Sunday, March 29, 2015

Who Is The Customer?

We've all seen websites that reflect the internal structure and politics of an organisation. It is a particularly common pattern among Government agencies. From their home pages you can see all the departments and what they do. The divisions with the most space on the home page can be assumed to be the ones with the most powerful and influential managers.

Is this the best way to build a website?

Generally speaking, sites that reflect organisational structure are not very effective because they don't have any particular customer in mind, or the wrong customer altogether.

The identification and understanding of your customer is the key to building, maintaining and growing a successful online product.

But how do we decide who your customer is?

Looking at the wider market, many successful internet businesses were started by people who built something they themselves needed.

TradeMe, according to folklore, was started after founder Sam Morgan had a frustrating experience buying a heater for his chilly flat.

Mark Zuckerberg explained the origins of Facebook at a Y Combinator event in 2012: "I started building Facebook because I wanted to use it in college…we weren’t looking to start a company."

Basecamp - a project management tool - was originally built by 37Signals to manage their own projects. In 2014 their strategy changed to focus entirely on building and supporting the product for external customers.

Others businesses were built after a market niche was identified. 

Xero, for example, was founded in 2006 by Rod Drury and Hamish Edwards after they identified a gap in the small business accounting market.

Twitter was also created to fill a gap in the market, rather than the needs of the founders.

In these examples it is clear what the product is and who it is intended for.

Who is the customer?

Products must be designed for a customer. That person will use the service and be the final arbiter of the success of the product.

But that customer is not 'us' or 'me'. You are your fellow employees have a unique perspective and thus are outliers. You know too much about the inner working of the company and perhaps not enough about the people you need to serve.

Our preferences and inclinations are based on experiences within the organisation we work for and our particular market. The average customer is not at all like any individual employee, groups of employees, or even (most likely) your friends. The customer's priorities are different to ours.

There will of course be some overlap between our customer's preferences and our own. But we must not be fooled by these similarities. Consider the possibility that people you've met and didn't like might be more representative of your customers!

We must not extrapolate our personal taste and shared experiences with colleagues and friends and assume they are indicative of the market at large or the market we want to address.

We must be objective in this task, yet there are few people who can mentally detach themselves sufficiently to cut through office politics and organisational dogma.

Finding You Customer

If you are an entrepreneur (or intrepreneur) the customer might be you. This is common where the founders or project team are a fair proxy for, or representative of, the customer. Where there is a significant amount of innovation the customer may not yet exist. What existing consumer can evaluate a product they don't know they want or need?

Mostly this will not be the case and you'll have to do some market research. There are dozens of ways to go about this, and the only thing I would suggest is to find an external company to work with who can challenge your assumptions.

A useful tool here is personas - written representations of customers - that can be used during the development of the site to help you stay focussed on the real market.

A question taste - but whose?

It is a generally a mistake to design products based on personal taste.

Your tastes are based on the past and stability.

In a declining market you can stick with what you and your customers are comfortable with (or what you believe they are comfortable with).

Being a taste-maker is very different to having personal taste.

Taste-makers are highly oriented towards the future and change.

An example of taste-making is the iPhone. No one wanted or asked for a touch screen phone. The first iPhone had many problems, yet it set the standard for a whole new type of product. Even more so, the iPad. Older examples are the fax and the photocopier. All created whole new markets.

Taste-making requires fresh knowledge, innovation and persistence.

Our role as taste-makers is to set aside our prejudices to create something that can engage someone who may not be at all like us. The customer of the future.

And just because you dislike something does not mean it is wrong for the customer.

What is 'value' to the customer?

A successful website will deliver value to the customer. What is valuable to you (e.g. an online org chart) might be of little value to your customers. To close, here are some measures of value:

  • ‘Good’ content
  • Is this about 'me' or my social group?
  • Is it relevant?
  • Does it make me think about other points of view?
  • There seem to be guiding principles at work.
  • Does it make sense?
  • Is it entertaining?
  • Does it move me to action?
  • Can it be shared?
  • Can I download it?
  • Can I respond to it?
  • Can I find more content like this?
  • Can I find out more about this content (links, video, audio, text, images)
  • Not wasting my time.
  • Accurate
  • Reliable
  • More than I expected
  • Trustworthy
  • Easy to use
  • A fast seamless experience – I know what to do next.
  • The purpose is clear
  • Perceived as good use of public money (government sites)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Radio NZ Browser and OS stats for February 2015

This is the February 2015 release of browser and OS stats for www.radionz.co.nz and The Wireless.

