Be an info-architect

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If I were a prospective home buyer preparing to make a large investment, choosing a personable, knowledgeable and accomplished realtor would be a top priority. For this reason, it's important for my dad's home page to organize the content so the site visitor can easily grab information to make the first, important, decision the home buying process. By reorganizing headings, adding additional links and layering information can make the site more efficient for the visitor.

The main text on the page resembles a resume - which is good - but could more accurately describe my dad as mentioned above. It may be useful to add that he's been living and selling homes in the area for 27 years. After scrolling towards the bottom of the page," Realtor since 1982" is mentioned, but it took me three seconds to do the math in my head. Selling property in the same area you live in says the area has been good to live in - and for buyers looking for longevity, this is good.

Knowing a realtor enjoys and has made a living in an area potential buyers are looking to move to, knowing more about the east metro would be helpful. It would be interesting to add news articles about the housing market, area schools or economic activity and mortgage loans - then make weekly comments. Even a link to the demographics would be cool. By creating layers of information, visitors can peer into the current events and personal analysis of the area.

By making these changes, my dad can really show that (although there are a few gray hairs in the profile pic) he is a person with current knowledge of an area he's been living in for a long time.

Homepage design using headings, links and pictures.

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My dad's home page is offering information such as to area of expertise, sales area, achievements and educational background. The home page also functions as a search engine for all listed homes in the MLS and his personally listed and sold properties in the area. The column page design, generally one word profile headings and simple links makes the page easy to navigate.

Using columns to divide the information on the page makes finding answers easy. The left side of the page contains the largest page picture and the only four links above the fold. The picture is simple and professional and describes the homepage well. Below the picture are four links all used as a search function for total area listings, dad's listings and a "link to additional website." The first three are directive and don't require changes. The last goes to his LinkedIn profile and should simply be titled "LinkedIn." Since his home page is intended for home buyers and other realtors, visibly seeing LinkedIn would direct visitors to a more in-depth profile where they can see his affiliations, contacts and personal interests and hobbies. Many business professionals and individuals are beginning to use LinkedIn. If I were a first time user, I may not even follow the "Link to additional website" because it's not descriptive and I'm searching for specific information.

The center of the page uses headings to separate text and information. Doing this makes scanning easy but also more readable at the same time. It gives a personable overview of my dad and his business. As mentioned in my Jing video, the organization of the headings should be changed, putting the most important factors such as : specialties, designations and executive profile, as the first three headings on the page. It would also be useful to link the icons used under designations to a single page with short descriptions of each skill or achievement.

The right side of the page contains a search bar and linked photographs to "featured properties." The search tool is easy to use and easy to find. The pictures are alternating at a three second interval, pausing long enough to view each, but not too long where you get bored. There are four pictures in view at any one time. My only complaint was that many of the pictured homes were marked as "sold." This seems like a waste of time for people looking to buy homes. There is already a link on the page for sold homes, so only show "featured homes" in this section.

The home page has good design and functions well for the information given and purpose of the site. Almost all of the text is above the fold and information is separated by simple links, headings and search functions. The adjustments I would make are minimal but would be useful for the site and help the visitor learn more about their realtor in a professional but personal way.

Ideas for web re-design

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Originally, I had chosen the Implosion Group's website about Dan Winter - a physicist who is attempting to prove that life and gravity are byproducts of a cosmic implosion due to Charge Fractality, allowing the universe to be conceived from chaos. As I was writing my script for the narration sequence in Jing, I was wondering why I had chosen this website in the first place. It was certainly difficult to read and search for specific information. My impression of the homepage was chaos - not the origin of "order" that winter is hypothesizing. Rather than spend my time making revision comments to a website I will never use or even care about, I decided to turn my attention elsewhere.

My change of decision brought me to my Dad's business website. My Dad, Tom, has been a realtor in the East Metro for 27 years. I thought it would be much more interesting and practical to assess his website. After finding the home page, I realized that he had made the first updates since the site was created in 2001. Surprised, I called him to ask about the revisions. Apparently the updates were made less than two weeks prior. Good job Dad, but is there more you can do? In my opinion, yes. The site has two main features: to provide contact information and professional biography in addition to search functions ranging from total area listings to specifics such as address and zip code.

