Welcome

Thanks for stopping by, and seeing what I’m up to.

I’m going to try and keep this updated as often as possible, and even if it’s just a couple of lines about something at work, something  good or bad online, my family, my guitars or something I feel strongly about, I intend to blog often!

You can find me on Twitter, itsmatthewj or email  me, matthew [at] matthewjam [dot] es.

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What Conferences and Events Mean to Me

Inspired by Laura Kalbag’s post explaining why she goes to conferences, what she gets out of them, and how best to share what she’s learnt, and Andy Clarke’s New Adventures And Me postI feel not only inspired, but compelled to share my thoughts.

So here goes.

Knowledge

I do try and follow the main conferences via the relevant hashtag on Twitter, (and then read and bookmark Lukew’s notes if it’s an American conference!), read review blog posts, or look at the slides a couple of days later if they’re made available. I find this to be an extremely valuable and quick way to get the main points of the talk, and see what the general consensus of opinion of the conference is too. If the presentation is made available to watch online at a later date, I’ll try and do that.

Inspiration

Following the conference hashtag gives me a sense of being there. I love the excitement and tweets that come from those that are seeing things like Responsive Web Design for the first time, are blown away by somebody talking about content, or seeing mobile usage stats from the real world. Some of this is not new to me, but a lot of it is.

As methodologies improve, and techniques become more efficient, or more appropriate for “client work”, conferences are a fantastic way to keep up to date with how the “best in the industry” solve problems, and what they’ve learnt along the way. What other industries would be so keen to show “rivals” and “competitors” how else they could solve problems, or how to create industry best practice?

Perhaps as an attendee or speaker you miss out on some of the tweets that I see. Or maybe you read them afterwards to see if others had the same good experience as you did, and enjoy them as much as I do.

Social

Reading about the social aspects often feels a bit “you had to be there” for me. I personally don’t need to see pictures of the cakes or the goody bags, or read about somebody looking worse for wear after the after-show party. But I can appreciate that some people enjoy that side of things.

I love reading a blog post, or seeing a tweet about somebody’s reaction to having unexpectedly met their web hero such as whilst in the queue for the toilet, or whilst getting a drink. Also, a meeting of like minds at the after party will often throw up some fantastic new web ideas or friendships that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Location

I live in the north west of England, which is not really the place to be for a web person who wants to be in the middle of the action. Seemingly Brighton is the place to be at the moment, and the number of web people there, the events they put on and attend, and the whole attitude of Brighton makes me really envious. I know that there are other events on in other cities, all over the country, but those who live in or near Brighton seem to always be going to a conference either at home or abroad! This might be solely to the people I follow on Twitter, and so could be a skewed representation.

Expense / Resources

For me, being able to afford to go to a conference is unlikely. Whilst I appreciate that they pretty much all offer exceptional value, and presentations from some of the best people in the industry, having a young family means that there is unfortunately always something more pressing to spend that sort of money on.

I’d love to be able to spend a few hundred pounds several times a year to see some of my favourite web people speak, or to experience An Event Apart or New Adventures but I realistically can’t justify it or afford it.

Technology, and social media is vital for me in this respect. Twitter, blog posts and write ups mean that I can “attend” any conference, anywhere in the world, without leaving my desk. In the same way that listening to the match on the radio isn’t the same as actually being there, it’s the same game, with the same result.

Format

For me, sometimes instant live tweets are good, whilst other times, a short write up, or a list of bullet points is most useful. My job means I don’t get to implement the actual technical aspects of much of what I gain from conferences, but need to be aware of the latest developments, and the “right way” to do things. With favourited tweets, and bullet points or blog posts, I’ve not only got the theory, but the resources and research to back it up too.

In this day and age it doesn’t matter whether you’re a good or trained writer, or just somebody there, your reporting is just as valid. Perhaps it’s even more valid when you can put something you’ve just seen or heard into the context of your own client work or a particular project. It’s amazing to read a tweet talking about this “latest technique” can be used to solve “this problem”, and seeing everybody having a “lightbulb” moment.

Conclusion

Writing this, has shown that I consume without giving back and take a lot for granted, and I think that calls for a blog post of its own ….

