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Book Reviews Quinnipiac Social Media Class

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

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Book Reviews SEO Site Development Social Media

Book Review: The Yahoo! Style Guide

Book Review: The Yahoo! Style Guide

The Yahoo! Style Guide. For my social media writing class at Quinnipiac University, we were required to purchase this book and use it as a reference.

However, instead of just referencing the guide as needed, I read it from cover to cover. And it is a fantastic guide.

Writing Online

So for most people, the act of writing online seems to mainly consist of ejecting words and hoping that they will somehow collide in a manner that is coherent or at least semi-understandable. The Yahoo! Style Guide, instead, serves to provide some well-needed guidance.

Book Review: The Yahoo! Style Guide
Cover of The Yahoo! Style Guide via Amazon

Rather than displaying seemingly antiquated grammar rules, the guide provides logical explanations. Hence as the guide says on Page 50,

“Scan an article reading only the headlines. If you can understand the flow and substance of the story, your content passed the test. If something seems confusing, you may need to rewrite the headings or even reorder some paragraphs.”

So to my mind, this makes infinite sense. Consider how quickly we all skim articles and newspapers these days, whether online or in dead tree format. Headlines and graphics grab our attention. Perhaps they are more fraught with meaning than they should be, but those are the current rules of the game. Therefore, writers on the Internet need to understand that headings, image captions and the like are important to the human reader.

In addition, and unsurprisingly, these elements are also important to machine readers, e. g. search engine bots.

Worth the Price of Admission

And then on Page 4, the guide talks about eye tracking. Yahoo! has surveyed users, and they have come up with an understanding of a general pattern as  to how people browse websites. Here’s what they said:

  • “People scan the main sections of a page to determine what it’s about and whether they want to stay longer
  • They make decisions about the page in as little as three seconds
  • If they decide to stay, they pay the most attention to the content in the upper top part of the screen”

So you’d better get your pages and posts in gear, and pay particularly close attention to headings and the content that sits above the fold. Because the guide shows you the way.

Review: 5/5 stars.

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Book Reviews

Andy Harris’s HTML, XHTML, and CSS All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies, a Book Review

Andy Harris’s HTML, XHTML, and CSS All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies

XHTML? I don’t mind reviewing a book with the word “Dummies” in the title. It helped me – I’ll even admit that.

Andy Harris’s HTML, XHTML, and CSS All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies is an interesting first book on website creation and design. As a bonus, it includes a CD with examples and code.

XHTML

Code

The book wastes no time and, by the tenth page, you’re already writing a little code. Mr. Harris’s style is to learn by doing. You read, you type, you copy what he’s written, you try it out. I found myself almost immediately altering his work to see what would happen. When the code didn’t break, or if it could be fairly readily fixed, it was a victory.

All concepts are explained, even those which may at the time seem like overkill, such as the practical differences among the .jpg, .gif and .bmp image formats. One of the earlier concepts explained is why CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) are the way to go. By the time you get to Chapter Two of the first book (the book is divided into eight mini-books), Mr. Harris is already talking about online validation. And that’s a good thing, as that by itself can help a novice web developer to fix recalcitrant code.

No Design and No SEO

There is very little about design and virtually nothing on SEO. Whether that is a pitch to bundle Sue Jenkins’s Web Design All-in-One for Dummies book with this one, I don’t know. The ploy works, though, and Amazon reports that the two books are often purchased together. I was able to jump in and create my own social media website while I was in the process of reading this book. I also must add — Mr. Harris is jazzed about what he does. And that help you to become excited about what you can do with HTML code, CSS and XML, and even JavaScript and PHP/MySQL.

Basics

Between the two of them, read this one first and learn the basics for creating your website. Then read the design book in order to give it some beauty. But lay the foundation first.

Rating

3/5

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Book Reviews

The Cluetrain Manifesto: 10th Anniversary Edition, a Book Review

The Cluetrain Manifesto: 10th Anniversary Edition

The Cluetrain Manifesto: 10th Anniversary Edition by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger is one of those books where you are being given a message.

That message

The Cluetrain Manifesto: 10th Anniversary Edition, a Book Review
Cover via Amazon

A pounding, relentless message.

Here’s a message.

Oh yeah, a message.

Look, a message!

You get the idea.

And what is this grand and glorious message? It is this: Markets are Conversations.

Um, okay. That’s it?

