, Web Strategy Consulting , , , , , , ,

Case Study: Brookstone Homes

February 21st, 2009

The Challenge
Clearly define and document all requirements, and orchestrate a multi-disciplinary team leading to the launch of enhanced technology and innovative design within an aggressive timeframe.

The Solutions
Brookstone Homes is one of Southeastern Wisconsin’s largest home builders, and have reached that status through progressive ideas and excellent customer service.

CI Design had established a beautiful and highly effective campaign of marketing materials for Brookstone. Recognizing the size and scope of the website redesign project, Molstad Consulting was called in to manage the entire process.

Working closely with Brookstone Homes, Molstad Consulting advised on long-term content strategies and defined and documented a new information architecture and metrics for success, dividing the project into manageable phases.

Next, information design was analyzed and wireframes were created to gain consensus on key screen layouts as well as serving as blueprints for CI Design’s creative team and Brookstone’s developers. These areas include a fully revamped community and ready home search, a customer portal allowing new home builders to track and view their home’s progress, customer service forms and many other design-intensive layouts.

Once production began, Molstad Consulting tracked all communication and decisions via a project extranet, moderated discussions, evaluated progress and performed quality assurance leading to launch.

Molstad Consulting’s search engine marketing team has set up a successful pay per click ad campaign and continues to monitor its performance, driving traffic after achieving the top position for numerous competitive keywords. An organic search engine optimization campaign is currently underway.

In addition, our analytics system was set up to monitor all site traffic and referrals giving Brookstone a clear picture of site visitors, the paths they take through the site and an easy way to track desired actions.

The Response
“The development, design, and launch of the new Brookstone Homes web site went smoothly and efficiently thanks in large part to your valuable contribution to the team. You played a critical role in keeping the many moving parts and pieces in order throughout the process. It was due to your hard work, expertise, and project management skills that we were able to accomplish all that we did in such a short period of time.”
- Dawn Wilson, Vice President & Director of Marketing for Brookstone Homes

“You were a vital part of the project, the glue that held it together, and we couldn’t have done it without you. You kept us efficient by managing all the details and delivering the requirements and content we needed when we needed them. Your wireframes and approval system eliminated unpleasant surprises and kept all accountable, including the client.”
- Jim Taugher, President of CI Design

Brookstone Homes, Inc. was honored with several recognitions at the 2006 Metropolitan Builders Assocation’s Standards of Excellence Awards. The annual event recognizes innovative use of sales and marketing techniques and practices. In the marketing categories, Brookstone Homes earned gold awards for Best Web Page Design.

Information Architecture, Web Project Management, Web Strategy Consulting , , , ,

Case Study: Norton Norris

February 21st, 2009

The Challenge
Introduce online collaboration into the workflow and processes of a multi-service, consulting and advertising/marketing firm serving the education industry.

The Solutions
Based in Illinois, Norton Norris focuses on helping colleges, schools, and universities manage their admissions and marketing functions, and serves as consultant, trainer, business partner, and/or advertising agency, depending on the client’s needs.

The company manages a wide variety of projects in various stages often utilizing geographically dispersed contractors for certain skill sets. They had been considering creating an FTP area for file posting and revision management to get a better handle on submitted deliverables and version control. Molstad Consulting introduced greater potential for online collaboration by recommending a third-party tool, Basecamp.

After detailed discussions to understand the nature of the Norton Norris staff, network, and their responsibilities, Molstad Consulting set up and configured their Basecamp account and consulted on best practices. Workflow ground rules governing information posting and communication were defined and implemented. Over a period of two months, Molstad Consulting monitored the team’s usage of the system, led training sessions, and guided project collaboration.

Best practice consulting included:

  • Definition and setup of user permissions and file upload settings
  • Associating project Milestones with appropriate task (“To-Do”) lists
  • Definition of “Messages” categories and rules for posting, file uploading and notification/privacy of team members
  • Establishing of easily-located permanent links to finalized deliverables
  • Task list formatting, arrangement, and staff/client notification methods
  • Setup of a client content delivery and tracking system using a custom combination of task lists, “Messages” and file uploading
  • Training on proper use of the “Writeboards” text versioning/approval tool
  • Overall system usage monitoring

The Results
Norton Norris now have a central, secure place on the Web for all project details including communication, files, tasks and schedules. Effective Basecamp usage has coordinated both local and remote teams. Clients as well as internal staff have embraced it enthusiastically.

The managing partners both have busy travel schedules. The new system allows them to them to jump into projects quickly from anywhere and check status, offer archived feedback, access file repositories, and have the latest information ready for client meetings.

Expert Review, Web Project Management, Web Strategy Consulting ,