Category Archives: Web publishing

Learning from language on the street

Concept map showing Wellington as a place to  "do" and " be" , in pictures

You’re likely to be a little surprised at some the language around you. That’s if you stop to pay attention.

Rushing around we notice a fraction of the words and messages directed toward us. It’s little wonder. Some estimates put the number of messages we’re exposed to everyday as high as 5,000.

Mostly we don’t stop to think about this. Not the individual words, nor meanings.

Last week, I got a chance to pause and reflect on the language we’re surrounded by. I was fortunate to attend a workshop at Webstock 2014 led by Liz Danzico called “Use Your Words: Content Strategy to influence behaviour”.

Our workshop leader — who who is part designer, part educator, and hails from New York — guided 20 of us through a day-long learning experience where we paid close attention to the language of Wellington city.

After discussing the way language can shape behaviour in many, varied and nuanced ways, the workshop participants where charged with closely observing and recording words in Wellington.

It was a revelation. There are lots of words! Big, small, subtle and bold. Language is everywhere. It was a joy spending an hour noticing just some of the many signs of the city. (The photos from my hour are available on flickr).

Once we were grouped together and sharing our perspectives on the language we’d found (both implicit and explicit), it was possible to read a narrative into the city that isn’t evident when you rush by. Or look at just individual words.

Each of the four groups who workshopped their ideas (using tools adopted from UX approaches to content strategy) revealed different hidden undercurrents or themes.

I was delighted at the conversation about Wellington that emerged from team Headquarters of the Verb. Not only did we reference creativity and nature, but also participation and giving. You can see the concept map we created above.

Even if we didn’t talk at length about the mechanics of websites, the learning Liz facilitated has application. Two main things remain with me:

  • be alert to hidden, unintended meanings of language
  • take time to see your city, site or user experience from a fresh perspective: turn things on their head (so to speak).

As I’ve long been interested in place-making (particularly as advocated by David Engwicht of Creative Communities), the stretch from observations about the city to the web were entirely credible (if not somewhat unorthodox). Liz referred to the Project for Public Spaces, whose examples reminded me of heated discussions about situationalist tactics from my protest days.

Will I pay more attention to language around me, everyday? Probably not. However, I can see myself being attentive to unintended meanings, associations and language at particular key junctures of web content projects I’m working on. And I will definitely stick to one of Liz’s parting shots: “Get outside your comfort zone”.

Resources

Use Your Words: Content Strategy to influence behaviour presentation by Liz Danzico. She’ll also share details of her Webstock talk via an article with video. (I’ll add a link when this is generously shared.)

Designing for Behavior Change (2013) by Steve Wendel

Don’t get caught up with making it perfect

Cartoon, punchline: Just click the damn publish butotnWarning: this is something of a limbering up blog post. Some stretching to loosen a muscle dormant for quite some time.

Things have been very busy since I waved good bye to Beth Kanter in May.

Work on 2-3 projects at a time, my part-time role with Community Research, organising NetSquared Wellington events and sundry other distractions have inched there way between me and my blog.

Being an advocate for slowing down and making time for reflection, this hasn’t felt quite right. Where is the time I set aside to quietly shape ill formed ideas into something worthy of discussion? Were my gleanings just rotting away?

The longer I’ve left it, the harder it has been to restart.

Thanks to self proclaimed data nerd chris lysy from fresh spectrum this has changed.

From the twitter flow I fished up a reference to “22 bloggers with advice for researchers and evaluators, illustrated”.

After putting off staring the well structured and creatively presented post – largely because the 22 bloggers manage to share over 10,000 words of insights – I’ve just read it.

Advice from Chi Yan Lam – who is thinking about the intersection of program evaluation, design and social innovation – captures some of the thinking behind why I started blogging in 2004, and still really resonates:

I realized that the blog could be a space for my thinking. Instead of insisting on writing for an audience, I wrote for myself. I guess what this boils down to is this: Blogging is simply a platform. There are many successful models of blogging. The important thing is to make blogging goals consistent with one’s goals. Don’t Emulate. Create.

Cartoon caption: don't get caught up with making it perfectA post on blogging wouldn’t be complete without hearing from the aforementioned Beth ‘blogger extraordinaire’ Kanter, who said to chris:

Look at your blogging time as a form of professional development and a commitment to write something regularly. Don’t get caught up with making it perfect either

I’m don’t want to overdo my mental stretching. I’m feeling warmed up. Keys and finders in sync. I’ll be back. Soon? Soon!

Hmmm, is it worth paying for SlideShare?

