Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky, A Book Review

Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky really has something here. Because I have to say, I just plain love this book. I am a fan! In addition, this book ended up tying with Groundswell for being my favorite of the six books that we were assigned to read in my first Quinnipiac University social media class, Social Media Platforms (ICM 522).

Clay Shirky: Here comes everybody!
Clay Shirky: Here comes everybody! (Photo credit: ChimpLearnGood)

At the time, I started classes thinking I would only get a certification and nothing more. However, I ended up staying long enough to get my Master’s of Science in Communications in Interactive Media (social media). And a part of that decision can be traced directly back to reading this particular work.

Philosophy To Go

Furthermore, I really liked the philosophical and sociological aspects of his work. Essentially, what he ended up saying was – society is changing. It’s not just the Internet; it is happening to humans ourselves. We are in the process of becoming new, and different. Hence there is a seismic shift going on, in our society.

Of course, that is likely to just be the wealthiest slice of society. Because heartbreakingly poor people in Third World countries simply aren’t going to be adding to online or offline content any time soon. Or, if they are, it is far more likely to consist of content that is survival-based. Hence this would be items for sale, rather than the products of truly creative pursuits.

Amateurs vs. Professionals

In addition, I really love what he had to say about amateur participation. Because in Chapter 5, on page 154, Shirky persuasively writes:

“As more people come to expect that amateur participation is always an option, those expectations can change the culture.”

So here’s to amateur participation. Because it is here to stay and I suspect it will never, truly go away.

Rating

Review: 5/5 stars.

Optimize by Lee Odden, A Book Review

Optimize by Lee Odden

Optimize by Lee Odden was not an unfamiliar concept. I have read about search engine optimization on countless websites and in any number of books already.

Optimize by Lee Odden, A Book Review
Lee Odden presents on SEO through blogs and feeds (Photo credit: toprankonlinemarketing)

But I don’t think I ever truly understood it until now. Lee Odden has taken an almost mysterious concept and made it comprehensible. I definitely liked Optimize.

SEO

Google doesn’t have a lot of options for its spider bots when it comes to reading your content. It can read your text. And that’s about it. While there are, I am sure, plans to try to make it so that Google can better read flash, PDFs, PowerPoint slides, Images, and Videos, the truth is, it’s currently pretty much all letters and numbers.  That will eventually change, but right now that’s it.

Hence Google doesn’t know that the picture you added to your blog is an image of, say, Dame Judi Dench. It needs a caption. Sounds obvious, right? But I wasn’t doing that, not with this blog and not with my writing site or anywhere else.  Oops. And that caption should be obvious, in order to serve the search bots, and informative and conversational, in order to serve your human readers/audience.

Who or What Should You Optimize For? Bots or People?

Both. And fortunately, they don’t conflict. Hence if you add keywords, tags, or categories to your webpage, blog post, etc., then if you can reiterate the keywords, etc. within the content, you’ve got it made. And you need to look around wherever you are posting, and use every available square inch for your optimization efforts. This does not mean that you cover every single pixel!  Rather, it means that, if you have a space for a caption, use it. If you have a space for tags, write them. Blogs have categories. So make them meaningful, and use them. Hence I finally feel I get it. And that is a wonderful feeling.

Rating

Review: 5/5 stars.

Book Review – Likeable Social Media by Dave Kerpen

Book Review – Likeable Social Media by Dave Kerpen

Dave Kerpen has a rather interesting book here.

Likeable Social Media

Likeable Social Media by Dave Kerpen
Likeable Social Media by Dave Kerpen (cover image is from Amazon)

This book was required reading, as a part of my Community Management class at Quinnipiac University.

And it made for an excellent read.

For Kerpen, a lot of social media success comes from listening to, and then surprising and delighting customers and potential customers. Are your posts what they are interested in? If you received this post, would you bother clicking on it?

Case in point for surprise and delight

In May of 2015, my husband, parents, and I went to a Mexican restaurant in my parents’ town. We have eaten there before, but not so much that they know our names or our usual orders or the like. My husband and I don’t visit my parents too often. And he visits them even less than I am. To the restaurant, even if my parents are repeat customers, my husband and I surely don’t look like repeats.