Yeah, that’s it. Oh and by the way, markets are conversations.

You just told me that.

More of it

Yeah, well, they are. Did I mention that markets are conversations? Oh and by the way, marketers and PR people are mean and nasty and awful. And they and other typical business people are a vaguely (and not so vaguely) sinister stereotype. Whereas all of the people (somehow, there are no details of who these typical business people and PR personnel are) are righteous, pure, just and true. They are individuals and deserve to receive our communication, and our undivided listening attention, like all individuals.

Uniqueness?

Like, uh, I’m unique, just like everyone else?

No, no, no! You’re a unique and wonderful and special personal with marvelous gifts and enormous accuracy in understanding good and positive and possible markets. And you do it all while making fun of typical business people who obviously not only do not have a clue but are also, let’s face it, heartless, cold, inaccurate, not listening, not worthy of the time of day or a significant study. And otherwise they should be ignored and forgotten, left to die on the vine.

But me, I’m a marketing type. The kind you said was evil.

So you are. Well, you’re evil, then.

Cut it out already!

You don’t even realize that I get it, this thing you are talking about, this point you keep dancing around as you keep beating the same old tired drum. Markets are conversations! Okay, great. I get that. And I have read it before although, in fairness, it was likely copying you. But after that – and after repeating this mantra at least a good 16 or so times in your book – what else have you got to say, other than that the creature known as Business as Usual needs to die? Fine, I get that, too. I’ve worked in traditional corporations, and I know that the work there can feel soul-killing. But at the same time, there are people who thrive in such environments, people who seem pleasant, intelligent, respected and even, at times, hip.

Out of touch?

But, but, but, those people are supposed to be like Richard Nixon in wingtips on the beach, so cluelessly out of tune with everything that they cannot possibly be reeled in.

Reeled in, to the Cluetrain way of thinking?

And at some point, and of course I am exaggerating, but the bottom line is, the book decries business as usual and stereotypical thinking, yet it turns right around and stereotypes the very people who it claims need to change the most. That is, of course, a lovely and time-honored way to get people to listen to you and change their methodologies to your way of thinking: make fun of them and make them feel small.

Not.

Where is it going?

So somewhere along the line, Cluetrain feels like it lost its way, like it cannot figure out how to be brief. Like it cannot comprehend that talking down to people – while it criticizes business as usual for talking down to people – is more than a little ironic, and that they are not on the happy end of that irony. Like it has almost become the very thing it says not to be: a business method and rule and playbook.

The positives

There are interesting observations in here, to be sure. But overlong tales of this, that and the other diverting digression bog those observations down. The Internet is full of people who are spouting and selling hokum! Yes, well The Refreshments said that before, and better: the world is full of stupid people. This is not, sadly, news. Oh and big business is not nimble and providing individual attention is lovely and wonderful, but hard to do if you’re very large and/or if the number of individuals you’re addressing is huge. This isn’t front-page material, either.

One nugget

There is one nugget of interest: when you’re dealing with said enormous number of individuals, you generally don’t need to address them all as individuals – you just need to work with a few and the others will see that you care about individuals. And you’re pretty much set there. This makes sense in a Groundswell (a far better book, in my opinion) sort of a way, in that there are more people online who are reading and lurking versus writing or critiquing, so a message to one can be like a message to a thousand.

All of that panning for gold, and only one nugget? Perhaps I am cynical, and I’ve clearly read far too many Internet marketing books lately for my own good. But The Cluetrain Manifesto just left me cold. Although it did, happily, remind me of this video:

Rating

Review: 2/5 stars.

Categories
Book Reviews

Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, a Book Review

Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff is one of those books where you realize, aha! I am learning something big.

At least, that’s the idea.

Cover of Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
Cover of Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

The most important piece is the Social Technographics profile. Online people can be divvied up as follows:

  • Creators – these people make original content. Bloggers, article writers, website creators and maintainers and people who upload audio and video all belong to this group. It’s a good 18% of the United States, as of the writing of the book (2008). I do everything on that list, so that puts the Creator stamp right in my wheelhouse.
  • Critics – these people react to what’s been created by the Creators. They comment on blogs and forums. And they produce ratings and reviews. They edit wikis. They encompass a good 25% of the US. But I do all of those things, too. So am I a Critic, instead?

