websites are processes

so yesterday i had a coffee with a friend. they run a small consulting shop and he proudly showed me their new website. they were working hard on it for months, and to be honest, it was looking good. it was responsive, had a great design and good copy.

however...

they were still failing to attract new clients and leads over their website. he asked me if there was anything glaringly wrong with their website. one thing jumped out: there wasn't a call to action. prospects would have to scroll down the whole page, find the contact form, fill out 10+ fields and hope somebody would get back to them.

but this was just a symptom, and not the main problem. the main problem was this: they failed to understand that websites are processes.

all websites "sell" something, whether you are selling an actual product, a service, you want to do outreach, get more attention or just simply share your ideas. but it takes time to get visitors interested and willing to buy your service or product. and this is a process. take any sales professional and you'll find an efficient, tested process they stick to. and we can do the same with our websites, fully automated and scalable.

let's have a look at the process in detail. it starts with strangers coming to your website. maybe they saw you at an event, got your business card, found you on google or some article you wrote a year ago. they have a look at your website and in case they are interested, they want to learn more.

next you start talking specifically about what you do and how you can help your clients. as you convince your audience that your product or service is the right solution for their problem you move them to the next stage via a call to action where they become leads. this can be done with a free email course, a cheat sheet or any other value exchange.

at the next stage, your audience is convinced that you're able to help them solving their problem, but trust and connection is still missing. as people only stay a short time (if you get more than 20 seconds you're really lucky) on your websites, this step is needed in order to extend the conversation in which you can nurture the connection and exchange value. drip campaigns or well crafted newsletters (no, not these awful spammy things, but something like a personal email) are good tools for this step.

lastly, by giving away valuable content and helpful tips you establish trust and set yourself up as an expert in your domain. only now you have all the ingredients to make a successful sale.

it is important to note, that the only goal of each step in this process is to help your visitors get to the next step. this is not about you, it is about how you can help your clients.

so think about your website for a moment. do you have a process similar to this in place? if not, you're losing money.

summing up 81

i am trying to build a jigsaw puzzle which has no lid and is missing half of the pieces. i am unable to show you what it will be, but i can show you some of the pieces and why they matter to me. if you are building a different puzzle, it is possible that these pieces won't mean much to you, maybe they won't fit or they won't fit yet. then again, these might just be the pieces you're looking for. this is summing up, please find previous editions here.

Computers for Cynics, by Ted Nelson

The computer world deals with imaginary, arbitrary, made up stuff that was all made up by somebody. Everything you see was designed and put there by someone. But so often we have to deal with junk and not knowing whom to blame, we blame technology.

Everyone takes the structure the computer world as god-given. In a field reputedly so innovative and new, the computer world is really a dumbed down imitation of the past, based on ancient traditions and modern oversimplification that people mistake for the computer itself.

it is quite easy to get the idea that the current state of the computer world is the climax of our great progress. and it's really not. ted nelson, one of the founding fathers of personal computing and the man who invented hypertext, presents his cynical, amusing and remarkably astute overview of the history of the personal computer - after all he's been there since the beginnings. it is especially interesting in contrast with our current view on computers, information and user experience.

Deep-Fried Data, by Maciej Cegłowski

A lot of the language around data is extractive. We talk about data processing, data mining, or crunching data. It’s kind of a rocky ore that we smash with heavy machinery to get the good stuff out.

In cultivating communities, I prefer gardening metaphors. You need the right conditions, a propitious climate, fertile soil, and a sprinkling of bullshit. But you also need patience, weeding, and tending. And while you're free to plant seeds, what you wind up with might not be what you expected.

This should make perfect sense. Human cultures are diverse. It's normal that there should be different kinds of food, music, dance, and we enjoy these differences. But online, our horizons narrow. We expect domain experts and programmers to be able to meet everyone's needs, sight unseen. We think it's normal to build a social network for seven billion people.

we hear a lot about artificial intelligence, big data or deep learning these days. they are all referring to the same generic approach of training a computer with lots of data and it learns to recognize structure. these techniques are effective, no doubt, but what we often overlook is that you only get out what you put into it.

