We all love Tumblr for its ease of use and unique social blogging features. But we really love Tumblr because the right theme can turn your humble cat musings into sophisticated works of web literature. Just click that “install” button and, “Look Ma, I’m a web designer!” (Our judges would have also accepted, “Mmm, I loves me some gradients.”)

Tumblr’s theme garden grows bigger by the day thanks to the contributions of some premier developers. Whether you’re looking to pimp your existing blog or arrive on the Tumblr scene in style, we thought it helpful to highlight a few of the themes we find beautiful, compelling and feature-rich.

See below for staff-picked Mashable favorites, and let us know which theme(s) you’re using in the comments.

1. Savory

Josh Catone: One of the things that makes Savory so nice is that it clearly defines different Tumblr post types while still cohesively tying them together. It also has a massive amount of customization options and built in support for Disqus and Typekit.

Preview it: here.

Install it: here.

Price: $49

2. Field Notes

Lauren Rubin: Field Notes FTW. Not only do I love the products, I love how they’ve kept the branding consistent in the digital space.

Preview it: here.

Install it: here.

Price: Free

3. Plaid

Brenna Ehrlich: The theme that started my hipster media empire.

Preview it: here.

Install it: here.

Price: Free

4. Brutal Simplicity

Christina Warren: Brutal Simplicity, as the name implies is simple. It’s also elegant and easy to customize.

Preview it: here.

Install it: here.

Price: Free

5. Chunky

Lauren Drell: I love Chunky, which I use for my typo blog (#nerdalert). For a lot of Tumblrs, you have to keep scroooooolling down to see older posts. For my purposes (flaunting people’s careless spelling on signage), Chunky provides a collage aesthetic that makes the images super easy to consume — barely any scrolling necessary! Plus, I love bright colors, and this theme is “slabby, colorful, fun.”

Preview it: here.

Install it: here.

Price: Free

6. Solaris

Matt Silverman: Few Tumblr themes make good use of white space while keeping posts organized. Solaris is modern, super clean, and instantly digestable. Well worth nine bucks.

Preview it: here.

Install it: here.

Price: $9

7. Effector

Christina Warren: Lots of options, color styles and built-in social tools make Effector a great theme to use and tweak.

Preview it: here.

Install it: here.

Price: Free

8. Chalkdust

Stephanie Buck: I’ve always wanted to paint my apartment walls with that chalkboard paint. The “Chalkdust” Tumblr theme allows me to virtually paint – without inciting the wrath of my landlord.

Preview it: here.

Install it: here.

Price: Free

9. Rubber Cement

Stacy Green: I love the Rubber Cement theme from SleepoverSF, because thats what I use — in purple of course. 😉

Preview it: here.

Install it: here.

Price: Free

10. Storybook

Christina Warren: This illustrated Tumblr theme is just beautiful to look at.

Preview it: here.

Install it: here.

Price: $49

11. Blank Slate

Christina Warren: Blank Slate indeed! I love the fixed sidebar and the textured background.

Preview it: here.

Install it: here.

Price: $49

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There’s no doubt that WordPress is one of the most popular blogging platforms and content management systems on the Internet. It’s widely supported, relatively easy for the end user to learn, and is easily extensible. For the average user, the WordPress theme engine makes it easy to customize the look and feel of your site. It features a robust plug-in system, and with an expansive ecosphere of existing plug-ins, you can add new features with ease.

It stands to reason that many a small business would turn to WordPress to establish its online presence. So we’ve put together a collection of great ecommerce plug-ins to add catalog, cart and sales functionality to your WordPress site. They range from basic to complex, from free to commercial, but each provides tools that allow you to easily sell your wares on a WordPress-powered website.

WP e-Commerce

WP e-Commerce is one of the most popular ecommerce plug-ins for WordPress. For a free plug-in, WP e-Commerce doesn’t skimp on features. It supports multiple payment gateways such as PayPal, Authorize.net and Google Checkout. The plug-in comes with a variety of ready-made themes, but still fully supports the creation of your own custom themes. You can also customize your order forms, share products via social networking integration, organize products into multiple categories, provide product variations (e.g. size, color) and much more.

For all its features, WP e-Commerce installation keeps it simple, requiring no more effort than other WordPress plug-ins – simply upload to the plug-ins directory and install from within WP Admin. If you’re looking to quickly launch an ecommerce site while avoiding a large time commitment or financial investment, WP e-Commerce is a fast and free, yet feature-rich solution.

Price: FREE

Jigoshop

Jigoshop is another great, free WordPress plug-in that looks quite promising. Boasting a lengthy set of features, Jigoshop gives you complete control over managing your inventory, coupon codes and shipping rates. The plug-in also supports multiple currencies, tax collection and various localization options. While the list of supported payment gateways isn’t quite as extensive as WP e-Commerce, PayPal is supported. Jigoshop also includes a couple of handy sidebar widgets for product search and filtering.

Though a few more supported payment gateways would be nice, we’re still impressed with the features of this free plug-in, and definitely think it’s worth trying out.

Price: FREE

ShopperPress

ShopperPress is meant to act as a one-stop solution for ecommerce in WordPress. With over 20 ready-made themes, you simply install the plug-in, select your desired look, add products and start selling. ShopperPress supports both physical and digital goods, custom order forms, multiple languages and over 20 payment gateways. You can also easily integrate Google Analytics, as well as your own advertising. It’s not entirely clear how easily you can customize the storefront beyond the 20 or so included templates, but if you need a drop-in solution for ecommerce, ShopperPress may be just what you’re looking for. Furthermore, the $79 price tag includes technical support from the ShopperPress team.

