Insights

  • 6 Considerations Before You Build A Mobile App

    by Primus Poppiti | Mar 20, 2015
    6 considerations before developing a mobile app

    It’s no secret that, after years of predictions, we have reached the era of mobile Internet. In 2014, comScore, a leader in digital big data, reported that more than half (52%) of digital media consumption is through mobile apps.

    That means that if your organization is forward-thinking, it’s very likely considering deploying a mobile app to better reach your customers. However, it’s important to stop for a moment and think strategically; building an app for the simple sake of building an app, can do more harm than good.

    With that in mind, here are five strategic considerations to think about before you launch that mobile app project:

    1. Know your customer.

      Customer profiling is a critical first step in this process. An organization must understand its audience before it starts to build something with them; after all, the point of an app is, at some level, to increase engagement with customers. You need to understand what they do on their smartphones. What are their media consumption habits and behaviors? Additionally, it’s important to know basic demographic information such as age, gender and geography. As you dig deeper, a picture of their lifestyle begins to emerge. This enables you to build the use case scenario for how they’re going to use your app.
    2. Know your device.

      There is a significant difference between mobile phones and tablets. A mobile phone is typically used for tactical tasks – the user is going to one or two screens, posting something to a social network, answering email or taking photos. Tablets are a more leisurely device, which allow the user to consume more content. And, of course, the introduction of so-called “phablets” (larger smartphone devices) has blended these two arenas. You need to consider what information you want to present to the audience, and therefore, the best device for displaying your content.
    3. Craft your features.

      A successful app is a mobile tool, not simply a reiteration of content that can be found elsewhere. The features on your app need to provide value to the user. It’s vitally important to consider the feature set that will work best for your users. We recommend doing some prototyping. Get real customers to start to test the app, use it and provide you feedback. There are a number of tools you can use to make this happen.
    4. Be interactive, and be short.

      Look at the features, and look at the time users are spending. Generally speaking, mobile apps need to be tactical in nature. Remember, this is not a book, and it’s not a movie. Part of the reason for this is bandwidth considerations, but more importantly, it is the bandwidth of the people you’re targeting, i.e., their attention span. You have to tailor app content to this reality.
    5. Allow for user customization.

      One size does not fit all. Different people consume information in different ways. The best apps provide users a lot of options to do things the way they want, when they want it. You have to acknowledge the consumer’s mindset, and allow them the opportunity to select the information they see and the rate at which they’re going to consume it. This is a matter of timing and volume.
    6. Make it human.

      People want to feel that the message is being directed to them. They enjoy that personal feeling, and they expect it on their devices. For instance, “I just did something, why didn’t the app say thank you?” If it was a person, the person would’ve said thank you. The app should speak to the user as if it’s a human. Your mother was right – being polite can help you win friends.
    Interested in learning more? Contact us at enterprisetechnology@trellist.com.
  • Making Web Content Accessible to People with Disabilities

    by Gavin Garrison | Apr 17, 2013

    making web content ADA compliant

    No one
    thinks twice when they see a wheelchair access ramp to a building. Stoplights have audible “walk” signals for the visually impaired. ATMs have braille type next to the keypads. The last presidential inauguration speech included a sign language interpreter following the president word for word. Virtually every television comes equipped with a closed-caption option. So what about making online content optimized for people with disabilities?

    Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to those with disabilities. Generally speaking, Section 508 requires agencies to give employees and members of the public who have disabilities access to information comparable to the access available to others. Nothing in Section 508 requires private web sites to comply, unless they are receiving federal funds or are under contract with a federal agency.

    The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the “ADA”) was modeled after the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, but it is a separate law with separate requirements. Title III of the ADA outlaws discrimination on the basis of disability with regard to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place of “public accommodation.” Till now, courts have generally held that the ADA cannot be applied to activities on the Internet. That may change.

    While neither the ADA nor Section 508 currently requires that private companies optimize online content for people with disabilities, more and more companies are doing so voluntarily. Why? Here are a couple reasons for you to consider:

    Marketing and PR

    Treating all customers fairly isn’t just a nice thing to do — its message can carry a lot of PR weight, especially when your business is the first organization in your industry to voluntarily meet the accessibility requirements of the ADA and Section 508. Private entity compliance with ADA and Section 508 accessibility standards also provides a compelling PR opportunity to tell the public a human-interest story that both builds and strengthens customer relationships.

