AuroraClicks (& Grunts) .com

Mouse-of-stone
In a recent post I commented on some absurd comments made by resident, and local business owner Bruce Cuthbert with respect to the subject of blogging.  

As promised this post will expand on Mr. Cuthbert’s site AuroraClicks ( www.auroraclicks.com ) which apparently launched last summer.  

Unfortunately for AuroraClicks, either through poor traditional or social marketing, there seems to be little recognition of the site’s existance or usage by the community as a whole.

Proporting to be a community website the tagline on the site reads “our neighbourhood online“, which is awkward considering that Aurora isn’t “a” neighbourhood at all.  Aurora is a series of neighbourhoods, I believe collectively we refer to these neighbourhoods as our town.

What’s even more strange is that in the “About Us” section on the site it reads:  

“We are a community website catering to the needs of the communities within the Town of Aurora and Surrounding areas (Oak Ridges, King City and Kettleby).”


Neither focused on “a neighbourhood” or even the community of Aurora which it uses in its name, AuroraClicks underlying purpose is far from clear. 

In early April I met with Mr. Cuthbert to better understand the site’s offerings.  Prior to this meeting I conducted a comprehensive review of the AuroraClicks.com site.  I also reviewed the “NaberNet” and the “BridgedIn” platform upon which it is built.

What I discovered I will share with you in this post which I have broken down into the areas that I evaluated the site on:

1.) Experience Design & Usability
Over on the UsabilityGeek.com website they have posted a small resource outlining “5 signs that indicate Website Usability Problems”: http://usabilitygeek.com/5-signs-that-indicate-website-usability-problems/?goback=%2Egde_79272_member_90757643
They are as follows:

1. Bad First Impression
2. Poorly Structured Links
3. Excessive Website Text
4. Lack Of Consistency
5. Complicated Navigation

AuroraClicks.com suffers from all 5.

The site’s primary navigtion includes a total of 9 links, two of which are dead.  Both the “Gallery” and “Specials” tabs are broken and do not connect to content.  

The button on the right pane that advertises “Specials” leads to the aformentioned “dead” link. This lowers the overall experience of the site, and one wonders why are they included in the navigation at all if there is no content built for them?

This is an inexcusable mistake and one that is the subject of the most elementry steps to building any web property.

Most, if not all, of the usability issues that plague the site are a direct result of the BridgeLIn platform upon which the site is built, or as a result of the implementation of the platform.

BridgeLin touts “Customizable Design and Navigation” as a feature of their platform.
As detailed on their site here:  http://bridgelin.com/page.php?id=1809 they report:  
“each site is designed to be 760 pixels wide. This addresses the fact that a large segment of the public are still viewing the Internet at 800 x 600 resolution. The website will always be fully in view with no need to scroll left or right.”
Sounds good, except one small thing:  

A large segment of the public are not viewing the Internet at 800 x 600 resolution, and they haven’t been since 2001.  If you want to understand trends in display resolution check out the following report:  http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_display.asp

Released on February 26, 2012, the new IAB Standard Ad Unit Portfolio includes a new range of formats designed to meet marketers’ communications needs across the purchase funnel.  The site format also takes into consideration the ad formats established by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) most notably the 120 x format used in the left and right columns: http://www.iab.net/guidelines/508676/508767/displayguidelines

What the BridgeLin platform lacks is what the entire Web 2.0 industry has already adopted and that is something called “Responsive Design”.

As it stands AuroraClicks.com is not viewable from a mobile device which will eliminate a growing % of potential user base.

When brought to Mr. Cuthbert’s attention he seemed unconcerned.

2.) Content

The content in the site’s news feed is text, the majority of which is simply repurposed from other sources.  There is no breaking news from AuroraClicks.com. 

The national community of “Naberhoods” consists of a mere 7 sites, yet NaberNet claims:
“Our content is always up to date, because it is updated locally and verified by individuals who are local themselves.”
How exactly does being local ensure that content is up to date?

I noticed both Aurora’s M.P.P. and M.P. have columns in the Auroran and question what benefit they see to duplicating the content on this site?  

The Town of Aurora’s Noticeboard is published in the EraBanner. It pays approx $70,000 for this, it also hosts the noticeboard on the town’s corporate website.  What advantage is there for the town to have the noticeboard included on AuroraClicks.com?  What is the R.O.I?

The only other content the site offers are ads.

The mode in which they are infused in the site are outdated and the effectiveness of which is questionable.

Over on EditorandPublisher.com two local editors were interviewed and asked the question which one webside component they would focus on redesigning

Trenton Sperry, 22, editor-in-chief of The Daily O’Collegian, the student newspaper at Oklahoma State University had this to say:

“…media is an important part of content flow. Users don’t just want to read a story; they want to see it, watch it, and hear it. Slideshows, videos, and audio recordings should be sprinkled throughout the written story, allowing the visitor a short break to better envision what they’re reading.

 
Looking forward, however, websites may very well become unnecessary. In the college market, news is almost exclusively gathered and consumed via tablet and smartphone applications. These applications allow an audience to reach out and touch the news in front of them, a more personal experience than moving an arrow around on a screen.”


