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Writing content for web users has its challenges. Chief among them is the ease with which your content is read and understood by your visitors (i.e. its readability).

When your content is highly readable, your audience is able to quickly digest the information you share with them — a worthy goal to have for your website, whether you run a blog, an e-store or your company’s domain.

Below are a handful of dead-simple tips and techniques for enhancing the usability and readability of your website’s content.

These tips are based on research findings and suggestions by well-regarded usability experts such as Jakob Nielsen.

This list is not exhaustive, and is meant merely to arm you with a few ideas that you can implement right away. If you have additional tips to add, please share them in the comments.


General Goals of User-Friendly Web Content


Usable, readable web content is a marriage of efforts between web designers and web content writers.

Web pages must be designed to facilitate the ease of reading content through the effective use of colors, typography, spacing, etc.

In turn, the content writer must be aware of writing strategies that enable readers to quickly identify, read and internalize information.

As we go through the seven tips below, keep these three general guidelines in mind:

  • Text and typography have to be easy and pleasant to read (i.e. they must legible).
  • Content should be easy to understand.
  • Content should be skimmable because web users don’t read a lot. Studies show that in a best-case scenario, we only read 28% of the text on a web page.

What simple things can we do to achieve these goals? Read on to see.


1. Keep Content as Concise as Possible


It’s pretty well known that web users have very short attention spans and that we don’t read articles thoroughly and in their entirety. A study investigating the changes in our reading habits behaviors in the digital age concluded that we tend to skim webpages to find the information we want.

We search for keywords, read in a non-linear fashion (i.e. we skip around a webpage instead of reading it from top to bottom) and have lowered attention spans.

This idea that we’re frugal when it comes to reading stuff on the web is reinforced by a usability study conducted by Jakob Nielsen. The study claims a that a 58% increase in usability can be achieved simply by cutting roughly half the words on the webpages being studied.

Shorter articles enhance readability, so much so that many popular readability measurement formulas use the length of sentences and words as factors that influence ease of reading and comprehension.

What you can do:

  • Get to the point as quickly as possible.
  • Cut out unnecessary information.
  • Use easy-to-understand, shorter, common words and phrases.
  • Avoid long paragraphs and sentences.
  • Use time-saving and attention-grabbing writing techniques, such using numbers instead of spelling them out. Use “1,000″ as opposed to “one thousand,” which facilitates scanning and skimming.
  • Test your writing style using readability formulas that gauge how easy it is to get through your prose. The Readability Test Tool allows you to plug in a URL, then gives you scores based on popular readability formulas such as the Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease.


2. Use Headings to Break Up Long Articles


A usability study described in an article by web content management expert Gerry McGovern led him to the conclusion that Internet readers inspect webpages in blocks and sections, or what he calls “block reading.”

That is, when we look at a webpage, we tend to see it not as a whole, but rather as compartmentalized chunks of information. We tend to read in blocks, going directly to items that seem to match what we’re actively looking for.

An eye-tracking study conducted by Nielsen revealed an eye-movement pattern that could further support this idea that web users do indeed read in chunks: We swipe our eyes from left to right, then continue on down the page in an F-shaped pattern, skipping a lot of text in between.

We can do several things to accommodate these reading patterns. One strategy is to break up long articles into sections so that users can easily skim down the page. This applies to block reading (because blocks of text are denoted by headings) as well as the F-shaped pattern, because we’re attracted to the headings as we move down the page.

Below, you’ll see the same set of text formatted without headings (version 1) and with headings (version 2). See which one helps readers quickly skip to the sections that interest them the most.

What you can do:

  • Before writing a post, consider organizing your thoughts in logical chunks by first outlining what you’ll write.
  • Use simple and concise headings.
  • Use keyword-rich headings to aid skimming, as well as those that use their browser’s search feature (Ctrl + F on Windows, Command + F on Mac).

3. Help Readers Scan Your Webpages Quickly


As indicated in the usability study by Nielsen referenced earlier, as well as the other supporting evidence that web users tend to skim content, designing and structuring your webpages with skimming in mind can improve usability (as much as 47% according to the research mentioned above).

