{ thinking out loud about the things i care about }

Archive for March, 2010

IABC Edmonton’s Social Media Workshop Recap

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Translate online interest into offline action.Yesterday I was able to attend the Edmonton IABC’s half-day social media conference ‘Connecting the Dots’, in part as a participant and in part in a slightly more ‘official’ capacity as a representative from my company Redengine, which sponsored the event. I spent most of the day live-tweeting on Redengine’s Twitter feed using the #IABCyeg hashtag.

First up was a keynote from George Siemens, a high-level definition of social media and how it impacts PR and communications professionals. Trying to define social media is always an interesting challenge for me in my client presentations, but I’m particularly fond of the way George Siemens defined it as “a shift from broadcasting to conversation, from telling to engagement”, and how he spoke about moving from the ‘.’ era to the ‘/’ era (as in ‘company.com’ to ‘twitter.com/company’). This statement is particularly good at calling out how many people (especially in my generation) are now looking for companies and brands to communicate with them on their terms in their own spaces; people want to engage with business on their own terms. George’s slideshow is up on slideshare, and definitely worth a look.

Next up was Mack Male and the City Centre Airport debate social media case study, something I was following during the summer and somewhat familiar with, but it was interesting to hear Mack talk about it, especially given he was one of the driving forces behind the Not My Airport campaign. It was great to hear Mack champion blogging: some of the new social media forms get a lot more coverage right now, and platforms like Facebook and Twitter have great value, but to me nothing beats the kind of great, ‘real-life’ content ordinary people are creating all over the world in blogs. He also gave voice to the idea that you don’t always have to create ‘new’ spaces or tags for discussion: a lot of discussions are already taking place, and it’s usually better to join them rather than start new ones or try and shift the party to a new local. Find the enthusiasts and point to them rather than try to herd them. If a hashtag or group already exists, use it!

Mary Pat Barry presented the Edmonton Stories case study. Edmonton Stories is a fascinating example of user-generated content and crowdsourcing, and while I haven’t had the opportunity yet to browse through the stories they’ve collected it’s something I’m definitely going to do after hearing more about it. It sounds like they tried to get an honest (though over all positive) view of Edmonton, and have tried to include as broad a range of personal experiences as they could. Some people may thing the staff stories ‘skew’ the content, but to me it’s important to seed content and help users understand what you’re looking for when you crowdsource online.

After the break was a panel discussion featuring editor Karen Unland from the Edmonton Journal, Norman Mendoza from Redengine and Seek Your Own Proof, blogger Dave Cournoyer, and Edmonton business owner Chris LaBossiere.

As an interesting twist, behind the panelists was projected the live Twitter #IABCyeg conversation, and as a result most of the discussion was very Twitter-centric. Because of it, the discussion actually kicked off with several questions about the etiquette of tweeting and live-tweeting, whether or not live-tweeters multi-task effectively, and what the value of having the online conversation in tandem with the panel conversation was. There was a lot of commentary both in the room and on the screen (by people in the room and outside it), and it was interesting to see how the rest of the discussion played out on Twitter behind the panelists after; I wonder if any minds in the room were changed?

There was also a lot of discussion about controlling social media (and the fact that you really can’t, and if you try then you’re doing it wrong), and controlling social media use in a work environment. Mack tweeted this, which has always been a strong personal philosophy of mine when it comes to the things I say and post online: if I’m not comfortable with the entire world — including work, clients, and family — knowing and reading something, then it doesn’t get posted online.

Really great event in a great venue, and I met some interesting people. I’m going to try and go to the Social Media conference at Athabasca University in September if I can.

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Margaret Wente Claims Women Don’t Blog

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

From the internet departments of Fail and WTF:

Margaret Wente from the Globe and Mail wants to inform you blogging is ‘guy stuff’.

Oh really? Women don’t blog, eh? Given this startling revelation, I’m forced to wonder how it happened that 95% of the blogs I follow are female-written. Are you all lying to me? You are, aren’t you? All of you must be men, because women don’t blog. Right?

