Hiring the First Web Designer Who Calls

By Jason Shindler

award-148961_640Just a quick note from the trenches today….

Came across a lead that never called me back for help with his Web development project. I called back again today and he said he had hired someone else. I was curious why, so I asked. He said he hired the 1st Web site developer who called.

There are many reasons why you shouldn’t hire the 1st designer who calls you, most are obvious. I guess the best part for me is that the type of client who makes decisions in that manner isn’t the client I’m trying to find for my business!

 

How old are your Web site’s visitors?

By Jason Shindler
Curvine's site apparently attracts more men than women. We're using Google Analytics demographic information to generate this data.

Curvine’s site apparently attracts more men than women. We’re using Google Analytics demographic information to generate this data.

Web site developers have been able to tell you a lot about users of Web sites. We could tell you:

  • How they visited the site: When a user visited, How many pages and which pages they visited,
  • About the user’s computer: What Web browser and Operating System they use, what screen resolution they have
  • The user’s general location: in what state and city they are located in (or if the user consented, a more specific location)
  • How they found the site: Did they find it by visiting it directly, clicking on an ad, or visiting a search engine.

There were (and are) limits. Here are some things we couldn’t tell you (unless the person self reported the information):

  • The user’s name and contact information
  • Their age or even their gender
  • Things they are interested in.

We still can’t tell you someone’s name or contact information, but thanks to Google, you can now get demographic information about a significant minority of your site’s visitors. It has some limitations:

  • Google only has age and gender and interest group information for some users, but not for all users. In my example site, we saw data on about 50% of users. Your mileage may vary.
  • You can’t see individual user’s data — you can only see an aggregate. You can combine it with other attributes (like # of pages visited) to get more data about each group.

Go to Google’s site for more information about this useful tool.

Don’t Store Credit Card Numbers on Web sites!

By Jason Shindler

640px-Credit-cardsIt is 2014. There have been hundreds of reports of malicious users accessing credit card numbers over the Internet. Yet, I still come across people who have Web sites that store Credit Card Numbers using e-commerce systems  that don’t have the security in place to manage this properly. Here are several reasons why not to do this:

- It is avoidable in most cases: By using an Authorize and Capture system you can store the authorization and later capture the funds, negating many scenarios that you would need to store a credit card numbers. Major payment processing gateways allow you to store credit card numbers on their server for recurring payments. There are almost no reasons left to store a credit card number on a e-commerce site’s server.

- In most cases you are violating rules from Visa & Mastercard. Credit card providers have rules in place to stop you from doing this.

- It is dangerous. If Target can be hacked, how much easier is it to attack your system? If you are attacked, you may have to pay fines and fees for dealing with the problem.

If you store credit card numbers on your Web server, please find a developer and fix it! Please! :)

 

My Heart Bleeds for Internet Security

By Jason Shindler

heartbleedIt has been less than a month since the announcement of a serious flaw in a software package used by many sites to keep information secure. The so-called “Heartbleed” bug took information that was supposed to be private on Web servers and made it theoretically available to a malicious user. The flaw has existed for 2 years, and so either everyone’s information has been available to certain malicious users for that amount of time, or the mistake was only discovered by the folks who fixed it and little to know information was compromised on systems that quickly patched. No one is sure which conjecture is true.

No matter what, here’s what we can learn:

  • People who properly patch their user and server computers will be more protected that those who don’t. Keeping up to date with new versions of software packages doesn’t fix everything, but it makes you more secure than if you didn’t. There are lots of uninformed people worried about the Heartbleed issue, but haven’t bothered to update past Windows XP, which no longer receives updates at all.
  • Having a multi-layered approach to security is the best: Relying on any one piece of technology to secure your data isn’t effective. We all need to use many different techniques. If you were securing an important government building from physical access, you wouldn’t rely on just a door lock — no matter how secure it is. You would “layer” a fence, a camera system and other tools to help the building. The same is true for Internet Security.
  • Beware of overly simplistic news headlines: I read many pieces during the initial roll out of the Heartbleed issue that were just completely wrong. Tech bloggers (such as Krebs on Security) were more likely to get the story right.

