FWTB Word Watch: Ping

Recently, someone from a UK firm putting together a glossary of social media jargon asked me to contribute. The world of social media jargon is immense, but I realized I’ve been hearing the word “ping” in a sense that didn’t really make sense to me.

Ping, v. This is something you send to a computer for an automated response. I’ve heard it (erroneously) as a synonym for “e-mail” or “instant message.”

You can look at more social media jargon from their glossary.

Gadget Monday: Back-up Gadgets

Preparedness is never easy, which is why so many of us get caught out when something goes wrong. With technology, the tiniest thing can misfire and blast your plans to oblivion.

I was happy to come across blogger Rob Jackson’s post Confessions of a Live Blog Failure, where he talks about trying to report an event on his own, live, and it didn’t go as he expected.

“I was trying to keep up on the content with my keyboard, snap still pics with my digital camera and capture footage with my handycam. CAPTURING it all was too much for one person let alone reporting it back to the all the readers/visitors,” he says.

Best of all, he spells out his mistakes so you can learn. A quick run-down of his recommendations for trying to use social media during an event:

  • Get a back-up Internet connection, in case the local connection fails
  • Bring back-up battery and cables
  • Test the system

I feel for the guy, but I’m glad he decided to share his tragic experience for the greater good.

Online Usability: The Natural Way to Learn

[The following is reprinted from the technology issue of Torah at the Center, and educational publication from Union for Reform Judaism. Read the whole technology issue by clicking here.]

By Monique Cuvelier, Usability Consultant and CEO, Talance.com, Burlington, MA

The last thing you want a student to do in an online course is to think. That sounds wildly counterintuitive, considering most instructors want students to have thinking caps strapped tightly on and cranked to maximum when they sit down to learn. However, if students are thinking too hard about what to do with online course software, they’re not going to be engaged in the course materials – and that’s the reason you want them there in the first place.

The benefits of e-learning programs are clear. They’re convenient, bring students together who live in different places and can be adapted to address the various needs of students. But many organizations focus too closely on the benefits and not enough on usability, the ease in which students can navigate a course and accomplish learning goals.

The trouble is that creating good usability should look natural and easy, but it’s incredibly hard. What seems the natural way to work in an online arena is not natural; it takes planning and design. In the six years that I’ve been making online learning environments more intuitive for students and teachers at my company Talance.com, I’ve seen students drop out of courses, give up on their favorite topics and turn their ire to their hapless instructors all because they were confused and frustrated by the technology.

Below are a few rules you can think about when evaluating online courseware or creating a simple online learning environment from scratch.

Familiar Workflows

Students should move naturally from one task to the next. Tasks should guide the students to the right information at the right time. For instance, you may want the student to work through the course this way: log in, read any pertinent announcements, review reading material, discuss a project in the bulletin boards, submit a writing assignment. In this case, make sure the announcement appears on the course homepage and that instructions for the writing assignment are at the end of the reading material. Include enough shortcuts that students can navigate easily from one task to the next.

Free-Flowing Communication

Students should have open channels of communication with you (the teacher) and other learners, whether the course is synchronous or asynchronous. Add options for navigation. Icons on the homepage that take you to different sections of the course are OK – as long as you’re on the homepage. Use tabs at the top of the screen to create quick access to frequently used sections of the course, because they can be seen from any page. Course participants should find it easy to send course e-mail, and they should know at a glance if they have new messages. They should know where to find help, through an FAQ or an e-mail form where they can submit technical support issues.

Flexible Enough to Foster Creativity

Multiple-choice questions may be fine in some circumstances but are too rigid on their own to address all learning styles and encourage creativity in an online course. Present several ways for students to learn and interact, such as real-time chat rooms with whiteboards, and essay-type questions in tests. Allow students to upload Microsoft Word documents, which let them work in their familiar computer environments rather than typing responses into text forms.

Hebrew-Language Support

Think about how your software handles Hebrew, if you require it for your class. Support for Hebrew is often not included in the first release of software packages. Can you render characters in Unicode or graphically? Discussion boards in particular may have difficulty rendering Hebrew characters, especially along with English. Can you allow students to attach Word documents that are formatted for Hebrew?

Just the Essentials

One hazard of working with an online course is there is no page limit. Avoid information glut by presenting students with just the information they need. Create places for secondary information elsewhere in the course for those who want to learn more.

Following these principles is only the first step to creating a more usable online course. Make better usability an ongoing effort by constantly noting problems students have, asking for feedback and making adjustments. Eventually, you’ll find the more you think about how students learn in an online environment, the less your students will have to.

Great List of Blogs for Web Designers

Never one to shy from a bit of self promotion, I wanted to share this list of 100 (Non-Design) Blogs that Every Web Designer Should Read. Friendly Web Tools makes the cut!

But I also wanted to mention it, because this is a tidy list of what really are some of the most useful blogs out there to do with the Web, even if you’re a web design newbie. Nice collection!

Also, check out my post on the blogs I visit most often.

Focus Your Social Media Strategy

One of the nice benefits of our Talance’s Massachusetts Non-profit Social Media Report is how many conversations it’s opening up about how non-profits are actually using social media – or struggling with how to use it.

Someone in one of my networks said her organization doesn’t use social media precisely because it does work. This is a charity that receives loads of requests for services, but that’s sorely needing donations. She’s afraid if she does start a social media program, she’ll be overwhelmed by more requests for service that she can’t handle.

My suggestion to her and anyone thinking about a social media program is to focus your efforts. Social media shouldn’t be a distraction. You’ve got to fine-tune what kinds of programs you’re using and what results you hope to get from them. If you need donors, then you don’t need to focus on awareness campaigns. You need to focus on fund development campaigns.

