Content Delivery Networks

Content Delivery Networks are third party networks of servers where the data of websites are housed. CDNs act as the middle-man between media companies and network operators to get content distributed all over the world.

The demand for a CDN-type service actually came about after 9/11. Around the beginning of the 21st century, the demand for faster audio and video streaming was growing, but when the towers went down, news websites crashed. Apart from allowing your website to be viewed by people all over the globe, it also hosts it in more than one location so that servers don’t crash like they did during that crisis.

The general sentiment is quite utopian: a wholesome desire to make the internet as available, as fast, and as cheap as it can be for everybody across the globe. But of course, controversy intervenes often in these kinds of things. CDNs are being washed away as media companies become wealthy enough to house their own servers or skirt around the middle-man and create partnerships directly with network providers. This means smaller companies are at a competitive disadvantage because big companies can buy faster access for their audiences. CDNs also have begun using Peer to Peer connections, which basically means that every computer running a given program can be considered a “server” for it—the only problem with this as far as I could gather was that pirating becomes easier and people who make art really, really tend to dislike pirating.

As such, standards are not very… relevant. People are up in arms about Net Neutrality, so CDNs are also under the spotlight, but the main organization that discusses rules and regulation is the Content Alliance. Established in 2000, it’s a membership organization founded by many CDNs that discusses and attempts to regulate sources of content, quality of service, and business deals. This organization has no legal way to enforce these things, but it can create proposals for what should be standard for content distribution.

Content Delivery Networks, like everything else in technology, continue to evolve as a practice. They will definitely be around for longer: there are too many small companies that want their content distributed, but who don’t have the same money that bigger companies do to pay providers directly or to build their own servers. The options for CDNs must be getting fewer and fewer, though—seeing as so many big money companies are taking the back door, only the most successful of CDN companies will probably stick around in an important way.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Word of the Week: Satisficing

The word satisficing is a form of the word satisfice, which is defined by Merriam Webster Unabridged as “to pursue the minimum satisfactory condition or outcome.” The origin of the word is a blend of the words “satisfy” and “suffice.”

Herbert Simon introduced the term within his theory of bounded rationality, which is a theory of economic decision-making. This theory stands in opposition to the standing economic idea that people will look for the most optimal outcome when searching for a solution. Thus, the theory satisficing was difficult for some to swallow.

While satisficing, people instead choose a solution that is ‘good enough.’ For Simon, to satisfice is more rational than to optimize because the process of constantly searching for a better solution expends time, energy, and other important resources as there are often too many possibly solutions—often too much information for the human mind to access and process. To satisfice is to choose the first solution that is satisfactory.

Satisficing Decision Model

In explaining the process of satisficing, many people describe someone who is shopping. The shopper has a goal in mind: to find a pair of jeans. It is impossible to try on every pair of jeans made, so they choose the first pair that fits. It may not be the most optimal choice—there may be another pair that fits better in another store a town over—but the shopper is saving the time and energy by going with the first pair.

Much like the heuristics described in The Information Diet that allow people to further confirm their own opinions by only seeking out information that supports it, satisficing is a way of quickly coming to an easy solution without having to search too hard. This can be applied to the web by way of search engines—when people are searching for something specific on the web, they do not often look beyond the first page of results or even the first couple results. They tend to choose whichever pops up first as long as it satisfies the information they are looking for. Thus, it is important for websites to optimize their content for search engines in order to be among those top hits.

Satisficing will likely be around for a long time to come as it was created more as a way to describe how consumers already think instead of prescribing a solution for how they should. In the age of information and the Internet, the proliferation of content and information will continue to increase exponentially. In order to create information that reaches these consumers of this information, it is important to gear this content so that it is easy to find and consume.

Sources:

Davis, Blair. "Satisficing & Maximizing." Web log post. Communication at Its Finest! N.p., 3 June 2013. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.

Hindle, Tom. "Herbert Simon." The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 20 Mar. 2009. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.

“Satisfice.” Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. 2015.. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.

"Satisficing." The Interaction Design Foundation. The Interaction Design Foundation, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.

Design exemplar – Art in My Coffee

Apparently, I don't use the Internet. I was somewhat perplexed when I came up blank for an idea of a website whose design I enjoy, because I'm always online. But I don't use the Internet. I use Tumblr. (Actually I just got a Twitter so that should give me a few points.)

Anyway. After a few tricky maneuvers, I found this happy little place online: Art in my Coffee, a Tumblr-blog-turned-website run by designer/developer/artist Jina Bolton. The site is visually charming with a cozy, warm color scheme and rounded fonts.

