Press Play: Resources

Tomorrow I’ll be giving a couple of presentations at the CASE Multimedia Workshop. One will be a reprise of last year’s “Serial Effect” presentation, while the other will be a new one entitled “Press Play: Engaging Constituents Through Games.” Below are a few resources mentioned in the presentation that may help if you’re interested in adding some gamification tactics into your communications tool box.

Evaluating Web Content

At my day job, we are in the early stages of a massive redesign and reorganization of the primary website at Roosevelt University. With nearly 100 content editors spread across two campuses, you can imagine that the amount of content on our site is pretty intimidating. If a website is a garden, ours has, in parts, gone back to prairie. A key component to taming this beast is going to have to be the institution of more clear and concrete content governance rules. One of the tools I’ve been toying around with for this purpose is a set of questions to ask stakeholders every time a new piece of content is requested, and whenever an old piece of content is reviewed. The questions are heavily influenced by Eileen Webb’s A List Apart article, “Evaluating Ideas,” which is a very quick, very worthwhile read.

Here is the set of questions so far:

  1. Who is the primary audience for this content?
  2. What task does this content help that audience complete?
  3. What business objectives of the University does this content fulfill, and how?
  4. How will audiences find or be driven to this content?
  5. Are there other/better channels through which this content can be communicated to the audience rather than through a webpage?
  6. Who owns this content?
  7. Who will maintain this content?
  8. How often and when will it be reviewed for accuracy, etc.?
  9. What would  constitute “success” for this content, and can we measure it?
  10. Under what circumstances would this content no longer be required and need to be removed from the website?

If you use a similar set of questions for ensuring your organization’s web content retains a high level of quality, I’d love to hear how you use them, and how they might differ from the ones listed above.

My 2015 Mixtape

I started making yearly mixtapes back in high school, when a family friend offered to trade me a subscription to Rolling Stone each Christmas in exchange for keeping her up to date on what the kids were listening to in those days. While I now have not the slightest idea what the kids are listening to today, the wonders of the internet allow me to share that annual mixtape with many more friends, plus a few random strangers. I hope you enjoy, and have great 2016.

Recording: Church Service in Fiji

Back in October, my wife and I were fortunate to be able to take a trip to Fiji, and during the part of our stay when we were in the Yasawa chain of islands, were able to attend a church service in the village of Soso on the island of Naviti.

Music is everywhere in Fiji, and churches are no exception. I recorded some of the songs (and a bit of the preaching) before and during the service. A big vinaka to the church members for allowing us to attend, and for welcoming us so whole-heartedly to their village.

#heweb15 or bust

This coming week, I’ll be attending the Annual Conference of the Higher Education Web Professionals’ Association (aka HighEdWeb) in Milwaukee. This is the fourth national HighEdWeb I’ve attended, and the second year I’ve co-chaired the Management and Professional Development track. I thought I was getting off easy this year, as it was supposed to be my first not putting on some sort of presentation (assuming you count the Johnny Cash cover band in Austin back in 2011), but as it turns out I’m also a late addition to a discussion panel during the Leadership Academy on Sunday.

If you’ll be there, please come up and say hi; if you’ve never been, but think three days of web nerdery, karaoke, Cards Against Humanity, and finding your tribe sounds like fun, start saving up those professional development dollars. You won’t find a more welcoming bunch of introverts in the Western hemisphere.

Higher Ed: Professionalize Web Content

(cross-posted on Medium)

Back in Ye Olden Days of higher ed websites, they were usually relatively simple affairs. Someone (almost always in IT) set up a web server and became, by default, the fabled “webmaster,” responsible for the whole shebang, from hosting to code to content updates. Sometimes, depending upon the size of the school, this happened multiple times on a given campus, as each college, professional school, and department began to realize the vast potential inherent in the web. By the time I graduated from college in 1999 and started my first job on the web, schools had started to recognize that running a successful, institution-wide website would take more than one person, and a centralized gatekeeper to the posting of new web content seemed more and more like an unnecessary bureaucratic bottleneck.

Sometime in the early 2000s, a hero arose: the content management system. The CMS would open content production to all, realizing the democratic dream of the early web. No longer would small departments be subject to the monarchial webmaster; instead, the power of the crowd would be harnessed, institutional efficiency would be increased, and we’d all live happily ever after.

