Tech

Round-up: Accessibility References for Non-Tech People

Elizabeth Galle tweeted a request today for accessibility references that a team of not-necessarily tech savvy people would get some use out of. Twitter responded with some great links almost immediately, and I wanted to collect those replies here in one place to serve as a starting point for any others with similar needs.

The tweet that started it off:

@Tawreh makes an excellent point that web accessibility can be likened to a book, and that you should give your readers a sense of “I know where things are” immediately rather than trying to reinvent the wheel and inevitably confusing them (or frustrating them to the point that they just give up).

Others presented links to basic guidelines from the W3C and WebAIM groups, the authoritative sources for web usability and accessibility. Continue reading “Round-up: Accessibility References for Non-Tech People”

Tech

Up and Gone; Or, The Ease of Relocating in the Digital Age

I recently had the pleasure of dogsitting for my parents while they were out of town, and in the process of temporarily relocating myself to their house, I realized something.

It’s extremely easy to pick up and relocate ourselves in an age where everything has gone digital.

This isn’t really a surprise. There are lots of books and blogs extolling the virtues of a location-independent lifestyle. Even for those of us who aren’t globe-trotting, it’s become remarkably easy to just… leave. For the two weeks I was living at my parents’ house taking care of their dog, I packed a single bag with a few changes of clothes and basic toiletries, a couple books, and my laptop. (Plus my phone, but that’s always on me and thus not really counted as packing.) That’s it.

All my other possessions were unimportant.

Granted, I wasn’t packing for a survival trek. I knew there would be food on hand and a kitchen to prepare it, a bed to sleep in, and functioning utilities. But it was interesting to see just how few of my own things I needed in order to be away from home for two weeks.

  • Mail was not a concern – all my bills are handled online, and personal letters have long been replaced by email, texts, and the social web. The sum total of my physical mail for two weeks was a pair of Netflix envelopes and a handful of unwanted marketing flyers and catalogs (which go straight to the trash).
  • Netflix and Hulu were at the ready for movies and TV. iTunes holds my music library. A couple books, which could just as easily have been library loans, and a very active dog sufficed for most of my entertainment.
  • Two weeks’ worth of clothing really doesn’t take up much space and can be packed fairly quickly. A few pairs of jeans, several t-shirts and overshirts for work, and some sweatshirts, plus a coat and gloves, all of which fits well in a moderately-sized duffle bag.

My laptop and my phone are undoubtedly my two most important possessions. Those two devices have replaced (or at least could replace) my mailbox, my media center, a bookshelf, paper notebooks, my alarm clock, and a phonebook, among other things. Digital storage is cheaper than ever, so I could easily back up all my DVDs to a portable harddrive.

Obviously there are some things I can’t digitize. My couch, for one. And as easy as it might be to order a pizza online, I like cooking, so my kitchen is here to stay. But the rest of my stuff? That’s just it – it’s just stuff. I’m planning to overhaul my belongings, going by the rule of “If I had to move right now and could only take one car, would this go with me?” My guess is that the answer will consistently tend toward “no.”

What else in my life can I digitize to reduce my clutter? Moving to a monastery and renouncing all worldly things is out of the question, but I’m open to suggestions.

Tech

Learn When to Say No.

The one skill that’s been most helpful to me professionally, more than any tech knowledge, is knowing when and how to say “No.”

Obviously any profession has certain skillsets that are required for basic completion of the relevant tasks. Architects need to be able to sketch designs and understand building stress points. Firefighters need to know how to hook up hoses and where to aim the water for best coverage. I’m a front-end developer; I need to know how to write proper XHTML and CSS, use Photoshop, and manage project timelines.

Even so, none of the various technical abilities I’ve acquired over the years are as important as simply knowing when it’s necessary to say “no” to people. It’s a “soft skill” but it’s just as vital as any knowledge of coding languages, operating systems, or tech support tips. I’ve learned that saying “yes” all the time leads to nothing but stress and ultimately sub-par work. You end up trying to please all the people all the time, and it’s just not doable.