Price: $79

Cart66

Formerly PHPurchase, Cart66 is a WordPress ecommerce solution for selling physical and digital goods as well as subscriptions. The plug-in includes Amazon S3 integration so you can easily and reliably deliver digital downloads to your customers. PayPal integration allows for Instant Payment Notification and delivery. Cart66 also lets you set up your own merchant accounts and gateway services.

It has all the features you’d expect from a commercial ecommerce solution, including inventory tracking, support for promotional codes and multiple product variations. Unlike some of the other plug-ins we’ve discussed, Cart66 doesn’t have a storefront, per se, but rather allows you to drop products into any WordPress page or post on your site. While this may be a hindrance to some, this level of flexibility is great for vendors selling only a few products, or for those who wish to place some products behind a registration page or member area.

Price: $89-$399

Shopp

Shopp is an SEO-friendly, powerful and popular ecommerce plug-in. Shopp claims to work out of the box with any WordPress theme, so integration into an existing site should be simple. Other WordPress-centric features include dashboard widgets to easily view sales and product history, short codes and theme widgets to allow you to quickly drop Shopp elements and products into your pages.

Shopp also has a host over other standard ecommerce features: multi-category inventory management, payment history, multiple product images and variations, email notifications and a shipping calculator. The software also includes a number of promotional tools and supports a large variety of payment gateways, either natively or via plug-ins (PayPal, Google Checkout, 2Checkout, First Data, Authorize.net and more).

Price: $55-$299

eShop

Free plug-in eShop is another economical solution for rapid ecommerce integration into your WordPress site. eShop supports both physical and digital product sales, integrates Authorize.net and PayPal gateways (as well as a few others) and is compatible with the WP affiliate plug-in. Some basic features include stock management, configurable email templates, a variety of shipping methods, basic statistics, downloadable sales data, and much more. Like Cart66, eShop uses WordPress pages and posts, so you can easily integrate your products into any section of the site.

Price: FREE

WP Secure Downloads

This premium WordPress plug-in is designed specifically for managing and selling digital goods online and is perfect for selling software, music, artwork, documents, and anything else to be delivered as downloadable content. The plug-in installs just like any other WordPress plug-in, with no outside configuration necessary, and boasts features such as automatic theme integration, a built-in shopping cart and subscription-based purchases.

If your sales are limited strictly to digital products and you don’t want the overhead of a large ecommerce package, but desire the flexibility of simple product management and sales, WP Secure Downloads is the ideal solution.

Price: $37-$179

MarketPress

This BuddyPress and WPMU-compatible ecommerce plug-in allows you to quickly and easily create an entire network of ecommerce sites (of course, you can use it for single storefronts as well). If you’ve got a lot of products to sell across a number of websites, or want to create a network of hosted ecommerce sites, this is definitely the plug-in to consider.

MarketPress keeps your database tables clean by using custom post types and fields for product data; new products are added simply by creating a new post. Other features include multiple product images, coupon codes, custom email templates, multiple currency support and customizable widgets. The plug-in also features a powerful API for extending functionality – for example, to create your own custom payment modules or collect a percentage of sales from network stores.

Price: $39-$209


More WordPress Resources From Mashable:


7 Ways to Build a Business Around WordPress
HOW TO: Transfer Your Blog From WordPress.com to WordPress.org [VIDEO]
How WordPress Themes Actually Work [INFOGRAPHIC]
HOW TO: Make Your WordPress Blog More Like Tumblr
8 of the Best Premium WordPress Themes


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When it comes to web design and development, we’ve offered up our top picks for tools of the trade. We’ve shared great tips from pro developers. We’ve even wrangled exemplary sites to learn from.

But sometimes, a healthy dose of artistic inspiration is in order. If you’re a web designer (or web design afficianado) and low on creative juice, take a gander at some of these sites — recommended by top designers themselves — that push the limits of what artistic and technical expression can be on the web.

Have you come accross a truly spectacular site design that deserves the web’s attention? Share it in the comments below.

1. Lost World’s Fairs – Atlantis

Take a journey 20,000 leagues under the sea via this compelling proof-of-concept.

“The Lost World’s Fair project is a showcase of IE9 Web Open Font technology,” says Jesse Thomas, founder and CEO of the design firm Jess3.

There are a few interesting projects from The Lost World’s fair series, but Thomas picked Atlantis “because it was enjoyable to control how fast I processed the information. With this kind of responsive design, I can go slow the first time, and quick the next time.”

Thomas also notes the aethetics. “The use of illustration is soothing. I really appreciate in these examples the attention to detail.”

2. BeerCamp at SXSW 2011

Web designer Dan Rubin with code shop Webgraph suggested we take a look at this event promo site.

The design is unassuming at first, but the scroll bar packs a surprise.

“This is another stunning site from n’clud for an event at this year’s SXSW. The scrolling effect is outstanding, taking you through the site with plenty of physical depth,” says Rubin. “It’s one of my favorite examples to show during workshops and presentations.”

It’s hard to explain just how impactful this website is unless you’ve experienced it. Go ahead. We’ll be here when you get back.

3. Dmig 5

We’ve higlighted Design Made in Germany before when it won the first annual Web Font Awards, but it’s so impressive it bears another mention.

Brad Colbow, an independent web designer and illustrator picked this one for our gallery.

“I’m a sucker for great illustration integrated onto a site, and this one does it really well,” Colbow says. “It’s using some transparency effects to change the backgrounds as you scroll down. This is one of those sites that looks great as you resize it in other browsers too.”

