Pre-NaNoWriMo training: first lessons [en]

It’s day 7 of my pre-NaNoWriMo training session. The challenge is to write 1700 words every day for 31 consecutive days. It’s already been very interesting to see myself get back into writing and force more output.

One of the lessons is that the environment doesn’t foster low pressure, write-as-an-exercise endeavours. I’ve been working for 7 days and using the #amwriting hashtag for the same amount of time. During that week, my follower count increased dramatically.

All the self-publishing gurus

The accounts that follow me increase the pressure. I’ve been followed by self-published authors marketing their books (that’s really the good part). But there’s also accounts that give me advice on self-publishing, want to help me market my book. I even been followed by a company who proposes to book “virtual” book tours for me.

Remember, I am only in the first week of a month-long challenge at the end of which I’ll have — if all goes well — about two thirds of a raw first draft with plot holes the size of the moon. Now that is ridiculous!

The direction I am going

What’s also bizarre is that I set on a course to get out of schemas and premeditated stories and it seems my mind follows furrows that have been dug during my previous attempt at noveling in French one or two years back.

The change of language and forced writing pace unlocked some things though. The plot is still not that tight and well thought out but I checked my Inner Editor at the kennels of NaNoWriMo. “We’ll see” is my mantra.

I still don’t know if the furrows from the previous attempt help me or hinder me. I’d wager that they hinder me as I write a little slower in parts that seem clearer in my mind — just like Chris Baty wrote in his book.

As for the day’s progress. It’s time to start with my day job and I haven’t reached one percent yet. I am a little burned out because I went out last night (the sin!) and then wrote the last 50% of the day’s word count in a hurry before midnight.

We’ll see.

Low cognitive budgets for web projects [en]

A cognitive budget measures the amount of time and attention the stakeholders allocate to various aspects of their business. I am especially interested in the amount willingly given to the website and other web initiatives. Web teams can work around financial constraints. However, when the stakeholder cognitive budget is low and the web team doesn’t have much power, delivering great work becomes exponentially more difficult.

Way too often, the website is a dumping ground for content and there’s, therefore, little need to discuss or even think too much about it. As for homepage real estate, carousels and slideshows make it easy to never have a conversation about that at all. So it follows that the website is a solved problem. It’s off the managers’ plate. The people in the last office before the server room have to upload things they receive by e-mail from all over the organisation and never talk back. No editorial back-and-forth. Congratulations. That’s a non-issue.

Or is it? When things are set up like this, uneasiness creeps in. People responsible for communicating through the website aren’t sure they’re reaching their target. They feel that something is off kilter. Sometimes anxiety reaches levels that warrants an e-mail to the web person with questions about the templates’ age or alerting them to a lack of “sexiness”. Of course, the website has no appeal. It is an ever-expanding closet holding three ring binders that each and every person in the organisation can add to.

When dissatisfaction reaches their ears, people ask for prettier wallpaper and wider doors to the closet, at least in part, because mandating technical fixes or redesigns doesn’t tap into their cognitive budgets. That’s when good teams or good webmasters come back with questions about branding and goals and content workflows which, in such an organisational culture, never get answered because web stuff is supposed to be a non-issue. It’s supposed to be cheap in terms of money and cognition.

It’s OK to cut corners but avoiding thinking about your organisation’s website isn’t a smart move. Websites are infrastructure that is important to your business.

When the culture is to treat the web as a solved problem and neither allocate sufficient cognitive nor monetary resources, there’s very little that can change in terms of introducing digital governance and content strategy even though these tools can bring positive change and make the website run more smoothly.

Have you tried strategies to work around this? Would you care to share stories?

 

Meetup “Solutions multilingues pour WordPress” [fr]

[en] Yesterday, we had a meetup about Multilingual solutions for WordPress. It was fun and instructive.

Hier soir avait lieu la rencontre Solutions multilingues pour WordPress du WordPress Geneva Meetup. Vincent Ghilione, fondateur de Polychrome a donné une présentation concise et assez complète des différentes solutions techniques existantes pour créer un site multilingue avec WordPress. Ce qui est une gageure. Encore merci à lui.

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Un jour, je souhaiterais entendre les mêmes praticiens sur les défis en terme d’organisation et de budget autour de la mise en production d’un site mutlilingue, peut-être dans un autre groupe meetup, qui sait? *wink wink*

En attendant, et pour revenir à l’événement d’hier soir, les membres sont venus nombreux et ont apprécié cette présentation qui s’est terminée par une démonstration d’un prototype de plugin multilingue maison en cours de développement. Il nous a prévenu que l’avenir de son projet restait incertain. Il pourrait être arrêté car il apprécie beaucoup les qualités de Polylang.

