Crossing bridges with HTML5

August 11, 2010

cross-platformI did more reading this week on HTML5 and found something I’d like to mention, since it helped me to wrap my head around why this is all exciting stuff.

Here’s a quote in an article discussing the importance of HTML5 in making cross-platform (i.e.: web, mobile, video-game,  etc.) applications:

HTML5 is important for two reasons, according to Sean O’Brien, director of technology and senior vice president at MRM Worldwide. “New elements like video and canvas allow native support for richer experiences, whereas Flash, Silverlight, or other plug-ins might be necessary,” he says. “Add geo-location to that and you can see how it changes what a Web site can deliver, especially for mobile applications.”

Second, the elements are more semantic in nature, such as article, section, and address. These help platforms, browsers and other technologies understand exactly what content exists on a page and therefore will help create systems that use the content in other more useful ways, O’Brien says.

It’s the second paragraph here that really intrigues me. I’m aware of what the new video and canvas tags can do, but it’s my understanding of what semantic mark-up means that helps me to see how HTML5 is truly cross-platform as explained in this excerpt. Now with uniformly named tags that convey intent like “section” or “article”, different platforms can take the same content and plug-it into whatever architecture they follow. We’ve been used to naming our divs in order to show what kind of content is in them, but the vehicle itself (the divs) are themselves just non-descript boxes.

A rough scenario I thought up to visualize this. Let’s say you’re moving away and beginning to pack up you’re stuff, but there’s a catch: you don’t know what type of what home you’re moving into yet, and it’s up to the movers to decide where to put your stuff once they arrive at this mystery future home of yours.

In the system of old, you had to pack up your place using the same, non-descript cardboard boxes (divs) that the moving company gave you (HTML). Once each one was filled, you used a Sharpie to label it (div ids) as a way to indicate where it goes. So moving day arrives and the movers come and take your stuff to your new home. They start to unload the boxes and run into a problem: what you wrote on your boxes doesn’t clearly show where things need to be. You labeled something “myRoom” but there are several rooms in this house. You have a box of “photos” but no indication of where they go. I’m sure you can see where this is going.

In the new system (HTML5), the moving company gives you differently pre-labeled boxes (like address, article, etc.) that, merely than just carry your stuff, clearly indicate to others what the contents are. Plus, the movers already understand these labels, rather than trying to decipher your vague (and if you’re me, poorly handwritten) Sharpie labels.  The movers are prepared to place your stuff in whatever configuration (the different platforms) your new house has, since the intent of your boxes is known to both parties.

Progressive Enhancement VS. Passing Classes – The Student’s Dilemma

July 27, 2010

My reaction to this week’s material on Progressive Enhancement was a feeling of déjà vu: the practices of PE are already very much in line with the style of coding I’ve picked up at Ai, though I’ve been doing this unconsciously up to the point. We’ve already had the concept of the Three Layers of the Web ingrained in us since introductory scripting classes, and Wayne’s early classes taught us to put a lot of emphasis on structuring our basic content before mixing in CSS and JavaScript. I’ve been making projects in a style that’s more consistent with what’s recommended by PE: starting first with a very basic (and often ugly) XHTML template before adding on more and more layers of complexity to my code.

However, I do feel our experience as students works directly against trying to adopt PE as a consistent habit. Many times once I’ve decided on a topic for my website, there are two factors I have to balance in planning my time out: the parts of the project that I know will take me x amount of time to complete, and the areas of the project which will take an unknown amount of time to tackle. Often, the content-generation side of things falls into the work that I can accurately predict time wise, since it’s the type of stuff I’m very familiar with, like researching online, producing copy, or creating original vector or raster graphics. On the other hand, much of the “unknown” time commitments I have for projects are based on new scripting techniques I’ve just learned in class, or in troubleshooting those techniques once they fail for unknown reasons.