Old fasioned overhead projector beaming bat on wall It’s almost exactly five years since I started using SlideShare. On May 15th 2007 I uploaded a set of powerpoint slides all about the Couch website I shared at the Govis conference that year.

I’ve been a happy, if in infrequent user of the presentation service ever since.

Not only have I uploaded and shared another 17 sets of slides but I’ve been alerted to some awesome new content created by people whose work I really respect.

As I can only see the number of views, embeds, downloads and favourites, I don’t really have a sense of how much value people are getting from accessing my slides. Are people attending any of the workshops I run actually accessing my material? Are people getting anything out of it?

I’m pausing to think about these types of questions as I’ve just become aware of a change in SlideShare’s pricing structure.

The free membership tier works for smallish presentations (ie up to 10MB) but you have to pay a monthly fee if you want to upload larger files.

As my presentations are contain lots of graphics they tend to be fairly hefty. So I need to upgrade to at least the first tier of the ‘Pro’ service. Based on today’s exchange rate, it’ll cost me NZ$24 per month (or NZ$222 per annum).

Obviously the ‘market’ for the presentation services offered by SlideShare is fairly well heeled. I draw this conclusion as the company (which has just been bought out by LinkedIn) have not opted for a ‘notional’ or cup of coffee priced charge. I tend to make smaller payments without hesitation.

The prices of a cup of coffee approach is adopted by services like Wikispaces, whose charges start at $5 per month for it’s “Plus Plan”, and LastPass, which charges $12 per annum for “Premium”.

Is it worth it?

On the positive side: SlideShare is an easy to use service, attractive and has many good features to promote sharing. If I move I’ll probably want to move my presentations, which will take a fair chunk of time. Moving is no guarantee of security, as another service may also start free then introduce a charges. Along the way people following my work could be lost.

On the down side: it is actually a fair amount of money, which I’m uncertain about the real value I’m receiving. SlideShare can gussy up all marketing hype it likes, but it remains hot air until I generate some tangible benefit.

The dilemma is not unique to my decision about using SlideShare. It applies to virtually ever aspect of having a web presence. Inertia generally takes over. Mostly once things are set up I don’t tend to regularly re-evaluate the benefits.

Until I’m forced to, that is. Right now I don’t have an instant response to whether it is worth paying for SlideShare Pro. I’m going to sit on the fence while I think it through. Part of this is about finding out the pros and cons of any alternatives I can find.

Hmm, what should I do?

Photo credit: joygantic

200 short digital stories to peruse

Screenshot of sign on page where livestreaming of TechSoup digital storytellling completition happened: "now offline".Sadly I missed the livestream of the TechSoup 2012 digital storytelling awards last night. But this morning I woke to find the list of #TSdigs 2012 winners announced.

The one-minute digital stories from the winners are mostly pretty slick. They’re like mini TV commercials. Not ads for products but calls for action from pretty big NGOs who are well known and well resourced.

It’s the more humble, quirkier stories that appeal to me. Norton Public Library share 12 things to do in a library by turning the pages of a beautiful, handmade book filled with hand-drawn illustrations and pop-outs. A take on Bob Dylan’s “Subterrenean Homesick Blues” uses flip cards held up by a dozen people sharing what the Alliance Center for Independence does.

The full list of 200 digital stories are still available on YouTube. Amongst these is the “Diversity” entry featuring residents from WCC housing at the Arlington computer hub run by Wellington ICT. I also noticed Amnesty International NZ submitted an entry, but ‘m not sure if there were any other New Zealand entries?

Amidst all the solemnity of the causes featured, there are are lighter moments too. A good thing for a Friday.

PS I couldn’t help sharing a digital story which tickled by sensibilities. You’ll see period costumes from “The Charles Dickens Bicentennial Birthday Ball!” run by the The Period Events and Entertainments Re-Creation Society:

What I did on my holidays…. visiting community gardens in Otumeotai

Close-up of red sunflowers at Otumoetai Community Garden TaurangaQuite by accident when looking for lunch while on a rambling walk along the Otumoetai foreshore in Tauranga, Roz and I tripped over the fabulous, fecund Let’s get growing community gardens.

Sited in the Otumoetai Railway Reserve, the allotment style gardens are a vision of paradise on earth. You’ll have to look at the pics below to believe me when I say the sunflowers were already over four metres tall in early January. Smote was this Wellington gardener.

On returning from our walk I found the website for Let’s get growing. There is all the information I could wish for about the history, plenty of engaging photos and a Google map so I can find my way back. The level of detail is excellent for people wondering how it works, and for others involved in community gardens elsewhere to see how they run the space.

