Monthly Archives: May 2011

An informal, regular get together for Wellington nfp webmasters?

After the workshop I ran today on making regular usability tweaks and enhancements to your website at the Connecting Up conference in Wellington I really got the feeling everyone would have liked more time to swap notes, share good stuff and raise other nutty problems.

With a few exceptions, no one was even close to being a full-time webmaster. Most had to keep their website up-to-date on top on a wide range of other duties. Keeping up with trends or digging deeper into particular aspects of usability is generally not a top priority, especially when there’s a wolf to be kept at bay.

This got me thinking that it’d be great to find a way to help people exchange bites of knowledge and get regular infusions of peer support. Rather than waiting for a whole year (or more) for someone to bring together webmasters and other running websites again, why not doing something more often.

Perhaps you can sense what is coming. All this cogitating has led me to share an idea which I’ve been mulling over for a while now: wouldn’t it be good to have a casual, informal get together for people in Wellington running website for tangata whenua, community and voluntary organisations?

Everyone attending decides what they want to cover at the time. There’s plenty of time talk singly (and passionately) over the tea cups. Agree on a few groundrules to keep things lively but respectable. Nothing formal, no positions. No AGM! Just provide a space for people to talk and share.

As this is not an original idea it’ll be easy to some pointers about how to run something like this successfully. There’s already UX, content strategy and other meet-ups happening Wellington.

Is it just me, or would anyone else involved in running a website in the community sector like to talk with others in the same waka?

To move things along, fill in this single question poll about how often it’d be good to organise such a meet-up: http://poll.fm/311l6 (or on the righthandside of this blog →). Or better still add a comment. Single word replies are okay, eg sucks, rocks, etc. I’ll help get things off the ground if anyone is interested.

I’m still digesting the other gleanings from today…. I’ll write more about these over the next week when I’m at the other Connecting Up hui in Auckland and Melbourne.

Is your privacy policy visible?

No nonprofit spam logoAs I start to collect people’s contact details for my new email newsletter I realised I might be missing something on my website. I didn’t have a clear, explicit statement about how I’ll protect any personal information I collect.

Anyone giving me their details should be able to easily find some reassurance that when they hand over an email address it won’t end up in the wrong hands.

After this realisation dawned on me, I quickly set about rectifying the omission. After looking at a few examples on websites I have entrusted my own email address to,  I’ve come up with a pithy privacy statement.

This is probably something I could have addressed earlier. People leave their details when they make a comment so I have been storing personal information ever since I set up this blog in 2004. Without deliberately meaning to I’m storing quite a list of email addresses.

Thinking of my own situation made me wonder whether community organisations are explicitly addressing privacy.

The opportunities for collecting personal information are pretty extensive. Opportunities include inquiry forms, donation pages, a membership sign-up process, subscriptions to alerts and newsletters, discussion boards, comments on blogs, online petitions, and social media sites.

As an aside yes, you can collect personal information from a Facebook page or other similar social networking site. According to Richard Best Wellington based lawyer working for the government technology, privacy and other legal concerns do extend to an organisation’s social media presence. His NZ lawyer article from 2008 provides a useful checklist of legal issues

I’ve just run an informal survey of 14 New Zealand commuinty organisation websites I regularly interact with, have recently talked with people from or which have been in the news recently. Six had clear and easy to find privacy policies. On the other eight websites, no sign of a privacy policy. Or perhaps it’s so deeply buried I couldn’t easily find it.

The absence of a policy makes me wary about giving the organisation with my email address and other details. Perhaps the organisations are relying on people trusting them. They are charities after all, and can be counted on to do the right thing.

Sadly, this isn’t always true. Information collected can be used within the organisation itself in ways that the submitter never intended.

Because some organisations repeatedly added people to mailing lists without permission led some in the nptech in the USA to launch the No Nonprofit Spam website. Organisations that repeatedly mis-use personal information collected are named and shamed. As it says:

Your mission is noble, and your intentions are honorable. But if you subscribed us to your organization’s bulk email list without our permission, then you are sending us spam. That is discourteous, unethical, illegal, and ineffective – so please stop.

Being transparent about how you collect and store personal information helps to build trust, and how you use it yourself (ie only sending things people opt into). If after looking for a privacy link in the footer and on legal or site policies page visitors can’t find one, then how could blame from moving on.

A tip for presenters – take your own bottle

Photo of a water bottle sitting in front of a MacBookI’m going to skip making any introductory comments and get straight to the point.

If you’re doing a presentation and are worried there’ll be even the faintest possibility you might spill a drink on your laptop then:

  1. drink from a bottle, preferably one you brought from home of course (and make sure the lid is closed)
  2. by all means fill (or half fill) a glass with water, but keep it well away from the computer
  3. abstain: wait until you’ve finished to have a drink.

I’ve arrived at this tip through hard won experience. Seven days ago I had a “this couldn’t possibly happen to me moment”.

Near the beginning of my Fine-tune how you harvest (online) information workshop I knocked a glass of water on my precious laptop.

Argh!! My stomach sunk almost visibly in front of the small group of workshop participants. Stunned and aghast, I didn’t quite know what to do. Except for not panicking.

With some help I mopped up the water as best I could, and then drained the laptop when I got my wits about me.