    Legal

    What is considered a “public accommodation”? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission interprets a “public accommodation” as a private entity that owns, operates, or leases restaurants, hotels, offices, stores, parks, schools, libraries, and other such places. The broader meaning for “public accommodation” is any place that has public access. The increasing move, especially in the financial industry, away from physical locations and towards e-commerce, particularly when coupled with marketing that touts the ease of online transactions and encouraging customers to increase their online interactions, means that this debate will only intensify.

    Compliance with the ADA and Section 508 isn’t easy. Making electronic information accessible to those with disabilities involves fine-tuning interactive information with specific best-practice design and coding methodologies that work hand-in-hand with content navigation tools for those individuals. Information needs to include coded recognition for screen readers, mouse-free adaptability, tagged page navigation, advanced scrolling…and a lot more. Achieving full compliance also involves carefully choreographing IT, web design, and web development for a unified, optimized output.

    Some companies have formed special teams to try to tackle optimizing content. But for most companies, this is a larger task than they can handle internally. Trellist works with companies, including leading financial institutions, to make their content ADA- and Section 508-compliant for a variety of reasons–PR, legal, or maybe they just feel like it’s the right thing to do.

    If you’d like to learn more about optimizing your content for people with disabilities, follow us on twitter @trellist , or connect with us via info@trellist.com.

  • Siri Puts a Second "S" in SEO, Part 2

    by Chris Wallace | Apr 27, 2012

    In part one of this series, we discussed the phenomenon of intelligent digital agents, and their significance in the future of our computing experience.

    In this second installment we’ll discuss ways to start incorporating mobile thinking into your SEO strategy.

    Tips on how to Optimize SEO for Siri:

    1) Tailor Keywords and Metadata to Natural Language.

    Think about how people may ask for information in a conversation. “What’s the new Cantonese place in Chinatown” is semantically different from “Chinese Food, Philadelphia”.

    2) Location Optimization.

    Make sure that your address and contact information are displayed on every page on your site so your content is associated with both you and your locale. Also of value is submitting your business to services like Yelp, Google Places, Angie’s List, and other localized directories. This is your best shot to be recognized as that pizza place around the corner.

    3) Utilize Rich Snippets.

    These are really just highly specific meta tags (called schema tags) with properties that can help Search Agents easily determine details about your business. For instance, Professional Service organizations can include contact points, employees, location, founding date, and more. For a full list of what Rich Snippets can do, check this out http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=99170

    4) Be Social.

    When you ask Siri a question, she does not just hit Google and return the top result. Rather, Siri queries its own servers that are fed from any number of sources (only Apple knows for sure). What is clear is that Siri’s servers index and include social sources of information like Yelp, Foursquare, Google Places, Epinions, TravelPost, and others. Making a concerted effort to promote yourself on these platforms can only serve to expand your reach, whereas neglecting this in favor of putting all your efforts into manipulating Google Search results may yield lowered returns in the future.

    5) Develop a Mobile Optimized Site.

    It may seem obvious, but as of 2011, 79% of online advertisers do not have a mobile optimized site. With smartphones now comprising roughly 60% of total mobile ownership in the US, some of our clients have seen as much as a 300% increase in site visits from mobile devices from Q4 2010 to Q4 2011. Going through the trouble of optimizing for intelligent search agents means little if users abandon your site due to bad mobile usability.

    Keeping up with the pace of technological advancements in marketing can be challenging, but that’s why we are here. If you have any questions, or want to talk about how Social Media, Mobile Optimization and SEO can impact your business, feel free to drop me a line or give me a ring.

  • Siri Puts a Second "S" in SEO, Part 1

    by Chris Wallace | Jan 13, 2012

    If you have watched TV or touched the web in the past 3 months, you’ve probably seen the iPhone 4S, which boasts an intelligent “personal assistant” named Siri. Siri is a bold step forward in natural language processing, allowing users to access many features of the iPhone by speaking as you would to a person. Siri can get you directions, write and send emails, calculate your tip, even remind you to call your Mom.

    apple-siri 

    Siri’s capabilities go far beyond voice recognition, which has been around for years. Siri heralds a shift in how we search for and filter information – by using an intelligent digital agent. Some might call it Web 3.0 or the semantic web. Nomenclature aside, what’s important is the effect it will have on your findability on the web, and ultimately, your bottom line.

