Jeff Croft

I’m a product designer in Seattle, WA. I lead Design at a stealthy startup. I recently worked at Simply Measured, and previously co-founded Lendle.

Some of my past clients include Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and the University of Washington.

I’ve authored two books on web and interactive design and spoken at dozens of conferences around the world.

But seriously, who gives a shit?

Blog entry // 04.03.2007 // 12:11 AM // 52 Comments

LJWorld.com Marketplace: our latest creation

In our continued effort to serve the local Lawrence community, we at the Journal-World have just launched one of our biggest projects in quite a while. We call it Marketplace. Marketplace is almost certainly the best local business directory ever created. Google and Yahoo! will continue to try to provide local services, but we’ll always have something they don’t: a real, sincere understanding of what our community is all about.

Marketplace allows local business owners to “claim” their business online, at which point they are free to edit the business’ profile page. That profile page includes all the basics you’d expect: phone number, address, map, link to company website, business description, and so forth.

But it also includes some more unusual business attributes. Stuff the Yahoo’s and Google’s of the world aren’t likely to provide. Marketplace tells users what payment methods are accepted. It tells them what the business hours are — including hours for kitchen staff (or other alternate sets of hours). It tells users, right at the top of the page and in plain English, that the business “Closes today at 10pm.” Or, if it’s already closed, that it “Opens tomorrow at 8am.” Business owners can upload photos of their establishment. They can add videos — be they TV spots, footage of events at their place of business, staff profiles, etc. They can even upload scans of print advertisements and coupons for users to print and redeem. Like I said, it will almost certainly be the most comprehensive directory of local businesses anywhere (will be, I say, because this thing just went live about 30 minutes ago and not too many business owners have gotten their hands on it yet).

For a few nice examples of business profiles that have been filled-out with a few of the more interesting profile bits, check out Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop, Headmasters, The Bourgeois Pig, or Kief’s Audio/Video. And, be sure to compare these to Yahoo! Local’s pages for the same companies (Sunflower, Headmasters, Pig, Kief’s). The difference is clear. Yahoo has nothing but the basics, littered with text ads and strange speech bubbles that compete for attention. Not only do we give users everything they need (and most of it within the first 150 pixels), but we give the business the entire page to promote itself.

And that, really, is what I think is most exciting to me about this site. I’ve found myself using this thing constantly as we’ve been developing it. It’s really, really useful. But at the same time, it’s a tremendous advertising opportunity for local businesses and a nice money-making venture for us, as well. I think it really goes to show that it is possible to make both advertisers and users happy. These two groups don’t have to be at odds with one another. Give users honest and tasteful advertisements for products and services they may actually be interested in, and provide them with a lot of useful content along the way, and I suspect you won’t hear many complaints from either party.

My favorite thing about my job in the journalism world is working on projects that truly benefit the community. As compared to folks who do agency work, almost everything I work on feels like it has a real impact on regular people. When we cover the local elections or the Elite Eight, you can really sense that your work is making other people’s lives better. Even though this site is clearly designed to make us money, I think we’ve built it in a way that will make us proud to be serving Lawrence, too.

This site has been a long time in the making, and almost everyone in the online and advertising departments at The World Company had something to do with it. But, the brunt of the dirty work was done by Adrian Jacobs and his advertising staff. Nathan Borror headed up the design, and Joseph Kocherhans and Tom Tobin were behind the proverbial wheel when it comes to programming. Of course, the entire thing is powered by Django.

Maybe Marketplace will be coming to your city next. ;)

Comments

  1. 001 // Nathan Borror // 04.03.2007 // 1:53 AM

    I’ll second that.

    This was definitely a big undertaking and there is a lot left to do but it’s a start and I think we’ve put our best foot forward. Now, I must take a vacation :)

  2. 002 // James Bennett // 04.03.2007 // 2:24 AM

    Rock.

    Nathan: vacation? Can I have one too?

  3. 003 // Adam Spooner // 04.03.2007 // 2:36 AM

    Very cool and nicely executed! Great job guys!

