Butterflies everywhere

Introduction

nature-gifts.com is an online store that offers a huge selection of nature-themed gifts for various occassions. Their product ranges from live animal kits, animal gifts to home and garden gifts. The website looks user friendly and easy to navigate.

Form & Function

The logo is consistently placed on the top left hand corner and the light blue background gives people a soothing feeling. Navigation is 3-tier, ie the index page, categories followed by sub-categories. The menu is on the left and they are all text links with no fancy effects. This can be good or bad: Good in the sense that it is dead easy to navigate but bad because it can be too boring.

The whole website is well organised with great content (and sometimes too much). I believe a lot more work can be done on the aligment and graphics (see fig. 2 – Wildlife nature art section). Adequate spacing needs to be given to separate sections within the page. For example, some padding for the left menu can be more pleasing to the eye. The lack of css means that maintaining consistency in the font size and layout across all the pages becomes difficult.

It looks like the website was built from scratch many years ago and is becoming hard to maintain. Tags like “<font face="Arial" color="#0066cc" size="3">” is almost non-existent in a modern day website. The lack of an inbuilt shopping cart is also a killing factor. Well, it is not a big deal but it affects the browsing experience. People feel like they are leaving the website and need another click or two to come back. The site should be bringing in sales for years (well worth the effort) and the author might want to consider taking the next step, ie upgrading to a modern day shopping cart system. One good example I came across recently is fastflowers.com.au.

I am not sure if I agree with emphasizing the “butterfly award” and link exchange. I feel that the website should be focusing on selling gifts and improving the user experience instead of venturing into other areas like buying new domain names and duplicating the site for example.

Lastly, I have to say that I am very impressed with the contact us page. Having pictures of everyone in the company increases the credibility of the website and gives people confidence to make online payment. If I am to purchase anything from the site, it must be because of the lady in fig 3. I do hope the pics can be clearer and there are more smiles. Keep up the good work!

Conclusion

I believe the website is effective in conveying its message. However, I am not yet convinced on the design. I feel that the website has reached a stage where it needs to be overhauled in order to make major enhancements. It is going to be a big decision for the site owner because professional help is definitely going to be involved and of course $$$$$. The other option I can see is not to do any upgrades for now but try to increase sales… then set aside a budget for upgrades in the future. Either way, I believe that a total redesign is neccessary to remain competitive in today’s world – this of course is open for discussion.

nature2

fig 1. category section

nature3

fig 2. alignment, borders around pic and spacing issues.

nature4

fig 3. We need more smiles like this!

Food At Click Of A Mouse

Introduction

merosys.com is a website that provides online food ordering service. Users order the food online and the shop receives the notification email. The shop needs to pay a monthly fee though.

Form and Function

The homepage looks corporate. The intelligent use of red and white is pleasing to the eye. You know their mission statement, products and and services by just visiting the home page. This is good communication and it is amazing that many professional sites fail to do that.

The only comment I have on the home page is the footer. The links are too small and doesn’t stand out on the grey background. The body text is fine because of the white background but the footer, no (see. fig 1).

Overall, the icons are nicely done. Perhaps what is lacking is some real pictures. It might be a good idea to add more pictures in the home page? I want to see the staffs behind the team.

Not too sure if the word “buzz” is the approrpiate word for news. Yes, there were only 2 news and the last one was created on 6th May 2007. I think it is important to keep the website updated by updating the news. It can be something as simple as “Happy New Year 2009”. This is important because it tells the user that someone is managing the site.

The tour section is nicely done (see fig. 2). Perhaps having a live demo is an even better idea. Oh, they do have a demo site but it is hidden too deep in the pricing page.

Under the article section, users can choose to view the articles online or view it as a pdf. I see this as a cool feature. The only thing I don’t like is the IE icon (see fig.3). 5 years ago, IE was the preferred browser but today, the story is different. I prefer to have a more browser neutral icon. There aren’t alot of articles on the page, so I wonder if subscribing to the rss feed is any good.