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Puis-je inscrire tous mes contacts à ma newslettre? [fr]

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[en] Adding people to newsletter mailing lists manually without asking them first isn't OK. It will damage your list's reputation with your readers and your e-mail service provider. Whereas playing by stricter rules and having interesting content will make your list grow.

Quoi que l’on fasse, il faut résister à la tentation d’ajouter soi-même des noms et des adresses mail à une newslettre. Ces personnes qui n’ont pas donné leur consentement se désinscriront ou pire considéreront vos envois comme du spam et le feront savoir à vos fournisseurs de solution e-mail respectifs.

C’est sans doute la pire chose qui puisse arriver. Les fournisseurs de solution e-mail comme MailChimp, par exemple, appliquent une tolérance proche de zéro pour le courrier non-sollicité. Ils doivent se différencier très clairement des organisations qui envoient du spam. Les filtres anti-spam réagissent à la provenance des mails. Si plusieurs mails frauduleux ou non-sollicité proviennent d’un même serveur, les filtres vont simplement bloquer ce serveur. Comme les fournisseurs de solution e-mail utilisent des serveurs communs à tous leurs clients, ils ne peuvent pas se permettre de voir les e-mails  envoyés par ces serveurs être considérés comme du spam et ne plus arriver à leur destination.

Les dénonciations pour spam sont comptées pour chaque envoi et pourraient vous valoir un blâme — chez MailChimp, si le pourcentage de plaintes dépasse les 5% des mails envoyés. En cas de récidive, votre compte est fermé et votre liste perdue.

En marketing email, le consentement est une notion centrale. On appelle cela le “permission marketing“. Lorsque des visiteurs vous donnent leur adresse mail pour votre newslettre, ils vous donnent explicitement la permission de les contacter. Le contrôle de consentement double ou double opt-in en anglais permet de s’en assurer. Il vaut mieux activer cette option pour éviter que des tiers puissent inscrire des personnes sans leur demander la permission.

L’autorisation de contacter une personne pour des mails promotionnels a une très grande valeur. Si vous n’abusez jamais de cette autorisation, il y a toutes les chances que vous puissiez la conserver et même approfondir votre relation avec cette personne. La bonne conduite est donc très très rentable sur le long terme.

La pertinence des messages doit toujours être la plus élevée possible et concerner toute la liste pour ne pas entamer ce capital de confiance. Si vous faites preuve de parcimonie, de respect envers les personnes qui vous ont donné leur adresse mail, et que vos messages sont intéressants, cette confiance se développera et votre liste s’allongera. Dans le cas contraire, vous risquez de recevoir des blâmes et de perdre votre liste.

Si vous souhaitez vraiment allonger votre liste, attirez des personnes réellement intéressées. Vous pouvez les inciter à vous donner votre adresse en leur promettant un cadeau de bienvenue comme un e-book exclusif.

Jargon hurts your website [en]

You can’t have broad appeal and also use your darling specialist phases everywhere on your site. Getting rid of jargon is the safest bet. When you use specialist phrases, making sure that the vocabulary is common beyond a shadow of a doubt is difficult or almost impossible.

Among specialists a measure of common jargon can help convey precise meaning. That’s why specialist vocabulary emerges after all. However, it should never become a way to feel smart or part of an exclusive club. Obfuscation is part of the culture of some organizations and professions. Sometimes language is intentionally difficult like in French literary theory.

When your website needs to get as many people as possible to change their behaviour, register somewhere or buy something, you can’t afford to fall back on selective and divisive language.

On the public internet you never know who is reading. You don’t have any idea of their background, reading comprehension skills in your language, etc. The copy might very well need to convert an audience of professionals. Yet, it has to convert them even if they aren’t fluent in your language, if they are rushed and stressed, if their kids are yelling in the background or if they’re having a bad day.

Using plain language is important. It doesn’t have to make you sound like an overly familiar simpleton. Within plain language, there is a lot of room for nuance. You can even achieve a formal and academic tone without using jargon.

Produire toujours plus de contenu n’est pas une solution [fr]

[en] Many cry "Our content gets out-of-date!". More content and cheaper content aren't the solution. Better content is.

«Tout évolue en permanence, nos contenus deviennent obsolètes très rapidement…». C’est un problème courant. La solution préconisée l’est malheureusement tout autant. «…il faut donc rédiger, rédiger, rédiger plus de contenu toujours plus vite pour rester à jour».

