Category Archives: web


Goodbye Vietnam, Hello UX…

Right, well. After quitting my job at MMU and buggering off to Asia for two months, the UK has welcomed me back with freezing temperatures and drizzle in Watford Gap coach station.

I start a new job on Monday. Fortunately I did a bit of reading while in Asia so I didn’t forget everything, and even learned stuff. I read UX Storytellers, which is one of the best web books I’ve ever read. I made a few notes, which are below. It’s a collection of stories from UX professionals. I will be working for an urban food experiment with permaculture ideals and I believe UX and permaculture have a lot in common. My public Kindle highlights and notes are at my Kindle profile.

The main point, I think from the UX Storytelling book is simple. User stories are your product.

The Stamp, by Cennyod Bowles

You make something terrible on a website much better. And the users hate the improved version. Lesson: users get used to things, even if they are awful, and changing it can upset them. You can’t read users’ minds. A/B tests essential.

Cutting Through Opinions, by Erik Hafner Ronjum

Content is expensive. Not making it, but keeping it updated, organised, relevant, linking… that it content is cheap (e.g. the long tail) is a great mistake. Most organisations have the opposite: a long neck. A few specific tasks that users visit them for. But most organisations don’t know what their long neck is because they are unclear about their aims. Focus on the long neck.

Culture Shock, by James Kelway

Culture and environment can make or break a project. Working culture in Denmark is different: modesty, hard work, and considered design are common. It’s a more rewarding and enjoyable place to work than the culture working in the UK which is more big-headed and lazy (my opinion not his).

Shaping Spaces, by Andrea Rosenbusch

Users want to find data often in ways that systems cannot handle – in her experience, user queries in emails came from this fact. This can be just because users ask things in unexpected ways, but also because developers don’t understand – often don’t want to understand – user needs. It’s the UX job to communicate this to other developers, but not to actually do it, as that’s everyone’s job.

Love Your Audience, by Chris Khalil

Cultural “probes” are great for finding out about your audience… he describes three kinds. Ethno software is really good to capture visitors to a site and ask them to be involved in a test depending on factors like their location. Tumblr is great for capturing a user’s online behaviour. User research in Salford about our audience would be really important to read as a first step, to understand how Whole Box will fit into their life.

Using The Right Tools, by Martin Belham

Worked on the Guardian Jobs site. User testing included informal user videoing; sketching and prototype testing; surveying existing users. Best tip: ambush people in public and ask them to use the site there and then!

How To Avoid Wasting Millions, by Jay Eskenali

Rushing projects to be the first can mean you end up with a useless product.

Something, by Clemens Lutch

Sorry, this was so technical I skipped most of it. Not exactly a “story”. However I wrote down the bullet points. Use scrum for large teams. UX blueprint as an early step. Always test (with users). Use user stories and paper prototypes.


No One Is Paid To Hype Email

After the training today I thought it strange that the most obvious question that was asked didn’t occur to me.

Why in 8 hours of training wasn’t Facebook or Twitter mentioned apart from in one slide?

The one slide that was the presentation earlier that had sort of given me the answer. In the example of the huge global 1GOAL campaign, which was to get countries to to commit to their millenium development goals

  • a virtually unknown site called Stardoll (8% of referrals) referred more traffic than a Facebook page (2%), Twitter (1%), Youtube (2%), and Flickr (0%) combined.
  • search engines and email actions accounted for almost 50% of traffic

A longer report on this can be found on the Fairsay website at

I’m not convinced that one example proves the case (and Duane is not claiming it does!) – but the numbers involved are impressive – there were 315k Facebook fans, and 28k Twitter users, and 4.7k YouTube followers. Although you can’t make a conclusion from this, it makes it clear that website and email are very important ways to reach people, and you shouldn’t drop them at expense of new social media.

However, I know actions on Facebook or Twitter can make a huge difference. I have seen the Robin Hood Tax get huge media coverage on the back of hundreds of thousands of Facebook fans. I have seen outrage on Twitter over the Trafigura super injunction destroy a mutlinational’s reputation. So they can make a difference… why were they not even discussed really?

According to Duane, this is down to luck. There is no repeatable model that guarantees that the  Facebook or Twitter followers will take action, even if they support and want to take action.

And so I am coming to my own conclusion, and that is that we talk about them way too much, if they are moderately successful tools, then we have already talked about them too much.But, of course, it depends what you want to do with them. They might be good for having conversations with people (and many other things), but they are not good for translating into actions at least.

Food for thought…

The showdown… Facebook Pages vs. Facebook Groups.

One day long ago, Manchester FoE set up a Facebook group. The Queens and Kings of MFoE discussed moving to a page one day, but we didn’t. The end.

…or is it? I reopened the debate at MFoE a few months ago, and decided to wait, as new FB groups were launched in October-ish. The new groups turned out to be a lot like the old ones really. Most of the posts out there on the interweb conclude that Groups are better for teamwork, Pages are better for organiations, like this good one from the PR firm Saxum. I agree wholeheartedly, but for our group to decide, I was tasked with making a side by side comparison of the two.



