Free Ringtones

Introduction

That Frog, health eh? Brrrrr Brrrrummmm Brumm Brrr… I’m feeling the rage rising already… When I had my old phone with a simple buzz, salve I cringed at the sound of novelty ringtones, treat and vowed never to have one. Fast forward a year, and every time my phone rings, it pipes out one of my favourite tracks – ah, what a hypocrite I’ve become!

Form and Function

So now I’ve finally succumbed to the world of musical ringtones, sites such as http://ringtones.msnemotions.org suddenly have an appeal – much easier than my first attempts of clipping parts of my mp3 collection.

Unlike a number of ringtones sites, you can download the clips for free, which is a fantastic bonus. I suppose that the giant MSN can afford to be a little generous, and I expect that the advertising revenue more than covers their costs – and there’s plenty of third-party advertising on the site (but that’s the price you pay for ‘free’ things). This isn’t too much of an issue, unless there is an advert with sound – every so often I would get an ad with a mosquito which would then be buzzing away while I tried to listen to the tracks. Now, because I’m based in the UK, I couldn’t make use of the ‘Download Ringtone to your Phone’ feature – it automatically redirects you to another site that ‘better matches your Geographic Location’.

However, if you hit the ‘Click to Listen’ button, you can download the clip to your computer, and then easily transfer it to your phone. The site’s layout is as generic as you can get, but I like the fact that you can start downloading free Ringtones right from the first page and you can usually find something that you like from the Latest Ringtones section. Rating the tracks is easy through just a click, so seeing and influencing a track’s popularity is really simple. The Request Stuff option has a great deal of potential, but currently this is a dead link. Searching for tracks by keyword is very simple, but many users prefer to browse through the lists of what’s available. There are options to list by artists and various genres, but bizarrely, although the results are listed in alphabetical order, you have to browse by page number, which makes it very tricky to get to, say, the M’s. Themes is a misleading title – Soundtrack or Theme tunes would make more sense to users.

Conclusion

The content isn’t expansive, but there are enough choices to appeal to most tastes, and it’s a quick and easy way to get some good quality fre Ringtones onto your phone, and although there are alot of advertisements, I didn’t come across too many popups, etc. This is always going to be the payoff for free things, and it’s a sacrifice most are happy to make. However, I think that MSN should be more careful about the content of this advertising – clearly, the ringtones, smileys, etc. is a predominantly (young) teenager phenomenon, and it’s far too easy to click on links to inappropriate content from this page. Overall, I would not say that the design is great but I would still like to give a thumbs up to http://ringtones.msnemotions.org for offering 100% Ringtones to download with no charge.

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Free hip hop ringtones

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Some of the smiley ads look cool

BBC News website

Introduction

The BBC, ailment the British Broadcasting Corporation, case aka the Beeb or Auntie to its friends is the UK most important media organisation funded through licence fees producing TV and Radio programmes for the UK and internationally. The volume of what the BBC produces is truly gargantuan, with eight TV channels and eleven main radio stations, plus local programming and more commercial channels broadcasted internationally, and all this has to be represented under one website. So how does it stand up to the challenge?

Form

Two of the most important factors are, as always, navigation and branding, but the site also wins with a good search option, functionality, and surprisingly few dead links. Let’s start with the branding, at which the BBC have been traditionally – and necessarily – excellent. Their logo and navigation bar is visible on all pages, and each channel (eg. Radio 4) and classification (eg. Arts) has their own bar with its own logo and look which holds consistently with the BBC brand. Each of these sections has their own complimentary colour scheme – funky colours for Children’s pages and more muted colours for the ‘serious’ stuff such as news. The consistent layout style helps to keep everything cohesive while allowing each area to maintain its unique feel and does this without falling into the trap when using content management systems of looking boxy and bland.

Function

With the volume of content – and the Beeb have decided to be enormously generous with both current and archived material – the navigation of this site is absolutely key, and the BBC’s answer has been to use a number of approaches. The major sections are always available at the top of all pages, as is a search box. On the left side of the page, a navigation bar is present and options change to fit with the context of the page. The right hand side of the window provides useful links for recommended programmes. In true British Institution Tradition, filing has been fully embraced and one of the most useful features is to be able to browse from an a-z listing of programmes, both current and off-air. The keyword search feature works very well, though this is a section where the branding of the site seems to fall down, looking a little incongruous and clunky by comparison to the rest of the site.

The site’s best feature is the Radio Player, which opens in a new window and allows you to stream live or archived programmes using the free-to-download RealPlayer media engine. This works very smoothly, and contains its own navigation, making it incredibly easy to jump between channels using drop-down menus and a-z listings. Streamed TV clips of news, weather and programming is available though a similar method, but is less successful and the quality can be quite low. Well-maintained forums and a great deal of further information on programmes offer a feeling of depth and community to the site – check out www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/archers on the famous Archers radio series – there’s even an interactive map on the fictional village of Ambridge!