More Types

  • Collectors – these people save URLs and tags on Social Bookmarking sites (things like delicious). They vote on Digg. And they use RSS. They comprise about 12% of America. Hey, I do all of those things, too! Am I now a Collector?
  • Joiners – these people participate in and maintain profiles on social networking sites such as Facebook. They make up a good 25% of the US and, you guessed it, I do these things, too.
  • Spectators – these people are also called Lurkers. They read but don’t comment, categorize or classify. I am occasionally like this, but usually not. This tribe comprises 48% of the United States. And,
  • Inactives – these people just plain don’t participate. It does beg the question, though, since they are online — what do they do? They might just pay bills and read email, or do sudoku puzzles, I suppose. They make up 41% of America.

Wait, That’s Over 100%

If you look at the percentages and add them up, you get over 100%. Hence, it’s obvious (and as I have proven by using myself as a test case), most people don’t fit quite so neatly into one slot or another. Many of us wear many different hats. And some of that may be a function of being a Creator. If you want to promote your website and/or blog, you often need to be a part of a forum or a social networking site, and you generally want to help promote your own work by social bookmarking it, or at least seeing if others have. Hence you’re also doing a bit of lurking (er, spectating). About the only thing you aren’t is Inactive.

And what of people who aren’t online at all? They are the ultimate in Inactivity.

Analysis

Now, what does this all mean? You can understand these profiles in terms of demographics. Hence if you are an American woman in your fifties, your social technographics profile is such that you’re more likely to be a Spectator than anything else (73%).

You can also look (for this is a tool created by Forrester, based upon extensive research) at what companies are like, when it comes to social technographics. For companies purchasing hardware, the biggest chunk are Spectators: 68%. But there is also a fairly large chunk of Critics, 38%.

Essentially what this is saying is, typical hardware purchasing companies are going to relate best to reading (although not commenting upon) blogs and participating in forum communities. The next biggest group is Creators, 31%, although I suspect consumers of robotics products might skew more heavily into the Creator realm – many people who are interested in robotics actually build them.

Case Studies

The book then provides case studies of how various companies tapped into the groundswell, either by creating a wiki, or opening up a community, or starting to blog. If companies matched their customers’ (or employees’) social technographics profiles well, and the companies began these ventures clear-eyed and without an intent to deceive and double talk, they prospered. If not, well….

One major element that was not stressed very much, and probably should have been, is that any number of these ventures takes money. They take time, too, of course, but it certainly helps if a company has the wherewithal to dedicate an employee to evangelizing a wiki, or hire a Community Manager or allow its employees to devote less of their time to selling or meetings (or analysis or scheduling or auditing or whatever said employees generally do) and set aside a portion of their day, week or month to blogging.

In the world of startups, of course, there are people dedicated to blogging. However, they’re also dedicated to any number of things, such as marketing, tweeting, PR and even assisting with business decisions. Such is the nature of a startup, of course. You wear almost as many hats as a Creator does.

Is this book worth it? Absolutely. Great job, Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li!

Rating

5/5

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Book Reviews

Sue Jenkins’s Web Design All-in-One for Dummies, a Book Review

Sue Jenkins’s Web Design All-in-One for Dummies

For Dummies Book Display

Sue Jenkins’s Web Design All-in-One for Dummies serves as a decent resource for improving your website and even for starting your own web development business. It’s chockful of ideas but one glaring omission was a CD. It would have made some sense and improved matters considerably if some of the concepts could have been shown not only on the page but also on a computer screen. There were references to the Dummies website but that’s only semi-helpful.

But that’s a fairly small quibble.

The book spends a lot of time talking about the web development business, and gives tips on how to deal with clients. This is all well and good but does not work for someone such as myself who is building a site for my own purposes but not as an entrée into a new career. Furthermore, there is something of an overreliance on Dreamweaver. For amateur web designers not interested in forking over nearly $400 for the software, those sections of the book were also eminently skippable.

Plus it helps a great deal if you already know some html and css. These are both explained but not in depth.

Some Help

However, these caveats aside, the book is a helpful resource. Interesting tips abound. These include how to make a plain printing stylesheet for a page needing separate printer formatting, like a resume. There is even a small section on SEO. However, it does not cover everything that can be done. For that I would recommend Michael Fleischner’s book.

While this book is somewhat more advanced than a beginning web development work, it struck me as being intermediate in scope. It ended up good for a lot of things, but perhaps a bit incomplete. For more advanced techniques and ideas, I’d recommend looking for works on not only design but also on usability. But this is a great place to start.

