My posting frequency dropped off a cliff lately, but this time there’s a legitimate reason!
I’m excited to announce two free webinars I’m doing this spring with ASERL – one in March, and one in April. Registration (again: free!) is open for both. Recordings will be available afterward. (And I know March 11th isn’t technically Spring, but I like to pretend it is.)
Friday 3/11, 2PM EST
You don’t have to break the bank to test your website! This webinar will introduce you to tools that you can use for free to remotely get in the heads of your users.
You’ll learn about common remote usability testing techniques like:
- Card sorting
- First click testing
- A/B testing
Services like Optimal Workshop and others make it possible to use all these techniques at low or no cost. And you can do it all remotely without even placing a burden on your staff. In this webinar you’ll get an introduction to these tools and hear about how they’ve been used to improve the UNC Libraries website.
Monday 4/11, 2pm EST
WordPress isn’t just the most popular blogging software in the world, but also a powerful content management system that runs more than 23 percent of all websites. The current version alone has been downloaded more than 30 million times, and the WordPress community has built more than 43,000 plugins to extend and enhance the system. Academic Libraries are using WordPress to create community-oriented websites, blogs, subject guides, digital archives, and more.
This practical session will walk you through the entire process of creating a basic WordPress website for your library, including:
- Setting up a simple WordPress website from scratch
- Selecting a theme and customizing the look of your site
- Using plugins to enhance and improve your WordPress site
- Maintaining and updating your WordPress website for the long haul
You’ll also learn about how UNC Libraries migrated their website to WordPress, including challenges encountered and tips learned along the way.
My book, WordPress for Libraries, is available now!
I’m giving away a copy to celebrate. To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment here or tweet me (@HiddenPeanuts) with #WPLib.
In your entry, tell me your email address (unless you enter on twitter – I’ll just message you there if you win) and one of three things:
- Something you like about WordPress
- Something you dislike about WordPress
- Something you’d like to know about WordPress
Enter by 11:59PM EDT on Thursday, 9/3/15.
The contest is now over. Congrats to @verolynne!
Disclaimer: A couple of pages in your prize might be slightly creased by my assistant, pictured below.
Back in April I did a webinar for NCLA’s Technology and Trends roundtable: “Assess Your Website with Free Usability Testing Tools”
I didn’t get around to posting it at the time, but the recording is freely available! I covered how to use tools like Optimal Workshop, Optimizely, and Marvel to do quick and free usability testing of your site. It’s a beginner-friendly presentation, starting with an intro to just what usability testing is and why it’s useful.
The slides are available below, but they probably make more sense if you just watch the recording instead.
Windows 10 is almost upon us, just over a day away as I write. Among other new features, I’ve seen article after article talking about the integration of voice controls into Win10. Has their time finally arrived? For a long, long time I was skeptical of voice controls in any context. Way back in elementary school I played with an early version or Kurzweil Voice, and I was impressed if it got more than 10% of my speech right. I think that experience colored my expectations until very recently.
My Android phone has had voice commands built in for years, but other than setting timers or alarms I almost never use them. So for a while, I expected my use of Win10’s voice commands to run along the same lines: I’d think it was neat, play with it for a bit, and then forget about it entirely. Then in February my Amazon Echo arrived, and completely changed my thinking.
I bought the Echo almost on a whim, thinking once again that it would be a neat toy for a while but probably not have long term utility. I’m as surprised as anyone that now, four months later, I still use it multiple times a day. When I get home from work, I usually blurt out three commands as I unpack:
- “Alexa, turn on the lights”: I have two lamps on a wemo switch, which the Echo controls.
- “Alexa, how’s the traffic?”: The Echo reads me a report of the traffic between my daughter’s daycare and my home, giving me a rough idea of how long I have to make dinner before she and my wife arrive.
- “Alexa, play NPR”: This one does what you’d expect – it plays a live stream of my local NPR station.
