A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

Why We Shut Down Slurp 140

Slurp 140

Back in 2009 when we were still The Bivings Group we built a tool called Twitterslurp that tracked Twitter conversations at conferences and events.  Twitterslurp ingested tweets based on hashtag and/or keyword, and included features such as a live stream of all relevant tweets, a permanent archive of the Twitter conversation, a leaderboard showing the most active Twitter users at the conference and a stats page analyzing the discussion.

We built the tool for a couple of conferences we attended and it was popular, so we released the Twitterslurp code to the open source community and launched Slurp 140,  an on demand version of Twitterslurp that allowed conference organizers to launch their own branded version of the tool for free.

After working on the project off and on for over three years, we decided late in 2012 to shut down Slurp 140 as of January 1, 2013.

Why We Shut It Down

From the beginning, we saw Slurp 140 as a marketing tool for our company as opposed to a commercial product.  Slurp 140 included Brick Factory branding, so attendees at conferences would inevitably learn about our company through their use of the tool.  As a marketing tool it was pretty successful initially.  We got countless compliments and Slurp 140 helped us build brand awareness.

Over the years we thought about monetizing Slurp 140, but never pulled the trigger.  The math didn’t work.  The revenue we would generate from a paid version didn’t justify the development time required to create it.

Once we decided not to launch a paid version, we didn’t invest much in the way of development resources in Slurp 140.  We made improvements here and there, but the product as it existed in December 2012  was more or less the same product we launched originally in 2009.

We didn’t expand tracking options to ingest data from other services such as Instagram and Flickr.  We didn’t create a mobile-friendly version of the tool.  We didn’t build widgets that would allow the tool to be easily embedded on client sites.  We didn’t modernize the user interface.

While Slurp 140 sort of stayed stuck in time, innovative new tracking products came to market that included most of the features we had planned.  Slurp 140 was no longer unique.

By 2012, Slurp 140 had become something of a white elephant for us. We were spending time and money hosting and maintaining the product, and getting little in return. It just wasn’t worth it any more.  So we shut Slurp 140 down.

Our Plan for 2013

The digital consulting services we provide to clients are our bread and butter.  We spend the majority of our time on client work.

However,  the Brick Factory will always have an incubator culture.  We will always launch our own tools and products.   In addition to the financial reward a successful product offers, product development encourages experimentation and pushes us to improve our skills.  Building our own products makes us better.

Since our product development resources are scarce, it was important that we cut our losses on Slurp 140 so we can focus our energies on the development of a new product we are really excited about.  I look forward to sharing more details in the coming months.

We’re Looking for a Digital Strategist

I wanted to post a quick note alerting folks to a new job opening at the Brick Factory.  We are looking for a Digital Strategist to join our Client Services team.  The job description is below as well as instructions for how to apply.  We’d love to hear from you!

Digital Strategist Position at Brick Factory

The Brick Factory plans and executes world-class digital campaigns for non-profits, trade associations, advocacy groups and brands. We believe in simple solutions, setting clear goals and objectives, and providing great service to our clients. We believe a good website or campaign is never done and the launch of a website is the beginning, not the end.

Our Strategist positions aren’t easy. To be good at your job you have to be a writer, strategist, technologist and designer all at once. You will constantly be juggling new website builds, requests from existing clients, ongoing projects and strategy work.

What you will be doing:

  • Running our client’s digital programs. This involves an active engagement that is beyond management, ensuring that our projects ship on time, goals are set, tracked and met, and our clients are provided with clear, high level recommendations that help them succeed in the digital space.
  • Working in a small team environment. You’ll wear multiple hats, provide input and solutions, and work on multiple projects at one time.
  • Contributing to our blog. Brick by Brick is our soapbox to spread the thoughts and opinions of The Brick Factory. Once settled, you’ll be expected to develop new post ideas and contribute innovative content regularly.
  • Aiding in new business efforts. At The Brick Factory everyone is involved in selling new work. You will be constantly looking to expand the work in our existing client portfolio while reaching out to new business prospects.
  • Making yourself and the company better. Meaning that you aren’t ever satisfied with the status quo and are constantly looking to improve yourself, the company and our clients.