I think too many people have this idea that it’s unacceptable to say no (or worse, to hear it from others). There’s a fear that saying “no” will somehow make them look incapable of handling the work, make them look like they can’t be trusted to get stuff done. They’re half right, technically. There’s a point at which workload outweighs available time, and when that happens the work will suffer, the person will suffer, and the client will suffer.

No one wants that.

I’ve learned — the hard way — that my health (mental and physical) and my output are directly affected by my ability to regulate my workload effectively. Knowing when and more importantly how to tell people that you can’t currently oblige their request is absolutely critical to keeping yourself in balance.

I just wish more people understood that.

Tech

Notes from the September mkeUX meetup: Search

Last night’s mkeUX was all about search – both SEO and paid search. Ross Monaghan and Jordon Meyer were great presenters and obviously have the background to back up their claims (and, after having a drink with the guys beforehand, not such bad guys in general). Twitter is a pretty good place to follow the action — search the hashtag #mkeUX — but I took some notes along the way, presented here for your amusement.

Ross Monaghan — “SEO & UX. WTF?”

Accessibility! There are already search engine optimization standards established by companies and groups like Google and the W3C. They’re designed to help you make sure your content is accessible. So… use them!

Search engines are essentially heavily disabled users. They have extremely limited ability to process Javascript, they can’t see your images, they won’t watch your Flash, and they won’t listen to your audio. If you don’t provide alternate means of consuming this content, it’s essentially invisible to search. The same goes for things that require user interaction – dropdown forms, etc. Search engines won’t jump through the hoops that human users may be willing to tolerate.

Keep it clean!

Keeping your URLs clean and human-friendly, and making good use of canonical URLs, will go a long way toward improving your search engine performance. Excessive use of querystring parameters, or extensive tagging without proper compensating techniques like using robots.txt to exclude “tag overview” pages, will inevitably start to dilute the value of the other links throughout your site. So be careful how you implement those “features.”

If I can read your page and immediately tell you what keywords you’re targeting, you’re doing it wrong.

Architecture. Sometimes you have to take a step back and ask yourself (or your client), “Why the hell are we building this website to begin with?” If there’s no clear answer, STOP. If there is a clear answer, then… great! Now what? You need to ensure a consistent and reliable strategy — taxonomies, structure, labeling, and organizational themes.

Jordon Meyer — “Paid Search Usability”

Paid search gets a bad rap.

— Jordan

In 2009, Google got $23 billion in revenue selling paid search ads and had 37 billion clicks on those ads. However, only around 2% of those clicks ever turned into an actual conversion. 98% of the ads ended up meaning absolutely nothing. Why? (Possible answer: people just distrust paid search results?)

Five opportunities to lose customers:

  • Irrelevant keywords – buying every conceivable keyword just in hopes of getting someone to click? Bad!
  • Misleading copy – “office chairs under $50!” when none of your office chairs are under $100
  • Generic keywords
  • Poor choice of destination – don’t send every click to your homepage! Take into account what the user is searching for, why they clicked, and where they expect to land.
  • Low quality of destination – if you have no calls to action, too much (or not enough) copy, high load times, etc… people will leave. And they may not come back.

You got the click to your site, now do something with it! Standards exist and evolve for a reason. Use them to your advantage.

Tech

Twitter Bio Generator

Agonizing over what to put in your Twitter bio? 140 characters in which to describe your endless intricacies and greatest feats to the world – that’s a tall order. Luckily for you there’s a service to do all the hard work for you. Introducing the Twitter Bio Generator from @joshjs. Maybe you’re a…

Twitter afficionado. Amateur tv nerd. Passionate travel fan. Music maven. Bacon geek.

No? How about…

Pop culture guru. Tv scholar. Award-winning zombie fan. Alcohol maven. Internet fanatic.

See? Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Enjoy.

Photo by West McGowan. cc