How users find out about a post

A notification in the top nav bar. This notification can be turned off (and may not even be turned on by default). Users must click on the link to see what the post is.If users have notifications turned off the only way they can see an update is by a small number on the left hand panel, which may not even be visible (see below). Users get to see the post in their main news feed. This shows popular posts at the top, so users may not see it if it has not been popular. However if it is shown, the post appears on the front page without users needing to click through to another page.


Visible on the left hand side in the middle of the page. If users are in several groups they may need to click “more” to see it.Non-members have to be logged in and have to search in the top search bar to find it so they can become members. Visible on the left hand side about ¾ of the way down. If users are in several groups may need to click “more” to see it.Pages also appear in Google search – users don’t need to be logged into Facebook to see our posts, group info, pictures, documents, etc.


Pictures, videos and documents can be added by default. Various plugins can be added, so Flickr pictures and YouTube videos can be uploaded automatically, file sharing, PDFs, PayPal (so could possibly sell membership on Facebook?), and more…


All users must be approved to use a group, and any admins can approve this. Anyone can post to the group wall or send a message. People can be blocked by admins if they are abusive.  You can make groups private so only members can see information but we have it set to open, so any logged in user can see it.Once people become members, they can see all previous posts.Members can see a list of all the other people who are members of the group. People who are not fans cannot see members’ posts. Once people become fans, they can see all previous posts.Fans cannot see who else is a fan of the page.Users can be blacklisted so they cannot comment or post, and there is also a swearing filter which can be set to different levels.


MFoE is already running group with 200+ members. Moving over to a Page may lose some people.People can have a group chat while in the group which can be initiated by any member (whether that is desirable with 200+ members I don’t know…!) Can add links to other like-minded pages, e.g. National Friends of the Earth, Young FoE, Unicorn, etc.Possible to advertise the page with Facebook adverts.Options to upload a spreadsheet of email addresses which will send an invite to them.

Usage information

None Shows how many people click which links and become fans and at what time


Not well supported. Posts to a group must be from an individual user, so automatic updates (say from WordPress or Twitter) must be an update from “Joe Bloggs” as opposed to being from MFoE. Potentially the group can be updated by email but this didn’t seem to work when I tested it. Very well supported. Many WordPress plugins allow integration out of the box, with various different purposes. People can become a “Fan” of the Facebook page without even visiting the page by clicking a Like button on the website. It can also mean the page can be auto updated from WordPress / Twitter, 2-way discussions and comments between the website and Facebook, and much more.


None. Customisable page to look how you want it to (although this requires some effort)You can also ‘login’ as MFoE, so when you post an article you are posting it as MFoE, not as yourself.


Can block/allow users in the group, notifications of posts by email or at the top of Facebook. Notifications of new fans and posts, options about which posts are displayed to users by default, can be hidden at any time, can create a custom Facebook url, and more.



Standardistas Workshop: Making Stuff and Having Fun With Paper

I’ve just come back from the New Adventures in Web Design conference, full with new thoughtful ideas and a sense that I’m part of a community…

The session from the Standaristas was most useful. To really get creative, we need to get away from computers. Mind mapping is a great way to start with ideas, but use PICTURES as they are easier for your brain to make connections from!

We had some amazing ideas for a space race site… Russian commie cows jumping over the moon and a space race using cardboard and sellotape, Blue Peter style…

doodling a mind map


Whether I’m at MMU or with an activist group, I want to have new ideas and create things to solve challenges, and this technique will help us achieve that.

The end idea was “SpaceBook” – a top trumps style card collecting/swapping game of the unsung heroes involved in the space race, what they built and achieved. A random ‘Mental Notes‘ card on limited time gave us an idea that certain cards would be available on specific anniversary dates, motivating users to come back on certain days. More pics: Mood board, iPhone Wireframes, desktop wireframes

I was also priviledged to get to know the fantastic Calliope over veggie lunch!

A New Way For Activists To Learn About Social Media

Today, social media is seen as being an essential tool by activists, and is often recognised as being a big factor in recent social movements that are challenging current policy or governments. But I find it frustrating that this knowledge and experience is not easily available to other activists… the internet has different videos, blogs and reports scattered about on the topic but nothing substantial that acts as a knowledge repository.

The best one I have found so far is the FairSay website, and there are some great videos of talks from their 2011 eCampaigning Forum. Also, the FairSay team also do training which is fantastic for large NGOs – but the prices are out of reach for small voluntary organisations, groups with no money, and individual activists. What would be great for these groups would be a free resource of training materials online to give people an introduction to making the best use of social media.

The strange thing is that there is no one that seems to be pulling everything together that exists at the moment. Some great free video guides are available as general tutorials, like social media tutorials from Common Craft. A range of free general social media training exists in a limited format, or at least used to exist. This blog post on 25 free online social media courses now has lots of broken links or the courses have closed. I don’t know why these courses closed but I believe this model of providing free materials could be an area of real potential, in the same way that Open Educational Resources are being looked at seriously.

Additionally there is a lot of academic research in this field, covering many areas of social media and social change. This too would be useful for activists, but again it is not in a place that activists could easily discover.

What could enable activists to improve campaigns would be a place where all people involved in researching or campaigning for social change could share knowledge and experience. A space where users are encouraged to contribute could potentially be a very valuable tool, which users keep up to date with research, current campaigns and new emerging technologies.