Rating

Review: 3/5 stars.

Categories
Book Reviews Work

Robot Building for Beginners by David Cook, a Book Review

Robot Building for Beginners by David Cook

Robot Building for Beginners by David Cook serves, as to be expected, as a beginner’s guide to building a small working robot. In this case, the robot’s body is mainly constructed from a sandwich container, so the robot is named Sandwich. Its intended usage is to follow a line. I purchased and read this book in an effort to understand more about my colleagues and work at my employer, Neuron Robotics. It did not disappoint.

Do It!

Robot Building
Neuron Robotics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In order to construct Sandwich, Cook walks the reader through various aspects of not only robot building and design, but also basic electrical engineering concepts. While the book is certainly no substitute for even one semester of Electrical Engineering, it does help to bring some understanding to a layman like me. In the interests of full disclosure, I majored in Philosophy in college. However, my father and father-in-law are both engineers, and my husband works as an engineering draftsman. I have heard some of these terms before. Cook explains terms like multimeter, capacitance and resistance fairly well. This is in a lively and engaging style that never talks down to the reader.

Entertaining

Cook’s good humor extends to a section showcasing equipment that he’s fried by making various mistakes. He makes it clear. Be safety-conscious and budget-conscious (he provides specifics and current pricing for most of the items used and referred to). However recognize that, sometimes, stuff is just going to happen. You’ll break or burn things, or just not get them right the first time. Shrug it off and move on – it’s all a part of the learning experience.

The book is large and difficult to digest except in small bites. It is intended as a step by step guide to Sandwich’s construction, but I think a better usage – in particular for laymen reading the book but not actually building the ‘bot – comes as a reference and resource guide.

It almost makes me want to try soldering again – but I’ll have to fight my coworkers to get to the soldering station.

Rating

Review:3/5 stars.

Categories
Book Reviews Content Strategy Facebook LinkedIn SEO Social Media Twitter

Book Review: Read This First: The Executive’s Guide to New Media-from Blogs to Social Networks

Executive’s Guide to New Media-from Blogs to Social Networks

Executive Alert! I recently finished reading Read This First: The Executive’s Guide to New Media-from Blogs to Social Networks by Ron Ploof.

Executive

Like most books on Social Media, it’s a bit behind the times, but that is to be expected, as the time from concept to print is often longer than the shelf life of many Social Media initiatives and news items.

Now, I would like to be fair.

 

Since I have read a number of Social Media books, I already know a lot of this. The main thrust of this book is to get to corporate executive types. That is, this is for people who have no time, and little desire to actually learn much about Social Media, but they still want to be up on things. Okay, so far, so good. However, I think that the medium of a book is, perhaps, misplaced. After all, if busy execs are too caught up in other things to really get into Social Media, then how are they gonna find the time to read a book? And this is a short one — it’s only about 150 or so pages, but still!

Seriously, when I was doing rate analyses at a larger insurer, I was told to make them so short that any executive reading them wouldn’t even have to use their vertical scroll wheel (you’d be surprised what you can do with small print and graphics). And that was back in 1999. In the over ten years since then, every executive has only gotten busier.

Positives

Be that as it may, it’s a fairly breezy read. Like I said, I know a lot of this stuff already, so to me it’s mainly skimmable, but it could be of use to a person with limited familiarity with them new fangled things like Facebook. I mean, it explains that Twitter is a microblogging service, etc. Certainly this is true, but I do hope that the intended audience for this book has read a few articles in the NY Times, The Wall Street Journal, The ABA Journal, Fox News, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, CNN.com or the like and so has probably already learned that nugget of information from one if not all of them.

Takeaways

For me, the most vital bit of information came at the end of the book (why is that always the case? For a book intended to be a cut to the chase for executives, putting this at the end is rather self-defeating). Essentially, it came in the form of an overall strategy, referred to as a New Media Plan, but really, this is decent advice for any sort of a corporate undertaking:

  • Set goals with timelines – well, yes. It makes sense to not just go blindly into things, plus budgets and patience are not infinite. However, I would say, there often needs to be more patience with this type of marketing than one might think. Yes, it’s fast and easy to get things out there — but it’s often not so fast and easy to reap what you have sown.
  • Develop a measurement plan – how else would you know whether anything was working? Ploof is careful to note that this might not just be raw numbers, and the items you’re measuring need to be germane. As in, if post a funny LOLcats Youtube on your site, you might get lots of hits but, unless you’re selling LOLcats tee shirts or the like, is anyone going to stick around and actually purchase your product? Plus, what if your market is B2C and only consists of five companies? Having three readers, and have them as major influencers in three of those companies is a home run, a rousing success, a touchdown, a hole in one, you get the idea and I’m tired of the sports metaphors. Having a million readers and none of them from the five all-important companies is one of those things that looks lovely on paper but means diddly.