Make sure you know what you want to get out of any marketing program before you start one. (And of course, the best place to start is by reading the benchmarking survey.)

Don’t Squander Your Money: 10 Essentials for All Websites

This Halloween I might dress as the economy. I can’t think of any scarier. You’re right to be scared too, especially if you’re a nonprofit and beholden to funders, because you’ve got to make the case why you need a good website.

Hold on. Reality check: you aren’t thinking of cutting funding for your own website, are you? That would be a grave mistake. Websites are not only the public face of your organization, but the best tool you have to information and create a community on a budget.

Now that we’ve got that straight, let’s look at the top 10 things your website should have so that it gives you a good return on your investment. And just hanging in there won’t cut it. People will stop visiting your site – and thinking about your organization – if they don’t see some worthwhile action happening online. This is one of those times you need to invest.

In no particular order (because they’re all important), here are 10 things your website simply must have and that will wind up saving you money.

1.Contact form. You can always post your e-mail address on your website, but be prepared to be overrun with spam. Avoid this by putting a contact form on your site to make it easy for your website visitors to reach you and to avoid spammers at the same time. You might also think of adding a Captcha to your form.

2.A place for feedback. This could be a contact form, but better yet, let your website visitors leave comments. This might be on your blog, on news postings or on articles. You can also allow ratings, which lets people cast their vote.

3.Consistent navigation. Make sure people know where to go on your site by putting your navigation in the same place everywhere.

4.Regularly updated information. Freshness keeps people coming back. At the very least, make sure you’re cycling through new content on the homepage on a weekly basis. Blogs and Twitter accounts make this an even easier way to create an online community through content.

5.Analytics. Try a tool such as Clicky or Google Analytics to find out when people are coming to your site, where they’re from and a whole load of other stuff. Analytics tools are way more powerful than a counter.

6.Donate now button. If you’re a nonprofit that accepts donations from a constituency, make it clear and easy.

7.Address front and center. A street address. With a phone number. Do it.

8.Search tool – for your site, not someone else’s. A search box will help your visitors find exactly what they need. But don’t make the mistake of putting a Google search box or a search tool from another site on yours. You just make it easier for people to leave.

9.Really good URLs. This starts with your web address (I know nonprofits are swimming in alphabet soup, but don’t make everyone else guess your acronym). Then make sure you have Clean URLs installed throughout.

10.A CMS. A content management system will make these things a bajillion times easier to do if you have a publishing system in place. Here’s how we do it.

Talance’s Massachusetts Non-profit Social Media Report Now Available

Talance's Massachusetts Non-profit Social Media Report Now Available

A free preview is available at: Talance’s Massachusetts Non-profit Social Media Report A few little gems:

  • 80% consider social media important for peer-to-peer networking. By contrast 31% find social media unimportant to their business and marketing strategy.
  • The great majority (85%) are not using social media for online giving.
  • More respondents plan to use online video than those who plan to use blogging.

Plus, some great background for those new to technology.

Free Phone Service from Google

If you use GrandCentral for free phone call service, you’ll be happy to hear Google is releasing Google Voice. It’s only open to GrandCentral users currently, but will be open to a wider audience soon.

A few highlights of Google Voice:

  • A single number to ring your home, work, and mobile phones
  • Voicemail
  • Transcripts of your voicemail
  • Archive and search text messages you send and receive

Check out the features to see how it works: https://www.google.com/voice/about

Five Great Takeaways from Church Websites

One of the most popular posts on the Talance blog has been my list of my favorite church websites. I’d like to revisit the topic with five techniques on these killer church sites that we use in super fast and easy congregation websites.

The City Church

http://www.thecity.org/

The City Church

The City Church has a nice website no matter how you cut it, but what I love is the Latest Message. It’s a frequently updated sermon you can listen to from the homepage of the website or download to listen on your iPod later.

Generation Church

http://generationchurch.org/

Generation Church

Officially, Generation Church is part of the aforementioned City Church, but what they’ve done is smart by not shoe-horning their entire congregation into a one-size-fits-all website. Instead, they launched the hyper-cool, widget-laden Generation Church site for their youth ministry while keeping a more conservative site as the flagship.

Houston NW Church

http://www.hnw.org

Houston NW Church

The Houston NW Church site is a little too cool for school, but I really like their “Find Life Here: What To Expect at HNW.” They’ve forsaken the About Us page and decided to instead create a kind of users’ guide for new visitors right on the homepage.

Stonebriar Community Church

http://www.stonebriar.org/

Stonebriar Community Church

People read websites from left to right and from top to bottom. Stonebriar has learned the lesson well by putting the most important information in the top left corner of the page: Service Times and Location. No chance of getting lost or mixed up with this.

Kaleo

http://kaleohouston.com/

Kaleo Church

This website is ultra simple – it’s just a blog using a standard, open-source theme. But what’s good is that Kaleo is remembering that a website isn’t a phone directory listing; it’s a tool that you can use to connect with congregants. Pastor Bill is a great blogger and explores themes front and center with anyone who comes to visit. If only he’d turn on comments, it would be all the better.

Web 2.0 Time Budget

Starting a social marketing effort is certainly time-consuming. It’s important to think about how much time you’re willing and able to feed into a new 2.0 project before you start one. All those abandoned Facebook pages and blogs are sad and arguably do more harm than good.

But knowing how to arrange your time budget is hard if you have no frame of reference. That’s why I like this posting from the Museum 2.0 website, How Much Time Does Web 2.0 Take?

These guys break it down into a useful timeline and formulae so you can make a pretty good estimate as to how much time you’ll need to free up to dedicate to your new online project.