Conclusion

merosys.com does leave a good impression on its visitors. It looks professional and should be considered as “above the average by a good margin”. The design is professional but unfortunately, cannot be considered as unique – not a biggy. However, I do like the way the home page communicates. It should therefore be a good candidate for the Content Excellence Award.

www.merosys.com.1
fig 1. Grey on grey does not stand out

www.merosys.com.2
fig 2. Cool mouseover menu

www.merosys.com.3
fig 3. www or pdf. Why IE icon? Don’t like firefox?

Search Engine Optimization Website Review

Introduction

MyConsulting is a Search Engine Optimisation company that offers high search engine ranking service which can lead to investment returns of 15x. They also have a free competitors keywords analysis.

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The objective of this review is not about the effectiveness of their service (because we haven’t tried it yet?), but rather, how well the website communicates as a whole.

With a name like MyConsulting, I expected to see a professional corporate website and I wasn’t disappointed. With orange and grey colours (and a small amount of other colours) on a white background it does look professional and matches the logo well. The logo itself is of an acceptable design standard and can be easily imagined on letterheads and buildings.

The home page is a two column layout with navigation, testimonials and a free keyword report on the left and main content (with an ad) in the right column. As a SEO company, it is good to include SEO rankings for MyConsulting under the main text and contact details. It’s also a good idea to have the contact form on the main page too, as the main text isn’t too long and the contact details are hidden below first view so that people can get interested before they committed. The arrow bullets added a touch of originality, as did the phone graphic at the top. The “post it note” at the top right is also a nice touch.

A few suggestions would be to:

* Make the main paragraph a lighter grey to soften the bolded text.

* Try not to overuse the same word, eg in the “Guaranteed” paragraph the word “guarantee” is used 3 times. May be that is for seo purpose but it makes the sentence less professional.

* The navigation menu is simple and looks abit boring. Perhaps an orange background or something else could make it more appealing.

Most of the pages are static and well-named which again is for seo purposes. The internal pages look neat and tidy and while different, used a consistent design style with the exception of the blog and forum pages. The forum looks quite good and maintains the concept OK but the blog page doesn’t have the same neatness about it – and there are no blogs, which doesn’t help credibility (perhaps it is new?). I don’t think blogs help corporate sites much though, as it’s unlikely to contain anything more interesting than what is usually found on the site. To make a huge internet splash, do a wacky YouTube movie and post it at YouTube with the logo and a link!

I’m not sure if people really go for testimonials on websites as too many hard sell websites already use them. Testimonials might be totally truthful, but maybe keeping these subtle might help believability. It’s just a personal opinion.

Function

The seo company certainly offers many free search engine optimization tools for website optimization and internet marketing. Free services often help to retain customers. From Google Page Rank checker, Link Popularity Check, Meta Tags Generator, HTML Optimizer to Backlink Checker, anyone can use them to get some stats for their website quickly. The only problem is that these services are not unique (ie from iwebtools) and are probably widely available. If would be best to come up with something unique but this is probably not a big issue.

A navigational menu is on the top left side and works well. There are also links down the bottom of the page and there are many surplus as only some of them are functional and as the main menu contains text links, there’s no need to provide the less important ones. Personally, I would certainly recommend removing these. Even if the words are being used to maximise SEO, they could be more subtly woven into the web content. Again, the way the whole website is linked might be due to website optimisation reasons… so the author will make the final decision.

Loading time is pretty good as the entire website contains more text than images (with the exception of the website development page).

The SEO Program Traffonaut has an interesting name and details exactly what services are offered. Beware of too many bullet points though – why not use the orange arrows which work so well on the home page?

While I didn’t go for the testimonials in the left column on the home page, I quite liked the appearance of the Website Testimonials page where square graphics make the comments more believable. The real clincher is the Google links provided which backed up what was said, although some of them might need updating.

Free Competitor Keywords Analysis page had some good examples of what you get for your money and explained the service well. Softening the bolded text could help this page further but otherwise it was nice to visit.

Conclusion

MyConsulting is quite a professional and internet marketing corporate website that shouldn’t have much trouble with credibility if the testimonials are updated and are more subtle on the main page. Search engines loves text but a seo newbie may not. I feel that there is a need to tame down on many repeated keywords, boring paragraphs and to inject more user friendly graphics…. From experience, too many texts and jargons often scare people away… but again, we understand that there are pros and cons from the seo point of view.

