Herring Consulting Network Launch Party and Contest!

The Herring Consulting Network is launched!

HCN is helmed by Rabbi Hayim Herring, a thought leader in Jewish life who helps organizations build their own leadership. You can learn more about him on his new site, which Talance designed and built on Drupal, and his blog, built on WordPress.

He’s celebrating his launch with a special offer on his blog:

All those who comment on this week’s question will be entered into a drawing for a free consulting session!*  There will be three different levels awarded:  One three-hour session, one two-hour session, and one one-hour session.  The drawing will take place on August 17, 2011, and winners will be notified via email.  So go ahead, share your responses by commenting below and you might win!

Digesting All That Alphabet Soup

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

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Alphabet Soup

Anyone who works in the non-profit world knows it’s lousy with acronyms (although there are plenty of for-profit violators too). It seems that every charity that has a full name in English that everyone understands, yet they insist on using an acronym that no one outside their office recognizes.

If all you are doing is distributing documents internally, by all means go nuts with your abbreviations. But if those obscure references are headed for your website, think again.

Why? Because websites are intended for the public. Nearly every one of Talance’s clients claims that the aim of their website is to reach more and more people and make their information easier to use. One of the first barriers to friendly, accessible information is to go overboard on the acronyms.

It doesn’t have to be that way, however. Here are a few tips on dealing with letter overload online:

  • Spell out the acronyms on first reference (e.g., “The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) offers useful tips on creating better websites”).
  • Use the <acronym> tag. This lets users hover their cursor over each acronym to see what it stands for.
  • If a descriptive term is better, always use it instead of the acronym.

Meanwhile, read more about how to make your website all-around more accessible.

10 Ways to Be a Jackass in Online Discussions

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Please apply the following rules to discussion boards, comments entries, and Facebook and Twitter postings if you wish to raise collective blood pressure.

  1. Use all caps. I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW MANY PEOPLE DO THIS EVEN THOUGH THEY’VE BEEN WARNED AGAINST IT FOR YEARS.
  2. Stay off topic, perhaps discussing the demise of the semicolon, one of the most misunderstood pieces of punctuation. You can use the semicolon to join two independent clauses that bear a close relationship; a period is sometimes just too much. Independent clauses can stand on their own as sentences, but a semicolon can bring two of them together. Wait. Where was I?
  3. Make it personal if you disagree with someone. As in, “You don’t like cilantro? You’re a pathetic and ugly sad sack.”
  4. Jump to the end of a discussion without reading the whole thing. That way you can make clueless statements or ask obvious questions that cause everyone to write you off.
  5. Slip little spammy messages into your postings.  (Seriously, though. Click here to read more about how you can be a better person for $9.99 per month.)
  6. Curse like a **** sailor.
  7. Make sure 2 use ur worst speling n grammar.
  8. Post irrelevant personal messages to everyone. (Andrea: doesn’t this remind you of the time you threw that flaming marshmallow at Travis’s head?)
  9. Be sarcastic. E.g., “Smooth move, ExLax.”
  10. Hit Submit before you’ve finish

[Image: Flickr user devittj]

Widget Worth

We never expected to spend as much time as we do building widgets. Increasingly more often, our clients come to us for Twitter stream sidebars, custom Facebook pages and Facebook Like buttons. We’ve known anecdotally that there’s a growing demand for these social media hooks, and now there’s justification.

Lijit, a provider of search, content delivery, and analytics tools for online publishers and networks, has just released a report that reflects how many publishing organizations rely on social tools blended into their sites. Many, many sites have widgets installed, implying that websites are not stand-alone and serve as a hub for more wide-reaching campaigns. Over the past two years, they found:

  • 2010: 735,834 sites surveyed, 84.8% with widgets installed (13,541,022 widgets)
  • 2009: 744,848 sites surveyed, 84.7% with widgets installed (13,826,562 widgets)

Why the huge numbers?

“To either make their sites better, or to give them more understanding about the readers that visit their site, or to make money,” says Lijit CEO Walter Knapp in an article in EContent Magazine, which featured the study.

