Maker of things @LexBlog. I like pretty things, functional things, funny things, food, and WordPress. Not necessarily in that order.

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, LexBlog used Get Satisfaction to manage our knowledge base and community portal (then named “Reach”). The implementation was clunky, requiring users to create dual user profiles on their sites and inside this other application. Moreover, there were no ties between the content in the knowledge base and the people that were helping clients find answers to questions, so there was little incentive as an employee to know or contribute to the content.

As I’ve mentioned in my past few posts, a huge reason LexBlog moved to using Zendesk’s suite of products was the consolidation of systems and processes. Instead of having three products from different companies that don’t talk to each other to manage one thing (support and project management) we now have a variety of integrated tools. A benefit to being in the Zendesk ecosystem is that these tools are fairly technically advanced, allowing us to tie a WordPress user to a Zendesk profile and supporting single sign-on into LexBlog’s support center where you can see all of your submitted tickets and interactions with our team since we’ve been using Zendesk’s ticketing system. For our support team this also means that all of the content from support center is at their fingertips each time they answer a question from a customer, and a new question can easily turn into a support center article.

While this has significantly streamlined our support processes from the Get Satisfaction days to today, we took things a step further when redesigning the support center. While the content has been available to anyone with a link to the support center for several years now, we had not allowed search engines to index anything. As a part of continuing to open LexBlog’s doors to all legal bloggers, we thought it was about time to take that step so that now anyone can search for the content on the web and find their way to the LexBlog support center. Community posts, profiles, and other private information will remain that way, but all articles written by LexBlog will be indexed by search engines from here on out.

A lot of the content now is there to aid in making our customers successful in using our software, but as we expand that content to include more information on blogging and social media, others that are starting up a legal blog may find it a useful resource. A key challenge for LexBlog (one among many!) is helping to raise the level of discourse on the web for lawyers and law firms – regardless of whether or not you publish with LexBlog – and this is one small step of many in doing just that.

Maintaining a network of over 1,000 blogs can sometimes feel a bit like digital farming. Much of my time is spent identifying bugs to squash in various repositories, managing projects along to completion, and reviewing platform statistics in preparation for the next round of customer interviews (the “weeding”, “shepherding”, and “flock tending” of product management). Every so often, however, harvest comes and there is some revelry in the launch of a major update.

Yesterday was one such day as the new design of LexBlog’s support center was launched early in the morning; the culmination of several weeks of work between Ted Cox, Brian Biddle, and myself. The old design (pictured below) was a fast bit of work, with the primary focus on moving a rather large body of content from Get Satisfaction to Zendesk’s Guide product without losing anything in that migration.

 

 

 

While the move was a positive one, and the updated design better than the one implemented in Get Satisfaction’s ecosystem, there was still a lot of room for improvement. As with any design, the longer it was up, the more obvious it became that something was off. The three “call to action” boxes seen in the image above, seemed arbitrarily placed, the search form’s placement moved around depending on what page template you were on, if you scrolled lower you saw a list of categories without any explanation of what the contents of those categories were; the list of UX and UI flaws goes on and on.

With Ted moving from his role as a Technical Support Specialist to LexBlog’s full time Technical Writer, the time seemed ripe for a major overhaul of not just the design, but the organization and focus of the support center. Ted spent days reorganizing content, and more time reviewing everything to make sure that things were as up to date as could be expected, all while adding a series of documents on new (and old) LexBlog platform features. While that happened, Brian worked on building out a design that was both more in line with LexBlog’s design standards, and focused on the paths that a customer may take as they looked for content.

The result was a fully responsive (the last version had a mobile version) work of art that everyone at the company is (more) proud to stand behind.

 

 

There’s greater consistency throughout the design, and the list of popular articles at the top of the homepage is managed by Ted and reflects the most viewed pieces of documentation within the support center. The interior pages are where I think the design really shines, with each article containing clear navigation to other articles in the same section of documentation, making it easy to follow from article to article and find what you need:

 

 

Overall a pretty fun project to work on, and a good crop to harvest.

I’ve been a big proponent of Zendesk after using their product(s) for several years at LexBlog. Like all businesses, LexBlog has gone through a variety of systems and processes cycles, and how we manage inbound requests is no exception. As I mentioned in my last post, a huge push over the last several years has been the shift from the cycle of inbox to development/design requests back to inbox to a more distributed approach through the use of Zendesk’s ticketing system. Not only was the old approach to communication causing headaches for all project members (have you ever played the telephone game?), it created silos where only a single account/project manager could manage the projects they were responsible for. If for some reason, that person was sick for a week, their projects may go untended or be utterly confusing for someone to step in and address.

Something that we’ve worked hard to do in recent years is choose software that we can easily work with outside of the box. It’s rare that we find something that fits what we need without customization, and having the ability to extend the core product is vital.