I imagine all of you have then run into the issue here. I usually budget my project time by first addressing the most difficult and time consuming aspects of my project first, thus giving myself enough extra time to handle unexpected issues. I work in this fashion until I hit a point where the amount of remaining time I have until the deadline is about equal to the amount of time I’ll need to complete the “predictable” side of the project, ie: the content! This principle works directly in contrast with PE, since the bulk of the content is addressed after dealing with scripting issues first. But how else can you predictably budget your time to implement stuff you just learned versus stuff you already know how to do? Mere logic demands an approach counter to that of Progressive Enhancement, at least so far as our experience as students. Instructors seem to implicitly agree with this idea too, since they consider it more important that you demonstrate an understanding of the scripting concepts taught in class rather than having your content fully “fleshed out”. How many times have you found this to be the case when grading time comes along?

I imagine a lot of this discrepancy will be fixed once we operate in the professional world, since an equal amount of weight will be placed on the scripting and content sides of any project. Plus, the knowledge we gain from school will mean that more and more of our scripting work will fall into the “predictable” category of time planning for a project – things will fall more into the logical steps laid out by PE. For now however, it seems like our requirements as students will work against our adopting PE in the short term.

Mastering SEO

July 22, 2010

For me, the most important aspect of SEO is simply CONTENT. I’m aware of the multitude of ways you can enhance what you have through other rules of semantic markup, linkage, and keywords, but all of these issues can be addressed by simply generating the kinds of information that draw people to you.

Generating this unique stuff is easier said than done, but it’s clear that investing time and effort into generating content always pays longer dividends than the quick “tricks” that will improve rankings in the short term. Even something as simple as a regular monthly newsletter (with full articles on your site) for a business, or mildly active participation in forums that concern your industry or topic (signature links) will help you more than plugging in hundreds of keywords into you headers.

Especially in writing for a blog, I’ve learned a valuable lesson: never underestimate the desire for people to seek communities. Sometimes it seems like it’s not worth posting something online since it seems so trivial, but you sometimes forget just how many people are swimming out in the deep waters of the online world. The more you churn out, the better chance you’ll have of people listening, and, over time, you’ll learn exactly what it is that people want to hear most from you. That interest is what will get those delicious inbound links that mean so much to your ranking. That’s why I’ll always invest more effort into getting a routine going that will reliably produce new content over sweating about how many times my keywords appear in headers and meta-tags.

On to some of the what we covered last week. Here’s a quick bullet list of some tips for following “best practices”, and some of the best links I found on the subject:

General “best practice” tips:

– Test across browsers while, you’re developing, not just after. The same goes for validating.

– Write content in a manner consistent with people’s reading and browsing habits.

– Compress those images. Did you know Google is now rewarding faster-loading sites with higher rankings?

– Provide text alternatives to images

– Have a way to locate/identify broken sections of your site. Give a simple way for users to report this.

– Don’t mix the three layers of the web – content, presentation, behavior

– Explain which major div you are closing with comments

– CSS resets: use ’em

– Avoid the redundancy present in tagitis, divitis, and classitis: they all mean you’re being too specific/inefficient!

And now for those links:

http://developer.apple.com/internet/webcontent/bestwebdev.html

http://www.goodpractices.com/

http://www.catswhocode.com/blog/top-10-best-practices-for-front-end-web-developers

Week 2: Social Networking

April 20, 2010

The paper makes me think of the skill set I’ll need to showcase when approaching prospective employers, the urgency to immerse myself in the technologies that maximize the potentials of social networking, and the ways I can grow myself and my organization using these technologies in the future. First, it makes me think of the ways I could arguably bring “value” to my current job and my jobs in the future. In particular, I imagine myself sitting in an interview, and my interviewer asking, “How exactly can you use social networking for our benefit?” Though I could answer that question to a degree, this paper made me realize that it’s necessary to know exactly what social media can do for a company, rather than having a vague idea of its abilities. For all of its potential and buzzwords, any company is still going to desire a concrete set of benefits if they asked you that question. Secondly, the first point makes me realize the need to push myself to adopt new technologies in social networking, since only then can I understand what they bring to an organization. I haven’t been the best adopter of things like Twitter, Digg, or NetVibes, but it’s urgent that I use these tools (even if I don’t do so frequently) to at least gain an appreciation for what they can accomplish. And finally, the paper again stressed the ways that social networking promotes the notions of “on-going learning” and improvement, especially within a company. As an individual designer and a member of a team, I can use social networking as a way to continually add value to my skill set by taking in new information, and as a way to provide feedback that can be used to improve work conditions or idea generation in a team environment.

