A very good argument for avoiding lorem ipsum

37 Signals, in their free ebook on developing online applications called Getting Real, offer a very good argument for not using the designer’s pal ‘lorem ipsum’ aka ‘greeked’ text. In another life I worked for a software company and during new product demos the engineers inevitably typed the word ‘test’ in every form as fast as they could. I agree with 37’s argument that this just leads to crappy form design:

‘You need real copy to know how long certain fields should be. You need real copy to see how tables will expand or contract. You need real copy to know what your app truly looks like.

As soon as you can, use real and relevant words. If your site or application requires data input, enter the real deal. And actually type in the text — don’t just paste it in from another source. If it’s a name, type a real name. If it’s a city, type a real city. If it’s a password, and it’s repeated twice, type it twice.’

The point here is that as we design web sites we need to consider the user’s interaction with copy, forms and other text at the design stage. Simply dropping in gibberish while waiting for real copy makes it very difficult for clients, testers and writers to get a real feel for how a design communicates.

A passionate heart never forgets…and don't you forget it!

This time of year really gets me thinking about the fact that when it comes to passion, the pendulum swings both ways. Maybe I feel this way because the NHL playoffs are upon us. My hometown team, the Buffalo Sabres, have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight year. Lord Stanley is so close I can feel him!

See, I’m passionate about hockey. Maybe it’s my Buffalonian roots. I love my Sabres. I follow them religously, I cheer loudly, and most of all, I defend my team to anyone who puts them down. Any marketer would drool over the level of brand loyalty I exude.

Enter Brett Hull. Now if you’re a Sabres fan, I need not go on. The name speaks for itself. But for the rest of you, just know that he stole the Stanely Cup from the Sabres in 1999. Hull scored the game winner in triple overtime, but the replay clearly showed that the goal should have been disallowed. Most Sabres fans I know will agree that they have some healthy disdain for Brett Hull (read: passion).

Hull knows this. Now a commentator for NBC’s coverage of the NHL, the topic of that infamous goal came up last weekend. The comment he made in reference to Buffalo fans was less than compassionate. He crassly told viewers to “get over it.” Now understandably, after nearly 10 years, one would hope that all would be forgotten. However, I don’t think Hull considered the fact that passionate hearts never forget. And this case is no different. Hundreds of critics hit NBC’s Sports forum after the game to share their perspective of Hull. I could share a few of my favorite posts, but that could take awhile. It’s time for me to get to my point.

It’s important to drive passion for your brand, and for your organization. But never forget that passion is not always a positive thing. Despite your best efforts, you’re going to find people (or they’ll find you, but I’ll save that topic for another post) who genuinely dislike you. And this group will go to great lengths to share their negative energy with others, posing a real threat to your reputation. Add a simple blog or bulletin board to the mix, and that negative energy will spread faster than you can react.

The best thing you can do is keep the dialogue open. Talk to your friends, and especially talk to your enemies. Creating a mutual understanding of perspectives, and some compassion on your part, will go miles in keeping that negative passion in check.

Go Sabres.

Esther Dyson on the future of search (and a little bit about behavioral targeting)

In an interview where the interviewer pretended to be Bill Gates, Esther Dyson offers a few insights into the future of search. One that caught my attention was the idea that the next iteration of search would be based on a combination of personal information kept on your desktop and previous searching patterns (at least that’s what I think she was talking about). So if you want better search results you might tell Google some stuff about yourself first so they can filter the results based on your knowledge level of the subject. If they know I’m a pilot (for example- I am not) my search results on a flight question will be different than those served up to a business traveler who is not a pilot. The catch is a trust issue- do we want to share a profile of ourselves in exchange for better search results?

This gets us into the subject of ‘behavioral targeting‘, a new marketing tactic based on tracking a web surfer’s past behavior so you can serve up ads that are targeted to their interests. When you first experience this it can be disturbing. Say you spend a little time researching that Honda hybrid you’re thinking of buying, then you move on to the NYTimes.com site to catch up on the news and the banner ads are all for Honda hybrids…how did they do that? It’s coming fast whether we like it or not.

BTW, Esther is the daughter of Freeman Dyson, a physicist and certified genius.

FITC 2: Casual gaming powers up

A common theme among a few presentations at last week’s FITC conference in Toronto was the increasing popularity of casual gaming among web users. Casual games are typically short, simple computer games that can be played in small bursts during a lunch break or a few minutes of down time, and are offered as try-then-buy with more levels and features after purchase. Examples include Bejeweled, Slingo, Snood and Zuma as well as traditional puzzle and board games like sudoku, mahjong, chess, poker and solitare; which are very popular in their electronic versions. Millions of people currently play casual games online, and the success of these games boils down to simplicity and the user experience.

The vast majority of casual games found online today are Flash-based. Trails are usually watered-down versions embedded on a webpage, while full, downloadable versions are more complete visual and aural experiences because they eventually are running locally on the player’s computer. The quality of the game and it’s visual appeal are what keep players coming back to play again. Add that to the ease in which someone can begin playing and advancing to higher levels and you have a successful and popular game.

Even corporate and non-gaming websites have custom-built, branded games which provide visitors with something interesting and exciting to do while they’re browsing. In-game ad breaks and product placements are also commonplace in most trial versions of a game and have the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of players. Banners ads are even becoming mini-casual games in themselves as online advertisers try to keep a user’s attention for longer and longer periods of time. Player’s don’t get to keep the games featured in a banner ad, but still walk away with a pleasing experience. The potential for casual gaming to become a major part of how companies advertise online is massive. And it’s already gaining momentum.

The Official Blog of Martino Flynn