Thoughts the “Search” lecture

I have yet to follow the SEO principles listed in the Search lecture and see that I will have to revisit my  blog to cull repetitive posts. I will then have to come up with a list of unique, or nearly so, topics for future posts to use SEO effectively. Coming up with a topic list will guide my writing efforts, as will knowing that the content for each new post must be unique and must contain relevant keywords.

I follow SEO principles at work. A recent assignment to add page metadata to website content prompted me to read chapter 17, “Optimize Your Site for Search Engines,” of The Yahoo Style Guide. Chapter information was very helpful in completing this task.

Thoughts on PowerPoint

Seth Godin’s blog post, “Really Bad Powerpoint,” [sic] has some information in common with Yale professor emeritus Edward Tufte’s writings about PowerPoint, and I think it likely the Godin used Tufte’s book, Beautiful Evidence (Graphics Press, Cheshire, CT: 2006) as an information source. Godin is kinder in his assessment of PowerPoint than Tufte is. Godin says, “Powerpoint could be the most powerful tool on your computer,” and goes on to provide tips for using PowerPoint effectively.

Tufte devotes an entire chapter of Beautiful Evidence to PowerPoint. I think the title of this chapter, “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within,” indicates his assessment of this tool. Pages 172-173 display a print version of The Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation by Peter Norvig, director of research at Google, Inc. The presentation is a parody and shows how PowerPoint’s native features guide, or dictate, writing style.

I believe that PowerPoint can be useful, following the guidelines that Godin provided.

Thoughts on Conversation

The lecture on conversation makes some good points. Most people wait for an opportunity to speak rather than listen to what the other person is saying. People use conversation to show off rather than share information. Showing off, by breaking into a conversation, presenting your views with confidence and even high-jacking another speaker’s views and claiming them as your own are successful strategies in business settings, I have observed. I have never seen anyone called out for this kind of rudeness, but I have seen them be rewarded through recognition, better assignments, and even promotions.

I don’t recall reading that fear is also a motivation in wresting a turn to speak, but I think that it is. People want to be noticed not just because they like the limelight, but because they’re afraid if they go unnoticed, they won’t get the recognition and better assignments, etc. It would be a good thing, in my opinion, if the listening aspect of conversation were included in school curricula.

Having never mastered the art of conversation myself (I, too, am guilty of the sins cited in the Conversation lecture), I purchased How to Speak, How to Listen, by Mortimer J. Adler, a few years back. I recall that Adler makes the case for including listening in school curricula.

Thoughts on Rewriting

With the exception of my module 6 assignment, I have yet to do a thorough rewrite on any content I’ve written for this course or, if memory serves me, any of the technical documentation I’ve written over the years. I do rewrite as I compose, testing words and phrases that seem suspect and cutting them when they are irrelevant or don’t ring true. I have saved a few “little darlings” in separate files during this course, but I am sorry to say that their reprieve will likely be short-lived. Death to little darlings! I want my file directory clutter-free.

As a technical writer, I was accustomed to having an editor review my work and catch my mistakes. I performed this same function for other writers on my team. It’s easier to see others’ mistakes than your own, research shows, because writers see what they intended to write rather than what they actually did write. Revisiting a document the next day, time permitting, usually brings the errors to light. So does pressing the Send button in your email application. After sending your email, you can see your errors in bold relief by rereading the message in your Sent box. It’s too late to do anything then but explain or apologize profusely, or both. The advantages are a rush of adrenaline, which many people seek out through extreme sports, and office drama leading to another adrenaline rush.

Seriously, though, I am willing to forego these benefits to enjoy the greater rewards of writing quality content. I know my cut-as-you-go process is insufficient for achieving that end. I must take the advice of Zinsser and others to set aside time for writing daily to see my work improve. That’s the tricky part. Oh, yes, and then there’s the writing.

Thoughts on Email Revisions

David Silverman’s “How to Revise an Email” article in the Harvard Business Review has some good advice. I agree with all of it from the standpoint of advocating for clear communications and agree with most of it from the standpoint of keeping your job in corporate America. Or maybe I should say corporate culture, because most large American corporations employ a large share of their workers in other countries. These corporations are American, but also global.