What you bring to the table:

  • You’re a fun person to be around.
  • You have a passion for work in the digital industry and are excited to help our clients implement solutions using cutting edge technology.
  • You’re a problem solver. You would rather figure out the best solution than be told how to do it.
  • You have a strong writing background. Your communication skills are exceptional and you have experience creating and editing content for clients.
  • You have experience in social media marketing and digital strategy. You’ve been involved in projects requiring things such as online fundraising strategies, A/B multivariate testing, content creation plans and email list building.
  • You’re organized. You can manage multiple projects at once and are dedicated to hitting deadlines.
  • You have relevant work experience, preferably 1+ year(s).
  • It would be great if you also:
    • Have a basic knowledge of HTML/CSS and content management systems such as Drupal and WordPress.
    • Have used Adobe products such as InDesign, Dreamweaver and Photoshop.
    • Have experience using web analytics and pay-per-click advertising platforms.
    • Have worked in an agency setting with multiple clients.

What we’ll bring to the table:

  • A great work environment, with plenty of opportunity to learn
  • A metro accessible office in downtown Washington, DC
  • Budget for training and attending conferences
  • A full-time position with a competitive salary
  • Occasional work activities, lunches, and happy hours
  • Generous vacation/personal time (we close the office between Christmas and New Years!)
  • We’re an Equal Opportunity Employer
  • Additional perks and benefits

Sound interesting? Take a look around our website, blog, Facebook andTwitter. If you think we’d be a good fit please send a resume and cover letter to jobs@thebrickfactory.com.

Grading the New Mashable

Many, many years ago Christmas morning was a chaotic riot of laughter, terrific screams, minor injuries and general twitchiness. As amazing a sight and experience as the pile of toys was, there was the overriding stoic presence of my father checking his watch, waiting to put the hammer down and march us all off to church. The experience was as unnerving as it was exciting but with some planning (midnight Mass?) could have been so much better for me. It wouldn’t occur to me for years that my parents worked it this way to get a breather from my high-pitched squeals of panicky joy.

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Mashable’s recent redesign presents all the content they offer in a way that gives me that same uneasy feeling. For me, there’s just too much thrown at the user. There is no top story, only The New Stuff, The Next Big Thing and What’s Hot all given equal importance on the page. Putting aside that fact that all three category headings are promoting the same thing basically, my eye bounces right off the page. Users will get used to this and I will as well, but I question a design that forces you to refocus every time you hit this main page. It’s a small, quickly resolved snag but it’s one that diminishes the otherwise pleasing user experience.

The infinite scroll and myriad social networking opportunities throughout are meant to be fun. I know fun. This isn’t fun. Besides those social media options attached to every article, the new Mashable Velocity graph is a clever widget that (once I learned its purpose) I skipped over with a vengeance. It measures the speed of sharing. I can’t believe I typed that. The sub levels are where this redesign works better for me. Big photography, logical layout and plenty of white space makes for an easy quick read. I don’t think many users will take advantage of the infinite scroll that is unfortunately included on the subs, however.

Homepage screenshot
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The contact and other admin pages haven’t really been designed at all, but I’m sure they will be at some stage to match the new look. I don’t feel this redesign was rushed at all, and third tier pages get pushed to the bottom of the list frequently on bigger launches.

As far as basic usability goes, the site does a yeoman’s job for me. The navigation is where I need it and the design of the elements is very clean and easy to find. So the fonts are fine, the palette is good and the code is clean, but that infinite scroll and the lack of a visual bulls-eye is going to bug me. I’m wondering for how long the bottomless pit of content will be a web trend.