Then while I’m cooking, I usually ask Alexa to set a couple timers or add things to my shopping list. Later in the evening I often ask Alexa to play music by a certain band or in a given genre, and then I control the volume by voice commands too.
This is all done hands free, while I get other stuff done, and I almost never have to repeat myself or cancel a command the Echo heard incorrectly. We’ve come a long way since my arguments with Kurzweil Voice.
And ok, I’ll admit that I’m on the fence about just how useful it really is to have the Echo turn on lights for me. A plain old fashioned lightswitch is a pretty darn perfect UI already. But using a voice command to trigger lights still delights me in a Jetsons kind of way.
I didn’t set out to write a review of the Echo here (although if I did, I’d say it was totally worth the early bird $99 price but the current $179 is too steep of an ask). Instead, my point is that voice commands can fill some very valuable niches. I still don’t use voice for dictation, but it turns out voice recognition is a very good way to do a handful of things in my life. I can group them into general categories:
- Asking for brief reports and updates like traffic, weather, or checking for new messages and alerts
- Starting or stopping a background process, like a timer or music
- Toggling a system setting like volume, wifi, and bluetooth connections
Today I do these things on my computer nearly constantly throughout the workday, without the benefit of voice commands. If Windows 10 lets me do them by voice instead, without breaking stride to open another program or dig through settings menus, that’s a bunch of small gains that will add up to a big improvement in how I work. I’m truly excited to try Win10’s voice recognition and see where it goes. Maybe you’ll even catch me dictating an email someday – but probably not in public.
My headline is an exaggeration, but only a slight one. Bear with me:
Last night at about 11PM there were two armed robberies on campus in quick succession. (Nobody was hurt, thankfully!) UNC has an elaborate campus alert system called Alert Carolina designed for just such an occasion. The sirens went off as intended. The accompanying email and text message blast did not.
It wasn’t until 11:45PM that a message with details was finally sent, by which point the crisis was essentially over. The All Clear siren sounded at midnight. (The Daily Tar Heel has a more complete timeline)
But here’s what is, from the perspective of my work, extra shameful: even when that text message finally went out, it had the wrong URL listed for more information. Instead of alertcarolina.unc.edu, it pointed to alertcarolina.com. That .com is held by a domain squatter, and helpfully offers hotel deals. While follow-up messages had the correct URL, none of them acknowledged the initial error. In fact, even the official statement about the delayed message still doesn’t mention the incorrect URL.
So what can we learn from this? While I have great sympathy for staff who work what I assume is likely a finicky but powerful piece of software like Alert Carolina, why didn’t they have a clear content management strategy in place for an event like this? The official statement calls this a “breakdown in communication”, but doesn’t elaborate. While an unpredictable event like this can only be planned for so much, it would be easy to build in simple structures in advance to help manage a crisis:
- Have content templates ready to go for emergency updates. This would avoid the incorrect URL problem while still allowing flexibility to communicate as needed. At UNC Libraries we have templates ready to go for when we quickly close due to weather, for example.
- Have clearly written backup procedures for when a mission critical system fails. These should cover both technical and personnel issues. There are countless campus listservs that could have been used to send a backup notification during those 45 minutes, for example. Or (I’m speculating) maybe nobody was at work who knew how to trigger the alert messages. Staffing redundancy should be built in for something at this level of importance. Build sanity checks into your procedures too, defined review points where someone looks to see if everything’s on course.
- If something does go wrong, immediately be transparent and open about what happened and what you’ll do to fix it. The vague “breakdown in communication” acknowledgement is not sufficient in this case. Right now I don’t trust Alert Carolina to function in the next emergency situation.
Most of this can be boiled down to: Know who is responsible for which content, and prepare for as many eventualities as you can in advance. “Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.” That’s it in a nutshell, and in this case Alert Carolina unfortunately makes for a great case study.