The first thing that caught my eye was the organization of his bio on the home page. The first header on the top of the page is "Language," which is English. After reviewing local demographics by area code (Census 2000), only about 3% of total residents within Tom's sales region are of Hispanic or of Latino descent with less than 5% being Asian. In totality, only 6.3% of residents are foreign born. He needs to reorganize this using the inverted pyramid style - or at least put "sales executive profile" above "language." Secondly, I know my Dad wears reading glasses and probably has trouble with font size on his own website. He could reduce white space and improve readability by using a larger text. Lastly, the text doesn't "talk" well with the site visitors - using the third person: "Tom specializes in the East Metro and Western Wisconsin areas. He has been providing successful..." He could personalize it more my using "you" and "I" like a spoken conversation.

The search engine on the site was pretty easy to use. There was a large database of over 200 listings in the area, easily located on a Google map. By moving the cursor over the map, the user can click on housing icons that reveal information such as price, number of bedrooms and acreage. Overall this was helpful and fun to search in. However, I was disappointed that some homes didn't have pictures included - especially several of the featured properties on the front page.

Making only one revision in 10 years is not the way to approach a website that outlines your personality, accomplishments and career. The recent revisions made to the site are much needed, but I still see some areas of improvement.

Jokes

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1.) Why does a chicken coop have two doors?

2.) Why are there 239 beans in a can of baked beans?

3.) Why can whales only swim in salt water?

Nuances of Web Writing

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Writing for the Web is not the same as writing for print because people read differently on the Web. Each page is linked to related pages, photographs or concepts. The reader is fully engaged in each particular website, which may be several pages at a time. In conjunction with Redish, successful web writing uses the inverted pyramid style. The top represents the most important facts to be presented and then secondary information connects additional details supporting the reported facts. In essence, the most important facts are presented first, then repeated and supported by detailed information. Reader's value information, but they also value expediency when searching web pages.

Images are becoming dominant in web reading, such that the role of text and images are changing. In text based documents, words are used to illustrate pictures. In digital writing, images are used to describe words. Source credibility can even be attributed to the quality and relevance of images on a web page. This transition to the visual shows a new preference of dynamic readers, matching dynamic text, images and webpage design.

Writing for video is similar to the pyramid style described above. Some movie scripts have only short lines that give a general description of the scene, and allow the acting agent to improvise within the constraints of the script. For this reason, I feel that writing for movies or screen plays is similar to writing a book. In each, a plot must be developed and characters emerge with personalities the intended reader/viewer can identify with. Pages of a book or script have to have a beginning and end in order to guide individuals through the ideas, words and images. In these cases, the action and intent of writing has remained constant, but the expectations of the readers, the writing space and the act of reading are changing in ways that favor concise textual information and plenty of supporting images.

Web Badditude

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Homepages make initial impressions and are just as important as a good handshakes and eye contact. When viewing a web page, I'm looking for immediate ease and direction. Redish explains that homepages need to establish the brand and persona of the site. Web site design should not reflect the needs of the creator, but those of the reader. By showing appropriate information on the home page, users can start their tasks or fulfill needs. I use the internet a lot - usually looking for information, needing to make a purchase or pay a bill, finding entertainment or just to be part of an online community. Fortunately were discussing poor web design and I found a few sites that will remind you of "wet-noodle, clammy handshakes."
A good principal for design is clearly stated in Redish: "The number of ways to get information is much less important than how easy those ways are to find and use" (Redish 48). My first example home page clearly defies this principal. Implosion Group's website about Dan Winter is almost completely impossible to navigate. There are no headings, sub headings. Almost each piece of text is linked to another page - making most of the text bold, underlined and neon. Text that isn't linked still has some unfortunate hue or font size that capable of producing headaches, quickly. The "below the fold" concept needs to be revised for this home page as well. It takes over 15 seconds of valuable time to scroll to the bottom of the site - and you have to go below to fold to even find out who Dan Winter is and what he does ( Mr. Winter holds workshops and e-classes in sacred geometry, bio architecture and holistic living). Mentioned earlier - home page formatting must be done for the reader! It seems that the goal of the Implosion Group is to have each users head implode from using their home page, ouch.
The following web site is less worse than the previous. If you have any interests in time travel or any science related new story (which may be fictional), check out the John Titor Times. Immediately upon entering the website there is a link to a Black Hole Study. On the same page there are other seemingly useless links for the Olympics, High School Musical and Beef Safety. What is the purpose of these links? Finally after a few minutes of searching the site, I discover that John Titor, formerly known as Timetravel_0, began posting in late 2000 on a public forum that he was a time traveler from the year 2036. This seems like a highly unreliable source. I would suggest this gentleman travels back into the past to learn about web design!

