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October 07 2011


Hi, my name’s Zarino

So when Nicola asked me to write a Friday post introducing myself on the ScraperWiki blog, I never thought I’d be writing it during such a momentous few days. I was meant to entertain and beguile you with talk of my MSc research into Open Data at Oxford, tease and tantalise with news of how we’re making ScraperWiki cleaner, faster and more intuitive.

But suddenly, all of that seemed pretty unimportant. In the small hours of Thursday morning, people all over the UK woke up to find that Steve Jobs, one of the greatest and most controversial legends of the technology world, had passed away. The news rocked Twitter — there was pretty much nothing else in my stream all day — flowers and candles were laid outside Apple Stores around the world, people published poems and pictures and stories and bittersweet obituaries. Many of the highest-traffic pages on the web displayed humble banners with his name. Some simply shut down and devoted every pixel to his memory.

And it got me wondering — what does a guy do to cause such a stir? Books will no doubt be written (in fact, they already have) answering that question. They’ll talk about Steve the college dropout, Steve the child of the Sixties, Steve the garage marketeer. They’ll picture him bowtied and bespectacled grinning above the first Macintosh, clad in the inimitable blue and black at one of a hundred keynotes, and worryingly gaunt at the height of his battle with cancer. They’ll talk about how he revolutionised not just the computing industry, not just the software industry and not just the music industry, but also the animation industry, the movie industry, and the technology retail industry. And they’ll be right.

But if you ask me, the real reason why we’re all laying flowers for this guy, writing poems for him, even talking about him at all, is because he put the user at the live, beating heart of everything he did. Steve didn’t invent the mouse, or the GUI or the personal computer, but in a world of green-on-black, of FORTRAN and BASIC, he had the foresight, the passion and the balls to back these weird, unpopular and user-centric technologies, because he knew, once normal people had access to the liberating power of the silicon chip, their lives would change forever. It’s only a matter of time until someone (hopefully us!) does the same with data.

I’m no Steve Jobs (I look terrible in turtle-necks). But if I can do anything here at ScraperWiki, it’s to try and bring some of that user focus to the world of data science. Life is too short to spend it puzzling over dubug console output, or commenting out lines of code one by one. And most of all, life’s too short to be doing all of that alone. I have two goals as the ScraperWiki UX guy: to make the experience of using our services as smooth, as intuitive and as integrated as possible, and also to make it as social as possible—not in a Facebook way, but in a hackday way—so you can all benefit from the wealth of experience, backgrounds and talents around you, right now, on this very site. There’s some amazing work being done by our members, and it’s my job to make sure you can keep on doing it, keep on getting the scoops, informing the public, serving your clients, no matter how hideous the HTML or unstructured the PDF.

Like I said, I’m no Steve Jobs. Who could even try to compete? But like Steve, I have an email address – zarino@scraperwiki.com – and I want to hear from you. Yes, you, right now. And in the future, whenever you have a problem. Whenever you think of something ScraperWiki should be doing for you, or whenever it fails to do something it says it should. Drop me an email and we’ll work on a solution (I promise my responses won’t be as famously acerbic as Steve’s).

And with that, I’ll leave you. Our brilliant new Editor interface isn’t going to design itself, you know. But before I go, I should take one last chance to say thank you. To you amazing ScraperWiki diggers, to Francis and the ScraperWiki team, but most of all, to Steve, for making all of this possible. I hope we can do him proud.

November 30 2010


Content or design? Using analytics to identify your problem

editorial analytics

As an industry, online publishing has gone through a series of obsessions. From ‘Content is King’ to information architecture (IA), SEO (search engine optimisation) to SMO (social media optimisation).

Most people’s view of online publishing is skewed towards one of these areas. For journalists, it’s likely to be SEO; for designers or developers, it’s probably user experience (UX). As a result, we’re highly influenced by fashion when things aren’t going smoothly, and we tend to ignore potential solutions outside of our area.

Content agency Contentini are blogging about the way they use analytics to look at websites and identify which of the various elements above might be worth focusing on. It’s a wonderful summary of problems around sites and an equally wonderful prompt for jolting yourself out of falling into the wrong ways to solve them.

The post is worth reading in full, and probably pinning to a wall. But here are the bullet points:

  • If you have a high bounce rate and people spend little time on your site, it might be an information architecture problem.
  • If people start things but don’t finish them on your site, it’s probably a UX problem.
  • If people aren’t sharing your content, it may be a content issue. (Image above. This part of their framework could do with fleshing out)
  • If you’re getting less than a third of your traffic from search engines, you need to look at SEO

Solutions in the post itself. Anything you’d add to them?

May 20 2010


Getting and managing user feedback on apps?

We're launching a news app soon that will be core to our business, but don't really have a customer feedback system in place more than e-mail and Instant Messaging.

I'm hesitant to invest in something like Get Satisfaction or FogBugz, because this is in garage mode-funding right now (i.e.: 0), and I don't want to invest very limited resources unless I have to.

One thing we would really like to do is capture feedback on current features and, maybe more importantly, possible features, as well as more general feedback, bug reports, etc. etc.

Any suggestions on what (preferably open source, fingers crossed) is out there that would be good for this?

November 20 2009


What if a newspaper was designed using principles of user experience design?

What if a newspaper was designed using principles of web user experience design*? That’s the question that design agency Information Architects asked themselves when they put together a pitch for Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger. They lost the pitch, but the blog post about their ideas is fascinating reading for anyone interested in usability and reinventing the print package for a multiplatform world.

front page

Their innovations included making the text scannable with blue text for key words (see above), high contrast, and being limited to two fonts. They cleaned up the logo (optimising it, essentially), and printed comments next to the articles they commented on. The blog post contains lots more images. In addition, they’ve put the original PDFs of their pitch online too – linked below:

Garcia Media has more context including why Garcia felt they failed.

H/t: Adrian Short. *I should have said user experience design not web design, which was the original headline.

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