The content, while business-like, is helpful to read and useful in promoting the company’s search engine optimisation services. A few items need to be rethought (like the links at the bottom of the page and the blog) but otherwise MyConsulting is a website that should work for its owners.

www.myconsulting.com.au.1
fig 1. Testimonial Squares

www.myconsulting.com.au.2
fig 2. Surplus links at the bottom of the page

www.myconsulting.com.au.3
fig 3. Blog page

www.myconsulting.com.au.4
fig 4. Forum page

www.myconsulting.com.au.5
fig 5. Traffonaut page – too many squares!

A Web Library Worth Visiting

Introduction

When entering the Web Design Library (the Designer’s One-Stop Resource) you will find yourself entering a slick and highly organised website that is worthy of bookmarking. If you like visiting SiteCritic.net, then you will also like visiting this website as it contains a wealth of informative information and tutorials that are helpful to the online design community.

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The colour scheme using a turquoise gradient is very easy on the eyes and encourages a feeling of calm while complimentary highlighted text attracts the eye. Tutorials and articles benefit from beautiful and well-sized graphics that demonstrate the content well. Small details, such as the blue borders in the left menu items and the thoughtful use of icons improve the look of the site, as does having a simple, well-spaced logo. The overall effect is very pleasant, attractive and highly recommended as part of a successful website experience.

The three-column layout, while a common one, is usually hard to make attractive as the volume of information and advertising normally bombards the viewer, while the layout does not lend itself to unique appearances. However, I feel that the Web Design Library has successfully used a rare colour theme to make the layout more attractive. The organisation of the information improves readability dramatically compared to other three-column websites I have seen. Advertising is kept to a minimum and favours websites connected to the Web Design Library in appearance and subject. Such pleasing advertising displayed in subtle ways is an open invitation for the audience and should do well in attracting repeat viewers.

Function

Menus are well laid out and a lot of information is compacted so it is easy to read. On the left menu bar is categories for tutorials and articles, and the right menu bar contains interesting site stats, site of the day etc. Clicking on the Editor’s Pick in the centre panel takes you to informative tutorials and articles that are worth a peek. The right menu changes the order of the content depending on which page you visit, which is a handy idea. However, the “back” button doesn’t work in the tutorials/articles and you will need to scroll to the top to choose where to go after reading the page.

A triumph in CSS implementation, the Web Design Library’s website pages are quick to load, while the theme continues throughout the site. As mentioned above, my first impulse after reading a tutorial was to click the “back” button which didn’t work, so I had to scroll up the top to get back to the previous page. This is my only gripe with the website, as all other elements seem to function well.

Conclusion

If anything, the Web Design Library inspires envy in web design and is proving to be a highly successful website. The domain name www.webdesign.org is well suited and worth a visit. Check it out!

www.webdesign.org.1

www.webdesign.org.2

www.webdesign.org.3

The Demise of a Star

Introduction

worldbestwebsites.com (worldbest.com) was one of many websites that I often visited 6 or 7 years ago. I remembered vividly that the websites in their database were of top quality and provided a source of inspiration for many web designers and developers.

Form and Function

I volunteered to review worldbestwebsites.com because it was familiar to me. The last time I visited the site was 2 or 3 years ago and I must say I was quite dissapointed when I re-visited their website today. The team behind the website did not seem to update their site and the prestige that it used to have was all gone. The 5-star website is fading into darkness.

In this review, I would like to point out certain factors that I think contributed to the demise of this historically popular website.

Function

The database of websites I saw few years ago was still the same. There was no new addition of websites. I wondered when was the last time they updated their website… Though they rank quite well in Google for the keyword “website awards”, I bet the chances for their first time visitors to re-visit the site will be low because of the outdated content.

What they are offering is similar to what sitecritic.net does – recognizing well designed websites (and there are tonnes of websites out there that does the same thing). Anyone is free to submit their website for the award. However, if one’s site is selected for the award, one have to pay! This is a quote from the site:

“Entry to this award is free of charge – however, if your site is selected for entrance into the World Best Index – you will be required to make a small contribution toward network maintenance & data transmission costs. ($125 per annum for commercial & Govt. sites, $65 per annum for personal & non-commercial sites).”

