Sep 24 2009
Information. That’s why we all come to the web, right? We need information on the news, the world, local stores, products, reviews, directions to and from places. We can find anything we want here. And so websites spring up all over each specializing in their area of expertise, some large, some small. At the top of the hill are search engines. Kings of the web, guiding and directing the paths of all. Effecting the rise and fall of the masses at their feet.
In between the core content providers and the search engines that catalog them, are aggregators. They provide a centralized location to view all the latest content in a specific area of expertise. Most typically they’re set up to accept feeds from a variety of competing websites and collect the information all in one place. News sites are the most prolific aggregators where you can get all the Yahoo, Google, MSN news, from one location.
With an abundance of Job Search sites available, so come their aggregators as well. Within this vertical is freelance work. Whereas there are a near infinite number of news sources, there are a limited amount of freelance jobs boards. It’s a specific niche within the job search world. An exhaustive list, or as they like to refer to it, a Monster list of sites that include freelance work, can be found here. Many of the sites listed include both freelance work as well as normal FTE jobs. It also includes job aggregators, but I didn’t find a freelance job aggregator. That is until I found Freelance Radar.
Freelance Radar is a site that I’m inherently apt to like. It sets out to do one and only one thing, and they do it well. It gathers the freelance feeds from the major players and presents the information on their own website. In one fell swoop a freelancer can see the listings from what presumably are the top five freelance websites. They provide an interface that collects all the posts by most recent date, and also widgets that list them separately. I’m sure after a while of being in the freelance line of work you learn which sites tend to collect the better jobs for your specialty. The projects can also be sorted by category so you don’t have to sift through listings outside your skill set.
As with all websites it can be expected to have a few problematic areas. The most obvious issue is that FLR made their best attempt to compete with Craigslist.org in their presentation. Craigslist is notorious for it’s remedial Web .05 design. FLR has many of the same design challenges as CL, in that it has a large amount of continually flowing information to process and display. When you have that much data there are only so many ways present it before it becomes a big blob that lesser websites will bemoan and derail. I think FLR has done a superb job with this challenge, but also think they could take it to the next level. Currently there’s a two column layout with the Search, Links, Newsletter and Categories on the left, and the main content on the right. The header sits atop providing the site logo and social networking options. The main content consists of 6 widgets, the first is the most recent job listings from all the sites coalesced together, and the other five are the individual job listing from each feed sites.
One way to reduce the burst of information thrown at users is to move each widget into its own page, accessible by a series of tabs. The labels would be renamed slightly to reduce redundancy, All, Elance, GetAFreelancer, Scriptlance, Rent A Coder, and EUFreelance. Missing from these labels is the word “Latest”, which needs to be conveyed. The first place to add it is in the title of the webpage. Change it to FreelanceRadar.com – Latest Freelance Jobs From All Over The Internet. I had to hunt to find a more visible place to use the word latest again but think I found a good fit. In lieu of the column heading “Title”, place the word Latest Postings, Latest Jobs, Latest Project- whichever you prefer. That will optimize the text on the screen by getting rid of the mundane word Title and replacing it with something more descriptive. Perhaps I’ll learn some Photoshop skills to display this visually, but for now this will have to do.
A rather large design change to consider is a 3 column liquid layout. Currently the main wrapper is 870 px wide which caters to those users stuck in 1997. I’m guessing most freelancers have larger screens. Rather than depend on my guesses, check your Google Analytics results to see how many users have postage stamp sized screens. With the liquid layout it doesn’t matter anyhow but is still good to know. Min and max limits optionally can be set for the width. The two side columns can be used to better distribute the Search, Newsletter, Categories and Links sections. They would also provide additional space for an extra ad or two. Regarding ads, graphical ads would be a nice break from the abundance of text on the screen. Google makes it easy to select the graphic ones. Setting up channels to monitor how many clicks it gets, versus the text ads will show if this affects revenue.
