A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

Website Review: Updated Metro Page

There are several websites that I frequent at least once a week for entertainment value (thank you, Zero Punctuation), but there are also several sites that I visit purely for information on a once-a-week-or-more basis.  Because I live in DC, one of those sites is definitely the official Metro page.

The website began in 1996, and according to the site, receives over 16 million page views a month.  Users can use the site to plan their public transportation trips, read up on emergency alerts, and find out about discount programs and payment plans.  Yet, as useful as it was, the site was in need of a major overhaul.  Thankfully, as of December 8, my lamentations were heard, and I'm happy to say that I am quite pleased with the result.  My favorite parts of the updated site, as well as some screenshots, are after the jump. (more…)

Ubiquitous Usernames

I'll be the first to admit that when it comes to online user accounts, I am rather protective of my favorite usernames. I prefer my aliases to be free of numbers and clutter. When other people on various websites see my online identity, I want them to be in awe of the sheer minimalism and genius of the moniker I chose.

For corporations and organizations looking to control their brand's messages online, this is of greater urgency. We've already seen examples of individuals "hijacking" corporate accounts by posing as a company representative on websites like Twitter and Blogger.That's where the website Username Check  comes into play. It's a simple and novel online tool: a user inputs his or her username and the website returns a check on whether that username is registered on various popular web 2.0 sites. Thanks to this tool I was able to snag the username "eric" on a couple of websites. In the case of an organization, it could be useful checking out if there's something out there that you should be aware of.

Able to register an awe-inspiring username after checking with this tool? Let us know in the comments.

Give Ning a Look

Ning is a platform that allows anyone to create a custom social network in a few minutes time.  I’ve played with it a few times since it launched in late 2005, but never really did a deep drill until recently, when we started work on a project that used Ning as its social networking component.  I’ve been impressed.

Backing up, our philosophy at The Bivings Group is to do as little “from scratch” building as possible.  If a good tool exists already, we’d much rather spend our time customizing or extending it than trying to build our own bigger, badder battleship.  It is this philosophy that has lead us to embrace Drupal, WordPress and open source development in general. 

What makes Ning interesting to me is that it is an actual platform, as opposed to just a cool site to use if you want to put up a quick social network.  You can customize it, extend it and, most importantly, build your own stuff on top of it.  This allows developers to create all sorts of value-added features for the communities they serve.  Check out Ning’s Developer and Network Creator communities to learn more. 

For those interested, following is a brief list of some of the more interesting of the 500,000 networks built on Ning. 

Ning isn’t perfect and we’ve certainly struggled to do some of the things we’ve wanted to do.  But it is the best product of its kind that I’ve seen, and I’d encourage anyone interested in social networking platforms to give it a good look.

Aaron Karo: Comedian and Intelligent Social Networker

It really surprises me that more political figures and celebrities have not taken Obama's lead and created functional social networking sites that engage users and allow for not only greater transparency, but also general likeability of its moderator.  Leave it to a standup comedian to design a site capable of doing both of those things.

Aaron Karo began writing his monthly column over a decade ago, when he emailed his comedic musings (which he called ‘ruminations') to 20 or so of his closest friends.  Now, the comedian has become quite a success, boasting appearances on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, two books, and subscribers to his column from all over the world.

In August 2008, he launched a new website which aims to unite his fans (and new fans) by allowing them to submit their own ruminations.  The site is awesome in its simplicity.  After signing up for a user account and doing the generic social networking tasks (i.e. uploading a profile picture, typing in some data about yourself), you are allowed to ruminate on any topic of your choosing, trying your best to emulate the genius of the comedian. (more…)

A Geek Site that isn't Geeky

geekmonthlyOk, maybe I'm a bad person who relies upon stereotypes too much, but one would think a site for geeks would actually have great features since geeks are so tech savvy.  Wrong.

While browsing through the magazine rack at Borders Books earlier this summer, I came across Geek Monthly with its cover girl, Tina Fey.  Either way, I read the article about her since I like her show 30 Rock and went home to check out the magazine's site.  I was expecting a great site that was graphically designed well with bells and whistles like easy to search sections, forums, great blogs, social media features, and great content.  I expected something like the beautiful site for Backpacker Magazine (since when did backpackers know so much about designing great websites?). However, as you can see in this image, like how the current cover boy (Rainn Wilson from NBC's The Office) is dressed, the site does not look pretty.

Either way, the Geek site has a rather distracting design, no clear navigation, seemingly no access to articles from past issues or from the current issue, no community features, etc.  It does have a blog, but not a great one.  You can also see an article from the current issue, but it pops up as a jpg…  What? 

So, I'm disappointed.  Were my expectations wrong in the first place?