After 24 hours of drying I gamely pressed on the on switch to see if there was any life. There was. But, and it’s a big but, no bluetooth, no audio, a malfunctioning tab button, things running slowly. All a bit haywire.

Following the instructions of our insurance company I took the wounded gadget off for an assessment. The verdict was not a happy one: “Sir, you might like to sit down, I have some bad new, it’s not economic to restore the machine to its former glory”.

Now the laptop is off to the wreckers yard. I am pleased that Connect NZ, the company who did the insurance repair assessment, makes some bold statements about it’s environmental credentials. They strive to “maximise the value in technology whilst simultaneously reducing the amount of landfill” and “achieve zero landfill in components, PCB’s and toner cartridges.”

This is small comfort as I had hoped this dead box of electronics would last at least as long as the iBook I bought in 2004. A device we’re still using this around the house.

Longetivity is particularly important as a way I can minimise my environmental footprint. This is especially important as I can’t do without given my line of work.

I’m acutely conscious (and, to be honest, a bit guilty) about Apple getting my support. They have a long way to go in terms of there environmental standards. They were rated 9th of 18 top manufactures of computers, mobile phones and other devices in the latest Guide to Greener Electronics prepared by Greenpeace, released October 2010.

Water will be kept far from my shiny, new MacBook. In an attempt at rote learning, I’ll repeat to myself without fear: when worried a waving arm might dislodge a glass, use a water bottle instead.

PS Because I had good back-ups, etc, setting up the new laptop has been almost painless.

Photo credit: Klafkid

Staying on top of the information avalanche

Orange RSS logo made from fabric on jacketAt the end of my workshop I quipped “I hope you haven’t ended up more overloaded than when you began.” The participants in my workshop at the Engage your community conference on Friday smiled warily in reply.

Setting out to cover the main bases of how to fine-tune harvesting information online meant we had to cover a lot of ground.

During the 2.5 hour session we touched on email alerts, email filtering/ rules, twitter, url shorteners, social bookmarking, dashboards and folksonomies. The main focus was on using RSS to manage the information flow, and blogging networks.

The benefits of staying in touch and contributing to a virtual network of fellow bloggers can be very rewarding. The opportunity for interaction combined with personal reflection makes for a great way to learn. Fortunately I found an article on online that sets out the key ideas behind a blogging network, so I won’t expound on these here. (See “How do you build community?” by Denise on here Flamingo House Happenings blog.)

The utter lack of standardisation on the internet is no more apparent than with the RSS button. It appears on websites not only in standard orange, but also in blue, green, grey and other rogue colours. Try explaning why this might be to people new to using RSS.

Another challenge for me as trainer was explaining why an RSS feed one of the participants found couldn’t be imported into a reader. (I’d welcome any explanations about the offending RSS feed didn’t work, the URL is http://www.nrl.com/ajax.aspx?Feed=News.RSS&moduleId=114260).

The most important question that arose was, what is the best way of receiving updates?

My answer was: it depends.

Choices include: using online services, eg Google Reader, Bloglines, MyYahoo, PageFlakes; installing software on your computer eg RSSOwl, NetNewsWire, FeedDemon; using your browser, eg LiveBookmarks in Firefox, or Favorites in Internet Explorer; and I’m sure there are other ways I haven’t come across.

Each of the options has pros and cons. As I didn’t really get time to go into this in-depth on Friday I’ll cover this briefly based on my own experiences.

I use Google Reader as it means I can read feeds anywhere there is an internet connection (using my computer or someone elses). It also means I can add new subscriptions when I find them rather doing later, which l invariably forget to do. The tagging and sorting features are strong, plus there are ways you can follow people or explore sources of new feeds. Importantly, it’s moderately uncluttered so actually reading articles is fine.

At the same time I also use a desktop client called NetNewsWire (for Mac OS only). Fortunately this syncs with Google Reader so I get exactly the same list. I want a desktop client so I can scan, search and read articles (or excerpts) without needing to be connected to the internet. The sorting features and readibility meet my peculiar standards.

I’ve never been drawn to following feeds in my Browser (or Email client such as Thunderbird) as these lack the powerful sorting/ highlighting features of the others and updates don’t follow you around. I also don’t find lists in the browser easy to navigate or the most attractive reading option.

Now, I can imagine someone liking the reverse of what I do. Perhaps you’d like to have one place to look at all your updates, and if you subscribe to a few sources sorting is not so important.

Although anything goes, I’d suggest you don’t get stuck with the first option you come across (which is likely to be browser based as it’s obvious). Try it out another way of subscribing. Check first that you can export your subscription, as you can easily move if you can do this (something that’s important if you follow more than a handful of feeds). I’ve changed RSS clients 3 or 4 times in the last five years.

I’m not about to launch a campaign to promote recognition of the neglected RSS service (for an honour after an industrious career, in web years at least). But I will say that anyone who is serious about staying on top of the information avalanche should take a look at using RSS to stay in control.

PS For anyone who attended my workshop, I’m still waiting for a reply from the insurance company about whether my laptop is repairable, or if they’ll replace it. Unfortunately I had a Minities moment at the beginning of the session. A glass of water ended up on my keyboard. For those of you that we’ren’t there, this didn’t stop me.

Resources

Fine-tune how you harvest information slides
Fine-tune how you harvest information resource list on wikispaces
A list of RSS readers on AlternitveTo.net

Photo credit: Popoever.