Do It Yourself

16 11 2009

do it yourself

Today in one of my classes we had a Skype guest speaker, David Mathison, author/editor of Be The Media, one of our class textbooks. The book has already been a great help in revealing some cool tips, tools, and tricks for making a presence on the web. The book also shares ways of building good content coupled with what to do with it, and how to spread your message. But for all the great advice in the book, and from Mathison’s appearance in class today, there is one message to be left with…

Do it yourself!

We are in a digital age of do it yourself, where you can write, build, create, design, whatever, whenever, and however you want. And then through social media tools like Facebook and Twitter you can gather fans and a following. Think about viral videos, they are just spread through word of mouth and posting on walls and blogs. The power of that marketing strategy is not limited to viral videos, but can reach out to websites, books, television shows… whatever!

Mathison also talked about going the do it yourself route for reasons of owning your content. With his personal experience at large publishing companies, they wanted to take out large chunks of his book. Instead, he took a different route and kept the book as he, the creator, intended.

Do it yourself is also by and large the cheaper route. Most of the tools you would need for creation and advertisement are free, or extremely cheap. Websites are becoming increasingly easy to make and maintain, and their cost keeps dropping. I am personally in the beginning steps of grabbing my own domain and site. First I will be researching different hosting sites. Any recommendations?

Now, the approach and tools you use totally depends on what content you are trying to make/promote. Just remember, you don’t need large expensive companies to do any of the work for you. A quick search will probably yield dozens of great tools to accomplish whatever you are looking for. Or jeeze, there’s probably an app for that.

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Disney Quest: Virtually Awesome

9 11 2009

disneyquest

It’s about time that focus of Interactive Media left the Internet and the laptop, and moved to other places in the real world. Like theme parks! I’m talking about Disney Quest, the completely indoor interactive theme park located in Downtown Disney in Orlando, Florida. Five stories of interactive fun, games, and rides.

Now, DQ has been around since 1998, but shows some promise for the future of interactive theme parks. There are fully immersive virtual reality rides, mixed well with interactive “shows” (Animation Studio and Music Studio demonstrations), and good ol’ fashion arcade video games.

But lets take a look at some of the cool Virtual Reality rides.

In the Virtual Jungle Cruise you paddle your way down a virtual prehistoric river, encountering dinosaurs and other dangers. As you sit in a raft and paddle your oar with your raft-mates, you are watching your team cruise down a river on the large screen.

Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride is a virtual reality game that fully immerses the player in a virtual interactive world. Players wear VR masks and sit in front of controls and help them navigate through the world. In the virtual world you are riding on a carpet through Agrabah, helping Aladdin on his quest.

Cyber Space Mountain is by far the coolest ride at Disney Quest. With some help from Bill Nye the Science Guy you can build and ride your own roller coaster. Really! You pick each and every loop, twist, and turn, as well as the speed, music, and the virtual world you soar through. Save it on your DQ card, and when you step up to the simulator, prepare for the best roller coaster ride you’ve ever built.

Disney Quest has been around since 1998, and surprisingly little has been updated since then. The prices sure did change, but the rides and games are still predominately the same as when they opened. It leaves me wondering, why are there not more interactive theme parks like Disney Quest?

But more importantly, it leaves me wondering… what’s next?





Design and Content – Just like PB&J

2 11 2009

“If you build it, they will come” – Glorious words whispered by dead baseball stars who really wanted to play some posthumous ball with James Earl Jones.

james-of-earl-jones-field-of-dreams

But what the quote really is suggesting is that content should be a main focus. If you build a successful message, or a site with great content, everything else will begin to fall into place afterwards. I would like to suggest that the quote is only partially right, yet still totally an epic.

Content needs to be beautifully meshed with an aesthetically pleasing design, or it will sit alone, unread, unused. Now, the design aspect of the Internet realm considers the fact that a majority of its users are not graphic design artist… or maybe artistic in any sort of way. But you don’t need to be. Look at this blog page for example, it was used with a simple template, and plugging in pictures, banners, and the like. Customizable enough, yet it doesn’t require me to be overly skilled in design.

But even with templates, it is still possible to severely screw up a site. A couple suggestions for Do’s and Do Not’s when it comes to any sort of design:

  • Have a color scheme that is easy to read, not harsh on the eyes, and fits the overall feel of the site. Font legibility is important too.
  • Don’t leave anything on the default settings. Sure it is better than nothing, but everyone can tell default settings, and will know how much effort you put into your design.
  • Remember that sometimes less is more. Empty white space is just as powerful as colors and movement. Simple designs are usually less confusing and distracting to the eye and will help retain attention.