As a female and a blogger (since 2002!) I wasn’t sure whether to roll my eyes or pull out the flame-thrower: it’s obvious Wente has no idea what she’s talking about and didn’t bother to perform even cursory research (completely oblivious to the Huffington Post, the mommy-blogger phenomenom; even a Google search for “female blogger” brings up over six million results), so instinctually I feel lulz are the appropriate response. Who knew isolated, anecdotal evidence was all it took to be a journalist these days? Clearly I have chosen the wrong career.

I especially adore the unintentional irony of this quote:

“MAS (male answer syndrome) also explains why men are so quick to have opinions on subjects they know little or nothing about.”

Nothing like a little ‘pot-calling-kettle’, eh?

After reading the whole of this appaulingly sexist article, though, I feel like the flamethrower isn’t such a bad response after all. Wente claims:

“Women never held peeing contests. Perhaps that helps explain why women tend to be more restrained and less concerned with public displays of prowess. We are just as interested in listening as in talking, and more interested in relationships than scoring points. We also tend to lack the public confidence that comes so easily to many men.

Are these things cultural? Not entirely, perhaps not even mostly. For most of my adult life, I was almost struck dumb in the presence of strangers. I managed to complete five years of university without raising my hand, and the idea of a dinner party used to make me faint. Several of my female friends tell similar stories. No matter how brilliant they were, they lacked the confidence to express themselves in public.”

Apparently women, when we bother to have opinons, are too meek and scared and mild-mannered to speak them. Girls don’t raise their hands in class, feel daunted at the mere idea of networking a room or attending a dinner party, and remain mute in the presence of strangers. Given this summary, I wonder how my fellow females ever even dare to make it out the door in the morning.

I especially enjoy how she claims this phenomenon isn’t cultural, as if it has nothing to do with the way our cultural programming tells women to shut up and look pretty, but is somehow pre-programmed into our gender.

There is both win and fail in the comments.

I sit on the edge of my seat waiting for Wente’s next riveting installment, titled ‘Why Don’t Women Tweet?’ given she has the same amount of expertise in the Twittersphere as she does the blogosphere.

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Content is Not a Feature

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

After having worked with a lot of different people and — now — several different companies building websites, I would like to let the rest of the world know something that I see as obvious but is apparently a massive surprise to others.

Website content is not a ‘feature’: for the user, it is the entire point of your website.

good content hugPeople don’t come to your website to see good design or a good user interface; these are all important things to have, yes, but in the end what those things get you is goodwill and happier repeat visitors. What users come for — the reason they click a link or search for you — is to see your content. To read the words. And watch videos or look at pictures, yes, but mostly to read what you have to say about whatever it is you do.

If you don’t have content on your site — good, text-based content — then you don’t have a good website.

I cannot stress this enough: unless you’re work is primarily based in photography or video, what people are ultimately looking for is information that can only be communcated via words. And even if you are a photographer or an artist or a video producer, once they look at all your pretty they’re going to want to know things that take words to communicate, things like ‘who’ and ‘where’ and ‘how much’.

Good content takes time. A lot of time. Time to plan, time to create, and time to markup and format. Content is almost always the biggest time-spend, no matter whether it’s being created from scratch or migrated from one platform to another. Trust me on this.

I have spent days, weeks, months and even years working on content pre-launch. I have written it from scratch. I have formatted it with any number of markup tools and languages in lists and tables and columns. I have copy/pasted more times than is possible to count. I have tagged content, catagorized content, pagenated content and aggregated content.

I have some expertise in this. So when I say with 100% certainty that whatever amount of time you’ve budgeted for content is not enough, you know I’m not pulling your leg.

The other thing good content takes is writers. And not just any writer, but a copy-writer. Preferably one with web copywriting and SEO experience, because writing for the web is different than writing for any other medium, just like writing a newspaper ad is different from writing a commercial is different from writing a book.