I like pictures

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I agree with the ideas of these articles. The design of websites, word placement and font style and pictures linked to other pictures is altering the emotional tone and instinct of the reader - maybe into the predators described in the "information foraging" article. Their studies showed that people rarely read web pages word by word; instead, scanning the page, picking out individual words and sentences. Unless I'm "reading" a scholarly article, I defiantly scan. Added, much electronic writing favors the inverted pyramid style, starting with the conclusion in combination with condensed writing style. There is less need for explanation of an idea, rather than proving links to other websites with varying pictures or videos of the same issue. Words are becoming a supplement to information content rather than the substance. But as content display and design is moving further into the realm of visual media, how is this change actually impacting the reader? In a recent article published in Science Daily, studies show humans skills in critical thinking and analysis have declined, while our visual skills have improved due to technologies role in our lives. This shows a lot of support for the technological determinist out there. But the brain is interesting in its information processing. So in order to develop a variety of skills, we need a balanced media diet. In other words, each medium such as static books and flowing e-texts have costs and benefits in terms of what skills each reader (or society) develops. In agreement, I process information better with visual media. However, the article reminds us that most visual media are in real-time - immediacy is great, but is there enough time for reflection, analysis or imagination? I think that it depends on the reader. Growing up, I was right on the cusp of the computer bubble. We didn't have a family computer until I was 13, much less my own until I was in college. While I still processed most of my ideas on screen, the majority of my information was found pillaging books in the library. In my junior year, I began using the internet. I felt relieved that I could get great content, from a variety of sources, without leaving my seat. I certainly didn't miss receiving assistance from the librarian getting lost in the alleys of books. While there is much more information available, I still am still selective in my research. It is the responsibility of the user to look for quality in research, even though expediency is important as well. We do scan web sites, and our learning cues may be shifting to visual from textual. But the reader can still browse and comprehend. Credibility is still important for Web users, since it is unclear who is behind information on the Web and whether a page can be trusted. But now credibility now is associated with high-quality graphics, use of outbound hypertext links and importantly, good witting.

The Visual

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Pictures and verbal text have been combined in previous writing
technologies, however there is a greater emphasis on the visual in digital
media. Conventional texts allow the reader to move along letters and back
and forth among static images. Text flows in one dimension down the page,
and images are inserted to assist text. In electronic text, the reader is
in motion, using two different modes of reading - combining verbal and
picture reading. Text and visual images function together in the computers
writing space, and impact the reader in an associative way. Images can be
linked to text, or to other images. As printed pages stay in order, readers
or writers of electronic pages can move from one page to another, have
several pages (windows) open at once and reorder the electronic pages in
any way. Electronic pictures and text offer a more authentic experience to
the reader by adding interactivity to reading and writing.

In last weeks entry I mention economic force that drives innovation
contributing to forces of technological determinism. Bolter makes a similar
economic and social claim that gives rise to importance of graphic design.
He mentions the convergence of economic and social needs - how capitalism
drives needs for products - and we have entered an age where words alone
are no longer adequate to satisfy peoples needs for products or information.
He further explains that the aesthetics of web pages have rededicated
magazine advertisements, with striking visual metaphors, display fonts,
color gradient and pixel images.(69) I believe a picture is worth 1000
words, personally I would rather look at 10 pictures describing an event
rather than reading a 10,000 page book.

