Twitter Advice for Companies: Engage Intelligently

sp_twitterAs more and more companies move to engage their customers over Twitter, I thought it might be useful to outline a few guidelines companies should use when tweeting.

Naturally your mileage will vary, but these are tips I’ve put together based on my experience with companies who are doing Twitter right, and some who haven’t quite got the hang yet:
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Posted in: How To

Let’s Be Clear: There IS A Page Fold

please_scrollOver the past day or two, the website has been making the rounds. In a rather succinct, but incredibly tall manner, it states the following:


The buzz on Twitter from “designer” types appears to be a knee-jerk “ZOMG YES SO TRUE!!!111one” while responses on the site’s reddit thread have been more measured. I especially appreciate the following comment, by one fletcher_t:

Well of course it depends on the context of what the site is providing… but there is indeed a fold and if you’re ignorant of that, may god have mercy on your soul.

Let’s be perfectly clear: There IS a “fold”. For the uninitiated, the “fold” refers to the literal crease in a newspaper. Editors recognized the importance of catching their reader’s interest “above the fold”, because the likelihood a reader will bother to look under the fold is lower as a whole. Readers who might not typically read the sports section, for instance, will notice a story above the fold if it’s of interest to them. If they’re just flipping past as they always do, they’re far less likely to look beneath the fold.

The assertion made by the “no fold” site is that, because technology has provided us with infinite page lengths, we should design our pages accordingly. We can space things out more, we can use larger print and increase readability, and we shouldn’t be so concerned with what lies above the fold because users will scroll anyway! We were on a roll there up until that third point, weren’t we?

The reality is that the science of user attention is a tricky one, and more of an art than anything. Heat maps and eye-tracking studies frequently show huge dividends by presenting the initial page-load in a clear, concise manner, with well delineated courses of action visible to the user and readily accessible. Users will absolutely scroll, if you’ve given them a compelling reason to believe anything of interest lies beneath the fold. Users are fickle types, though, who scan quickly, look for large visual cues, and make an off-the-cuff and perhaps misinformed decision to bounce away from your site in an incredibly short amount of time, if you don’t captivate them instantly. To capture their interest, you simply must pay attention to the content that resides above the fold.

With Google’s release of Browser Size the other day, Tech Crunch mentioned that Google saw a 10% increase in the number of installs of Google Earth, simply by moving the download button up 100 pixels. By placing the call to action and primary focus of the page above the fold, users were far more likely to follow through. Naturally, this will vary from site to site. has a rather long page, which they use to show multiple categories of products they think you’ll be interested in. Their primary feature and what they hope will have the most success is always at the top, though—a compelling enticement to scroll further and see what else they got right.

Understand, this is by no means an argument for cramming everything of any importance above the fold. Not even a little bit. (And I understand that the no-fold site is likely directed at those types—but does anyone actually try to force entire sites above the fold anymore?) Whitespace should be well utilized, large print is totally acceptable, and designers shouldn’t force pages to fit into any idea of a “standard” vertical viewport. CXPartners even argues that including less information above the fold can encourage users to scroll more, arguably by reducing the utility of the site to the point where they’re forced to scroll.

It’s not my claim the no-fold site is implying you should ignore the above-fold design or disregard its design entirely, but the cheeky site title and its assertion that there is NO page fold degrades the importance of how you construct your pages for those first 700 or so pixels. Encourage your users to scroll, not by reducing utility but by increasing interest. Facilitate this behavior by keeping large, blocking horizontal lines and blocks at bay (advice from CXPartners’ piece) and providing clear paths downward. Ensure that users see that additional content exists further down. But don’t forget that your site’s first impression is above the fold.

Posted in: Design, Rants

Google Browser Size: Drawn By Five-Year-Olds

Browser SizeGoogle announced a new Labs product called Browser Size. At first I thought this might be a useful tool to complement their recent spate of great developer-oriented releases. Instead, I was assaulted by a hideous overlay that requires a left-aligned design. (Though they’re ostensibly working on that.)

