Drupal 7: Ready for the Plunge?

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Ready to jump into Drupal 7

One of the least exciting things to hear when you start on a new web project is, “Not yet.”

That’s just what we’ve been saying since Drupal 7 debuted in January 2011. True, it’s a robust and powerful system with excellent accessibility, and we’re using it for a few of our clients now, but not everybody.

Why not jump in? First of all, it’s not quite ready for everyone. Contributors to Drupal 7 are still busy finding and patching bugs and upgrading the features from earlier versions so they work on this new version.

Secondly, it can be a heavy expense. Upgrading from an earlier version of Drupal isn’t simply downloading a patch and refreshing your screen. It’s a whole new website. Any new website takes time to build, not even including moving over all the content (words and images) and testing. Time and complexity equal money, and an organization needs to have a strong case for upgrading before making that decision.

One exception is if you’re using a very old version of Drupal, such as version 5 or earlier. The Drupal community stopped supporting and patching version 5 last year, so they’re vulnerable to security breaches and should be updated as soon as possible.

Our advice? Absolutely pull on your swimsuit, but check with your developer (or just contact us) before plunging into an upgrade.

Communicate Better Through Imagery

[This appeared in the most recent version of our newsletter. Subscribe now so you get monthly tasty tech tidbits and special deals.]

There’s a reason we learn to read with picture books rather than novels. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? We humans are very good at gathering meanings from pictures, even better than we are at interpreting words. Images carry powerful messages to which words can only aspire. You can gather a whole story from a picture (remember Life magazine?), but it’s easy to be distracted by just about anything while reading big blocks of text.

Using well-appointed pictures on your website, online course or other online initiative will not only help you tell your story better, but it can also help your visitors hear you.

Icons are quick informative hits, like this example from Mass Mentoring Partnership.

Favicons help you find the browser page you seek.

An evocative photo can earn a donation or volunteer, such as this stirring one from the Global Animal Foundation.

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Here’s a quick test to see whether you’re using imagery effectively on your website: translate it into a language you don’t understand. Google has a good tool for this. Can you tell now what your site is about? Would it make sense to someone who had no background in your industry? If the answer is no, then you must think about what visual elements will help you to communicate your message better.

This issue of the Talance newsletter is all about imagery. Read on for tips and ideas to help you create and use graphics better. Here are a few articles from our blog to get you started:

Web Design Tips for Better Images

You’re Doing It All Wrong! How to Use Pictures on a Website

What Happens If You Go Bonkers for Pictures

20 Free Icon Sets for Non-Profits

The Good, The Bad, The Logo

Do you have any interesting stories about how you’re using imagery effectively? Send us your thoughts and suggestions, and we’ll feature them in an upcoming blog post.

Reader Question: How Do I Get Feedback on My New Website?

We’re getting ready to launch a new website, and I want to know how it’s doing. What’s the best way to get honest feedback?

Thanks,
Roslyn Kruchten

The fact you’re asking that question already puts you on the road to a better website. A new online project doesn’t end when it launches. That’s just the ending of the development. Hopefully, you’ve done your homework into what your audience wants and needs before the launch, because then you can focus on how well you’ve delivered after that.

Here are a few good ways to get feedback on a new website, although it’s a good idea to check how well an established website is doing too.

Issue a survey – the same one you offered before beginning.

It’s always a good idea to put out a survey before you begin any web project to see how you might improve. Its results will tell you what you should build into the site, but it will also set benchmarks. Keep those results, and then after your new website has launched, you can issue the same survey and compare results.

Here’s a free user survey you can print out or e-mail to your audience.

Ask the people you know.

Simply send a message to the people in your contacts lists, though e-mail, on Twitter, Facebook or your other social media accounts. Ask people who have nothing to do with your industry, because they’ll give you insight and help point out jargon. You can ask them to simply respond to your message, or you can create a submission form for them to add anonymous comments.

Ask the people you don’t know.

Set up a quick test with a user testing tool like FiveSecondTest. This service lets you create two designs of a website and test it on a random sampling of people. People who see it vote with their gut for the version they like better. Anonymous testing can reveal preferences and problems that you can’t discover from asking your friends.

Set up a usability test.

If you’ve got the time and budget, the best thing to do is set up a usability test. Ideally, you’d have a focus group with subjects and interviewers, seriously studying how they do on your site. The W3C has some excellent test scripts and interview questions you can use to model your own session.

[Have a question you’d like answered? Ask on the comments form at the bottom of this page, on Twitter @talance, or on Facebook. We’ll review your question before posting (don’t be shy about asking!) and get back to you with a response.]