Mashable’s mobile app for the Android hasn’t been redesigned/updated yet and is surprisingly clumsy considering how much care had gone into the web design.
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The new Mashable site is fully responsive, creating unique experiences for tablet and smartphone users accessing via the web.  The mobile web version of the redesign is tight and pretty easy to get through. The abbreviated navigation is a bit cryptic, and reads like a Pizza Hut promo (NEW, RISING, HOT) for me, but it’s fine and I’m likely being picky here. Also, thanks to coding limitations, I suspect, the infinite scroll is absent.
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Overall grade is a B for me. I’m a Mashable fan and will continue to be as I fight the urge to sound like an old bag shaking my fist at design choices that rub me the wrong way. I don’t want to turn into this guy

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7 Great Examples of The “Contact Us” Page

With the amount of media the average user interacts with on a daily basis, it is understandable why it’s so difficult to capture an audience. In today’s world, having a website is simply not enough. You must have an exemplary product or service, thought provoking content and ideas to lure in a visitor, and visually stimulating images and videos to get them to stay long enough to sign up. However, the experience doesn’t stop at the “contact us” page; it actually can turn the entire experience from a memorable one for all the right reasons, and turn it into a deal breaker. Reducing difficulty for the user is a must, and truthfully not as difficult as it seems. The examples that follow show how a great contact form can make this small yet important part of the client relationship convert as smoothly as possible, and in some senses make it fun!

1. How to Create Trust on Your Contact Page – spokespedicabs.com/

Spokes specializes in transportation via pedicabs specifically in Oak Cliff, Dallas, Texas. As their community grows, the need for more useful and reliable transportation has increased as well, and they make transportation fun. Their site is a single long page with links to jump around, or to simply scroll through. As the user progresses through the site, Spokes uses animated visuals with cleverly thought through dialogue, as well internal links to more information for the user’s convenience. The user can even view this simple contact form while scrolling through the site, fully aware of the personality and vision of this company.

2. Provide Assistance Along The Way – Golivebutton.com

Golivebutton.com provides a unique product for individuals that are trying to increase the amount of traffic they are getting on their webpage. Users receive a “Go Live” button that they share on their social network. From here they can tell their followers and new users about their work and hopefully gain new users. Their contact form is a playful and interactive form that actually provides the user with the product after giving their contact information. Each field clearly suggests what needs to be put in each field and from the homepage the user can easily see where to contact the site from. Small things such as arrows and images go a long way in helping users find the contact form, but ultimately, assisting them get through the form as quickly and easily as possible is the most important aspect of the contact page.

3. Important to Reduce Friction Everywhere – amoderneden.com

Looking to reach that inner kid inside, or to simply quiet down your own little one? Then you should probably give this company a call. Amoderneden.com has been developing design minded goods and toddler apps for the little one in all of us, and would love to help out with the new edition to the family. One look at their contact page goes to show that they understand how busy parents can be let alone a fellow designer of applications. From their fax number to their mailing list, the user can very easily contact them for inquiries concerning products, carrying their items in-house, or shipping problems care free.

4. Design for Mobile First – dibdig.com

Need a text book, cab, off campus housing, or late night pizza? Dibdig.com offers an application that allows you to do all of these things with relative ease. Their site utilizes the twitter’s bootstrap design language for easy mobile usage and convenient online navigation. Designing for mobile first is important for a number of reasons. First, large load times for mobile users can be an immediate turn off. If users aren’t able to get what they want accomplished immediately then they may not even return to try out your mobile site again let alone contact your site for your product or service at home. If the form is extensive then mobile users that have slow connections will be even more impatient, and most importantly, if they are already on their phone and you are providing a phone number then they can contact you immediately. With all this being said, your “Submit” button should check for errors upon submission, or in real time, to prevent any future problems for mobile users. Dibdig.com’s contact us page is short, to the point, and perfect for mobile usage for anyone; especially college students planning the rest of their day after the class they are sitting in is over.

