Categories
Opinion

Web design questions: Here’s what to ask before starting out

A lot of web designing is routine for millions of companies and freelancers. But not all tasks are easy; many warrant long spells spent in battling complex problems.

As a web designer, a checklist of questions to ask your clients can pre-empt many hassles along the way.

With the right answers, you can create a documented set of requirements to guide yourself through a web design project.

Detailed here are five key questions web designers need to ask their clients:

Q 1. What exactly is your profession or business interest?

Knowing the answer to this question will help designers finalize the right combination of shapes, colors and typography on the site.

A dentist may want to infuse a refreshing mint feel in the minds of visitors. A gift shop will want to instantly ignite the joy of giving. A lawyer will want a distraction-free interface to bring his clients straight to the services they need.

You as a designer will need to study a little about your client’s work and stretch your imagination.

Q 2. Who are your competitors?

Your client is very likely to have competitors. Insist on knowing who they are, and create something better and simpler than them.

Competition is a healthy thing – it forces us to raise the bar and evolve.

Q 3. Have you identified example web designs?

Emulating other successful players in your arena is a great idea. A photographer might find appeal in a Pinterest-like design. Someone else may love the soft, tiled design brought about by the metro-style UI.

You might want to give your own recommendations based on this response. For instance, your client’s example site has a slider, but you could convince him that a short video to welcome visitors will be far more pleasant.

Q 4. Are you going to provide text, images and the logo?

If your client’s answer is yes, make sure you are addressing copyright concerns where appropriate. Also, insist on high quality images.

If you are asked to create a logo, ponder over your client’s response to Q1 and work towards creating a memorable icon.

Q 5. What is your budget?

Ask for a ballpark range for the budget to help yourself or your team figure out the right approach.

What if the desired web design requires you to mobilise rare and expensive JavaScript ninjas? Your client’s budget will help you decide.

Bonus!

Are you looking for more checklists and questionnaires to streamline your efforts? Take a look at this diligently compiled article by Cameron Chapman on Smashing Magazine, which is among the web’s most widely-respected authorities on web design.

In Conclusion…

Websites can be designed using innumerable approaches. Some people might consider using pre-cast building blocks delivered through software, while others may use a more powerful and flexible strategy that involves delving deep into code and making changes at will.

Whatever the case, this is a truly exciting exercise. But just like professional sport, you cannot win alone – ample answers and clear communication from clients will pave the way for success.

Categories
WordCamps

WordCamp Pune 2013: ‘The best WordCamp so far in India’

If I’m asked to choose one word to describe the recently concluded WordCamp Pune 2013, I’d pick ‘enriching’.

It was the second time I’d been to a WordCamp, the first one being Cuttack last year, where I spoke about my blogging journey.

A couple of key speakers at the event aptly dubbed this the ‘best ever so far’ in India. Majority of the speeches had more substance than platitudes.

In this article, I’m going to try and capture the most significant happenings of the 2-day event.

Day 1

The first day’s sessions were aimed at developers. It began with King Sidharth talking about the need for responsive designs.

This is his slideshow:
Savita Soni talked about the power of WP_Query. Below is the complete slideshow: I found Saurabh Shukla’s talk the most inspiring. He described his journey towards building plugins for WordPress. Saurabh later pointed out that there are few WordPress plugin developers in India, and that he hoped to motivate his listeners to take up the practice. Here’s the complete slideshow titled Developing open source WordPress plugins: The art, science and Zen (fonts are bit messed up):   Gaurav Singh spoke about WordPress security, a subject which was dealt with again the next day by Rohit Srivastwa. This is his slideshow:   Aniket Pant talked about Metaboxes:

Thinking of getting your theme into the WordPress theme respository? Take a look at Nisha Singh’s presentation:

Vireendra Tikhe presented his views with a presentation titled “Responsive and Responsible Themes” :

Day 2:

The second day was aimed at bloggers and marketers.