Kids are different today.

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You can compare the idea of technological determinism to a verse from a Rolling Stones tune," kids are different today, I hear every mother say." While the contex may be slightly different, this past century offers an example how new innovations in technology have altered the perceptions of each generation through range, speed and channels of communication and technology.


Consider generational I recently had my 23rd birthday. My grandpa was 23 in the mid 1940's when Harry S. Truman was President. Polaroid cameras were soon to be developed, allowing for instant visual gratification of any moment in time. In addition, with the transistor radio, music and inforamation suddenly became portable. No matter how isolated the individal, worldy news was readily availabve. My parents were around the age of 23 in the early 1970's when Nixon was president and the space shuttle program was initiaited, sending two Apollo missions to the moon. Television broadcasts in color were a new innovation, and the internet hadnt been fully concieved and developed yet. In the two generations preceding myself, visual and aural media outlets were dominant. Today social integration of media technology have created electronic communitites where readers and authourship are synomnous with change and immediacy. In aggrement with a 2008 article titled "Is Google Making Us Stupid," individuals are spending more "time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet...Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes...Even when I'm not working, I'm as likely as not to be foraging in the Web's info-thickets'reading and writing e-mails, scanning headlines and blog posts, watching videos and listening to podcasts, or just tripping from link to link to link."(1)

However convincing the claims for technological determinism, I believe that there are other weighing issues such as economic prosperity and politicts that influence societal "progress." In a 2006 statistical review of world patents conducted by the the World Intelectual Property Organization, United States of America, Japan, the Republic of Korea, China accounted for approximately 76.5% of the total patent grants, representing a 6.3 percentage point increase from the 2000 level. When looking at GPD, a measurment of all economic output of a country, the USA, Japan and China are the three largest economies in the world - producing the most of the worlds pattents as well.

Technology is exciding, simple to say. Today, it is remediating everytinng from travel, to visual media and communication. Within the next year, Richard Branson will release his passenger space rocket, where passengers experience weightlessness. In addition, NASA is currently holding competitions with total prizes of $2 million for "Space Elevator" prototypes that could one day climb from earth to outer space. Yes technology alters our perception, but it wouldnt be possible without strong economies and powerful incentives.


Writing Space

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As writing technology changes over time, so have the the communities of readers.Era's can be defined by writing space, and the readers demand of text. For Greeks and Roman, writing space was defined by a papyrus role divided into textual columns and facilitated an oral culture. Medieval handwriting and the mass producing printing press offer bound white pages that contain singular, linear text. Hypertext represents a collective culture of ideas, that link authors and readers to a malleable text with visual media. Bolter associates the "late age" of print with flexibility and interactivity, refashioning the stability and authority of print.

It is interesting that books may not "master our reason and feelings" as they used to. (qtd. pg.4 ) Moving towards a digital age, information is perceived in a more visual and aural sense, making alphabetic text appear static. Websites such as wikipdia, allow for new entries, edits and links giving text a feeling of impermanence. Hypertext allows each reader to make choices, by following hypertext or links, that can supplement learning for different audience levels with different viewing agendas. The associative style of websites reflects the human nature of the mind.(pg. 42) In support, a report by science daily concluded, human memory relies mostly on association and objects frequently seen together to become linked in our mind; when we try to retrieve information, one thing reminds us of another, which reminds us of yet another, and so on. In essence, this is the same way hypertexts help users navigate through websites.

Electronic writing's role as a refashioner is not complete, but has certainly changed the way humans want to perceive and respond to media. The ease and rapid change of information, in addition to eye and ear stimulants give text and media today a new reality. More over, computers are being recognized as writing technologies, a medium for entertainment and expression, which changes the mode of our visual and verbal communication. Hypertext may immediately appeal to more human senses then simply a printed book would, however I don't see an the near obsolescence of printed material. Internet searching, writing and communication are valuable to me, but I still prefer the simple and tangible, unified voice of a book or magazine.

Citations:

Bolter, David Jay. Writing Space. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates 2001.

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