What you can do:

  • Make the first two words count, because users tend to read the first few words of headings, titles and links when they’re scanning a webpage.
  • Front-load keywords in webpage titles, headings and links by using the passive voice as an effective writing device.
  • Use the inverted pyramid writing style to place important information at the top of your articles.


4. Use Bulleted Lists and Text Formatting


According to an eye-tracking study by ClickTale, users fixate longer on bulleted lists and text formatting (such as bolding and italics).

These text-styling tools can garner attention because of their distinctive appearance as well as help speed up reading by way of breaking down information into discrete parts and highlighting important keywords and phrases.

What you can do:

  • Consider breaking up a paragraph into bulleted points.
  • Highlight important information in bold and italics.

5. Give Text Blocks Sufficient Spacing


The spacing between characters, words, lines and paragraphs is important. How type is set on your webpages can drastically affect the legibility (and thus, reading speeds) of readers.

In a study called “Reading Online Text: A Comparison of Four White Space Layouts,” the researchers discovered that manipulating the amount of margins of a passage affected reading comprehension and speed.

What you can do:

  • Evaluate your webpages’ typography for spacing issues and then modify your site’s CSS as needed.
  • Get to know CSS properties that affect spacing in your text. The ones that will give you the most bang for your buck are margin, padding, line-height, word-spacing, letter-spacing and text-indent.

6. Make Hyperlinked Text User-Friendly


One big advantage of web-based content is our ability to use hyperlinks. The proper use of hyperlinks can aid readability.

What you can do:


7. Use Visuals Strategically


Photos, charts and graphs are worth a thousand words. Using visuals effectively can enhance readability when they replace or reinforce long blocks of textual content.

In fact, an eye-tracking study conducted by Nielsen suggests that users pay “close attention to photos and other images that contain relevant information.”

Users, however, also ignore certain images, particularly stock photos merely included as decorative artwork. Another eye-tracking study reported a 34% increase in memory retention when unnecessary images were removed in conjunction with other content revisions.

What you can do:

  • Make sure images you use aid or support textual content.
  • Avoid stock photos and meaningless visuals.

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Martin Odersky is Chairman and Chief Architect of Typesafe and creator of the open source Scala programming language. This post was co-authored by Chris Conrad, an engineering manager who is part of the Search, Network and Analytics team at LinkedIn.

While interacting with social media and other consumer websites has become routine for many of us, ensuring a seamless, positive user experience is still the Holy Grail for web developers. The volume of queries and messaging on websites increases every day, as does the challenge of keeping the underlying infrastructure running smoothly for millions of users.

Below, we’ll highlight key challenges facing web developers of high volume sites, provide examples of how to address these hurdles, and discuss the role of emerging open source platforms as a modern approach to overcoming them.


Three Key Challenges


  • Performance: While web application developers of high volume sites face many challenges, performance tops the list. With consumers now demanding blazing computing speeds and uninterrupted service, a wait time of 250 milliseconds can mean the difference between a successful service and a failed one. For key user operations, such as interactive, real-time slicing and dicing of large data sets, performance is essential. The application needs to perform flawlessly and logically in order to attract and keep consumers.
  • Efficiency: When operating services on a massive scale, it’s essential to make the most efficient use of hardware assets. For example, optimize the use of memory and available processing resources. In practice, this often means using event-driven and distributed architectures like node.js, versus previous generation thread-based models like traditional Java Servlets. Developer productivity programming languages are further facets of efficiency. Fewer lines of code, made possible by concise languages like Scala and Ruby, generally translates to higher productivity for application developers.
  • Reliability: Systems need to remain resilient against component failures, including hardware, software and network crashes. An ever-expanding ecosystem of applications depends on reliable access to user-generated content, like LinkedIn’s, for instance. As such, the network needs to target “five nines” availability goals that have previously been benchmarks for the telecommunications and electrical power industries.

  • Real-World Applications


    LinkedIn faces these challenges every day and is always looking to incorporate the most advanced technology to keep its services running smoothly, reliably and efficiently. For example, to support the Signal product introduced last year, LinkedIn created a high performance web service written in Scala. This service is accessed through a REST/JSON-RPC model that enables quick ad hoc data manipulation and fast iteration from the web-based user interface.