Guest Post: Five Musts for Pictures That Pop

[Professional photographer Morgan Ione Yeager is our guest writer today, sharing tips for making your online images better. Want more tips for using pictures on the Web? Check out Communicate Better Through Imagery.]

By Morgan Ione Yeager

Very often the simple inclusion or exclusion of a particular element can either result in a great photo or in a great photo gone wrong. Here are some details to pay attention to while choosing the photos you upload to your website or use for other media. Also, learn some simple tricks to capture better images in the first place and therefore cut down on editing time.

1. The man who grew a pole out of his head.

Are you looking at the chef or the pole on his head?

Are you looking at the chef or the pole on his head?

This one is really common. Once you start looking out for this you will notice it all the time and it will drive you crazy! Be aware of any kind of vertical or horizontal line that is in the background and behind a person’s head. It can create an odd intersection or look as though person has a weird protrusion. Most often this happens with street poles/signs, door frames or tree branches.

2. Remember that bright colors draw the eye.

If the subject of the photo is in the center of the image, then that’s where you want the viewer’s eye to go … not to the person wearing a bright red shirt in the top right corner. Often a simple crop can get rid of distracting peripheral objects or people.

Flash spots are also something to look out for. Generally taking photos of people in front of mirrors or glass can leave you with a blinding white spot, which is very distracting. Professional photographers know how to manipulate light and use off-camera flashes that make these kinds of photos successful.

3. Don’t amputate your subjects.

The father of the bride is cropped at his wrist.

The father of the bride is cropped at his wrist.

This means try not to crop people at their joints. If you crop right at someone’s elbows, knees, neck, wrist, etc. it can often look very awkward.

A better crop, cropping them both mid-thigh.

A better crop, cropping them both mid-thigh.

4. Frame the image.

The vertical edge of the viewfinder was lined up with the vertical edge of the beach sign resulting in a straight and balanced image

The vertical edge of the viewfinder was lined up with the beach sign for a straight and balanced image

If you are taking a photo, try to frame the image by lining the vertical edge of the viewfinder up with something vertical you see through the viewfinder. This will create a more balanced image and will simply look more professional. If you are working with photos that are already shot, use the rotate and crop tool in your editing software to straighten the image. Again, use vertical and horizontal lines to gauge how straight the image is.

5. Simpler is often better.

Morgan-Ione-Photography---b

The photo has been cropped to eliminate the clutter and make the pole less obvious.

If there is too much going on in a photo it can be confusing. The viewer’s eye wanders restlessly, unable to find a place to focus or settle. Be aware of unnecessary props, extra people, any non-essential subjects or objects. Often cropping a bit tighter on the main subject can help.

About the Author

Guest blogger, Morgan Ione Yeager of Morgan Ione Photography, is a professional photographer based in New York. She specializes in shooting people, food, interiors and travel images. She travels all over New England to shoot for online and print publications, small businesses, restaurants and events.

View her portfolio and blog at:

morganionephotography.com

morganione.blogspot.com

Combating E-learning Slackers

Anyone who has facilitated an online course knows the biggest challenge isn’t grading assignments or figuring out how to use the discussion forums. It’s engaging learners. E-learning is a mixed bag of ages and learning styles, and the challenge for instructors is helping students get the most from a course as possible. Ability with technology has less to do with success in an online course as you may think. In Elizabeth Gruenbaum’s article, “Predictors of Success for Adult Online Learners: A Review of the Literature ,” students at the graduate or undergraduate level has more to do with it. Age doesn’t matter much either. Older learners work just as hard as younger ones. Gruenbaum’s lengthy article, which appeared in the February 2010 issue of eLearn Magazine , is rich with insight into how facilitators can anticipate how a learner will fare in a course. Read the whole thing for details, but here are a few takeaways on how to support all online learners:

  • Provide reflective prompts – encourage them to stop and think about the material
  • Make specific and clear syllabi and assignments with progressive calendar deadlines – seeing all the tasks laid out helps learners check them off the list
  • Provide students specific performance feedback on a timely basis – respond asap on activities to keep the momentum of the course going
  • Heavy participation in discussion boards – go beyond a short response: request clarification, reinforce students’ ideas, correct misunderstandings, and ask for consensus within areas of disagreement

Also make sure to read the comments section of Gruenbaum’s article, where online instructors share their experiences.

