Jan 28, 2008

Great Free Business Prototyping Tool

Serena Software has recently released Prototype Composer 2.4 – a tool for prototyping dataflow, processes, activities and user interfaces. The tool also proposes functionality for managing projects which is quite simple but probably enough for small projects. Prototype Composer supports export to MS Word, collaborative work (e.g. prototype sharing, review requests and reviews), and integration with larger systems by Serena and Microsoft VSTS.

The tool can be used by businesses with medium and high prototyping and collaboration demands and by individual contractors who will utilize only a small part of the proposed functionality.

The user interface prototyping tool almost repeats one by Axure. It is convenient for building both wireframes and graphically rich UI prototypes.

The largest disadvantage I was able to find so far is absence of wizards and sample projects.

Prototype Composer home page (Downloading the tools requires submission of a short form.)

List of screen mockup prototyping tools (I’m the lucky one who added Prototype Composer there).

Jan 24, 2008

W3C: Compliance for the Sake of Compliance

W3C: Compliance for the Sake of Compliance

It's a well-known fact that many popular websites fail W3C validation. There is a brisk discussion on Digg about this subject.

Being valid eats resources and doesn't provide any benefits to visitors. Working in the web development industry I observed that none of the clients are going to pay additionally just to make their websites W3C valid. However, of course, all clients would accept such a gift from a web development contractor.

I think it's better to spend those resources for being useful, interesting and popular. If leading web resources do so then perhaps this approach is reasonable. If they can't afford spending resources for being W3C-valid then smaller websites can't do this all the more.

W3C says that "[...] household-name companies expect people to visit because of the name and in spite of dreadful websites". Are Technorati top-20 blogs dreadful? Is Yahoo! dreadful? I believe you'd rather say "nope" than "yep". W3C is the company with years of tradition so they are just defending their ideology.

Having those W3C compliance badges may work for web development contractors who expose their professionalism that way and willing to give a compliance gift to their clients. But I don't expect W3C compliance to become a de-facto standard.

A couple of links to blog posts on subject:

W3C: Where are the web designers and developers?

Why do we need W3C validation

Jan 22, 2008

Service Review: websitegrader.com

Submit your website's URL and get the marketing efficiency report. The analysis takes some time which probably depends on your website's size. Analysis of my small blog took about 2 minutes.

The report is very user-friendly. Figures are accompanied by meaningful explanations and advices. You can subscribe to receive you website's analysis by e-mail every month.

You can also download a free "Internet Marketing Kit" which is 2 videos and a 12-page whitepaper with SEO and conversion tips. Download requires submitting a short form. Yep, that's their conversion form so they follow their own advice.

Bookmarks on del.icio.us and Digg.com were not detected but I know they exist so such a defect in the service is not a big problem.

The tool shows the number of inbound links which differs a lot from the figure returned by for instance Google. It would be a good idea to list the links or at least link domains to provide users with criteria on making the decision on how reliable their figure is.

... My blog scored 78%. What about yours?

Jan 21, 2008

Calculate Your Blogging Efficiency!

As you can see I’ve started blogging only several days ago but those several days were enough for me to realize that blogging isn’t easy thing and it takes time and efforts to attract readers. Perhaps everybody knows this but why not try to calculate how much time we spend for generating each visit? To measure is to control. To control is to succeed.

The formula is very simple:

Efficiency = Number of your hours you’ve invested to your blog / Number of Visits to Your Blog

If you’re going to vote on “What’s Your Blogging Efficiency?” poll please follow the simple rules below to make results more unified and ensure we all have the same foundation to evaluate

  1. Choose any time period you like. This poll is only for fun and to turn your attention to the fact that we can measure and track efficiency of our activities. I don’t see the way restricting time period will add value to the poll results.

  2. Try to remember how much time you’ve spent on your blog, including technical activities, posting and promoting. I know that number of hours cannot be very precise. It can even be very inaccurate! But what’s precise enough for you precise enough for us as well.