4. Analog

WordPress developer Brian Casel (another design contributor to this site) pointed us toward this clever informational site from Google.

It’s another effective use of the scroll wheel, and the graphics can’t be beat. “It’s both visually appealing and highly informative at the same time,” Casel notes.

6. Octavo Designs

The web has seen its share of horizontally scrolling sites — some bette
r implemented than others. The portfolio for Octavo Designs bucks the trend of awkward side-scrollers, according to Kelli Shaver, a web/UI developer and regular Mashable contributor.

“The site is just full of texture and warmth, with very detailed, unique, often subtle illustrations,” Shaver notes. “I think it works really well with the typography. Everything just comes together to create a very engaging experience.”

7. One Bit Increment

A web full of shiny vectors and smooth white spaces can eventually get boring. Graphic designer Emily Caufield points out a more tactile approch in One Bit Increment’s “gamified” homepage.

“I thought this site was a great fusion of meticulous handmade art and the wonders of modern technology,” says Caufield, referring to the paper cut-outs that comprise the virtual landscape of this impressive Flash-based design. “It functions as a website, a body of art, and a game.”

8. Ben the Bodyguard

Informational sites can become stale — logo splash, navigation bar, some floating text, and a few graphic bumpers if you’re lucky.

That’s why “Ben the Bodyguard” is a step in the right direction, says Jacob Gube, founder and chief editor of the design blog Six Revisions and frequent Mashable contributor.

“It’s a great proof-of-concept of what HTML5 and CSS3 can do,” says Gube. “The site has a memorable user experience design; something that all websites should strive for, no matter how you execute it. Is it the most functional, beautiful or usable design? Definitely not. But did it succeed in its intended objective, which is to generate buzz about an upcoming web service? 13,000+ tweets says it does.”

Take a stroll through this site to see what we’re talking about.

9. Awwwards

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, skodonnell

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The second Sunday in May is when the United States, Canada and a great many other countries around the world honor their mothers, celebrate motherhood and thank moms for all they do.

Since 2000 Google has marked the occasion every year with one of its infamous Google “Doodles,” transforming the classic homepage to a tribute to moms everywhere.

We’ve looked back this Mothering Sunday over a decade of mom-themed Doodles. Take a look through our gallery below and let us know which Doodle you’d like to dedicate to your mom in the comments below or via one of the share options to the top left.

2011

For this year, Google goes with a lovely yet simple design.

2010 — United States

Last year saw a great Google homepage for the United States made up of quirky glass vases…

2010 — Global

…While the rest of the world enjoyed a tulip-themed effort.

2009

The logo was pretty in pink in 2009 with a lovely bunch of blooms making up the “l.”

2008

This sweet scene sees a mother duck and two chicks decorating the famous logo.

2007

Children’s hand-drawn pictures are a cute touch on 2007’s Mother’s Day Doodle.

2006

Google said it with roses and entwined “os” back in ’06.

2005

The search giant keeps the floral theme going in 2005.

2004

A single pink rose adorns 2004’s offering.

2003

Another Mother’s Day, another vase of posies, again neatly taking the place of the “l.”

2002

A single red rose was Google’s offering to moms everywhere in 2002.

2001 & 2000

The original Mother’s Day Google Doodle appeared in the year 2000 and remained unchanged the next year. It linked to a tribute page to the then Googler’s moms.

A Tribute to Our Moms

And here is a grab of part of that page, still live today at Google.com/moms. With the sweet statement that “no search could find better moms than these,” Google illustrated the lyrics of Howard Johnson’s song M-O-T-H-E-R with portraits. Aw!

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The Web Designer Series is supported by Wix.com, a free Flash online builder that makes website creation a breeze. Click here to create your own website now.

According to Prevent Blindness America, 53.2 million Americans aged 45 or older have some form of visual impairment, from mild to severe, and about 18% of those affected are “legally blind.” Despite their visual impairments, many of those people use the Internet every day, just like you and me. Further, as more and more people over the age of 50 become comfortable with technology, Internet usage among this demographic will only increase in coming years.

The web is full of tips on how to design websites for blind users, most of which are geared toward making your website accessible to screen readers. But as you can tell by looking at the numbers above, there is a large middle ground. The vast majority of individuals with visual impairments, even those considered legally blind, don’t need or use screen-reading software. However, the web can still be a difficult and cumbersome place to navigate when one can’t quite see it clearly.

Here are a few tips and techniques for making your site more accessible to these visually impaired users — and why they’re important.


1. Make Allowances For Enlarged Text


Often times, simply making text larger is all that a user requires. Consider offering alternate stylesheets with larger font sizes and make sure your layout doesn’t break when text-only zoom is enabled in the browser. Many visually impaired users will want to zoom in on the text without changing the scale of the entire site layout, which can lead to difficulties scrolling and tracking text over long lines.

Depending on your site’s target market, you may also want to consider making the default font a few points larger, and if you’re publishing articles or large quantities of text, it’s a good idea to offer text-only versions, so the user can then manipulate the text however he likes.


2. Contrast is Key


Eye diseases like Retinitis Pigmentosa, Glaucoma, Retinopathy and cataracts (some of the most common eye disorders out there) all lead to a significant decrease in contrast sensitivity — that is, the eye’s ability to differentiate between similar shades and levels of brightness.

