Who made the salad? Create rapid interface or web mockups with Balsamiq

Posted by maggie.hunsucker February 5, 2009 at 4:03 pm

balsamiqTranslating a great idea, like a new web app or site design, into a conceptual prototype is no easy task.

That’s where a tool like Balsamiq Mockups steps in.  Created by a former Adobe software engineer, Balsamiq is a user interface mock-up tool.   It lets you create the look, navigation, and functionality of your new product without wasting development resources.  Balsamiq is simple and user-friendly.

Just download the free desktop client (requires Adobe Air , which is free and Balsamiq will automatically install it for you during the download) and start dragging and dropping the different controls on your work screen.  The service comes with a built-in library of the most popular controls – a browser window, navigation buttons, text, media player, charts, and more.  It’s broken down into categories, as well as a quick add feature (i.e. search bar).  Don’t see what you need?  Upload your own image from file or suggest a new control to Balsamiq.  Each element in Balsamiq can be manipulated through an easy edit box, with an unlimited number of “undo’s” and “redo’s”.

balsamiq-screenshot

The client itself is free, but you will have to pay $79 per user license if you want to save your mock-up or upload to another application.  The service does offer some unique ways to sidestep payment, so if you’re a current Atlassian or XWiki license holder, a do-gooder, journalist, or education professional, you can get Balsamiq for free.

User interfaces and usability have become branches of design and development in their own right.  Here’s a way to digitally sketch out the look and feel of your product or application without investing any money – or too much time – in the initial stages.

Balsamiq is written in BMML (a version of XML), offering easy duplication and integration with other applications. Balsamiq files can be easily integrated with collaborative software like Confluence or JIRA.

Balsamiq is what we like to call the right tool for the right job. Even if you sketch your interface design, it inevitably has to be translated digitally, and more often than not with a more challenging program like OmniGraffle. Users with no technical expertise can easily move through and master a service like Balsamiq.

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  Voter registration Centralize and empower customer feedback with UserVoice

Posted by tom klein October 17, 2008 at 8:11 am

When testing a new product or site feature, feedback is key. The quickest – and least painful – way out of beta is to get your users in and to keep them engaged in the improvement process.

A service like UserVoice can be instrumental during this critical time. UserVoice centralizes your customer conversations in a single space. It’s part forum, part ticketing application, with some Digg-like voting features thrown in for good measure. UserVoice lets product users weigh in with honest criticism (or praise), suggest ideas and improvements, then vote on these suggestions. Each idea is an open thread discussion, where administrators can participate and update users on the status of improvements.

With all these thoughts flying, it may seem a bit confusing, but one of UserVoice’s selling points is it’s easy-to-use interface. Upon login, you’ll notice a project widget that identifies the most popular discussions and their status. If an administrator has elevated an idea to a project or improvement, it’s visible to the entire community. Ideas are well organized and searchable, so users can see if there idea has already been suggested, eliminating redundancy and letting the most important discussions rise to the top. Check out this mock UserVoice site (love the Office Space reference).

The best part? UserVoice is in free public beta.

Both users and administrators can sign-up for RSS feed notification for new activity on your UserVoice site, making it easier for everyone to stay in the loop.

Several big name companies are utilizing similar technologies to elicit feedback from their customers. Dell has their own version, IdeaStorm, that has met with great success. And we love nothing more than putting the same great technologies and products in the hands of our feed growth! readers (and for free!).

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  Talk is cheap Create live, interactive webcasts with BrightTALK

Posted by tom klein October 7, 2008 at 12:50 pm

Thanks to web 2.0 technologies, we’ve seen the evolution of the lowly business presentation. It’s important to remember that a good presentation is often the product of a good presenter.

Consider broadcasting your presentation content AND your presenter with a service called BrightTALK. BrightTALK’s webcasting platform offers simple solutions for businesses looking to create live, interactive webcasts. The Starter Channel package is free and comes with six, 30-minute audio webcast slots (per channel) and unlimited audience views. You can enhance your webcast with PowerPoint presentation slides, polling capabilities, and feedback. Each webcast is recorded and archived on your personal BrightTALK channel, which means you can direct people to previously recorded materials and easily embed your webcast on your website or blog. If you need more space or more capabilities (video anyone?), simply pull out your credit card and upgrade your package.