  3. Count visits to your blog’s website (not visitors, new subscribers, hits or anything else).

When you’re done with calculation you can see where you are standing among other bloggers and vote! The poll will not last forever. I plan to close it when traffic to this post falls to 1/3 of the peak. So you can subscribe and get notified about the final results.

A couple of tips on evaluating your efficiency:
  1. If you spend much time for getting each visit then you should love each your reader! What if even they will stop visiting?!

  2. If you spend one second to attract one visit then you’re quite close to be a Lord of Blogging! You’ve learnt to love your readers ages ago, haven’t you?
My efficiency is 22 minutes per visit. Leave yours in comments – poll results are not personalized!

Jan 18, 2008

How to Browse the Web Quicker or Do You Use Opera?

I use Opera for over five years and now I have a blog where I can spread the word about this wonderful web browser. So let me do!

Just to Say Ahh!
Today Opera is much more popular than it was when I've started using it, but even that time I was very serious about buying it. Not just to remove the banner from the top of the browser window but to thank Opera team for what they're doing. But... Ooops... They've made it free! They are always two steps ahead. Ahead in usability. Ahead in technology. Even ahead of your wishes! And that's what I love them for.

To Be a Bit More Specific
Opera browser has numerous features that'll make your not only browsing quicker but also using the web without a need of having several tools. In Opera you can download files (and yep BitTorrent is supported), store notes, manage your passwords and much more! A built-in email client, widgets, skins are there too! View the full list of Opera features – it worth!

But what really makes browsing in Opera more efficient is its user interface. Look at speed dial, thumbnail preview, mouse gestures and keyboard shortcuts. Again – it worth!

To Invite You to Best Browsing
So why not learn more about Opera? Why not visit their website at least once a month? Why not download all latest versions (stable ones only!). Why not promote it? Why not try Opera Mini?

Or, if new to Opera, why not download it?

Jan 16, 2008

Another Way to Improve Language Skills

All of us know that to improve our language skills we need to have practice read, write and speak. We also know of such ways as having a small personal dictionary, learning N words per day, etc.

I’d like to introduce another way I’ve invented. Perhaps it’s not an easier way. This is just one more trick we can use and combine with other ones. And I suspect I’m not the first who invented it.

So the Method Is
When you see something or think about something, check yourself – do you know what is that word in English (Spanish, Russian, etc.). If you don’t, write that word down in the language you know immediately (you can just remember – that’s enough if you are not trying to learn too many words daily). And check it out in the dictionary once you have access to it.

The difference from just learning N words from a dictionary is that you learn words that describe your surrounding and your life so you are more likely to use words learned this way in practice.

It helps me and will hopefully help you.

Jan 15, 2008

What QA Really Means

I’m going on meeting people who are into the IT industry but do not distinguish between quality assurance and quality control. Many of us say that QA is testing. I think this is partially because of "tradition" – we tell a word and know that we are understood correctly, and this is Ok. But I’ve noticed that often this “traditional” usage is not always accompanied with understanding of the formal terminology.

When we have finished producing something, we control its quality. In case of software development this activity called testing. Based on the evaluation of the results of quality control we can learn and adjust our process to ensure better quality in future projects or iterations.

So when quality control is usually performed by testers only, quality assurance involves all members of the process. Managers contribute to quality assurance by developing and keeping instructions, guidelines, etc. up to date and making sure that employees follow the process. Employees’ quality assurance duties are commonly limited to following processes but it is good practice to encourage them to contribute to quality assurance more, for instance by proposing improvements to procedures.

Do you know people who don’t know the difference?

Jan 14, 2008

The Paralysis of the Analysis

Do you remember how many times you had ideas on starting doing something? How many times you have actually started? I believe that many of us do not start even one percent.

Many startups die even not being started. Many people start analyzing an opportunity by thinking mostly about how their startup may fail but not how to it succeed. Analyzing best practices and success stories and looking at successful people and companies or popular websites or blogs we see how far we are from success. We think about many serious problems we are going to face and how it is hard to succeed and how much time it will take. All those thoughts prevent us from even trying to do something. From even starting something we want to start.