Curvine Helps the Seattle / Bellevue Community

By Jason Shindler

In the past 8 years, Curvine has been privileged to help many non-profit organizations with sponsorships, donations and free or reduced-fee Web design work. We’re happy to be helping two great organization at the moment:

logo

Eastside Baby Corner was founded in 1990 because Karen Ridlon, a local pediatric nurse practitioner, became concerned about the large numbers of babies in her practice that began life without adequate food, clothing, beds or safety equipment.

Her commitment to giving these children a stronger start grew from a idea and a few items gathered in her dining room, into an agency that in 2013 distributed 40,069 orders of absolute essentials, valued at $4,527,034*.

For 50 weeks each year, volunteers and staff at Eastside Baby Corner collect community donations, purchase and distribute children’s and maternity items to families in collaboration with virtually every organization helping families in our area. Case managers from partner agencies assess the needs of the family, request the items from EBC, pick up and deliver them to the family. Serving a broad area in east King County that extends to the Cascade foothills and from south of Renton to the edge of Snohomish County, EBC serves as a diaper bank, a clothing bank, and a food source for more than 500 kids each week.

logo-stacked

 The Seattle Transit Blog is 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization that covers transit news for the the greater Seattle area. The blog also focuses on density and the urban form, and other forms of alternative transportation like bicycling and walking.

We’re happy to be helping both of these worthy organizations!

How to Increase Your Prices by 1900% and Keep Everyone Happy

By Jason Shindler

ZerigoAnswer: You Can’t!

Last month, we received this missive from one of our vendors who helps us provide Web hosting services to our clients:

We are pleased to announce that the porting of all Zerigo DNS infrastructure to the Akamai platform will be complete by January 31st, 2014. As we have mentioned before, this move is part of a planned and systematic upgrading of our Zerigo DNS infrastructure. Zerigo’s DNS offering will now be backed by the full range of capabilities afforded by one of the largest and most advanced DNS name server networks in the world. All client-facing interfaces will remain exactly as before. You will be able to capitalize on the easy-to-use interface and API you already know, which will now be backed by Akamai’s cutting-edge infrastructure.

We have identified you as a customer with 50 or more zones currently supported. On January 31st, 2014, your account will be mapped to the smallest plan allowing for the number of domains you currently have in use.

Below, they explained how our DNS plan (which is an important part of a Web site, but not a costly or complicated part) would be increasing in cost by 19 times with 30 days notice!

How can you keep your clients happy while announcing such an increase in cost? You can’t. Social Media was filled with people complaining and giving tips on where to switch to. We spent much of January switching to a new provider, and we’ll never be sending business to Zerigo again.

There’s no way, no matter how positive you make it sound, that a dramatic price increase will keep clients happy. Best to avoid such increases!

Selecting a Web site Development firm is about Selecting Good People

By Jason Shindler
Anita, one of our designers.

Anita is one of our designers. Our staff is the most important part of our business!

I was doing some research today on other Web site development firms in the area. I was surprised to see how many don’t list their staff and really have no information about who works there.

That’s a huge mistake, in my estimation. Every conversation I have with potential clients is about them trying to see if we have the talent and expertise to do the project. How much harder my job would be if I couldn’t say much about the people who work for Curvine. I’m so thankful that we have a great team in place and I’m proud to tell you about them on our Web site.

How to Make a Cartogram

By Jason Shindler
Here's what Washington state's 2012 Governor's race looks like as a Cartogram. Darker shades mean wins my a greater margin. The blue is a Democrat win, red is a Republican win.

Here’s what Washington state’s 2012 Governor’s race looks like as a Cartogram. Darker shades mean wins my a greater margin. The blue is a Democrat win, red is a Republican win.

The Internet is filled with massive amounts of data. One of the struggles we all have is understanding all of that data. Using graphs and charts can be helpful, but they can sometime obscure the data behind them. As Web site developers, presenting visual representations of information is an important part of what we do.

As an example, take the Washington state’s governors race in 2012. If you looked at the statewide results, the vote was close (only 3% difference), but if you looked at the map of the state by county, you would see the winner Jay Inslee only won 8 counties of 39 (only 5 of those did he win convincingly), and many of the largest counties by land mass were won by his opponent. In this case, the map is deceptive.

