Tools is a blog series on various tools we use in the office to help us accomplish our task, whether it’s software or hardware.

This week we are featuring another tool that helps us open up multiple links without clicking on each link individually. Linkclump is a Google Chrome extension which lets users open, copy, or bookmark multiple links at the same time.

Why Linkclump?
Especially, after Open Multiple URLs (an extension that serves a similar purpose) was featured last week? The answer is that they address different scenarios where you may need to check a large number of links. Open Multiple URLs is great if your already have a list of URLs ready to be pasted into the extension’s textbox, but if the list of links is on a webpage (including Google Sheets) then Linkclump is more efficient as it will open up those links (in new tabs or new windows) simply by dragging a selection box around them.
hmm donuts

Additional Features
Besides opening up links, Linkclump can also also bookmark those links or copy them into clipboard. These features, along with other settings can be manage from its Options page.

So take your pick, see which one suits your need, or try them both. If you use another tool to open multiple URLs at the same time, please comment below and let us know.

As Jared wrote earlier, we employ several tools to make support documentation easily available to our users. In addition to those tools making our software easier to use, the content and structure of each article should help users quickly complete a task or understand a concept. How a piece of text contributes to a reader’s comprehension is what technical writers refer to as readability.

After joining LexBlog in 2016, I quickly focused on how we write, organize, and share customer-facing help articles. One particular task has taken me a year and counting: structuring all of our docs for readers who don’t have time to read.

 

Some points about our users

When I write or edit articles, I have to remember these points about our users:

  • On the web, people don’t read. They scan. User eyes are very good at skipping to the content they need.
  • Our users are busy. When looking at a help article, they need to find relevant content quickly. Nobody has time to read four pages about, well, anything.
  • Our users are diverse. Some of our users are seasoned web developers. Others have never logged into a blog in their life. Some may use accessibility software to help them read text on a page. Others may not speak English as their first language, so translation software helps them with the text.
  • Users get frustrated. Often a user doesn’t look at documentation until something goes wrong. The person reading a help article may already be confused, frustrated, or lost.

 

Structuring and writing support articles

It may sound like a contradiction — writing for people who don’t read everything on the page — but a few simple techniques improve an article’s readability. These are the general rules I follow when writing or editing help articles:

  • Keep it consistent. Our docs should follow the same, predictable format. New users who need more details can read more of the document. Experienced users who just need a refresher can skip straight to the parts they need.
  • Put important information up top. User eyes spend more time at the top of a webpage. So we put important messages higher in the docs. It’s a good idea to tell a baker to preheat the oven before they mix the batter.
  • Keep it short. Articles are brief and focused. Short, descriptive titles should tell you what the article is about. We limit sentences to 25 words, while paragraphs are generally limited to four sentences. If a concept requires more explanation, we may link to another source.
  • Use headers and lists. Clear, useful headers help a reader’s eyes skip to the information they need. Lists group together similar ideas or instruct users on how to perform a task. Using both of these elements can help break up a wall of text.
  • Use simple words. Technical writing is delightfully boring. We avoid jargon and pretension.

 

Learn more about readability

As I mentioned, restructuring our support articles is an ongoing task. Users like fixing their own problems, and clear, readable documentation can help them do so.

Here are some of the sources I regularly consult about writing for readers on the web:

Tools is a blog series on various tools we use in the office to help us accomplish our task, whether it’s software or hardware.

automagically
ADVERB
informal
(especially in relation to the operation of a computer process) automatically and in a way that seems ingenious, inexplicable, or magical.

Automagically is how we like your LexBlog blogs to perform. To achieve that we use numerous tools and tricks, the one featured this week is a nifty browser extension called Open Multiple URL.

Open Multiple URL enables the users to open up multiple sites simultaneously within the browser by simply pasting in URLs. It also has the ability to extract URLs from a whole bunch of HTML.

Admittedly, the open URLs function works better than URL extraction (got some false positives). In fact, you need to be careful with how many links you try to open at the same time. From my experience, if I open 50 to 60 URLs I will hear my laptop’s fans sounding like the engines of 747 during take off; anything beyond that will slow down my Chrome browser to the point that I begin to have flashback from the days of running Window 95 with 4MB of RAM. But your experience may vary depending on the performance of your computer. Just play with it and find out your machine’s limit.

So how is Open Multiple URL used in LexBlog? We use it when we need to do perform visual inspections on sites, which is becoming much less frequent than it used to be thanks to the wonderful codes written by LexBlog developers. But there are still occasions where it’s quicker to perform visual checks than have the developers write dedicated commands: double checking inactive domains to make sure no mistakes were made, visual checks on feature implementations or improvements that only affect only small number of sites, etcetera.

Here at LexBlog, we are all fans of technology. And as someone who witnessed the era of Betamax, 8tracks, and rotary dial phones I’m glad that manual process is involved not just to manage internal projects and provide external support, but also to ensures our clients’ blogs work Automagically.

While Google does a great many things well, I have been cynical about their search results for a while now. They do a good job generally serving up what I need on the 1st page of results.

This is not all that impressive, sine these results are nearly universal. You just link to a result on Wikipedia or Amazon for broad subjects. Or find a decent blog or newspaper for long tail search.

What concerns me, and makes me question Google results, is when I get to page 2. There I start seeing things like this when searching for the 1971 board game Stay Alive by Milton Bradley.

Yes, that is a link to the board game from the venerable retailer, Sears. This piqued my interest, so I clicked on it. The results were not particularly useful or high-quality.

It is a generic page with dummy text and broken images. Which does not exactly fit in well with Google’s commitment to surface high-quality content. It also makes me question the dependability of their algorithm when such an obvious low value result makes it the 2nd page. Well above much more useful and informational blog posts on page 3 and beyond.

