This cold Sunday morning finds Jane in a pensive mood. We have work to do, Toastmasters to attend later on, and general cleaning up around the house to accomplish. The previous week was crowded with tasks. Not chores. Not work. Tasks. Those annoying little "must do" things that invade our lives like locusts, not once every seven years, but once a day--or more!
We think you know what we mean, dear reader. The annoying little things we're talking about are the uneven piles of stapled papers sitting at our left, silently reminding us we printed them out for some reason! The pile of papers--at this point--are the only ones who know what for! Perhaps we should file them. Just perhaps.
Upstairs, all along the hardwood floors, there is a preponderance of dog and cat hair lurking like the furballs they are ( with a fair amount buried in the carpet down here, we suspect.) Those piles of animal fur flutter as we walk past them to refill our coffee, mocking our meager attempts to sweep them up once a week.
And, of course, there is the small wicker basket full of business cards which sits just behind the leaning tower of papers...with stacks of business cards all bundled up in rubber bands, each packet bearing a different colored rubber band -- all to allow us to recognize the industry focus of the business cards they guard; a focus we have long since forgotten. Those bundles of business cards, more than anything else, remind us that we are not organized and this is a New Year, isn't it time to GET organized?
But, dear reader, you did not tune in today to listen to Jane rant and rave. Surely, you have other people who are willing to do that for you? If you do not, we advise you to call your mother.
No, today, Jane wishes to review a blog. A blog we think is relevant to the value of blogging as a smart way to communicate with your core market. We discovered this blog through an Internet search on non-profits and blogging, ending up here, where we then clicked into here, to get to the Earth Share website. Finding the blog was a bit more work, which we will reveal later on.
Earth Share of Washington (ESW), according to their homepage and blog, "plays a vital role in promoting environmental education, volunteerism, and charitable giving by partnering with businesses across Washington."
Jane is going to review Earth Share for 5 things: design, focus, content, and female-friendliness. Regular readers will understand that female-friendly websites and blogs encompass all of the previous three elements, but are also easy to navigate, not condescending, and offer women relevance -- to their search quest, or their shopping quest. Let's see how Earth Share does:
1. Design-- while this blog has an overall appealing look to it--with the header sporting a graphic of mountains in varying shades of blue (on Jane's computer-- remember, the colors and even the layout may not be exactly the same on YOUR computer, dear reader)-- the darkness of the blog detracts from its purpose, which is to encourage people to donate to its cause.
The blog is called "The Earth Page" and is powered by Movable Type, allowing Earth Share to exactly mirror its website. This is a good practice, but...it may serve to confuse some visitors. We like to know where we are on the web (men and women alike), so, while adding the blog as another page to the website is good for branding and recognition, without some small variance-- perhaps adding the word 'blog' to the Earth Page title-- readers may wonder why Earth Share, a charity, is spending so much time and money on its web presence. (not everyone understands as well as you do, dear reader, that blogging is so cost-effective.)
Meanwhile, the blog's dark background and white text strain the eyes after a few moments of reading. This color scheme is just not web-friendly.
2. Focus-- We like the focus of the blog. Women in general, and not a few men, we think, will appreciate the slogan: "Protecting our health, our children, our quality of life..." The small snapshots of people and places below the slogan add flavor to the meaning...but Jane would like those snapshots to be just a tad bigger, please. Many of Earth Share's possible donors are baby boomers, and we prefer to view pictures and text without squinting.
Which leads us to the italicized text introducing January's Earth Share notes. More eye-strain. Italics on the web, especially light colored text against a dark background, is a bad idea. The message is clear, and focused, but...it would be better served as colored text on a lighter background. This is the message, copied and pasted as is:
January is a time to reflect on the events of 2004 and, like many, establish a few New Year's resolutions for 2005. As Washingtonians purge their kitchen cabinets of chocolate treats and flock to the gyms in record numbers, the environmental community will be hard at work on its own set of New Year's resolutions.
This blog was developed to increase recognition of the charity. According to the article here, that goal has been reached: "Since the blog was added as the featured part of an overall site redesign a year ago, the number of hits on Earth Share's site has more than tripled." Hear, hear for the blog! For the record... Jane would like brighter, more inviting colors, please.
3. Content-- We can find no fault with the content. The blog pays close attention to its purpose, echoing the website in providing readers with up-to-date informationin on the state of the environment. We especially like the navigation links to the left beginning with the Home link which goes to the website, followed by About Us, Member Groups, Workplace Giving, and How You Can Help, all of which go to the website, also. News & Events and The Earth Page are parts of the blog, but only true bloggers will notice that. More's the pity.
Content-wise, the blog (and website) serve their purpose. Jane is left wishing, however, that Earth Share was promoting its blog more effectively, by noting, first of all, that it HAS a blog, and then, by differentiating the blog from the website in some small way. Not to detract from the overall Earth Share design, mind you. Just to give visitors a way to orient themselves.
5. Female-friendliness-- For the most part, this blog receives a positive check for being female-friendly. It's attractive, easy to navigate, provides us with an immediate sense of what it does or what it offers-- in this case, information on the environment with an open request for donations. The colors are not as welcoming as we would like...lighter blues and some soft greens would work better. We feel they would brighten the blog's dark feel and support the focus on environmental issues.
And, while the site has a clear, easy navigation set off to the left, with Archives and Categories on the right, Jane must confess that she never would have found the blog if she hadn't known about it from a previous news report, which led her to the article noted above. When clicking into the website, Jane expected to see text directing her to the blog. Not finding any, she returned to the article and clicked through their link, to the blog.
After some exploration, we discovered that the blog and the website are so intertwined, it's impossible for a novice surfer to tell them apart until one scrolls down the latest content on the blog and sees the opportunity to place 'comments.' Calling their blog The Earth Page does not help us identify it as a blog. Jane had to make far too many clicks throughout the site, and back to the article, to arrive at her destination. That is most definitely NOT female-friendly.
In today's online world, Jane seldom clicks more than three times to get the desired information we are searching for. Earth Share needs to think about that when they consider their next redesign.
That navigation limitation, and the too dark colors, are the only things Jane can find wrong with this blog. We think it's a fine example of how a non-profit can successfully and cost-effectively build attention for its cause, while using blogging to gently solicit funds.
What's not to like about that?