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On the FeedBlitz UI: Opinions Wanted; Inspiration Needed!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Or: Go ahead, call my baby ugly. Please.

It's OK.

I know a lot of you find FeedBlitz difficult to use, especially at first. I'm not talking about aesthetics or performance here. I mean the navigation, features and service management. Where to go to find or change something. Which tab you should be on. That kind of thing. FeedBlitz breaks the "don't make me think" rule too often.

We need to change this. And we're going to, starting now.

But FeedBlitz is complex. There are now hundreds of options, commands and settings. It does a lot.

So before we start on a redesign, then, I'm asking for your help. Here's what I'd like to know:

Of the web sites, products or services you use regularly that have lots of capabilities, what do you like the best about them? What user interface (UI) would you have us be inspired by to make FeedBlitz easier to use?  Which UI was more approachable at first? Which UI have you grown to love over time? Which have you started to dislike more and more?

For example, do you love your blog software or theme's admin pages? FeedBurner's? Salesforce.com? Your personal finance site? Something else? Let us know.  Do you prefer big friendly buttons, or all the options on one or two pages?

Here's my commitment. Although I moderate comments here I'll publish them all, unless things descend into personal attacks, pointless criticism (e.g. "I hate orange") or flame wars.

So if you've been frustrated by the site, now's your chance to help. It's not a democracy and I don't promise to make FeedBlitz look like anything that is proposed or even popular. But your opinions are welcome and I do promise to listen. I'll keep this going for as long as it lasts, so speak up now, please!

Please comment with your ideas or, if you prefer, email me privately.

Thanks! I can't wait to hear from you.




Blogger Carrie said...

Probably the most frustrating thing to me is the four navigational menus. There IS a lot, and I know that makes it hard to design, but perhaps each main section should have it's own navigation.

For instance, I don't really need to see this:

Knowledge Base

Upgrades & Billing



Terms of Service


...on my Newsletters page. That should *probably* only be on the main page, before login, since most of it is for new users.

Perhaps dropdown menus would be a solution to removing some of the clutter of the all the different navigation?

I really like all the statistics that Feedblitz provides, but I still have some trouble understanding what all of them are and drawing conclusions based on the results..

For instance, on the Open Analysis, it would be nice to have some sort of a percentage number instead of just the the number of opens. (I'm lazy.)

Anyway, those are just a couple of rambling thoughts.

I can't wait to see what you come up with!

3:39 PM, September 14, 2010  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

Thanks for that, Carrie. Is there a tool, product or service you use often that we should be inspired by as well?

9:41 PM, September 14, 2010  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

Watching the new Twitter.com videos is giving me some ideas. Sadly don't have it yet on my account. Soon, I hope!

9:49 AM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

Question for folks reading this who find the UI challenging.

Is the main problem:

a) Tracking where you are in the UI (i.e. you get lost too easily); or
b) Determining where you need to go to in the UI in the first place?

10:01 AM, September 15, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I use Wordpress and Drupal for content management/blogging. Wordpress is easier hands down to navigate.

My sense is there are too many colors competing on the page or perhaps they are just not esthetically pleasing or complimentary. You may want to play around with Adobe's color wheel (it is free).

10:05 AM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Susan Rubinsky said...

Hello Phil! I just started using FeedBlitz today and I also happen to be a user interface designer. As you already know, your interface is seriously confusing. The only reason I kept with it was because you have no real competitors (Feedburner is for even more technical people than FeedBlitz) and I needed to setup an email subscribe button on my blog that automatically sends updates to subscribers -- you really are the only solution to that unless I want to do it manually.

I would suggest the following to get you started: Make a flow chart where you organize all your services into related groups. If this seems daunting, get some post it notes and write the name of each service on a separate post-it note then keep rearranging them on a big blank wall until you've got them all organized into relevant groups. You may want to invite in some co-workers to help. You should do this for several days, even weeks, before you finalize a flow chart.

The flow chart will then make designing a new interface easy. If you email me I can send you some sample flow charts and the resulting interfaces. The key is to make even the flow chart simple -- just use the charting feature in Word 2007 and arrange things hierarchically.

Hope this helps : )

10:10 AM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

@susan - thank you! You have mail.

10:40 AM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

@Lynn: I agree that the colors can be too distracting. A more consistent palette is very likely to be part of any redesign. Thank you for contributing!

10:41 AM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Troy Wruck said...

