Monthly Archives: April 2009

colleges are from mars, vendors from venus.

Karlyn Morissette blogged earlier this week about why (and whether) consultants outside higher education seem to get more respect than knowledgeable employees. Given the complexities of any college, working with vendors or outside partners tends to unfold like some kind of international negotiation.

Tom Peters remarked way back in the ’90s that, in the business world, what would matter was not the size of your staff, but the size of your network. The trends of flexible staffing and ad hoc work teams assembled for a single project have grown as he predicted, and today the Internet means our knowledge bases — which on places like Twitter may include what we once called competitors — are available at the touch of a button.

Yet I was working with an outside vendor/partner for an event this week and couldn’t help noticing how every communication seemed an opportunity for misunderstanding. I’ve worked on this campus for nearly eight years, and there are still countless things I don’t understand. So imagine someone from the outside trying to help coordinate an event — without stepping foot on campus, this terra incognita.

Those on a campus know the landscape of people, priorities and politics that may make no sense to an outsider. The vendor didn’t always understand what I was in charge of (very little), how big an internal team I had (not enough) nor why what they found a perfectly reasonable suggestion had no chance of working within our world. Successful vendors must have the patience of a saint to wait out an institution’s labyrinthian approval processes. Long-distance partnerships provide additional strain when you have difficulty reaching people in other cities and time zones; it’s so much easier when I can walk down the hall or take a quick elevator ride.

Curiously, I had valuable project-based discussions from the campus side via social media — student participants are easier to reach via a Facebook message than email. None of the vendor partners are on (or available on) social media, and I don’t know that trying to Facebook friend someone for a one-off makes sense. That I was able to take care of many details on our end — from planning to interacting with journalists — via social media testifies to its ability to interact quickly and clearly. (And I’m getting spoiled by the ability to ask questions on Twitter and receive great answers within mere minutes.)

As long as we have institutions of higher learning, we will always have — and need — to work with outside partners. The learning curve in such arrangements is always steep, but maybe social media is one way to help flatten it. We sure need something to bring worlds together.

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HighEdWeb Cornell: people and things.

It seems appropriate I wouldn’t have even known about last week’s HighEdWeb regional conference at Cornell if not for Twitter. The hot site was a key thread of the conference, but Twitter’s success mirrors what the conference reinforced for me: Technology is great, but ultimately people are what count.

I jokingly referred to the conference as Twitter: Behind The Avatars, because I met a lot of neat folks I only knew from Twitter and gained a few more tweeps. I was one of the busy live-tweeters imparting information and interpretations for those not present. Though if you look through the #hewebcornell hash tags you’ll also see lots of snarky comments, jokes and even spirited debate over speakers’ points.

@rachelreuben channels eduGurus @fienen, @karlynm, @NikkiMK, @kylejames, @nickdenardis for a social-media discussion.

@rachelreuben channels eduGurus @fienen, @nickdenardis, @kylejames, @karlynm and @NikkiMK for a social-media discussion.

A very quick recap (140 characters or less) of speakers and key points:

* Dirk Swart (Cornell) on introductory usability: champion simplicity, make users comfortable, provide consistent layout, function > form.

* Christine Kowalski (UBuffalo) on usability w/team of 1: seek creative ways 2 find time, people, $, approval. Noted userfly.com, crazyegg.com.

* Rachel Reuben (New Paltz) and eduGurus, social media storytelling. Great minds emphasizing content, authenticity, building community, goals.

* Casey Dreier (Cornell) on launch sites: give subgroups hyperlocal content, make info delivery flexible, keep your sites interesting/fresh.

* Jesse Rodgers (Waterloo U) on project management: track issues; contain scope, cost, time; ID risks/alternatives; consider critical paths.

* Mark Greenfield (UBuffalo) on embracing change: What are colleges’ core competencies? What will be outsourced? Evolution key to survival.

A meeting of the minds.

A meeting of the minds.

At the end of the conference, I watched a few engaged higher-ed social-media types — @rachelreuben, @ICchris, @jakedaniel and @jrodgers — talking to @kprentiss about a fascinating project he’s developing. Preparing to leave, I realized that, even though I previously only knew most of these people via Twitter, I had thoughts to share with each of them: a compliment for a presentation, a good-luck for an exciting idea discussed, a thanks for making this fun. Sure, the technology brought us together, but ultimately what I found on the other end of the avatars were a lot of interesting folks. The things that connect us will come and go, but connections with quality people have the real lasting value.