This is NOT an appeal that content doesn’t matter. Trust me, content is crucial too. Without content, a good design is nothing but flare. Without design, content is an ugly duckling, waiting to flourish. The winning combo is the subtle mix of the two. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but I say don’t give a masterpiece and ugly face.





There’s no “I” in User Experence…

21 10 2009

As if it hadn’t been beaten into my brain enough, today I was tactfully reminded that when it comes to making a successful site, User Experience always comes first. If the audience isn’t pleased, there is no happy ending for the site. Just a sad tale of the coulda-been.

Alright, I get it. Make sure the audience has an enjoyable experience. And if they do, success (including higher traffic patterns) will soon follow. I could probably go through my notes and make a list of all the “do this” tips and tricks that I have received over the last few weeks… but then again, audiences don’t always respond well to long lists. That is why today I will share a list of, not things to do, but things not to do. Because sometimes avoiding bad ideas is just as important as implementing good ones.

Now, I took some notes from a lecture titled “43 Web Mistakes to Avoid.” No worries, I don’t plan on going into all 43 of them. But I will look a little into what I gathered to be some of the more important issues. Let’s call it the Top 5 Web Mistakes to Avoid (creative title, huh?).

  1. Don’t use fancy or hard to read fonts – If people come to your site and can’t read any of the content because the font you chose is illegible, you will crash and burn immediately. Clarity and legibility are some of the most important elements to any site. Sometimes you need to put the page theme, of idea of “that font looks so cool,” aside and seriously consider how the audience will react to the font.
  2. Don’t require user registration – I know you are trying to keep tabs on your visitors, gather e-mails and contact info, or whatever… but a mandatory registration will annoy the audience and make them look elsewhere for information (unless they follow my blog and jump on over to BugMeNot.com)
  3. Avoid complex URL structures – Clean, simple URLs are much easier to remember and access than long, complicated ones. The longer the URL, the harder it will be to remember, the less the audience will care about your site.
  4. Don’t cloak links – Make all external links easy to see, read, and evident where the link will take a user. You don’t want to make content hard to obtain, trick users into visiting irrelevant pages, or otherwise confuse and annoy your audience.
  5. Avoid harsh colors/blinking text – In other words, you don’t want to distract your audience. Lots of colors and movement can make your site confusing or harsh on the eyes. Neither of which are desired adjectives to describe your site. Make it aesthetically pleasing with a simple design. Sometimes less is more.

And there you have it. The top five of 43 mistakes to avoid when making your own page. Lucky for me, my design was already made… I just need to plug in the content. Also know that following these tips wont necessarily bring an audience to you, but disregarding them is a surefire way to prevent them from coming.





Viral, in a good way

12 10 2009

Making a crap-tastic video is easy to do. As YouTube has shown us, anyone with a video camera and make a movie and broadcast it to the world. But for every couple thousand horrible YouTube clips there are, there is always one that become the new “Oh my god, have you seen this video yet?” clip… These are better known as the viral hits.

Viral, spreadable, sticky, meme… call it whatever you want, the main point is that occasionally a video has the right elements, right timing, and/or the right networking landscape to become a hit at inboxes, Facebook walls, and water cooler gossip everywhere.

It is pretty much impossible to list ingredient and a recipe for making a viral video. There are some well made, shot, editing, and/or choreographed pieces that are cool to watch and become major hits, and there are others that involve 5 seconds of a chipmunk looking at a camera with some dramatic music. Basically, good or bad, you can never tell exactly what will make a viral video, until it has already gone viral.

But if you take a look at some of the already circulating viral video hits, you can begin to notice certain elements and themes popping up. While all the videos are relatively different, they do have some similar overall themes and/or underlying tones (am I using too much of the “and/or” cause it’s really handy…)

So what are these themes? I’m glad you asked. Let’s take a look at the top couple of them.

1 – Humor and Shock Value: I put these together because, though they are different, they usually fall into an either/or category. Watching a fair share of YouTube videos, I have noticed that the common reaction to a viral video is either to laugh or gasp… humor or shock value.

2- Candid Moments: Moments in time that cannot be recreated or reenacted are always classic and generally make for good material. Whether it is a practical joke and the victim’s reaction, or a crazy storm and lightning strikes. Whatever it is, if it is an unplanned event or reaction caught on tape, it has viral potential.

3- Inherent Talent: Sometimes people have an odd talent, but don’t always have the medium to display that talent. Enter YouTube. Have you ever seen the guy beat Super Mario Brothers 3 (old school NES style) in 11 minutes? That is quite a random talent, but was a short-lived viral video. Just some dude with a random talent he wanted to share with the world.

