Monthly Archives: January 2013

Face it, Maps Are Fun

Photo by Lisa at LLWorldTour

Photo by Lisa at LLWorldTour

Face it, maps are fun

We like maps because they can tell stories in entirely new ways. Here’s an example. I’ve been mulling this idea over for a good long while. After buying a house in East Oakland two years ago, I started visiting some of the local taco trucks. Then, I came across a Google map identifying all of them in a post by fellow blogger @DIYGene at OurOakland.com.

I decided to take over the map, first created by Krys in 2007, for my own purposes. Many of the trucks have moved. Some are gone entirely. I started to update the map. Then I decided to tap into Oakland’s local knowledge.

I’m republishing the map and promoting it. What a fun way to highlight a little piece of Oakland, right? I’ll post with a red thumbtacks, keeping whatever pre-2013 information is useful and accurate, such as photos, links, and reviews. Heck, maybe… hopefully… I can even draw others into the act. Let me hear from you about East Oakland’s taco trucks your frequent.

by Ed Carpenter — He’s a bad mutha … shut yer mouth.

Corral the acronyms

AcronymCloudScreenYou’re undoubtedly familiar with the term “mission creep.” It’s most often used in military terms to describe  a war that’s gotten out of control, going beyond its original purpose. The world of online content has its own creep, “acronym creep.” You don’t have to work in the world of online content creation to have acronyms creep into the crevices of your work-a-day life. If you work in business, the military, or government and education at any level, you undoubtedly see your fair share — and then some.

Some see acronyms as branding opportunities: Unlikely. Others see them as repeated chances to show off their knowledge in a particular field: Yawn. For those of us who create online content, the problem is that acronyms are jargon. They get in the way of plain speech. When we are at our best, we communicate clearly to all of our readers not a chosen few. So what are some guidelines to help you decide whether to peddle the alphabet soup that people try to pass off as great business ideas, the latest degrees and certification programs, or ingenious marketing ploys?

Ask yourself

  • Is the acronym’s main purpose to prevent those who conjured the name in the first place from having to write it out on their  stationery? If so, that’s just lazy. One thing bureaucracies do well is churn out acronyms. There must be a department of acronymology somewhere. Help the reading public by stamping out these acronyms before they find their way into print.
  • Does the acronym make the words it represents easier to remember? Shorter doesn’t mean it’s easier to remember. Think NASA and KFC. If a clever word or phoneme doesn’t present itself, it’s probably worth forgetting.
  • Will the acronym be around for a significant period of time? More than two years is my best suggestion; certainly more than a year. If not, then it’s bound to be part of the revolving door of come-and-go acronyms that readers meet during their busy days on a 60 second elevator pitch or 3 minute speed date. They won’t bother to remember. Like us, they’ve seen them all and know the next one is waiting in the wings.
  • Finally, does the acronym align with your overall message and brand strategy? Bear with me as I related a story that, while not entirely parallel to acronyms, illustrates my point comically. A friend once suggested that I could easily recall his phone number as ###-UMFF. At which point, I suggested that ###-TODE might leap to mind with  less effort. All these years later and phone numbers past, I still remember. And don’t you know that I bring it up whenever we get together?

A- or D+?

If an acronym passes these tests, it’s probably safe to use with caution. A general rule is that you should spell out an acronym the first time it appears on a site (if not a page) and include the acronym in parentheses immediately afterward. At a basic level, acronyms should have a compelling reason for being used. While content creators can’t keep acronymologists from getting their kicks, we can prevent a confusing jumble of letters from bogging down our readers — something that’s bound to drive them elsewhere.

by Ed Carpenter — He’s a bad mutha … shut yer mouth.

There’s more to the story (Vol. 3)

ImageLook at Oxford University’s homepage for a minute. What’s your assessment of this page? Again, it uses two contrasting colors to good effect. Negative space is the dominant feature. The logo is prominent, so I know where I am. Overall, the design is straightforward and familiar. But is it too familiar? Whether intentional or not, the design, layout, and content communicate conventionalism, even, I dare say, orthodoxyIs that the primary message Oxford is trying to communicate? One can only hope it is.

The point I’m trying to make is that it’s critical that your web design and content not undermine the message you’re trying to communicate elsewhere.

5 second test

But I chose this page to illustrate a different point. When I land on any web page, I try to clear my mind and approach it as if I don’t speak the language and have never heard of the product or university. When I land on Oxford’s page, I have one question. What’s it about? I should be able to answer that question in my head in less than 5 seconds—before I click away. Try it. What is your answer?

by Ed Carpenter — He’s a bad mutha … shut yer mouth.

Content marketing: A beginner’s checklist

After all, there’s a lot more to the process than writing a piece of content and hitting ‘publish’— Shelly Kramer via @MarkRaganCeo

There’s more to the story (Vol. 2)

MemphisCollegeofArtCompare this page from Memphis College of Art (MCA) to the one from Wooster College [There’s more to the story (Vol 1)]. Does the MCA page tell a story? If you had to summarize the page in a sentence, how would you describe it?

I’d suggest that this page tells the story of the environment students’ can expect to find at MCA, as much as anything. It does this with imagery but also by highlighting visiting artists and exhibitions on campus.

While both pages share a number of essential elements: image centric, a scrolling column of campus happenings, and contrasting color to cue the reader, they each tell a very different story. Importantly, they do this before the reader has to do any reading at all.

Which page, MCA or Wooster College, do you prefer? Without spending time analyzing your thoughts, can you explain why?

by Ed Carpenter — He’s a bad mutha … shut yer mouth.

Web content isn’t free, if you know what I mean

If you’re reading this page, I’m probably preaching to the choir. In case I’m not, it’s important to realize that while some argue that surfing the Web is free—it’s not. (Consider that you generally have to pay for your home connection or access at a coffee shop. Many, if not most sites exist to sell you something. Then too, there are the ads…). In fact, what you find on the Web is the result of somebody’s, often a professional’s hard work. Sometimes a great deal of it.

Check out what you can expect to pay for a website, from one that is simple to one that is custom made.

by Ed Carpenter — He’s a bad mutha … shut yer mouth.

Who moved my cheese?

It’s time for social media managers to shift from acquiring new fans to ensuring that current fans see the most relevant content.  >> Read more

There’s more to the story (Vol.1)

WoosterCollege

One great thing about the Web is the limitless possibilities it offers for telling a story. Every page tells a story. Some are good. Some aren’t. By good, I mean clear, effective, and deliberate. Images, of course, can help convey your message. So can design.

Even without the benefit of sufficiently large text in this screen shot (right) for Wooster College, a quick review reveals a great deal to the reader. The reader knows instantly what is important and where to focus, thanks to the F-Shape design. The page expands the story using four rotating images with captions (visit the page to review); it features live social media streams; and, it employs contrasting colors to re-enforce the page’s important features. This is just what’s “above the fold.”

by Ed Carpenter — He’s a bad mutha … shut yer mouth.

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