Programming and Scaling, by Alan Kay

Leonardo could not invent a single engine for any of his vehicles. Maybe the smartest person of his time, but he was born in the wrong time. His IQ could not transcend his time. Henry Ford was nowhere near Leonardo, but he happened to be born in the right century, a century in which people had already done a lot of work in making mechanical things.

Knowledge, in many many cases, trumps IQ. Why? This is because there are certain special people who invent new ways of looking at things. Henry Ford was powerful because Issac Newton changed the way Europe thought about things. One of the wonderful things about the way knowledge works is if you can get a supreme genius to invent calculus, those of us with more normal IQs can learn it. So we're not shut out from what the genius does. We just can't invent calculus by ourselves, but once one of these guys turns things around, the knowledge of the era changes completely.

we often ignore the context we create a digital product in. however the context defines the space of possible solutions. and not only that, it also defines the borders of our world. what is so interesting about this thought is that you don't need a massive brain, but you need to be able to see and connect ideas in order to advance humanity.

summing up 80

i am trying to build a jigsaw puzzle which has no lid and is missing half of the pieces. i am unable to show you what it will be, but i can show you some of the pieces and why they matter to me. if you are building a different puzzle, it is possible that these pieces won't mean much to you, maybe they won't fit or they won't fit yet. then again, these might just be the pieces you're looking for. this is summing up, please find previous editions here.

the lost medium, by yours truly

Our history shows if you free yourself from the idea that the current state of the computer world is the climax of our great progress we can almost magically give rise to new technologies, ideas and visions that do not only amplify humans, but also produce tremendous wealth for our society. We've ended up focusing too much on technology, on things, on devices and not enough on ideas, on the medium computer. The computer world is not yet finished and many ideas for the collective good are waiting to be discovered. We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.

a talk on how we can use the medium computer to augment our human capabilities. it is the summing up (pun intended) of my research over the last years and foundation for things yet to come. i don't want to add much commentary to this as i already said everything in my talk. feel free to share it and if you have questions, feedback or critique, i'd love to hear from you!

The Anti-Mac User Interface, by Don Gentner & Jakob Nielsen

The GUIs of contemporary applications are generally well designed for ease of learning, but there often is a trade-off between ease of learning on one hand, and ease of use, power, and flexibility on the other hand.

Today's children will spend a large fraction of their lives communicating with computers. We should think about the trade-offs between ease of learning and power in computer-human interfaces. If there were a compensating return in increased power, it would not be unreasonable to expect a person to spend several years learning to communicate with computers, just as we now expect children to spend 20 years mastering their native language.

is it better to have a website, an app, a computer which is easy to use or one that offers high-performance but is difficult and time consuming to learn? of course, simpler user interfaces may be easier to learn and use, but it will be hard work to accomplish difficult tasks. on the other hand, high performance interfaces call for considerably more skills, but the ratio of time to effort is dramatically higher. and this is a very interesting perspective: if you happen to use the computer as a tool for your lifetime, isn't it worth to invest time, become skillful and save time in the long run? i don't know the answer to this question, but i guess the truth is as always somewhere in the middle.

Bots won't replace apps. Better apps will replace apps, by Dan Grover

As a user, I want my apps to have some consistent concept of identity, payments, offline storage, and data sharing. I want to be able to quickly add someone in person or from their website to my contacts. The next time I do a startup, I want to spend my time specializing in solving a specific problem for my users, not getting them over the above general hurdles.

I don’t actually care how it happens. Maybe the OS makers will up their game. Or maybe it’ll be delivered in some magic, blockchain-distributed, GNU-licensed, neckbeard-encrusted solution that the masses, in a sudden epiphany, repent to.