A Well-Balanced, Healthy Website: Health Imperatives

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A Well-Balanced, Healthy Website: HealthImperatives.org

Health Imperatives, a public health agency in Brockton, Mass., knows that the healthiest clients are the ones they can reach the best. That’s why they worked with Talance to create an innovative new website that brings together their myriad programs under one domain.

The new website brings together several features designed to help guide visitors around the site, including a handy “drawer” style menu (click Programs and Services), plus a robust multi-site format that keeps the various programs, each with its own identity, looking similar. Because the site is built on Drupal, administrators from each program are able to make their own edits.

The site incorporates many features, including an online store, registration for a large online learning program, forums, search and private user areas.

Visit the site.

Web Design Tips for Better Images

[This appeared in our July newsletter.  Subscribe now so you get monthly tasty tech tidbits and special deals.]

The more you pay attention to images, the better your website will be. Good graphics make the difference between a webpage that attracts and one that repels. Here are a few essential graphics tips you can follow to make your whole website better:

1. Save photographic images as JPG and save illustrated images as GIF. Learn more about GIF vs. JPG.

2. Make sure your web graphics are saved as no more than 72 dpi. That’s the standard compression for the web. Anything bigger means slow loading. Learn more about optimizing images from The Comprehensive Guide to Saving Images for the Web.

3. Don’t use HTML to set the width and height. Instead, resize the picture to the appropriate dimensions. Doing otherwise will make your page load slowly and could skew the look of the picture. In other words, if you need

<img width=”200″ height=”200″ src=”boat.jpg” alt=”sailboat” />

then your image (boat.jpg) should be 200x200px rather than a scaled down 500x500px image. Just like this perfectly sized pic:

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Here are more tips on web design from the Talance blog:



Guest Post: How to Be a Social Media Mentsh

The following article first appeared in the Sustained! web magazine from PEJE, an organization that serves day schools. Ken Gordon is the Social Media Manager of PEJE. It’s an excellent article about how to build an online community on Facebook that can be applied to any organization.

Read the full article on Sustained!

So you started, or joined, a Facebook page for your Jewish day school community. You put up a few posts… and the only response was the soft click of crickets in your backyard.

What now?

Now you grapple with an important and awkward truth: social media is not entirely obvious. Using Facebook is not like reading a book. Or listening to a teacher in class. Or, you know, just talking to another person. Social media is a strange new kind of human communication, and it has its own obscure commandments. For those of us who didn’t learn to talk and tweet at the same time, this stuff must be gleaned on the fly, later in life.

You won’t find a handbook on Jewish day school social media citizenship in the how-to section of any bookstore, or anywhere else for that matter. Indeed, the day school world is only starting to emigrate into this part of the universe. (Which is why AVI CHAI started their Social Media Academy for day schools, which is a great first introduction to the world of Fans and Followers.)

Point is: Your Facebook kehila may be very perplexed; if so, show them the proper way to behave by offering a few essential principles of good social citizenship. Be a mentsh and teach these new citizens the rules of the road—or just pass this column along, if you’re too busy—and soon we’ll all be Active Daily Users.

You’re a Regular

Encourage your people to build in regular—daily, weekly, etc.—visits to your social media sites. How to manage this? Ask them. Send an email to your colleagues or close friends in the community requesting that they set aside a regular time of day to engage your page. (Ten minutes over morning coffee sounds good to me.) As for people far outside your offline network: advise them, in your newsletters and/or your email signature, to stop regularly so they can catch all your great links, videos, and updates. Just be sure that you, and/or your administrator, post enough valuable and diverse content to warrant such regular visits. (On the PEJE FB page, we post plenty of articles that come from outside sources. People tend to find it refreshing and useful when you share content that isn’t just, say, “selling” your own stuff. Another tip: FB users in general, love video and photos.)

Lights! Camera! Action! Interaction!

The most important thing about social media is the interactivity of its participants. Newbies need to understand that their input is wanted—desperately wanted. We them to react to the material posted on a Facebook page (and maybe even react to other people’s reactions). How to do this? Glad you asked…

More Impressions than Rich Little

The most passive way to contribute to a FB community is to simply view a Status Update or Link on Your Wall. Facebook counts each “impression,” which The Next Web defines as the “raw number of times each entry has been seen on the wall and in the news feed of fans.” The page administrator will receive regular reports on the number of impressions, which will delineate the range of your influence and indicate what does and doesn’t interest your community.

Click and Read

Your people can do better than a few impressions. Actually clicking on a link posted by a Facebook user, and then reading it, is the first real step to joining the online community. If something catches your eye, be sure to click away.

You Like?