    For its real-time people search service (with a peak demand exceeding the hundreds of queries per second), LinkedIn uses a scatter-gather approach that distributes search queries in parallel across a large server farm. This approach balances quick response time with efficient use of server resources.

    To support reliability, LinkedIn created a cluster management and workload distribution library called Norbert, which it implemented in the open source Scala programming language. It then incorporated open source technologies from the Apache ZooKeeper, Netty and Protocol Buffers projects. Norbert is a key component of several mission-critical applications at LinkedIn, most notably its social graph engine, which fields a high volume of requests per day.


    Open Source – Solving Today’s Modern Programming Challenges


    In the last few years, many new open source technologies have emerged to help web application developers. Open source projects such as Norbert, now available under the open source Apache license at sna-projects.com, are readily available to web developers charged with tackling such challenges.

    Open source programming languages and frameworks that enable parallel and distributed computing can be especially helpful in keeping today’s most trafficked websites running steadily and smoothly. Below are key considerations to keep in mind when programming for today’s multicore paradigm:

    • For applications that benefit from highly interactive user experiences, like LinkedIn Signal, developers should consider breaking data-intensive functionality into asynchronous web services that can be integrated into the web-based user interface using REST-style APIs.
    • To encourage “efficiency by default” for today’s web-scale applications, developers should look to modern frameworks like Akka and Norbert that incorporate capabilities like event-driven processing, asynchronous I/O and cluster-aware fault tolerance.
    • For applications that can truly scale up and scale out, developers should favor languages like Scala that provide first class support for functional programming, which discourages the use of mutable state. This allows applications to more easily scale hundreds of cores on a single server, and thousands of servers on a network.

    In summary, web applications and their supporting infrastructure need to be robust and efficient as more of society shifts its everyday interactions online. Fundamental advances in technology, many driven by the open source community, are making it possible for today’s web application developers to stay ahead of the scalable computing needs of consumers.

    Image courtesy of Flickr, Fon-tina

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Taking on a large project can be both exciting and intimidating, particularly if you’re a solo developer. Big builds can be a lot of fun and serve as great learning experiences. At the same time, you have to keep the project moving forward, or risk missed deadlines and burnout.

Below are some tips to help you stay organized and productive, whether you’re working individually or as a team.


1. Make Your Contract Rock-Solid


When dealing with clients, issues like scope creep, late payments and deadlines are always a concern. And what may seem obvious to you may not be clear to your client. To avoid hurt feelings, delays and financial troubles, your first priority should be establishing a thorough, firm, but fair written contract.

A good contract protects both you and your client. In addition to general terms and conditions, your contract should contain specifics about the project: payment schedules, due dates, deadlines (and consequences for missing those deadlines), cancellation policies, guidelines regarding intellectual property and project scope. You can find many sample contracts on the web, but there’s no substitute for consulting with an attorney. When dealing with the safety of your business and your livelihood, the expense is justifiable, and should be calculated in your business overhead.


2. Have a Well-defined Road Map


One of the required supplements to your contract should always be a project road map. It should outline all of the project features as thoroughly as possible, and establish the general plan for project progression, from research all the way through deployment.

To start, write out all of the features in outline format. It helps to break them down into groups, such as “Account Administration Features” and “Inventory Control Features,” for example. Keep refining the outline until you’ve defined exactly what is expected and what needs to be developed.

Next, break the project down into different phases, such as research, design, development, testing and deployment. For each phase, state its goals clearly, and define where the project should be when the phase is completed. Have your client sign off on the phases, and include this document with your contract. You may want to make a second copy of this road map to include more technical details, such as technologies to employ and methods to implement each feature — but don’t change the scope unless your client signs off on the changes.


3. Establish a Style Guide


Whether you’re working alone or with a team, taking the time to establish a style guide for your project will help you maintain consistency throughout. Furthermore, when the project needs updating six months from now, you’ll be glad you made the effort.