There was a short wait until we got our food. Without prompting, we received a little appetizer, which mainly consisted of little breaded and fried mashed potatoes, configured a bit like sticks. There were three bits of sauce in different colors. The potatoes and sauce, most likely, were leftover odds and ends. It may have taken the chef all of ten minutes to make the dish. I didn’t see anyone else getting the appetizer. We thanked the server. The appetizer tasted good.

We were served our food, and you’d think that would be the end of it. But it wasn’t. We didn’t order dessert. But we received a plate of flan and four spoons anyway. No one asked us; we just got the flan (it tasted really good). We weren’t charged for either little extra.

These twin activities impressed us, so much so that I’ve even linked back to the restaurant. Win-win!

Surprise and delight your customers. Or, as I’d like to say, where’s their flan?

Being Likeable

By no coincidence, Kerpen named his company Likeable Media. From its positive name to its obvious association with Facebook, the book and the company are all about creating positive and meaningful experiences for customers and potential customers. Kerpen begins with listening and with careful, accurate, and specific targeting. E. g. not all women in their 50s have the same interests. He strongly urges marketers to dig deeper. He also encourages them to have empathy for their customers. Is a post interesting? Would it be welcome to the customer base? The first fans should be preexisting customers, with perks for the really rabid fans. Another skill to master: engaging in a true dialog. This means not just accepting praise, but also effectively and expeditiously responding to complaints. It also means owning up to your mistakes when you make them.

Honesty

Kerpen advocates authenticity, honesty and transparency in dealings, and promoting an exchange by asking questions, which goes right back to listening. From listening, comes the surprise and delight. Did the restaurant hear us complaining about slower than normal service? Possibly. The appetizer and the flan certainly helped to quell those complaints and win us over.

Because he’s talking about social media (and not restaurant service), Kerpen’s flan moment doesn’t just cover coupons and offers. It’s also the sharing of stories as social capital. Some of this includes stories of the company (e. g. how a product was invented that spawned an industry). But it also encompasses the stories of the customers themselves. Imagine being a soft drink company and asking customers who drank your soft drink during their first date to share their love stories?

Finally, rather than hard selling, Kerpen exhorts marketers to simply make it easy to buy. Good products and services will always have customers. Generally, you don’t need to massage demand. But you do need to make it easier for customers to open their wallets.

A terrific, breezy read, well worth your time.

Rating

5/5 stars

Book Review: Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk

"Book

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook is a bit too cleverly named, but the premise is an interesting one. Essentially, what Gary Vaynerchuk is saying is, little bits of content and engagement which reach your potential customers are the setup for the big finish (which is not really a finish, actually) of a call to action and an attempt to make a sale.

The other major premise of the book is that all platforms have their own native quirks and idiosyncrasies. Therefore what is reliable on Pinterest, might fall flat on Facebook. What is killer on Tumblr might get a shrug on Instagram. And what is awesome on Twitter might bring the meh elsewhere.

Breaking Down What Went Wrong, and What Went Right

The most powerful part of this work was in the analysis and dissection of various real-life pieces of content on the various platforms. Why did something not work? Maybe the image was too generic or too small or too blurry. Or maybe the call to action was too generic and wishy-washy, or the link did not take the user directly to the page with the sales information or coupon. Or maybe there was no link or no logo, and the user was confused or annoyed.

While this book was assigned for my Community Management class, the truth is, I can also see it as applying to the User-Centered Design course at Quinnipiac. After all, a big part of good user-centric design is to not confuse or annoy the user. Vaynerchuk is looking to take that a step further, and surprise and delight the consumer.

Give people value. So give them what they want and need, or that at least makes them smile or informs them. In the meantime, show your humanity and your concern.

And work your tail off.

A terrific read. Everyone in this field should read this book.

Rating

5/5 Stars

The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Meerman Scott, A Book Review

The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Meerman Scott

The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Meerman Scott was a fascinating book that I had as required reading for Quinnipiac University’s Social Media Platforms course (ICM522).