Hitting the Like button—beneath a link or status update—is an even more active form of Facebook behavior. Likability is Extremely Important in the social media world, and it’s also a good strategy for those of you who are seriously time-pressed. But it’s not as substantial a response as the following two methods.

Sharing Is Caring

Sharing is good because it helps spread the word around. And if you’re not the kind of person who likes to speak (or write) in public, this may be the best way you can serve in the PEJE social media crew. You click on the word “Share” right underneath the piece of content in question. A box opens up. You write in it, click the “Share” button, and it goes on your wall. Or you click the “Send a Message Instead” link. You fill in the names of the person/people you want to tell about this, write a message, and then send it off.

All the Rest Is Commentary

Write a response, a thoughtful response, to a Status Update or shared Link and you’ve done something with true social significance. The process is simple: You click on the word “Comment” right underneath the piece of content in question. A box opens up, and you write your comment. Simple. Note: Not every comment has to be a dissertation—such things are better employed in grad school and your Friends will likely lose interest in a lengthy response—but it is a good idea to respond intentionally when you’re commenting.

Answer the Call

When confronted by a good question in a Facebook status—good administrators are constantly asking questions—you answer it. It’s OK to hang back and read how other people respond … but it’s generally good manners and a healthy social attitude to answer legitimate questions put out to your Facebook community.

Be a Model

Note: you can’t be the only person on your Facebook page. Imagine a Facebook page that is nothing but status updates that get Liked and Commented On by the administrator. (This would be, as John Bender said in The Breakfast Club: “Sorta social—demented and sad, but social.”)

When you set up a FB page for your school, particularly when you’re first starting out, it’s essential that you invite some good role models to the party. People, that is, who know how to be a regularly active member of your community. So don’t be shy. It’s not cheating to ask for help, it’s essential. Remember, this is social media.

Two kinds of invitations may be necessary.

  1. Invite people you know are comfortable with Facebook, and your community, to join your group. These are folks, let’s say, who know about day school and social media and will naturally become part of your community.
  2. Invite qualified people to respond to a stimulating question. You can—and should—arrange debates. Find a provocative piece of content, ask a provocative question, and then invite several smart people (of varying opinions) to respond on the page. One great way to get people to respond: call FB friends out by name with a tag.

The great thing about modeling good social citizenship: it’s contagious. What are you waiting for? Stop reading this and show your community the way of FB. The more you engage the page, the more people will engage with you.

BY KEN GORDON

Ken Gordon is the Social Media Manager of PEJE. He cordially invites you to friend our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter.

Read the full article on Sustained!

http://www.peje.org/index.php/the-virtual-assembly

20 Free Icon Sets for Non-Profits

The quickest shortcut to making your website look polished is to use icons. These little pictures, plenty of which are cheap or free, look way better than anything most mortals can do with Photoshop. A little pop of color, used judiciously, can help bring life to bland webpages. Coordinated sets of icons also make pages look like you put a modicum of thought into how the out-put looks. And, importantly, visitors are more likely act based off a compelling picture rather than a chunk of text.

So stop snagging any old picture off Google Image Search (naughty, naughty!). Here is a list of free icon sets guaranteed to make any non-profit’s webpage better, whether you’re into donations, social media, activism, environment, or health and human services. Have you seen anything I’ve left off? Leave a link in the comments.

Donations

Donate Now Buttons

Festive Donate Buttons

Open Source Icons (including money icons)

Themed Fundraising Buttons for Email

Credit Card and PayPal Icons

Social Media

Vector Social Media Icon Set

Scribble Social Icon Set

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Scribble Social Icon Set

WG Social Media Icons

Double J Social Media Balloons

Buddycons

Health and Human Services

Fruit/Food Bank Icons

Education Icons

Jana free baby icon set

People & Disability Icons

Medical Toolbar Icons

Environment

Environment Icons

Ecology Icons

Recycling Icons

Weather Icons

Water Icons

Activism

Endangered Animal Icons

Sign Up Petition Icon

World Flag Icons

Military and War Icons

Multi-ethnic People Icons

Refer a Friend, Get $150

Share the love! Refer a friend to Talance, and you’ll receive a gift certificate worth $150 for Web or print design. Use it alone as a freebie or save on something big. Not doing any website updates right now? Keep sharing the love by giving the certificate to one of your friends or colleagues.

One coupon per customer. Offer not valid with any other coupon, discount or previous purchase. Excludes consultations, fees, outstanding invoices, or websites built by anyone other than Talance.

Cash in now!