Of course analysis and planning is essential for success but we cannot analyze everything beforehand. Doing first steps we learn. We find out more about the problems and ways of solving them. We not just increase our chances to succeed. We basically give ourselves those chances. Even small practical experience is worth more than several weeks of pure analysis.

Analyzing an opportunity it is vital to not fall into the paralysis of analysis.

Jan 12, 2008

How to Get 1000+ LinkedIn Connections in Two Weeks

A year ago I had about 20 LinkedIn connections and had no idea how to make even 20 more. In December 2007 I made 300 connections in 2 hours. Now my network is 1,400+.

The fast and easy way to make 1000+ LinkedIn connections is to declare yourself LION (LinkedIn Open Networker), register with The LIONs' Lair, download a list of LIONs, import it into LinkedIn and mass-send invitations. And wait. Your 1,000 connections will come in two or three weeks.

To grow our networks more we need to find other ways because the number of LIONs is limited and will always be. Zale Tabakman has posted some advices on how to generate 100 LinkedIn invitations a week. Ok, I haven't generate so many but Zale's post is obviously helpful.

But having a large network and getting use of it are two different things. I'd recommend reading the post about LinkedIn addiction by Ray van den Bel.

Jan 10, 2008

How to Test a Web Service

As a web service is something that has no user interface, we can’t interact with it without a special tool. That tool should allow composing XML requests via its own user interface. Commonly such user interfaces are text editors where you write your XML requests and controls for posting requests to the server.

Why not just unit tests?
Unit test is essential for every piece of program code. In many companies there is even a convention that code that did not pass unit test is not given for testing by quality control people. Unit test is simply part of development, not testing.
The minuses of considering passing unit tests enough acceptance criterion for a web service are:

  1. Unit tests are developed by a developer. Usually by the same person who has developed the application being tested. If a developer misunderstood a requirement or made a mistake in program code, many of his faults will be duplicated in the unit test.
  2. Classical unit tests are designed to test internal program code. But what is needed is to generate and run SOAP requests to web service methods. So if follow terminology that will be not unit tests but automated tests. And automated testing is activity carried out by testers, not developers.
One of the best tools (and the one I have experience with) is SoapUI by Eviware, and here are its advantages I used when testing a web service:
  1. Project structure. As in every well-established testing activity, I’ve started with test specification. The main part of a test specification is test cases divided into test areas. SoapUI allows structuring your test project into test suites (the same as test areas in my test specification) that contain test cases, which can contain test steps. This structure is well-managed in SoapUI – you can add, modify, delete and change order of every item in the structure.
  2. Test cases. SoapUI provides enough convenient tools to manage and run your test cases, and view SOAP responses to your test requests.
  3. You can perform Load Testing.
  4. Automation. But what if your web service contains too many methods with too many input and output parameters? It may take several days for each complete test of your web service if your tool does not provide functionality to automate your testing. SoapUI supports Groovy Script – a scripting language that is very similar to Java. I’d classify it as ‘light Java’. You can write scripts to access the database which is used and / or influenced by your web service. You can automate validation of your web service’s response against you input. You can automate the output of validation results into a file (which could be just a text file of HTML depending on your choice). And you can run an entire test suite with one click, which, combined with your validation and output automation scripts, allows you to perform entire test of your web service in minutes.

Free vs. Paid Version.
Paid version provides more convenience and is very good if you do not have experience in programming or scripting. For example, instead of finding out how to connect to a database in the free version, you can buy paid version which contains a special type of test step – "database connection". Read more at the product comparison page.

Testing should be performed by somebody anyway it requires resources in any case. Of course project manager can assign developers who can write scripts similar to unit tests but testing not only internal methods in program code but making correct test requests via SOAP protocol. But since testers are responsible for testing why not use tool that does not require knowledge of complicated technologies like .NET? A tester who has some experience in programming can organize and perform test activities efficiently with help of SoapUI.