Week One Assignment: 10 Researched Websites

April 13, 2010

For my site, I’m thinking of doing an online store for self-defense products, with an emphasis on ingenious or concealed self-defense weapons. Think of one of those canes that has a sword in it. Sweeeet.

Anyways, here are the ten site reviews I did in researching this industry:

http://www.selfdefenseproducts.com/

Website Theme: A site that sells self-defense products to the public and law enforcement officials.

Strengths: Simple clean design that makes navigation easy around the site. It follows very standard conventions for navigation and product display, so its contents are easily accessible to new site visitors. Products are shown in a no-frills, informative manner.

Who is it designed for? : Individual adults or members of the law enforcement community. Since there are such a wide range of self-defense products offered, there are no real requirements for the target audience of the site. The only real requirement seems to be that all of the products are intended for adults 18 and up interested in some form or self-defense, or just really into swords.

Weaknesses: The site’s straightforward approach does seem a bit bland, and there is no real effort made toward establishing a cohesive design. The site lacks much character.

http://www.tbotech.com/

Website Theme: Lets customers “gain the advantage” over would-be assailants with their range of self-defense products.

Strengths: Large product pictures and lengthy product descriptions give prospective customers a very clear idea of what they are buying. The site also augments the majority of its products with informative video demos.

Who is it designed for? : The general public, ages 18 and over. The site’s language and lengthy descriptions seem to indicate it speaks to an audience that feels truly threatened by the unforeseen dangers lurking around every corner.

Weaknesses: There is no real cohesive design feel to the site, and the navigation is organized in a long-winded list format with little real organization involved. Though the lengthy product explanations are content-rich, they are laid out in a messy, garish looking manner.  There is also little notion given to forming a unique brand for the company.

http://www.aaa-safetyfirst.com/

Website Theme: Intent on keeping its customer safe and secure with the self-defense products it offers.

Strengths: Like the previous website, this site’s main strength is the detail of its product descriptions: the authors describe each offering with a noticeable gusto for laying out the ways you can defend yourself. Another strength is the staggering amount of products being offered for online sale.

Who is it designed for? : The general public, with an emphasis on ages 18 and over. There is no real delineation past that point, and even younger audience members are targeted with some of the products, like blow guns. This site seems to appeal not only to the serious minded individuals looking for self-defense, but also the more light-hearted crowd that merely thinks these products are neat.

Weaknesses: Even more so than the previous reviews, there is little to no cohesive design for the website or the brand in general. Numerous design conventions are broken, including the use of varied fonts, contrasting colors, and illegible text over images. The navigation and product lay outs are also poorly laid out, with little to no consistency between different product pages.

http://www.proselfdefenseproducts.com/

Website Theme: There mission is to ensure “you don’t become a statistic” through the use of their self-defense weapons.

Strengths: Very minimalistic approach taken towards this design, in a manner similar to the first website that was reviewed. Navigation and product descriptions are consistently placed across the site, and the user experience is enhanced through the use of breadcrumbs and a site-wide search feature. Text and images are given no ornamentation, and everything is handled in a very straightforward and to the point manner.

Who is it designed for? : The general public, ages 18 and over. The site’s verbiage is like tbotech.com in that it plays of the fears of an unexpected attacker.

Weaknesses: Again like selfdefenseproduct.com, the site’s barebones approach could be interpreted as boring. There is no effort put toward styling the information or forming any sort of overall brand. Furthermore, product information and images are leaning toward being too sparse, especially when compared to the dearth of information available on some of its competitors.

http://www.safetytechnology.com/

Website Theme: A self-defense products wholesaler who sells the notion that his customers are helping others and themselves through their involvement in this industry.

