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.





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.





Experience = Success

12 10 2009

If I have learned only one thing from my reading’s, speakers, and class discussions so far this year, it is that the audience comes first!

In the interactive media field, new technologies and trends are emerging in all different forms and categories, for many different uses, and there are more and more every day. But it generally seems that their success is based on paying attention to the audience and the user.

Now, I’ve been told that I need to develop a voice, and the rest will happen. Once you find out what you want to say and how to say it, people will start to recognize that and in turn respect it. But I have also been told that the right frequency and methods of self-publication are important too. Word of mouth, social networks, YouTube, etc… these are all amazing tools to spread your message to the point that you will be having in-depth philosophical debates about the meaning of life with some dude in Greenland. And of course, I have been told to write/speak from the heart. Put what is in your heart into the public. It is the only real way to be true to the message.

The only problem with all this advice is it goes against everything that I have been told is the most important idea of all… the user and audience comes first. You have to make sure they are happy, or you have nothing but friends and family as followers.

So keep that in mind, first and foremost. USER EXPERIENCE IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS. Now how you obtain that pleasurable user experience is up to you. Some suggestions include the following ideas, as they relate to interactive media:

–       Aesthetically pleasing

–       Choice and options

–       Functionality (make sure everything works as intended)

–       Ease of use

–       Ease of navigation

Obviously if you have no content to your work, there won’t be an audience. But Without a clean, enjoyable user experience, you won’t have an audience either. And in the “next big hit” feel of today’s Internet success stories, the bigger the audience, the more successful.





Spread it or regret it

30 09 2009

In the modern technological world, survivability of Internet content follows a certain phrase, “If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead.” Think about it… there are millions of videos on YouTube, but only a handful become big viral hits. For one, it is because so many videos on YouTube are pretty damn awful. But there are also awful videos that make their way around to your inbox or Facebook wall. Some viral videos aren’t more than a few seconds long, and others have no effects, editing, or music. There is no real guide to making a viral video, but you definitely can help it by spreading the word.

That’s because, regardless of the content, survivability relates to how far a message spreads. If you enjoy a video, blog, picture, or whatever, and find it awesome enough to send to a friend, you are spreading the media. And if they send it elsewhere, they spread it to more people, and so on and so on.

spread like butter

spread like butter

So logically, if some content doesn’t spread to the Internet bloodstream, nothing will happen with it. There will be no audience, no reTweets, no “have you seen this yet?” and thus, the death of that content. It will remain lifeless in a website, or buried in a sea of other videos never to be mentioned again.

For example… lets take a look at some social networking sites. Generally, the first two that pop into people’s minds are Facebook and MySpace, right? These started as small sites with a small amount of base members (didn’t Facebook start out with just colleges?). But soon they spread across the country, and across the globe. And they no longer just cater to students and young people… there are profiles for adults, schools, companies and businesses, artists, musicians, events… should I keep going?

So Facebook and MySpace spread, survived, and took over the Internet. But they are not the only social network sites out there. Others just never made it that big. About two or three years ago Elon University tried to jump on board the social network bandwagon and created the campus-wide E². At first, everybody on campus (and a few alumni) made an account… but then for some reason, no one used it. It was widely advertised for the first few months, but when that died down, so did the activity on the site.

There could be dozens of reasons why it did not work out in the end, but one reason for sure, it did not spread far enough, or to the right people. There was not enough word of mouth about “that cool new Elon social network.” In fact, to write this blog, I had to check out my profile that I made a few years ago, and laughed when I realized I had done literally nothing with it. Honestly, I think today was my second time logging in ever.

Again, there is no formula for creating the next Internet sensation. There are tips and tricks you can pick up along the way from other success stories, but no guarantees. But the one thing you can bet your butt against is… if it doesn’t spread, its dead!





We all have to start somewhere

20 09 2009

So in class this week, we had a guest speaker via Skype. Not that using video conferencing is a new idea, but it is always pretty cool, especially when it is being used in new ways. Personally, I have used Skype before, but never in the classroom, and never as a presentation tool. So that was pretty cool as is.

Our guest was online journalist Mark Luckie, who is the founder and author of the blog 10,000 Words (10,000words.net). His blog generally discusses interactive sites and applications emerging on the Web. Pretty relevant in reshaping journalism and audience participation among information resources.

For young, aspiring bloggers (or those who are forced to start blogging for class, perhaps) he did provide some good advice and inspirational tips for us though. For one, he stressed the importance of finding your voice in your text. No one wants to read dry academic dribble, or regurgitated information. So to reduce that, you need a voice in your work. Personally, I have been leaning toward a semi-humorous, semi-sarcastic, not always professional, trying to be personable… voice. Hopefully that will be a successful way to reach my audience, and make reading my blog at least somewhat entertaining.

The other thing that inspired me was how Luckie informed us that he started in a very similar spot that we are in. He began blogging for a class, struggling to find his rhythm. Also, he started at an open public blogging site, just like I am. And how he is a successful blogger with his own site, and reasonable following. Not that we hear about a lot young blogging prodigies, so it makes sense that we all seem to start on the same equal playing field. But seeing a first hand example of how someone with something to say can grow into a respected online voice definitely gives hope to an amateur, struggling to find out what to say and how to say it.

I never had intentions of being a famous blogger, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t enjoy expressing my opinion and having a few people read it along the way. For now, I will continue to define and shape my voice, and keep looking for something reasonably interesting to talk about.