Monthly Archives: March 2011

Under a new blog design

A detail of my new blog theme

When I started thinking about printing some new business cards last September, it also seemed a good time to refresh the design and structure of my blog.

Coming up with business cards proved quite easy. Getting original designs created for me by freelance Wellington graphic designer Luke Kelly, and taking a file to the printers couldn’t have been simpler or more rewarding. Luke’s work has attracted a lot of clucks and gabbles of content since I’ve been handing out my new cards.

Updating my blog has taken a while longer. Mostly this is because I’ve been busy so squeezed testing, tweaking and rewriting around my paid work. It’s also because of planned and unplanned interruptions, including a holiday in December and January, and then, a second big earthquake striking in Christchurch on 22 February 2011.

The quake didn’t affect me directly, but it affected my web designer Michelle Sullivan from Web Matters Ltd. She had no power, water and faced general havoc at her home. Rather than dwelling on the destruction, Michelle borrowed a workspace elsewhere and dived back into things: she was back on board for her clients on 28 February.

Even though I’m reasonably familiar with WordPress plugins, widgets and so on, I needed Michelle’s help with coding page layouts and translating scribbled notes about structure into a working website.

One of my final touches was incorporating something so visitors could get a sense of who I am (for those of you who haven’t met me in person). I opted for a caricature, produced by Nathan at CaricatureKing. My partner Roz laughed loudly when she saw the caricature. “Perhaps it might be good if you join the spy trade and would like to disguise your identity”, she jested. I prodded her back and we had an argument about artistic interpretation.

You’ll find all my existing posts and resources on the blog but with the old clutter gone, and some new ways of staying touch added. As well as standard RSS, you can now be notified of every new update by email, and you can subscribe to an email newsletter I’ll (irregularly) send out. This volume will be slight and quarterly.

I’ve done a fair amount of testing on different browsers, operating systems, etc. A few helpers have reviewed the website too. However, try as I might, I probably haven’t found every gremlin. If the website doesn’t work for you in some way, I’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch using Contact form, or the Feedback button on the right.

With my update blog now live, I’m not short of things to do: like writing new content, monitoring visitor use patterns, trialling new or updated plugins, and more promotion. For now, I’ll pause for a moment to celebrate. A big thanks to everyone who helped with this iteration of my blog. I’m looking forward to many, many blog fueled years under my new theme.

PS You’re really welcome to comment anything I write, tell a friend about my blog, help yourself to resources, suggest an idea for topics I could cover, or get in touch about my services.

2011 conversations about community ICT

Although the pragmatics of using ICTs were barely touched on at the National Not-for-profit Conference 2011, held in Auckland 17-18 March, the essential nature of the Internet as a disruptive technology was raised time and time again.

Tonya Surman, fittingly beamed in over the Internet via Skype, addressed this most directly. She told delegates that not-for-profit organisations can learn a lot from the design principles that make the Internet work.

Match the best of what the Internet has to offer (ie self-organising, open innovation and place/ network connectivity) with real world needs and you can create the conditions for social innovation. Tonya founded her conclusions on deep experience within the Canadian community sector and in social change, including her current roles with Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto and as vice chairperson of Ontario Nonprofit Network.

Others didn’t have as an elaborate theory as Tonya, but instead referred to how social media offers new ways of thinking about or doing things. Getting your message out and engaging in people were two recurrent threads.

ICT was directly tackled by Earl Mardle in a workshop exploring why IT promises a great deal but too often comes up short. After talking with Earl about management issues associated with ICT, I got the sense that many organisations typically do not have a clear pathway for how they’ll get the most out of ICT.

While there is growing acceptance that ICT, and social media in particular, is an integral part of how organisations operate (and is not going away), exactly how to get the most from it is a question that remains to be answered.

Coming up in the next three months are some events where ICTs will be at the forefront. I’m hoping that as well as covering the nitty gritty of different aspects of ICT use, the conversation will address how organisations are integrating ICT to achieve their goals.

Registrations are now open for these upcoming community sector ICT events:

I’ll be delivering workshops at all these events. I’m sure there will be many conversations about how ICT can be used to help make the world a better place. We better remember to talk about how we can get there.

Switching back to Word

A list of months, days in Excel

For a while now I’ve been living with some glitches in my open source word processing programme. That all changed on Wednesday when frustration drove me to the other side.