Strengths: This site aims toward the hearts of its visitors. Images of smiling families and warm-hearted copy really push the idea of “doing good” through the sale of self-defense products. Videos from successful customers help to drive this gooey message home.

Who is it designed for?  : The general public ages 18 and over, but with a focus towards individuals who are interested in forming their own small business. It can also be argued that there is a subtle emphasis towards a male audience, based mostly on the majority of people featured in the site’s testimonial videos.

Weaknesses: Many. Information is laid out in long one-column format, in a style that resembles a rambling and unclear rant. Navigation is split into confusing pools of lengthy product listings, and some pages require that you navigate to partner site pages in order to read more about the product. It can also be argued that the site’s heart strings approach comes off as a tad corny.

http://www.safetybasement.com/

Website Theme: A marginally more refined site that implores visitors to “be proactive, think safety” through their self-defense products.

Strengths: This is so far the only site which pursues some type of design plan, with a loose type of color scheme and secondary images to back up content.  Even though it isn’t particularly difficult considering the lack of design on the other sites, this is the “slickest” competitor so far reviewed. Product pages all follow a consistent format. The site beefs up its content by including sections that describe the legal ramifications of using some of the products it offer.

Who is it designed for? : The general public, ages 18 and over. This site also concentrates on the more thoughtful members of this target segment, since it does address the legal aspects of self-defense weaponry. Users who are looking for a broad range of information and resources on self-defense products will gravitate towards this site.

Weaknesses: The site often tries to cram in too much information on its pages, sometimes resulting in a chaotic and disorganized feel to its content. In fact, there are several pages where the layout noticeable breaks due to this over abundance of information. The navigation can also be confusing at times, with secondary links being especially difficult to find or fully understand at times.

http://www.womenonguard.com/

Website Theme: Aimed at protecting and empowering women through self-defense products.

Strengths:  There is definitely an attempt at unified layouts, color scheme, and navigation throughout the site. Product pages feature large images and consistent formatting. The best thing about this site the clear direction it is taking toward its ideal audience, women. Images of women and feminine color schemes all make it very clear who the site is talking towards. The content also includes a comprehensive FAQ and legal section.

Who is it designed for? : Women ages 18 and up, and particularly single women living alone in urban areas.

Weaknesses: At times the font and layout seem a little bland. Some of the images sometimes verge on parody, with the female characters being featured flashing odd thumbs up or weird “come-hither” type looks.

http://www.survival-warehouse.com/tools_generators/index.htm

Website Theme: A “be prepared for anything” motto that is reminiscent of the Boy Scouts motto, expect with more lightning bolts to drive the point home.

Strengths:  The site definitely hammers the message of safety home with fearful images of storms, explosions, and biological dangers. It also features helpful free information about what to do in case of a variety of different disasters or threats. Site navigation is clear and painless to explore.

Who is it designed for? : Adults ages 18 and up. The audience is definitely leaning towards the more paranoid and distrustful members of society, since some of the products are intended for apocalyptic type scenarios or terrorist attacks. If you know someone with a home-built bomb shelter, send them to this site.

Weaknesses: The site’s design can be overwhelming, with its clashing color choices and numerous images of doom and disaster. Some of the audience may be lost due to this somewhat fearful approach. Product descriptions can also be too sparse at times, or lacking more than one small image.

http://www.theselfdefenseco.com/

Website Theme: INTENSITY! It bills itself as the most dangerous self-defense technique, and boasts “you will be feared”.

Strengths: It’s the neatest looking site so far, with the most refined color scheme and use of images and graphics from all of the candidates. There’s no doubting the image this site is trying to achieve: raw power and intimidating lethality. Testimonials and videos do a good job of backing up the self-defense system’s credentials, and there is no lack of content on any page. Explanations are thorough and checklists are use to emphasize main points.