You should never just slap something up in online spaces, but that’s what happens all the time; things need to be adapted. In print you write and design around turning pages; on the web, it’s all about scrolling down. Print that can be read comfortably on paper is too small or too big on screen. Words in graphic elements can’t be seen by search engines, and either the graphics need to be rebuilt with searchable text over background images or appropriate alt and title tags need to be added.

Remember also that content is never ‘finished’. There’s no ‘done’ like there is with design. Content changes, expands, and expires. There is nothing more frustrating to users than old, outdated, inaccurate, or stale content. Good content is always current. Keeping archives of content is great practice, but the most important stuff you’ve got is the stuff that’s relevant now: online spaces are always about ‘now’, and the first place new content should be available is from your website. If updates happen in other mediums before they make it to your online sites and media, then you’re doing it wrong.

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TEDxEdmonton Recap

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Stage at TEDxEdmontonI spent all day yesterday hanging out with fellow TEDsters at the first TEDxEdmonton organized by the great folks at artScene Edmonton. It was a really superb event (even including a little technical difficulty and the tech table collapsing on the audience — oops!) with a great set of speakers, and I met a whole host of fascinating people based right here in Edmonton.

One of the highlights for me was the chance to listen to a talk from Cathy’s Book creator Sean Stewart about the new era of storytelling which he’s coined as the Transmedia Era. The whole idea of storytelling that spans across different medias and moves into the idea of storytelling-as-alternate-reality is really exciting to me. It was also really great to hear him talk about the idea of transmedia as being a social and participatory media, where storyteller and consumer blur together; he showed a slide of the book category of fanfiction.net and pointed to the half a million pieces of Harry Potter fanfiction stored there (including some of my own, which — not gonna lie — made me smile), remarking “most of the words written about Harry Potter have not been written by J.K. Rowling”. It’s great to hear professional authors encourage and delight in remix culture, and tell the room “art at this point is not about dictating to another person, it’s a dance… hold out your hand, and ask, do you want to play?”

I also really enjoyed Grant Skinner’s ambling talk about his own personal path to success and the juxtaposition of putting his talk back-to-back with Cameron Herold’s very different talk about entrepreneurship. Two different paths and stories and value sets, both as interesting as the other. I also chatted with Cameron Herold a bit at the after party about the TEDx event he went to in Vancouver and the gender mix of both events.

The thing that blew me away most of all was Andrew Hessel’s talk about open source biology and the parallels he drew between the way computers and tech evolved in geek’s basements and garages and how biology is doing the same now. I’m especially interested in watching his Pink Army Cooperative and how much success they have creating custom, personalized drugs to fight individual people’s cancer. The idea of a co-op drug company that doesn’t actually sell the drugs it produces, just hands them over to the individual they were custom built for, is a very cool idea with potentially huge implications.

You know what was the coolest part about TEDxEdmonton, though? That all the speakers were Edmonton-based or Edmonton-born. I love that the organizers found local talent to speak and carry the day, and I hope that policy continues into future Edmonton TED events.

All the Edmonton talks will be edited and put up on the internet, hopefully in the next week or so. Links will follow when they’re available!

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Citizen and Immigration Minister Pulls Gay Rights Mention from Citizenship Guide

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Jason Kenney, notorious for his anti-gay-marriage opinions, is apparently responsible for pulling sections of the Canadian citizenship guide about the rights of homosexuals in Canada. This includes references to homosexuality being decriminalized in 1969, that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation, and that same-sex marriage was legalized nationally in 2005. The reason he gives for pulling the mention? Brevity. Apparently those mentions bogged down the 63-page guide.


This is not my Canada, either, Mr. Kenney. I’d like for new people looking to make Canada home to A) know that, if they identify with the LGBT community, our country supports them and recognizes them with full rights by law; and B) if they don’t identify with that group and have problems with it, the Canadian legal system doesn’t condone discrimination or hate. I’m not saying I need an 8 page treatise, but the 50 words Kenney axed seems pretty petty.

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