To me, this is a ridiculous request. This scheme might work 10 years ago but not now especially when the web award industry is so tough. If I have to pay $125 for a web design competition, I would rather go for the webby awards.

The website contains alot of nested font tags and basic HTML errors which could be corrected easily. The index page already shows some javascript error (See pic 4) which can create a bad impression on the users when they first visit the site. There are also simple typo, alignment and broken links errors. Even the link to their founders – creative management consultants is broken.

A quick browse on every page will tell you that Google adsense is used too much. With all these advertisements, worldbest.com looks more like a spammy rather than a resourceful wesite. As you can see from the screen capture above, you are more motivated to click on the advertisements on both sides of the screen rather than the links to the content.

Many websites are database driven and have a templating system in the backend to ensure consistency in the layout. I could not find any of these in the website. There is also no usage of CSS – A quick look at the source code revealed outdated style of HTML coding. I haven’t even talked about RSS…

Conclusion

Though worldbestwebsites.com had a good collection of 5-star websites, the failure of their designers to maintain their site will cost it to lose public’s interest quickly. It seems to me now that worldbest.com is just sitting there doing nothing and possibly powered only by adsense. I would really like to see a rekindle… a real worldbest.com like the one we had in the good old days

www.worldbest.com.1

www.worldbest.com.2

www.worldbest.com.3

www.worldbest.com.4

A Comprehensive Resource for Webmasters

Introduction

Webmasters Directory is a site that focuses seriously in providing good resources to people who want to learn how to become a Web Master and the necessary skills for the position. You do not see fanciful graphics in this site except for quality links and resources providing you wisdom and knowledge.

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In a generation when web industry is booming, here everyone wants to have a share of the big web pie. Webmasters Directory provides such people with the necessary resources for self-learning. It focuses on key skills like PHP, case CMS, find Forum Software, Website Add-On, Tutorials links grabbed from other websites.

It may seem a little messy with Google Ads just right after the main header of the website. This caused the Google Ads to be the central attraction instead of the main contents. As all ads are on the right side bar, they should consolidate the Google Ads on the side as well. So perhaps shifting it away to the side would be more pleasant.

As a user, you will find yourself browsing this website just like a telephone book, where you look for the specific area of knowledge you want to know more about. Resources are separated into clear and easy understandable titles. You can easily find the information you need.

One may immediately pin point on Webmasters Directory’s site design and overall look and feel. As the whole site is based on a blue and white color tone, you may find that it’s a little boring and dull. What the directory seems to focus is to provide quality resources to the users.

Overall, the navigation is clear and straightforward. You will never get lost in this kind of site. It is the kind of industry standard website where you may have seen or used a thousands times.

Function

Every webmaster should have their own list of resources for their own learning and reference. If one does not have such resources, Webmasters Directory is a good one to start with. The contents provided are good enough for beginners to advanced Webmasters. You can find a good listing of informative resources that can help in making your website better and you being more knowledgeable.

Conclusion

Webmasters Directory, although not well designed in terms of look and feel, it provides a straightforward approach to the user just like how a phone directory would. After all, the contents score the points here rather than how well or fanciful the site was designed. As long as the standards are there, in terms of functionality, Webmasters Directory passes the green light.

www.webmaster-directory.net.1

www.webmaster-directory.net.2

www.webmaster-directory.net.3

Mooove to Standards – Frames are out

Introduction

Short and Sweet is a Australian based web design company, but unfortunately that was all the information I obtained about them from their website. There is nothing listed about who they are, or anything else about their business, but they have a few sites in their gallery to show the work they produce.

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When first landing on this web site, I immediately saw a cow with a message about business, and a “software box” with a cow in it leaving me a bit confused as to exactly what this company does. The high placed header answers that question pretty quickly, but then I really am not guided on where to go.

This site forces me to read to get the message about what they do and I don’t want to read… Users don’t tend to spend much time reading content on a designers site and instead jump right into the portfolio.

Since this is a web design company the first thing I want to see is your work. If I like your work, I will then read about your services and prices to fit my needs. I feel that this design did not take the user into consideration when it was laid out.

I find that the link to the portfolio is buried much too deep in the navigation, and since this is a “web design company” that the link should be titled “portfolio” or the like. It is just what a user expects to see on a site that designs websites.