Corporations assign their offshore offices names to indicate that the offices, although physically located in India or elsewhere, are nevertheless part of the U.S. organization. Rather than Corporation X, India, for example, the India office or offices would be named Region 10. That was the practice a few years ago. I understand that it is changing again to accommodate changing business needs.

I introduce this anecdote because the issue of writing emails for global business teams was not included in Silverman’s list, and it should be. The direct communication he advocates (item 6, no equivocation) would not fly in all circumstances, particularly when dealing with colleagues in other countries. I’ve no references to cite, but have seen first-hand and have heard from people working on the global teams of various U.S. corporations that communication with overseas colleagues requires a great deal of tact. In the United States, we prize directness in communication. In other countries, tactfulness, at the expense of specifying clear deadlines, reporting roles, and the like, is prized, and directness seen as uncivilized and rude.

Thoughts on “Logic” and “A Writer’s Decisions”

After posting a rewrite of an assignment to defend my area of interest, I reread the “Logic: Layers of Evidence” lecture and “A Writer’s Decisions” (Zinsser, chap. 23). Both have left me with misgivings about the work I just completed. Was it sound? Am I on the right track, or should I scrap the blog I started as a class assignment to explore my areas of interest, improve my writing skills, and, possibly, showcase my writing talents with the objective of future and continued employment?

The topic I chose for my blog is, loosely, the relationship between real-world architecture and information architecture. Others have written about this topic, although I think not extensively. The objective of these writers has been to use the analogy to explain what information architecture is, how it is employed, and why it matters. A few, such as blogger and Princeton Ph.D. candidate, Molly Wright Steenson, have written about this topic extensively, and it appears, with great precision.

My own blogging effort has been more a define-as-I-go enterprise. Rereading Zinsser’s statement that “writing is clear and sequential, that logic is the glue that holds it together …” gives me pause, as does Professor Nichol’s statement that “you must provide layers of evidence in order to persuade others of your conclusion.”

The analogies I make, comparing bytes to words to bricks, and optical illusions to my blog topic, are tenuous. I cannot see a way to make an irrefutable argument that I am correct, but at a gut level I believe that I am. The tenuous relationship of bytes to bricks allows exploration into a wide area, as technology draws the physical and virtual worlds closer together. The reference to optical illusion sets the stage for that exploration. I do not doubt the Zinsser and Nichols are correct. Logic is the glue that holds writing together, and layers of evidence must be provided to support your conclusion. But I contend that there is also room for a leap of faith. However tenuous the relationship between building blocks of electrons, building blocks of thought, and building blocks of physical material, the relationship is there, and it is worth exploring.

Defending my area of interest, revisited

The relationship between the built environment and the virtual environment is both tenuous and obvious. Seeing that relationship is like looking at an optical illusion. First you see the young woman, then the old, or maybe vice versa, if by chance you notice the difference or have been tipped off that there is one.

But when you see one, you can’t see the other. You have to remember that the single image contains both views. Switching from one view to the other can be slow at first. With practice, it takes seconds. But however quick the switch, I contend that you cannot see both images at the same time.

The same can be said for the separate disciplines of architecture and information architecture, which I have chosen as an underlying theme for my blog, bytesandbricks.com. It is obvious that you cannot see the structure of a building and the structure of a website at the same time. But the similarity in structures exists, and others, such as authors Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld, have identified it and used it in their classic IA primer, Information Architecture and the World-Wide Web, 3rd Ed.

I am inspired by these experts in the fields of information architecture and user experience. They show the way to better website design―an area that I, like many others, have become interested in through happenstance. For me, it was the need to retool my skill set for the current job market.

However unintentionally, they also showed me a new way to look at the world. Where before I took the built landscape for granted, I now appreciate its profound influence on the daily quality of our lives if not our personal identities. Where before I saw websites as conveniences, I now see that at least some of them provide a rich trove of information and visually pleasing design.