There are two types of style guides you should consider: a visual guide and a coding guide. Keep in mind that either or both may apply to the project. The visual style guide should contain information regarding fonts, colors, branding and any other notes on visual appearance. You should also include a few examples of common elements, such as headers, forms, body content, sidebars and menus. While you may never need to go into such detail, the Skype Brand Book is a great example. The guide provides a great presentation to your client, a tool to help them understand how the project will ultimately look and feel. Review the established style with the client (mood boards are great for this purpose), and have them sign off on the look. Refer back to the visual style guide often during your own work to make sure you’re adhering to the set guidelines.

A programming style guide needn’t be project-specific (unless you’re working with a new team that has already established a style different from your own). It may be as simple as following an existing style guide, such as the Zend style guide. You don’t need to start from scratch here, but you need to be consistent. Having a clear set of guidelines will help any developers who may come on board later.


4. Take Time to Research, Plan and Test


When developing a new project, particularly one that’s interesting and exciting, people have the temptation to dive right in and get to work. An initial lack of proper research and planning can have detrimental effects, especially for larger projects. Take the proper initial steps and spend time researching, diagramming, reading through source code and organizing your thoughts. It will end up saving you time and money down the road.

The same applies to testing your code. It will spare you the tedious and often embarrassing problems of code rewrites, because the only thing worse than having your code fail during a demo is having it fail in production. Testing code and debugging shouldn’t be afterthoughts, so work both into your project estimate and timeline. There are a lot of automated testing suites out there today — everything from PHP and JavaScript to Ruby and Python, and countless other languages. It’s a good idea to learn at least one for each language you plan to use. Don’t forget to have real users navigate your software too. You and your client should both spend time actually using the site you’ve developed before going live.


5. Document As You Go


If you’re like most developers, you cringe at the thought of writing documentation. Taking the time to document something, especially when it seems clear at the time of creation, feels like a waste of valuable time. However, years from now those thousands of lines of source code may not make nearly as much sense.

Furthermore, programming styles and skill evolve over time, which can make old code hard to dive back into. So take time to document your code as you go. Make it as intuitive as possible by using descriptive names and logical progression. As a good rule of thumb, you should never need to document what something does, but make notes in your code that explain a feature’s purpose and function. Also note any dependencies that it either relies on or creates. Stopping at the end of each new feature and taking the time to draft some end-user documentation is a good idea as well. This will make it much easier to train your client on the software, and will also serve as a good way to catch any usability issues or features that were accidentally omitted.


6. Use Version Control


This should almost go without saying, but many solo developers don’t use version control for their projects. For a large project, this simply isn’t an option. A good VCS (whether you choose SVN, Git, Mercurial or some other system) virtually eliminates the possibility of accidentally deleting or overwriting code.

In addition to providing an invaluable safety net, commit logs also help you track your progress. And the ability to branch, fork, and merge your code gives you the flexibility to experiment with different methods of feature implementation. You can also refine and fine-tune your software’s performance without the risk of breaking existing code. Finally, it simplifies remote backup and deployment to testing and production environments. These days, version control should be considered an essential part of your development, particularly if you collaborate with other individuals.


7. Take Thorough Meeting Notes


Whether you prefer to use a laptop or a spiral-bound notebook, take notes when you meet with your client and other collaborators. Otherwise, you may not retain that minor detail discussed during the meeting as effectively. Good note-taking demonstrates to your clients that you’re attentive, interested and dedicated to providing them with good service. It ensures you don’t forget the little details, and it also saves you the embarrassment of having to go back to the client for clarification. It sounds simple, but one minor modification that went forgotten or overlooked could mean major changes in code or functionality. Save yourself the headache, stress and humiliation and learn to write everything down.


8. Organize Your Assets


As with thorough note-taking, keeping assets organized is another important step toward streamlining your project work flow. You may even consider a separate version control repository for project assets that don’t belong in the finished code base. Your client will likely send you a lot of files, content, artwork and emails containing feedback and requests for modifications and new features. Often, they’ll send more than one version of those files or requests.

Think about putting these assets into version control or some well-defined project management software. It can go a long way toward helping you keep information organized. Sending the wrong file or hunting through hundreds of emails not only slows you down and introduces the likelihood of errors, it makes you look unprofessional.


