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Meet Hop Studios’ New Senior Designer

Katie, by Katie
Katie, by Katie

We hired Katie Holmes! Ok, sure, not that Katie Holmes. This Katie Holmes is a talented graphic and interaction designer.

Katie joins Hop Studios after 10 years of agency and freelance design, where she worked with clients like LuluLemon, Skipper Otto, and Starbucks. She was one of the first to graduate from Simon Fraser’s School of Interactive Arts + Technology, but that wasn’t even close to the beginning of her work with design and technology.

“I got into design at 14 in order to make a [Ed: She doesn’t want me to tell you this, but hey, I’m the boss. -TS.] Harry Potter fan site,” Katie said. “I’ve always liked making things, so it was never really a decision to ‘go into’ design, it just kind of evolved.”

Actually, Katie tells us what she really dislikes is not knowing how to make things. You name it, and Katie has probably done it: knitting, painting, weaving, woodworking, drawing… the list goes on. Katie brings this same curiosity and application to her web work.

“I like looking at the bigger picture, being able to see the whole scope of the project and how it all fits together. To create consistent, coherent, intuitive sites, you have to understand the whole thing at the macro level, and also in the details,” Katie says. “User experience is all about finding the least painful route the user can take to achieve a result. Add good design, and you can create interactions that are enjoyable and seamless. You shouldn’t even notice the process, just move smoothly through the technology.”

And if that doesn’t match the Hop Studios approach—good. clean. fun.—well, then we don’t know what does.

Welcome, Katie!


DC Commuters Get Some Help On the Road

The new year is starting with a vroom for Hop Studios as we launch our newest news project: DC Commute Times!

Photo: DC Commute Times Web site screenshot

DCCommuteTimes.com provides news and traffic information for commuters in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. The D.C. area has the dubious honor of having some of the the worst traffic in the country. When I say it’s bad, it’s really bad. One recent study showed that the average commuter in this area—D.C., Virginia, and Maryland—spends up to 82 hours held up in traffic each year (PDF) as they struggle to travel between work, home, and every other place they want to go. We’re talking almost six hours of rush hour commuting.

Being stuck in traffic, of course, leads to people to thinking about one key question: How can a local commuter reduce the amount of time they are spending in transit?

DC Commute Times is the brainchild of Jeff Wong, who lives the horror himself as a resident of Arlington, VA. He believes real-time information updates are at least part of the answer. That might mean choosing a different mode of transport on really tough days, or taking a different route than usual, or just waiting a little while. Jeff’s goal is to provide that timely information commuters need to make these daily decisions for using roads, Metro, buses, trains, and even bikes.

The newly launched Web site uses many local commuter resources to present timely updates and traffic maps, along with hyper-local coverage of the commuter experience. On the site, Jeff also presents editorial content on everything from tips to stay on the road during icy conditions, to managing the fluctuations caused by the holidays.

If you’re a DC commuter, consider making DC Commute Times part of your daily routine before you head out the door!


Distributed Content Poses a Quandary for Online Publishers

Online publishers are facing a looming dilemma: Is the loss of direct control over the reader’s experience worth an increase in traffic and attention?

Apple, Google and Facebook believe the answer is an unequivocal “yes,” and each has entered the distributed content publishing arena with a method to permit publishers to customize content for more attractive and faster display on mobile devices.

Apple would like you to use its flexible and deeply integrated Apple News Format; Facebook is very bullish on Instant Articles, now also integrated into Messenger; and Google is downright evangelistic about Accelerated Mobile Pages present.

Publishing articles via social networks and other aggregation sites and apps can definitely increase traffic and reader interaction, but that interaction takes place on on the social network itself rather than the publisher’s web site. It’s not so much that there is a high price to pay to participate, it’s that no one knows what that price tag will ultimately be—and in fact, that price tag may look very different for large publishers than it does for small ones.