Art in My Coffee

From the homepage, you can access social media through links on the right, submit a photo through a link in the header, or click on informative tabs.

The About, Ask us anything, and FAQ tabs are pretty standard and not design-heavy; a little more could have been done here to differentiate this site from all other Tumblr-related blogs. The Random tab provides any one submission all by itself, with accompanying Tumblr notes. I like this feature best, as the homepage, overloaded with images of beautiful coffee art, is exciting, but a lot to take in at once.

art in my coffe - random

What I like most about the design of this site is the formatting of the header – I find the fonts and color palette aesthetically appealing and appropriate for the subject matter. The coffee cup icon has a hover feature that makes a heart in the cup, which is fun. As someone who tends to feel unfocused and overwhelmed by choosing an aesthetic theme, I think this one absolutely succeeds with the warm neutrals – it's not trying too hard, which is something I definitely want to replicate in my own site.

Design Exemplar: Arietis

I look at a lot of pharmaceutical and biotech websites for work, and normally a company’s website isn't its main concern, as most are plain and show only the bare minimum. While I would still consider Arietis.com pretty basic compared to other types of websites, it's design caught my eye. It’s simple and easy to navigate. I like the thick side bars and the large, black and white photo in between is my favorite thing about it. The background doesn't actually scroll with the page, only the white box with text moves, which works well with the picture background and helps focus both the text and the background. On the sidebar, the color of the text changes when a page is clicked on, and even though this isn't a confusing website, it’s a good way for someone to keep track of where they are.

design pic

I'm not sure what I want to do with my website yet, and I think this a great design to start with, especially for a beginner. The design is simple, but gives a lot of room to play with embellishments, such as making my category names pictures. I know I would probably change the color of the sidebars, because there is a little too much black for my liking, although I like that the picture is in black and white. I would add a top navigation bar with the pages, like the about me and/or contact page and social media links. I would use the left side bar for categories, archives, comments, recent posts, etc. Arietis puts their name and information on every page, but I wouldn't need to put my contact information on each page, only the name of the website.

The Sill Sells with Clean Design

Normally, I hate going to the websites of online retailers. They always seem to crowd in all the images possible, so that each picture is 1” x 1½”. If you want to know anything about the details, you often have to click on the image to open up a whole other page with a bigger image and textual info.

Well, not only does the website for The Sill not bother me, but I actually enjoy visiting it just to browse images of plants. That’s right—The Sill is an online plant retailer. Its website is full of big images of healthy green plants, which cures some of my green withdrawal here in the city.

The homepage has a good balance of text and images—and by that I mean light on the text, heavy on the images. But it doesn’t have too many images! Instead, it goes for quality, clarity, and size over quantity.

The Sill homepage

It has a layout of ten images that are set in a grid that is not quite symmetrical, but which maintains continuity. There’s also one bar of two images on the right side that periodically scrolls between another two images. The movement doesn’t take up the whole screen, but it provides a little intrigue and variation.

I love how clean all the images are. It makes up for the lack of white space on the page. (Although there are small spaces of white between each image.) You also have the ability to click on each image and be taken to another place on the website.

At the top of the site, I clicked on the “Shop” tab, which then gave me subsections, so I clicked on the “Table Top Plants” tab. On that page, the images are all uniform in size and grid placement, which makes more sense for the content. Also, there’s a lot more white space on this page, both around the edges and within the pictures (they’re all taken against a white background). This is important, because you want to be able to focus on the individual items.

The Sill Shop

The images are nice big squares, about 2” x 2”, so they don’t crowd each other. When you hover over an image, a filter comes on and almost completely fades the image out to white, while simple text appears on top showing the name and price of the plant. From there, you have the ability to click on the image and bring up its own detailed info page where you have the ability to purchase it.

I love this website because it’s clean and easy to use. And most important of all, it has beautiful, vibrant photography that gives you the illusion of a display rather than of trying to sell you something—which is what helps The Sill sell many somethings.

Although I won't be trying to sell anything on my website, I do appreciate the big, clean photos and layout of this website, because people expect to see more images online than in a book (usually). I like the utilization of white space and I love the hover feature, which I think I'd like to use in my own website.

The Gentle Hits: Who Knew a Band Could Have a Cool Website?!

If you were to ever find good examples of website design, most likely the last place you'd find them is in websites dedicated to bands. Most of the time, the websites are poorly organized by one of the band's friends or some guy on the label who learned HTML once in eighth grade. They are usually cluttered, ugly, and unprofessional. Well, to my surprise, and upcoming band called The Gentle Hits just recently came out with a website that I was pretty darn impressed with.