But today’s layouts are detailed-oriented, often utilizing subtle gradients and slight shifts in value to create clean, modern, unobtrusive interfaces. For a user with normal eyesight, this makes for a very pleasing visual experience. To a user who struggles with contrast sensitivity, however, it can be a literal headache.

Consider offering a second version of your site with more contrast between elements. Make use of bold text for added readability on low-contrast items and avoid very thin fonts. Also, don’t use any JavaScript or CSS techniques that would prevent users from highlighting elements of the page with their mouse or change the default highlight behavior. Many visually impaired users make use of highlighting as a quick trick to increase contrast and to aid visual focus.


3. Be Mindful of Colors for Action Items


Genetic colorblindness affects about 8% of all men and about 0.5% of all women to some degree. Then there’s acquired color blindness, which can result from eye disease or injury (such as glaucoma or cataract) and drives the total number of colorblind users even higher. It may not always be feasible to offer these users an entirely different color scheme, and most users generally accept this. However, there is one place, where the use of color should be given the utmost attention — action items. When creating buttons or notices that call the user’s attention and require their direct interaction, try to avoid using color combos that are easily confused by colorblind users (red and green, blue and yellow) and make sure these elements contain clear, visible text or iconography that makes their purpose clear.

Placing a red “cancel” button next to a green “submit” button, for example, might cause visual confusion to a user who is red-green colorblind. Similarly, users with the seemingly misnomered “blue-yellow” colorblindness (more common in acquired colorblindness) are less able to differentiate between shades of green and blue.


4. Let Desktop Users Browse Your Mobile Site


If you offer a mobile version of your web site, don’t restrict it only to mobile devices. Layouts optimized for the mobile web are typically, by nature, more visually accessible than their more grown-up counterparts. Elements are often simplified (and thus easier to scale), more focus is given to text, and there is less overall visual clutter to potentially confuse users who have blurred vision or difficulties with contrast and color. Giving anyone access to the mobile version of your site
can be a quick way to increase accessibility without adding a lot to development costs.

Note, though, that while they can be quite useful for sighted persons with vision problems, mobile websites that utilize large amounts of JavaScript and AJAX functionality are not ideal solutions for blind users who need to access the web via screen reading technology.


5. Use Keyboard Shortcuts to Aid Navigation


In addition to being useful to persons with screen readers, keyboard shortcuts can make site navigation for the visually impaired user far easier. With the addition of keyboard commands, it’s possible to navigate a site with the use of arrow keys and a few quick keystrokes, eliminating the need to follow a mouse cursor across a screen — and the associated need to keep shifting visual focus. This can go a long way toward reducing eye strain and frustration. Many users with visual impairments surf the web on large monitors (23″ or bigger), which can lead to a lot of head and eye movement, particularly at shorter focal distances. The less time the user has to spend following the cursor (which can easily become lost) around the screen, the better.


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More Design Resources from Mashable:


A 12-Step Guide to Fostering Your Creativity
8 Powerful & Inexpensive Desktop Design Apps
HOW TO: Get Started with the Less Framework
8 Essential Web Typography Resources
HOW TO: Turn Your Foursquare Data Into an Infographic

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, nu_andrei

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Lisa Wehr is the founder and CEO of Oneupweb, a leading digital marketing agency representing some of the nation’s most recognized brands for more than 15 years.

The goal of any web development agency is to deliver a website that not only looks attractive but is also manageable. It seems there are new contenders vying to be the top content management system (CMS) every day. Making it easy to add products, articles and just about anything else is a mandatory development skill today. Inevitably, the question always arises: “Do we download something free and open source, or do we buy a solution?”

Ask developers and they’ll probably explain they have favorites from both realms. However, most marketing execs and decision makers aren’t as familiar with CMSs, let alone quick to name drop their most preferred. Feel overwhelmed or torn by CMS choices? Let’s discuss the pros and cons of developing within both open and closed source systems. And for further direction, let’s scope out the top open and closed source ways to manage content for both ecommerce and general content sites.


Open Source vs. Closed Source


Open source means there are a lot of people working on the software. Plenty of individuals are making sure the code is solid and that the software is easy to use. Documentation is usually easy to find, and there are plenty of people out there writing “how-tos,” which make design and development easier and even fun. You can count on regular updates that are continually improving the product. Open source systems let you see what makes the software tick, and you can often change it to suit your needs. Use this to your advantage when it comes to differentiating yourself from the rest of the pack.

However, because of the popularity of open source systems, many people are familiar with open source code, which creates a higher risk for hacking. If you choose to design in an open source system, your development team is going to need to put time and work into preventing third-party tampering. This difficulty will scale based on many factors such as how many people need to have access to sensitive areas of the site (like the admin panel).

Closed source software usually equates to better security and support. For an ecommerce site, it isn’t necessarily more secure to go with a closed source system, but unlike open source systems, developers don’t have to spend as much time securing code. If a developer runs into any issues in a closed source software, providers are more than happy to offer you support. This is a convenience, because it cuts down on the development time and cost.

Unfortunately with closed source, the barrier to entry is a lot higher. A smaller community means less experience and collective knowledge. This usually equates with much higher costs across the board. You often have to pay for the software or service, and if your support package doesn’t include it, you end up having to pay someone else for their expertise.


Top Open Source CMSs for Product Management


Three of the top open source CMSs for successfully managing ecommerce sites are: Magento, osCommerce and Zen Cart. All three of these CMSs provide well-structured source code, which allows for easier collaboration between developers and designers and an overall smoother workflow. It’s important that developers have access to a rich architecture that makes plugin and extension development a snap, while designers have access to a powerful, templating system.


