Contributing to an Open Source project

Posted by Jeff Turcotte on May 30, 2014. Tagged: open source, technology

We work with a lot of open source code and tools. Because of the nature of software, there are a lot of times when these tools are missing features we end up adding in, and when possible, it's nice to contribute back. Sometimes patches are accepted, and sometimes they are not, but it never hurts to share code with a broader community in the event that someone might find the enhancements useful. Here’s what I have found that makes for a successful open source contribution more often than not:

Gauge interest & do some research

Not completely necessary, but has this feature been requested? Has the project maintainer made positive comments around similar features? Has someone already written the same thing you were interested in and there is an outstanding pull request? You can learn a lot from looking through GitHub issues alone.

Pick a reasonable scope

Best to stay away from any major overhauls. Unless you have the blessing of the core contributors, focus on one or two new features. This means less code, less tests, less review, and most importantly, less barrier to acceptance. Just like any software project, the smaller the scope, the better chance it has.

Follow the conventions and rules

Don’t rustle any feathers. If there are contributor guidelines, be sure to review them. When writing your code, follow all of the styles and conventions that are already in place. This alone makes your enhancements look like they belong. It’s valuable to analyze the way someone else has written something even if, in the end, you still prefer your own style. As far as PHP is concerned, PSR-1 and 2 have helped out somewhat with defining best practices for style, but there are still plenty of libraries that don’t conform, so do your best to fit in.

Be complete in your enhancement

Is all of the code you wrote properly commented? Is there documentation or a user guide that needs to be modified as well? Have you written tests? Did the tests pass? I’ve seen so many abandoned patches/enhancements simply because the author just threw together some code without taking the time to finish the job. Frankly, any new features without tests or docs are pretty much worthless to the project maintainer. Be sure that all bases are covered before you submit anything back to the project.

Clearly communicate the details

When you’re ready to submit your features back, most likely through a pull request, be sure to describe your feature in detail. Explain the problem it solves and dive into the specific use case that you felt needed to be addressed. A nice quick code example of how the new feature works is ideal, with a link to more details if necessary. It also can’t hurt to have a pleasant tone and conclude by thanking the project maintainer for taking the time to review your enhancement.

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None of this is a guarantee for a successful enhancement to an open source project. If you’re lucky or have a good reputation, it could be accepted right away, but most likely, the maintainer will have some changes they want made before accepting and you can work with them to do so. Still, by following these general guidelines, you have a pretty good chance of becoming a productive contributor to an open source project.

Taco Truck Friday

Posted by Robert Mohns on May 30, 2014. Tagged: culture

Nick recently told us about Metzy's Taco Truck. Maribeth organized an outing. Today, most of iMarc found Metzy's at the Plum Island airfield. We even had some family join us.

Metzy's tacos are amazing. Add lawn games, friends and family, and you get an Awesome iMarc Friday.

Taco Truck and iMarcians

Mat & Maribeth

iMarcians & Airplanes

iMarc Wins Again!

Posted by Katie Desmond on May 22, 2014.

We always put our clients' goals and objectives first and awards tend to be the last thing on our mind but, we have to admit that it is still very exciting to be recognized for our work. While we know we deliver exceptional value for all of our clients across all of our disciplines including strategy, UX, design and development it's always nice when someone else lets you know what an incredible job the team has done. So without further adieu, I am proud to announce that we are winners of both the New England Society for Healthcare Communications (NESHCO) Lamplighter Awards and Academy of Interactive Arts and Visual Arts Communicator Awards.

NESHCO Silver Lamplighter Award

The NESHCO Awards honor exceptional marketing in healthcare. Last year we won a Silver Lamplighter Award for the Anna Jaques Hospital website so to follow it up again this year with the Women's Healthcare site is thrilling! We are so grateful for the honor and to continue to partner with the Anna Jaques team.

Communicator Awards

The Communicator Awards honor excellence in marketing communications and with over 6,000 entries received from across the U.S. and around the world, it's the largest and most competitive awards program that honors the creative excellence for communicationcommunicator awardsprofessionals. And yes, we won three new awards!

iMarc was honored for the design and development of the Off The Front Productions, RSA Conference and Women's Healthcare sites.

Congratulations to all of our award-winning clients and my fellow iMarcians for amazing collaboration and of course driving great results. We look forward to see what the rest of 2014 brings!

iMarc Welcomes Mat Olsen!

Posted by Patrick McPhail on May 13, 2014.

After a perfect-in-duration hiring process, involving a number of excellent applicants, iMarc is thrilled to announce the addition of Mat Olsen to the team. Mat will be joining Team &wich (led by Yours Truly) as a Lead Web Engineer; responsible for bringing the functionality and requirements in all of our/your projects into reality. 