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web writing webinar ahead.

Of all the things I have to promote, I’m most reticent about promoting myself. But I’ve been asked (nicely) to make sure everyone knows that I’m presenting a Webinar titled Web Writing 360: How To Write Right For All Online Media on May 5.

The valuable Higher Ed Experts service presents the Webinar, and it’s the first of a two-part series that also features the wonderful Mary Beth Kurilko presenting Web Writer Coaching 101: How To Find, Train and Nurture Web Contributors On Campus on May 6. Since content is king (or queen) on the Web, I welcomed the opportunity when HEE’s Karine Joly contacted me to do this session. To preview a stat I use in the Webinar, did you know there are an estimated 182 billion sites on the Web across 106 million active domains? How can you be seen and heard among that crowd? Simple.

That’s part of the answer: Simple. As in, keep it simple. Get to the point, make it easy to read, give ’em what they want. The Webinar also will touch on effective content for blogs, Facebook and Twitter, since social media continues to become a larger slice of the pie consumed by the estimated 1.6 billion people surfing the Web.

For more information, visit the Higher Ed Experts event page. I hope to talk to you! And we now return you to your regular programming.

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much ado about beards.

Little did I realize when I let my facial hair grow between Christmas and New Year’s that I was stumbling into a trend. What began as a social-media related experiment, ending with a landslide vote to keep the beard, unintentionally thrust me among a facial fashion, as countless articles tell us beards are back.

The Times UK notes in a subhead: Film stars are sprouting it with abandon, women are tolerating it — even the man on the street is going ape. Beard scholar (yes, there is such a thing, aka pogonologist) Allen Peterkin noted that it’s one of the few ways a man can quickly and easily change his image. You can find blogs about beards, festivals devoted to facial hair and over-the-top growing contests.

Others put facial hair in an economic context as much as fashion statement. Sources ranging for fashion pundits to urbandictionary.com speak of men spouting recession beards, brought about by layoffs and the money savings of not shaving. Or are they acts of playful rebellion? AdAge talks (albeit not in free online content) of Norelco incorporating the recession beard idea into marketing its shaving accessories. (And, yes, the backlash against the recession-beard movement has already started.)

But the power and context of the beard span civilized times. In his excellent 1841 work Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Charles Mackay includes a chapter on Influence of Politics and Religion on the Hair and Beard. France’s Louis VII shaving his beard in the 12th century, Mackay said, had resounding implications; his queen, Eleanor of Guienne, hated his new look and, after the resulting fallout, married Henry II of England — which made her dowry of Normandy a British foothold and led to centuries of battles and bloodshed. During the Crusades, many Saxons remaining in England grew beards to differentiate themselves from the more staid Normans; the Cavaliers made a subtler yet similar statement as they squared off against the Roundheads in the 17th century British Civil War. In 1705, Russia’s Peter the Great thought the bearded look antiquated and instituted a tax and on men sporting facial hair, complete with its own bureaucratic system. (Let’s hope this doesn’t give our governor any ideas.)

So any current beardmania is just part of a long line of our hirsuite history. I just enjoy not having to shave every morning and that I receive the occasional complement on it. Apparent trendiness is a bonus.

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blogging: a new path to journalism?

I’m currently securing student bloggers for next year, and found it telling that two of them expressed an interest in blogging because they plan to go into journalism and think learning to blog would help in this field.

I took a step back and realized they were on target. While blogging doesn’t replace existing skills such as news judgment, finding/evaluating sources and basic newswriting ability, what we once called papers have migrated online and journalists increasingly double as bloggers. What a change from a few years ago when many news organizations discouraged their writers from keeping a blog!

Now journalists have learned how to incorporate blogs into their storytelling. One of my favorite writers, Sean Kirst, complements his excellent Syracuse Post-Standard columns with short blog entries. On the other end of the spectrum you’ll find folks like Seattle Times baseball writer Geoff Baker, who live-blogs games (using excepts for his game stories) and also pens (types?) longer statistical-based pieces that would bore the average reader if they appeared in print but excite his stathead-heavy online fan base. Blogging is still a fairly new tool in the journalistic toolbox, so reporters use it in countless ways.