9. Put Due Dates in Writing


Due dates may often be established when outlining the project and its contract, but if this isn’t something you’re already doing, or if your current system isn’t working as well as you would like, it’s definitely worth the attention. Large projects tend to have a lot of dependencies, and missing one deadline can often put an entire project behind schedule. Mark due dates on your calendar and discipline yourself to stick to them.

Due dates aren’t just for you, either. It’s not at all unreasonable to give your client due dates for various deliverables, such as content and branding, and to set fixed periods of time for reviewing and approving assets. Clearly define due dates for all parties, and furthermore, address the consequences of unmet deadlines. As with negotiating a contract and drafting the project outline, always try to be fair, but don’t be afraid to be firm. Your client will respect you for it, and your reputation and career depend on it.


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“Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit … “

If that’s all Greek to you, then don’t worry, it’s supposed to be. Taken from Cicero’s De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, then altered to make zero sense, “Lorem Ipsum” is the most commonly used dummy text in the design field.

However, if you’re fed up seeing the faux Latin nonsense, we’ve found more than 30 placeholder text generators that offer something a little different — from cult movie references to classic novels to bacon. Mmmmm, bacon.

Take a look through the gallery below to discover some fun options next time you’re greeking. Let us know in the comments about any we’ve missed that you like to use.

1. Fillerati




This good-looking literary service offers passages of text from great authors like Lewis Carroll, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

2. Cameron Creative

Although different, Cameron Creative’s online tools offer a few useful options. Cut and paste a block of binary code that appears like a realistic “terms and conditions” text, should you need to fill up such a section on a website.

3. Bacon Ipsum

Pig out with graphs composed of “all meat” or “meat and filler” text.

4. Malevole Text Generator

A bizarre and random mix of TV show theme lyrics make up the filler text generated by this Malevole option.

5. Greeking Machine

The Greeking Machine offers a range of dummy text. In addition to classical Latin, languages include hillbilly, marketing, The Matrix, Metropolitan, pseudo German and our fave — techno babble.

6. Gangsta Lorem Ipsum

A block of “gangsta” text for when your design needs some extra shizzle, innit.

7. The Postmodernism Generator

If you need an essay-type format, then the Postmodernism generator has you covered with several essays of plausible-looking post-modernist nonsense.

8. Vegan Ipsum

If Bacon Ipsum is just too meaty for you, the same team offers a vegan version. Generate one to five graphs of veggie text. And, if you’re really gung-ho for going green, there’s also Veggie Ipsum to check out too.

9. Blind Text Generator

Alongside more traditional placeholder texts, the Blind Text Generator will spice things up for you with “Kafka,” “Werther,” “Pangram” and more.

10. Fillerama

Perfect for impressing your contemporary clients, Fillerama will cover your blank space with phrases from Futurama, The Simpsons, Star Wars, Dexter, Doctor Who and Monty Python.

BONUS: Adhesion Text

We’ve bonus-ified this offering as it’s a little unusual, but could be just the ticket for certain projects. Adhesion Text creates words based on the letters you enter.

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If your favorite part of July 4 celebrations is the fireworks, then we’ve got a fun gallery for you. We’ve found five tools that offer virtual fireworks you can enjoy right at your desk.

Whether you want to send someone an animated message, play around to create a mesmerizing browser show or add fireworks to your own site, we’ve found web sparklers to suit.

Light the touchpaper, stand at a safe distance and rocket through the gallery. You can find out more about the tools by clicking on the blue title text at the top left of each slide. Let us know which ones you like in the comments below.

1. Enjoy Canvas Fireworks




This hypnotic HTML5 Canvas experiment offers three different shapes of fireworks that you can control with your mouse for a 3D wow experience.

2. Write a Message in Fireworks

This is tons of fun. Compose your own message and see it written across the London skyline in fireworks. You can also share it with an automatically generated tiny URL.

3. Add Fireworks to Your Own Site With Fireworks.js

You can add fireworks to your own site with this nifty Javascript animation experiment. Or if you’re just firecracker-curious, you can play around with it on the dev’s site.

4. View Augmented Reality Fireworks

Simply print off the marker, fire up your webcam and you can enjoy your very own miniature augmented reality fireworks show.