The Gentle Hits website example

Right off the bat, this website feels pretty fluid and unique. Everything is ordered nicely, and oddly enough, the entire website is on one, very long, page. The whole thing scrolls like some weird…scroll, and the background image changes depending on where you are scrolling in the page. A nice quick link to all of their social media sites stays on the left-hand side of the screen, and an assortment of media and descriptions makes this website pretty fun to access. The whole thing is clean and pretty organized.

If I were to adapt some of its concepts to my own site, I would definitely consider trying out the scrolling thing that is utilized in this website. I can understand why some people may hate it, but I find it unique and fun to use. I also really like that dynamic background that changes depending on where you are in the page. The whole thing as this weird "one page book" feel to it that I haven't really seen before in a website.

Kickstarter.com: Equal Parts Unique and Simple

There are thousands of impressive websites out there, but one that has consistently impressed me without confusing me is Kickstarter.com. Not only does the website offer a unique service, but its website is equally as innovative.

The Kickstarter website is equal parts unique and simple. It instantly draws the visitor in with the phrase “Bring your creative project to life” projected against short, soundless video clips. It catches the eye, but it’s not too busy. As you scroll down the main page, you find Staff Picks, What’s Popular, and at the bottom, Curated Pages – a simple way to divide up projects.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.30.28 PM

If you know what you’re looking for, you can click “Discover,” which leads you to an extremely effective filtering system. Whoever designed the filtering system clearly handpicked each option to cater to the Kickstarter projects. For example, Art and Comics are two separate categories on Kickstarter, whereas they may be grouped together elsewhere. There are other options like Dance, Games, Food, etc. After you click a main category, you can filter further with popularity, newest, most funded, etc.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.30.07 PM

If you’ve arrived at the Kickstarter website with the intention of posting a project, it’s equally as easy. Instead of clicking “Discover” on the homepage, project posters choose “Start.” The site launches into somewhat of a fill-in-the-blank, so you can input information like the category and title of the project quickly and efficiently. The Creator Handbook, Rules, and FAQ are easily reachable toward the bottom of the page.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.29.54 PM

The Kickstarter website is smooth and seamless, and not to mention easy on the eyes. The color scheme is what I’d call a “light neon.” There are moving visuals that keep the site exciting without being overwhelming. And hovering effects allow for more information to be displayed when you want it. Overall, the Kickstarter website is incredibly easy to navigate and a beautiful design to look at.

The Parallax Design

Parallax website design is my favorite kind of design. It focuses on user participation inviting the audience to an interactive experience while simply scrolling down the page. Parallax websites animation techniques are similar to 2D side-scrolling video games that use varying background movement speeds to create an illusion of depth. Parallax websites are currently growing in popularity as web designers look for new ways to capture their viewers attention.

FlashvsHTMLsite

Photo Courtesy of flashvhtml.com

 

The parallax website that currently holds top place for me is FLASH VS HTML. This site compares how Waste Invaders, a Proof Concept Game created by Waste Creative in the summer of 2012, was developed. The devs decided to test the capabilities of Flash 11 with their game and compare it to HTML5. As users scroll down the site they are transported from an image of a moon down to Earth as stars and spaceships whiz by. There is even a moment where you scroll through clouds and condensation appears on your screen.

FlashvsHTML.Condensation

Photo Courtesy of flashvshtml.com

 

I love the colors of this website because they are directly related to the colors used in the video game. They are bright but easy to look at, and I love that elements of the game (like your starship or enemy invaders) can be seen flying by as you scroll down. It is consistent and it makes reading about their findings, whether Flash 11 or HTML 5 work better for the game, more interesting.

There are problems associated with parallax sites, though. For one, having a single-page site damages SEO (which I will be talking about in a couple of weeks!), and parallax sites are not compatible with mobile devices. Not to mention a parallax site has a loading screen which usually steers viewers away immediately.

Although we will not learn about Flash in our class, I hope to give users an interactive experience on my website. I want to get to the point where I can utilize scrollable elements to my pages even if it is not on the same level as parallax.

Hold Your Head(er) High

An online magazine that I find myself frequenting is the AV Club. Standing for “Audiovisual Club,” the AV Club posts interviews, reviews, features, and all kinds of entertainment-related content for fans and fanatics of any kind of media you can imagine. I’m not kidding when I say “anything you can imagine”—the most recent article I visited was titled “Taylor Swifts new Music video looks a lot like the True Detective intro” (and it really does).