This is why it’s so kind of Laura, and all the people like her who take the time to share what they’ve seen and learnt with anyone who’s interested. In fact, I think I “discovered” Laura after a conference, and possibly due to her sharing her notes online via Twitter!

I think sharing your opinions, knowledge and experience gained from attending conferences and events is something that people like me value highly, and it is often “expected” but rarely credited. I know I’m guilty of reading a write up, and taking the points away from it, without thanking the person who wrote it.

Not only are presenters arguably sharing their hard work and company or personal “trade secrets” with attendees, these attendees are then free to share what they’ve learnt with people who didn’t even pay to attend the event. This is commercial suicide in pretty much every other industry, but is the norm in our industry. How good is that?

Laura, and all the others, thank you once again for sharing your experiences with us all.
TL; DR?

I don’t attend conferences but would if I could

  • I get a lot from conferences following the hashtag and reading blog posts.
  • I don’t thank people enough for their hard work!

What are your thoughts on this sort of thing?

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Matalan Madness

Yesterday my girlfriend, our 2 year old son, and I visited Matalan Southport. Nothing to get excited about, or write about I hear you say, and you’re right.

However, aside from the long queue, and the wide range of various and disparate items placed along the queue designed to catch toddlers’ eyes and hands, and make older children want them, again, this was nothing to get excited about.

What got to me was the inefficiency.  My girlfriend didn’t have her Matalan card with her.  This meant that the sales assistant had to take her name and post code, and go to the Customer Services till, which is apparently the only one that can look up customer details, and retrn with the right information, and so paying for her imadero ok far longer than it needed to.

Unlike other shops which seem to allow cashiers to find information at their own till, Matalan don’t, and this seems foolish, counter productive, and a huge waste of time and effort.

To make it even worse, the cashier didn’t even give my girlfriend the relevant information so that she didn’t need to wait next time she wanted to buy something.

If all the people in the same queue as us had forgotten their card, this would have added aconsiderable amount of time on to each sale, and infuriated both staff and customers.

Surely there’s a better way?

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Digital Projects Manager

Well it’s been a month (almost) since I started my new job.

I was made redundant from my previous job as an ecommerce manager, and have now become a Digital Projects Manager, for a Blackburn online and offiline marketing company.

My role includes identifying ways that companies can improve their  websites for their visitors, and to make them work harder to meet business objectives too, as well as managing these projects.

It’s a challenging role that will help the business to grow, and to help companies to get the advice and assistance they need.

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Car Insurance Forms

It’s that time of year when I need to renew or change my car insurance.  What normally happens is that , after getting my renewal quote letter, I get onto one of the price comparison sites (usually confused.com), see that my renewal quote is actually cheaper than the lowest price on Confused, and let my insurance renew automatically.

This year however, because I’ve got a new car, and I’ve  changed jobs, my insurance has (surprise surprise) increased.

After doing lots of looking round, on other price comparison sites, and going direct to the websites of those companies that advertise that they are the cheapest, and offer super good discounts, I’m still not sure that I’ve found the best deal yet.

I’m nearly 40, have 12 years no claims, and am not driving a sports car,  so I’m not sure why my insurance is so high, but that’s not the issue here.  I want to moan about the forms that need to be filled in before the site can give you a car insurance quote.

Some sites seem to have given the form filling in process some thought, and have made the validation instant, so that you’re informed if you haven’t entered a valid (type of ) email address, and let you know what format you’re phone number should be in, or whether it’s even a required field. This personal information is quite straightforward, but it can be hard work when the requirements are not immediately obvious.   For all their faults, Confused.com does an adequate job on the  surface of making this task less difficult.

What really annoys me is some of the “stupid” questions, and lack of thought and common sense.

For example,  the form asks for  the car year of manufacture or the registration number.  This identifies the car, and gives the year.  Then the next field asks for the date of purchase, which provides a drop down box that quite often and inexplicably ranges from around 1900-the present day.

You know the age of the car, I can’t have bought it before it was made, why on earth make me spend more time filling in a form than I have to?