It began with Arun Prabhudesai, owner of Trak.in showering praise on WordPress, while presenting key use cases for the platform. One of the top highlights was the advice that one can “start selling within 24 hours of installing an e-commerce plugin”. Arun, by the way, is a person I respect as one of my top blogging mentors.

The next session by Ronak Thakkar had a similar theme, with the title ‘Leveraging Your Business with WordPress’. Ronak did a fine job by getting the audience to participate early on.

His own accounts of the session and day are a must-read.

Further in the day, cyber security expert Rohit Srivastwa of ClubHack presented vital tips on securing a WordPress site.

These were the highlights of his talk:

  1. It is better to use shared hosting with features to handle security.
  2. Most security tips and plugins related to WordPress deal with automated attackers.
  3. Make a list of bad user agents from hacking tools or bots and block them using your site’s .htaccess file.
  4. Consider using service providers that stop bad traffic, that includes botnets.
  5. Keep an eye on the log files on your server to alert yourself when there’s an attack.
  6. Use free scanning tools like the one provided by sucuri.net. There’s a WordPress plugin based on the scan provided by sitecheck.sucuri.net
  7. The free service of CloudFare is excellent in blocking malicious traffic, even though some users claim that it blocks legitimate traffic as well.
  8. A tool called websitedefender helps monitor changes in the front page.
  9. In the event of an attack, rename the old infected WordPress installation and freshly re-install everything.
  10. Use is.gd/cleanup to fix your site after it has been attacked.
  11. Never look for free versions of premium themes. They may have a catch; they could be infected, which means you’ve hacked yourself!
  12. A string of characters known as a password won’t be enough to keep you secure. Even the simplest of passwords is enough, if you use a plugin for 2 factor authentication.
  13. It is important to use SSL to prevent an attacker from breaking in with the use of sniffers.

On the subject of content marketing, I found Adarsh Thampy’s talk very interesting. Here’s the complete slideshow:

In Conclusion….

The biggest benefit derived from conferences such as WordCamp Pune 2013 is the real life networking.

I was fortunate to interact with Saurabh Shukla, Gaurav Singh, Ronak Thakkar, Arun Prabhudesai, Rohit Srivastwa, Nikhil Narkhede and Saket Jajodia.

Some of the proceedings have been captured on Twitter with the hashtag #WCPune2013. Keep an eye on tweets by @saurabhyapapaya for more substance.

And if you want to know the recipe for a successful WordCamp, don’t forget to contact Amit Kumar Singh of AmiWorks!

Categories
Opinion

SiliconIndia Stealing Content from Lighthouse Insights: Livebloggers Battle the Scourge of Plagiarism

Just under a day ago, I found an appalling phenomenon in my Facebook timeline – A leading online technology magazine focussing on the Indian domain, SiliconIndia, was caught stealing portions of a recent interview published by rising social media blog Lighthouse Insights.

Lighthouse Insights was started in late 2010 by Prasant and Vinaya Naidu with the aim of bonding the community of social media users. I first met Prasant at a meet-up in Pune, and instantly liked the knowledge he had built on the social media scene in India.

You can read the complete account of the theft in one of their posts.

Do News Sites Have the Liberty to Steal?

When the founders of Lighthouse Insights confronted SiliconIndia on Twitter, an incredibly shocking explanation appeared: Plagiarism            

Only the most juvenile of writers could possibly put up such an explanation; I had to remind myself that this was emerging from a well-established media organization that has been around since 1997. The tweet was subsequently deleted, but it was too late as it was retweeted several times and its screenshot began to float around on Facebook.

The founders of Lighthouse Insights decided to battle it out on Twitter to expose the high-profile content thieves after appeals to their CEO and content managers fell on deaf ears. The complete blow-by-blow description of the fight has now appeared in a new blog post on their site.

The battle-cry hashtag #OccupySiliconIndia began to pick up momentum during the early part of the 14th of August, and hit the list of top ten trending hashtags in India by evening. That forced SiliconIndia to sit up and take notice, offering Lighthouse Insights either of two options, of providing due credit, or removing the copied post completely.

