Archive for January, 2008

The Notorious Craigslist Interface

Friday, January 25th, 2008

Craigslist logoThe Craigslist interface is the epitome of “ugly design”. Keep in mind that “ugly design” doesn’t necessarily mean “bad design” or “unattractive design”. Many people, including myself, love the design and are against any changes. Thank God the company has the same philosophy. With the exception of a few small, necessary tweaks, the interface hasn’t changed much since inception.

Many have begged Craigslist to modernize the interface - even just a bit. At SXSW 2006, a six-person panel of leading designers and interface experts did a basic redesign of the layout. A more sophisticated look and feel was the goal. Here is the design they came up with: Craigslist redesign. It is actually quite nice. Although, as expected, the company never implemented any of the changes.

I think the lesson to be learned is that simplicity and utility cannot be over-emphasized. Though aesthetics do play a role, users most often favour efficiency, which leads in to my next point.

Usability remains number one. How do we know this? Any destination page is only two clicks away. First, click your city. Then, click your link of interest. Add to that familiarity with the navigation. Since the layout hasn’t changed for so long, people have become accustomed to it. If changes were to occur, there would be a learning curve involved.

At this point, Craigslist can do no wrong. Though the company is structured as a for-profit corporation, most perceive the company as a non-profit due to its unconventional approach to business. The .org domain also helps. The combination of free listings and a constant focus on the user are two main drivers that have kept Craigslist at the top and disallowed any competitors from making in-roads.

What do you think of the Craigslist interface? Do you think it’s great? Do you think it’s ugly and should be changed?

The New Web 2.0 Design

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

We can all spot a web 2.0 design when we see one. If it isn’t the rounded corners or faded backgrounds, it’s the bright colours, huge fonts, or BETA tag. These flashy, tacky designed used to have VCs at their mercy, but not any more. This era of design is on its way out.

Enter a new era. Sites like Digg and Facebook are pioneering a new wave of design. How are these sites different? They have a very clean, yet subtle, approach. They do incorporate some of the elements of a stereotypical web 2.0 design, but in a less blatant manner. You may see rounded corners, for example, but they won’t be as pronounced.

A focus on usability is key. Elements such as AJAX and overlays increase functionality by decreasing page loads. Clear messaging and notification of previous actions also seem to be a trend. In addition, we are still seeing that “open feel”, but space is being used more strategically. The days of huge white space are numbered.

Other sites that leverage this new design philosophy include LinkedIn and Yelp. Furthermore, sites that traditionally capitalized that “hugely open, white background” feel, like YouTube and, are moving toward this new design mindset.

I think we will continue to see this trend continue as usability remains the focus. Intuitive designs and common sense will prevail.

Note: I am not a designer, nor a usability expert. I am simply providing my perspective on the situation based on my observations.

Techmeme Bandwagon Jumpers

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

TechMeme Leaderboard logoLet it be known that I love Techmeme. Along with Digg, I read it every day. I would imagine this is the daily routine of many other bloggers as well. I think there is some great content on there. This blog has hit the front page a few times and witnessed a surge in traffic. For this reason, I’d love to be promoted within the “Techmeme ecosystem”. The added exposure and increased subscribers are wonderful byproducts. But in order to do so, I may have to conform to the unwritten rules.

Techmeme is a “club”. Only a very small percentage of blogs will achieve front page status. I think it’s safe to say that 0.1% of blogs receive 100% of the coverage. These include TechCrunch, Engadget, and the New York Times to name a few. To attain membership to this club, there are a few ways to expedite the process. These involve “selling out” to some extent:

  1. Writing about any and every breaking tech story, following the lead of many of the top tech blogs. This usually involves regurgitating the news on a time-sensitive basis.
  2. Linking, trackbacking, and adding blogs to your blogroll just because they are the A-listers. Obviously, if value is present, then do so. But flattery and conformity are just plain weak.

In other words, writing about popular topics and linking to popular blogs will facilitate a boost in the Techmeme hierarchy.

Much has been said about the Techmeme system. Is it a manual process? Does it involve complicated algorithms? Who knows… One thing is certain though: promotion should be based on the value and analysis provided rather than political reasons.

Assuredly, I’m not willing to link to blogs that I don’t care about just for the sake of Techmeme. I’m also not willing to blog about a certain topic because it is “hot” at the moment, even though all the top blogs may be doing so. In any given blog post, it is my goal to add value and provide a new perspective. If I fail to achieve either, I have failed myself and my readers.

Note: I do link to some of the top tech blogs on my blogroll, but only because I find them informative and insightful. I do not have any ulterior motives.

Is Ruby on Rails The Future?

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

Ruby on Rails logoFirst, let me say that I am not a programmer. Apart from basic HTML and CSS, I’m useless when it comes to coding. For this reason, my discussion around Ruby on Rails will take place at a high level.

Ruby on Rails is a web application framework written in the Ruby programming language. It was designed to decrease the time and effort needed to launch a database-driven website. Today we find more and more start-ups taking advantage of the platform. These companies recognize the value in such a framework. It provides an immediate jump-start.

Extracted from 37signals’ Basecamp, Ruby on Rails is exploding in popularity. Although hype and buzz are abound, the framework seems to be backing up all claims and continues to impress. Popular sites and services that are built off Ruby on Rails include Twitter, Revolution Health and

Downfalls and issues surrounding the framework seem to be few. Having said that, I keep hearing about potential scalability problems. My lack of insight in the area prevents me from providing an opinion. Obviously there are opportunity costs with every decision - but perhaps there are the fewest with respect to Ruby on Rails.

So I ask all the web developers, programmers, and coders out there: Is Ruby on Rails the future of the web? Or are there other superior frameworks out there that either haven’t caught on yet or failed to generate as much press?

Favourite Canadian Tech Blogs

Monday, January 21st, 2008

Maple LeafI often get asked which blogs I read on a frequent basis. To be honest, my RSS reader is crammed with over 100 feeds. This makes it nearly impossible to stay on top of all the headlines. Nevertheless I still scan over them on a daily basis. If a post title jumps out at me, I delve in. Having said that, there are a small number of blogs I read more often than others. It may seem like national bias, but most of my favourite tech blogs are Canadian tech blogs. The perspectives, writing styles, and post topics are engaging and thought-provoking. So here is the short, but sweet, list:

Extra kudos go out to Matt Ingram. He’s consistently been headlining Techmeme with interesting content.

For more information about the 3 blogs listed above, visit my older post My Favourite Blogs and Why. Note that Mark Evans no longer blogs at Maple Leaf 2.0, but the rather obvious Mark Evans Tech.

Other notable Canadian tech blogs include StartupNorth and TechVibes (whom I blog for). Both are focused on profiling Canadian start-ups and events.

Be sure to add your favourites in the comments.