I’m lucky – the content I deal with on a daily basis isn’t a life and death matter. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have the same level of readiness, at least on a basic level.
I’m extremely excited to point out that in a little under a month my book will be available!
WordPress for Libraries is written to be an introductory guide to WordPress that assumes no prior knowledge. If you’ve ever wanted to move your library’s website from manually edited HTML pages to something more sustainable and easier to work with, you’ll find the book very helpful. I’ve also included more advanced tutorials like how to display an image collection, using plugins and workflows to help manage your content, and case studies of how many different types of libraries have used WordPress: Academic, Public, K-12, and Special Libraries are all included.
I’ve been using WordPress to power this very blog for over a decade, and have worked with the UNC Libraries’ website in WP since 2013. I’ve picked up some tips and tricks along the way, and tried to work as many of them into the book as possible.
My book is part of an amazing series, Library Technology Essentials. If you want to learn about Makerspaces, MOOCs, responsive web design, data visualization, and all kinds of other fascinating stuff, there’s something in the series worth your time. And I’m still a bit in disbelief that my name is included with all these other authors.
I’ll be giving a copy away sometime in August, so check back if you’re interested.
When I manage to fix a technical issue that doesn’t seem to be well documented online, I like to share what worked for me. In that spirit:
This morning, as I often do, I emailed an ebook file to my @free.kindle.com address to load it onto my Kindle. For the first time in years, it didn’t work. I got no error message from Amazon, and never got the standard email acknowledging receipt of my file either. The file just never appeared on my Kindle. I tried sending it via their Send to Kindle PC application too, and got the same results – my file disappeared into the ether with no confirmation or error message.
After pulling my hair out for a while, I noticed that my Amazon Cloud Drive (everyone gets 5gb of storage for free) was full. I piled it full of some last resort backup files six months ago and promptly forgot it existed. When I deleted a few files out of that Drive today, suddenly all my Send to Kindle features started working again. I don’t know if this is a policy change or related to the recent changes to the structure of Amazon Cloud Drive, but I do know my Drive has been full for months. I don’t know why it suddenly started rejecting my files, but there we are.
Side note: It’s very poor design for Amazon to not provide any error message in this situation. They could very easily email me about the full Drive, or pop up a message in the PC application. Both options looked like they sent the file successfully. Amazon support was also completely clueless about this when I contacted them.
The TL/DR version: If your @free.kindle.com email address or Send to Kindle program has suddenly stopped working and provides no error messages, check if your Amazon Cloud Drive is full.
This blog turns 10 later this month. I’m no longer nearly as prolific a writer as I was back then, but I’m still kind of amazed that I’ve kept at it this long. Among other things since then: I got my master’s, moved cities/jobs twice, got married, and had a daughter. Wow.
While all 625 old posts are still available in the archives, I implore you to pretend most of them aren’t there. With the benefit of a decade’s hindsight I just see typos, odd sentence structures, weird choices in my URL structure that still haunt me today, and all-around questionable writing galore.
There’s one exception: I do want to point out the second post I ever wrote, way back on 12/26/04. I titled it simply “Googlezon”. While I was a bit late to the party at the time, I pointed out an interesting little movie called EPIC 2014. It forecasted the internet and society of 2014, from the perspective of 2004. It’s about 8 minutes long, and still exists on the web in flash format today (remember, this predates Youtube! Ancient history!).
EPIC posits a 2014 where Google and Amazon merged (after Google bought Tivo), Microsoft bought Friendster, the New York Times has gone print-only, and more.
But buried among these amusing predictions are grains of truth. EPIC’s forecasts of how we generate and consume news aren’t that far off from reality, and it seems to have pretty accurately predicted the rise of Big Data. EPIC is a fun look back at where the web was, and where it might still be going. I’ll check in with you again in 2024.
(side note: While researching this piece, I realized that the Robin Sloan who worked on this short film is the same Robin Sloan who wrote one of the best books I read last year.)