Là, je dis: «Une minute!»

Il est difficile de s’opposer à cette vision productiviste de manière crédible en tant que rédacteur sans avoir l’air paresseux. Pourtant, la multiplication sans fin d’ articles toujours meilleurs marchés n’est pas toujours la bonne formule.

Beaucoup d’organisations voient le contenu comme des paroles qu’on prononce et s’envolent. Seulement, le contenu numérique une fois créé, il peut rester en ligne pour toujours — si ce n’est sur votre propre site, dans le cache de Google, des services comme Instapaper, les archives d’archive.org ou ailleurs.

En voyant le contenu comme une denrée périssable, on renforce l’idée qu’il perd de la valeur dès l’instant où il est publié. Et, par conséquent, on pensera préférable de faire baisser son coût et augmenter son volume plutôt que d’investir dans la recherche et la réflexion pour créer les contenus dont notre public a besoin et faire une maintenance régulière.

Le coût des contenus ne peut jamais baisser jusqu’à les rendre jetables. Les processus éditoriaux sont coûteux en ressources cognitives et en temps pour les auteurs, les experts consultés au sein de l’organisation, et les éditeurs. Tout cela coûte cher. De plus, les managers (et, souvent, le service juridique) sont impliqués dans l’approbation de contenus. Augmenter la durée de vie des contenus n’est donc pas un luxe mais une nécessité pour augmenter leur impact sans dépenser plus.

Le contenu a une durée de vie bien plus longue qu’on ne le pense. En faisant attention à la façon dont il est produit, organisé, stocké et distribué on peut encore augmenter sa durée de vie et son impact. Si on budgète des révisions et des mises à jour régulières, on peut s’assurer qu’il reste profitable encore plus longtemps. Par exemple, la plupart des contenus du blog de Paper.li dont j’ai été l’un des auteurs conservent une valeur plusieurs années après leur publication et je m’y réfère encore.

Reading “On Being an Unemployed Arts Graduate” [en]

Reading “On Being an Unemployed Arts Graduate“, I tend to agree with the diagnosis. Humanities departments should be less ambiguous about their raison d’être. However, you can’t exempt the graduates and the corporations that fail to hire them of any responsibility so easily. Not seeing exactly what something is or what it’s for and pushing through nonetheless is a useful and beautiful thing. It requires a lot of grit, willingness to make mistakes and learn from them.

What I find most disheartening in this article is the focus on monetary value and individualism (and the self-helpy vibe). Therapy and individual well-being can’t be the sole purpose of Humanities. If we go down that path in reorganising universities, we will encourage creeping individualism.

Colleges have also community missions: they help cities/states govern themselves, by informing and educating citizens. Humanities have a lot to offer in the domain of the political and the communal.

  • Urbanisation is rampant: how do we make inclusive cities?
  • Innovation is faster: how are we relating to technology?

How to move towards content ecosystems? [en]

How to design a CMS for the modern newsroom in On Content by Lee Simpson describes how the Guardian develops content management as an ecosystem and not through a single specialized piece of software.

Creating ecosystems of smaller and interchangeable pieces joined by APIs instead of betting on a single integrated CMS seems to be the most robust solution. There are content exchange formats emerging and such an approach is not a utopia anymore. Lee Simpson describes the evolving ecosystem thus:

A standardised mechanism for handling content from draft to publish (and beyond) would allow us to take advantage of tools being built by other software houses dedicated to solving the problems at individual stages of the content publishing process. Similarities can be found in the bases of programming workflow — dedicated systems and tools for each step of the process.

The benefits of this approach are numerous. For one, it reduces the friction in the tools’ adoption. If you can offer collaborators options, you will get new procedures and systems adopted much faster. People who have already developed preferences for certain applications may use them. Others will have options. They’ll welcome this freedom and that will make them much more cooperative.

Such an approach will help encourage content creation in non-journalistic organisations as well. Lots of professionals do write. Simply not in their browsers. If you can let them have their writing app or their image manager, for example, that might make organisational changes less painful.

However, the centralized services and APIs necessary to make this vision a reality are shared resources. Organizations in which the power is distributed and where the departments enjoy, cherish and safeguard their autonomy tend to resist the complications of putting shared resources in place. Shared resources require common rules. Sorting this out is digital governance. These rules will be embodied both in policies and computer code. They will be — or at least appear — costly to change. All the negotiations between business units must happen up-front: requirements have to be defined, someone has to be empowered to enforce the rules, etc.  Even if the benefits are great, it takes tremendous amounts of power and goodwill to sell. And the organization must be ready.