Who is it designed for? : Men ages 18 and up. The audience is definitely aggressive and looking to breed intimidation in others. Body building types, UFC wannabes, and people who wear Ed Hardy would probably feel at home here.

Weaknesses: It can come off as being way, way over the top, or even slightly comedic. Rather than taking a serious but subdued approach to this subject, this site gets in your face and spews spit all over you. It’s like all of the other sites on steroids and scripted in a Steven Seagal movie. EXTREME. On a more serious note, some of the pages can get overwhelming with the amount of content they include. At times, the site is trying too hard to prove the system it sells works. Just as I try to leave, the site also uses one of those alert boxes that asks is you really want to navigate away from the page. Terrible.

http://www.yourgreatestprotection.com/

Website Theme: This site sells its self-defense products with the idea that the customer’s protection is their priority.

Strengths: The product descriptions are very informative and often come with larges images or helpful infographics to show off the product. Layout and navigation are consistent and generally hassle-free throughout the site. Videos and some customer quotes help back up some of the products and the site.

Who is it designed for? : Adults ages 18 and up. Past that, there is no noticeable way to tell if the site intends to narrow its target.

Weaknesses: The site tries its hand at some design elements, and fails pretty badly. The background color and graphic are really distracting, and clashing color choices and textures make the site look like something from the early 90s. There is also no real branding established for the company itself.

SEO Resources for Profit and Success

August 19, 2009

My three helpful websites dealing with search engine optimization or “findability” :

SEO Blog

The name says it all – this is a sparse blog which covers SEO topics in simple article format, with most of the postings being little more than a few paragraphs in length.  A lot of the articles are just the author musing on SEO current events rather than providing tips or tools, but it is still an entertaining read for anyone familiar with the topic.  Though many of the articles are short, it does make the information easy to digest and painless to run through. For example, the most current post offered some helpful pointers written in a clever and succinct way.  I would consider this blog as something to check-in on once in awhile to catch the most recent post, but not as a constant storehouse of information I can refer back to.

Michael Gray Graywolf’s SEO Blog

In contrast to the previous site, this blog has postings that provide a good deal of content. The majority of them augment their text with videos, graphics, and imaginative images, and the whole site definitely has a more “professional” appeal to it. I especially like how many of the postings give you step-by-step directions on how to do something; this current posting is a good example of their approach. This is the type of blog which I feel I can come back to at anytime for help.

SEOmoz

This is one impressive reference, and looks like it should be a staple for any web designer or online marketer. In addition to a regularly updated blog, the site provides a selection of free tools and widgets that designers can use in their SEO work. The site offers “professional” grade membership that opens up more tools and functions, and, more so than any other blog I saw, it does an amazing job of generating a “findability community” among it’s adherents. My hat goes off to this blog – the site and its members actually get you psyched about getting involved with SEO, and the resources its offers are unmatched by most of its peers. Highly recommended.

5 Competing Sites That I Annihilate From the Face of The Earth

August 11, 2009

Here are 5 competitive sites I found that deal with the topic of “living cheaply”, the same subject my proposed website will be dealing with. In general, the competition is pretty weak at this point; many of the websites I found were no longer active, poorly maintained, or terribly designed. Even so:

Living the Cheap Life

This site is a pretty basic blog that would update with tips for saving money or getting free stuff, but that seems to have ended as of November of last year. There’s no complexity here – just a simple, chronologically based posting of articles with simple tags categories, set against a clean but drab white and black layout that reminds me of a typewriter. The articles themselves can be useful and the author isn’t a bad writer, but the site seems more like a casual hobby for its creator.

The Simple Dollar

This site shares a lot in common with the previous one; it’s a basic blog format with minimal touch ups for design and layout. However, this site is still regularly maintained, and there is a little more attention to detail in each article. The author posts more content per post, more thoroughly categorizes his postings and links to related blogs, and makes more of an effort to take advantage of content aggregators and other ways to disseminate his site. Kudos to the author for also having a good “voice” to his site, I think it’s the one aspect I will emulate most in creating my own project.