The Premise

World Wide Rave Spotted In Ireland David Meerman Scott
World Wide Rave Spotted In Ireland (Photo credit: Krishna De)

First of all, the premise is, like a lot of other books about the Internet and social media marketing, that marketing has become less of a one-size-fits-all/push system. Instead, it has instead evolved into a far more balanced bilateral conversation.

And perhaps the most interesting part of the book consists of the rules themselves, which are in Chapter 2, on page 31 and are as follows –

The New Rules

The New Rules of Marketing and PR

  • First of all, marketing is more than just advertising
  • In addition, public relations is for more than just a mainstream media audience
  • You are what you publish
  • And people want authenticity, not spin
  • People want participation, not propaganda
  • Instead of causing one-way interruption, marketing is about delivering content at just the precise moment your audience needs it
  • Furthermore, marketers must shift their thinking from mainstream marketing to the masses to a strategy of reaching vast numbers of underserved audiences via the web
  • In addition, public relations is not about your boss seeing your company on TV. It’s about your buyers seeing your company on the web
  • Marketing is not about your agency winning awards. Instead, it’s about your organization winning business
  • And the internet has made public relations public again, after years of almost exclusive focus on media
  • Furthermore, companies must drive people into the purchasing process with great online content
  • In addition, blogs, online video, e-books, news releases, and other forms of online content let organizations communicate directly with buyers in a form they appreciate
  • And social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn allow people all over the world to share content and connect with the people and companies they do business with
  • Finally, on the web, the lines between marketing and public relations have blurred

Because customers are talking back.  And companies and their marketing departments had better start listening.

Rating

Review: 5/5 stars.

Content Nation by John Blossom, A Book Review

Content Nation by John Blossom

John Blossom wrote a rather interesting work. And so for Quinnipiac University’s Social Media Platform’s class (ICM 522), this book was assigned as required reading.

John Blossom, Author of Content Nation
John Blossom, Author of Content Nation (Photo credit: HowardGr)

Blossom sharply and compellingly puts forth his case. The Internet has become home to more and more content creators all the time.

And this constitutes a very good thing indeed.

As publishing becomes push-button fast and friendly, publishers stop being gatekeepers. Suddenly, anyone with an idea and a connection can potentially become a publisher.

Takeaways

One of his most interesting takeaways appears on page 136. Here he lays out Content Nation Enterprise Rule #1:

“Social media isn’t about technology; it’s about adapting to more effective patterns of communications being adopted by competitors.”

Hence for Blossom, the key benefits are –

  • Effective social media tools enable people to choose who they want to allow within their circle of communication (although that makes for silos and walled gardens these days!)
  • Effective social media tools make it easier to collect and organize communications from internal and external sources
  • and Effective social media tools make it easier to collaborate internally and externally. This is to build and update valuable knowledge more effectively.

And I have to say that I agree with this. So much of what we read about social media centers around the platforms. In addition, the technology seems to overrule everything else, including common sense. And while everyone loves something shiny and new, it matters very little if the content behind it, well, frankly, stinks. Hence Blossom essentially disagrees with Marshall McLuhan.  Therefore, the medium isn’t the message any more.

Instead, the message is the message.

And I think that is pretty powerful. Particularly in this day and age of constant content creation, promotion, distribution, and deconstruction. But you make the call, gentle reader. Feel free to contact me if you disagree, okay?

Rating

Review: 4/5 stars.

Book Review – Communicating Design by Dan M. Brown

Communicating Design by Dan M. Brown

As a part of the required readings for my User-Centered Design course at Quinnipiac University, I purchased Communicating Design by Dan M. Brown. The book is … okay.

Communicating Design

Communicating Design by Dan M. Brown
Communicating Design by Dan M. Brown (cover image is from Amazon)

User-centered design is the act of putting together websites in a way that users will understand them quickly. The last thing a website owner should want is for users to be scratching their heads over how things work. Or, worse, leaving because a site is so frustrating.

Communicating Design by Dan M. Brown  takes this idea and brings it back to site development. That is, the reader is given the tools for presenting designs and their various documentations while a site is still in its nascent format.

