Monthly Archives: November 2009

why does the web get no respect?

Would a professor just pick any student to come up and teach an important class? Would administrators send in students with no particular training to run a vital student-affairs program? Of course not. So why, in higher education, do so many think bringing in students with no real knowledge of Web standards to do a Web page is an acceptable solution? As if the Web were a hobby, not a profession?

With today being Blue Beanie Day in support of Web standards, it’s as good a day as any to argue that working with the Web is, indeed, a profession. It’s becoming the most important avenue of communication in higher education. Many of us seek out top conferences and training on usability, techniques and practices. We scour the Web for great sites and blogs telling us the latest developments. We amass networks of fellow Web professionals to broaden our knowledge base. So when we hear from time to time that someone in an office has just hired a student who wants to design a Flash-based splash page with animated clip art graphics, I think it’s fair to be concerned.

Let’s not let Web quality continue to live the life of Rodney Dangerfield. The Internet is no longer in its infancy where chaos ruled. We’ve come to learn some techniques and tactics work best, even as we leave plenty of room for creativity. Those using the Web as a profession should take up the cause of standards. If not us, then whom? When we create Web sites that our users can easily access and navigate, and when we provide positive user experiences, everyone benefits.

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stamats sim tech takeaways: goals first, content always.

The recent Stamants SIM Tech conference was, quite simply, one of the most amazing I’ve ever had the honor of attending. And while I took 4,959 words of notes, my main takeaways are 1) goals first, then tools; and 2) it’s (still) about quality content.

Yes, many of us jumped, and/or took our colleges, onto social media just to figure out the lay of the land. But as the social media landscape keeps sprouting new shiny objects, we have to remember goals first, then tools. It’s a no-brainer that, by now, your college should have official presences on Facebook and Twitter. Given the propagation of Facebook misrepresentation, actual representation remains important. But before we spread ourselves (thin) across every platform, we have to stop and ask ourselves: What are we doing and why are we doing it?

When folks on the New Paltz campus come to Rachel Reuben hoping to start a social media project, her best way to help is a form where they articulate what they want and why. Sometimes they learn that the ideal social media solution for them is not what they initially thought. Kyle James counseled schools to put their own house in order before going too heavily into social media: know your goals, audiences and stories first. And if you spend a lot of money driving people to a bad landing page, reconsider your priorities.

I was also pleased to hear repeatedly that it’s (still) about quality content. You can throw up the fanciest pages, platforms and schemes, but if you don’t have quality content to fill these outlets, you’ve bought a $1,000 frame for a 5-cent painting. This came up in pretty much every presentation, whether Robert Brosnan detailing how educated contributors create campus content pipelines, Raven Zachary on making iPhone apps that innovate instead of imitate or Scott Leamon reminding us that technology and channels change but great stories are timeless.

On another note, my cherished mantra of less is more came up in such sessions as Kati Davis championing usability and simplicity, Karlyn Morissette discussing how the best e-marketing gets to the point with a call to action and Stewart Foss saying that bombarding users with too many links/too much cramped copy can be a turnoff.

The conference also brought the present into the future. Matt Arnold noted we’re heading into a post-homepage (search making every page a homepage) and post-mouse/post-monitor (mobile) era. Frittz McDonald explained that 2/3 of world’s Web users visit social networking and blogging sites and that, by 2012, more than half of Internet users will be content creators. Small wonder David Armano points to a world where we are no longer brand managers, but facilitators of brand advocates whose own stories join with the greater narrative.

I tried, with great difficulty, to narrow down to Top 5 Takeaways for each session. It only presents a flavor, the tip of an iceberg. But thanks to Stamats SIM Tech, I now feel more confident that I can avoid the icebergs as we navigate the thrilling waters of the Web and new communication.

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a new fan-driven musical economy?

In 2006, the Damnwells became an unfortunate music-industry cliche. Despite a knack for crafting smart and catchy songs, critical acclaim and a building fan base, they were cut adrift by Epic Records, which also shelved their sophomore album.