Gregory Bryant, 55, online editor of the Cape Cod Times for the past 15 years and a central figure in several redesigns comments:

“If I could focus on one particular piece of the website redesign puzzle, I would free some of our commercial content from the frozen, windswept steppes of the website’s right column.
An unusual sentiment from a news guy, for sure.


But let’s face it: Online users are long inured to the right-column wall of commerce. Many don’t necessarily see it because they know it’s there. But advertising is good. It’s essential to the survival of all the other great stuff we do online, like our news. And to relegate it to a predictable slice of our websites doesn’t make sense.

 
Instead, why not grab some of those ad units — and those homes for sale, employment, cars, classifieds, and daily deals modules — from the right-column Siberia. Redistribute them by integrating them into the other two-thirds of the Web page on our section fronts.

 
Let’s mix it up a bit without tarnishing our journalistic souls. I am not advocating a stealthy ruse to disguise our commercial content as editorial news. But look at the print newspaper. Advertising has crept into formerly sacrosanct spots like the front page — and paid advertising “adheres” are now there too.”


You can read the full piece here:

3.) Business

The “Directory”, which I assume to be a cornerstone of the site, is incredibly difficult and time consuming to navigate.

It also contains empty and dead links,  “Mortgage Brokers” is one example.

Why would anyone chose to use the drill down format of directory implemented here over vastly superior ones? Or how 90% of web users do it: using a search engine.

Unfortunately the Directory is not Search Engine Optimized, meaning the site does not open itself up to the web.

4.) Audience

Attempting to better understand the user base of AuroraClicks.com I inquired as to any recent metrics that outline how many visitors, percentage new vs. returning, average time on the site…

Mr. Cuthbert flat out refused to share any metrics as to the audience of the site.  His evasiveness seems to be a curious given that the site is supposed to be community based.

5.) Platform

Where I read on both the Bridgelin and NaberNet site ( http://nabernet-ds4.com/page.php?id=1901 ) “The Bridgelin Platform can provide your organization or business with capabilities well beyond any traditional content management website.” I see no evidense to support this.

Nor is there any evidense to support the statement:  “A Bridgelin website is the only solution you need to address all your online communication, revenue generation and administrative requirements.”

A great deal of community interaction has lept over websites entirely and now exists in the realm of social media.  If there is a social media strategy at AuroraClicks.com, it is less than apparent and definitely not implemented. 

As for the platform being an “effective way to employ the web and related technologies” what “related technologies” exactly?

AuroraClicks.com, and any site using the BridgeLin platform does not embrace the dominant user interface to the Internet, that being mobile devices.

In a post over on the Flurry blog one large piece missing from AuroraClickscom puzzle falls into place, and that is that consumers now spend more time in mobile apps than they do online.  You can check out that post here:  http://blog.flurry.com/bid/84512/Social-Networking-Ends-Games-40-Month-Mobile-Reign

There has been a shift hapening over the past 2 years that has resulted in the production model to develop mobile first, web second and is accomplished through Responisve Design, which AuroraClicks has chosen not to implement.

6.) Competition

In drawing a comparison between AuroraClicks.com and Stouffville Connects ( http://www.stouffvilleconnects.com/ ) I see a significant gap in features.

The usability and design issues that I identified above with the BridgeLin platform indicate it was developed a long time ago and is not keeping up with other community platforms that have higher adoption rates.

In comparing it to the competition Bridgelin appears to be vastly inferior to more popular platforms like Ning http://ca.ning.com/

AuroraClicks.com may enjoy opeerating in somewhat of a Community website vacuum curently, but I don’t see that being the case moving forwards.

Living in Aurora.com ( www.livinginaurora.com/ ) looks to be a much more attractive, usable, and overall engaging web property than AuroraClicks.com, and certainly uderstands what community focus entails.

The Aurora Citizen ( www.http://auroracitizen.ca/ ) offers a way for citizens to engage in discourse about the town’s affairs and has been widely received.  There is much potential for this site to adapt and grow into areas that Mr. Cuthbert seems all to ready to dismiss.

7.) Security

I was not impressed to learn that the NaberNet platform was, or still is vulnerable to SQL injection, and the exploitability of which is rated extremely high.

This vulnerability was identified on the Net-Security site back in March of 2010:

To date SecurityFocus.com is not aware of any vendor patches to this exploit:

Additionaly IBM Internet Security Systems state “No remedy available as of May 1, 2012.”:

In my meeting with Mr Cuthbert I brought this to his attention and was simply told that the issue had been resolved.

Given such a pas blunder I certainly have not received any assurances AuroraClicks.com offeres to either users or its  advertisers that their data is secure.

Especially when full access to Nabernet’s index of files is available here:

Because of the numerous operational deficiencies, including an unclear mission statement that speaks to community, the inadequate platform that NaberNet provides and a complete lack of differentiators from other community initiatives, I fail to see any value in AuroraClicks.com at this time.

I will not utilize, afilliate myself as either a content provider or business owner until such time the site evolves into a significantly more professional, engaging and usable resource.

As it exists AuroraClicks.com is such an outdated and entity that as far as web entities go it boarders on neanderthal, reminiding me of Phil Hartman’s Saturday Night Live character Keyrock, the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer who often delivered the line “your world frightens and confuses me”:

Watts on your mind?

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