The article outlines the wealth of social tools available for augmenting the site and also extracts key date from the study. A helpful benchmark in case you’re deciding whether you want to add a widget to your site.

Check out the top 50.

Top 50 widgets and tools implemented on publisher websites

Top 50 widgets and tools implemented on publisher websites

John Rochford Talks About Accessibility

Some people think having accessible websites is like having a swimming pool. Nice to have, but too expensive and too much upkeep. Unlike a swimming pool, however, an accessible website means that anyone can view it whatever their limitation, ranging from a physical limitation like limited or no eyesight, to having a handheld device with small display.

John Rochford, Director of Technology at New England INDEX a project of UMass Medical School, is one of those people who takes accessibility seriously and makes websites better for everyone. Talance has been working with Rochford and his team on the online training component for an initiative called Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH). It’s a major undertaking that aims to streamline and coordinate how healthcare providers work with each other and patients.

Monique Cuvelier, Talance’s CEO, asked Rochford about his work in accessibility, his biggest headaches and his proudest moment.

Monique Cuvelier: I think a lot of people who care about accessibility have a compelling reason to do so. What’s the driving force behind your involvement in accessibility?

John Rochford: The driving force for me is the result of the combination and the evolution of two of my passions. One is for computer technology. The other is for helping people with intellectual disabilities. My professional career started in the mid-1980s with a succession of jobs serving people with intellectual disabilities. During that time, people shunned computer geeks like me. Yet the people I served embraced me. That they are such an open, friendly, and accepting people has always been heartwarming to me.

In the early 1990s, I sought a graduate degree at The Shriver Center for research, training and service related to intellectual disabilities. It has a project, New England INDEX, which provides free information about programs and services for people with disabilities residing in Massachusetts. All of the software INDEX designed at the time for that purpose was as accessible to people with disabilities as we could make it.

I started to extend our software to the web in the mid-1990s. Since then, I have designing websites as accessible as technology and funding have allowed, and as best as my developing expertise could make them.

MC: What does a typical accessibility test or process look like for you?

JR: We start by building accessible web applications. This makes it much less costly to fix accessibility issues, and much easier to test for related deficiencies. We use automated testing software to check for problems across a website. We have also used assistive technology products in our testing. A good example is that we make sure all our web sites are compatible with screen reader software for people who are blind. Most importantly, we have people with disabilities test our web sites.

MC: What kind of digital media are ignored the most with accessibility?

JR: All digital media (e.g., videos, music, etc.) are natively inaccessible. Only a tiny percentage of websites are helpful to people with disabilities by incorporating accessible media players and/or by providing alternative, accessible content. An accessible media player, for example, provides controls (e.g., play, pause) that work with screen readers so people who are blind can use them. Such controls are also good for people with physical disabilities who may not be able to use a mouse.

The National Center for Accessible Media is a good resource about accessible digital media. For many years, we have used on our websites its ccPlayer, an accessible media player, and its captioning services for our video content.

MC: What’s the single biggest rule people should follow to make pages accessible?

JR: Make sure people with disabilities test a website and every version of it.

MC: What’s your biggest accessibility headache?

JR: My most significant challenge is convincing people to make their websites accessible. I find it appalling that I have to work to convince the staff of organizations, which serve people with disabilities, to make their sites accessible. What people do not realize is that an accessible website is easier to use for everyone, which is always good for business.

MC: What was your proudest moment in accessibility?

JR: It occurred early in my career after I installed speech recognition software for a young woman. I was showing her how to use it instead of a keyboard and a mouse, which she could not use. She cried as she told me it was the first time she would be able to write a letter to her mother. I consider that achievement of hers to be the special one.

Customers: Satisfied!

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What Our Clients Value Most

We at Talance team think of ourselves as just as cuddly and welcoming as a Tickle Me Elmo, but that’s not really what counts. What counts is that YOU think so too. We also think it’s important to know what you want, where we can improve, what could make Talance a better company, and thus, what could make you a better organization.