    In the 90’s, Google, Yahoo and others (remember WebCrawler?) brought Search to the forefront of computing. The vastness of information online became more manageable and relevant to the user. By the turn of the millennium, Search Engine Optimization had become a burgeoning business practice as people devised ways to manipulate websites to favor search engine results. Now, 10 years later, SEO and content marketing are at least standard practice and at worst an arms race. Businesses who do not prioritize SEO see diminished returns online.

    Siri, and her inevitable descendants, have the potential to change how information is indexed and consumed, and we need to understand how to prepare for it. As computing moves to increasingly mobile and personalized environments, users require greater relevance. Mobile search has grown by 400% in the past year alone, and 1 in 3 of those searches has local intent (source: Google).

    When I search for a pizza shop on my mobile device, I don’t want just any pizza shop. I want one around the corner. Soon, I will ask my digital assistant for the closest pizzeria and she will get me what I am looking for. The point is, if a digital agent like Siri is doing the searching, web content will need to be formatted so that it can be easily indexed by those agents.

    Stay Tuned.

    In part 2 of this blog, we’ll address how to optimize for Siri and other intelligent digital agents. In the meantime, if you have any questions or want to talk about how Mobile Optimization can impact your business, feel free to drop us a line, info@trellist.com.

  • Is Cloud Computing Right for Your Business?

    by Mark Stitz | Jan 06, 2012
    is cloud computing right for your business

    Over the last few years many businesses have moved aspects of their business operations to cloud computing. It offers many advantages, including potential cost savings. However, there are also significant risks associated with cloud computing. So what are some of the factors that companies should be aware when evaluating cloud computing, and how do you mitigate the risks associated with it?

    Cloud computing is an environment of interconnected servers providing computing resources in an elastic and dynamic manner based on computing need. The hope with cloud computing is that the underlying hardware is not significant to the equation, which allows the actual processing needs to be addressed dynamically based on need. The costs of cloud computing are normally based on a usage model, with payments being charged on a time usage or occurrence basis. As your computing needs change you can dynamically allocate more or less resources.

    Another important factor is that the speed at which content is delivered to end users plays an important role in the success or failure. In regards to websites and services, delivering content as fast as possible to the end user is very important in making sales. Search engines now factor in load times in their search rankings, which users have factored in for many years. If your content is delivered using the old model of hosted servers located in data center(s) thousands of miles away from users, you may not be achieving your full potential conversion rate. This rapid content delivery has become so important that content delivery networks (CDN) have been established to aid in getting static content to the user even faster by utilizing thousands of servers located everywhere.

    The primary potential advantage of cloud computing is the significantly lower cost required for data processing services, since you only pay for what you consume instead of the old model where you purchase servers that often sit mostly idle. The old model of computing resources often required you to purchase more than enough processing power in order to accommodate peak demand, even though the peak rarely happens which then lead you to server(s) being mostly idle.

    The use of cloud computing removes the need for the potentially large capital and operating costs associated with purchasing or leasing such hardware and software, and shifts those costs to a usage-based model. Purchasing or leasing hardware often requires agreements that lock you into a specific set of computing resources regardless of how your needs change over time.

    Cloud computing has its risks and disadvantages, however. Cloud computing typically has a dislocated nature in which your software runs on the cloud computing providers’ servers, which then means you are tied to the provider maintaining a certain quality level of assurance. Often times this dislocated nature is considered an advantage as it augments your staffing needs but could be problematic as you rely on the provider and cannot do it yourself.
    Another disadvantage to cloud computing is the substantial risks in privacy and confidentiality. By using a cloud system, company sensitive data and information is stored on third-party servers of which you will have very limited knowledge or control over. A breach of these systems for another client could overflow and compromise your data which could have devastating effects.

    A key component to cloud computing is establishing effective contingency plans. These plans should cover all aspects that you can anticipate and propose ways to deal with these. For most small businesses, developing such plans are difficult since there are not a lot of desirable alternatives, but by establishing the best contingency plan you have a huge advantage when problems arise.