5. Go Old School With Fireworks Just For You

Dating back to 2002, this particular desktop show is perfect for kids, offering mesmerizing fireworks generated by the click of your mouse.

BONUS: Join the HTML5 Fireworks Festival

If you’re handy with HTML5 then join the “Hanabi fireworks festival” by forking the sample code, or creating your own from scratch. The resulting entries will then be revealed as an online spectacular on July 7.

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As browsers and server-side platforms advance, and libraries new and old grow and mature, JavaScript evolves as well. Staying at the top of your game is important. As a JavaScript developer, you’ll need to keep up with the latest news and learn new skills.

We’ve put together a list of seven of our favorite JavaScript resources to help save you time and energy along the way. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, we think you’ll find the sites below both informative and beneficial. If you know of other great resources, feel free to share them in the comments.

1. Mozilla Developer Network

The MDN has become the de facto resource for JavaScript documentation, and is an excellent resource for beginners and seasoned developers alike. Here you’ll find the official and complete JavaScript reference, as well as useful guides, tutorials and articles covering everything from the basics of how JavaScript works to its best practices and design patterns. The MDN also has a thorough DOM reference, which we highly recommend checking out as well.

2. JQAPI

JQAPI is an alternative to the official jQuery.com API documentation. If you’re a client-side JavaScript developer, chances are you probably have used, or at some point will use, jQuery in at least one of your projects. Whether your use is occasional or daily, you’ll want to keep up with the latest development and new features in JavaScript’s most popular library. Each new release improves security and performance via a slick, responsive and intuitive interface for quick browsing and searching of jQuery documentation. The UI here really is top-notch, and as a bonus, there’s an offline version available for download.

3. JS Fiddle

JS Fiddle is a JavaScript pastebin on steroids. Create, share, execute and test your JavaScript right in the browser. This is a great tool for collaborative debugging or for sharing code snippets. It’s also a fun way to perform quick experiments and test out new ideas. Simply combine your JavaScript, HTML and CSS, then click the “Run” button to see the results. You can also validate your JavaScript code against JSLint and save your Fiddle for use later, or share with others. JS Fiddle provides a number of useful features, like the ability to load up common frameworks automatically (to test your jQuery or MooTools code, for example) and as-you-type syntax highlighting, just like you’d get by writing code in your favorite IDE.

4. Eloquent JavaScript

This free ebook is an introduction to programming and the JavaScript language, written by developer and tech writer Marjin Haverbeke. The book reads much like a tutorial, and introduces a number of concepts and real-world applications in a clean, concise style. Interactive examples are also available, which means you can read about various techniques. You’ll also get a chance to see them in action, and tinker with the code yourself. We found a lot of positive reviews for this book, so if you’re new to JavaScript, this is definitely a book worth checking out.

5. Douglas Crockford’s JavaScript Videos

An undisputed expert in JavaScript, Douglas Crockford is Yahoo’s JavaScript architect and is one of the individuals instrumental in the planning, development and future growth of the language. The videos and transcripts on the YUI blog derive from a series of talks given by Mr. Crockford about the history of JavaScript, its future and its use today. Though the series is now about a year and a half old, we still think you’ll find the videos informative. We certainly recommend watching them for a better understanding of the language, where it’s been, how it works and where it’s going.

6. How To Node

Not all JavaScript development takes place in the browser. NodeJS is one of the web’s most popular server-side JavaScript frameworks. Whether you’re a seasoned Node developer or someone who’s looking to add server-side JavaScript to his repertoire, How To Node offers a great collection of articles on NodeJS development. This community-driven site offers an excellent repository of Node tutorials that’s proven itself useful on a number of occasions. No Node developer toolkit would be complete without it.

7. DailyJS

We’ve looked at some great tools and reference material, covered tutorials from our favorite libraries and frameworks and touched on both client and server-side JavaScript development. However, we’re always searching for something new. DailyJS is a popular JavaScript-focused blog that brings you the latest and greatest JavaScript news, offers tips and techniques, and reviews libraries, plug-ins and services for JavaScript developers. If you’re just itching for your daily dose of JavaScript goodness, DailyJS has you covered.