Top Open Source General Purpose CMSs


It seems that there are hundreds of these out there. With its humble start as a simple blogging platform, WordPress has grown into a full-blown content management system. The community supporting this gem has made it into a powerhouse capable of handling just about anyone’s needs. Some big names are using this CMS: The Wall Street Journal, CNN and Ford, to name a few. Although WordPress has achieved notoriety, both Joomla and Drupal are also big names in the open source general purpose realm. Some of the biggest sites online are built with Joomla (Living Well Magazine) and Drupal (The White House, The Economist). Developers and designers have a number of possibilities when creating websites in WordPress, Joomla or Drupal.


Top Closed Source CMSs for Product Management


If taking the closed source route, it’s usually best to make sure the service offers good, customizable aesthetics. Shopify, Volusion and AspDotNetStorefront are all fully functional and secure storefronts to help developers and designers with creating successful ecommerce sites. Though you can’t peek at the code running your store, you do have access to the powerful templating systems such as “Liquid” (if using Shopify), which allows your imagination to run wild while designing. When using any of these three closed source CMSs, it’s a snap to include custom HTML, CSS and JavaScript.


Top Closed Source General Purpose CMSs


Where to begin? Many of the closed source content management systems offer different prices for different needs. There are services out there such as CushyCMS for individuals or small companies with mostly static content, and there are the big kids on the block such as Telerik and Sharepoint that operate on Microsoft’s .NET
Framework.

CushyCMS is a designer’s dream as there is no development involved — just standards like HTML, CSS and JavaScript are used. In the case of Telerik and Sharepoint, the .NET Framework and the powerful editor Visual Studio can make developing and designing much easier.


In the end, it all boils down to the abilities of your in-house tech staff and your budget. Many enterprise companies design with open source because they have qualified developers. If you don’t feel that your team is ready to take on extra challenges, then closed source (and its built-in support) may be the best route. Although closed source companies will offer support, they may not always offer you programming support. For instance, they may outsource a job for you. The very best design work is created with confidence, so be sure you’re working with a CMS that you feel secure in.


Interested in more Web Development resources? Check out Mashable Explore, a new way to discover information on your favorite Mashable topics.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, tioloco

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Major city governments across North America are looking for ways to share civic data — which normally resides behind secure firewalls — with private developers who can leverage it to serve city residents via web and mobile apps. Cities can spend on average between $20,000 and $50,000 — even as much as $100,000 — to cover the costs of opening data, but that’s a small price to pay when you consider how much is needed to develop a custom application that might not be nearly as useful.

Here are a few examples of initiatives that are striving to make city governments more efficient and transparent through open data.


1. Apps4Ottawa – Ottawa, Quebec


Careful to adhere to security and privacy regulations for their open data program, the City of Ottawa started sharing data in several areas: geo-spatial (roadways, parks, runways, rivers, and ward boundaries); recreation facilities; event planning; civic elections data; and transit, including schedules. Other data the city is pursuing includes tree inventory, collections schedules for garbage, recycling and compost, and bike and foot paths.

Ottawa aligned their first open data contest, Apps4Ottawa, with the school year (September 2010 to January 2011 ) to involve colleges and universities as well as residents and local industry. Categories for the contest included “Having Fun in Ottawa,” “Getting Around,” “Green Environment/Sustainability,” “Community Building,” and “Economic Development.” The winner is scheduled to be announced later this evening.

Guy Michaud, chief information officer for the City of Ottawa, said their open data efforts have already spurred economic development and is meant to be good for local entrepreneurs. The city receives no revenue through the apps, and the developers can sell what they create. In turn, Ottawa residents get improved services from applications that are created, with better access to city data and more user-friendly formats and platforms.


2. CivicApps.org – Portland, Oregon


After tracking Vivek Kundra’s efforts at the federal level with data.gov, Portland, Oregon launched CivicApps.org, a project initiated out of the mayor’s office to bring a more localized approach to the open data movement. Skip Newberry, economic policy advisor to the mayor, say that the project’s main objective is to improve connections and the flow of information between local government and its constituents, as well as between city bureaus. To call attention to the release of public data, they also launched an app design contest, highlighting the tech talent in Portland’s software community.

According to Rick Nixon, program manager for the Bureau of Technology’s Open Data Initiative for the city of Portland, CivicApps.org took a more regional approach to cover the multiple layers of local government: County, Metro, TriMet, and the City of Portland, all of which collect and maintain various kinds of public data. Data sets released include regional crime, transit, infrastructure (i.e. public works), and economic development programs. Additional projects, such as the PDX API, have been launched in order to make the raw data from CivicApps more useful to developers.

In addition to developer-specific apps, a number of transit related apps — bike, train, bus, mixed modes — were also developed. A very popular and established transit app, PDXBus, was re-released as open source under the rules of the CivicApps contest. Other popular apps helped provide residents greater awareness of their surroundings such as where to find heritage trees, where to find urban edibles, and where to locate each other during disaster relief efforts.


3. CityWide Data Warehouse – Washington, DC


For years, the District of Columbia provided public access to city operational data via the Internet. In keeping with the mayor’s promise to be transparent, the program CityWide Data Warehouse was launched, and provides citizens with access to over 450 datasets from multiple agencies. The first two datasets released were service requests from the mayor’s call center, including trash pickup, pot hole repair, street light repair, snow removal, parking meter issues and crime data.