Browser Size allows you to enter any URL  and see an overlay of visible browser space broken up by user demographics. Specifically, you can see what percentage of the Google-using populous would be able to see what portion of your screen on an initial page load. Apparently, this is based on typical browser dimensions for users, and not screen resolutions outright. (Taking into account non-maximized browsers.)

I understand that Labs products are by their nature not fully baked, but this one lands on the other extreme: half-assed. Perhaps the overlay is a rough attempt at being cheeky, but to me, it’s ugly, and its jagged, hand-drawn lines reduce its utility, rather than amping up its “cute” factor. The percentages aren’t even consistently rendered—it’s like My First Photoshop session here.

This isn’t to say that the concept isn’t a good one. I just wish they let this one cook a bit more before releasing it.

Browser Size | Google Labs via TechCrunch

Posted in: Design

TweetNotebook: Custom Notebooks Filled With Your Tweets

TweetNotebook LogoTweetNotebook is a fun site by an interactive company from Belgium called Boondoggle. The premise is simple: enter your Twitter username and it generates a notebook filled with a random selection of your tweets in the footer of each page. For $12, you get a 320-page notebook with a different tweet on every page. The site lets you select your choice of cover (and print a specific message on the cover as well) before peppering each page with a random tweet from your Twitter history.

You can preview the book beforehand and regenerate the notebook as many times as you’d like, though for now, you can’t hand-pick tweets for the notebook. The notebook also appears to only have non-ruled pages much to my chagrin, but it sounds like TweetNotebook is planning on beefing up their offering in the near future if this takes off. For now, they have three different covers available, onto which your current avatar and cover tweet appears. Here’s mine:


Suffice to say, I’ve already bought mine. I think it’s a fun conversation piece, and I think that it’s a fun look into what was relevant to you a few days, weeks, or for some of us, even a year or two ago, in a blurb. It’s almost like thumbing through a diary in a sense, a simple snapshot at the bottom of each page that makes you pause and try to remember what context surrounded that tweet.

We’ve seen Threadless make T-shirts out of great tweets, and I think it’s no stretch to imagine other potential products that can be built out of a users’ Twitter feed. Consider a timeline, complete with tag cloud, friend diagrams, statistics, and more. Twitter lends itself to these sort of changes in medium because of their brevity and relevance—no one’s wearing a shirt with excerpts from their blog on it, but a poster that shows off my activity on Twitter is fun enough even if you’re not a raging narcissist.

For now, there’s also nothing to stop you from using someone else’s tweets, like a celebrity. (Or a friend, for a gift.) That situation may change if copyright issues arise. All told, my order was just $14.50, including shipping to Tempe, Arizona. Here’s hoping they’ll offer different sizes, bindings, and rulings in the future.

TweetNotebook | via TechCrunch

Posted in: Cool Stuff, Tech News

Google Speed Tracer Makes AJAX Optimization Easier

SpeedTracer-SluggishnessDetailGoogle today announced Speed Tracer as part of their Google Web Toolkit offerings. While most of the GWT focuses on enabling developers to create web applications in Java (which compiles down to optimized JavaScript), Speed Tracer is a useful profiling tool for any developer wrestling with XMLHttpRequest.

What makes Speed Tracer different?

Developers have long used Firebug to identify what AJAX requests were causing bottlenecks and to analyze responses to those requests. Firebug is an extremely powerful tool and does a serviceable job with this approach, but Speed Tracer takes things one step further, analyzing the “sluggishness” of your application by examining how busy or blocked the UI is in your browser. This can help developers analyze why their application feels slow, instead of simply focusing on network-based bottlenecks.

Speed Tracer makes use of specific, unique APIs built into Webkit for this very purpose, which gives it a unique advantage compared to other profiling tools. Instead of simply guessing and checking, developers will now have full visibility into what’s causing their applications to appear slow:

Using Speed Tracer you are able to get a better picture of where time is being spent in your application. This includes problems caused by JavaScript parsing and execution, layout, CSS style recalculation and selector matching, DOM event handling, network resource loading, timer fires, XMLHttpRequest callbacks, painting, and more.

Very cool stuff. What’s more, it’s free, open source, and available for users of Google Chrome right now. Check out their tutorial below:

Google Speed Tracer

Posted in: Cool Stuff, Development, Tech News