Overall, the Chrome browser is increasing its market share, and the shift from desktop to mobile continues. Windows has dropped to under 50%.

Browsers

Browser 02/2015 09/2014 03/2014 11/2013 06/2012 11/2011 11/2010 11/2009 11/2008
Chrome 33.6 30.8 25.23 23.7 14.6 13.8 8.75 4.2 1.47
IE 17.2 18.9 24.02 26.3 37.5 41.2 50.6 56 63
Safari 18 18.8 18.94 17.52 17.3 5.6 13.1 10 5.66
Firefox 12.3 14.5 14.81 16.6 19.8 23.2 25.52 27.5 27.73
Android 8.3 9.0 11.71 11 7.5
Opera 0.4 0.4 0.46 0.69 0.7 0.9 1.02 1.08


IE is still in decline, and IE6 is 0.12%, IE7 1.2%, IE8 10%, IE9 16.2%, IE10 9.9%. IE11 is at 61%.

At The Wireless things are very different: Chrome 49%, Firefox 13.03%, Safari 13.8%, Safari (in app) 11.4%, IE 7.6%, Android 3.6%


Operating System

OS 02/2015 09/2014 03/2014 11/2013 06/2012 11/2011 11/2010 11/2009 11/2008
Windows 44.8 48.9 52.9 58 67.3 72 81 84.8 89.3
iOS 21.42 18.4 16.6 14 7.88
Android 20.89 17 16.5 13.7 7.79 3.6 0.3 0.02 0
Mac 9.44 11.7 10.7 13.4 14.7 15.6 14.2 12.6 8.5
iPhone 2.5 1.4 0.56 0.19
iPad 2.4 0.63 0 0
Linux 1.38 1.6 1.9 1.8 1.27 1.53 1.4 1.45 1.72
Win Phone 0.63 0.57 0.44 0.39
iPod 0.5 0.35 0.22 0.08


And at The Wireless, Windows 44.7%, iOS 20.3%, Mac 17.7%, Android 14.35%, Linux 1.37%, Win Phone 0.47%

Mobile

In June 2012 mobile was 16% of our traffic. In November 2013 it was 29%. In March 2014 it was 23.4% mobile and 10.8% for tablet, making 34.2%. In September 2014 it was 61.8%, 26.3% mobile and 11.8% for tablet. Now it is 55.5% desktop, 32.8% mobile and 11.% for tablet.

The most popular devices are - iPhone (27.6%), iPad (20%), and Samsung GT-I9300 Galaxy S III (3.03%)

Over at The Wireless 28% of the traffic is mobile and 6.8% tablet, with popular devices being iPhone (40%), iPad (15.1%) Galaxy S IV (5%).


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Why I'm Fixated with Page Load Times And You Should Be Too

I am fixated with page load times. Why?

There are three main reasons:

  1. Mobile
  2. User experience
  3. SEO 

Mobile

Mobile is the fastest growing market segment for web traffic. Radio NZ has 40% of its traffic from non-desktop browsers.


Desktop is 60%, Mobile at 28% and Tablet at 11.8%.

In the case of devices used over a mobile network, the connection speed is going to be a lot slower than broadband. We also still have people on dial-up, and slow broadband (1-2 Mb/s or less).

These are what I call 'The Slow Networks'. I suspect that up 35-40% of visitors could be using a slow network. That is 40% of visitors who could have a bad experience if no thought was put into their experience of the site.

So, we optimise for page size, deliver speed and rendering time, and this underlies all my technical decision-making. (Edit: You'll probably find Radio NZ is one of the fastest news sites on mobile, and URLs all work between mobile and desktop for ease of sharing.)

User Experience

The psychology of website speed has been long understood. And lately, here, and here. Fast sites are perceived as more credible.

They are also easier to use - visitors can quickly see the page and decide what to do. Now obviously other factors come into play here. Every page needs to treated as page one in a journey - once the visitor has finished with the current page, what can/do they do next? That is a tough question for which there is not a single answer.