According to David Stirgel, program manager for Citywide Data Warehouse, the project looks for data that be of interest to the widest possible audience and which will remain reusable over time. Some of the applications that have come out of the program include Track DC, which tracks the performance of individual District agencies, and summary reports that provide public access to city operational data. Some of the applications built by companies and individuals using the data include Crime Reports and Every Block.

In 2008, the District Mayor’s office, the District of Columbia’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer, and digital agency iStrategyLabs launched Apps for Democracy, an open code app development contest tapping into District data that cost $50,000 and generated 47 apps. The contest was repeated in 2009. Over 200 ideas and applications were submitted, and the winner was an iPhone and Facebook app called Social DC 311. It could be used to submit service requests, such as reporting potholes and trash problems. An honorable mention was given to FixMyCityDC. Unfortunately, neither app is maintained today.


4. NYC Data Mine – New York, NY


NYC BigApps 2.0 is part of an initiative to improve the accessibility, transparency, and accountability of city government. According to Brandon Kessler, CEO of ChallengePost, the company and technology powering the NYC BigApps 2.0 Software Challenge, Mayor Bloomberg challenged software developers to use city data from the NYC.gov Data Mine to create apps to improve NYC, offering a $20,000 in cash awards to the winners.

The second annual challenge closed its call for submissions at the end of January 2011 and opened the vote to the public. Voting ends on March 9. Requirements included that the software applications be original and solely owned by the entrants, that they use at least one of the datasets from the NYC.gov Data Mine, and be free to the public throughout the competition and for at least one year after the challenge. The panel of judges reads like a “who’s who” of New York tech luminaries, and includes Esther Dyson of EDVenture, Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, Jack Dorsey of Square and Twitter, and Kara Swisher of All Things Digital. One of the first year’s winning apps was WayFinder, an augmented reality Android app which allows users to point their phone in a direction and see which subways and Path trains are in front of them.


5. DataSF – San Francisco, California


Like other city governments, San Francisco’s goal for their DataSF program was to improve transparency and community engagement as well as accountability. Ron Vinson, director of media for the city’s Department of Technology also stated potential for innovation in how residents interact with government and their community. With an emphasis on adhering to privacy and security policies, the city can stimulate the creation of useful civic tools at no cost to the government.

Before launching, they reached out to Washington, DC to identify the most popular datasets, and learned that 20% of the datasets represented over 80% of the downloads. With this information, they went out first with crime, 311, and GIS data. They also allowed the public to request data through a submissions mechanism on the website where others could vote on their suggestions. This input is now required reading for the city administrator thanks to an executive directive and open data legislation.

Since launching in August 2009, DataSF has accumulated over 60 applications in its showcase. According to Vinson, the city stays engaged with their tech community by participating in local unconferences and meetups.


More Dev Resources from Mashable:


5 Website Features You Can Easily Offload to Reduce Costs
HOW TO: Design & Program a Facebook Landing Page for Your Business
Learning Ruby: Expert Advice for Advanced Developers
10 Predictions for Web Development in 2011
HOW TO: Make the Most of TextMate

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Veni

More About: app development, apps, data, government, List, Lists, open data, Web Development

For more Dev & Design coverage:

This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

The term “offload” or “offloading” in information technology and computer science refers to the transfer of something from your system to an external system. In the context of websites, your system is your website (and your web servers/web host), and the external system consists of third-party web services such as Google Analytics or Shopify.

This article suggests five common site features that you can host elsewhere.


Why You Should Or Shouldn’t Offload


There are advantages and disadvantages to having parts of your website catered to by third-party web services. In order for you to decide what should and shouldn’t be on your system, let’s first talk about the pros and cons of website feature offloading.


Pros of Offloading


  • Reduced Cost: Whether it’s lower web server costs, fewer employee hours to commit to maintenance and management, the web solutions listed below will generally lead to cost reductions. Many of the services mentioned are either free or significantly lower in cost than if you were to develop, manage and maintain them yourselves.
  • Generally Better: Third-party solutions are often built by innovative companies such as Google and Yahoo, who are highly regarded as experts in the products they offer. The research, talent and manpower they’re able to commit to solving problems are more than most companies can handle.
  • Faster/More Reliable Service: Companies such as Google and Yahoo have massive IT infrastructures and server farms to ensure that their services perform well and with little to no service interruption.
  • Data Security: If a site feature requires user data management (such as credit card information and phone numbers), the web solutions mentioned below are known to have great security features. If you lack data security expertise in your company, it might be a good idea to let companies that are better equipped to handle sensitive data handle information submitted to you. This also reduces the chance of data compromises due to insecure servers, or may lead to reducing costs related to data security — security audits, SSL certificates, security consultants and developers, and so forth.

Cons of Offloading


  • Potentially Slower Web Pages: Having an external website serve parts of your website could potentially slow down some of your pages, especially for features that are embedded in your web pages (such as contact forms). This is because whenever a widget from a third-party company is included in a webpage, it has to make a connection to the other company’s server — which could be located far away from your own.
  • Lack of Control: Site features that can be offloaded are typically customizable, but there will always be limits to your ability to customize them when compared to things that you manage yourself.
  • More Things to Worry About: Most of the web services discussed here require you to sign up for an account on their website. This means more information to deal with, more systems to learn and more time needed to keep track of stuff.
  • Privacy Concern: If a site feature requires user data to be submitted, you will not be able to completely oversee what happens to that data.

Now that you know the benefits and disadvantages of offloading your website features, let’s look at those web services that are most commonly offloaded.