I chose the domain name for my blog to telegraph to potential readers the nature of the content I plan to cover. The term “bytes” in the context of my blog means a special kind of building material, and the term’s technical meaning as an eight-bit unit of digital information supports my definition. These eight bits encode a single character in a computer. Characters make up words. Words make up thoughts, and thoughts make up sentences, which when committed to WordPress, make up a blog post. Bytes are malleable units of information, as are words. Though a blogger cannot and does not manipulate bytes to write a blog post, he or she depends on their behind-the-scenes malleability for structuring, formatting, and publishing blog content. Less malleable than bytes owing to their definitions, words nonetheless are raw materials that can be manipulated to build a case―to make an argument that conveys the writer’s logic and passion. Bricks are material units of construction that can be manipulated into different structures―roads, walls, and towers. Organizing these separate units―of digital information, of denotative and connotative meaning, of formed and baked clay―into a cohesive and coherent structure is akin to magic. It’s like making something out of nothing. That’s why I’m interested in these topics. That’s why I gave my blog its name.

I admit there are other reasons. I liked (sort of) the alliteration of the title and thought it might be catchy. I also thought it might be (or kind of is) dumb, but took a chance and forged ahead. I have seen other websites using the terms bricks, sticks, and stuff in their titles. Low-end merchandise is not what I’m selling. I hope instead to provide interesting information on a variety of topics related to architecture, information architecture, and the contributions to quality of life, or at least user experience, that each has. The well-designed house and well-designed neighborhood support residents’ safety and sanity. The well-designed website supports the need of users for quick access to information. The built environment we live in gives us a sense of place, which in turn contributes to our sense of identity. The virtual environment we use to conduct our daily business gives us greater access to information and arguably more control of our lives. I believe these topics are worth investigating.

Critique of Social Media Campaign

The Charter for Compassion, a website and document intended to promote compassion among people of all faiths, was born of social media and lives both in and outside this sphere.

The charter began as the wish of British author and TED (Technology Entertainment & Design) prize winner Karen Amstrong. In 2008, Armstrong won the $100,000 TED prize, given annually to an exceptional individual having “one wish to change the world.” She unveiled her wish at a TED conference that same year.

TED is, Wikipedia says, a global set of conferences curated by the American non-profit Sapling Foundation to disseminate “ideas worth spreading.” The conferences are available for free viewing online, under a Creative Commons license, through TED.com.

I see the TED website as the birthplace of The Charter for Compassion social media campaign. The TED site invites visitors to share and comment on videos with onsite interactive tools, including “embed this video” code, threaded comments, and buttons for tweeting, sharing, promoting, and bookmarking.

If you watched Armstrong’s video, you’d probably want to visit The Charter for Compassion site. That site provides prominent buttons to add your name to the charter and to join others in committing to a more compassionate way of life.

A Share link at the top of the site accesses other tools for spreading the charter’s message and for participating in community events and religious services that promote compassion. Links for joining Charter for Compassion reading groups and a charter group in Pakistan are displayed in a scrollable slide show. A graphic displaying partner logos and a link to view all partners invite visitors to learn who supports the charter and contact them (through website links) if they wish. Links to Twitter and Facebook allow visitors to easily share the site’s URL with others. An RSS link allows them to easily stay abreast of site updates. The site displays the number of people (67,768) who have affirmed the charter (by clicking the Add Your Name Now button and completing an online Affirm form) since the site launched on November 12, 2009.

I do not know how if that number represents success or failure of the charter’s social media campaign. The number seems fairly small considering the very large number of people who could have affirmed the charter, and that would indicate failure. Or the number may be large considering charter content. People may disagree with the premise that all religions share the Golden Rule as a fundamental tenet, or they may agree but be afraid to affirm their agreement.

I believe The Charter for Compassion makes good use of social media. It has attracted and retained nearly 70,000 individual supporters, as well as 100 organizations committed to promoting its message and effecting cultural change.