So, we asked. Last month we sent out a customer satisfaction survey to our existing clients, offered up a Starbucks gift card for one lucky respondent (WTG, Ellen!) and hoped that you think as kindly about us as we do about you. We also followed up on a few particularly compelling responses via a market researcher to see how we might address your needs better.

The results? In a word, amazing.

Survey Highlights

Our survey yielded an impressive 57% response rate, which made us extremely grateful and tipped us off that we have a healthy relationship with our clients.

The results and comments made us fairly glow. Every single respondent said they would consider us for a new project.

Furthermore, we’ve got some major cheerleaders out there. Everyone said they would recommend us to their contacts.

We received some excellent suggestions regarding the services we offer and are already acting on folding in some of those services.

Our clients overwhelmingly indicated that what we do makes life easier for them – and we rock with deadlines.

Where We Excel

Because we work online and think it’s useful to visualize data, we took all the comments from our survey and created a tag cloud out of them. The theory was that we could see at a glance what people associate with us most strongly. The results are fascinating, and heartening, so we’re sharing them with you here. Click the image below to open a larger copy in a new window.

Wordle: Talance's Value

Talance's Value (Click To Enlarge)

Save Your Sanity AND Get the Logo You Love (Yes, You Can!)

Maybe your logo started with a clever idea you once loved, but now seems … well … hokey. Or it was something that no one on your Logo Procurement Committee absolutely hated. Or (this is the most likely scenario) you were over-rushed, understaffed, underfunded and that piece of clip art worked just fine, but now you’re still using what was meant to be a placeholder.

Whatever the reason behind having a look that doesn’t fit your organization comfortably any more, you know when it’s time to update. Just sprouted a couple gray hairs thinking about embarking on the process? Deep breaths. You can get through an image rebranding without rehashing past mistakes or subjecting yourself to the pain of collaboration. Invest a little time up front to think clearly about what you need out of a logo and what it should do, and the rest will come. Trust me; we do this all the time.

Of course, deciding that you need a new look is easier than deciding what it should be. The key is to think critically and logically. When Talance takes on a new project, we pull out a set of trusty checklists and run through them with our clients until we have a good idea of likes, dislikes and needs. Only then do we start thinking about creating a new image.

If you’re thinking about having a new logo designed in the near future, start now with solid planning. Start with the items below (you can bookmark this article and use it as a checklist), and when you begin on the logo design process with a designer, you’ll be that much close to having something you love and that works for you.

Peg the decision-makers.

If possible, peg just one decision-maker. Nothing kills progress and creativity more efficiently than a committee. Pick the chief to sign off on ideas, or – if you must – co-chiefs. It helps if they’re buddy-buddy, though, and can work together well.

(Can’t get by without a committee? Try this strategy guide.)

Know your audience.

I know, we’re always harping on about audiences in this blog. But you can’t hope to reach the people you really need to reach if you don’t know who they are. The over-50 crowd doesn’t respond to the same images as the under-20 crowd does. Dig up some demographics.

Work on your elevator pitch.

Can’t describe what your organization does in the time it takes to ride from the lobby to the fifth floor? Get to honing. Your logo will be a graphic representation of your work and must be communicated quickly and efficiently. You must be able to describe what you do succinctly in words before that can be translated to art.

Know your goals.

Seeing a trend here? You have to know what you want before you ask for it, and this includes knowing why you want that new logo. Is it because you want to appeal to a different cross-section of people? Do you need something that works better in print? Do you want to represent yourself with a new tone? Note your goals, and then prioritize them.

Find inspiration.

Copying is a no-no with logo design (and any designer that doesn’t respect that should be avoided!), but inspiration is a different matter. Start noticing colors you like (or need), typefaces that speak to you, patterns that catch your eye. Keep a folder of examples or even carry around a digital camera to take snaps of winning ideas. It can help push your designer in the right direction.

You can start with 30 Typography Focused Logo Designs and 70 Latest and Creative Logo Designs for Design Inspiration if you need some inspiration sources.