  4. 004 // heri // 04.03.2007 // 5:15 AM

    I really liked the design. It is highly usable

    By the way, does this support user reviews?

  5. 005 // Jeremy Keith // 04.03.2007 // 5:55 AM

    Beautiful (and useful) work. Well done, Jeff, Nathan, and everyone else involved.

  6. 006 // Nate Klaiber // 04.03.2007 // 7:58 AM

    I second Jeremy with ‘Job well done’. The site looks great, and the functionality makes it that much better. The way everything ties together - but yet isn’t obtrusive - is really nice. The interface is very clean providing users a clear direction.

    Now, I know others have tried it - and I have no doubt yours will blow them away - but isn’t it (at the core) still the responsibilities of the business owners to take action? All of the pieces are nice - the hours, the shop info, the pictures, the video - but someone has to take the time to claim their business and then start building their presence. So, while you have created a great portal for it - do you think enthusiasm will die off - or some businesses simply won’t get involved (which would be extremely stupid on their part)?

    That’s not a hit on the developers, I think its just a natural part of a social network whether it be peers or businesses.

    Again, excellent job to all of those involved.

  7. 007 // Baxter // 04.03.2007 // 8:46 AM

    So are there plans to spin off the marketplace code as a commercial or open-source project?

  8. 008 // Jeff Croft // 04.03.2007 // 9:26 AM

    By the way, does this support user reviews?

    It doesn’t, right now.

    I haven’t been in all the meetings related to this, but I know it’s something the advertising team behind this has discussed. I think they just haven’t settled on how they would want to implement it. That is: Is it a free-for-all? Can business owners moderate comments on their own business? Can business owner turn off the ability for users to review a particular business? Maybe users can just rate the business one to five and not post a textual review?

    It’s definitely something we’ve thought about — it’s just a matter of figuring out what the best strategy is.

    A lot of new user interaction stuff is planned for the next few weeks, as we launch a redesign of the newspaper site itself (www.ljworld.com). I’m not sure if this will make the cut or not, but stay tuned. :)

    Now, I know others have tried it - and I have no doubt yours will blow them away - but isn’t it (at the core) still the responsibilities of the business owners to take action? All of the pieces are nice - the hours, the shop info, the pictures, the video - but someone has to take the time to claim their business and then start building their presence.

    Good question. This is another place where having a full editorial staff dedicated to Marketplace gives us something Google and Yahoo will (probably) never have. We’ve got people who’s job it is to make sure this stuff stays updated. So while the business owner can have full control, our guys will be personally contacting them every so often (I’m not actually sure what interval they decided on) to check that their records are still correct. A team manually input the data for every business in Lawrence, and that same team will manually make sure it stays up to date.

    This is something we’ve done before. Lawrence.com has been maintaining profiles on local entertainment venues for several years now — and on that site, the business owner isn’t able to modify them; it’s a fully editorial process.

    (Since someone will ask, we’ve discussed merging the two place databases, but haven’t decided whether we’re going to or not. Lawrence.com’s place database acts as a mini-review page, with opinions of our editors, which makes it a bit different beast. At the very least, though, we’ll add the ability to sync events and such between the two sites.)

    So are there plans to spin off the marketplace code as a commercial or open-source project?

    I’m not at liberty to say for certain, but we do publish a commercial news publishing system, and anything we build is a potential candidate for that suite of products. Generally, we wait and see how successful something is, iron out any kinks, and then spend a bit of time making the product more generic (a process I like to call Removing The Lawrence™) before that happens.

    So, it’s certainly a possibility, but I can’t say for sure that it will or will not happen.

  9. 009 // Nathan Borror // 04.03.2007 // 9:36 AM

    Thanks everyone for your kind remarks :)

    @heri - User reviews are in the works.

    @Nate - You’re right. We’ve started with a lot of data that we’ve collected over the past month but we’re hoping more and more businesses see the value in keeping their content up-to-date. There is an extensive set of tools for businesses to use once they’ve claimed their business. We also have a kick ass team of people devoted to marketing and assisting businesses with their use of Marketplace.