A cartogram changes the size of things on the map to show their importance. So even though the winner only won 8 counties, he won the most important 2 counties in the state because they contain the most people. After some inspiration from a friend, I created the map above to show this visually. The large dark blue item in the middle is King County, which makes up a sizeable percentage of the state’s population (it contains Seattle). The dark blue shows he won convincingly (>60%).

Here’s how I made this Cartogram:

First, I loaded up ScapeToad, a free cartogram maker. It is several years old, and require an installation of Java, but it worked. It called for a shapefile of WA state by county, which I found on a number of sites, including here. I ran the Cartogram Wizard choosing the lowest quality available (high quality cartograms take forever to create). That created the map without the colors, but with the distorted counties. I saved the file to and SVG format.

Next I loaded up an SVG editor, such as Google’s SVG Editor. I then manually colored each of WA’s 39 counties with the appropriate shades. lighter for smaller wins, darker for more convincing wins. It was a little hard to figure out which county was which as the map became highly distorted. I then saved the modified SVG, and then converted it to PNG format, for easier viewing on the web.

Cartograms can be an easy way to show map related data in a new way. :)

How Saving 50% Can Make A Customer Unhappy

By Jason Shindler
Suit Image From Wikipedia

Suit Image From Wikipedia

I recently went shopping for a new suit. I went to a local retailer, found a suit I liked that was marked down from $800 to $500. I was ready to buy, but first I wanted to do some online research to see if the brand was good and if I was getting a good deal.

I visited the retailer’s Web site, where they were advertising almost the exact same suit for $175 as an “online-only” offer. I revisited the retail store, confirmed the details and that it was an online-only offer which couldn’t be matched in the store and purchased the suit online.

You might think that I was thrilled at saving 80% off of the regular price, but in fact, I was disappointed. First, all of the shenanigans with the price made me uncertain whether I made a good purchase. Was the suit really a $100 suit marked up to $175, or was it really a $800 suit marked down to $175, or somewhere in between? Second, the salesman who was very generous with his time probably works on commission and won’t be compensated for the sale, even though he did all of the work. This left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

What’s the lesson?

  • Have consistent pricing: horsing around with a price by 80% seems like a great way to move merchandise, but it also leaves customers (particularly those who buy items infrequently) confused.
  • For stores with brick and mortar and online presences: be careful. Customers who shop on your Web site also shop in your stores. Pretending they are different groups will leave customers (and your brick and mortar stores) confused and disappointed.

 

An Important Lesson from Healthcare.gov: Only Ask Questions You Need to Ask

By Jason Shindler

healthcare.gov

The Healthcare.gov site has taken a lot of criticism for being down for many of the folks who visited the site in the past few weeks. Politics aside, there’s a critical design decision that was that has to have played a role in at least some of the disruption.

The Healthcare.gov is the healthcare exchange for any state that didn’t choose to set up it’s own exchange. Washington, as an example, setup Washington Healthplanfinder, but Florida use Healthcare.gov. The sites are supposed to allow people to see rates, get subsidies and buy insurance plans.

Of course, the first step to most buying decisions is to see a list of services available and view the specifics and costs. Yet, the Healthcare.gov seems unprepared for such a process — before you can even see a list of plans, you have to register for an account, which involves providing your name, email, password and a list of secret question answers.

There are several reasons why this is a bad idea:

  • Technically, creating an account is a taxing process because it involves writing to a database and sending an email. A less taxing process is seeing a list of plans available, which involves no email sending and only reading of a database. By requiring an account to be created before viewing rates, you made a less technically taxing process more taxing. More taxing means less users can use the same servers at the same time. That likely aggravated other problems with the site which created site crashes and other delays.
  • The registration process is likely to create customer service questions, even if it was working properly. By requiring this so early on, you send more people to email and phone, likely overwhelming those resources.
  • Technical reasons aside, it isn’t a customer-friendly decision to require a login before browsing. Imagine two cell phone stores — one who shows you all of the plans and phones available when you walk in, and another who shows you all of the plans and phones only after you show them your driver’s license and take a fingerprint. Which would you like to shop at?

I doubt there’s a quick fix to this design flaw — but I hope it gets attention soon. Though, others can learn the lesson — only ask question you actually need to ask.