Frugal for Life

Another blog that concentrates on little more than posting articles regularly, with an emphasis on taking a more humorous approach to living frugally. This site is slightly better than livingthecheaplife.net, but falls below thesimpledollar.net in terms of effort and execution. The picture bar at the top of the page makes me cringe, as do the block of rotating animated gifs below that. Can’t blame them for wanting to get paid, but, yeesh.

Bargaineering

Another blog that competes with thesimpledollar.net for the top spot. There is little derivation from your standard blog layout and design, but the site logo and and navigation clearly indicate a more in-depth execution from some of the other examples. The articles have great content, and are posted with much more regularity than any of the other competitors. I also like the site name the most so far – it seems to have better branding potential than any of the alternatives.

Zen Habits

This is the most original of the sites I reviewed, but its subject matter stretches beyond what I have envisioned for my site. Merely than just providing tips on frugality, the author also gives his insight on having a simpler outlook on life and gaining value from things other than money. The approach is interesting and really emphasized by the very sparse, clean layout, which uses spacing and images to maximum effect. I really like the approach and, though it doesn’t seem to be a direct competitor to my idea, will have to consider integrating some of his “zen” philosophy into some of my content. After all, it is much easier to live frugally if you don’t care about money as much.

Lost in the Sauce: Exploring CSS Navs

February 23, 2009

Looked up a list of different navigation resources for this week, with the majority of them being tutorials for making slick-looking menus or hyperlinks.

Of these articles, there are a few that stand out. I think Pure CSS Horizontal Menu (SEO Friendly) is probably my favorite, because it offers a very clear step-by-step instructional method. The author shows a visual example to accompany each step of the construction process, so that you get a real sense of how the menu comes together; I find this much more valuable than a purely text-driven tutorial.

Plus, a CSS-driven drop down menu is still something that surprises me. That type of effect seems like it would require at least some degree of scripting involved, but to see it completely covered in CSS is another reminder that there’s still a lot of potential there I have to explore. I would be interested to hear from the class about other examples of surprising CSS functionality, like drop down menus, hover boxes, or other interactive elements, that would normally appear to be script-driven.

My second choice for a stand out article is The Ultimate Navigation with CSS level 3 . Unfortunately, this tutorial doesn’t give the same visual examples that “Pure CSS Horizontal Menu” did above, but it’s still a very thorough resource. Plus, I tend to prefer how simple and slick the final result of this tutorial looks.

Notice how the author prefaces the article by warning that it incorporates elements that don’t validate in XHTML 1.0 Transitional – is it just me, or does these like these nifty looking effects never seem to validate?

Location, location, location

February 16, 2009

The three articles this week are all helpful resources for understanding how to use CSS positioning in laying out page elements. The first, “Learn CSS Positioning in Ten Steps”, was a resource that was referred to a great deal by other articles on the web as being one of the best resources for learning positioning. It’s definitely going into my bookmarks – this tutorial puts simple definitions for each layout property directly side-by-side with a visual example of its use. Though none of the layouts are explained thoroughly, it’s a terrific cliff-notes introduction to the whole concept.

The second tutorial is very much like the first, but uses a different layout to show how each positioned element works within the “document flow”. Unlike the first tutorial that breaks up each layout example, the second tutorial throws them together on a single page. I prefer the first tutorial myself, but I thought someone else might prefer this second option. You do get a better sense of how these can all work together on the same page by being able to see all of the properties used  simultaneously.

Finally, there’s the article “Absolute, Relative, Fixed Positioning: How Do They Differ?”. This is a good final article to read after absorbing the first two; though it doesn’t provide visual examples for the four major layout properties, the author provides a better “pro-and-con” analysis for their use.

