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Socialized Software: Community Consulting Summary

Posted By Skellie 20th of January 2008 Case Studies 0 Comments

It’s time to finalize our review of Socialized Software and summarize the main recommendations given into an actionable plan for Mark’s blog.

If you’re new to the project, you’ll definitely want to read the Community Consulting launch post and take a look at the post where Socialized Software was held under the spotlight.

Here are the blog’s key areas of improvement as determined by the ProBlogger community:

Doubling up of tags and categories. Displaying both tags and categories on the main page is bound to be confusing for visitors and creates unnecessary clutter. The tag cloud, in particular, should be removed. Interacting with a jumble of text is difficult and there’s already a usable categories list on the page.

Broken in Internet Explorer. I’ve had the same problem with my own blog and can definitely emphasize — a 3 column layout in which column three slips under column two in internet explorer. While it’s tempting to say that “People shouldn’t still be using IE, anyway”, people do use it (and depending on your niche, it could be 50% or more of your visitors). It’s important to work out the source of the problem and resolve it.

Ambiguous elements. There are a few ambiguous elements on the site, like the ‘Marketing feed’ (what is this?) and the ‘Share This!’ plug-in. I don’t think the ‘Share This!’ plug-in has good usability, because it doesn’t describe what it does. Share this by… email? On Digg? By carrier pigeon? Post it to a forum? Until you click on it, its function is a mystery — and that’s not good usability.

To my mind, the best option is to use specific links for specific services, so users know exactly what they’re going to get (making them more inclined to interact with the element). I will point out, though, that Darren uses the ‘Share This!’ plug-in — you can see it on this very post — and I’m sure he has a reason to do so, meaning there is clearly an opposing viewpoint on this. Just something to think about, anyway.

Readability issues. A number of commenters found the body text on Socialized Software too faint and too small. Increasing the font size and making the gray a little darker should help alleviate the problem.

Selling the book. Impressively, Mark is the author of a book that’s likely to be loved by much of his target audience. I’d suggest moving the book section of the sidebar into the ‘above the fold’ area of the screen to maximize attention and sales.

What do you have to offer? It’s great to see that the blog has an About page, but it needs quite a bit of work. The blurb on the main page contains biographical information, but this isn’t what new visitors are interested in. They want to know: what does this blog have to offer me?

Your About page is where you sell the blog to prospective readers. Someone who’s been on your site less than thirty seconds probably isn’t interested in the history of you as a blogger, but they do want to hear that your blog will provide useful tips, news and commentary on Linux, Open Source, Free Culture and social media.

A simple question to ask yourself is: would I care about this if I were a first time visitor at someone else’s site?

Adding value. While the content demonstrates a deep knowledge of the topics covered, I get a sense that the blog would have more social media success and inbound links if it made use of some value-packed feature articles. Resource lists, complete guides, advice columns, tips and tricks… anything that the blog’s target audience would find insanely useful.

A handy guiding strategy when creating content is to ask: how can I be as useful as possible?

More simplicity. A number of readers felt the design was busy and contained too much text. I think this is most likely the result of packed sidebars and lines interrupting whitespace. I don’t think there needs to be a black box around posts (because this means that the writing runs almost right into the line, without leaving any space for the eyes to rest).

Recent posts, Twitter updates, tags, online identity links and the Dopplr widget could all be moved to their own page or done away with, as they don’t really add any value for the first-time visitor. It might also allow Mark to simplify down to one sidebar.

I wish Mark the best of luck in implementing the changes he likes. I’m confident that will result in a pretty outstanding blog. Thanks for taking part!

The prize!

This week’s iPod shuffle winner is Patrick Burt for providing holistic feedback on everything from colors to monetization. If you’d like to win an iPod shuffle, make sure to leave a comment on the next review launch (coming soon).

  • I hope Socialized Software benefitted from all the comments. It was a great site and with a few changes, I think it can make some real improvements that should easily lead to increased traffic and user interaction.

    Sadly though, this will be the last community consulting I will be participating in due to the introduction of the $250 application fee. I’d love to help out people with their sites, but can’t see myself doing it so others can make money off it while excluding the very people that give the advice every week that more than likely cannot afford that price. I’ll still check out the site regularly, but I’ll be boycotting future reviews.

  • Thanks for the feedback Skellie. I hope to have an overhaul of SocializedSoftware by the end of the week.

  • Kirk – we’ve had the $250 fee for a month or two now. Sorry that you feel that way about it – I’ll address your concerns in the community consulting post that you also left a comment on.

  • Actually I don’t agree with removing tags. We’re all kind of used to them and we can choose between categories and tags, which are a little more specific.
    Nice article though.

  • The third column does not appear to be altering in I.E. using a 1027 resolution.

    Was the CSS just changed?

    The site does NOT appear too busy – in fact is it is attractive andeasy to read.

    The white and dark gray color combination is quite attractive – the small san serif fonts are perfect with the minimalist color color and design

    One minor element is that the WHITE background color on the two right columns loads LATER than the rest of the page.
    This would not be a problem if the BODY background color was not dark gray along with the text color.

    Perhaps the borders separating the posts could be a little more dominant.
    But it is surprising that there was such a negative reaction to the layout

    But guess this illustrates just how subjective Web design artistry is!!!!! :-?

  • I agree with the remark about tags and categories. On the other hand I like to have both, so I can understand why Mark wants both.

    My solution for this problem (which I use on my blog, so not just theory) is to put the categories just below the title, and the tags after the post.

    This also “encourages” the reader to click on a tag to see what else I published about it.

  • Nic Info…Lets see how much it helps the bloggers