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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


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More About: business, ecommerce, List, Lists, shopping carts, small business, Web Development, WordPress, WordPress plugins

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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

Minimalism still rules the well-designed web, but that doesn’t mean you should skimp on the details. The information site for web design shop Analog is the pick of UK web designer (and frequent Mashable contributor) Grace Smith.

“Analog is simple and elegant, with beautiful intricate details,” says Smith. “However, it’s the clever use of ‘Easter Eggs’ that make visiting this one-page site such a pleasure. The use of CSS3 transitions on the mugshots, along with the unique GeoIP implementation and Grid (try pressing G), make this a clear example of how to create a visually stunning site that utilizes current web development practices and encourages users to return.”

5. Guide to the App Galaxy

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

Looking for a bubbling font of great design examples? LA-based web designer Soh Tanaka reccommends checking out the Awwwards (get it?), a site that recognizes and promotes the best of innovative design.

“It usually features sites that are very interactive and that push the limits of CSS3 and JavaScript,” Tanaka says. “I feel most of these sites are pushing the boundaries of design and development on the web.”


Image courtesy of iStockphoto, skodonnell

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For months now, web developers and designers have flocked to Mashable to learn from and share our how-to guides, analyses, videos, lists, videos and galleries.

Below, we’ve assembled 33 of our favorite resources since January and separated them into three easily digestible lists: inspiration, design and development.

To keep up to date with news and resources about the topics listed below, feel free to follow Mashable‘s dev & design channel on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.


Inspiration



Design



Development


For more news and resources on the topics covered in this post, you can follow Mashable‘s dev & design channel on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.

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Christopher Kahler is a co-founder and CEO of Qriously, a service for measuring real-time public sentiment by replacing ads with questions in smartphone apps. Follow him on Twitter

In late 2010, Apple approved 14-year-old Robert Nay’s app, Bubble Ball, for publishing on the App Store, where it quickly racked up 2 million users and, for a short while, even wrested the ever-popular Angry Birds from its perch at the top of the download charts. It’s a staggering achievement for a young teen with no formal programming experience -– never mind education. No skills. Nada. Zip.

Nay used an application called Corona that essentially allows users to build smartphone apps using a graphical interface, eliminating the need of any coding skills. He’s a pioneering user of the next generation of platform dependencies — innovations upon which further innovations can be built.

The term “platform dependency,” referring to products and services that are symbiotic with an existing platform (FarmVille on Facebook, Tweetdeck on Twitter, Rapportive on Gmail, and so on), has been discussed at length in several recent blog posts that weigh its dangers and opportunities.

While these relationships are not unique to “our” industry, the heady pace of evolution in the information sector, modeled with equal parts idealism and fantasy, is pointing toward some fascinating outcomes. The most fascinating of these is also the most paradoxical: The smartest kids are coding themselves into unemployment.

Before I’m viciously indicted with committing the Luddite fallacy, give me a chance to qualify: Smart kids code platforms that are making it increasingly redundant to know how to code — look at Nay for instance. As such, coding as a skill is becoming a casualty of efficiency, which is a beautiful thing. Coding is a means to an end, and if new methods are developed that enable us normal folks to achieve comparable results, then that’s a win in my book.

To a certain extent this is already happening, albeit to a less romantic degree. Take Google App Engine for instance. Instead of needing to set up whole server infrastructures, you just upload a simple web app and Google handles everything else, from load-balancing to scaling. Many companies don’t even go that far. A Facebook Page, with its built-in tools to distribute content, advertise, promote and engage with an audience, is often all you need.

Beyond the purely technical realm, services and layers are appearing to make aesthetic skills more and more redundant as well. Enterprise software company Cloudera used 99designs, which recently scored $25 million in funding, to crowdsource its logo on the cheap. And apps like Instagram and Retro Camera that allow users with little “skill” to take brilliant photographs.

Eventually, you won’t need to have any technical knowledge in a world increasingly defined by technology.

Rather, the only thing you will need to have is an idea, and having good ones will be the only meaningful thing setting you apart from others. I like to think of it as the triumph of creativity over learned skill — a change that some believe has ramifications for formal education as well.

The only remaining question is: Where are your ideas going to bubble up from?


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

More About: apps, platforms, programming, web apps, Web Development

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