Conclusion

This is an excellent example of how to manage a massive amount of content effectively, bringing together a disparate range of programming and genres under one well-branded umbrella. The generosity of content ensures browsers return to the site regularly, and additional features really go the extra mile. As a victim of its success, some areas might be missed due to the size of the site – make sure you visit the Collective area – www.bbc.co.uk/collective which is a fantastic site on contemporary culture in the UK.


Sitecritic.net award

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fig 1. Progessional layout

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fig 2. Arts section

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fig 3. Another section

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fig 4. Another section

Functional IT Job Website

Introduction

Dev Bistro is a community resource that lets you search and post Web Development and other Information Technology jobs and find experienced IT Professionals. The job board offers free job posting and you get to contact the employer directly.

Form

If Dev Bistro is the web equivalent of an instant coffee and a plain cheese sandwich. No fuss or fluff – functionality is at this site’s heart. The site is aimed at Web Developers rather than Designers, ailment so in many ways this is appropriate, shop and I imagine dissuades irrelevant postings from designers seeking work. There is certainly no shortage of job sites out there with many features, treatment but it is Dev Bistro’s simplicity that really appeals, and as a refreshing change, both job and resume posting is free.

Visually, the site is very plain – a grey band at the top with bland imagery is the only visual content to this site, lifted a little by orange header text, which does little to lighten the mood while I do my least favourite task of searching for work. However, this is combated by a nice, open layout and very simple navigation using rollover buttons with alt tag descriptions. Plenty of white space is given throughout the space which allows Dev Bistro to avoid the feeling of claustrophobia given off by most job sites.

Function

Posting jobs and resumes is very straightforward and fast, which will appeal to both busy souls in human resources and jobseekers tired of jumping through several pages to post a simple profile. The text-based HTML site works well with Google and will push up posters’ profiles in search engines, which is always an appealing plus to anyone. Speaking of Google – there are a number of ads by Google on evry page in a similar style to the overall layout which sometimes proves a little confusing.

The search function of the site feels very solid and efficient, allowing the user to search jobs or resumes by keyword, location, expertise, etc. Results are shown in a table with the row background colours alternating white and grey, making it easy to hunt through a long list.

If you start to tire of looking at jobs, Dev Bistro provides some other reading information in the form of articles aimed at developers and walkthroughs of interview questions. This section seems to be steadily growing and should prove to be a very useful resource for the programming community. The wide range of interview questions and answers are practical, clear and thorough and will help people prepare properly for the jobs they are seeking.

Conclusion

Dev Bistro isn’t the looker of the web world, but plays well to its strengths and should serve its community well. This community has been clearly identified and catered for, reflected in the site’s solid design and no frills approach – its simplicity of use contrasts heavily with other more corporate sites and works in a refreshingly straightforward manner.

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Design and Look Taking A Back Seat

Introduction

The Internet Society of Australia (ISOC-AU) is a non-profit society which promotes Internet development in Australia for the whole community. ISOC-AU is a chapter of the world-wide Internet Society

Function

This is a site that clearly embraces accessibility as a key concern, nurse stating right at the start that it supports international web accessibility guidelines – see http://www.w3.org/WAI/. Creating a site that is accessible is so important, not just so that disabled users can access the site, but also so that your message can get through to people no matter what computer, what browser, or what plugins they are using. The flipside of this is that accessible websites aren’t the most attractive of sites and can scream normality.

Accessible sites often means that a specific design or look has to take a back seat – text size, font, and hence layout need to be chosen by the user’s settings rather than the designer’s aesthetic sensibilities. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to create a beautiful and accessible site – it shouldn’t be an either/or situation – just that a lot more thought and flexibility needs to go into planning.

Form

So, how does ISOC-AU stand up to these challenges? Design-wise, the site does look very ‘normal’ – a very simple HTML text-driven site using simple tables and anchor points and bog-basic links. The choice of colours compliment the logo, and the few photos used add a feeling of friendliness, though hovering over images with the mouse doesn’t reveal an .alt tag – this is a very useful function for blind users as speciaised browsers can be set to read out the image descriptions.

The design, such as it is, is consistent throughout the main sections of the site, but on further browsing you find pages and documents with different looks and uses of typeface. A great deal of information and resources are available and parity seems very important – meetings are minuted and accessible to all. As the site is text-based with lots of links, Google ‘spiders’ (the little mites the search engine giant uses to index pages) will love every page and is more likely to give it a good rating. Interestingly, the Society says that a similar method is used by spammers to detect email addresses and as a result, the ISOC-AU site shows all contact addresses as ‘bill(at)hotmail.com’ rather than ‘bill@hotmail.com.’ This is all well and good, though it prevents you from simply clicking on a link to email someone.