The concept is simple: Publishers format their stories in each tech giant’s format and those stories are served directly from the servers and apps of those companies, essentially bypassing the web site (and much of the advertising, design and additional functionality) of the publisher. The publisher gets their content displayed extremely quickly, usually with some sort of mark indicating to readers that it’s fast and optimized for mobile, and possibly even priority access or promotion, especially in the case of Apple News.

All these features may have thrown a garland over the horns of the dilemma, but it’s made them no less sharp.

If, say, The New York Times publishes articles into Facebook using Facebook Instant Articles, and readers interact with that content only within Facebook, what will happen to the readership of the nytimes.com site over the next 10 years? Or even just two? Now ask the same questions about smaller entities, like The (Sonora, CA) Union Democrat, which gets 420,000 page views a month?

The growing primacy of mobile device uses has only increased this trend. A mobile Facebook user has a better experience if they stay within Facebook, rather than jumping between app to browser repeatedly, and the same holds true for any social media app. Apple has begun to push news content into its device search results, which it can only do with Apple News content.

Consider, for example, Now This, a news resource (it’s hard even to know what to call it…) that dumped having any site at all in favor of placing the news it reports directly where readers are: Facebook, Vine, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Youtube and Snapchat. Is a publisher still a publisher if it has no publication? For some, all page views are created equal, whether they happen in Apple’s iPhone search, a Facebook feed, or in a tweet—but some of these platforms have limited advertising options, and some have none at all.

There’s one more consideration: When you publish on another firm’s platform, they can set restrictions on what you can publish. Both Facebook and Apple include an application and/or review process for content.

Though these technology giants tout distributed content publishing as an exciting opportunity that no publisher should miss out on—more readers, better looking content, additional advertising models—the jury is still out for most publishers.

Don’t forget: The biggest companies used to be in oil; now the giants are in technology. When you play with Google, Apple, and Facebook, you’re playing in the big leagues.

You may be interested in reading more on the Hop Studios blog:
Google Accelerated Mobile Pages
Apple News Format
Facebook Instant Articles


Mountee - Now Available for EE 3 and Wordpress

We generally try to keep the superlatives to a minimum here, but today I’m making a special exception because I am literally bursting with excitement about the release of Mountee 3.

Mountee — hellomountee.com  — is an ExpressionEngine and WordPress add-on/plugin that lets you access your themes as Mac Finder files directly and instantly. I know!! That means you can edit your code using your favorite Mac application instead of being stuck inside the textarea of a CMS, or needing to use SFTP or git to make a simple change. We love it So Much because it makes our lives as web developers so much easier.

Mountee works by connecting to ExpressionEngine and Wordpress transparently with any admin’s username and password, and it loads templates and themes as a drive. It’s a huge timesaver:

  • Double-click any template to open and edit it in your favorite coding app.
  • To create a new template or theme, just make a new file or folder.
  • Develop your own set of re-usable templates and groups, then simply drag them into your Mountee drive to kick-start your next project.

I invite you to give Mountee a try today by downloading it from hellomountee.com. (And if you’re wishing this was available for any CMS besides WordPress or EE, just drop me a line—we’ve got plans in the works for expansion.)

Thanks for your time, and don’t hesitate to contact us if you’ve got questions or feedback. Like, seriously — we really want this tool to be useful to you and to us, so if you have suggestions for ways to improve it… I’m listening.


Hopping Down the Road: Chicago and Detroit

Over the next few weeks, Hop Studios will be at several conferences.

First of all, we’re attending LION Summit, Sep. 29 - Oct 1 in Chicago, a conference for local independent online news publishers.

We’ll be doing two talks there: One is a CMS showdown where we’ll be vigerously defending ExpressionEngine against all comers, and the other will be an introduction to some of the distributed publishing options that publishers currently have to choose from, namely Facebook Instant Articles, Google’s AMP project, and the growing beast that is Apple News.

Next, we’ll be dropping by the aptly named ExpressionEngine Conference in Detroit Oct 3-4, to learn how to, you know, ExpressionEngine-ize things.

If you’ll be at either event, we hope to see you there!

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Web Design and ExpressionEngine Development Consulting - Vancouver (BC) Canada