    @Baxter - Yes! This will be a commercial product offering. More info will be available on the ellingtoncms.com site soon.

  10. 010 // Jeff Croft // 04.03.2007 // 9:38 AM

    Well, look at that. Nathan is far more forthcoming than me (not to mention, succinct). So — what he said. :)

  11. 011 // Keith // 04.03.2007 // 9:42 AM

    This is wonderful. It’s so great to see this kind of thing, that takes all the best the Web has to offer, pulls it together and puts it back out there as something that is extreemly useful and relevant to real people.

    Nice work to all involved. Solid stuff.

  12. 012 // Ted Goas // 04.03.2007 // 9:54 AM

    I agree with other commenters thus far. Nice layout, makes the content easy to read. My former company attempted something like this (albeit using homemade .Net), but it didn’t come out nearly as well as Lawrence Marketplace.

    Can you do Phoenix next? (chuckle to self)

  13. 013 // Jeff Croft // 04.03.2007 // 10:35 AM

    Are you using the standard Django admin interface for this project?

    Yes — for our in-house staff (actually, we’re using the standard Ellington admin interface, which is the Django admin interface with a very few custom additions).

    But, the administrative interface for business owners is right on the site, not in a separate admin area. So, I guess the answer is “yes and no.” We use the admin interface ourselves, but the business owners just edit forms directly on the site.

  14. 014 // Joseph Kocherhans // 04.03.2007 // 10:46 AM

    @ Alberto - We are using the Django admin interface, but what I suspect you’re asking, and correct me if I’m wrong, is are we exposing it to businesses? The answer to that is no. As nice as the admin interface is, it’s just a generic tool, and can’t come close to a custom designed interface that’s made specifically to fit the project. Most of our staff prefers to use the user-side interface even though the standard django admin system is availble to them.

  15. 015 // Wilson Miner // 04.03.2007 // 12:07 PM

    Man, that’s been a long time coming (I vaguely remember meetings about “marketplace” when I first started) and it looks great. Can’t wait to see how it develops.

  16. 016 // Jay Parlar // 04.03.2007 // 12:09 PM

    You really have someone working there named “Adrian Jacobs”? I had to do a double-take when I saw that, because usually when reading about Django, the names “Adrian” and “Jacob” are reserved keywords :)

  17. 017 // Jeff Croft // 04.03.2007 // 12:14 PM

    Hah. That’s funny, Jay. Somehow, I never even thought of that. Adrian Jacobs is in our advertising department and doesn’t usually work directly with the online staff, but he worked with Nathan and Joseph a lot on this project.

  18. 018 // Rob Goodlatte // 04.03.2007 // 12:28 PM

    Really smart idea and even better execution.

    Is the design based on a strict grid you predefined? Its amazingly consistent and clean. It was really smart to make the small maps the same size as the ad unit

    Also, what font is the logo? Is that a weight of Fonce?

    Nathan, you gotta write a post on the design :)

  19. 019 // Jeff Croft // 04.03.2007 // 1 PM

    @Rob: I’ll nudge Nathan to talk more about the design. :)

    @Alberto: Yep, that’s exactly right.

  20. 020 // ser // 04.03.2007 // 1:27 PM

    why is your site calling .php ….php etcetera. WHY PHP???? I think, you are working with PYTHON or DJANGO? Is your site a python-fake??

  21. 021 // Mark Otto // 04.03.2007 // 1:28 PM

    I really love the direction you guys are taking online journalism. It’s an amazing world of convergence and innovation all packed into one.

    When can we look forward to an updated look for LJWorld.com and the other sister sites?

    Great work all around - this is the stuff that gets me amped about Web design and the future of the ‘Net.

  22. 022 // Jeff Croft // 04.03.2007 // 1:33 PM

    When can we look forward to an updated look for LJWorld.com and the other sister sites?

    The LJWorld.com redesign should go live within a few weeks. It will roughly match what you’re seeing here in the Marketplace design.