The result? The offending post vanished while supporters of the campaign continued discussing possible outcomes. The fight isn’t over; after receiving a bloody nose, SiliconIndia have simply disappeared from the scene instead of announcing an unconditional public apology for the theft and the subsequent distress caused to ardent followers of an insightful new social media blog.

The Scourge of Plagiarism and the Hope from Social Media

Plagiarism has been a perpetual enemy for writers and publishers ever since the introduction of the printing press in the Middle Ages. The matter has become much worse with the arrival of the Information Age, now that just a few keystrokes and mouse-clicks are all that one needs to lift thoroughly-researched material and claim its ownership.

Many web publishers conscious of the lurking thieves invest a significant amount of their time in filing Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) reports to get Google to de-index plagiarised content, but the cat-and-mouse game continues. Even when such reports are not filed or delayed, search engines are sophisticated enough to ascertain the real thieves. Unfortunately, webmasters may end up on the losing side when their sites are restructured or migrated to new domains, since such changes can confuse search engines.

The Wrath of the Connected World

Will social media come to our rescue? The signs are positive, with the victory of #OccupySiliconIndia – even after SiliconIndia decides to undertake major damage-control exercises, Lighthouse Insights is likely to present this story as one of the most potent case studies showcasing the vast power of social media. Publishers, no matter how big or small, must now realize the importance of original content and think twice before facing the wrath of the masses in a connected world.

What are your thoughts about the battle against plagiarism? Please feel free to use the comment form below and speak your mind!

Categories
WordCamps

WordCamp Cuttack 2012: An Evergreen Memory for WordPress Lovers

The WordCamp Cuttack 2012 concluded on the 11th of March in the most positive of ways for everyone who got an opportunity to be part of it, whether as an organizer, attendee or speaker.

WordCamp CuttackI was fortunate to be there as a special guest, a result of a generous giveaway by the key initiator of this event, Soumya Pratihari. Soumya leads a locally-based web development company called iDev, which also runs a number of popular blogs that cater to several verticals.

My first pleasant experience came well before the event itself. While I was being driven to iDev, I expected the company to be housed in a more or less snazzy office block, when in fact it was a simple, two-storeyed building situated in possibly one of the quietest corners of Cuttack. Lesson: You don’t have to work in a gleaming glass-and-steel structure to attain heights!

The venue was Ajay-Binay Institute of Technology, and the vice president of the college Mr. A. Mohapatra was the chief guest.

On Super Charging Your Career with Blogging and WordPress

After the encouraging words sent out by the chief guest, seasoned entrepreneur Mohit Pawar took charge of the proceedings.

It began with several seconds of a soothing deep-breathing exercise that clearly rejuvenated all the listeners.

On the subject of blogging and WordPress, the first step, in Mohit’s words was to make a start. He strongly recommended the use of WordPress because of its ease and quickness of use, availability of plugins and their ease of modification. He stressed on the contributions of the WordPress community and their never-ending quest to make the platform better and better.

Looking for keyword rich domains is a thing of the past, said Mohit. Additionally, he was in favor of looking for a brandable domain name, and not one based on the personal name.

On of the key thrusts of Mohit’s presentation was a call to use your blog as a resume. “Written words can be easily scaled”, said the lively and humorous businessman. “I haven’t ever made a resume in my life, it is my blog that has served as a resume!” Paradoxically, Mohit’s newest venture is a resume writing service called FreshResume, that promises users to help them stand out in the job market.

Mohit gave examples of how his blog helped him spread word about things ranging from his thoughts to his latest ventures. A key example was that of a blog post titled 13 tips on organizing a TEDx event which ranks pretty high in SERPS, and attracts enquiries from all over. Another instance to note was that of Paras Chopra using his blog to promote his “visual website optimizer”.

Furthermore, Mohit suggested direct advertising as preferable to AdSense, initially, and said the distraction of revenue when starting out would be mostly detrimental.