I am not totally opposed to the design of this site but there is much room for improvement. I am a fan of blue/green combinations, and like its use here. However, the “blocking” used makes the design look disconnected and does not “flow” well. My eyes are not led to “action” items, and instead they continually go to the cow.

The navigation, though well placed, could use some attention to the text, an increase in font size would be helpful, and I would prefer to see it connected to the logo “box” rather than having the empty blue space above it. The entire sidebar could be recolored to better blend the logo/navigation area so as they appear more “connected”.

The content area of the site is readable and that is good – obviously that is the most important part. I would like to see some leading/spacing used to make it a bit cleaner, and the bullets used on the front page should be enhanced and lessened to three areas of focus keeping it “short & sweet”.

The graphics used in the site do not match, and the use of clip art on the packages pages is not something I would like to see from a “web design company”. As mentioned already, the software boxes used in this design do not fit.

Function

I wanted to give this site high marks for usability as there are not many pages to the site, so there is really no way to get lost here, however when I looked at the markup, all hopes for that high mark went down the drain.

Frames. Not usable, and depreciated. This part really brings my review score down.

Also, the opening of a new window on the packages page for an example, is not good design. Instead, an on site case study is what I would expect to see on a site of this type.

There is no web form in use for the contact page, forcing the user to open their email program to contact the company. Again, low score for usability. A web form is something a user expects on a contact page, along with the email and phone number. You have to give the user the easiest route, and then the choices.

Conclusion

Overall, this website is not terrible, but there are definitely some points to ponder. The company should rethink the images used to convey the overall message of the site, and pay a bit of attention to consistency in design throughout all its pages. The code is poor and depreciated, utilizing framesets.

Website That Needs Extra Work In Identity

Introduction

GL3NNX is the website of Glenn, a web, graphic designer from the Phillippines with a noble ambition to create professional, quality websites at an affordable price. Customers will salivate over the fantastic web templates, with prices under 100 dollars. However, Glenn has a few problems with his website that may deter customers.

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The cross logo with the GL3NNX wording is an attempt to combine religion and web services but the two ideas within the logo are kept separate and do not meld well. Glenn clearly feels passionate about religion, but I don’t think combining these in GL3NNX has worked well as the religious part would need to be more modernised to fit in with the concept of web design. Maybe a label saying “Jesus loves this website too!” would have more effect, if a little kitsch?

Some of the detail in the main frameset is unnecessary, such as the IP address, repeating logo and banner about Jesus. I am not against any religion, but I feel that combining Jesus and web design could be a turn off to many potential customers as they visit the site for business purchases to be confronted with a strong religious message.

A way to keep this website personal would be to tone down the religious aspects and add a bit more information about Glenn’s other pursuits. The idea of combining business and pleasure is a novel one, but requires thought and skill to get it to work. I particularly like the GL3NNX name, which stands out and does impart religious significance in a non-confrontational manner.

The colours are very garish, with ghostly green, orange, red, black, grey and blue reminding me of a mad gamer’s fantasy more than a logo or corporate identity. The same spotted pattern can be found on some elements in the site, but does not give the appearance of a memorable and consistent identity.

There is an intriguing green background that reminds me of night vision goggles to look at while the pages load. Merging the background tiles seamlessly would help create a “smoother” surfing experience.

Function

While the initial index page is neatly ordered and looks professional, there are too many words, buttons and menus bombarding the customer. There are more than three menus to choose from, but unfortunately, they repeat items from the other menus.

Navigation through the site is a bit slow, even on ADSL and some of the links on the menus don’t work from within the site.

Including examples from the Portfolio on the pricing pages might help with sale closures, as customers usually like to see what they are getting (think about what successful e-stores are like). Glenn’s primary attraction is the web templates, so maybe these would be more successfully featured on the first page, rather than making the viewer scroll down to see them.

There are a few spelling mistakes (a bit worrying, as Glenn is a designer). However, Glenn can be proud of the first paragraph, which is simple, direct and friendly. He can also be proud of the depth and content of his website, which has more than one function, such as the web templates, freelance services, website hosting, freelance jobs and link exchange etc. The merging of web services with personality still needs attention to be successful (see “Logo/Concept” above).