4- Remixes and Mash-ups: These feed off of previously popular material and can have quite a lot of success. Like the recent Kanye West meme (and his interrupting Taylor Swift), people were familiar with the recent events, so they could relate to the theme. Also, humor is generally applied, doubling the chance for success. Check out Brokeback to the Future… it’s a re-edit of Back to the Future clips to make it seem like a gay western movie. Funny, and relevant (it “came out” – heh – about the time Brokeback started getting popular).

I’ve made some random videos and posted them online in various publication communities, but never had a huge viral success. But after studying habits of other successful hits, I think I am beginning to see where I went wrong. Again, adding these methods will not guarantee an Internet sensation, but ignoring them will almost guarantee their failure.





App-less Syndrome?

9 10 2009

For all those iPhone-less and iPod Touch-less creatures out there (myself included) that sometimes suffer from app-less syndrome, there is hope for ye. (Ye?) You can spruce up your browser a bit with some pretty cool Firefox add-ons (sorry IE and Safari users, but check it out). Now, you may not be able to put it in your pocket and take it with you, but if you are already using your computer for you Internet necessities, why not make it a cool, creative, and custom experience?

Ok, so check out https://addons.mozilla.org for all the thousands of add-ons. You can browse by category (Tabs, Toolbars, Photos, etc) or check out what’s new, what’s popular, and what’s recommended. Pretty neat and super easy to use.

Now since there are thousands, and it would be ludicrous to try them all out, I will share with you’re my top three favorites that I personally use, and suggest you do too.

#1 – Foxy Tunes: It’s a small audio control that appears at the very bottom gray bar of your browser window. It’s easy to use and does not get in the way. Get your iTunes going and it will list the artist and song title, and allow you to skip, replay, play and pause songs without having to bring up iTunes again. But wait, there’s more! You can make a YouTube playlist and it will play that too. It also works with Pandora, Rhapsody, and a few other programs I’ve never heard of.

#2 – YouTube Downloader: there are plenty of tools that can screen grab video, or download YouTube videos, but I like this one for two reasons. First, it is such an unobtrusive add-on, you might miss it at first. It is small extra option on YouTube video pages, that lets you download the video file in a couple different formats. Which brings me to the other point; you can download them in FLV format. Perfect for people working in Flash (you know who you are)

#3 – Auto Pager: Totally eliminates the need for all the “next page” button clicking. This add-on will automatically load the next page after you scroll down a determined length of the page. So by the time you get to the bottom, the next page is there, fully loaded, and ready for you. Not that clicking “next” was too terribly taxing, but now there is no waiting for the page to load.

One thing to remember though is to practice caution when downloading anything. Most of these add-ons are user submitted, and… well, you never know. Good thing is, these add-ons are also really easy to monitor. Just go to the browser menu bar – Tools – Add-ons. And there you can adjust individual preferences, search for and install updates, and enable, disable, or uninstall your add-ons.

Just saying, there are pretty cool tricks and add-ons out there that can make your Internet surfing a little more fun and interactive. So until you do get that iPhone, I say give it a try.





5 self promotion tools on the cheap

7 10 2009

So you have a business, or just promoting yourself, but trying to do it on the cheap, eh? No worries, there are plenty of awesome Internet and Web 2.0 tools available, all absolutely free of charge. And if you use them well, you can market yourself or service, or product, or whatever… and watch as the success follows.

1. Start a blog – There are a couple of free blog sites out there that are incredibly easy to start. Blogs allow you to express opinions, update and inform consumers, and help develop a voice that will be synonymous with you and whatever you are providing. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but try to avoid using the default theme and layout.
2. Facebook Fan page – According to Facebook, of their 300 million accounts, 10 million become “fans” of a page, every day. This will allow you reach a wider market of consumers, and possibly spread through word of mouth into the social network bloodstream.
3. Twitter – Even if you aren’t a big Twitter person, or don’t have quite a lot to say at any given moment, there is still a large audience base in Twitter, and people are following people who are following people… in a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon kind of way, you can reach millions of people and promote yourself in 140 characters.
4. MySpace – Now this is mainly for musicians, but it is essentially a free online portfolio, where audience members can find our bios, see pics, watch videos, and listen to your music. It is a great, easy account to jump into and lay out your goods for all to see, listen to, and enjoy.
5. YouTube – Viral videos are a tremendously successful way to advertise. It is impossible to know how exactly to make a video go viral, or how long it will hang around, but you do know for sure that if you are successful, it will result in a tremendous amount of free publicity, which is exactly what you are looking for.

So there you have it. Five very easy, very free tips and tricks to get your name out there, make connections, build a portfolio, and send yourself to all corners of the net and the world… all for absolutely nothing. Awesome!