In that regard, I can’t say enough good things about working with Zendesk. The content in our contextual support bubble is dynamically populated if opened on a page where there is support documentation that may be helpful – this is powered by the Web Widget API. The support center in each site’s administrative area is powered by the Core API. And much of my work over the last several weeks has been with Zendesk’s Help Center templates, which are a mixture of HTML, CSS, JS, and Handlebars.

I also had the chance to extend LexBlog’s visual regression testing application to be more of a dashboard application for managing all things related to LexBlog’s systems by working with the Help Center API to provide Ted Cox, our technical writer, with the tools needed to better manage the content inside our support center through a variety of API calls and new React components (as a brief aside, if you have a React application and ever need to take the results of an API call and jam them into a CSV, I love this package).

Overall, a lot of good things to say about Zendesk, and probably even more as we’re starting to wrap up our work on redesigning LexBlog’s support center!

When I moved to Seattle and began working at LexBlog as a full-time Account Manager in the summer of 2013, one of the first things I began doing was organizing my inbox in a way that would let me easily find a certain class of questions  and answers. This was primarily because at that time, LexBlog had no central repository of documentation for publishers using our platform. In this world, questions were a dime a dozen, but answers were in short supply or trapped in the brains of long-time LexBlog employees. Fortunately, the same or similar questions would come up time and time again, and each new question would get tagged and organized in a way that let me find it and other similar questions so that the next time it came up, the answer was just a few clicks away.

This might seem like a product piece for Gmail (it’s not, but Gmail sure is swell!), but far from it. This was an onerous, time-consuming process for all parties involved. On my end, my inbox was a mess, with emails from dozens of customers every day asking me how to do something when just the day before a colleague of theirs at the firm had asked the same question. Meanwhile, our customers were wondering how to do something and, finding no resources at their disposal, would email yours truly and wait patiently for a reply. When an employee at a firm would leave, someone new would take on the responsibility of managing the site and have to relearn everything on the fly.

We made it through those days through the power of fantastic employees who were truly dedicated to answering questions thoroughly and with a smile on their face. LexBlog is a company that prides itself on providing top-notch service and support, and it was (and still is) a necessity to be quick, nimble, and thoughtful, but things have gotten considerably better over the years. Those same great employees still exist, but our systems and knowledge management tools are considerably different.

Continue Reading A New Set of Tools for LexBlog’s Support Center

Recently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed the net neutrality regulations created during the Obama administration. These regulations were put in place primarily to stop internet service providers (ISPs) from engaging in discriminatory practices against online services/companies (a common example is Comcast manipulating the availability of Netflix – slowing it down – for its customers until Netflix paid the ISP for better speeds). They also had the delightful side-effect of ensuring that the United States would not see the cable-TVization of the internet, similar to what you see in countries like Portugal who have no net neutrality rules:

This move from treating the internet like a utility (like water or power) that all American citizens can access without the typical market concerns, to a commodity is concerning for consumers and businesses alike. When the vote was finalized a few weeks ago, one of LexBlog’s internal Slack channels came alive as we tried to parse through what this could mean for publishers and small businesses.

Continue Reading What Does Net Neutrality Mean for Digital Publications?

At LexBlog, we manage a lot of sites with a small (but mighty!) team. While we carefully introduce new features on a regular basis through a combination of automated and functional tests, it’s much easier to trust the process (any Philadelphia 76ers fans out there?) when your team is responsible for writing that functionality. However, as LexBlog’s platform is built on WordPress and includes a variety of third-party plugins not written by LexBlog’s product team, we’re often put in a position to introduce new code to the platform without having the luxury of reading each line. In fact right now, we’re preparing for a core update now that WordPress 4.9 has been out long enough to see a security release added to the initial point release.

In our line of business, this is fraught with peril as not all sites are created equally (meaning they often run different bodies of code) and the standard at LexBlog is high where a few pixels of change is cause for concern. So how do we do it?

Continue Reading How We Update WordPress (and Third-Party Plugins) at LexBlog

One of the things that I’m proudest of at LexBlog is our commitment to using WordPress for everything we deliver to our clients. The WordPress open source project’s mission statement – to democratize publishing – aligns with LexBlog’s goals to democratize legal publishing, and aligns with my personal philosophies to make the web accessible to those that can add value to the world’s largest conversation (the internet).

The past two years of the State of the Word have been largely the same. In 2015, Matt Mullenweg called upon a community of PHP developers to learn JavaScript deeply while pushing RESTful APIs as the future of WordPress development. In 2016 this focus was carried over as JavaScript continued to eat the web and major components of WordPress’s REST API were folded into core.

Continue Reading WordPress Marches on with 2017’s State of the Word