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).
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.
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, According to Lee Odden
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.
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.
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.
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?
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).
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 –
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.
Social Media Marketing by Liana Evans was a book that I might have read a little too late in the semester. In all fairness, I read this book toward the end of my first social media class at Quinnipiac (ICM 522).
Hence it felt like I already knew a lot of what was being written, but that was likely more a function of timing than anything else.
Been There, Done That
So the book is interesting. However, I had just read a ton of other works about very similar work, strategies, and ideas. Therefore, it ended up being maybe one book too many. Plus it ended up an optional read, anyway. Furthermore, other works seemed to have said it better. So these days, books just do not get published fast enough to take proper advantage of trends and new insights. Hence blogs, in general (although not always!) end up more current and relevant.
Possibly the best takeaway I got from the book was when Evans talked about online communities, particularly in Chapter 33 – You Get What You Give. So on page 255, she writes –
You need to invest your resources
Time to research where the conversation is
Time and resources to develop a strategy
and Time and staff resources to engage community members
Time to listen to what they are saying, in the communities
Time and resources to measure successes and failures
Giving valuable content
It is similar to a bank account
Don’t bribe the community
Rewards come in all fashions
Research who your audience is
Give your audience something valuable and/or exclusive
Don’t expect you’ll know everything
Listen to what your audience says
Admit when you are wrong
Thank your community
Finally, much like we’ve been telling people for years on Able2know – listen before you speak!
This is something of an updated review of Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff as, by the time I got to the ICM 522 Social Media Platforms class at Quinnipiac University, I had already read this seminal work.
But no matter. Because this is still a terrific work by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li, and it remains more than a little relevant.
And in fact, I think I understand it better than I ever have.
Changing the Way You Think about Online Marketing for Good
For Li and Bernoff, the online world is a rich and diversified community. And in that large umbrella community, there are several smaller communities. But unlike in the case of the classic Matryoshka (Russian nesting dolls), there is an enormous amount of overlap.
Above all, they put forward the idea of a system called POST. And if you read nothing else, read this part of not just my review but of their book itself.
Personae – who are your potential buyers? Who are your readers? And who makes up your audience?
Objectives – what do you expect to get out of going online, and continuing online, or going in a different direction online?
Strategies – how will you implement your ideas? What comes first? In addition, what must wait?
Technologies – which platforms will you use? How will you use these differently as your strategy begins to click into place?
So the last time I read Groundswell, I suspect that I did not really understand POST.
And now I know never to start a social media campaign without it. So thanks to Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff! This work is a classic for a damned fine reason. It really is that good. Because you need this book in your social media library.
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.
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:
Wireframes (this was rather helpful to me)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Things that blink. Incessantly.
Naked photos (e. g. they need a border).
Bulky borders and boxes (use hairlines).
Corners and clutter – don’t fill the corners! Instead, group similar visual information together.
Trapped negative space – keep the negative space at the edges.
Tacky type emphasis – reversing, stroking, using all caps, and underlining.
Reversing – white copy on a dark background
Stroking – outline characters
Bad bullets – use real bullets, not just asterisks or emoticons, and align them.
Widows and orphans.
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.
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.