But the skills of a good blogger mirror what it takes to become a good journalist. You need to write well and concisely, and blogging can help you practice. You need to find good stories and tell them in a compelling fashion. You need to gain a sense of your audience. Unlike traditional journalism, blogging creates a nearly instantaneous feedback loop, where others can offer views on your story that sometimes can help you explore or consider additional aspects. When I worked in journalism, the only time I learned what readers thought about our product came when they called and complained (too often) or when they dropped a note of praise (too rarely). And while commenters (especially the trolls under the bridge at newspaper sites) don’t always offer an accurate view of what readers think, feedback can help underscore the importance of an issue to a community and the different points of view worth considering.

So should journalism students consider blogging? Absolutely! Not only will it make them more marketable in a world where more reporters are expected to blog as part of their overall arsenal, but I believe the practice can make them better writers. Whatever the state of the newspaper industry, anything that creates a better crop of young journalists benefits us all.

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Fans pages become more conversational.

While I’m still not totally thrilled with the layout of the new Facebook Fans pages, I can’t deny the new setup does promote conversations. This comes mainly because Fans pages’ responses to questions show up in the news feeds of fans the way friends see status reports. Thus fans see their pages talking (in a way) and are more likely to ask questions or join conversations.

While the upshot is that those of us managing Fans pages now have more lively brands, increased conversations also mean more vigilance and time spent on responses. Much more time. Plus because it’s like a status message, if you’re speaking for a page you have a character limit less than when your response was like posting on a wall. Somewhere in there, Facebook wisely increased the limit to 420 characters, which helps form coherent responses. I take customer service seriously and, given the high visibility of responses attributed to SUNY Oswego from the Fans page, it’s vital answers are helpful and thorough.

Fig. 1: A lively discussion.

Fig. 1: A lively discussion.

On the up side, responses from the Fans page now appearing in the feed of any fans also can spark marvelous organic conversations, like the one above. It began with one future student asking about living in Hart Hall, our international residence hall that also has a community service component. A large number of former Hart residents chimed in on how much they enjoyed it. One person did note that the extra requirement of community service wasn’t for everyone, but others responded it felt more like a reward than a chore. And, best of all, the Fans page administrator could stand back and watch the real experts give their thoughts.

So score one for Facebook here. If the goal in giving Fans page responses similar feed treatment to status updates was to create more conversation, then it certainly succeeded.

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saturday night unspecial: stalkdaily worm hits twitter.

Is it possible to create a viral script that can invade your account just by mousing over a link? Having encountered the StalkDaily virus, I’m sorry to say the answer appears to be yes.

Happened earlier this evening as I visited accounts of new people who had started following me on Twitter. One thing I look for in a profile is whether the user has a blog, and I saw that one (a fellow Mariners fan; hasn’t she suffered enough) had her home page listed as http://www.stalkd… (with a character limit). Curious what kind of blog name that may be, I moused over it, which usually reveals a link name in the bottom left of my Firefox browser. No name appeared. That should have been my first indication something was amiss.

I returned to my Twitter page and after a refresh saw that my account was listed as telling other people to visit StalkDaily[-dot-]com. Repeatedly. I was confused. So I clicked onto my profile page and saw that this address was now listed as my Web home page. Somehow, just by the mouseover enabling some Javascript function (if that’s the right word; I’m not hardcore technical at all), my listed home page changed and some kind of feed bringing these messages through my Twitter account had become enabled. The simple and insidious nature of the invasion struck me as quite breathtaking.

To mitigate, I deleted those tweets, changed my Web page back, created a new password and logged out. I found other sites that recommend clearing your cache and your cookies as well, so I complied as best I could. The Twittercism blog gives more information, and TechCrunch says it appeared to be an XSS attack. Great. New acronyms to fear.

Interesting that the viral attack was counterattacked via viral marketing, as a few Tweeps started warning everyone about it and then the information was retweeted (RTed) around the Twitterverse. If there are heinous folks out there figuring out ways to infect us when we merely mouse over a link — until now not a harmful maneuver — it’s good to know that the human desire to help and warn one another is as strong as ever.

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