Another example.  ”Is the car standard or has it been modified?” I choose standard.   “How many seats does it have?” The same number as it left the factory with.  Which you knew, because it’s standard and not modified.

“When would you like the insurance to start?” I can choose from either a drop down list for the day, date and year, or sometimes I need to choose a date on a calendar.  As most quotes are only valid for 30-60 days maximum, why on earth give me the option of the next year, when if I select the next year, the form throws up an error telling me that the quote is only valid for a certain length of time?

Oh, job titles and industries are another one.  I appreciate the fact that your form can auto complete, which is great, but why not use a bit of logic that says that if I’m a project manager, my industry  is probably more likely to be marketing than market gardening.

Here’s another subject whilst on the subject of jobs. There  are people who work with websites, or for internet-related companies.  (like me) These job types are not listed.  How many other “new” job types or industries are not listed, meaning that people could be paying far too much for their insurance?

Now, because I’ve got an iPad, I tend to do a lot of form filling in, or stuff that I can’t (easily) do on my phone, on it.  Trying to fill in forms can be really tricky as many of the forms and sites have not been designed with touch in mind.

One of the sites offers tips for validation for each form field, explaining the information or format of the information required.  Although this is usually a good thing, it does mean that when using a touch device, moving to the next field moves the focus to the next tool tip rather than the actual field, which means an additional tap is required.  It is bloody annoying to  get partway through typing something, before realising.

If some thought and care and attention had been given to these forms, the whole process of buying car insurance may not be so traumatic.

As the only other real option is to ring up, and eventually speak to somebody who may be even less interested and less helpful than the website.  (Yes, Admiral I’m looking at you).

I’m becoming more and more aware of forms, and validation, and how stupid / clever forms can be and I think that there is a huge amount of improvement to be made on may sites.

 

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Jakob Nielsen Is Wrong

World-renowned usability expert Jakob Nielsen, in a recent post, suggested that a separate website with lesser features and reduced content is the right way to approach mobile websites.

He says that mobile sites should:

  • cut features, to eliminate things that are not core to the mobile use case;
  • cut content, to reduce word count and defer secondary information to secondary pages; and
  • enlarge interface elements, to accommodate the “fat finger” problems

Several leading designers and web evangelists, and “mobile” specialists, including Josh Clark, Bruce Lawson and others far better qualified to comment than me have expressed their opinions, and I agree with them, that Jakob is wrong.

As an advocate of Responsive Web Design, which in a nutshell, changes the layout of the design to fit the screen, whatever the screen size, rather than removing some of the content, I can’t agree with Jakob.  I expect the same content on whatever device I choose to access the website.

My dad used to have a huge number of radios of various shapes and sizes, and many of them were held together with tape, or had loose wires or missing cases.  He could never resist buying another radio.

He has his favourites, and had a radio for doing the gardening, and one for listening to when Mum was out, and one by the bed, and several in the garage, and different ones for listening to the football, depending on what station it was on.  He fully embraced DAB, and bought a portable DAB radio, as well as his Pure desktop(?) radio.

The reason for mentioning Dad and his radios is that no matter which radio he was messing with, or where he was, he expected to be able to, and could, listen to the same content.  Plays on Radio 4 didn’t miss out vital scenes because he was listening on a portable radio and not on the Hi Fi in the living room.  He could still listen to the cricket or football on the bottle opener/watch/radio thing he picked up in a pound shop somewhere or in the car, without worrying that he’d only be able to get partial commentary, or have to wait until full time for the score.

My Dad’s love of the radio, and tinkering with them, and taking bits out of one to put in another (and the fact that there was never a working radio when we needed one!),  not only inspired me to enjoy music, but gadgets too.

Since discovering iTunes, Amazon and the BBC website, Dad hardly listens to a radio these days, but that’s another story!

Being able to get the content you want, when you want it, on your choice of device, is why there shouldn’t be a separate mobile site, or a separate tablet site, or a separate games console version of a website.

Responsive Web Design makes this possible, and is, in my honest opinion, the right way to design and build websites that not only work on the computers and phones of today, but Future Friendly enough to also work on  the devices we’ll be using years from now.