On the frequency of blogging, he advised making a plan and putting up posts more often in the beginning. He also advised the audience to network with people with the intention of helping, and not winning favors from them.

The conclusion: Write blogs, if you’re looking for opportunities!

The information-filled presentation included interesting glimpses into Mohit’s own blogging-cum-entrepreneurship journey. The man started his first business at age 16 with a small sum of money, and moved on to gain tremendous experience. He admitted to have made the mistake of cramming together too many tasks in his early days, and now believes single-tasking is a far more efficient way of life. On those lines, he stressed on focusing on one domain and then moving on.

He talked about a post titled 17 businesses you can start with little or no money, which looks like a must read for budding entrepreneurs and anyone convinced that blogging can supercharge your career.

‘Google and Facebook are Stalking You’

Sanjib Parida, Co-Founder and CTO of Muvi.com, was the next to take charge. He spoke in detail about better strategies and tactics to rank higher in Google’s SERPS.

Sanjib expressed dislike for the excessive use of SEO, which essentially involves gaming the system to beat competitors. He instead emphatically talked about the use of branding to build trust in the minds of users looking at search result pages. A good example he gave was that of StackOverflow, which is loved by programmers around the world. A programmer is likely to click through if he or she see a StackOverflow result, even if it isn’t at the top.

Sanjib was intensely dismayed at the massive data collection being carried out by both Google and Facebook under the pretext of improving user experiences and presenting more relevant ads, with the frightening reminder, “Google and Facebook are stalking you!” However, he essentially indicated that the pervasiveness of these services made us accept the loss of privacy as a reality of life.

When I asked him about the influence of advocates like Richard Stallman in the fight for web privacy, he was highly skeptical about it and quick to point out that the software freedom pioneer’s supporters had to rely on these ubiquitous services to spread word, which defeated the logic of fighting privacy.

It was interesting to hear this speaker’s view that SEO needs to be a more programming-oriented activity, that will tailor websites better for search-engine-based visitors.

Another statement that caught my attention was the one about gaining the early mover advantage by making the most of the newest bubbles. The fact of the matter, he highlighted, is that we are living in the social bubble.

More Speeches, Followed by a Workshop

I too got a chance to speak about my perspective on WordPress and blogging. I reiterated the views expressed by Mohit and basically had three immediate benefits of blogging to highlight:
1.The learning experience from collective knowledge.
2.A chance to share your knowledge and views.
3.A chance for new opportunities to come knocking on your door.

It’s a good idea to follow role models, and the best I could think of were the key organizer Soumya himself, Arun Prabhudesai of the business blog trak.in, Jeff Atwood of codinghorror.com (a must read for programmers!) and Amit Agarwal of Labnol.org.

Post-lunch, the next speaker Rahul Banker spoke to the audience via Skype, the main essence of his talk being to give up the obsession with money when blogging away your thoughts.

Web entrepreneur Jaydip Parikh, also connecting remotely, spoke about how to choose content for your blog. Jaydip stressed on quality content being the king, not just content. He had some fine suggestions on where to look for the best content that would have the potential to turn viral. Here’s the complete slideshow:

Next, a workshop was conducted by Amit Singh, the director of AmiWorks. He touched on topics ranging right from those concerning fresh starters to the advanced use of WordPress, and was pleased by the enthusiasm exuded by the participants.

Concluding a Memorable Day

Quick contests were conducted by Soumya and T-shirts given away, and the glow in everyone’s faces appeared to promise to spread awareness about WordPress.

Blogger Puneet Jain launched BlogWorkshop.org via video and was aptly applauded.

The concluding moments included a ‘30 seconds of fame’ session in which participants talked about their interests, with one of the most pleasing comments being “I’m now going to blog regularly!”

I’m immensely grateful to the iDev team, the attendees and fellow speakers for having done everything that made this event an evergreen memory. Were you at WordCamp Cuttack 2012, or following the proceedings via Twitter? Feel free to comment about your experiences!