Documentation

The book spends a lot of time talking about design documentation. While this is all well and good and appropriate, the book also spends a lot of time talking about how to present these various documents at meetings. I have conducted numerous meetings in my career, and so this felt superfluous. But it’s not just that I have the experience; it’s also that the basics of presenting a document at a meeting were iterated and reiterated. After a while, I hope that a designer would understand how to be diplomatic and good at explaining designs and documents and descriptions. Repeating this information grew tiresome in short order. While it is possible that the intention was for the chapters to be used as standalones, the basics of presenting in a meeting were already there. Why not just tell the reader to check back in Chapters One and Two?

He thoroughly explained many documents, though, and about one-quarter of the way through the book, I realized that the process of design resembles that of iterative software development. Stop, start, tweak, start again, etc.

The document types presented were as follows:

  • Personas
  • Concept Models
  • Site Maps
  • Flowcharts
  • Wireframes (this was rather helpful to me)
  • Deliverable basics
  • Design Briefs
  • Competitive Reviews
  • Usability Reports

My rating would have gone higher if I had not already been there, done that, with so much of what was covered in this book. It’s a good, thorough resource for beginners.

Rating

3/5

The Future of Lonely Writer and Adventures in Career Changing

The Future of Lonely Writer and Adventures in Career Changing

The Future

The future? Well, more specifically, I mean the future of the Lonely Writer website.

Adventures in Career Changing | Lonely Writer | Speculating about the Future
Speculating about the Future

Wait, what?

So as some readers may recall, I started that website as my capstone project at Quinnipiac University. I needed the project in order to graduate with a Master’s in Science in Communications (social media). Well, graduation happened in August of 2016. However, I had paid for the domain until the end of March of 2017. It seemed silly to try to cancel early.

But now it’s March of 2017.

Changes

Hence I want to change things up. My life has gotten considerably more busy since I graduated. I currently hold down four part-time work from home jobs, all centered around various tasks having to do with blogging. I also podcast every month and I blog for that podcast and for its parent podcast. Furthermore, I still blog about social media and even about fan fiction.

In addition, I still write and still work. I always try to get more of my work published. As a result, I just plain don’t have the time for yet another domain. Most noteworthy, I’d also like to save a few bucks. This project does … okay. Yet Adventures in Career Changing does better.

Therefore, I realized: I should combine the two.

What Will Happen?

The Lonely Writer YouTube channel and Facebook groups will both live on. And the Twitter stream won’t be going away, either. They do not require as much work as a separate blog. Plus, they are also free of charge. I am only talking about the other domain and those particular blog posts.

So, where are they going? Why, they are coming here! As a result, the blog URLs will change, and the blog posts themselves will be removed for later re-posting. I will change them up, too, so they will be more up to date. That’s all. So don’t worry, okay? That advice and that work will not go away. It’ll all just move here, down the street. I am excited about the move. I think it will help to freshen up Adventures without losing the focus, which is altering my career and also embracing social media. And the writing-related posts, of course, will give that more of a writing bent. That’s all.

Thank you so much for reading.

Book Review: Killer UX Design by Jodie Moule

Book Review: Killer UX Design by Jodie Moule

Killer UX Design by Jodie Moule is a decent beginning book on user-centered design. The process of user-centered design (at least, according to Ms. Moule) is close to iterative software development.

Book Review: Killer UX Design by Jodie Moule
Iterative Development Model (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe anyone familiar with iterative software development might not need all of the basic information in this work.

Not High Tech Enough?

Further, I found that Ms. Moule pushed for a lot of rather manual and paper-centric activities surrounding design. Roughly sketching out a design or even a set of wireframes might be of great use to designers. However, those of us who really can’t draw will end up with a lot of incoherent scribbles. Visio or even Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator would be the tools for this. Not that I don’t mind a cheaper and probably faster solution. But if all the illustrator can do is barely draw a circle or a square and a few stick figures, these sketches won’t necessarily make anything easier or more comprehensible.

Involving Users

Another curious aspect of the book was Ms. Moule’s push to involve users in numerous phases of the project. This made a great deal of sense. She starts users off with a kind of homework where they write about what interests them in the upcoming project. Users are invited to look at the sketches (again, bad sketches don’t necessarily help anyone, I feel). They are invited to evaluate the manufactured prototype. Also, to beta test the initial product and take it out for a spin. To my mind, the often manual and paper-based aspects of this made more sense. This is because users don’t always have access to the kind of technology, hardware and software, and talent that professional designers have as a matter of course.