NeoOffice is a version of the popular OpenOffice designed for Mac OS X. It has integrated dozens of native Mac features and provides most of the bells and whistles you’ll find in other similar productivity programmes.

However, it’s not without some limitations. Despite the relative ease of saving files for editing in Microsoft Word®, I find the the exchange process is seldom fault free. The biggest obvious problem is formatting going askew. And as macrons seldom survive a document being edited in both Word® and NeoOffice, lots of time can be wasted.

Other things that repeatedly bug me are:

  • absence of an option to merge to a catalogue when generating lists
  • near impossibility of using find and replace to change or remove paragraph returns, tabs and other formatting codes.

The final straw came when I was using Calc for making a list. I don’t think this was especially complex, but NeoOffice wasn’t cooperating when with my efforts to get 365 numbers in a unique format. So much for software speeding things up, I wasted about half an hour trying to get this sorted out.

After Calc crashed 3 times, I gave up.

If there are answers to these dilemmas, I haven’t been able to find them. So, I’m turning back to Microsoft Word®. I know this venerable programme is capable of doing the things I want. As it’s used by 99% of the people I interact with, the compatibility niggles I’ve been facing should fade away.

I couldn’t wait to go to a store so I downloaded the fully-featured 30-day trial version of Microsoft Office for Mac 2011®. After getting an update, it was a 1GB download.

The new interface is a bit daunting and I can understand why people say there is a learning curve require to get the most of out the software.

With my list merged and sent off, I’m feeling a bit more relaxed. I am truly grateful for everyone who voluntarily puts time into programmes like NeoOffice. And I’m a staunch supporter of open source philosophy and programmes. However, if it’s not working quite right, paying for the latest software can be worth it.

WordPress for websites?

Las Vegas WordCamp logo tattoo, from vgsgeekOver the last few weeks I’ve spent some time under the hood of WordPress. I’m making some final adjustments to the updated theme on my blog. As I dig deeper, the more convinced I become about how suitable WordPress web publishing software is for running not just blogs but websites too.

The WordPress platform is now up to the 14th release (version 3.1). The constant refinements show, particularly in terms of ease of use. For instance, the old version of WordPress I’m using requires extra plugins to handle embedded media, such as slideshows or video. Now this feature is built in.

The range plugins to alter the way WordPress can be used grows daily. Membership, ecommerce,  are just two examples. You can even use a plugin to turn any WordPress post, page or site into a fully functional wiki.

Being able to customise the layout of individual pages using widgets and templates makes it easy to include information relevant to individual pages or sections.

Usability is another big plus factor. Compared with other content management systems I’ve used, I find the WordPress administration a joy to use. It’s clean and easy to find just what you need.

I shouldn’t be in any doubt about WordPress’s suitability for websites. When I talked to Jason King at the Connecting Up Australia conference in Brisbane in 2008, he trumpeted the virtues of WordPress for nonprofit websites. (If you’re interested in his list of pros, he captures this succinctly in his presentation “Using WordPress to power your non-profit website”.)

Of course, WordPress doesn’t do everything, as Pearl Bear at Zen and the Art of Nonprofit Technology recently pointed out. Comparing WordPress vs. Drupal …. the fight!, she says the former is well suited for blogs, community blogs and simple brochureware websites. It’s a toss-up between the two for medium or large websites with lots of content, but relatively simple organization, and community blogs with many authors and identified, authenticated users. On the other hand Drupal is suited to large community sites content created in lots of formats, (eg blogs, wikis, media releases, etc.); complex, document-heavy library sites, or sites that need document management; sites with deep integrations to CRM platforms and web services; and sites where you need to present and reuse multiple content types.

If you’re really serious about evaluating different options, you might like to take a look at the 82 page “2010 Comparing Open Source Content Management Systems: WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and Plone” report from Idealware. As well as information on specific platforms there’s you’ll find useful guidance on making decisions.

Even though I’m won over by the quality and flexibility of WordPress, I’d still recommend any web project start with an organisation determining it needs and goals, and only then selecting what the technology that best fits. For my blog, I’m 100% happy with WordPress.

Photo credit: vgsgeek

New Zealand community organisations WordPress websites – a short list

At the moment I’m far more aware of community organisations in New Zealand using Drupal, rather than WordPress. I’m sure to have missed a few, but some of the ones I know about include :

Do you know of any others?