Getting started with a BrightTALK Starter Channel is easy. First, register with the BrightTALK network and create your branded channel. Then, create your webcast topic and provide presentation details like the date, time, and duration. Be sure to tag your webcast just as you would you blog content. BrightTALK uses these tags to make your webcast searchable and promote it to audiences across its network. Next, upload your webcast materials (e.g. your PowerPoint slides or polling questions) and dial into your webcast as you would a conference call. Once the webcast begins, audiences are able to view a central presentation screen (controllable by you, the administrator) and can hear your audio commentary as it broadcasts over the internet.

Bottom line, BrightTALK is a great resource for creating live, interactive presentations (or training materials, demos, sales pieces, whatever). . . with an excellent price tag.

On top of all the other goodies, BrightTALK throws in free analytics tools to help you measure attendance and audience participation levels of your webcasts.

Part of the beauty of BrightTALK is that the service opens up its network to free participants and helps them promote their content. While it's up to you to engage webcast audiences while you have them, it doesn't hurt that BrightTALK is driving some leads your way.

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  Rocket man Track your online presentation’s performance with SlideRocket

Posted by tom klein September 23, 2008 at 11:41 am

Despite the accessibility and functionality of web-based presentation solutions (as we discussed in Start from one & Here come the Jin), most people are hesitant to abandon their antiquated desktop software.

Well, what if someone sweetened the pot?

Now you can measure the effectiveness of your presentation with SlideRocket. SlideRocket is an online (and offline) presentation software that provides detailed analytics on your presentation’s performance. See what slides received the most attention, who viewed it, and how long they lingered there. Monitor interactions with embedded media, links, and form submissions, then organize all your data with SlideRocket’s custom reporting tools.

You can choose from a virtual library of themes and layouts or create a dynamic presentation with YouTube and Flickr content integration. You can even add data from outside sources like Google Spreadsheets. Once you are finished, you can publish your presentation to a url or embed it in a website. SlideRocket gives you the option of password-protecting your presentation or limiting user capabilities like printing and forwarding.

With more functionality (and let’s be honest, more fun) than its competitors, this tools lets you make presentations that command attention . . . and maybe a few sales.

SlideRocket gives you the functionality to present your work in multi-party web meeting - no Webex or software downloads required. You can send invites, manage participants and online chats, as well as run full-motion video.

When it comes to web-applications, accessibility may be the winning benefit. With SlideRocket, you (and your audience) can access your presentation from any location, and thanks to version-control measures, there is no fear that another team member will undo your work.

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  Hickory Dickory . . . Sync and share sales documents online with Docstoc Sync

Posted by tom klein September 10, 2008 at 12:11 pm

Do you rely on more than one computer to conduct business? You might have a desktop computer in the office (… and one at home), a laptop for the road, and a mobile device holstered at your side. Question is – in all this madness, how do you, well, collaborate with yourself?

The folks at Docstoc have you covered. The Docstoc Sync application lets you upload and sync all your documents, across multiple computers, to a single location. Sync builds on Docstoc MyDocs, an online folder system for storing and previewing documents (.doc, .xls, .ppt., .pdf). With MyDoc, you have the ability to make documents private (only accessible by you) or publish them to the public. Sync takes it a step further – it automatically uploads and syncs your documents for you.

To get started, sign up for a free Docstoc account, then download the Sync application to your computer(s). Docstoc will ask you to choose how your documents are uploaded and stored to your account. You can publish or privatize everything Sync grabs. Once set-up, simply drag and drop documents to your DocStoc MyDocs folder on your desktop. Or, you can specify certain directories and folders on your computer, and DocStoc will regularly sync those files for you.

So, how does this help you sell? Once you’re synched up, you can then share your documents. Instead of condemning sales documents to your hard drive, you can now use DocStoc to promote your capabilities, because shared documents are indexed, searchable, and of course findable by potential customers.

With Docstoc, you can generate an embed code and place any of the documents uploaded to your Docstoc account on your website or blog. For those looking for a simple solution for the dreaded PDF file download, consider using Docstoc. You can easily view PDF documents through DocStoc's flash player.

While it's of course important to keep proprietary information secret, it's likely that your entire sales team is investing a lot of time creating sales documents that never see the light of day. At the very least, they can help improve your search ranking, if not generate real leads.

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