As an avid user of numerous Google Products (gmail, apps, docs, sites, Picasa, Web Analytics, Blogger, etc, etc, etc.) I would suggest taking a close look at all their product lines. They have a way of making the complicated simple. And since they have a gazillion users, it can't hurt to replicate what's already familiar to so many others.

11:13 AM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

@Troy - I hear what you're saying. I just happen to dislike google's UIs a lot. Gmail turns me off big time. But ... I also understand that my UI preferences don't match the rest of the world's, so your point is nevetherless well-taken :-)

11:16 AM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Thomas said...

Thanks, this is long overdue. I also like Google's UI for settings, etc.

11:29 AM, September 15, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I receive your email after I post on my blog, and after one or two other people post but I have NO idea what you do, why I have this service... if it is even a service.

It has just mot been a priority to go figure it out. Perhaps it should be obvious, but ... when it isn't It is Broken.

Perhaps I need to go find a FB101

11:52 AM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

@Robin Don't think what or why is a usability issue per se. Suggest you look at htp://www.feedblitz.com/help/tour.asp for insight. Further help at the knowledge base http://kb.feedblitz.com

11:57 AM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Carrie said...

I really like the Wordpress interface as well. For whatever reason, it seems to be very intuitive to me.

I think trying to figure out where to go is the most challenging to me. I think some of the sections are perhaps not named in the most intuitive way and that's my hang up?

I, too, am not a fan of Google's interfaces, especially Gmail. So don't go that route! ;) I think Google tends to dumbify it a little too much.

2:25 PM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

Cindy Pinsonnault said: http://www.blogger.com/profile/17067199789786200576 - (PSH: Blogger seems to be unhappy at the moment and so I am pasting the comment here) from my account.

Ugly and pretty are nearly meaningless on a website. No matter what you do someone will always think it's ugly and someone else will think it's beautiful.

What is important is whether or not people can understand and easily use the site. You responded to Robin that you didn't think "what" and "why" are usability issues, but they are. When someone comes to the site, they should be able to instantly understand where they are and what they can do there, and even why it's a good idea to do it. It doesn't need paragraphs of information. One clear statement of purpose might be all that's needed.

I don't think changing colors is going to go very far to help. Carrie was right about the navigation; it's very confusing. Lately, across the Web, there's a move toward simple interfaces using icons. People think it's "intuitive." Well, it's only intuitive if it's so obvious that everyone will understand immediately. And if people don't, it's just confusion. It just leaves them hanging thinking there is something wrong with them that they don't understand what to do.

To me, your site looks like you've tried to make it simple, but that it's been simplified to the point of confusion. My suggestion is to use your words. Make every single thing clear. If you're worried that will drive away the more experienced users, then maybe use more tooltips or popups or modal windows, with a little "learn more" link next to options. The experienced users can click the icon or one-word link button and get right to work, while less confident users can take the time to read more about what that link is going to do or where it is going to take them.

Also, Susan's suggestion of getting the navigation worked out on a flow chart until it makes sense and is crystal clear may help put things in a more logical order and help eliminate all the extra navigation in places where it doesn't help.

I suspect that you have visitors with a very broad range of technical knowledge and that makes it hard to present information in a way that pleases the whole spectrum. Navigation, providing optional explanations and tips, and clarity might help all types of users.

2:27 PM, September 15, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One problem is that if you login as a newsletter recipient, the system considers you a "registered user" just as if you were a publisher -- the page looks the same, and that is terribly confusing.

So is everything else.

2:29 PM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

@Cindy - going to have to respectfully disagree. Looking at the site and being unable to figure what we do and why one signed up is not a usability issue. It may well be a communications / marketing issue, but that's distinct in my mind from this, which is how people navigate the site and use the app.

We absolutely have different levels of texhnical experience, as well as different types of user: publishers vs subscribers, for example. At the moment the site treats everyone as if they're the same, and that's going to be one of the things I expect will change. It's too much for some, not enough for others. Worse, every piece of information and available option is also presented as if they are equally important or relevant. That's not true either.

Nobody's suggesting (I think!) that changing the colors is all that needs to happen. There are a lot of bright, different colors and that may certainly be distracting from the visual cues that are there.

Once we have the information architecture, we'll turn to form it renders in.

FWIW! YMMV, thanks for the comment :-)

2:35 PM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

@Judi - I agree; most of the options aren't relevant to subscribers and add unnecessarily to the complexity.