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Practice Does Make Perfect

I’ve been making the time to play my guitar more often recently, and like everyone says, practice does make perfect.

Because I’m a long time Metallica fan, (and possibly a masochist too) I’ve started to learn Master Of Puppets.

It’s proving very difficult and typical of Metallica, very technical. However, from not being able to play it at all a few weeks ago, I’m pleased to be making significant progress.

Previously I tended to learn something or play something up until the tricky bit, and then moved on to something else. This time I’m determined to be able to play it all the through.

In addition to Master Of Puppets, I’m also learning The Sentinel by Judas Priest.

I have never been a Judas Priest fan, but after hearing The Sentinal on the unmissable (if you like decent metal) Unto The Locust album by Machine Head I thought I’d give it a go.

It’s not as difficult as it sounds, and relatively straight forward too. It’s fun to play and again, I can tell I getting better at it.

My SG and Blackstar HT1-R amp are definitely my favourites at the moment. I might consider a better distortion pedal at some point too. I’ve got lots of overdrives and a booster but no distortion pedal.

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Another QR Code Failure

Today at work we had a visit from a man from a company which makes badge plates that go on manufactured products.

Apparently QR codes are “big in Japan”, where they “link to your Facebook”.

The man takes this van when he wants to show how beneficial QR codes can be.  Potential clients are impressed, so he says.

I know this because this is the van he arrived in. Shame I don’t know who he works for or how to get hold of him.

Van with QR Code on it

I have no idea which company this van is promoting. Have you?

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Your Current Mobile Website Thinking Is Wrong

Based on my experience at the Internet Retailing Expo yesterday, it looks as though many companies, and “internet companies” are thinking that their mobile and desktop sites should be different.  However, hopefully Paul Boag‘s talk The Ideal Way To Do The M-Web will have changed their minds.

There was lots of talk about what users expect from the mobile site, and why content from the desktop site should / shouldn’t be included on the mobile site.

One speaker also mentioned that mobile visitors expect advanced features and great performance.  Some people even want to “replicate the the web experience on mobile.” And it was said like it was the most ludicrous suggestion ever.

Speakers also suggested making sure the mobile website was easy to navigate, and that it was quick to load, and that you should do everything you can to make it easy for mobile visitors.  Surely this should apply to the desktop as well.

Luke Wroblewski’s Mobile First book encourages thinking about the mobile device first, and suggests companies and designers to think about why people visit a website, and what they want from it, to provide a clean and useful experience.

Both the desktop and mobile sites should be easy and quick to use, with all the vital content and functionality, it shouldn’t be confined to the mobile version.

Matt “Wilto” Marquis  summed it up brilliantly last year with the quote:

“Mobile users want to see our menu, hours, and delivery number. Desktop users definitely want this 1mb png of someone smiling at a salad.”

As Jeremy Keith, and many others have said, there is no mobile web.

There is only the web, and how I access it is my choice, and how you serve me the content I’m looking for is your choice.  If I don’t have a pleasurable experience and can’t achieve my goals on your website, then you have failed.  Not me.  This applies whether I’m trying to read the news on the desktop PC in my home, or purchase your products on my commute into work on the train.

The underlying message of the talks yesterday made me think, that because there is money to be made by having separate desktop and mobile websites, that this is what companies are being told they need.

Companies need to listen to their customers, do the research and user testing, and embrace the Mobile First idea.  They will then see that Responsive Web Design is the way forward.

As Andy Clarke says,

Anything that’s fixed and unresponsive isn’t web design anymore, it’s something else. If you don’t embrace the inherent fluidity of the web, you’re not a web designer, you’re something else. Web design is responsive design, Responsive Web Design is web design, done right.

Remember as well, that the user’s context and motives for visiting a website can’t easily be identified either.  It’s no longer safe to assume that mobile visitors are on a bus, and laptop users are in an office.  Increasing numbers of mobile users use their phones to browse the web whilst at home over wifi.  Laptop users may be working on a train using a 3g dongle.