Incorporating Social Media into My Online Presence

Some people can’t sing. Some can’t dance, can’t throw a ball straight, can’t do calculations in their head. Some people are shy, and they have reason to be. I am one of those people. My plan for incorporating social media into my online presence is by crawling on my belly, painfully over the gravel, to the desired goal. And then I will be graceful, and thin, and rich, and beautiful.

Kidding aside, I will incorporate what I have learned in class to enhance my online presence. When I have worked out the kinks in my blog, I will post it with my LinkedIn profile as part of an online portfolio. I may also post it on CUA (Certified Usability Analyst) Central, with the objective of building relationships with fellow CUAs. I say “may” because I am not sure that my blog topic is appropriate for that venue. I am not sure how or if I will use Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or any other social media tool. I so prefer solitude.

Cited argument: Sound bite method

I cannot afford to hire actor Mike McGlone to record a voiceover for my cited argument. So please turn on your television and watch for an ubiquitous ad featuring McGlone impersonating Robert Stack. Remember his penetrating look and sonorous voice. Now imagine him saying:

“Can information architecture really save you money? What, you live under a rock?

With little time and fuss, McGlone makes a compelling case. No one who lives under a rock wants to admit to it. It follows that if you give the correct answer (no) to the second question, you will also give the correct answer (yes) to the first, because you care about appearances. McGlone asks similar questions in all ads in this ad campaign, except these require a “yes” answer. I will use a similar rhetorical technique in my cited argument below because:

  • No one wants to read or listen to a long and labored case about anything, unless it helps them become rich, beautiful, and popular. Maybe not even then.
  • No one wants to do the heavy lifting required of same. Most prefer the less strenuous method of making sound bites rather than reasoned arguments. Sound bites persuade quickly and at a visceral level. Reasoned arguments may persuade quickly and viscerally, but usually do not.

I will make my case as quickly as I can, using bullet points with references. Where no references are available, I will make a bald-faced claim. I call this the “sound-bite method.”

Arguments

  • Information architecture (IA) cuts costs and wins business. IA― “the combination of organization, labeling, search, and navigation systems within web sites and intranet.”1―makes web and intranet sites easy to navigate and site information easy to find. It is essential to winning and keeping online business on e-commerce sites and for cutting costs related to doing business on company intranets.
    An online search of IA return on investment (ROI) yielded no estimated or actual dollar amounts. But a print source indicates that the ROI is significant.2 It cites cost savings through increased employee productivity, reduced call center volume, reduced employee training, and reduced site redesign, construction, and maintenance. A second print source cites similar savings realized through user-centered web and application design,3 which includes IA.
  • Information architecture is related to real-world architecture. Morville and Rosenfeld make the case in their first chapter that the two are analogous.
    Why begin a book about web sites by writing about buildings? Because the architectural analogy is a powerful tool for introducing the complex, multidimensional nature of information spaces. Like buildings, web sites have architectures that cause us to react.4
    Wodtke and Govella also compare the two.
    Building a house seems like an impossible task … and designing an architecture for your content is similarly daunting.” 5
    The discipline has a history going back to the mid-60s, when, the Adaptive Path Blog says, “British architect Cedric Price created information architecture — or rather, architecture made of information. He designed a number of buildings that would be used to navigate information, that could learn from their users and respond to what they did.”
    Ten years later, American architect Richard Saul Wurman, coined the phrase “information architecture” in response to a perceived a need for an information architecture to organize data and information. Wurman’s view predominates to this day. However, Price’s view is gaining ground.

1Information for the World Wide Web, 3rd Ed., p. 4, by Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld; O’Reilly Media, Inc: Nov. 27, 2006

2Ibid, p.11

3Formula for Calculating ROI Quick Reference, Human Factors International, Inc.: 2005

4Information for the World Wide Web, 3rd Ed., p. 3, by Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld; O’Reilly Media, Inc: Nov. 27, 2006

5Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web, 2nd Ed., p. 65, by Christina Wodtke and Austin Govella; New Riders, Berkeley, CA: 2009