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When constraints are a blessing

October 17, 2011 at 9:33 am PST

A curse of any project is that moment when you look at the objectives to be solved, and realise that the rules or resources seem too constrained for success.

But sometimes, those constraints — which are so vexing early on — can be a blessing in the end.  A case in point is the new Series and Model pages we’ve recently updated on Cisco.com. Originally, we had all kinds of grand ideas for how these pages should be transformed. But then we looked at the underlying systems that create the pages, and realised the grand ideas would be expensive to implement and time-consuming to maintain.

So, we dropped back. We asked ourselves: “What is it we’re really trying to accomplish for customers with this update?”  Some of the answers were very simple:

  1. Make the most important information quickly available (by putting it at the top of the pages)
  2. Highlight product comparisons, where they’re available
  3. Make the pages easier to scan visually
  4. Make the fonts bigger so things are easy to read
  5. Make basic spec information quicker to read

We realised we could do all of those things without an expensive rewrite of the underlying system. So, instead of a massive engineering project, we focused instead on new content standards and some CSS tune-up work.

You can see the result of items 1 and 2 and some of 3 above on all 7,000+ series and model pages. And, we’re beginning to roll out updates that address items 3-5 (making things easier to scan and read). Here’s an example from the Cisco Catalyst 2960 Switch series:

The simple changes we made with links to comparisons, embbeding spec tables, using bigger fonts and creating streamlined layouts were focused on things we knew customers needed in their daily use of the pages.  Constraints in the underlying system, it turned out, were a blessing because the constraints made us focus on those few things.

You can see additional examples of the updated layouts on these pages:

Enjoy!

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Maybe You Just Need a Little Red Wagon

August 30, 2011 at 2:01 pm PST

My friend and colleague Helen Lechner has a saying when someone excitedly comes to her with a grandiose idea to solve a simple problem on our web or mobile sites. It goes something like “I know you want a Ferrari, but maybe for this project you really just need a little red wagon.”

Actually, she’s said this to me more than a few times. I often think of that quote when I myself get excited about something big or grandiose; it reminds me to step back and ask if what our Customers and Partners may need is something more simple and straightforward, like a clear datasheet; a well-written service description; or a clear conceptual diagram. Sometimes you do indeed need a Ferrari to get places. But sometimes a little red wagon is fine — and in fact preferred.

Our design team was recently inspired to make Helen a “fake home page” poster to commemorate her saying.

Enjoy, and here’s hoping that you and your team drive both Ferraris and little red wagons, as appropriate.

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Kudos for Cisco.com’s Support “Mega Menu”

June 8, 2011 at 4:55 pm PST

As you’ll remember from Bill Skeet’s post the other day, we recently rolled out a new menu for Support that focuses on the top tasks our customers do on Cisco.com.  This menu is available on virtually every page — it’s that little window that appears when you hover your cursor over the “Support” menu link.

new support MegaMenu

Well, web analysts SiteIQ have been watching, and have some very nice things to say in their new blog post about the Support Mega Menu.

My favorite quote in the article hints nicely at the balance we try to achieve on Cisco.com:

“Support is a different animal than marketing. It is truly task-based. More access is key—the quicker the better. That requires functionality, scannability, and a nod towards popularity. This is where Cisco.com gets it—and the gold.”

Congrats to the Support web team for this very nice (and on target) review.

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IPv6 Sensing on Your (and Our) Web Site

June 6, 2011 at 6:31 am PST

You may have noticed that on our Support page, we have a small banner at the top in preparation for World IPv6 Day, which is a galactic test flight of the next generation Internet Protocol.

The banner on our support page tests whether you’re on an IPv4 network (which is the vast majority of our visitors) or on a new IPv6 network (which is the future).

When you first come onto the support page, you’ll see the banner checking your network status:

Then, once the quick test completes, if you’re on an IPv4 network, you’ll get this:

If you’re on an IPv6 network, well, first you already know you are very cool. And second, you’ll see this banner:

If you’re on an IPv6 network but there’s a problem somewhere between here are there, you’ll see this:

We don’t expect many people will see the “problem banner” above. But, the whole purpose of IPv6 Day is to test the end to end behavior and performance of IPv6. It’s the “shakedown cruise” like they do on a brand new oceanliner.

Here’s a little more on the idea behind the banner:

  1. The goal was to inform people about ipv6 and World IPv6 Day and collect statistics to understand how many visitors we would see on IPv6.
  2. As we were discussing as to how to inform people, we got inspired by http://www.getipv6.info/index.php/Warning_broken_users_with_JavaScript.
  3. Inspired by this service, we choose to implement a basic test rather than displaying plain vanilla message.
  4. To support this pre-test service, we created an IPv4-only site, and IPv6-only site and dual-stack enabled site. We choose not to rely on publicly hosted sites.
  5. Based on the success of 1pixel image request from each of the above sites, we display the appropriate message. (This banner and test loads after everything else on the page, by the way, so it doesn’t slow down the page.)
  6. If you can reach IPv4 only sites but cannot reach the dual stack site, this is a mark of brokenness, meaning that your device is probably trying to attach with IPv6 to the dual-stack site and failing.  As part of the logic,  we also report the same error if you can reach IPv6 only sites but not the dual stack site.  This is rarer still
  7. In the process we also send a tag to our analytics server for data capture – which is one of the main goals of the setup.
  8. We have kept the test basic and simple, linking you to a Support Community entry to get more information https://supportforums.cisco.com/docs/DOC-16692.

If your company is participating in World IPv6 Day, you can implement this same kind of logic on your own web sites. It’s easy!

For a more comprehensive IPv6 test, you can use http://test-ipv6.com.

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Cisco.com Toolbar Update

April 6, 2011 at 11:47 am PST

As I mentioned recently, based on your input we are planning to remove the toolbar at the bottom of Cisco.com pages. This change will happen in mid April.

I am counting the days with a sign on my office door:

Toolbat countdown picture

We’re currently on schedule to remove the toolbar at the end of the day PDT on Friday, April 15th. The My Cisco menu will move to the top of the page, and will be docked with a companion link to the My Cisco Workspace next to it.

For now, if you want to reduce the size of the toolbar, you can click on the little arrow on the left side of the toolbar, to collapse it. It will stay collapsed until the next time you delete your cookies.

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