Everything Open Source

azhowto.com is a blog on open source technologies. The site focuses on the php, hospital mysql, wordpress, linux, apache and so on. At a first glance, the site seems to be quite rich in content but looks boring to the layman. The wordpress backend makes the layout consistent across all the pages.


fig1?Targeted topics

The wordpress studiopress theme seems to work well with many blogs and this is true for azhowto.com as well. The main navigation consist of "home", "about us", and a "php calendar" that the author wants to promote in his site. The categories, tag cloud, archive, adverts and blog roll are on the right sidebar. The skyscraper and medium rectangle google ads look good in their position. There is nothing under the blog roll, why leave it there? The meta section also looks quite out of place.

I would also suggest the author to limit the number of months in the archive section on the sidebar as the archive can go on forever… The height of the sidebar looks a bit awkard for very short posts such as a recent post on parsing html


fig2?Some css problems

The author tends to put code into his blog posts as well and I would suggest that he re-check at the way they are being formatted. A plugin to handle the code might help. Fig 2 shows some text that goes beyond the width of the page. This happens quite often across all the pages in the site. Not a big problem but can be annoying for the reader.


fig3?CSS problems on the footer as well.

The previous entries and next page can be re-adjusted so that they are more centralised. The footer looks good except that the date needs to be updated to 2011 instead of 2007.

I believe the author also uses plugins to handle the social media link beneath each post. The links look ok except for the TwitThis link which links back to the homepage.

There is also a "Watch the latest video on Youtube.com" link at the bottom of each post. I am not sure whether there is a need for that or some misconfiguration with some plugin.

Conclusion

As mentioned before, azhowto.com looks really plain (this might be typical for a developer… I am sure a designer would be different?) but has a lot of references to php, linux, mysql, networking and so on. Web developers or open source professionals might find the website useful though. Even then, I would suggest the author to spice up the site a bit and this can be easily achieved by adding simple graphics or videos. If I am the owner of this blog, I would add a picture of myself under "about me".

Wheelbase – A high quality experience

Wheelbase is one of the UK’s largest suppliers of alloy wheels and performance tires. They have been providing the public with top quality products for over 15 years.

Upon entering the site, it is evidently clear what the purpose of the site is – to sell wheels. The layout is clean and efficient, and exactly what I expect to see on a motor based site. Design looks like a shopping cart site, but again, expected. The color scheme is pleasing, and fits well with the subject. The left side of the page is well designed offering clean images with suggestions about where to begin perusing their site.

Search Options
Fig1. Search Options

My eye is immediately drawn to the “alloy wheel search” located in the center of the page, and this is where I began browsing. The three pull down menus offer several makes of automobiles, followed by their models and finally an option to view sizes of wheels and tires. This worked efficiently with no errors. I was inclined to want to click a search button, but instead was immediately directed to a page of choices suited for my chosen car. I did note that many automobiles are not listed within their makes, as the car I currently drive, a Mercury Mountaineer, was not listed.

Search Results
Fig2. Search Results

I chose a “Ford” + “F150” + “Show all sizes” for my search. The results are displayed in order by size from the smallest to the largest. The thumbnail images are spaced nicely and are of a high quality. The prices are clearly displayed below the products in GPB, which is the default method due to the company being based in the UK. They have made it simple to change the price display option with a simple click at the page top converting the standard display to either US or Euro.

I was not looking for a specific brand of wheel, but the site has taken that into consideration by offering a concise drill down including display by brand, model, color and style. This makes it very easy for users who are comparison based on knowing exactly what they are looking for. I also found it smart that the company displays a Top 5 Wheels suggestion just to the right of the search results. I feel this is a good selling tactic for someone who does not know exactly what they are looking for.

I chose the first wheel displayed in my result listing, the Decorsa 20″ Alloy. The now larger image was of a high quality and nicely spaced to the left of the text description. The enlarged image, when you hit Zoom, is very clear and offers a detailed picture of the product. From here  you can add the product to your cart, or browse their suggested pairings for tires that fit the wheel you have chosen. They also clearly promote the ability to speak to an expert which is very smart considering that the purchase wheels and tires is a large purchase that someone would want to do right. I added this item to my cart and went through the checkout process up to where the final purchase is made. There were no issues, very simple and left me with no questions about my intended purchase.