Mat has extensive experience developing in ColdFusion, an excellent foundation in programming in general, and I can tell you we were just blown away by his code samples and homework (yes, we give homework during our interview process). We're all very excited to have him as part of the iMarc team and are looking forward to years decades of productivity. 

How to Give (and Take) Constructive Design Feedback

Posted by Paul Kelley on May 5, 2014. Tagged: creative, design

Constructive feedback — not everyone is good at giving it and some people just don’t know how to receive it. Constructive feedback isn’t about personal preference and it’s not about whether you like it or not. It’s always about one simple fact; does it solve the problem?

Giving Constructive Feedback

You can start by putting your ego aside. This isn’t about how you would have done it; it's about how the design provides a solution to a specific problem. Therefore, when looking at a design, the question you have to ask yourself is, “How effectively is this solving the problem at hand and is there something that can be done to improve the solution?” All of your comments should be based on the answer to that simple question.

Words to Avoid

It’s important to remember that not everyone has the same tastes. One aesthetic does not always fit all. The words like and dislike have no place in constructive feedback. There are movies I don’t like that have won Academy Awards. There is music I don’t like that have won Grammys. Not liking something doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

The overall goal of providing feedback is to create a better end result and resolve a problem. Unclear feedback can make it difficult for us to improve the outcomes. Some examples include: 

  • “I hate that red color.”
  • “I’m not a big fan of the font you’re using for the headers.”
  • “I don’t like font sizes you're using.”

However constructive feedback can help us deliver an even better experience; such as:

  • “That red is a bit distracting which makes me overlook the important calls to action.”
  • “The font you’re using for the headers doesn’t compliment the body copy very well. Did you try using one with a similar height?”
  • “I find myself straining to read some of the content. Making the font size a bit larger would fix that.”

Receiving Constructive Feedback

As designers, we start off the same way and it’s even more important the second time around to put your ego aside. You’re not going to have the midas touch each and every time. If everyone is telling you that you missed the mark on a desired look, don’t go down swinging trying to defend your design. Fix it and move on. Your work will be stronger because of it.

It's Not Personal

While it may be the hardest thing to remember, it's not personal. It’s natural to get defensive about your work so it’s hard to not take it as a knock against your skills. Just because someone is telling you how to improve something doesn’t make you a bad designer. Getting feedback and learning how to best implement that feedback will only make you better.

If you do disagree with a piece of feedback and feel you should keep it the way it is, make sure you detail the reasons you’re not changing it. If someone took the time to look over your work and give you detailed, constructive feedback the worst thing you can do is ignore it and pretend nothing was said.

Always remember your favorite does not mean its the best. Sometimes you have to learn to let go when it comes to your work. You’re going to have favorites, it’s inevitable. When you create half a dozen logo concepts for a client it’s impossible not to have a favorite. Just remember that your favorite might not be their favorite. It’s your job to create and pitch concepts that work. You should be proud of the work whether it was your favorite or not. Again, don't get defensive if a client doesn't like your favorite concept.

Overall, giving and receiving constructive feedback is a skill you develop as you mature as a designer. It’s not easy but with practice it’ll become second nature and you’ll be a better designer, and person, because of it.

5 Tips for Creating Great Content

Posted by Nils Menten on April 23, 2014. Tagged: best practices, content, SEO, strategy, user experience

5 Tips for Creating Great Content

It sounds so simple, and in fact, it is. Want a great website? It’s gonna need great content. It is, in the simplest view of it, the only reason anyone comes to your site, stays there, and gets value from it. 

iMarc Partner Dave Tufts gently dope-slapped me on this topic many years ago, and I’ve repeated and paraphrased his comment many times since. In fact we’ve never created a great website without great content. "Well, duh!” you might say, but even so, it is sometimes overlooked in establishing budgets and work plans.  I’d go as far as saying you could have a very successful website with GREAT content, even if the design and UX wasn’t top-notch (see also: Craigslist).

Content comprises many things these days, including the text on a website, but many other things fall under that heading too; including photography and illustration, infographics, motion graphics and video, documents, demos and downloads. 

Here are 5 tips for making it great:

1

Hire professionals and plan to keep them on the team. 

Professional content is developed by professionals. They do NOT need to be subject matter experts, that’s your job, but an experienced professional writer can quarterback the gathering and creation of raw content, get it all whipped into shape for consistency, voice and tone, and it will make all the difference in the quality of the site. Sure, there are some content types you may not need help with, but for the initial build this is money very well spent. Same with photography, videography and illustration. This is so important that I’m going to make this worth two on the list and go straight to number three.

3

Identify the key audiences and content.

Explore and prioritize the people that you most need to communicate with, and spend some time putting yourself in their shoes, thinking specifically about what they need. Sometimes it's helpful to develop different "user personas" for who might come to your site and how they could best use your site to get what they need. 