    The sister sites (notably, Lawrence.com and KUSports.com) are slated for redesigns later this year.

  23. 023 // Jeff Croft // 04.03.2007 // 1:37 PM

    why is your site calling .php ….php etcetera. WHY PHP???? I think, you are working with PYTHON or DJANGO? Is your site a python-fake??

    I’m not sure if you’re referring to my site or the Marketplace site. If you’re referring to mine, it’s because I use Mint to track my stats, which is PHP-based.

    If you’re referring to Marketplace, we use PHP for our ad server software, and Yahoo’s maps use PHP, as well.

    Really, who cares?

  24. 024 // Baxter // 04.03.2007 // 3:27 PM

    I’ve heard that Jeff also has dalliances with XML on a regular basis, and would probably even use visual basic like the cheap slut it is if he thought it was the best way to get something done.

  25. 025 // Scott McCracken // 04.03.2007 // 3:38 PM

    This is one of those shining examples that makes me excited to be working on the web. The execution of this—from the concept to the grid and everything in between—is sheer brilliance. Between this, the mining site and the upcoming redesign of ljworld it must be a very exciting (and tiring) time to work for World Online. Congratulations.

  26. 026 // Joseph Kocherhans // 04.03.2007 // 3:59 PM

    @Alberto: Short answer: yes, you’re right. I wouldn’t have used the row level permissions branch even if it were finished and easily available. All the permission checking I needed could be done with a single decorator.

  27. 027 // Ranjani // 04.03.2007 // 4:59 PM

    Very cool! I wish I had one of these for Houston; it would save an enormous amount of time. I guess you’re earning points towards your statue in Lawrence :P

  28. 028 // Jeff Wheeler // 04.03.2007 // 5:11 PM

    I absolutely love the design and feel of the site. It’s really fantastic.

    My only question (which is not really specific to MarketPlace) is how you authorize that a person really does own the shop they claim. I.e., how do you prevent some random, malicious person from claiming many of the businesses?

  29. 029 // Jeff Croft // 04.03.2007 // 5:16 PM

    My only question (which is not really specific to MarketPlace) is how you authorize that a person really does own the shop they claim. I.e., how do you prevent some random, malicious person from claiming many of the businesses?

    We call them. Or, rather, our advertising staff does. I’m not quite sure what sort of verification they do over the phone (not my job!), but that’s the basic process. They “claim” the business online, we call them and verify that, and then approve their claim.

  30. 030 // Nathan Borror // 04.03.2007 // 8:43 PM

    @Rob - The site uses a CSS framework that we’ve been working on internally. Basically makes it easy for us to stick to a 16 column grid structure with enough flexibility to break it when needed. Lately I’ve been kind of pessimistic about CSS frameworks but this one has proven to be pretty handy and unobtrusive.

    The font for the logo is Chalet by House Industries. All time favorite next to Helvetica and Garamond.

    @Jeff - I write a blog entry once I get a solid eight hours of sleep :)

  31. 031 // Troy // 04.03.2007 // 10:06 PM

    Amazing work, guys, absolutely amazing! As a former resident of Lawrence, I can say that everyone at World Online is under-appreciated as far as the general public goes. When I lived there, it was just taken for granted that we had a kick-ass newspaper and online presence. Now that I’m living elsewhere (KCK), I realize how much I miss the quality work you guys do. Much better than the cough Kansas cough City Star. Can’t wait to see the redesign, especially the KUSports.com site. Keep it up!!

    By the way, since our paper shares the same classified system (Bonner Springs Chieftain) can we expect this for our neighborhood as well? :)

  32. 032 // Oliver // 04.04.2007 // 1:53 AM

    Now that is one super-sexy site, Jeff. A huge well done to the whole team involved in this — simply spectacular work!

    Damn, Lawrence seems to have all the cool web apps — doesn’t it?

    Just one question — where did you get the data for this from; was it pulled from existing sources or did you have a team of people inputting it?

