For a long time I thought to myself, “why use someone else’s service when I can usually make my own?” which, typically, resulted in endless research and development efforts all because I wanted to replicate what someone had already done. That’s not really a bad thing, though, because it often meant learning something I had no prior experience with and, ultimately, allows me to understand everything even better than I would as a regular user, but I’m beginning a shift in thinking.
I now plan on utilizing 3rd party services whenever it is advantageous, both to get a sense of how their products function, and to allow me to explore some of the other nuances of application development outside of my usual routine. I’ll still experiment with and dive into APIs and documentation on that which excites me. After brainstorming aliases, checking availability, and getting the important stuff handled, I now shift focus to establishing the online identity.
First order of business is getting a simple, effective overview page so people can quickly get to know what I’m all about. One of the most popular platforms for this type of thing–likely because of it’s killer domain name–about.me provides precisely what I’m looking for: a large, attractive, responsive, clean profile with enough customizability to make it unique and fit the rest of the branding guidelines I have in place.
The sign up process is about as straightforward as it gets. Simply key in your name and email and you’re off, or sign up with Facebook or Twitter. That is about what I expect to have as a barrier of entry into a service. Upon completing the fields, you are then presented with a second step of the registration process, choosing a password and username.
The second form is as easy to populate as the first and it provides visual cues for the availability of your username and whether or not your password meets the minimum requirements. With all of the security issues in the world today, I thought it was strange to see the message “Password is good” when I entered “password” as my password. Security is important and I like when services take that extra step and implement a password security indicator, such as a weak/strong meter.
Upon registration (and verification) about.me provides a nice little tutorial on how to use customize your profile. I particularly enjoy reviewing settings and preferences menus of software, in an effort to learn as much as possible about it’s functionality. I spent about four 4-6 hours writing content and linking my other social networks.
One of the reasons why I like about.me is it’s use of a full-cover background image on desktop and tablet browsers. It’s a real attention-getter and seems to be common amongst other professionals in the field. By uploading a large lossless image (1680px x 1050px PNG), quality is ensured and you can be assured that it will look good on any screen size.
They’ve also created a bunch of plugin “apps” that allow you to connect to third party services, not only Facebook and Twitter, but YouTube, GitHub, Flickr, Medium, 500px, and a lot more. Adding this automatically adds them to an icon toolbar, similar to what you’d see on many other sites.
I’m surprised at how much functionality is packed into this nifty website, but I’m not at all surprised that they have a Premium service that offers some nice-to-haves. One thing that bothers me about my profile is the about.me branding across the top requesting anonymous users to sign up for their service, in addition to a call-out bubble in the lower corner. These only serve to distract the end-user and the way to get them off is to buy the premium service at $4 per month, or roughly $50 per year. Considering that a typical, basic web hosting package ranges from $100-150 per year, I would say it is a bit much, considering the volume of members on their service. For now, I’m going to hold off, but I bet my mind would change if it were a more reasonable and logical $12/year or $1 each month. I wonder what their retention and acquisition rates would be if they were to test that price point?
I also noticed the app suggestion bar when visiting my profile on an iPhone. I’m not sure if the premium package eliminates this, but it does shift the content a thumbs-width down, serving as both a distraction and reducing the real estate until it is closed. I found that there is no app available for tables, so it’s just a phone app for now. I’ll check it out some day.
The only way to make something perfect is to make it myself, but that definitely takes time. I may decide to replicate my about.me profile in my own hand-crafted source code someday, but I’m fairly certain it would take me more than 4-6 hours to make this type of responsive landing page.
One thing that bothered me was customizing the background color scheme. When changing font colors, I was presented with a familiar color picking tool with a color history for remembering recently used colors. This is great, but the background color scheme, which is comprised of four swatches, seemed to pick pseudo-random complementary schemes, instead of being able to pick each swatch individually. I’m not sure if that’s a premium feature, but I think it would be much easier to dial in a scheme using a color wheel with draggable handles for analogous, complementary, and triadic schemes.
Another minor annoyance was the font selection. While diverse and substantial, I still found it to be a bit inadequate. You can adjust the font color, size, and select from a bunch of high quality fonts from Adobe TypeKit’s library. After exploring the diverse selection from Google Web Fonts repository, I must say that about.me is a bit lacking. Ideally, a font uploader could be utilized for the ultimate level of customization, but I’m sure that’s a licensing nightmare. Alternatively, being able to choose from Google’s cache or to provide a URL to a web font file could be handy.
Overall, I’d say the about.me service is a suitable solution for creating a professional landing page with a memorable URL. The premium pricing might eventually turn me away to another service, but even the free offering is better than expected.