Of course, this visit is not the only thing captured on ‘film’ from our family’s summer vacation which now require my attention. An announcement at Roz and my civil union party inviting well-wishers to be part of a crowdsourcing approach to documenting the celebration has generated over 300 photos and a few hours of video.

In between the occasional sun in the Bay of Plenty and Wellington, I have started to get organised for 2012.

As promised, the Wellington NGO webmasters networking events will continue each month in 2012. The first one is on Tuesday 14 February.

At the Connecting Communities event in Christchurch, on 29 February, I’ll begin promoting some new services to help people run online meetings/ webinars for their organisations or networks. Quite a bit of prepare yet, so I can’t say too much just now. You’ll find more details about what I’m offering on this blog in early March, along with some of the things I learn as I go.

Next week I’ll be discussing with my colleagues at Family and Community Services how we go about sharing my work raising awareness of NGO ICT capacity building needs. Sharing a presenation I’ve cooked up is one idea, notwithstanding the lengthy title: “Why ICT matters for family support services and community organisations, and how to help people get better at using IT”.

Enough preambling, I hope you enjoy my visit to the Let’s get growing community garden as I did.

Technical note: the photos and (clumsy) video were shot using my Nokia E5 – designed to capture an impression, rather than being great photography. It’s taken me about 30 minutes to upload, sort, batch edit and share the pics.

A suggestion for nzherald.co.nz

Photo of Kindle portable reading device at Ho'okena Beach by Zach HaleI have a suggestion for The New Zealand Herald (and any other New Zealand newspaper for that matter): how about offering readers a Kindle edition of your newspaper.

I thought I’d explain why.

Yes, the NZ Herald already has an excellent website. Not only is all the content from the paper and more available online, but its easy to collect, scan and access content in other ways. There are RSS feeds for virtually every topic, email updates to subscribe to, an e-Edition from Newspapers Direct and mobile editions easily viewed on a variety of gadgets.

Also, facsimiles of the daily edition are viewable using the PressDisplay service offered by my local library. It’s like a modern microfiche version viewed on a screen (admittedly, the bigger the better).

Even with all these choices, I still think there is room for a Kindle edition. It offers something different that none of the other ways of reading content do.

I base this on my experience over last 11 weeks buying a Kindle version of the Saturday edition of the Guardian newspaper from Amazon’s Kindle Newsstand.

This is the closest simulacrum of reading a hardcopy version of a paper on any electronic device I’ve tried. It’s easy to quickly flick through the contents much as you would a dead tree version. Or you can view a paper article-by-article, reading headlines and summaries of each story, review or column.

Typically I’ve been scanning the full paper, then reading a few favourite columns first. As the book reviews and other features don’t date I can come back to them later. In fact, I could read reviews I missed from the first issue I bought in September, as all copies I’ve purchased are stored on my device.

The most important thing is that the full contents of the paper are included (sans ads, fortunately). I tend to glance at everything even if I don’t end up reading it all. This is something I never do on websites as my eyes gravitate to my pet subjects.

Other features add to the attractiveness of Kindle versions of newspapers. The text to speech option is available for newspapers, so I can listen to any story. The computer at Amazon is safely storing my credit card details (famous last words), so I can buy publications anywhere there is cellphone coverage.

Getting a newspaper on my Kindle is the best experience I’ve had on any electronic device.

I definitely want to read NZ content, and I’m willing to pay. To ensure quality journalism is available with our democracy I’m happy to contribute to costs of gathering news and views.

I’ve been paying approximately $2.50 for each issue of the Guardian, and I’d be happy to pay the same amount for the NZ Herald. I don’t think I’d pay a monthly subscription even though it works out cheaper per issue. If I did this I could imagine I’d feel swamped with too much to look through.

Perhaps going down the paid subscription route still creates jitters at the NZ Herald after their last foray in the middle of last decade. In September 2005 this bold proclamation was issued by the paper: “nzherald.co.nz to charge for premium content”. A little under two years later, charges were dropped.

I’ve no idea what the maths would be (something I’m sure newspaper executives struggle with as they face the challenge presented by an environment where the internet is ubiquitous), but according to Bookman Beattie, Kindle sales are booming in Aotearoa. As Amazon is involved, the cut subtracted after delivery might make it difficult for papers in our small country to be viable. I hope not.

If anyone at the NZ Herald is listening, feel free to use this is evidence that at least one citizen is keen on a Kindle edition. I’m looking seeing a listing in the virtual newsstand (he says hopefully).

PS See my review of the Kindle, “Reading again on a Kindle”, 5 October 2011

Photo credit: Zach Hale