Furthermore, the book reads well. However, the end portions of each chapter (and of the entire book) are the only parts you need to know. The remaining details are all well and good. However, since I already knew the basics of iterative software development, they were a bit superfluous to me.

The book is better than average and is certainly of help. Hence readers with less experience with iterative software development will likely rate this work higher than I do.

Rating

3/5

Quinnipiac Assignment 02 – ICM 502 – Information Design Common to Biblical Texts

ICM 502 – Information Design Common to Biblical Texts

Biblical texts are fascinating, as are their designs.

What we today might consider to be problematic designs were much more typical years ago, particularly in the area of holy texts. That’s not so surprising when you consider that bibles were in far wider circulation before the printing press (scribes knew their buyer persona) and that, even after it was invented, there was still a great deal of illiteracy.

The two factors created a condition whereby a lot of prayer books and the like would be lettered or printed, and there would be a lot of illustration so as to help the illiterate faithful follow along.

Modern Design Issues

Design requirements are different now. For one thing, only maybe 14 percent of the US population is illiterate. While that figure is higher than most of us would like, it’s a lot better than it was after the Roman Empire fell, and literacy was a feature of no more than maybe 30 – 40 percent of the populace.

Because we don’t need so many pictures to help us along, Rebecca Hagen and Kim Golombisky, in White Space is Not Your Enemy, offer a list of layout sins on pages 31 – 42:

13 Amateur Layout Errors

  1. Things that blink. Incessantly.
  2. Warped photos.
  3. Naked photos (e. g. they need a border).
  4. Bulky borders and boxes (use hairlines).
  5. Cheated margins.
  6. Centering everything.
  7. Corners and clutter – don’t fill the corners! Instead, group similar visual information together.
  8. Trapped negative space – keep the negative space at the edges.
  9. Busy backgrounds.
  10. Tacky type emphasis – reversing, stroking, using all caps, and underlining.
  11. Reversing – white copy on a dark background
  12. Stroking – outline characters
  13. All caps
  14. Underlining
  15. Bad bullets – use real bullets, not just asterisks or emoticons, and align them.
  16. Widows and orphans.
  17. Justified rivers – don’t use fully justified (both sides) blocks of type. Help eliminate this by increasing column width or reducing font point size, or both. Or just don’t do it!

Biblical Text Designs

When it comes to biblical texts, violations of sins 4, 7, 8, and 9, seem to be common. I chose images outside of the readings as these designs seem to be ubiquitous for older religious texts.

In this image from a Gutenberg bible (Genesis 1: 1) currently housed at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, a lot of these sins come to the fore.

Biblical Texts
Gutenberg bible (Genesis 1: 1) currently housed at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek
Biblical Texts
Koran currently housed in the David Collection at the Park Museer NE in Copenhagen, Denmark

The border, though lovely and possibly unique, is also bulky (#4) and busy (#9), and clutters the corner space (#7). Negative space is trapped within the border (#8).

Furthermore, the lack of paragraph or verse breaks makes the columns look uniform but uninviting to read. The text feels unapproachable and forbidding.

 

There’s another bulky border in this image from a Koran which is currently housed in the David Collection at the Park Museer NE in Copenhagen, Denmark. This one has a lot of white space, with no visible spacings between sentences, except for the gold circles. The border feels imperfectly drawn although not freehand. Perhaps it was traced. At least there’s no corner clutter, and the border is relatively simple and not busy, but the design still commits the sin of bulky borders (#4). The large amount of margin space also appears strange. Because this is a holy text, it probably wasn’t meant for taking notes or annotating the text. So why is so much of the space being wasted? Contrast that with what’s inside the borders, where the text is cramped and takes up nearly all of the real estate.

The Gutenberg bible seems to be saying with its design is that illiterate parishioners can follow along, as can young children. The Koran, in contrast, is instead telling its reader to focus on reading and not view any graven images.