Navigation is available throughout the main headings, but clicking for more information often leads to another page with no navigation. There isn’t much ‘flow’ to the site, and it is easy to inadvertently skip to other sections. Unfortunately, as there is no breadcrumb menu (eg. Home > About Us > Objectives of the Society) and the section being browsed is not highlighted, so remembering where you are can sometimes be difficult – especially when clicking to a link for another, very similar looking site. Other solutions to this could be using frames or opening some content in a new window, however both these options have accessibility issues.

Conclusion

Sometimes a victim of its good intentions, the site clearly communicates what it is about from the start. The main sections work well, though on further browsing things can get more labyrinthine. Adding a breadcrumb menu would really help matters, as would a clearer structure and a site map. For a society focused on the internet, it’s surprising that an enthusiast hasn’t created a more effective site.

Popular Digital Picture Frame Website

Introduction

Introduce the website. You can also write about other things like your initial impression, nurse the popularity of the site and so on.

Content

This site immediately reminded me of the adverts that fall out of your Sunday newspaper supplements, and rather appropriately it’s for an unusual gadget. Ceiva is essentially a digital photoframe, showing a slideshow of images that can be directly uploaded from a landline (USA only), receiving images from emails or mobile phones. Whilst they have taken great care to aim the marketing to all generations, the underlying message is that it is for grandparents who don’t want a computer in the house, but want to receive images from their family.

Given this subtext, I felt the site would benefit by being pared down to reflect the simplicity and ease-of-use of the product. Instead, I felt barraged by marketing information – there is a great deal to read here for one product, and they don’t miss an opportunity to sell, sell, sell. However, the site has obviously been put together by people who know what they are doing: there is a clean, consistent look throughout the site; the Flash transitions/animations are effective; and features such as registering and uploading images work quickly and efficiently. The light blue colour scheme goes towards opening up what could be a claustrophobic site, as does the choice of stock photography, though using these anodyne images loses some of the personal touch the site could really do with. There may soon be redemption as the ‘community’ page, which mainly contains newsletters, claims it will soon have a section where people can upload their own images – this would really boost the friendliness factor.

Functionality

Navigation through all the information works very well. Simple rollovers of the main sections are on the top of every page, revealing subheaders. There is also a listed site map at the bottom throughout browsing, making it easy to hop around. There is a comprehensive FAQ section with a search option and was easy to navigate in itself.

In the members section, you are able to send images to other emails and your contacts who own the Cevia – and so is an important portal for consumers. Uploading images is very easy and a very similar process to adding an email attachment, though the site doesn’t optimise files, so if a large image is sent through, it could take a very long time for the person owning the Cevia to upload via a dialup connection. The option to upload an image to send to an email address worked quickly, though you have to hit a link to their site and view a slideshow of the uploads (including a frame promoting the product), and it is difficult to save the files. This all seems somewhat superfluous as you can easily use your email provider.

Conclusion

The site is crisp, yet cluttered and would benefit from a good editor to create more focus on the product from the start, rather than the offers. The site’s corporate look and desire to sell sometimes overshadows the message of community and warmth that the product is meant to bring. Paring down the information and giving it space to breathe would go a long way.

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Hyperkit Graphic Design

Introduction

IHyperkit are young London-based graphic designers Tim Balaam and Kate Sclater who create websites and print work for art, sales design and architecture firms.

Form

Hyperkit. Graphic designers for artists, there designers and architects. With a name and a client base like that you somewhat expect their homepage to be aching to impress with Flash effects, grand manifestos and an arched eyebrow. How refreshing it is to arrive and find a simple, well laid-out site that is impossible not to want to root through – which makes a lot of sense as you discover that they love flea markets and have a penchant for high Modernism. Hyperkit obviously put a lot of themselves into the site, even including excellent colour photography from their visits to places that inform their work. If you can contain your jealously for their jetsetting, it is easy to get wrapped up in their headspace and forget that you are essentially looking at a piece of self-promotion.

Navigation is surprisingly simple and visible on all pages – big buttons at the top for the main sections, a bar of projects, and click on an arrow to see more. Finding their clients’ websites is even easier – just a pull-down menu list in the Work section opens the site in a new window. This no-frills approach is not out of laziness – it allows you to concentrate on the work rather than the fluff. The site is well laid-out, but it may annoy some visitors that they can’t see all the content on one screen – a fair bit of scrolling is required, though I feel it adds to the impression of rooting through an interesting range of work.

Function

The site contains a surprising amount of content which, and this is key to a good site, is updated regularly. Laid out much like a journal, each project is put into a Polaroid-like box with a small, quickly-loading image and a brief description. Most of these link to further details about the work or the client’s shiny new website – however, they do seem to be falling off their high horse and seem to be adding less detail with each new project.

Conclusion

Conclude your review. You may also suggest some final tips to improve if any. There are no hard and fast rules in the conclusion (even in the different sections of the review). Be professional. Be honest but not rude.

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