  • For a potential customer that might mean organizing  and creating your content in a way that is most accessible to them, using language they will readily understand to communicate the value of your products and services. 
  • For a potential employee that might mean including information on your workplace, culture and benefits of employment. 
  • For existing customers and business partners that might mean maintaining content for things they frequently need, reference material, technical or other documentation, access to past orders or shipping information.  

4

Invest in rich media, and great photography.

Content is more than text and documents, and different types of content are TONS more effective at communicating different things. Go ahead and describe a beautiful spring day like today in words while I step outside with my camera. I’ll be right back. 

...

Yes, I cheated, that was last spring

See what I mean?

Stock photography is the bane of any proud designer, and should be avoided if at all possible. Make the images you use real, personal, and authentic. Rich media also includes video, motion graphics, and infographics which are fantastic for conveying complex ideas, processes and relationships in a way that words simply can’t hope to match. (P.S. In fact I did take that photo, but I confess it was last spring during a visit to Yosemite).

5

Lighten up, and make it easy to digest.

Create your content, then throw half of it out, just as I did with this blog. Users don’t have time to read and digest large amounts of text, and if you care about the growing segment of your audience that is reading it on their smartphones, it had better be concise, scannable and easy to understand.

6

Plan to maintain it.

This is the hardest part for some but without a plan to maintain the content of the site, including a budget, schedule and resources allocated to it, it mostly won’t get done. Explore what content ought to be created, when it should be created throughout the year, and how it’s going to get created. Then make sure it happens! That will help deliver the most ROI for your site over the long haul, and give your visitors (and the all-important search engines!) a reason to return. 

Password Managers: 2014 Heartbleed Edition

Posted by Robert Mohns on April 14, 2014. Tagged: best practices, technology

Lock down Heartbleed!Password managers, thanks to Heartbleed, are top of mind this week. While nothing can save you from sites with truly idiotic password requirements, a good password manager tool makes it tremendously easier to prevent identity theft and fraud.

Dan wrote about password managers back in 2009, but that's so five years ago. I took an informal poll around the office and here's what iMarcians use today, as well as a few others that are well-reputed.

(Impatient? Jump to the TL;DR.)

1Password:

  • https://agilebits.com/onepassword
  • Platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iPhone, iPad
  • What's special about it: It does pretty much everything, pretty much everywhere. Very configurable strong password generator; integrates tightly with Chrome, Firefox, Safari and IE; syncs across your devices using Dropbox (or iCloud); insanely deep organization (tags, favorites, folders); secure notes; software licenses; manages and auto-fills credit cards and multiple identifies into web forms. iPhone/iPad version includes a built-in browser, handy for banking.
  • Pros: Powerful, runs on all the big four platforms.
  • Cons: Not cheap. $50 for Windows or Mac, or $70 for a cross-platform bundle. $15 for iPhone/iPad (currently on sale for $9). Also, the Android version is read-only; you can't add and edit new passwords.
  • It's currently on sale for half off the usual price.
  • More iMarcians use 1Password than any other tool.

Password Hash:

  • https://www.pwdhash.com or http://crypto.stanford.edu/PwdHash/
  • Platforms: Firefox, Chrome, Opera, iPhone.
  • What's special about it: Creates a custom password for any website using one password of your choice. Implemented as a browser extension for desktop Firefox, Chrome and Opera.
  • Pros: Free and easy. Very effective at blocking website phishing attacks.
  • Cons: No official mobile support, but there is a $0.99 iPhone app, KeyGrinder, that implements the same algorithm and is thus compatible.
  • One iMarcian uses this.

LastPass:

  • https://lastpass.com
  • Platforms: Browser extensions for Safari, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Internet Explorer. Native app on Windows Phone, Blackberry OS 7, Blackberry Playbook, Symbian, Android, WebOS.
  • What's special about it: Supports two-factor authentication.
  • Pros: Runs everywhere. Everywhere. If you have one of the great-but-gone WebOS tablets or Blackberry Playbook, LastPass has you covered. Free-as-in-beer for desktop PC/Mac use.
  • Cons: Advertising-supported. Paid subscription is required for mobile access (but at $12/year, it's cheap).
  • One iMarcian uses this.

 KeePass:

  • http://www.keepassx.org
  • Platforms: Linux, Windows, Mac
  • What's special about it: It's free-as-in-liberty – GPL 2.0 open source license.
  • Pros: Source code hosted at GitHub. Fork it yourself!
  • Cons: Clunky. Autofill remains an "experimental" feature years after its introduction, and Linux-only.
  • No iMarcians use this.

mSecure:

  • https://msevensoftware.com/home
  • Platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iPhone, iPad, Windows 8 Phone
  • What's special about it: Optional self-destruct feature to beat brute force attacks. Works on Windows 8 Phone. Syncs using Dropbox.
  • Pros: If you use Windows 8 Phone, this appears to be your best bet. Inexpensive; just $20 for Windows or Mac.
  • Cons: Windows 8 Phone version doesn't yet support Dropbox sync.
  • No iMarcians use this.