Luke Wroblewski has collected some astounding facts and figures regarding mobile usage, including Why Mobile Matters, and it’s data like this that should be pushing companies towards thinking more about their website as a whole, and not trying to separate it into a desktop and mobile site.

Stephanie Rieger summed it up brilliantly recently, with her articles entitled Mobile Users Don’t Do That, and The Best Browser Is The One You Have With You.

If you’re not thinking about the bigger picture, and are treating mobile and desktop differently, you’re wrong.

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Internet Retailing Expo 2012

I just wanted to write some of my thoughts down from  Internet Retailing Expo 2012, and  to post the key points I took away from from the sessions I attended.  I was only there on the second day, so my opinions and experiences may not be true for both days.

I am particularly keen on the so-called mobile side of things, and decided to listen to those talks.  In particular I was looking forward to hearing Paul Boag speak.  As a long time podcast listener, and fan of his, I was sure to find it useful.

I was also looking forward to seeing how other companies are approaching ecommerce on devices other than computers, and hearing their reasons.

My takeaways can be found here:

Tim Gulson Paypal Opening Keynote Speech

Richard Anson Revoo Making Retail Social and Mobile

Fraser Davidson Javelin Group and Vic Watson Mothercare – Mobile Glues Together Multi Channel Retailing

Lee Duddell What Users Do and David Howdale Howdale Associates Getting The Mobile Experience Right

Paul Boag The Ideal Way To Do The M-Web

I couldn’t attend the afternoon sessions, as my boss wanted me to talk to some exhibitors, and see who could help us, how, and why. But that’s another story!

The exhibitors were pretty much what I expected really, some well known brands, some very specialist companies, some marketing companies, some SEO companies, and some agencies promising the moon on a stick.

Here are some of my thoughts on what I saw:

  • Don’t give your company a silly name, it’s not big or clever, and it doesn’t help people understand what you do.  Although it’s often been the case for marketing companies to be a bit “cool” and “quirky” it just looks a bit silly now.  Combining an animal and a colour for example, is just silly.
  • If your company is exhibiting and looking for sales,  have an idea as to the topics of the talks, so that when potential customers and clients ask questions based on what they’ve heard in the talks, you can answer.  I asked several “big agencies” about Responsive Web Design yesterday, and they didn’t know what it was.  Also,
  • If you’re suggesting an ecommerce platform, as part of your sales pitch, be able to explain why you prefer it over other ones.
  • Why ask what the company turnover is before announcing your pricing structure? If we turn over £5m a year, you need to know whether it’s 5m customers a year buying a £1 product, or 1000 customers buying a £5000 product.  Otherwise we think that you’re making the price up depending on what you think we can afford.
  • If you haven’t got very articulate and “salesy” people on your stand, they’d better be very technical. Otherwise when we ask questions, it makes us think that you don’t know your product, what people want from your product, or how your product can actually help us.
  • Many people will either be technical, or senior people, and so you need to be able to communicate with them well, and be able to answer the questions.  When somebody asks the price, or what a term or concept really means, and how it will benefit them, then you need to be able to explain.  When the person who controls the budget is baffled, they’re not going to buy.
  • A bowl of sweets on your stand won’t make us think that you’re a cool company to do business with.

That makes me seem quite negative and harsh, but it’s not meant to.  Just a thought for those who maybe deal with technical people regularly, or try and sell over the phone, or expect people to know all about their product and services already.

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Tim Gulson Paypal Opening Keynote Speech

Here are my key points from the keynote speech by Tim Gulson of Paypal at the Internet Retail Expo.

Tim talked a lot about mobile payment and shopping unsurprisingly.

  • In 2010 13% of people bought using mobile devices.  In 2016 this is projected to be 42%.
  • 36% of people shopping online will actually purchase in store.
  • 72% are smartphone owners, meaning that 28% aren’t.  This includes feature phones and tablets.
  • The male / female split is almost half and half – 54% male, 46% female.
  • Tim pointed out that many apps are deleted quickly, so it’s essential to have a mobile website too.
  • Mobile visitors expect advanced features and performance.
  • There are 2-3m active PayPal app users.
  • Companies want to replicate web experience on mobile devices.
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