But more than anything, rather than screwing around with bots, I want the tech industry to focus on solving these major annoyances and handling some of the common use cases I described that my phone ought to do better with by now.

this comes back to the basic notion of technology does not solve our problems. it's the things we do with the technologies. and i think that the human side of our products and technologies is often ignored in favour of technical decisions, which often do not bring any direct value to the people.

my voxxed days belgrade talk

i often have the impression that the current state of the computer world is the climax of our great progress. nevertheless i also have the impression that all these advancements don't really advance humanity as a whole. i have written a lot about these issues in recent years and if you follow my summing up series (shameless plug: put your email in the box below this article to get it and much more directly to your inbox) you'll find many people following similar lines of thought. it mostly comes down to the notion that we're not really thinking about how we can use the medium computer to augment our human capabilities. this was my starting point a few years ago.

in the mean time i was invited by the kind folks of voxxed days belgrade to speak about this topic. i gladly accepted and luckily i did so.

it was, simply put, an amazing experience: one of the biggest and most inspiring technology & entrepreneurship conferences in eastern europe, excellent speakers from all over the world, about 800+ participants, and well... me in the middle giving a talk about how we can augment our human capabilities with the use of computers.

i have spent an insane amount of time preparing this talk over the last year and was very happy with the feedback i got. actually, scratch that. i was exceptionally happy as my talk was voted best rated talk of the conference. phew!

if you're interested in the slides along with my speaker notes and recommended reading material, visit this link. feel free to share it and if you have a question, feedback or critique i'd love to hear from you!

lastly i want to thank daniel bader, jan peuker, marian edmunds and philipp pamer for many hours of great conversation about these issues and for feedback while these thoughts were solidifying.

update: a recording of my talk can be found here.

summing up 79

i am trying to build a jigsaw puzzle which has no lid and is missing half of the pieces. i am unable to show you what it will be, but i can show you some of the pieces and why they matter to me. if you are building a different puzzle, it is possible that these pieces won't mean much to you, maybe they won't fit or they won't fit yet. then again, these might just be the pieces you're looking for. this is summing up, please find previous editions here.

No to NoUI, by Timo Arnall

We must abandon invisibility as a goal for interfaces; it’s misleading, unhelpful and ultimately dishonest. It unleashes so much potential for unusable, harmful and frustrating interfaces, and systems that gradually erode users and designers agency. Invisibility might seem an attractive concept at first glance, but it ignores the real, thorny, difficult issues of designing and using complex interfaces and systems.

when was the last time you visited a website, used an app or a device and just couldn't find a way to do what you wanted? it seems to me that we're always optimizing for design, but seldom for the actual user. a user interface is about machines helping us, instead of us adapting to machines.

How to Use a MAGAZINE, by Khoi Vinh

a tongue-in-cheek parody of the concept of instructional screens of apps. it's funny as we don't need instructions to use a magazine. but it also shows how complex they are if we see them as interfaces, as there's a lot of learned conventions going on here. everything is learned however, and we constantly have to make assumptions on what our audience knows and has already learnt.

In Search of Tomorrow, by Chris Granger

The craziest realization for me has been that if we took a step back and stop thinking about programming for a moment, we managed to come up with a thing that doesn't look like programming anymore. It's just asking questions and formatting results. And that encompasses all of the things we wanna do. That is an amazing result to me.

I'm not saying we've done it and I have no idea what programming is gonna look like in 10 years. But my hope is that whatever programming does look like, that it looks nothing like the programming we have now. The last thing I want is you guys who are trying to cure cancer or trying to understand the cosmos or whatever you're doing have to worry about these ridiculous things that have nothing to do with the amazing stuff you're trying to do. I don't want to look like that at all.

Because at the end of the day, the real goal here is a thinking tool and that is what we have to get back to.

a talk on the progress of experiments to make programming easier and more accessible. after all, we don't need to program our computers, we need a way to solve our problems and augment our capabilities. programming is not a tool for building apps or websites, it is a tool to think with. and the more accessible it becomes, the better for humanity.

summing up 78

i am trying to build a jigsaw puzzle which has no lid and is missing half of the pieces. i am unable to show you what it will be, but i can show you some of the pieces and why they matter to me. if you are building a different puzzle, it is possible that these pieces won't mean much to you, maybe they won't fit or they won't fit yet. then again, these might just be the pieces you're looking for. this is summing up, please find previous editions here.