Go be forth, be secure, and encryptify:

Aside from picking a tool that supports your computers and/or mobile devices, which you use is largely a matter of personal taste. I suggest…

Power user's delight: 1Password or LastPass.

Free as in Beer: LassPassKeePass or PwdHash.

Free as in Liberty: KeePass or PwdHash

Finally, here is a list of top sites that you should change your password now. Get to it!

OpenSSL “Heartbleed” vulnerability status

Posted by Robert Mohns on April 11, 2014. Tagged: technology

This Tuesday, a new OpenSSL security vulnerability was announced (with a fix). We're committed to security, and although we usually don't comment, such a high-profile report as this merits a public note. The short version is, if we host your site, you're safe.

We use OpenSSL for encrypting certain connections to and from the servers that host many of our clients' sitesWe immediately checked all our servers. Most of our servers were not running the vulnerable version, so they were never vulnerable to Heartbleed.

Twelve of our clients' sites were running the vulnerable version. While there's no evidence that any of these servers were compromised, we upgraded OpenSSL with the fixed version that day.

Due to the widespread nature of this vulnerability, we recommend changing your passwords across the web. (If you don't use a password manager tool, now's a good time to start. Here's an article by iMarc engineer Dan Collins with some tips on picking a password manager. I'm fond of 1Password, which works on Windows, Mac, Android and iOS.Update: See the new Password Managers: 2014 Heartbleed Edition.

You can find more info on the vulnerability at http://heartbleed.com/.

If you have any questions for us, please contact us at support@imarc.net.

Ring the gong! More site launches!

Posted by Nils Menten on April 2, 2014. Tagged: clients, content, creative, strategy

Holy smokes, did everyone come out of the woodwork in the last 4 months! In 16+ years I cannot recall a busier period, and it seems like a lot of pent-up demand has finally been released. We are happily busy!

We launched several new projects in the past few months, and several more are just about to. Here are a few highlights:

SSH Security

ssh_website

The security pioneer that founded this company developed one of the most important and fundamental technologies that we use every day in our work - the "Secure Shell Protocol". We jumped at the chance to build a site for them. 

I'm going to be flatly immodest and say this site is fantastic, one of the best we've ever built, and that is true in large part because they were great collaborators. It's a big site, containing lots of pages and content but the navigation is effortless and intuitive to use. It's fully responsive, and so works perfectly on any browser on any device or platform, Jared and the team created a really modern, clean design that's right on brand. And the back end systems are rock solid, the CMS easy to use. This site was launched on time to be unveiled at their biggest yearly event and the feedback internally and externally has been excellent. More to come with SSH!

Network for Excellence in Healthcare Innovation (NEHI)

nehi_homepage

These guys are like family to us after all these years, and we were grateful that they came back to us to redevelop the site we build for them back in 2006. NEHI is an organization at the center of some of the most critical dialog in healthcare - asking the question, "How can we fix health and health care in the US?". The network of leading healthcare organizations that make up their membership represent some of the best minds in healthcare today and they do not shy away from the tough questions. NEHI 'holds the umbrella' that facilitates the dialog and the sharing of ideas, bringing these people together for common cause.

This is another responsive site and so works perfectly on any device all the way down to a smartphone. Great content and valuable information is the product, and it's front and center - news and policy information, documents, research, white papers. It's all well organized and clear, yet there is a little "discovery" that takes place as you browse the site. Another great user experience, and a strong result from the design and UX team, with our usual back-end finesse, using our super-easy-to-use SiteManager content management system. 

A great result, they were thrilled and so were we. Ready for another 5 years of growth and innovation! 

the_launch_gong 

P.S. We really DO have a gong, a real one and a virtual one you are welcome to use anytime for YOUR celebrations. Visit http://gong.imarc.net

Pirated!

Posted by Kevin Hamer on April 1, 2014. Tagged: culture

For April 1st this year, the iMarc site was pirated. By "pirated", I

mean that our site received an overnight change to a pirate theme.

iMarc.net Pirate Edition

The pirate edition of iMarc.net makes use of the CSS3 sepia filter to give the site a vintage feel. Our traditional font, Fjord One, was swapped out for the more adventurous Pirata One. CSS3 Animations were used to layer some simple waves across the bottom of the page, Lastly, most of the content throughout the homepage was rewritten to fit.

April Fools Day has always been a personal favorite of mine. It serves as a reminder create some of the unexpected and to not take anything too seriously.