    Business owners should carefully evaluate the use of cloud based systems, weighing the advantages and disadvantages. You need to be aware of the potential risks and problems that accompany cloud computing, to reduce and mitigate them. The substantial potential cost savings with increased freedom to elastically alter your computing resources can be quite significant for a growing business or even a well established one.

    Interested in delving deeper? Contact us at enterprisetechnology@trellist.com.

  • 5 User Experience Myths

    by Kris Kuss | Jun 14, 2011

    Recently we submitted a webpage mockup to a client who responded, “will all my content fit above the fold?”  No, we said, and that’s okay.  Here’s why it’s okay to flout that rule, and 4 other user experience mis-guidelines.  

     

    1.  Everything has to be above the fold, because users don’t scroll

    While users will look first at the top of the page for whatever they seek, they will scroll further down the page IF what they’re seeing looks promising and IF the page doesn’t appear to end before the fold (which itself is difficult to pin down given the variety of devices, screen sizes and resolutions in use now).  So when designing a page we use bordered content panels and sections that run past 700px on the page so that it doesn’t look like it ends there. 

     

    2.  Desktop and mobile are two different sites

    Desktop and mobile are two different experiences, but they needn’t necessarily be two different sites.  Certainly trying to display the full-screen desktop site on a mobile device is a less-than-ideal experience, but fluid grids, scalable images, and CSS3 media queries allow browsers to format pages on the fly and offer a layout optimized for the device displaying them.  Go to Hicksdesign and play with the size of your browser window to  see an example of this in action.

     

    3.  Your homepage is the user’s starting point

    We used to have to accommodate all user groups and pathing off the homepage, treating subpages as mere delivery vehicles once the user made a choice on the homepage. Then Google arrived on the scene.  Now, users are much more likely to arrive at a subpage of your site via a search results page, and view your homepage as a gussied up About Us.  So your subpages should support user pathing and orientation just as much as your homepage, if not more. 

     

    4. Typefaces should be Arial or Verdana

    Are Arial and Verdana the most readable fonts on the web?  Yes.  Does that mean they’re the best for the user?  Maybe not, if you’re trying to teach them something.  Studies (recent whitepaper here, in pdf format)  have found users presented with material in a “friendly” font retain less than users reading material in Monotype Corsiva and Comic Sans Italicized.  These findings corroborate other research suggesting that when learning material is challenging, ultimately people understand it more thoroughly.

    5.  Choices should be limited to 7 items, plus or minus 2

    George Miller’s theory that short-term memory is limited to 5-9 items, while sound in some cases, doesn’t apply to user experience on the web.  By their nature, webpages offer persistently available navigation, meaning that users don’t have to memorize choices and can therefore handle a larger number of them.  In fact, a broad and shallow site organization requires less short term memory than a narrow and deep drilldown.  See any Craig’s List and McMaster-Carr for examples of effective pages that blow the 7+/-2 rule off the charts.  Some friendly advice though:  if you’re taking the McMaster route it’s probably best to stick to Arial and Verdana.    

     

    So when clients ask us whether rule X, Y or Z applies, we explain “it depends.”  It depends on the unique confluence between business requirements and user requirements, which is why Trellist amasses a thorough understanding of our clients’ challenges before beginning to construct solutions. 

  • An Agile Approach to ERP Migration

    by Paul Immediato | May 09, 2011
    While there are many different approaches to managing application development projects…Agile development is an approach that emphasizes teamwork, collaboration and adaptability.  This method can be a good choice for projects where flexibility and time-to-market are the primary considerations.

    Traditional approaches to application development are based on a thorough gathering and documentation of requirements, followed by functional specifications and design based on the approved requirements. Actual development doesn’t begin until after these phases are completed and approved.  Changes that are made after these approvals, which can improve functionality or meet changing business needs, can be very costly to make and can slow down the development cycle.

    An agile development process is more iterative.  Rather than focusing on gathering and documenting thorough requirements, this approach allows for changes to requirements based on the collaborative discovery of needs. The benefits here are that the development team can adjust direction based on the changing needs of the stakeholders, and the deployed application could have greater value and higher usage.    Another benefit is the ability to develop a more useful application in a shorter period of time.