Fast forward ten years or so, and most higher ed websites are, to put it bluntly, a mess. New pages sprout up like weeds, full of astounding mutations of conflicting voice and tone, contradictory information, and baffling formatting. Countless person-hours are lost to Byzantine information architecture, students are left unsure whether their important documents have been submitted, potential donors abandon their donation forms in frustration before hitting the “submit” button.

How did we get here? Under the guise of the great and terrible “other duties as assigned,” the CMS very often put content management and production in the hands of smart, capable people… who have little or no training in, interest in, or understanding of the web as a medium. The office of what used to be the “webmaster” was left putting out fires, retraining CMS users (and then retraining them again each year), and desperately trying to steer a boat in which dozens or even hundreds of content editors were rowing at wildly varying paces in opposite directions. 

Sadly, as Tim Nekritz has pithily pointed out, a “content management system creates neither content nor management nor a system.” The web was a technology problem, we thought, so we dedicated our scarce institutional resources to technological solutions. But when we fail our users — when students can’t find accurate financial aid information, when administrators get lost in Kafkaesque redirects between departments — the problem very rarely lies in our technology, and almost always in our content.

The solution, or at least part of the solution, is to start treating content production — and I use “production” here in a broad sense, including not only writing but also engaging content at the levels of strategy, presentation, multimedia integration, information architecture, and so on — as a field in which we need to start investing human resources as well as technical. 

In short, our content should be produced by content professionals.

Content production has what I think of as all the hallmarks of a specialized profession. It requires:

Special skills: Because people read differently on the web, writing for the web is different than writing for print. This is especially the case if you are dealing with academics who have been charged with creating web content. Academic prose is intended to promote deep engagement and complexity of thought; web content is there to help users get things done. Beyond writing,  web content production requires thinking in multiple dimensions. In addition to the length and height of the printed page, it adds the depth of hyperlinks, embedded media, and so on. Remember the episode of the Simpsons where Homer gets transported into a 3D world? That’s sort of what moving from print to the web is like.

Specialized knowledge: How many of the people creating content in your CMS know what “semantic code” is, or why it’s important? Or know how search engines work? How to optimize images for multiple screen sizes? This medium changes so quickly that it’s difficult (if not impossible) for those of us who love it and spend all of our time in it to keep up with the state of the art. How can we expect those for whom it is not really their job to stay up to date?

Special tools: At its core, the web is still just HTML and CSS (with, more often than not, some JavaScript on top of it). The CMS makes these tools more readily accessible to the layman, in the way Home Depot makes the ability to do electrical work more accessible to any homeowner; but in the end, you’re almost always going to get better results with someone who really understands the tools they’re working with than with the handyman special. 

Moving higher ed toward a professionalization of content production may mean a recentralization of that function, but I suspect that many of the folks currently charged with this work won’t object too strenuously. There are a lot of people out there who thought their departments really needed a website… until they got one, and realized what went in to keeping it up. How much more efficient it would be, both for our employees and especially for our users, to let people concentrate on the jobs they’re trained in and good at. Let teachers teach, administrators administer, and let web professionals run your website.

The Serial Effect: Audio Content #casemmw

Notes for “The Serial Effect: Audio-Based Content,” presented at the 2015 CASE Multimedia Workshop in Washington, DC on June 19, 2015.

Podcasts/Audio cited:

Interactive and video cited:

Articles cited:

Additional reading and listening:

And, of course, don’t forget the Serial Effect Spotify Playlist:

Should You Start a Podcast? Some Stats

I handcoded my first podcast RSS feed roughly a decade ago (I don’t remember exactly when we started it, but that podcast, of events in the University of Chicago’s World Beyond the Headlines series, was named one of Wired magazine’s favorite education podcasts back in 2006). Since then, podcasting as a medium has had its ups and downs, but with the runaway success of NPR’s “Serial” last year, it certainly seems to be on an upswing. I’ve been digging around for some numbers about podcasting both for an upcoming conference presentation and to determine whether it makes sense for my current institution to jump on the bandwagon, and thought I’d share them here:

  • Overall, according to the New York Times, podcast consumption “is up 25 percent year-over-year.”
  • According to Edison Research, as of February 2015, 33% of Americans over 12 had listened to some form of podcast, with 17% (some 46 million people) having listened to a podcast in the previous month and 10% (27 million) in the previous week.
  • People who already have a college degree are more likely to listen (perhaps providing a great opportunity to reach potential grad students), but the numbers still break down to 24% (ever) / 11% (in the past month) / and 6% (in the past week) for those without a degree (ibid).
  • As of 2012 (the latest for which I could find age-related numbers) listeners between 12-24 were the largest single audience for podcasts, making up 26% of the audience, with those 24-35 close behind at 24%.
  • Edison Research also estimates that nearly 2% of total time spent listening to audio is devoted to podcast listening, and those who do listen to podcasts listen to an average of 6 per week.
  • Pew just posted some podcast-related numbers as well; they put the number of podcast downloads for 2014 at 2.6 billion (up from 1.9 billion in 2013), and the number of actively hosted podcasts in 2014 at 22,000 (up from 16,000 the year before).
  • Worldwide, Apple says that there are over 1 billion podcast subscriptions in its store.

Clearly, the podcast is a still-growing medium. However, the great part about such audio content is that “the podcast” in and of itself is but one of many channels for distribution. Whether you’ve subscribed to their podcasts or not, chances are you’ve listened to something on, for example, NPR’s website that was *also* distributed as a podcast. Likewise, your audio content could simultaneously live and be discoverable on its own in a Soundcloud channel (as videos are on YouTube), AND be embeddable in your news stories, blog posts, or other online content, meaning that folks who wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to download a podcast are still able to encounter and engage with our content. And of course, all of this is easily trackable, so you can know if people are interacting with your content or not.

Asana as Editorial Calendar

Back in November, during a discussion session at Confab Higher Ed, I mentioned that at Roosevelt University we had started trying to use project management tool Asana as a team-wide editorial calendar. @wrstknitterever asked in the backchannel how we did so.

It’s taken a couple of months, but I’ve finally been able set down some notes on our process as it has evolved.

This post assumes at least a passing familiarity with the conventions of Asana. If you’ve never used it before take a look around their site. Essentially, it’s an easy-to-use, inexpensive (in many cases, free) project management tool that added calendar functionality relatively recently. So while we found that it works as an editorial calendar, it’s also a sneaky way of introducing project management into a traditionally decentralized office.

So here are my hints and tips for using Asana as an editorial calendar:

  • Chances are, not everyone on your team will be as excited about adopting this technology as you are. Start building buy-in from all the people who will be using it as early as possible. Explain to them why an editorial calendar is necessary, demo it for them, make it as easy as possible for them to adopt it, even if it means a little extra work for you.
  • Set up a separate workspace for the editorial calendar. If you use Asana for personal tasks as well, it may mean the occasional double-entry in another workspace, but depending on how many editorial tasks your team is involved in, the workspace can get crowded very quickly.
  • Add each new content “package” as a project. For example, you might have a one-off press release on a new faculty hire as a project, or an entire issue of an alumni magazine, or a week’s worth of multimedia content surrounding commencement, each as its own project. 
  • Each project can then be broken down into tasks, preferably with a due date since you’re building a calendar. For example, “write story X,” “edit story X,” “post video for story X to YouTube,” “post story X to the website,” and “promote story X on Facebook” might be tasks (each assigned to a different team member) for package/project “Story X.” Or, if your project comprises a lot of smaller pieces (e.g, an alumni magazine), you can make each story a task and then create subtasks for “write, “edit,” “post,” etc.
  • If the project is centered around an event, like commencement, create an unassigned task with a due date for the day of the event — that way the event will show up on the “Team Calendar.” The Team Calendar serves as your master calendar, but each team member can choose to see just their own set of tasks, or all the tasks related to a given project, then jump back to the Team Calendar.
  • Use Asana’s attachment and commenting abilities to keep your assets and discussions centralized and reduce miscommunication (as well as the number of emails with 3MB photo attachments filling everyone’s inboxes).
  • Have weekly meetings with as many of your team members as possible to review what’s on tap for next week, and to clean up the calendar. Add new projects and tasks as necessary, and archive projects that have been completed or killed. We do this in a room with a projector and only one person manipulating the calendar, so everyone can see the changes immediately.
Are you using Asana in a similar way? Have additional tips or ways to improve our process? Please leave them in the comments. Asana also has some tips available.