2:37 PM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Chris said...

I'm glad you're addressing this problem Phil. I love Feedblitz, but I find it hard to recommend to clients because of the interface. Almost everything which has been mentioned above is relevant: usability encompasses so many things, including one which hasn't yet been mentioned, and that's speed/responsiveness, which isn't great on Feedblitz. One site in your sector which you could pick up a few tips from would be MailChimp; they're far from perfect, but the way they present themselves puts the user "on their side" from the outset, and willing to forgive any problems. I find the Feedblitz interface does the opposite, and alienates me. The Google approach is interesting: I think it's quite poor (and so dreadfully maintained, with so many broken links) but as someone has already pointed out, people are so familiar with it that there's a comfort factor.

Above all I'd recommend looking at the 37Signals stuff like Highrise, and I'm impressed by the redesign of SurveyMonkey. Whatever you do though, get someone in who can cast a fresh eye over the whole product. A redesign for usability simply can't be done by someone who's too familiar with it.

4:01 PM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

Hi Chris:

Totally get it on approachability and personal limitations; the site works for me :-) but an audience of 1 is a good working definition of insanity! Reason I'm putting it all out here is to get other perspectives as part of the whole process, as well as getting professional help for a number of aspects. We will be trying whatever we end up with out with testers, so did I hear you just step up and volunteer? ;-)

5:30 PM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Alien Son said...

Phil, I must be on a different wavelength from everyone else. I find Feedblitz easy to use, and the interface not at all confusing. I like it as it is.

I had to laugh at the comment that Google makes the complicated simple - I think the opposite. They have a wonderful knack for making the simple complicated. (Their search engine is wonderful, but other apps are terrible. The Gmail interface is appalling, Google Analytics is a pain to use, and Google Docs isn't very user-friendly). Please don't try to emulate Google!

My only issue with the Feedblitz site is that it's usually quite slow for me. I'm on DSL at a fairly decent speed (or what passes for a decent speed in Australia; we're way behind the rest of the world as far as Internet speeds go) and I nearly always have to wait several seconds before anything happens on any function. Even the home page takes several seconds to load. I'd be very pleased if you could improve the site's performance; I don't think you need to worry about the interface.

5:30 PM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

@Alien - thanks! But we're the minority (are you a software developer by any chance?)

But the popular tide appears to be turning against google apps emulation (phew).

I've been taking some of the advice here and I do have a germ of an idea. It will be radical compared to where we are. Have to think it through, build my flowcharts and see how it flies in the real world with some real people...

5:41 PM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Alien Son said...

hehe, no, I'm not a software developer, just an ordinary user - although I do have my own websites which I coded myself.

It's possibly an age thing. I'm older, closer to your age than I am to the people who've commented that the Feedblitz interface is difficult. There are things about the younger generation and the way they think that completely baffle me. The reverse could be true, too.

6:37 PM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

no comment! :-)

10:04 PM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Andrea said...

I want to follow blogs ¡¡¡¡¡ put inside navagation menu

9:58 AM, September 16, 2010  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

@Andrea, you can sign up for anything by scrolling to the bottom of the page at www.feedblitz.com and entering the address of the blog you want to follow.

10:02 AM, September 16, 2010  
Blogger carlos said...


Hi I moved from one of your newsletter dist. competitors earlier this year and the primary reason was the ability to quickly and painlessly create and send a newsletter to my list with my latest posts. This feature really saves me a lot of time and is still - for me - Feedblitz's strongest feature/competitive advantage.

However, the major issue I have with Feedblitz is the awkwardness involved in maintaining my subscriber list (finding, changing, deleting, etc. a subscriber). Also creating different audiences for my newsletter.

I just find to many steps involved, slow, and just not intuitive.

In terms of what sites to emulate..If I were building a database-driven site I would look to NetFlix. Even though a consumer site it's (IMHO) is designed and performs beautifully. I've also been playing Fantasy Football for the first time this year and have been really impressed with Yahoo's site.

For B2B sites I use Hoovers.com a lot

Best of luck!

- Carlos

12:41 PM, September 16, 2010  
Blogger Chris said...

I'd be delighted to test out anything you come up with, and I'm sure you wouldn't be short of volunteers for that job. I think that one of the keys to an improved interface design will be the speed of the process for the most frequently-performed tasks. That will require the clicks to be minimised, and the responsiveness of the system to be improved. Crack that and you'd make a lot of people happy.