I know most of us do not click deep on Google. It does such a good linking to a couple of high-quality sites. But if they control over 75% of the search market, they need to commit to doing a better job of surfacing content.

They can start by eliminating results from e-commerce sites that no longer carry an item or in the case of this sears result, probably never did.

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

Tools is a blog series on various tools we use in the office to help us accomplish our task.

For the inaugural post of Tools, I’d like to feature an app that’s frequently used here at LexBlog: Integrity

Integrity is a link checking app for Mac that’s been used by LexBlog for many years. Whether it is launching a new blog or migrating an old one, we use Integrity to check for broken links, images, attachments, and etc. Although with the improvements implemented over the years the number of broken links or objects have decreased significantly, we still run Integrity checks for all launches. Let’s face it, broken images or links are simply unprofessional.

The results Integrity returns are quite straightforward: the link text, the link’s address, where it’s found, and the type of error (if any). And you can sort them by link, page, status, or just view everything at once with flat view. Those who prefer doing more analysis with the results can exporting into a .csv or .xlsx file.

Something to be mindful of when using Integrity is to find an optimal setting for the number of threads you would like to crawl at once; the higher it is the faster the sooner the task will be completed but it also increase the likelihood of false positives (links not loading due to server’s limited capacity) or IP address being flag as malicious attacker. As such, You’ll need to play around and find the optimal threads setting.

So, if you need to check broken links or objects, give Integrity a try. If you use Integrity already, how you like it?

Kevin O’Keefe’s schedule over the past year has been filled with travel to such interesting locations. Speaking engagements, meetings, and conferences in London, Amsterdam and New Orleans etc.

As a lover of travel I must say I was a little jealous when an instant message from Kevin popped up telling me he was enjoying the pub culture in London and in particular the beer.

Kevin’s visit to Amsterdam was of particular interest to me as it is absolutely one of my favorite places in the world.

Upon his return from far flung locales Kevin will often stop by my office to chat about his latest trip. I’m always curious to know if he had a chance to go to this or that museum etc.

What he invariably talks about is the people he has met and how they inspire him.

This week through a FaceBook live interview that Bob Ambrogi and Kevin did with Kate Fazio, I too was inspired. She is a woman who has transitioned from the corporate world to further the mission of Justice Connect, an NGO that provides legal assistance to people and other NGO’s. She was inspired by how the use of technology could efficiently provide help to more people and also help people to help themselves.

I was inspired by how Ms. Fazio was using technology but more than that, I was inspired by the mission of Justice Connect. As someone who spent many years working for what was predominantly a criminal defense law firm I know that there is a justice gap.

Take the case of David Milgaard who spent 23 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. I was so proud of the lawyers I worked with who spent untold hours/years to get justice for David. I still remember the happy day it was announced that he would be released.

Sadly the case of David Milgaard is not an isolated one. Organizations throughout the world are working to close the justice gap and young women like Kate Fazio are out there making a difference.

Thanks to Bob and Kevin for interviewing Kate Fazio. She inspires me. Her enthusiasm is infectious.

One of the drastic changes for LexBlog Design has been a move away from the use of graphics programs for the creation of web layouts to live designing inside the browser using Apple Fritter.

This past week I had the opportunity to live design the Real Lawyers blog with Kevin O’Keefe. The joy of this process is that it’s not weeks to delivery but a few hours and we were “live” with a new look. This method is not random erratic design rather, a thoughtful intelligent creation built on what we’ve learned over the past 15 years and woven into our digital publishing platform. The benefits of this approach are numerous:

  • Instant Results — We can immediately see our font, color, and layout choices on desktop and mobile views
  • Quick Corrections – We can make on-the-fly adjustments vs going back into Photoshop
  • Truthful Presentation – There will always be a disconnect between what we make in Photoshop and what we actually see online
  • Real Content – We can see how our new design interacts with our content on desktop and mobile views and we can make quick adjustments
  • Remove Captivity to old Design – We can be more agile to make design updates as our focus, branding, or preferences change

The exciting thing about Apple Fritter is the power to create can be yours. Pick a starter design, upload your logo, choose your fonts, colors and start blogging!

JavaScript wrangling has been among the most controversial topics in front-end development for a long time now. It’s right up there with tabs vs spaces and french press vs pour over. Here’s how we do at LexBlog in all current and foreseeable projects.

The Global Object

We kick off a plugin/theme JS file with a global that is namespaced for that project, containing handy functions used throughout.  Example:

Continue Reading How We Boilerplate our JavaScript

I decided to start a series about things I wanted to communicate to our clients or really cool things that I thought they should know.  In my first post, Things I wish clients knew about LexBlog, I shared our story of moving from a custom blog/website building agency to a Software as a Service platform – but what does this mean?

Does LexBlog still build blogs?

The short answer is yes but this process has changed dramatically and (in my opinion) for the better!

The old blog creation process involved a Photoshop PSD file, and while this file had layers of imagery and elements, it wasn’t a website, it was just a static image. This image is passed back and forth multiple times with critiques and changes – sometimes this process would take months. Then once the PSD specs were approved, THEN we build a custom website.

If any readers have ever built a custom website from scratch (from a  mockup image) you know this process is lengthy, challenging, and in the end very costly for all parties. The real challenge with this process was translating a flat image into a dynamic, functional, real website.

Apple Fritter is our solution for live website creation

Our Apple Fritter software is a different approach to creating a website – we have built an extensive live website design software using the WordPress core customize.php. This allows us to create your design on a live website real time meaning we can make design changes and present you with your blog in a matter of days!

Gone are the days (or months) of lengthy custom website projects – we’ve built a tool for building a blog or website, no PSD mockups required.