Within the main content widgets themselves lies a friendly idiosyncrasy. On the right column of every job listing is a link labeled View Listing. If I click View Listing, which is oh so painfully redundant, you arrive at the external website the listing was aggregated from. If I click on the title of the job listing itself, it takes you to the copy of the listing on FLR’s site. The two pages contain exactly the same info, with the exception that the FLR’s page gives you no ability to bid or comment on the job. I understand the need to have more web pages. They increase search engine visibility, provide more places to post ads, as well as keeping users on your site. But the FLR job listing page appears to be basically useless. If I click on it, and don’t like the job, I’ll click the back button in my browser. If I click on the View Listing link and arrive at the external page, and don’t like the job, I’ll also click the back button. The point being, the internal listing provides the user little benefit and creates a confusing navigation path. I’ve come up with a three step process to fix this:
- Skip step one.
- Do nothing.
- Track user information about which jobs they’re clicking on, store it in the database, then use it to create suggested jobs and alerts for them.
If FLR chooses not to track user behavior and make job suggestions, I can’t think of a different useful purpose for those pages.
As a user, I would like to come to FLR, sign up for an account, select relevant job categories, then have email updates sent to me as new jobs come in. Site aggregators do a great job of preventing their users from having to navigate all over the web to find information. How about giving them the opportunity to not navigate at all? Updates could be customizable by number of listings per update or number of updates per hour. Craigsly, a SlapStart featured site, provides email alerts without user accounts. It’s a neat trick to consider.
The only other major improvement is probably both the simplest to implement and most critical- a refresh button. Even slicker is to have it auto update seamlessly in the background. Starting with just the refresh button would be a great improvement.
A series of minor improvements are listed here:
- Job listings tables are great in that they alternate background colors. Its colors and contrast could be improved upon. Consider finding better font, spacing and color selections to make each listing more distinct. This could probably be done with changes to the CSS and require no changes to the HTML.
- Selecting different categories is probably one of the most used navigation feature, but they all appear below the fold of the page. That’s another reason to consider the 3 column layout.
- When you select a category it will include all the job listings. Some users may want a specific category for a specific feed source.
- The blog bears no resemblance to the look and feel of the main site. I completely understand the need for a blog and that WordPress or Blogger can easily be snapped into a site. Experimenting with various WP themes is probably the easiest way to see if a closer match can be found. The current neutral theme gets the job done, though the recent posts section isn’t very clear.
- The blog needs a prominent and visible link back to FLR home.
- SiteMap in footer is really a Site Index. However, Wikipedia concedes that users, “generally associate both as one and the same.” Will you sell out as well?
- Links section is a melting pot of various resources. It has some pages of information, Links to feeds from other freelancing sites, then Contact and Twitter info. The Twitter info can be relegated to the upgraded social media bar. The contact link can be removed as it’s already in the footer. A horizontal rule or similar can be used to separate the Benefits of Outsourcing and Freelance Websites, from the site listings links. Also, consider creating an About page and adding it in the top section.
A bonus area of improvement is with the paging navigation. The feeds do what feeds are supposed to do, provide an ever flowing streams of information. As such, FLR organized them into a series of pages, which can be access through the following interface. Avert thine eyes if you must.
Now before we come down too hard on them we must remember that the bulk of the site is well done and useful. Screen shotting this is just too much for any author of SlapStart to pass up however. Moving right along, the best practices for this is listing pages 1-10, then a few towards the end, and book ending them with prev and next buttons. Another option is to use first, prev, next, last buttons. FLR has to consider the question, how often will someone click on page 492. Seeing as how listings quickly become dated and obsolete it’s not likely most users will browse through the history.
The big decision for FLR is whether to retain their own job page listings, or do away with them as unnecessary redundancies. User accounts and email alerts would greatly increase the functionality. And like all websites, the design needs a makeover every now and again. Freelance Radar is a quality aggregator site for freelancers. With a few improvements Freelane Radar can make greater headway in bringing the information to their users.