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Thanks to the Internet, passwords are everywhere, the odds are if you were to try and write down a list of online accounts which you have to enter a password for, you would not be able to remember them all!

Having finished the online enrolment process for University, I was told in a letter to logon to the University website to choose my modules for my course. Logging onto the University website itself was a problem. I find remembering passwords and user names difficult enough at the best of times, however, the University has taken this to a new level by assigning cryptic usernames consisting of what I perceive to be a random jumble of letters!

To make things even more interesting, my password is not allowed to be a word within the English dictionary! It also has to be nine characters and a number which is difficult considering I only have a four digit memory span – I remember one week spending ages shopping for a padlock with only three tumblers. The University website is probably more secure than the Ministry of Defence!

It’s not just Universities which make passwords unfriendly for dyslexics. Online shops and banking systems are mind blowing. They are probably designed by the same people who write those impossible puzzles in the back of newspapers, the ones people pretend to know how to do on the train!

Recently, while trying to buy a CD online, a message from my credit card company popped-up asking for the 1st, 3rd and 7th letter in my password. This is all done in the name of security, but in order to do this I have to write my password down. It’s fine if I’m at home but what if I’m using a public computer, write down my password on a scrap of paper and accidentally leave it there? Surely this cannot be in the best interests of security.

Every year September comes to an end I feel slightly sad as summer is well and truly over. ‘Summer’ in the UK hasn’t seemed to happen the past few years but as a consolation September is usually quite mild and not too rainy. As soon as October comes around though it’s a sure sign that winter is on it’s way, especially when the clocks go back later this month.

After a few very hectic months we’re scheduled to be just as busy this month, as there’s seemingly no let-up in the amount of work we have. It seems like most companies have gotten over the shock of the recession and – after panicking for the first half of the year – have now realised that life goes on and consumers are still buying things. Certainly we felt the impact in the first half of this year when many of our clients postponed their projects whilst their organisations reorganised themselves to cope with the recession.

Throughout the summer we’ve had a lot of large and very complex projects, almost all of which we’ve now delivered on. These have been replaced with a number of quite short and straightforward usability testing and web design projects, which we’re quite happy about. Whilst the larger projects are the most interesting, they’re also the hardest work, so it’s nice to slow the pace down a bit by working on some bread and butter type projects (you can see a selection of our current projects on this site).

So other than doing work for our clients, we’ve been getting out and about a lot, attending Accessibility 2.0, Netimperative’s Twitter or Bitter and Sticky Content’s 10 birthday party, to name a few events. I also presented at the ARK Group’s, Great customer services on a budget, which was good fun. It had a public sector focus and it’s always interesting to talk about how local government can improve their online communications. Our latest poll is asking you to vote on which sector has the least usable websites and unsurprisingly the public sector has already taken a lead against its peers.

We’ve also now released the results of our most recent poll, where we looked to find out what the key factor in purchasing a CMS is. Coming out top were ease of use and functionality/feature set; surprisingly though, price and security ranked low down the list. V3 and CMSCritic have all picked up on this.

This month also saw the first month that we’ve run our training courses in our offices. For the past few years we’ve run the courses at Happy Computers who have always looked after us very well. The venue may look a bit like a play school (with plastic farmyard animals sitting around their offices) but it was certainly a good environment for training. Anyway, we’re now fully set up in our offices for the training and everything seemed to go well.

We’ve got more training to follow in October, as well as attending (and presenting at) Ecommerce Expo – if you’re coming down then be sure to swing by our stand. If you happen to be an IMRG member then you’ll also get to see a lot of us as we’re presenting at both their Mobile Commerce Workshop on 8 October and travel workshop on 29 October. Finally, we’ll be publishing our annual ecommerce usability report, which is always very popular. Last year’s report had 2000+ downloads so hopefully this year’s will have some interesting results (and maybe a new winner?).

Preparing for usability testing requires a surprisingly large amount of planning. Here are the 6 key steps you should go through to get ready.

We published a top tip in last month’s newsletter on how to go about ensuring you have accessible video and audio on your website, so I thought I’d put my thoughts up on the blog as well.

Accessibility isn’t just limited to the text on your website – it applies to all types of content including multimedia. With video and audio becoming more and more common across the web it’s essential that you do as much as possible to open up this content to all website users, and it’s not as complicated as you may think.  Below are some tips for catering for three key user groups:

Blind web users
The key requirement for blind web users for accessible video is that all visual changes within videos are conveyed through non-visual means. Ideally this would be though an additional voice-over within the video (which can be switched on or off) describing the visual changes. Creating this for all your videos can be very costly and time-consuming, so an alternative is to provide a written transcript for the video, with a comprehensive description of the video. Also, ensure that video and audio don’t automatically play on web pages as the sound can interfere with screen reader speech.
Mobility-impaired web users
For most mobility-impaired users, effective keyboard access to content is key to offering accessible video and audio. All audio/video controls need to work with the keyboard as well as the mouse and the tabbing order through these controls should be logical (which usually means left-to-right). Finally, there should be a focus state for each control when tabbed onto – often this is a yellow border around the control so it’s probably best to follow this convention. Do also bear in mind that blind users utilising screen readers are also keyboard-only users so these guidelines also apply to them.
Deaf web users
For deaf web users the most important thing when making accessible video and audio is that equivalents are provided for all content that relies on sound. This means offering written transcripts for audio files and subtitles within videos (which can be switched on or off). Ideally, and for optimal accessibility, you’ll also provide sign language for any videos as this is the first language for many hearing impaired people (especially those deaf since birth).

I recently received a copy of How to Grow Your Business: For Entrepreneurs by Alex Blyth so decided to share my thoughts on it for all other small business owners out there. The book featured a case study of Webcredible about how we used online marketing and SEO to establish the company in the early days, so I got sent a copy in the post.

As a small business owner, I have to say the book was pretty good and had some solid advice. The first few chapters basically just had a go at me about not letting go and learning to delegate more – words I think that every small business owner needs to hear as often as possible!

After this, the book went on to offer lots of useful advice on growing your business, with a particular focus on the range of sales & marketing options available. There’s nothing in here that’s rocket science – it’s all common sense and a lot of the stuff in here is pretty well known. That said, I did learn quite a few new things and it’s always good to be reminded of things you kind-of-already-know but have forgotten about.

So all-in-all, a good book and if you’re looking to grow your business then I can certainly think of worse ways to spend 10 pounds!

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