MTV Networks: Which video ads work best?

CNet reports on an MTV Networks survey on the effectiveness of their video advertising formats.

"Project Inform," the MTV survey, found that a five-second-long "pre-roll" ad in advance of the clip, combined with ten seconds of a semi-transparent ad unit that takes up the lower third of the video (and starts about ten seconds in), makes up "both the most effective and the most audience-friendly ad product for short-form online video," according to a release.
MTVN calls this the "lower one-third product suite." It was tested against two other ad packages, the "sideloader," which combines the five-second pre-roll with an ad that rolls out of the side of the video window; and a traditional 30-second pre-roll before the ad.

So, obviously, that's a limited number of options and certainly doesn't reflect the full range of possibilities for online ads. But it was thorough: Project Inform ran consumer survey tests across about 50 million video streams on the Web properties for media brands like MTV, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon.

There's also mention of Hulu's success last year of providing users the option of viewing longer pre-video ads rather than interrupting their video. You can read the MTV article here.

You should follow me on Twitter: Dustin Curtis experiments with call to action

Dustin Curtis did an interesting experiment with a short call to action at the bottom of his pages, asking users to follow him on Twitter. Comparing the results shows that direct, but informally worded calls to action, and (ugh) using a literal call out like the word “here” had a pretty significant impact.

As the forcefulness and personal identifiability of the phrase increased, the number of clicks likewise increased. “You” identifies the reader directly, “should” implies an obligation, and “follow me on twitter” is a direct command. Moving the link to a literal callout “here” provides a clear location for clicking. I tried other permutations that dulled the command, used the word “please” in place of “should” and made the whole sentence a link. None of them performed as well as the final sentence.

At the very least, the data show that users seem to have less control over their actions than they might think, and that web designers and developers have huge leeway for using language to nudge users through an experience.

Would you come to the same conclusions? Read the complete article here. ;)

Don't Forget Heuristics

Theresa Neil continues her tips for designing great Flex UX’s showcasing interfaces that exemplify Jakob Nielsen’s 10 usability heuristics.

Don’t forget the usability basics. Jakob Nielsen’s Ten Usability Heuristics are as relevant now as they were in 1999. I stress this because I looked at the Flex showcase recently, and it looks like many of the applications are not built with these best practices in mind.

Read more at Theresa Neil’s blog.

Dynamic Prototyping Book Site

Dynamic Prototyping with SketchFlow in Expression Blend is a book coming out in late 2009 through Que Publishing and is being written by Chris Bernard and Sara Summers. It will teach you everything you need to know to create rich and dynamic prototypes using SketchFlow in Expression Blend. The book site includes updates about the progress on the book and a preview chapter and the associated projects that go along with it. The preview chapter will teach you all the basics you need to know to begin using SketchFlow features in Expression Blend.

Experiments in Password Masking

Jakob Nielsen recently called for an end to password masking, and a few people have come up with interesting approaches that try to find a middle ground between the typical prractice of masking passwords with asterisks.

arc90 are experimenting with a half-masking technique. The method partially obscures the password by placing a few blurred characters in the background so that the characters are not easily read by someone looking over the user’s shoulder. This seems like an interesting idea. The problem for me is that I can’t say that the characters are easily read by me either. Can you make out the password in the screenshot above? It’s hard to, I would argue. But, I’m one of those people who has trouble with the more twisted captchas or those with too much background noise. My eyesight is not bad, mind you, I just interpret some of the characters more creatively I guess.

Another interesting idea uses a behavior that is typical in mobile phones, which masks the typed character after it is displayed briefly in the input for a specified time, or after the user enters a subsequent character. This is a terrific behavior in phones because the character is completely visible to the user. I guess it could argued that it could still be read over the user’s shoulder, however. You can try that solution in the iPhone-like passwords using jquery post on the Decaf blog.

Both are interesting solutions to a problem that might be a minor nuisance to some users (although I would argue that captcha is a much bigger one to me). But my opinion is that simply having a toggle to hide/show the password clearly might be an even simpler approach. For users in public places, the input might be masked, but when they’re alone they can keep it in the clear.

UPDATE: Chris Dary also pointed to his HashMask experiment at arc90, which we discuss below.

Content Templates to the Rescue

Erin Kissane writes about using content templates “… to help speed up the information-collection process, improve consistency across the website, and make the editing process easier and more orderly” in A List Apart.

The ideal situation is to have a content strategist, perhaps a technical writer, who can provide the guidance for auditing and organizing information, and add some rigor to the writing process. The absence of a content strategist on a project necessitates at least dedicating one person to this task. Kissane’s article shows how to use content templates to provide the framework for preparing each page of content so they may communicate the essential information effectively and consistently. If you have an IA on the project, this can follow from wireframes on new work.

Redub Designs a Better Online Magazine

I came across Redub’s “Don’t Make Me Scroll” presentation embedded above, which looks at the current offering of magazine readers which are modeled after print layouts, are difficult to read, SEO-unfriendly, and which rarely use the full capabilities provided by web browsers, e.g. multi-media. Or they’re modeled largely after blogs with articles are long and scrolling, are limited by the possibilities of HTML/CSS, and have layouts that aren’t differentiated from blogs and which pale in comparison to the layout in the printed version of the original magazine article.

Redub is working on a magazine reader, built on Flash, with a keyboard-enabled UI (input devices work as well) that scales to any screen size, does not scroll, and provides designer-friendly layout possiblities. You can check out the GOOD magazine demo to experience the reader. There’s some really interesting interface design happening there including unobtrusive menus and prev/next paging controls, a pagination bar that is scaled to indicate the amount of content on the page, great examples of interactive media in the content, e.g. interactive charts, and hints at personal options like annotations. It’s very well thought-out and works better for reading magazines than any of the readers out there.

It seems like they’re trying to do for online magazine reading what the Kindle does for ebooks. Exciting stuff to see the full potential of Flash being utilized to improve the magazine reading experience, rather than just port it over to an digital, PDF-like version that doesn’t work as well on screen.