And while they would eventually get that disc, Air Stereo, released by Zoe Records, they found themselves at a real crossroads. Their solution? Turn to the Web, social media and innovative measures.

They made their third album, One Last Century, available free to all on the Internet in exchange for an email address. They used those email addresses, and social media, to let fans know they are assembling their fourth album in a novel way: Via donations and fan feedback.

Through a service called Pledge Music, the Damnwells look to raise $20,000.30 to record the new album. This weekend, they passed the 75 percent mark and continue to steam forward. Donors can start as low as $12 to just get a copy of the album, go higher for a variety of public broadcasting type premiums (for $25, I’m getting a signed CD and T-shirt) or even things like Skyping into a recording session ($55), introducing the band at a show ($125) or admission into a sound check ($150). The band will provide a public performance wherever you want them at the high end; for $5,000, someone in Tokyo, Turin or Tahiti can even have The Damnwells play in their house (it’s $1,500 in the U.S., $500 in NYC).

Just as valuable is that any supporter gets a password-driven code to download demos and outtakes (all of which are pretty good), read Alex Dezen’s blog about the record and gain other inside information. Fans can provide feedback on posted demos on the blog to play an even greater part in making the record. On top of all that, part of the funds raised will aid a number of worthy causes.

Or is this totally new? During the Renaissance, artists and musicians were funded by wealthy patrons who enjoyed their creations. But this more democratic system makes even modest donors part of the team. And taking the future of music out of the hands of a closed, shortsighted music industry and into a forward-thinking community of music lovers definitely represents an improvement.

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learning about social media goes both ways.

Feels like I’ve been on a social media barnstorming tour of campus, leading four sessions in the past two weeks. There’s no one reason for this — I was asked to do two, while the other two were my initiative — but just as with social media itself, the conversations in this sessions always teach me something as well.

I’ve talked to freshmen about social media and learned their habits. I gave a session titled Everybody Has A Mic: The Brave New World of Web 2.0 to people in the room and scattered across the world on Second Life. I presented Social Media 101 to staff members. And I imparted thoughts on social media and marketing to an Advanced Public Relations class. My own presentations notwithstanding, and with my observations on freshmen listed in another entry, here’s some of what I’ve learned back:

1) Social Media 101, as an hour topic, is too big for a wide audience. While most came to learn practical applications of social media, one attendee didn’t seem know what Facebook or blogs were. So maybe something so catch-all is too ambitious and unfocused. But then I saw a college running a whole course on how to use Twitter, which is excessive too. At some point, we’ll find a happy medium for a range of audiences and applicable topics.

2) Students’ use of social media changes during their time on campus. While sample sizes so far are small, what I’ve found backs up what I’d heard anecdotally. For the upperclass Advanced PR class, 20 of 20 were on Facebook (no surprise), 18 of 20 checked daily, 8 of 20 had MySpace accounts and 3 of 20 used Twitter. Recall for freshmen, all 15 had Facebook accounts they checked daily, 10 were on MySpace (though barely used it), none on Twitter. This slim sampling reflects what I’ve heard about college students abandoning MySpace and picking up Twitter in modest amounts, but I aim to do more surveying.

3) I may have given up on Second Life too quickly. Maybe it took viewing several avatars hearing my presentation virtually, but I finally see that Second Life does have untapped collaborative and communication potential. Maybe I’m just flattered someone from NASA would show up in SL to hear what I have to say. Maybe I still think the economics of outfitting an avatar seem too much like Dungeons and Dragons. But clearly my dismissing Second Life out of hand without learning more is as ill-informed as those who’ve never been on Twitter scoffing it’s all about people tweeting what they had for lunch.

This all also reflects what I’ve long believed: presenting is a two-way street. Just like in social media, every interaction and every conversation is an opportunity for enlightenment.

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