1. E-Commerce Management System


Custom-built e-commerce systems can be costly — not only the upfront costs of having one developed, but also those incurred once it’s up and running. There are open source software apps like Magento that are far less costly than building your own system, but still, dealing with security and data privacy can be a nightmare. The complexity and robustness in features of typical e-commerce solutions can be taxing to your web servers (and your budget).

Check out the following excellent hosted e-commerce management systems below.

  • Shopify: With a client base that includes Amnesty International and Pixar, it’s no wonder that Shopify is regarded as the go-to for hosted e-commerce systems. It will deal with credit card transactions for you, has a user-friendly interface for managing your inventory and your e-store will be highly customizable so that you’re able to match your existing company brand. Plans start from $29 a month.
  • SolidShops: If you’re a big fan of 37Signals apps (e.g. Basecamp and Highrise), you’ll appreciate the simplicity and ease-of-use of the SolidShops interface. SolidShops is a newcomer in the hosted e-commerce space, so while it’s still in beta, it’s free to use. After beta, plans start at $29 a month.
  • E-junkie: If you deal with digital goods (such as e-books), E-junkie is the premier solution for you. E-junkie lets you embed a widget into your site for near-seamless integration. Plans start at $5 a month.
  • Wazala: Wazala promises that you’ll be able to build your very own e-commerce site in 15 minutes or less. Now that’s a promise we can all appreciate! Wazala can handle credit cards, or PayPal and Google Checkout for utmost convenience to your e-shoppers. Plans start at $9.95 a month.

2. Website Analytics


It’s impo
rtant to learn what users are doing on your site so that you can ensure optimal use and growth. However, having server-side statistics-gathering tools that you host yourself can be taxing on your web host and will not give you the benefits associated with using third-party services, such as integration with other products.

Here are three web analytics tools you can offload the work to.

  • Google Analytics: Google Analytics is highly regarded in the web marketing space because it’s free, has loads of features and reporting tools, integrates with other Google products and is easy to install.
  • ClickTale: If you would like visuals on what your website users are doing, check out ClickTale, a web analytics service that tracks and records user action. You can see where people are clicking on most (and thus, most fixated on), as well as watch videos of how users are interacting with your site. ClickTale has a free plan that records 300 user interactions, and paid plans start at $99 a month.
  • Yahoo Web Analytics: It’s hard to be trailing Google, but Yahoo has launched a wonderful analytics tool that rivals Google’s Analytics. Yahoo Web Analytics boasts near real-time analytics, whereas Google Analytics can take up to 24 hours to update your data. It has advanced data visualization tools to help you create images that you can use in reports and slideshow presentations.

3. Forums


Building a community has many benefits: It connects your customers with others, allows them to help themselves if they have a question about your product and can increase customer loyalty. However, maintaining your own forums on-site can be a burden to your web servers because of the amount of data interactivity that forums typically generate. Additionally, most self-hosted, open source solutions out there, such as phpBB, are notorious for being difficult to deploy and customize (this is spoken from experience in developing for these systems). Check out hosted solutions for community forums that will reduce your stress and headaches.

  • Ninja Post: With Ninja Post, you can get your very own forums up and running in no time. It has all the features you’d expect from a forums system with some nice perks like real-time thread updating, Twitter/Facebook integration, integration with Google Adsense, and more. Plans start at about $8 a month.
  • Nabble: Nabble is a free and simple tool for creating a basic forum. It allows you to embed your forum on your website, providing you with a tightly integrated solution.
  • ZetaBoards: ZetaBoards is a free, hosted forum web service with tons of awesome features, such as full customization (if you know some CSS), support for custom domains (so that the web address of your forums will match your website’s) and more.
  • Lefora: You can create a forum with Lefora, a free, hosted forum web service. It has beautiful features such as the ability to post images and videos, Facebook and Twitter integration, and a graphical user interface for the forum post editor so that your clients won’t need to deal with code and markup to format their posts.
  • ProBoards: ProBoards is a free, hosted forum web service that allows you to create your very own forum in seconds. It’s simple, customizable and even has an iPhone app that people can use to post on your forums.
  • Zoho Discussions: Zoho Discussions is a forum, customer support and customer feedback system all rolled into one. It’s fully customizable, has content discoverability features such as RSS feeds, search and SEO options, and more. The free plan is great for intranets, with the ability to have two forums and one moderator. The next plan starts at $12 a month and gives you the ability to have public forums, community statistics and increased file attachment limits (for users who would like to post images and videos, for example).

4. Site Search


Using a third-party site search has the benefit of using the technologies these search companies have developed to your advantage. Not only that, but it saves you from having to create/develop your own search feature and can cut some costs related to increased site interactivity and bandwidth usage due to users searching your site. Here are three awesome options for offloading the burden of site search.

  • Bing Box: Bing Box is a free, simple widget by Microsoft that will give your users the ability to search your site using Microsoft’s Bing search engine.
  • Google Custom Search: Google allows you to take its years of experience and excellence in the field of search and integrate it into your site. Using Google Custom Search is a snap, and you can get it set up within minutes.
  • Yahoo Search BOSS: Yahoo Search BOSS is a solution if you need a completely customizable search engine for your site because, unlike Google Custom Search, which retains a lot of Google’s branding, Search BOSS gives you utmost design flexibility. Not only that, but it doesn’t display ads in search results like Google Custom Search. The downside? You’ll need access to a web developer to get it up and running on your site; it’s not a copy/paste solution.

5. Contact Forms and Other Web Forms


Web forms are the bread and butter of website interaction. It is the primary way you can gather data from your users (aside from publishing your e-mail address, which can be clunky and lead to tons of spam). Contact forms can be tricky to set up and develop on your own and won’t nearly come close to the reporting/analytics features and ease-of-use that third-party form building web services have to offer. Here are a few to check out.