5. Limit the Number of Drop Down Boxes – plaveb.com

Plaveb is an online business consulting agency that focuses upon manufacturing elegant web solutions for their end users. Since the business relationship and emphasis on growing client interaction are major factors for Plaveb it only makes sense that they have an impressively functional contact page. One aspect of the Plaveb contact page that sets them apart from competitors is their use of the drop down box. Now, according to HubSpot’s research only a single drop down is truly effective on any contact page, but in the case of Plaveb it seems to be a functionality that their users would appreciate. Users can begin the conversation of partnership right off the bat and everyone knows where everyone else stands. The selections in the boxes are well thought out, and directly relate to important information for the relationship. Overall, the use of this technique is very well represented, and other providing a similar service may want to follow suit.

6. Get Rid of Any and All Sophisticated Text Areas – thechemistrygroup.com

The Chemistry Group is a client specific organization that is known for increasing hiring accuracy, reducing attrition, and overall developing product sales and turnaround times through case studies and well thought through organizational change practices. Their website is informative as it is playful, and definitely leads you to learn more about them as a group. When you arrive at their Contact page though, the importance lies within the single text area provided. More than one text area for the user is overkill, and for anyone visiting this site or any for that matter that want to simply ask questions and potentially utilize their service only really needs that one space. The idea behind sophisticated areas is nice and all, but at the end of the day having the user convert and share their information is the only real goal. Multiple text areas are time consuming, and not necessary especially if they are a required field for security purposes. The busy user wants to ask their question, share their limited information, and hopefully receive a response as quickly as possible and on both ends of the spectrum a single text area allows you to oblige what will hopefully develop into a mutual relationship.

7. Security is Essential – joomla-monster.com

Joomla-Monster is an online store for the bootstrap grid system, templates, and more for the technology savvy consumer. Users can download a number of products to help improve their online presence and increase their knowledge of what makes a company successful on the online platform. Just as Joomla-Monster knows, in addition to all of the bells and whistles that are desirable with a company website, in today’s digital world, security is an increasing concern. Similar to the items that they offer on their site for consumers to purchase to improve security of their systems, Joomla-Monster does a good job of protecting their inquirers of products on their site from spam and lost information through their contact page. Today, individuals are able to intercept e-mail addresses with ease, people can blow up e-mail addresses with spam through contact pages, and overall make the entire collection process of potential new clients and inquires very difficult through contact pages. The anti-spam verification, required e-mail, name, subject, message, and regarding fields ensure that no loose information is forgotten or slipped through to the next page. If you do not fill out any particular field, you are bounced back. As technology continues to become more complex and powerful it is important for anyone asking for user contact information to take all precautions to protect their clients. Not only will it make your clients feel a bit safer when asking questions, but make you look more responsible.

Happy Holidays

As a way to celebrate the season, we have created a special edition of our Brick Factory homepage featuring a holiday message for our friends and family.  As a small way to give back, we will donate $1 to the Wounded Warrior Project for every person that views the message on our homepage between now and December 31.  Our homepage will update with a live tally as more money is raised.

So please visit our homepage, and encourage your friends and family to visit as well.  Total donations to the Wounded Warrior Project will be capped at $1,000.  Update: We ended up raising a total of $715 for the Wounded Warriors.  Thanks to everyone for their help.

On a related note, the Brick Factory team had its annual holiday party last Thursday at Zatinya in DC.  The whole night was fun, but the highlight was probably our Secret Santa gift exchange that took place late into the celebration.  You can view a full photo set over on our Facebook page, but I’ve included a few below to whet your appetite.

Teddy Taylor posing with his brand new “I Love Hannah” coffee mug.  The mug was given to him by Hannah Del Porto, who is also pictured.

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Chuck Fitzpatrick unsuccessfully tries to break the new stress ball he got through our office Secret Santa.

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Ron Isla posing with an inflatable tiger head.

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