Find anti-inspiration.

This is arguably the easiest part of any logo design project: noting what you hate. I’m not sure what this says about humanity, but talking about your hates comes remarkably fluidly. It’s helpful too, because if you say so early in the project, you’ll help your designer steer away from what you can’t abide.

First Impressions Matter Online

The first impression someone has of your website carries the most impact. As rich and useful as your website is beyond the homepage, this is still the most important page of all.

Don’t waste the opportunity to turn one-time visitors into loyal supporters. Take a minute to look at your homepage and make sure it supplies the following elements:

  1. An elevator pitch explaining what you do. Make sure this is SHORT – not a page-long mission statement.
  2. A way for people to get involved easily. You might include a link to your Facebook page, a sign-up form for your newsletter or a donate button.
  3. Attractive imagery. Avoid pictures of empty rooms and building fronts.

You can also look at the seven best ways to update your homepage. Make sure you’re not driving people away after you’ve worked so hard to bring them to your website.

[This article originally appeared in our 52 Web Marketing & Promotion Tips newsletter. Get a quick tip delivered to your inbox weekly. Sign up for 52 tips now.]

Reader Question: How do I turn my PowerPoint presentation into an online course?

[Have a question you’d like answered? Use the comments form at the bottom of this page to submit it. We’ll review your question before posting (don’t be shy about asking!) and get back to you with a response.]

PowerPoint presentations are in many ways excellent jumping-off points for an online course. Working with slides forces you to think in discreet thoughts, which is essential for online communication. Plus, if you’ve already got a PowerPoint, then you’ve probably already gone through the hard work of planning what you want to teach and how you’ll arrange your lessons.

The key issue to remember is that a PowerPoint presentation is not an online course. It’s just that: a presentation. That’s what webinars are for.  An online course addresses different goals and is administered differently; it’s not simply a way to deliver your presentation online. An online course is more akin to a classroom experience, except that it happens remotely.

If you’re looking to create a full online course, the best thing to do with your PowerPoint is to use it as a planning tool. Most e-learning programs begin with a storyboard (this site explains what they are and provides some helpful examples), which is an outline for your online course.

From there, you can start to flesh out your course into text (you’ll have to convert all the words you say during your slideshow presentation into written copy) and activities to deliver on your online platform.

If you want more advice on planning for an online course, check out this helpful article from The E-Learning Coach blog.

Essential Tips for Making Websites Accessible

Slick web designs might impress the board, but what good does that do if your visitors can’t see? Making your website accessible is extremely important for people with visual or physical hindrances. Tiny fonts and low-contrast colors might look good in practice, but they’re useless if they can’t be read or used to navigate your website.

The upside to embracing accessibility is that your digital materials, be them websites, online courses or electronic documents, will be better used by everyone.

Here are nine tips that make a more accessible website.

[You can find an article about the importance of accessibility and helpful tools in the last issue of the newsletter. Subscribe to the newsletter.]

Graphics

Make sure you use images, icons and other visual elements consistently and appropriately.

Text equivalents

If you you’re using graphics, figures or illustrations, make sure you include a line of text or a longer description for people who can’t see them.

Headings

Use H tags to organize and structure your content rather than using larger fonts and different colors. This is a helpful article on H tags and best practices.

Remember PDFs

PDF documents are often neglected in an accessibility review. Make sure they’re accessible too.

Spell out abbreviations and acronyms

Screen readers have a hard time with acronyms – they think they’re full words. Either spell them out or use coding to make them readable. Look at the acronym in the previous paragraph to see an example.

Use tables appropriately

Not everything should be in a table; many contain information that’s more readable when they’re simply written out. If you do use a table, make sure you’re marking it up appropriately.

High contrast

When you use colors, make sure they stand out. I like to run websites through Vischeck to see how they display to people who are color blind.

Captions or scripts

If you’re using video or audio, use closed captioning or provide a script for people to read along.

Use descriptive links

No more “click here.” Use descriptive text around your hypertext.