    P.S. Can’t wait to see the other redesigns you’ve mentioned in the comments… knowing you they’ve just got to be the sexiest designs on the planet.

  33. 033 // Jeff Croft // 04.04.2007 // 7:52 AM

    Thanks, Oliver!

    Just one question — where did you get the data for this from; was it pulled from existing sources or did you have a team of people inputting it?

    A little of both, but more of the later. :)

  34. 034 // Vernon // 04.04.2007 // 4:47 PM

    Beautiful, clean, functional - the sort of website I wish I could see more of on the net. Fantastic job, definitely gives me a high target to aim at for my own work!

  35. 035 // Noel Hurtley // 04.05.2007 // 4:15 AM

    Fast, clean and functional. Another job well done.

  36. 036 // Paul // 04.05.2007 // 5:32 AM

    Brilliant. I’ve wanted to do this kind of thing for my own area a number of times, purely for my own convenience. I wish you success with the productized version — there’s clearly need for it!

  37. 037 // Johan // 04.05.2007 // 9 AM

    I would like to see it scale better… it is a fixed layout?

    Why not use icons to depict all sectors?

    why not put this page in home? http://www2.ljworld.com/marketpl…

  38. 038 // Jeff Croft // 04.05.2007 // 9:15 AM

    I would like to see it scale better… it is a fixed layout?

    Yes, it’s a fixed layout. Why would you like to see it scale better? What do you mean by “scale?” Do you just mean use a liquid layout? If so, the liquid vs. fixed discussion is not an appropriate one for this forum. You can find that holy war being argued in a thousand other places — let’s not have that fight here.

    If you mean something else by “scale,” let me know.

    Why not use icons to depict all sectors?

    Because text is more straightforward and understandable. There’s no way we could have created or found meaningful icons for all these categories. Why do you think we should have used icons?

    I personally think icons are horribly overrated. They’re rarely useful additions.

    why not put this page in home? http://www2.ljworld.com/marketpl…

    That page is linked to from the home page. I’m not sure what you mean, I guess.

    I appreciate the criticism, but most of your questions don’t provide enough detail for me to understand what you mean, exactly.

  39. 039 // Johan // 04.05.2007 // 11:37 AM

    Why do you think we should have used icons?

    You did use 1 image for list items here: http://www2.ljworld.com/marketpl… You could have done a similar icon for sectors. So one icon-like list item image. Not for each sector (a comb for the hairdresser, a screw driver for the toolshop), …)

    Yes, it’s a fixed layout. […] If you mean something else by “scale,” let me know.

    I meant by scale a sort of mix of fixed (px) col(-s) and fluid (percentage) col(-s). Whether it would be better than a fixed lay-out. I cannot say…

    why not put this page in home? http://www2.ljworld.com/marketpl…

    You have to click twice to get rather essential info, I think it belongs to the homepage.

    Some more stuff I found:

    • the darkgrayish blue for the footer does not contrast enough to read text. it also feels kinda dont go there. Both feel and readability are affected.
    • why not style the links differently? eg backgroundcolor or underline?
  40. 040 // Jeff Croft // 04.05.2007 // 11:50 AM

    You could have done a similar icon for sectors. So one icon-like list item image. Not for each sector (a comb for the hairdresser, a screw driver for the toolshop), …)

    Ahh, yes. I definitely thought you meant on per category. As to why we didn’t do one icon — you’d really have to ask Nathan, since he designed it. I won’t speak for him, but knowing his design philosophies, I can just about guarantee his answer would be, “because it’s unnecessary.” We like to remove anything that doesn’t serve a purpose.

    I meant by scale a sort of mix of fixed (px) col(-s) and fluid (percentage) col(-s). Whether it would be better than a fixed lay-out. I cannot say…

    We’re standardizing on fixed-width layouts. It simplifies our development process a lot to have a standard for these sorts of things, and I think all of the designers here tend to prefer fixed.

    You have to click twice to get rather essential info, I think it belongs to the homepage.