Navigation Bar
Fig3. Clearance, Competition and The Zone

With my ordering experience final, I began going through their navigation bar. They offer a Clearance section that displays products that are discounted. When clicking on one, the system they have in place remembers your previous make and model selection and notifies you if the wheel you have chosen will not fit your car. You can continue to browse through, however they do want to get you back to the selections that are matched for your car and clicking OK in the prompt takes you back to the search results page mentioned above.

Friendly competition and targeted content makes for a sticky site:

They offer a monthly competition to win a set of tires, with the winner being selected by random draw on the last day of the month after answering a single question. I find this a very good way to engage a user, and keep the site sticky. They have a gallery of cars sporting their wheels, which would give a user a decent idea of how a specific wheel would look on their car.

My husband particularly enjoyed the site’s Wheelbase Zone, which I found to be a very good way of keeping their target market, men, entertained. They offer photos and profiles beautiful ladies, several modeling with the sites product, screensavers and news from the company.

Finally in the navigation bar, I went to the Wheels Advice section which I found a valuable asset, as it offered tips and suggestions for the care and maintenance of your wheels and tires. This is also great for the site’s organic SEO as the phrases found in the page are questions that people would search for.

Conclusion:

In closing, the point of site is clearly sales, no advertisements in sight. While I am not the person that would use this site, I do rate my experience here very high. I was not misdirected within my purchase path – it was very clear and easy. I was not offered ways that led me away from the point of my visit, to browse and possibly purchase their products. I was not offended by their display or content even though the target market is clearly men. I found this site to be rememberable and a I had good enough experience that I would refer it to others who were looking for products of this type.


Sitecritic.net award

* This is not just a typical ecommerce site. A lot of effort has been put into it to make it stand out from the crowd. Wheelbase alloy wheels fully deserves an award.

Famouswhy – all things famous

famouswhy.com is a user generated content site that provides information to a very wide range of “famous” things. Whether it be celebrities, or internationally known cities, famouswhy.com makes privy almost every known Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How facit of famousness.

My first reaction on entrance to the site is that it is a bit ‘tight’, giving me the feeling of information overload. The website does well taking up page space, but not necessarily at presenting it. It is not clear exactly what the site is, how to use it, or even where to begin. I was immediately turned off by the bouncing banner at the masthead of the page, but even more so with the over abundance of advertising links within the text of the page.

One of the most important areas of a website is the navigation system, and the system laid out on this site is very unclear. The only one that I was sure of was the “People” tab, but the others were not an immediate connection, and even upon clicking each one, I had to scroll down well past the advertisements to even see what the page was about. Further, there is no “Home” button. Additionally, the “Forum” tab completely disconnects the user from the famouswhy.com branding as it has a completely different design and layout.

Through the entire site, the font size is very small and would be much more readable with some attention to leading in the text. There are also many misspellings in the site. For the main entry page, the three column layout for the top of the page, does not work as well for the subject presented as a simpler two column layout would. I would have preferred to see the “News” section taking up both the area it is located in currently, along with the area to its left where the “What is…” is found. I also do not feel it is necessary to use so much important web real estate for the “Famous People born on…”. One column would suffice for this, and a link to more – this is better represented on the “Born Today” page.

Going further down the page, it is a bit more clear what information that you can acquire here on “Famous Celebrities”. However, same as above, it is a bit cluttered, and there is a little too much information leaving the user overwhelmed on where he/she should begin clicking.

3 ads - prime placement

Fig 1. The four ads get prime placement over content

As mentioned above, navigating through the menu, and choosing “People” lands me on pages that offer first 3 huge advertisements (Fig 1.), along with the mast head banner, leaving me to have to scroll down the page to find out exactly what the page is about. While this may be a great way for them to sell their product, which is what I found the site attempting to most often do, it is not the best way to capture users. Ad’s are necessary but intricate planning and placement so as to do its job, but not be in the users face.