I don’t have an account on A.V. Club, nor do I pretend to know all of it’s secrets, but I think the design is fun and colorful, which is a good way to reflect the subject matter of the articles themselves, which often feature witty, but also practical and nuanced, look at media.

Maybe my favorite feature of design that this website has to offer, however, is the header function. It is dynamic, it's not clunky, and it makes the site really easy to navigate.

 

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 10.01.51 PM

 

Pictured above is the AV Club's homepage. The header features the AV Club's circular logo, followed by each section of the website, followed by the login button and a search function. As you scroll over the section titles, a block of color associated with that section appears behind the title, and subsequently those colors correspond with the colored triangles overlapping the corner of the images. Aesthetically, the header and corners overlapping the images makes the page feel 3-dimensional, but they know not to get cocky–scroll down a few inches and the logo and section headers disappear so you can focus on content. At that point the sections are still only a one-click dropdown menu away.

 

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 10.14.38 PM

 

(See? The dropdown menu is still color coded and everything. And it's not even in a cheesy rainbow. Someone knows what they're doing.)

The header changes even more when you go into an article. Not only is the header fixed so it scrolls with you, but it tracks your progress through the article by highlighting the header bar from left to write as you scroll down. When you're in articles, it also adds a button that allows you to share to facebook or twitter AND a button that lets you jump directly to the comments. And when you scroll over the search function, the header becomes the search bar. The header on this website can literally do anything.

There are a lot of other things about the AV Club's website that I like and don't like, but the header–I think–is one the most important part of a website. Having most of the AV Club's functions conveniently located in one space–and having that space travel around the site with you without being annoying and change based on what you need on different pages–is definitely something that makes experiencing content easier and more convenient.

 

Design Exemplars: The Beauty Department

I have frequented this website many a time due to my (slight) Pinterest obsession. The Beauty Department is a website that focuses on beauty that's accessible to the average Pinterest-er. It ranges from tutorials to product comparisons, to current beauty trends.

The Beauty Department home page.

The Beauty Department home page.

There is a lot that I love about this website.

  • I love the color scheme. It feels very light, feminine, and inviting, which I think is perfect branding for this kind of website.
  • It feels very user-friendly. Each post is categorized at the top (example = the yellow "makeup" rectangle in the photo above), which can be then accessed from the menu at the top of the home page. The website isn't cluttered with ads or sign-ups, but it is easy to find all of their social media contact information (how to follow them on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest; how to find their RSS feed; how to subscribe to their email list).
  • I like the graphic at the top. The photo feels very clean, and I like the way that the menu slants. It feels unique.

I would love to adapt some of this concept for my own website in the future. I hope to make the layout just as straightforward, with easy linking to social media and a clean, clear menu at the top of the home page. I hope to make my website look as clean and sharp as this one does, and I like the freshness of the color scheme, although I might stay away from repeating the same colors. I like how the website really seemed to represent the product that it was focused on – it seemed to have a very clear brand that was apparent in all aspects of design.

Design Exemplars: Eastern Standard

Looking through menus is a pastime of mine (both to find places to eat and just for fun) and, consequently, I look at a lot of restaurant websites. One restaurant stands out to me in terms of website design—Eastern Standard. I have not yet eaten there (though I plan to soon and have thus browsed the menu once or twice), but I certainly like to look at their site.

Something I look for in a restaurant website is how user-friendly the site and how easily the pertinent information can be accessed. Many websites are difficult to navigate and, for some reason, do not make certain information easy to find, such as the hours. Often, I find myself switching over to Yelp in order to try to find this information.

For Eastern Standard, on the home page, not only is the background visually attractive, but the most important information is right there at the bottom: the address, phone number, and hours. This footer remains at the bottom of every page so that the user does not have to search.

Eastern Standard Home Page

Home Page

The rest of the information is sorted into the sidebar. The categories of the sidebar become a header when you click on the topic, and the categories on top make each sidebar topic easily navigable. (And the background picture changes to a relevant, and just as attractive, picture. The pictures of the food and drink topics can be scrolled through like a photo album.) However, if you wish to scroll through all of the categories instead of clicking each one, you can do that too.

Dinner Menu

Dinner Menu

The design of this website is sleek and easy to navigate, as well as exceedingly visually attractive. It draws the eye of the user and makes them want to visit the restaurant. In addition, because the layout does not change much from page to page (showing new information and a new picture as opposed to an entirely new set up) it helps keep the website cohesive.

In my own site, I would utilize the concept of making each piece of information readily available on the front page to ensure that nothing is buried and impossible to find. I would also seek the most visually attractive theme and background as it suits the subject matter in order to draw the user in and keep them on my site.