After watching the textual animation in the banner at the top of the page for a minute, I wished it would go away, as it is too fast and distracting.

From a design point of view, GL3NNX has too many elements, and needs a bit of unique character (for example, a picture of Glenn!) to really stand out on the web.
The design is really what is holding this site back, as Glenn has a multitude of marketable skills that are not being shown to their full potential.

Conclusion

GL3NNX needs to be simplified and speeded up to make it an easier surfing experience. Better design and navigation could attract more customers. If the website could reflect Glenn’s skills and personality in a more consistent manner, I am sure that Glenn would make a lot more money!

www.gl3nnx.net.1

www.gl3nnx.net.2

User Friendly And Idiot Proof Website

Introduction

Inoxfire is a site providing free website templates, images and icons. The whole website is extremely user-friendly and nobody should be lost while navigating the site.

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The layout is pretty straight forward with 2 columns and main navigation on the left. The navigation is simple, effective and idiot proof. The homepage looks cool but I don’t think it is convincing enough to arouse my interest. The homepage should provide a glimpse of what the entire website can really offer. Perhaps adding more description and images to the news might be a good idea. I also feel that the “Free Newsletter” section should go down because it is less important.

The left menu leads to 4 main categories in the site, ie free templates, free images, free icons and guestbook. The layout of each category is also very simple. For example under the template section, you only see thumbnail display of the web templates. Though I would like to see more description of the thumbnails, the idea of “keeping it simple” may just work here.

Some of the listing in the category page might be too long and take up alot of bandwidth. For example under the “Free Images” section , the author might consider splitting up the thumbnails into different pages. I think this step is important especially when the database gets bigger.

The colors used in the site are soothing and pleasing to the eye. However, the adsense in the header seems to be a distraction and out of place. I am not a fan of putting adsense in the header especially for content-based sites because the eyes will be focusing on the body. It might therefore be a better idea to integrate it into the body, something like what about.com has done.

Function

The only serious problem I have with the site is the lacking of a footer. To me, every webpage tells a story with the header as introduction, body as content and footer as ending or conclusion. After scrolling down to the end, I might think that the page is suddenly chipped off due to scripting error or some unknown reason.

Conclusion

Inoxfire is definitely a cool site with strength in its navigation, simplicity and free content. Though the idea is not new, it is still a great way to generate traffic. People love freebies. If the site can be updated regularly with quality images and templates, it is sure to get popular in the near future. The biggest challenge for Inoxfire is perhaps to let people know about the site.

www.inoxfire.com.1

Web Design Company Knows Design

Introduction

Upon first landing on the home page for TwoSpots Web Design, one thing immediately went through my mind: “This is a website for a web and graphics design company. I really hope it measures up to standard.” Well…it did! TwoSpots definitely “gets it” when it comes to building a good website.

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It was easy to settle in spend some time here. Right away, I felt this would be a clean and friendly experience. Their logo is simple, catchy, and says exactly what they do. Branding is strong, as they have a common header placing their logo at the top left of every page, and their content is meaningful and well written. The picture in the header changes with each page, and placement is consistent. The site images are relevant to the content throughout. Everything is well organized and follows a standard from one page to the next. The font choices are simple and not a strain on the eye. This creates and easy, pleasant read. The random articles at the bottom left of the home page are a nice touch.

After exploring the site for some time, I was relieved to find that the pleasantries of the first few pages did indeed extend to the rest of the site. More consistency; more information; yet never an undue regurgitation of the same-old/same-old like so many other websites. I just didn’t get bored looking around here. Navigation is simple and clean – like everything else here – and is controlled through a vertical main menu system at the top right, a topic-specific submenu running horizontally just below it, and various links in the content itself that take you right where you need to go next. There is also a site search available on every page just under the menus, and I found no broken links on the site during my visit.

Function

TwoSpots offers web and graphic design, as well as a number of other related services such as photography, business printing, website hosting, and Internet marketing. In each case, they offer examples of their work, so it’s easy to feel comfortable and trusting towards this company with your web design needs.

Conclusion

This is a nice, clean website. What they do, they do well. I was impressed with everything I saw on the site, and I actually enjoyed the time I spent there. A lot of websites could learn a thing or two from twospots.com.