It might be worth getting a gang of users together, and asking them: "next time you go to the Feedblitz interface, record what you're doing, how many screens it took to do it, whether the steps were intuitive, and how long the process took".

Can I start?

I have a seminar, and I want to find out which attendees are on my newsletter circulation. 1, 2, 3... Go!

0:00 Click Feedblitz bookmark

0:15 Feedblitz home screen (finally) comes up. Scan screen trying to work out where to go. Decide to click "Newsletters" at top.

0:25 "Newsletters and Mailings" screen comes up. Scan screen and notice blue panel with the relevant newsletter on (good!). Spot "search" link.

0:40 "Subscriber Search" screen comes up. Type in domain (xxx.com) of a delegation.

0:55 Results screen comes up. Doesn't appear to have any results. Scan screen again and again (there's no message to say "no results found", although there is a mysterious one saying "You have no subscribers". Am I in the wrong newsletter? I don't think that's the case...)

1:15 Decide that "You have no subscribers" means it couldn't find anyone. But I'm *sure* we have subscribers from that domain. Decide to search again. But now I have three search boxes offered. What was the one I was using? "Search your subscriptions?" Or "search your readers"? Must be the latter, I think.

1:35 Type in the first part of the email address of someone I'm sure is on circulation from that company.

1:45 Page similar to before is returned (i.e no results), but this time without even the "You have no subscribers" message, never mind no "0 results found" message.

1:55 Decide to try entering the full email address of a delegate, hoping I had been using the right search box.

2:05 Success! A result line comes up. Realise that the search doesn't work on any sort of partial match, this is just for looking up specific, individual email addresses. Not really what I want, but never mind.

2:10 Wonder if I can find out any more about this reader. Has she been opening the email, perhaps? There are some mystery symbols (crosses and ticks, and a green blob) but as one says "delete" when I hover over it, I daren't risk clicking on any other symbols. The name of the newsletter is a link though, so I click that.

2:20 I get a list of all the subscribers to my newsletter in what looks like a completely random order. I have no idea why this would be any use.

2:30 Give up and leave in annoyance. I'll ask the attendees to my seminar if they get the newsletter. It'll be quicker.

3:54 AM, September 24, 2010  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

Hi Chris: That's enormously helpful and I appreicate your taking the time to write down the steps you took. Meanwhile, ff you need help with anything on research we're happy to help at the support desk.

8:05 AM, September 24, 2010  
Blogger Kris Costello said...

I'm all excited about getting feedblitz set up and now I'm stuck, can't find "my code" for getting it on my wordpress site. Way bummer.
Kris, wellnesstalkradio.com

8:27 PM, September 27, 2010  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

Hi Kris:

Easy: Newsletters | Forms | Subscription Forms.


9:30 AM, September 28, 2010  
Blogger Ana Luiza said...

Hi Phil,
I haven't read all the other comments so maybe I'm being repetitive, but here it goes:


-- the multiple navigation menus are overwhelming. In addition - I see the word "Mailing" or "Mailings" on three different tabs, on different menus, for example (confusing)

-- I frequently get lost and I'm not able to get back to the page I visited 10min ago, because I can't remember which path I took.

-- standardizing key terms across the website would be very helpful. Ex. I can do a "subscriber" search, and sometimes end up on a page where I can search "readers". Are readers and subscribers the same? What does each one mean? What about "mailing", "newsflash" and "newsletter"? It'd be really helpful to have a quick-access glossary available

One example of a site that in my opinion has a poor interface: Feedburner (confusing, crowded, non-descriptive feature titles)

An example of a clear, user-friendly interface: MailChimp

I hope this helps and I'm really glad there's a redesign in the works. If you're interested, I can recommend a top-notch professional who specializes in UI (he redesigned my site - which is much simpler than Feedblitz though)


8:35 PM, November 03, 2010  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

Hi Ana:

Appreciate the feedback, thank you!

We're working it :-)


11:15 PM, November 03, 2010  
Anonymous Amy @ Raising Arrows said...

I am absolutely thrilled you are working to improve the site! I'm one who has shied from even getting on here b/c I couldn't find anything and didn't know what to do with it once I did find it. While I don't have any specific advice, I wanted you to know I am excited to see what comes!

12:49 AM, November 16, 2010  

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