  • Google Docs Forms: Not many people take advantage of the fact that you can create embeddable web forms (for contact forms, registrations and online surveys) using Google Docs. What’s great about this web service, besides it being free, is that it integrates directly with the Google Docs office suite (such as its spreadsheets and documents).
  • Wufoo: Wufoo is a fun web form builder that is so simple to use. It allows file uploads/attachments (in case your web form user wants to upload pictures or PDFs, for example), it permits customization and takes the time to make sure your data is safe. Its free plan allows you to have up to three forms and 100 submissions per month.
  • JotForm: JotForm is a free web form builder that has a slick interface for you to take advantage of when buildi
    ng your web forms. You can even build payment forms with it (integrated with PayPal, Google Checkout, Authorize.net, and so forth).
  • Contactify: If you just need a simple contact form, check out Contactify, a free hosted solution for dealing with your website communication needs. It will reduce the spam you get from having to provide your e-mail address in public.

More Dev & Design Resources from Mashable:


HOW TO: Design & Program a Facebook Landing Page for Your Business
Learning Ruby: Expert Advice for Advanced Developers
10 Premium Tumblr Themes Worth Paying For
HOW TO: Get the Most From Crowdsourced Design Competitions
HOW TO: Get More Out of Your Fonts

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, kemie

More About: analytics, business, design, forums, Google, List, Lists, Search, small business, web apps, web design, Web Development, web forms, widgets, wufoo, Yahoo

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Like a 21st century version of the choose-your-own-adventure books, interactive YouTube videos can up the engagement factor by letting the viewer decide the course of the action, or just play around with the content.

With Tippex seeing success with its A Hunter Shoots a Bear campaign, and Samsung and Rogers also testing the interactive video waters lately, we expect to see more creative campaigns from companies in 2011.

Meanwhile, we’ve found 10 top interactive YouTube experiences, from both businesses and individuals, that incorporate gameplay, quizzes and just plain old fashioned entertainment for your viewing pleasure.

So, prepare to engage with the gallery below and let us know your thoughts on this potentially exciting medium.

1. La Linea Interactive

A tribute to the popular Italian animated series
La Linea, this is a great use of the choose-your-own format from YouTube master Patrick Boivin.

2. The YouTube Electric Guitar

Wait for this vid to load all the way up, then click on different places in the timeline to play different chords. Just no “Stairway to Heaven,” y’hear?

3. The Treasure Hunt: A Chad, Matt & Rob Interactive Adventure!

Chad, Matt and Rob are masters of the interactive YouTube adventure genre. While their earlier work is also worth checking out, this is their latest effort, and it’s a doozie!

4. Ronald Has A Spider On His Head: An Interactive Mis-Adventure!

Very much an amateur effort, this nonetheless has a place in our heart as an early example of the format. Also, it’s LEGO!

5. Choose a Different Ending

Warning: The video above contains some violent imagery, and may not be appropriate for all ages or viewing in the workplace.

Created for the Drop the Weapons campaign, this realistic video seeks to educate kids about the consequences of making the wrong decisions. Remember kids, just as in life, you decide the ending.

6. YouTube Radio

This is as much fun to interact with as we’d imagine it was to write and record the music for all the different genres. Jazz is our fave, in case you were wondering.

7. Deliver Me to Hell

Warning: The video above contains some violent imagery, and may not be appropriate for all ages or viewing in the workplace.

We think it could be argued that zombies and pizza are pretty much the perfect combo for 20 minutes of YouTube fun. This fab promo for New Zealand pizza chain “Hell Pizzas” brings both. Can you deliver the pies across town without getting on the wrong side of the undead?

8. Howard Glitch

Anything that starts “you are trapped inside a spaceship that is headed for a fatal destination” has our attention right away. This Kickstarter-backed “point’n’click’n’escape” game brings some existential angst and quantum mechanics to the YouTube platform. Knowing that, how can you not click through?

9. Bboy vs Joker

More from the talented Patrick Boivin here with the brilliant concept of a break dancing duel between The Joker and Batman. How does Boivin come up with this stuff?

10. Who Wants to be a YouTubillionaire?

If you can stand Dan Brown’s off-the-charts perkiness, then this interactive faux game show is incredibly well put together — it even includes “phone a friend” side narratives.


More Video Resources from Mashable:


10 Captivating Time-Lapse Design Videos
10 Excellent Examples of Guerrilla Marketing Campaigns [VIDEOS]
10 Stories Beautifully Told with Animated Typography [VIDEOS]
10 Incredibly Inspirational Moments on YouTube [VIDEOS]
10 Super Social Media Songs [VIDEOS]

More About: advertising, interactive videos, List, Lists, online advertising, video, videos, youtube




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It’s been another busy week at Mashable. We’ve hired a San Francisco Bureau Chief and sent our own Pete Cashmore to Davos. Still, the team was able to turn out another lineup of tools and resources from the past week or so for your reading pleasure.

Scroll down for infographics on the size of the web and an illustrated history of social media. We’ve also got some hands on demos and a look at some nifty LinkedIn features to help your company.

Looking for even more social media resources? This guide appears every weekend, and you can check out all the lists-gone-by here any time.


Social Media


For more social media news and resources, you can follow Mashable’s social media channel on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.


Tech & Mobile


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Business


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More About: business, Features Week In Review, gadgets, List, Lists, Mobile 2.0, social media, tech