10 steps to live-tweet debates [en]

ml?cr=00&pl=edit-00">Vdovichenko Denis / Shutterstock.com

Live tweeting panels is hard. 140 characters is very little. The main goals when covering an event alone is to testify that the event has taken place and that people following either in-person or on a live stream have gotten something important out of it. This encourages attendance for the next events obviously and raises the profile of the organizer.

Go through the list of panelists and search their presence on social media. That maybe frustrating in an academic setting because you’ll often find that they don’t have one. However, you may be surprised! Some prominent figures in the academic world are pretty active on Twitter. Journalists and politicians are also often on social media. Try to memorize their twitter handles or make a list on your laptop. Panelists will retweet you if you show up in their notifications. Accidental subtweeting can be embarrassing but it’s bound to happen.

Announce the event, live-tweet and possible streaming a few days in advance. Give all the necessary details. If many or all of the participants are active online, prepare an announcement tweet featuring each of them. Schedule those tweets at regular intervals. Keep in mind that you might have to mention each of them for fairness’ sake.

Choose your #hashtag with care. Discuss hashtag with coworkers. Go for the obvious one. If the event is about current affairs, chances are there will be one already. Look at trending topics. Make a few searches about the subject of the event. The hashtag will come to you. If all this fails, invent one. If the topic is too controversial, try flying below the radars by using the name of the organizer and the date. Being roped into arguments about the event’s organisation and the choice of panelists during the live tweeting of the event is a nightmare. Try to avoid that even if it means loosing a little visibility.

Be there early. Find a good place. Next to the center aisle is good so you can get up to take pictures. Before the event, encourage people to join one last time and comment positively on the attendance. If there’s a live stream, add a link in those first tweets.

Be accurate. If you’re not sure that the tweet accurately conveys the things that have been said, don’t send it. It’s better to have a partial account than an inaccurate one. If you engage the responsibility of the event’s organizers, misrepresenting the guests could impact their ability to get guests in the future.

Focus on tiny statements. They might seem inconsequential in the grander scheme of the debate but that’s all you can count on. In fact, chances are the grander scheme of the debate will escape you because you’ll be busy trying to catch tweet-worthy soundbites. There’s no way you can follow, synthesize and live-tweet a debate at the same time. If you need a synthesis and live-tweets, take two different people. You can count on partners, especially if the panel has members of the press on it. There will be journalists in the audience. Follow them and publicize their content.

Describe the topic in general. If you can’t be accurate and focus on tiny statements, describe what is being discussed without conveying judgments or opinions. Tell who is speaking and what topics he focuses on without going into details that might introduce inaccuracies. This technique works especially well with pictures.

Post pictures. Pictures do well on Twitter and they don’t require detailed Sit in a place where no empty seats show. Enlist coworkers with phones to send you pictures during the event. You will be able to post pictures from various angles.

Be fair. Find a way to mention and represent every single panelist. Sometimes, this is going to be hard. Some people don’t make tiny statements especially if they get emotional. Use every trick in the books to give them the most equal possible air time. The casual observer of your live-tweet should be able to reconstruct the guest list from your tweets.

Do not make public comments on the quality of the coverage. It isn’t your place to comment on the quality of the partners’ work. You need them. You can count on your followers and the guests themselves to point things out and issue corrections. But do not like or comment on them. Interfere only to kick and ban assholes.

After the event. Round up pictures and take the good ones and put them in a Facebook album (if you got a page) as a long term testament of the event. Since it’s a public event that is publicized, you can tag people in it. If you tag the panelists, you have to tag all of them.

You can keep posting about your event until you announce the next one. Take advantage of transcripts, round-ups, video and audio as they come out.

Image credit: Vdovichenko Denis / Shutterstock.com

Stop trying to become a machine [en]

We shouldn’t want to emulate the qualities of machines but rather go as far as possible in the other direction and develop uniquely human qualities like empathy and courage and kindness.

For all we know, they will remain uniquely human qualities — embodied and encrusted in the myriad complexities of the human experience. Even though we invent machines that appear to be intelligent, we won’t be able to know their minds. They will be others and we’ll need to build relationships with them.

As far as I know, we can’t have that relationship until we fully accept what we are and what we bring to the table.

Instead, we’re trying to become productive 24/7 never sleep properly. We’re trying to catch up with the algorithms and the robots who largely run our economies now. This strategy is bound to fail. So of course, we’re trying to cheat death and become machine-like by augmenting ourselves in ways that would make us as efficient as computers.

The fact is, we can use the tools without having to loose ourselves.