    Recently, we were challenged with developing a complex ERP solution to replace multiple disparate applications.  Employing an agile approach and foregoing a lengthy requirements gathering phase, we are developing a better solution that addresses the users’ needs, and that gets the client up and running on the new platform in shorter amount of time. Trellist is constantly reviewing newly developed areas of the application with our client to ensure that the functionality meets their requirements and providing them the opportunity to make changes that will improve the overall value to all stakeholders.

    The agile approach to development has enabled this client to upgrade his back-end systems in less time, and at a lower cost, than if a more traditional method of development had been used. 

    An agile approach emphasizes collaboration among the stakeholders and the development team, which can result in a better product.  However, even though there are many flavors of the agile methodology, it is not the right fit for every project.  Agile is just one of the possible approaches that Trellist uses to help our clients meet their business objectives.
  • Monitoring the Effectiveness of Your Applications

    by Mark Stitz | Nov 22, 2010

    Applications and websites are often developed around the needs and beliefs of internal company employees. These ‘business requirements’ are based on internal employees’ belief of what their customers want to see and do - however the customers might have different needs and wants the internal employees recognize. The challenge is to fully understand the real end user and what they would like.

    There are many tools to help understand the target customer better. One of the best tools that we utilize is to literally go and ask the customers through a series of interviews and surveys specially designed to capture important information that might have been missed by the internal business units. Key customers from different demographics are selected and interviewed while a larger section of the customer based is surveyed. The surveys typically include findings from the interview process as a means to validate important new findings.

    Another tool that we utilize is web / application analytics tools such as the free Google Analytics. These tools automatically collect a lot of information that even the customer might not be aware of such as screen resolution, time spent on the site or even on individual pages, conversion rates on things like email campaigns, onsite behavior from paid search referrals and much more. You can even establish a funnel process (like a checkout process of required steps) that you would like the customers to flow through and see how well people made it through the process and which pages they exited the process.

    Analytics packages such as Google Analytics even support overlays which allow you to see your site through the eyes of the analytics package. The overlay will add key metrics overtop of the hyperlinks of the site so you can see the number of clicks and the percentage of clicks on certain links which lets you see how popular different content is.

    There are even now analytics packages that allow you to see analytics of installed applications such as a new offering from PreEmptive Solutions that hooks into the new Windows Phone 7 installed applications. These types of analytics packages let you see how your installed application is being used, which has really never been an option in the past. You can see how often certain features are used and graph out the usage over time. If you are developing a mobile application that is sold globally the analytics package even shows you demographic-based usage information where in the past it was a launch and forget situation.

    There are many more tools that we utilize in trying to fully understand the customer needs and how effective the current offerings are for them and what could be improved. It is important to fully understand the customer and how your offerings meet those needs. With all of these data rich tools it’s not difficult to understand your effectiveness and improve on it.

  • Monitoring the Health of Your Applications

    by Mark Stitz | Sep 09, 2010

    Software development involves many different stages of development before the application is deployed. This process, however, does not end after deployment. Regardless of how well the application is designed, coded, and tested there are situations that can and do cause errors to occur in the application. For example, if the database server is timing out or offline entirely, if there is a heavy load on the server(s), or a hardware failure anywhere in the application’s reach can result in errors, loss of productivity and user frustration.

    Most companies will launch new web properties without any ability to monitor issues occurring on them. In fact, the primary way they are notified of these issues is when visitors get frustrated enough to complain about it. This problem is more complex than just the site being entirely offline; issues could exist only on certain pages under certain conditions which make resolving them extremely difficult.

    To help detect and diagnose problems, Trellist utilizes an array of different tools to monitor and log errors. Our error reports include which line of source code that caused the error, the effected files, code in the execution stack and the URL of the page that caused the error. It is possible to attach application health monitoring even after deployment but its best include it as part of the application development process as you can more easily include detailed information such as customer info, shopping cart details, etc.

    There are also a variety of different ways we can record and monitor sites. One such solution is to operate a web service that captures and analyzes error report data from many different sites and can alert administrators when certain conditions are present, such as when an error occurs in the checkout process where contacting the effected customer in a very timely manner is important. Another solution we utilize is having the error reports sent out as emails to the website administrators.

    It is important to fully understand the causes of problems when they arise. While it may seem like the final point, deployment of a website is not the end of the development process.

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