A small complaint I had about the positioning resources I found was their lack of suggestions for how to apply these properties in real-world layouts. They did a great job of defining each layout and providing visual examples, but I wish they could have suggested some “best-use” scenarios. For example, saying something like “using relative positioning is often used to negotiate problems in multi-column layouts” or “absolute positioning can help you place dynamic images as backgrounds”. I know it’s greatly up to me to decide how to use these layout commands, but providing more suggested applications would be helpful in integrating them to my own website project.

5 Sites to Help With My “Choose A City” Project

February 9, 2009

Here are five “city-profile” sites that will help me in putting together my own project:

1. Yelp

 Why I Like? :  The site is very user-content rich and extensive, which makes all of the answers and reviews seem very reliable. Many of the community members also appear to be extremely involved with Yelp, so the content they provide is usually well-thought out and entertaining to read.

Features to use for my site? : The “Fresh Lists” section. It’s an area where Yelp members can post there own “favorite lists” on whatever they please – for example, “My favorite Sushi places in town”.  I wish you had the ability to make comments or debate about other’s member’s list, but the idea is still a great reflection of the type of information I want to provide on my site. 

Strongest Feature?: The community building aspect of the site. Because members create their own profiles and have so many options for interacting with other members, it creates a strong sense of community among Yelp contributors. As such, they are more enthusiastic about writing reviews and the like, which makes the content available to visitors that much richer. 

2. Find Your Spot

Why I Like? : This site’s friendly, laid back mood. The little animated dog does a good job in personifying what the site provides: an enthusiastic and generous help guide for anyone who needs it. 

Features to use for my site? : The site’s main “online-quiz” feature. I had already considered doing something like this for my site, so seeing a real example of it gave me some good insight into what questions and formats I might want to use myself. However, I’m not sure I will have the time in order to create such a quiz; seeing how extensive findyourspot.com is makes me wonder if I create something similar with much less time and information to put toward it. 

Strongest Feature? : Again, the site’s quiz. Its simple and fun to use, and the answers it provides are a good place to start when looking at other cities to move to or visit. 

3. Sterling’s Best Places

Why I Like? : Simple and straightforward. Though a site like Yelp has much more content, it can also tend to be overwhelming to a first time visitor. BestPlaces keeps the format simple and you don’t have difficulty in absorbing the data and user feedback on the site. 

Features to use for my site? : Though the user forum is pretty much like any regular website forum, it is especially relevant to me since many of the postings featured there give me great ideas for the type of questions I want to use for my own site. It really makes me think of how to write my questions and think of the process for posting answers. This site does have a bit of a problem of “shouting match” styles forum postings, which makes me consider how I will avoid doing that on my project. 

Strongest Feature? : There aren’t any revolutionary features, but I think that’s one of its strongest attributes. The layout and structuring of the content is the site’s real strength. 

4. City-Data.com

Why I like? : Much like bestplaces.net, I think city-data does a good job of mixing raw data with more detailed answers in a straightforward format. 

Features to use for my site? : Some of the questions on the forum are very valuable to my own efforts, such as “Top Ten Reasons Not to Move to (blank)” or “New Yorkers Considering Austin”. I like how some of these do a good job comparing one city to the other, but like bestplaces.net the unfiltered forum approach can sometimes devolve into useless name calling that hurts the content. The small image gallery provided at the beginning of each city profile is something I will probably use on my site, though not at the very top of the page as it is positioned here.

Strongest Feature? : Nothing stands out in particular, but the mix of numbers and user quotes is well integrated and accessible. 

5. epodunk.com

Why I like? : Though the information provided is very-data and number heavy, epodunk does a good job of making it simple to search through: a long list-format with practically every topic you could think of. Pretty old-school approach, but great for getting a thorough answer without having to guess where everything is. 

Features to use for my site? : They feature a large quote from a well-known person on each of the city pages, something I had already considered posting on my site. Seeing it used elsewhere is a good starting point for how to use it myself. 

Strongest Feature? :  Topic-driven list format. No hassle in trying to find anything, and the data-driven approach means you avoid some of the moronic bickering that creeps into unregulated forums.