    We disagree that this information is essential.

    the darkgrayish blue for the footer does not contrast enough to read text. it also feels kinda dont go there. Both feel and readability are affected.

    I disagree.

    why not style the links differently? eg backgroundcolor or underline?

    Because our style guide doesn’t allow for it.

  41. 041 // Dave Lowe // 04.05.2007 // 3:18 PM

    Awesome site! Great job Jeff & Nathan (and the other team members of course). It looks like an extremely useful site, and the design is perfect for it I think. Clean, friendly and just a great interface. Man, if only I lived in Lawrence…

  42. 042 // nix // 04.05.2007 // 8:45 PM

    Great site. Congrats.

  43. 043 // Brian Drum // 04.06.2007 // 3 PM

    Very nice work. I notice you’re providing mailto: links to business owners, rather than form mail. Are you at all concerned about spam bots harvesting addresses? Did you consider obfuscation? Or do we just assume now that everyone’s email address is already part of a list somewhere?

  44. 044 // dotsara // 04.08.2007 // 1:36 PM

    Late to the party, but well-done you guys! This is so cool; can you come out and get it done for West L.A. and Santa Monica? Thanks, appreciate it. (;

  45. 045 // Johan // 04.09.2007 // 3:45 AM

    We like to remove anything that doesn’t serve a purpose.

    you mean is not functional… one could argue whether including visual cues to ease recognition of sections/elements is purely decorative but functional.

    You used the logo as a list-item icon to serve a goal.”Sign-up with us.” I guess it’s used here: http://www2.ljworld.com/marketpl… The icons are derived from the logo (a pin for adds) to emphasize services, part of branding that is.

    PS.

  46. 046 // Jeff Wheeler // 04.09.2007 // 7:56 PM

    I’ve been playing with it a bit more, and I’m a bit curious what makes certain businesses bold in the category listings.

    E.g., in the “music, films, and video” category, Free State Studios is in bold, while Borders Books and Music is normal.

    My first guess was that it was claimed businesses, but the first is unclaimed. I also figured it might be ones with uploaded data like hours, but both have photos uploaded.

    Surely it’s not random?

  47. 047 // Jeff Croft // 04.09.2007 // 8:39 PM

    Jeff, the bolded ones are business who have paid for a preimum listing. With the premium listing, they can do videos, add more photos (you get one for free), and a few other things — but not all of them have actually taken advantage of their premium features yet.

    So, you were on the right track. Perhaps it’s not obvious enough. I guess we’ll see over time. But basically, they’re business who have paid for more prominent listings.

  48. 048 // Jeff Wheeler // 04.09.2007 // 10:33 PM

    Oh, okay. I would’ve guessed that, but noticed that some of the bolded names weren’t claimed.

    That makes much more sense.

  49. 049 // Nick Dunn // 04.19.2007 // 10:38 AM

    Looks like a perfect opportunity for microformats; more specifically hCard for numerous contact details.

    A very valuable resource. Every town should have something like this!

  50. 050 // Guylene Cowell // 04.21.2007 // 2:14 PM

    I love the new site! Very pristine and sharp looking. You have done the World Company proud Jeff! I know I will be using it alot. And I look forward to seeing the new look for ljworld.com also. I think the online guys ignore most of my “wish lists”, but just in case– can you add the “back to top” buttons? :) hey it’s worth asking! I worked at the front desk at Journal-World for almost 6 years and am now moving over to Sunflower Broadband on Monday, that’s me in the picture with Dan Simons at the Bowl-A-Thon, I’m the the one with the bunny ears :)

  51. 051 // Jason Calvert // 09.12.2008 // 5:54 AM

    I just love your marketplace! By far, it’s the best I’ve seen. Do you use Drupal to create your sites?

  52. 052 // Acquiring Knowledge about Your Marketplace // 10.04.2008 // 5:23 PM

    […]There are a number of national resources that you can access to obtain a wealth of knowledge and statistical trends. The best is the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), which produces some wonderful studies, reports, and market statistics that most agents never use. The truth is most agents don’t even know they are available.[…]