More Takeaways

  • Create a Content Creation Engine – this is vital and it really needs more play, not just here, but anywhere. Creating a blog (like mine, even) means a commitment to the readership. It means, you intend to be there for the long haul. And so that means finding ways to get good content, make it, polish it, etc. For someone like me, I look for books like this, and news articles and other things that I think my readers might like and that fit in with my vision of Social Media marketing. For a large corporation like Coca-Cola, content could be generated in lots of ways – say, recipes, or commercial archives or news stories just to name three off the top of my head.
  • Align with traditional marketing programs – absolutely. There should be a symbiotic relationship between the two.
  • Participate within the community – this means, figure out (use Google Analytics for this) which keywords your customers and readers are using to get to you. Also, use those same keywords to go out into the ‘net and see what else it is they are seeing. Which blogs and communities are they getting to? Or which Flickr photo streams? Which Youtube videos are up? Add comments, like on Facebook, etc. And do damage control if you have to — as this is a way to find the bad with the good, too.

Additional Takeaways

  • Learn how to help community leaders – which bloggers really get your company? Maybe you’re a role-playing game site and there are fan fiction writers – so, who’s really good? Who are your fans? The ‘net has a lot of positives with the negatives. It’s not all about putting out fires. It’s also about promoting the good stuff.
  • Build your own online community – this can be through forums, it can be a Facebook page, it can be getting Twitter followers, etc. and,
  • Analyze and Adjust – but of course! If you’re about to hit an iceberg, you might wanna change course.

All in all, it was a decent read,. However, the strategy piece at the end, for me, mattered the most. Otherwise, I would suggest reading Avinash Kaushik or Shama Hyder Kabani.

Rating

2/5

Categories
Book Reviews SEO Site Development

Guerilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson, a Book Review

Guerilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson

Guerilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson is the concept of succeeding in a small business by essentially paying attention to details and doing many things yourself. Simple ideas, perhaps, but they often seem to be missed.

Some of this may be self-evident.

Adventures in Career Changing | Guerilla Marketing
Guerilla Marketing

After all, a small business, almost by definition, does not have a lot of capital just lying around. Often everything needs to be done by an impressively small cadre of workers. Yet we also live in a society where it seems more people than ever before just want to pay someone to take care of whatever needs to be done. Yet that is wrong-headed.

The Details

Levinson’s mantra is that it’s not necessary to invest a lot of money. That is, if you’re willing to instead invest time, energy, imagination and information. And, I might add, patience and attention. For a small business owner, this means having a passion about what you do. All too often, it seems, entrepreneurs get into a particular field because they cannot find a more traditional means of employment. After all, the economy has been rather sour for the past few years. Or they chucked a traditional job but without a vision or a plan. Neither method will work for long because the entrepreneur’s heart is not in it.

What the entrepreneur needs – beyond the details of how to work a crowd or give a talk – is enthusiasm and passion about what he or she is doing or selling. Going through the motions is simply not going to cut it. Since the entrepreneur is one of the only faces of the company (and, perhaps, its only face), the entrepreneur must be jazzed. This is for everything – presenting, talking, handing out business cards, performing demonstrations, writing copy, etc.

Upshot

If the entrepreneur is excited, the prospects can be as well. All in all, an interesting read, and good for the detailed tips, but a more current version would have been a better choice.

Rating

Review: 1/5 stars.

Categories
Book Reviews Quinnipiac

Writing, Ethics, and Quinnipiac

Writing, Ethics, and Quinnipiac

For the Spring Semester of 2015, I decided to double my course load and try to graduate a bit more rapidly. This entailed taking two classes. Little was I to know, when I signed up for these courses, that I would also get a job and my book, Untrustworthy, would be published. Hence my workload began to feel a bit out of control.