SEO

One factor in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is page load time. The faster your site is the more pages an indexing bot can crawl in a set time period. Google consider page load time so important they include them in Analytics, and it is believed this is used in calculating your page rank.

We actually use other methods to tell Google what the latest content is, so they can index that first, but this does not remove the need to optimise all pages.

Every few months, to keep on top of performance, I compare the performance of www.radionz.co.nz with other NZ media websites. I also benchmark the site against past performance, and follow a number of thought leaders in the performance area to keep up with the latest thinking and techniques.

This is no longer bleeding edge stuff for nerds to talk about over beer. It is mainstream and every site can benefit from improving page speed.

For some it is as simple as restructuring the order of elements in the head of a HTML page. For others, a few web server configuration options could help. Yet others may be almost beyond help with 10 megabyte pages, duplicate JS library code, unoptimised images, and bloated CSS.

And then there will be those that will not care. All the studies say you are leaving money on the table, but in the end that is your choice.

There are plenty of resources available for free. Just start with a Google search, and good luck!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

I Found A Lump - Why All Men Should Learn TSE

Normally I write here only on tech issues.

Last year I found a lump and I thought I'd share my experience in the hope that it helps other men. The story does have a happy ending, and I have a challenge for you to complete.

Late last year I started feeling sore on the right side of the scrotum, and so I checked for lumps using a technique called Testicular Self Examination, or TSE. This is not something I have done often, usually only when reminded of it after hearing or reading something about it in the press.

I found several lumps, one about twice the size of a pea. I booked to see the doctor immediately.

The visit was fairly routine. He examined both testicles, carefully as I was in much pain. His initial diagnosis was an infection of the didymus. This is the small tube that transports sperm manufactured in the testicle to inside the body.

He prescribed some fairly strong antibiotics to settle things down, and said I should book for an ultrasound when I got back from holiday.

My main concern was the time-frame. The doctor assured my that if it was cancer - and he was fairly sure at this point that it was not - that a few weeks would not have a negative impact difference in on the outcome.

When I got back from leave I dutifully went and got the ultrasound. The technician told me quite quickly that she could find no lumps at all on either testicle, but did confirm very small remains from the infection.

The doctor called me to confirm the result that day, and said if I have further issues come right back.

What did I learn from this?

Firstly, don't panic. All lumps are not cancer. If they are, you have about a 98% chance of survival if they are caught early. They key word here is early.

You are you own first line of defence.

Secondly, get over any embarrassment.

You will do TSE in private - no one will know you do it unless you blog about it. I think we are past that sort of thing now, aren't we?

Doctors look at body parts all day. They know how to handle patients who may be stressed and/or embarrassed. Get over it.

A special note on having an ultrasound exam. The process was discreet and respectful. Each step was explained before it happened and only the area to be examined is visible. There is no physical contact between you and the technician and it does not hurt.

My challenge to you is this: start TSE today, and do it regularly.

It is vital that you learn what your testicles normally feel like. I'd suggest doing it once a week for a couple of months until you get used it. If I had been doing that already, I don't think this would have been as stressful.

When you find anything of concern get it checked by a doctor as soon as practicable.

If you do take this challenge up, please mention it on social media, link back here and challenge others to do the same.

Can partners help? Yes, you can. If you are woman, perhaps get your man to start when you have your next smear, or you can make breast self exams and TSE something you do together. Guy partners? You are not exempt!

Please, encourage your man to take the challenge today, and stick to it.

Resources

How to do testicular self examination.

And another with links to resources.

The NZ Testicular Cancer Website

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How to monitor HTTP headers in near real-time

Unix has many tools that you can stitch together to do useful things.

For example, if you want to watch your site headers in near real-time you can use watch and curl.

You might want to do that if you need to build information headers (like X-Cache-Info) and you want to quickly try out different ideas.

In my case I use it during a patch window to monitor when our site's proxy server has changed so that the (now inactive) proxy can have updates applied.

The command that you run in a terminal is:

watch "curl -I -s www.example.com"

-I is headers only, while -s is silent. It'll print the headers every two seconds by default. If you want to update every second it is:



watch -n 1 "curl -I -s www.example.com"