Why I love ugly, messy interfaces – and you probably do too, by Jonas Downey

If beautiful, fresh, clean, and simple are so important, why hasn’t someone upended all of these products with something nicer? It’s not for a lack of trying. There are countless simpler, better-looking Craigslist and Photoshop competitors, for example. The answer is that these products do an incredible job of solving their users’ problems, and their complex interfaces are a key reason for their success.

just recently, a client of mine showed me their new website for his consulting business. four months in the work, fully responsive, a position statement sharp as a razor and lightning fast. he asked me about my opinion, smiling from ear to ear. i looked at it and asked how they think they would connect to their prospects? where is the call to action? ehm.. he said. do you have any workflows, like email courses, newsletter and contact possibilities for your prospects? ahem.. what does the workflow or funnel from the landing page towards qualification and acquisition of a customer look like? uhh.. you see, design is utterly important, but functionality trumps design. a digital product which looks nice, but does not solve a user's problem is not helpful. a digital product which solves a user's problem like a champ but looks shitty is pitiful but works. good design and functionality together is killer.

The Future Mundane, by Nick Foster

We often assume that the world of today would stun a visitor from fifty years ago. In truth, for every miraculous iPad there are countless partly broken realities: WiFi passwords, connectivity, battery life, privacy and compatibility amongst others. The real skill of creating a compelling and engaging view of the future lies not in designing the gloss, but in seeing beyond the gloss to the truths behind it.

when we create a new digital product, be it an app, a website or even a physical device, we almost always think about the best case in which our product is being used. the perfect customers, the ideal environment, an internet connection which does not break and so on. we neglect to focus on the failures, the frustrations, the feelings of our users or what they can't do. thinking about where and how our products are being used, where they fail and how they limit our users however, would make our digital products compelling and expand our notion of design for the future.

The future of software and the end of apps, by Paul Chiusano

It's hard to imagine organizing computing without some notion of applications. But why do people use computers? People use computers in order to do and express things, to communicate with each other, to create, and to experience and interact with what others have created. But what is important, what truly matters to people is simply being able to perform these actions. That each of these actions presently take place in the context of some 'application' is not in any way essential. In fact, how lovely it would be if the functionality of our current applications could be seamlessly accessed and combined with other functions in whatever ways we imagine. This sort of activity could be a part of the normal interaction that people have with computers, not something reserved only for 'programmers', and not something that requires navigating a tedious mess of ad hoc protocols, dealing with parsing and serialization, and all the other mumbo-jumbo that has nothing to do with the idea the user (programmer) is trying to express. The computing environment could be a programmable playground, a canvas in which to automate whatever tasks or activities the user wished.

have you ever noted the sheer amount of apps and applications you are using every day and nevertheless seem not quite capable of doing what you actually want? we artificially limit the potential of computers by confining our functionality into containers. but what if you could compose the functionality into a fluent and powerful environment? basically an environment which augments your capability? this is a great round up on how this could be possible.


archive

august 2016

july 2016

june 2016

may 2016

march 2016

february 2016

january 2016

september 2015

july 2015

april 2015

march 2015

february 2015

january 2015

december 2014

november 2014

october 2014

september 2014

august 2014

july 2014

june 2014

may 2014

april 2014

march 2014

february 2014

january 2014

december 2013

november 2013

october 2013

september 2013

august 2013

july 2013

june 2013

may 2013

april 2013

march 2013

december 2012

october 2012

august 2012

july 2012

may 2012

january 2012

december 2011

august 2011

july 2011

june 2011

april 2011

march 2011

january 2011

december 2010

october 2010

august 2010

july 2010

june 2010

april 2010

march 2010

december 2009

november 2009

october 2009

september 2009

august 2009

july 2009

june 2009

april 2009

march 2009

january 2009

november 2008

september 2008

august 2008

june 2008

may 2008

april 2008

march 2008

january 2008

december 2007

november 2007

october 2007

september 2007

august 2007

july 2007

june 2007

may 2007

april 2007

march 2007

february 2007

january 2007