In “Regions” (Fig 2.) , it does offer a clear indication above the fold that this page is about “Famous Regions, Cities, Countries and Places of the World”. And when choosing a Region, the information is offered where it is expected to be, before an advertisement, though they are there, both in blocks and strewn throughout the text. The content is pretty standard, giving facts and details about the area. I would have liked to seen more photos, and maybe some conversations/reviews from users about the chosen region.

Regions

Fig 2. Regions Main Page

The “Articles” and “Software” sections did not really make much sense to me within the subject of this site. I understand that there are obviously very famous Articles, but I did not see anything like that here. As well, the Software section did not offer famous software, but rather just a collection of no-name software and even more ads. In saying that, they do have a separate section selling the famous questions software – not sure if that is the software that drives their site.

famouswhy.com creators definitely need to work on organization in each main category. In Famous People, it might be beneficial to introduce their People Categories (including artists, writers, presidents, etc.) at the top of the page, rather than in the haze of random people and advertisements. Considering the TMZ style of celebrity gossip, the moderators might do well to lay out all major categories of fame (i.e Persons, Places, and Things), and then add sub-categories where fit.

Conclusion

shockstats

Fig 3. Shockstats – or lack there of

In closing, it is clear that the creators are trying to cover a vast variety of so-called “famous” things, but seem to weigh more importance on their advertising, and the pushing of their CMS over content. It is evident (Fig 3.) that there is little to no user ship here, with the lack of any reviews, likes, tweets or the like. This is the case in the entire site, with the only small exception being the forum where there are a handful of users that continually post and comment on each others posts.

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Antique Books

Golden Books Group is a UK company that buys and sells antique or rare leather bound books. goldentbooksgroup.co.uk is their online platform to showcase their company and sell their books to the world.

Form and Function

As compared to other modern day e-commerce websites, goldenbooksgroup.co.uk appeared to be a bit boring although this could be due to the nature of the business. The standard 3 column layout was pretty consistent throughout all the pages. I noticed the left and right menu had fixed width with the centre column stretchable. This might look OK if users are on 800 x 600 resolution but nowadays, people with high resolution screen might not find the layout appealing, ie there would be too much white space in the centre column.

From the usability point of view, it took me a few clicks to browse to the products I want. Unless people know what they want, trying to navigate via the categories can be confusing. I suggest less words but more visuals. Having the categories as graphics in the centre content area in the home page might help navigation – or perhaps showcase some books directly on the home page so that user can have a one click checkout.


fig 1. Category landing page is a bit confusing.

I found the category header image in the products page a bit confusing. Say I wanted to order the angela brazil collection (see fig 1), why give me the option to enlarge the header image? How is that image related to the brazil collection? It took me a few seconds to see the “add to shopping cart” button mainly because the button and the quantity box was in a different location.


fig 2. Books detail page looks better.

Clicking on the Angela Brazil collection of 30 Decorative Girls Book Library led me to another detail page (fig 2) which was making more sense. I was now able to view a larger image of the product I want, change the quantity and add the library to the shopping cart or wish list.


fig 3. Why show off the accreditations in the headers?

I was not sure why the author chose to include logos of various memberships in the page header. Perhaps they were there to give users some confidence when purchasing from the site? Putting them under about us should be enough?

Conclusion

In conclusion, goldenbooksgroup.co.uk has great content but lacks the “black hole effect”. As such, people who know what they are looking for may stay but passerbys may not stay for long. I believed another reason why the whole site looked a bit plain was because there wasn’t much activity going on. I would suggest running some marketing campaigns, promotions, discount vouchers, mailing lists..etc. Although the graphics had been optimised, most of them looked a bit low quality and dark to me. Perhaps someone could take pictures of all the books again with better lighting.

I am sure there are many ways to make the site more interesting and usable and I looked forward to see some great change. One good example of a site that runs a similar business is http://www.baumanrarebooks.com